“Look! The Man!”
IMPRESSED by Jesus’ demeanor and recognizing his innocence, Pilate pursues another way to release him. “You have a custom,” he tells the crowds, “that I should release a man to you at the passover.”
Barabbas, a notorious murderer, is also being held as prisoner, so Pilate asks: “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas or Jesus the so-called Christ?”
Persuaded by the chief priests who have stirred them up, the people ask for Barabbas to be released but for Jesus to be killed. Not giving up, Pilate responds, asking again: “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
“Barabbas,” they shout.
“What, then, shall I do with Jesus the so-called Christ?” Pilate asks in dismay.
With one deafening roar, they answer: “Let him be impaled!” “Impale! Impale him!”
Knowing that they are demanding the death of an innocent man, Pilate pleads: “Why, what bad thing did this man do? I found nothing deserving of death in him; I will therefore chastise and release him.”
Despite his attempts, the enraged crowd, egged on by their religious leaders, keep yelling: “Let him be impaled!” Worked into a frenzy by the priests, the crowd wants blood. And to think, only five days before, some of them were probably among those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as King! All the while, Jesus’ disciples, if they are present, remain silent and inconspicuous.
Pilate, seeing his appeals are doing no good but, rather, that an uproar is arising, takes water and washes his hands before the crowd, and says: “I am innocent of the blood of this man. You yourselves must see to it.” At that, the people answer: “His blood come upon us and upon our children.”
So, in accord with their demands—and wishing to satisfy the crowd more than to do what he knows is right—Pilate releases Barabbas to them. He takes Jesus and has him stripped and then scourged. This was no ordinary whipping. The Journal of the American Medical Association describes the Roman practice of scourging:
“The usual instrument was a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals. . . . As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.”
After this torturous beating, Jesus is taken into the governor’s palace, and the whole body of troops is called together. There the soldiers heap further abuse on him by braiding a crown of thorns and pushing it down on his head. They put a reed in his right hand, and they clothe him with a purple garment, the type that is worn by royalty. Then they say to him mockingly: “Good day, you King of the Jews!” Also, they spit on him and slap him in the face. Taking the sturdy reed from his hand, they use it to hit him on the head, driving even further into his scalp the sharp thorns of his humiliating “crown.”
Jesus’ remarkable dignity and strength in the face of this mistreatment so impresses Pilate that he is moved to make another attempt to redeem him. “See! I bring him outside to you in order for you to know I find no fault in him,” he tells the crowds. Possibly he imagines that the sight of Jesus’ tortured condition will soften their hearts. As Jesus stands before the heartless mob, wearing the thorny crown and the purple outer garment and with his bleeding face etched with pain, Pilate proclaims: “Look! The man!”
Though bruised and battered, here stands the most outstanding figure of all history, truly the greatest man who ever lived! Yes, Jesus shows a quiet dignity and calm that bespeak a greatness that even Pilate must acknowledge, for his words are apparently a mingling of both respect and pity. John 18:39–19:5; Matthew 27:15-17, 20-30; Mark 15:6-19; Luke 23:18-25.
▪ In what way does Pilate attempt to have Jesus released?
▪ How does Pilate try to absolve himself of responsibility?
▪ What is involved in being scourged?
▪ How is Jesus ridiculed after being scourged?
▪ What further attempt does Pilate make to release Jesus?