“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said,
Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39 ESV)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Pontius Pilate gets right to the point: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers with two words–σὺ λέγεις—which means: you say (Mark 15:2). The chief priests accuse him of many things. Pilate asks Jesus a second question: “Have you no answer to make?” (Mark 15:4) Jesus does not respond (Isaiah 53:7). Pilate is amazed.
The night before, the high priest asked Jesus if he is the Messiah (Christ). Jesus responded using the words God from Exodus 3:14 saying: “I am”. Then, in case anyone misunderstood him, he paraphrased the messianic prophecy in Daniel 7:13: “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62 ESV). The high priest accordingly accused Jesus of blasphemy which is punishable by stoning under Jewish law (Leviticus 24:16). But since Rome reserved the right to decide all cases of capital punishment, the chief priests accused Jesus of the political crime of sedition—treason against Rome. This is why Pilate asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:2)
What Kind of Messiah?
Realizing that Jesus is innocent of the charge of sedition, like a good politician Pilate begins working the crowd. In offering to release a prisoner named Barabbas, who was guilty of both sedition and murder (Mark 15:7), Pilate is effectively asking the crowd what kind of Messiah they prefer. The crowd asked for Barabbas who was known to be a Jewish nationalist—in other words, the crowd prefers a kingly Messiah.
Messiah means anointed one in Hebrew which translates as Christ in Greek. Three types of roles are anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. In his earthly ministry, Jesus embodied the first two roles (prophet and priest), but the crowd wanted a king—someone to drive the Romans out—as we saw earlier in Mark 11:10.
So Pilate gave them what they wanted (Romans 1:24-25), washed his hands of the decision, and sent Jesus to the cross.
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.
What does Jesus’ suffering mean to you?
Why does Pilate flog and ridicule Jesus? (vv 1-5). Does he accomplish his objective?
Why do the Jews want Jesus crucified, not stoned? (vv 6-7; Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Why is Pilate afraid? (v 8)
What does Jesus say to allay Pilate’s fear (vv 9-11)
Why does Pilate finally submit to the Jew’s demands? (vv 12-16)
What is ironical about the Jews saying that Pilate is not Caesar’s friend? Why is he terrified of this statement?
What is the significance of the inscription placed over Jesus? (v 19).
Iesus Nazarenus rex Iudaeorum (INRI; John 19:19 VUL)
Why are the priests upset? (vv 21-22).
What is the significance of Jesus’ tunic and its treatment? (vv 23-24; Psalm 22:18; Genesis 37:23)
Why does Jesus consign his mother to John? (vv 25-27)
Why does Jesus ask for wine? (vv 28-30; Psalm 69:21)
Why are Jesus’ last words here important? (v 30; Also Luke 23:46; Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37).
What is the reason for the breaking of legs? What is the significance? (vv 31-34, 36; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Numbers 9:12; Exodus 12:46)
What is the significance of the blood and water coming from Jesus’ side? (v 34; Revelations 22:1-3)
Who was a witness to the crucifixion? (v 35)
What do Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have in common? What is special about their role now? (vv 38-40)
What does the reference to the garden bring to mind? Why? (v 41)
What role does the Jewish day of Preparation play in Jesus’ burial? (v 42)
Whom do you seek? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he…they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).
Jesus is full of surprises.
If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like: sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!! What does Jesus do? Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me. Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).
The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6). They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7) Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).
Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations: before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38). In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders; by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.
Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest. Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied: why are you asking me? (v 21) Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy. As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6). Annas has none!
So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas. John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew. Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63). Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks: are you the king of the Jews (v 33). Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34). A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah? But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat. Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36). At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious. Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).
In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds. Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want? Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?
Jesus is full of surprises.
Where was Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of this chapter? (vv 1-2).Where did Jesus not pray in chapter 17? (Matthew 26:30, 36; Mark 14:26, 32; Luke 22:39) How do you resolve the discrepancy?
What role does Judas play in Jesus’ arrest here? (vv 2-3). What role does he play in Matthew 26:47-48 (also Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48)? Who takes the initiative in John?
What happens when Jesus asks the crowd, who do you seek? Why? (vv 4-8) Why did he ask twice? (v 9)
Why are Jesus’ instructions to Peter about sword-play important? (vv 10-12, also 36)
Who interrogates Jesus? (vv 13-23, 24-28, and 29-38) Who is really in charge of the case against Jesus?
What is the charge? (v 33; Matthew 26:63-65)
What is the penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law? (Leviticus 24:16). Why do they want Jesus crucified? (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Why does Jesus ask Pilate to clarify his question? (v 33) How might Jesus answer the question differently to a Jew as opposed to a Roman?
How does Peter’s denial three times (vv 15-18, 25-27) compare with Jesus’ response to his accusers? (vv 4-8, 11, 20-23, 34-37) Who questions Jesus? Who questions Peter? Is Jesus portrayed as a victim?
What is Pilate’s relationship with the Jewish leaders? (vv 28-31)
What kind of king is Jesus? (vv 33-39)
What does the crowd ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus? (v 40)