The Gospel writers are reluctan t to describe Jesus’ scourging, but his mockery is recorded in detail Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
Once Pilate hands Jesus over for death, all discussion stops, and the tragedy starts to run its course. Indeed, it runs so quickly that details of enormous significance are barely mentioned. For example, Mark [15.15] and Matthew [27.26] reduce the scourging of Jesus to a single participle: ‘having scourged Jesus’, phragellosas. Did they find the sufferings of Jesus – his scourging in particular – too distressing to dwell on?
Avoiding the painful details
One suspects this was the case. In addition to the participle used by Mark and Matthew, all four Gospels use another verb, mastigo, to speak of the Lords scourging, and they use it eight times [Mark 10.34; Matt. 10.17; 20.19; 23.34; Luke 18.33; John 19.1]. The evangelists repeatedly make the point, but in each case they make it briefly, avoiding the painful details.
In this respect we may contrast the evangelists with David and Isaiah. The Psalter and the second part of the Book of Isaiah dwell lovingly on every wound on the Saviours body. Unlike the four evangelists, these two sources saw the Passion from a greater distance, so to speak; when the four Gospels were written, those sacred wounds were still very fresh in the minds of Christians. It must have been, to many Christians, simply unbearable to think about them.
After all, the evangelists and their first readers knew exactly what was entailed in those brief references to the scourging, especially when that form of torture accompanied a death sentence. In that context there were no limits to the number of strokes or the ingenuity of the soldiers to inflict greater damage. Sometimes the beatings were so severe that the prisoners did not survive them. Indeed, the copious bleeding served to hasten a death on the cross. In this respect, we observe that the Lords two crucified companions outlived him, and one can make the case
that the immediate cause of Jesus’ death was exsanguination.
If they were reluctant to describe the Lord’s scourging in detail, however, the four evangelists showed no corresponding disinclination when describing his mockery by the soldiers. In Mark, Matthew and John, this mockery was particularly expressed in Jesus’ supposed claims to kingship. He was mocked as ‘King of the Jews.’ We should see in this epithet the contempt that those Gentiles felt toward Jews generally. Suffering specifically as a Jew, Jesus became the supreme victim of anti-Semitism.
Significance of the crown of thorns
Jesus’ true claim to the Davidic kingship renders the scene of the mockery supremely ironical. The mocking soldiers do, in fact, bend their knees before the King. Their salutation of him is, as the evangelists and their readers know, theologically correct. Jesus is the same Man who just days before was addressed as David’s son.
In this mockery Jesus was clothed in a scarlet or purple garment, probably a military cloak, to mimic royalty. To adorn his head, the soldiers wove a crown of thorns, which served as a form of torture as well as a point of shame. The theological significance of this crown of thorns comes from the evangelists’ understanding of it, not the intent of the soldiers. The Gospel writers knew that the crown of Jesus was woven from the elements of Adam’s curse: ‘Both thorns and thistles [the ground] shall bring forth for you’ [Gen. 3.18]. Wearing those thorns, Jesus bears that curse.
According to John [19.5], Jesus still wore the robe and the thorny crown when he appeared before the crowd. Although the robe was removed after the mockery [Matt. 27.31], no evangelist says that the crown was taken off. Christian art and hymnogra-phy commonly portray the crucified Christ as still wearing that crown under the sign identifying him as ‘King of the Jews.