August 19, 2013
From the desk of Dr. A.J. Higgins
“Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.”
Scourging was a Roman ‘art’ – with scarcely anything equal for its brutality, humiliation, and torture. There were actually three different forms of scourging. In cases of minor or less severe crimes, there was the fustigatio. A brutal flogging, known as the flagellatio was administered when the crimes were more serious.
The verberatio was the most severe and was usually reserved for those who were being taken out for crucifixion. It was administered by Roman soldiers using a whip with leather thongs upon which were attached pieces of bone or metal. The victim was tied to a post, stripped, and beaten. The extent of the beating was at the mercy of the Roman commander, but frequently was so severe that victims died from the beating itself.
The scourging here in John 19:1 was probably the mildest form since it was prior to the sentencing of the Lord Jesus. It may have been done by Pilate to pacify the crowd and evoke either sympathy or satisfaction that He had suffered enough. It was not effective. They cried for Him to be put to death. The severe form of scourging was usually reserved for after sentencing when crucifixion was certain. If this is so, then it is possible that the Lord Jesus received two separate scourgings: one as recorded by John prior to His sentencing; the second was administered after His sentencing and was the more severe verberatio and is that recorded by Matthew (27:26) and Mark (15:15).
For Roman soldiers it was almost a form of sport, an interesting and amusing way to watch a man suffer. It interrupted what were probably boring days spent in the outpost of the empire known as Palestine. No doubt their strokes were accompanied by vulgarities and blasphemies, a language which hardened soldiers spoke fluently.
Consider, however, the One suffering: tender, sensitive, never hardened by sin or made callous by the events of life. He would feel it as no other man had ever felt it. He felt not only the whip but the malice and hatred that accompanied it.
But one other aspect adds poignancy to the scourging He received. The Romans hated the Jews. You can only imagine the Roman soldiers venting their venomous spite against the Jews on the Lord Jesus; all this at the same time that nation was rejecting Him. In a moral sense, He bore the punishment for the nation while being scourged. He then moved to Calvary to bear the divine judgment which the nation merited and which you and I deserved.
1. Paul knew scourging as well and spoke of receiving stripes administered by others. But when administered by the Jews, they were always limited (2 Cor 11:24) to thirty nine. There was no limit to what Christ received from Romans.
2. There was a crown of thorns for His head, fists for His face, a purple robe of mockery to cover Him, and a scourge for His back.
3. Look at Isaiah 50 and notice that He “gave His back” to the scourge and His face to those who mocked Him. Men may have thought that they were in control, but the Lord “gave” Himself over to them. In light of Isaiah 50, what motivated Christ?