Summary: When we think of the flogging of Jesus, it is hard for us to understand what really happened. The Gospels only give one line to it. So what really happened when one was flogged?
The Torture and Humiliation of the King
Video from The Passion of the Christ” Chapter 16 0:00-1:30
When we think of the flogging of Jesus, it is hard for us to understand what really happened. The Gospels only give one line to it. So what really happened when one was flogged? Flogging was very common in Jesus’ day. Flogging was focused on the bare back, buttocks and legs. It inflicted pain and suffering on the one who was being punished. Sometimes flogging was used for those who had committed less serious crimes and they were flogged publicly to shame them. Image of Jesus bent over on block for flogging A person’s shirt is ripped off and they were strapped to a post with their hands tied down. As they were bent over, their back was considered primed giving the licktors, the ones who performed these savage floggings, giving them the opportunity to have maximum impact with their tools. Image of two men beating Jesus There usually 2 to 4 mean men performing the beating which allowed one to rest while the other wound back up. The lictors received special medical training in how to wield the whip so as to open bruises which had already formed. Roman soldiers would repeatedly strike the victim’s back, buttocks and legs with their full force causing deep contusions. This though is a lighter form of flogging.
As Jesus is stripped of his garment, tied to a post and bent over while the soldiers ready themselves, he is silent and appears to be in deep contemplation awaiting the punishment. In Isaiah 50:6 we find a passage that early Christians believed pointed to the experience of Jesus in our Scripture today. “"I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” These verses must have been in Jesus’ mind as he was being flogged by these soldiers.
Video from The Passion of the Christ” Chapter 16 3:00-4:00 Jesus first receives this lighter flogging first but he is undaunted as he takes the pain of suffering of the sins of the world upon himself. He did not beg for mercy nor did he exhibit the usual behaviors of those who were flogged. This must have angered the Romans who were administering this punishment.
But there was another flogging which was far more painful and insidious. It was meant to not only hurt the victim but instill fear in the people. It was so bad that most had to turn away from seeing it. It inspired such fear in the populace that it made them desire not to do anything which would bring such a punishment. When there were criminals who were to be crucified, it wasn’t enough just to have them die on the cross but to inflict this torturous pain on them to make a statement. Image of whips. The tools were like leather whips which were braided together with sharp objects, little bits of bone or glass or metal meant to rip flesh from the back. There was also no limit to the number of blows that might be received. Lacerations from repeated blows cut into the underlying muscles and rip the overlaying skin of the back to a point where it hangs in ribbons of bleeding flesh. The capillaries and veins were often torn causing intense bleeding and sometimes leading to unconciousness. Once the centurion in charge determined that the prisoner is near death, the beating was halted. Historical accounts of floggings report that bare bone was often exposed by the time the lichtors were finished with their victims. But the aim of flogging was not to try to kill the victim but to take them to such excruciating pain and weakness so as to speed up the crucifixion. If you killed the victim prior to crucifixion you would be punished. The object of the was to weaken the victim to a state of collapse and bring them as near to death as possible without killing them.
After this savage beating and torture, this man who was of no significance in Roman eyes was mocked as the King of the Jews. They represented the king of the empire. They would show him who was king. Pilate has sent Jesus to be flogged. The soldiers humiliate him and mock him. They seek to dehumanize him and break him. They called together the entire Roman cohort which is made up of six centurions who commanded as many as 100 soldiers. So it is likely that several 100 soldiers were present as Jesus was taken in the courtyard. Matthew says they stripped him naked, completely exposed and vulnerable and humiliated. He was made to feel insignificant in the presence of so many soldiers. Now imagine 600 of these men surrounding Jesus and Jesus standing there naked and bleeding. Image of Jesus in robe and crown of thorns They brought to him a purple robe, the same color as the emperor’s robe. There is purple on the altar as a reminder of the purple robe which was draped upon his bloody body. Matthew tells us the color was red and was one of the cloaks of a soldier. They draped it on his shoulders. It was long enough just to cover his back. They bring to Jesus a crown of thorns. There are thorn bushes in the Holy Land that at the time of Jesus grew just outside of Jerusalem. Being still green, it is easily wound into a crown of thorns. They placed it upon his brow. Remember, emperors wore crowns but they were wreaths of laurel. Image of coin with Tiberius the Emperor. Jesus would wear a crown of thorns instead.