He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7 ESV).
Jesus’ life story is an important part of the Apostle Creed which, in part, reads: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. While Jesus’ death raises many questions, why is it important to remember the brutality of his suffering?
The answer to this question depends on one’s experience of suffering. At one point, I spent a weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) had just been released and I attended the film with some seminary students, one of whom was African American. The film blistered my mind and left me speechless sitting in an empty theatre afterwards. The purpose of the graphic brutality eluded me—Christ’s resurrection, not Christ’s death, had always been my theological focus. My African American colleague, by contrast, understood implicitly. The bond between Christ’s suffering and hers was real—suffering people hear and feel the nails being pounded in the Gospel accounts. That’s how they know that God feels their pain.
One measure of the brutality here is the word used for flogging. Roman law distinguished three types of flogging: fustigatio (beating), flagellatio (flogging), and verberatio (scourging). John 19:1 records a flagellatio flogging (ἐμαστίγωσεν). A fustigatio beating (παιδεύσας—literally teaching a child) is recorded in Luke 23:16 which would simply be a warning. Mark 15:15 records a verberatio scourging (φραγελλώσας), where bones and internal organs would be exposed, which would be prelude to crucifixion and often killed the prisoner. Because flogging generally preceded crucifixion, as the only writer who was also an eye-witness to the actual flogging John is recording a more nuanced account. This lends to his credibility. John’s choice of the word, flagellation, according suggests that Pilate truly had not made up his mind to crucify Jesus at that point.
Of course, Jesus’ suffering did not end with the flogging.
One of the principles of alcoholics anonymous is that it takes an alcoholic to understand an alcoholic. Human suffering works the same way. Christ’s suffering gives him credibility to approach us in our suffering. The extreme nature of his suffering implies that no human being could suffer more; hence, no one is excluded from relationship with Christ. In effect, Christ’s suffering and death is what assures us that Jesus was truly human.
The English Standard Version divides chapter 19 into these section: Jesus delivered to be crucified (vv 1-16), The crucifixion (vv 17-27), The death of Jesus (vv 28-30), Jesus’ side is pierced (vv 31-37), and Jesus is buried (vv 38-42). …Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried…
Christ crucifixion, death, piercing, and burial prepare us for the reality of the resurrection. One must be truly dead in order to be resurrected.
Question 23 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Faith Alive Christian Resources. 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372. Date: 30 August, 2013.
Gary M. Burge. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Pages 502-503. Also: Craig S. Keener. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol 2. Peabody: Hendrickson. Pages 1118-1119.
μαστιγόω (BDAG 4729): to beat with a whip or lash, whip, flog, scourge (of flogging as a punishment decreed by the synagogue).
παιδεύω (BDAD 5489.2): to assist in the development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline.
φραγελλόω (BDAG 7809): flog, scourge, a punishment inflicted on slaves and provincials after a sentence of death had been pronounced on them.
From the alcoholic’s perspective, of course. Howard J. Clinebell, Jr. 1978. Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic Through Religion and Psychology. Nashville: Abingdon. Page 128.