Truth, Torture, and Trepidation

February 7, 2020 at 11:26 am | Posted in John | 10 Comments
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Pontius Pilate had been give the appointment as governor of Judea by the Emperor Tiberius. It was not a glamorous or easy post. Pilate was known as a vindictive (sometimes petty) and petulant politician and military commander. To say that he had a troubled relationship with the Jewish people and their religious leaders before they brought Jesus to him would be an understatement.

One of his first decisions after becoming Governor was to place Roman standards with Caesar’s image on them into the the Jewish Temple. The Jewish people, already resentful of Roman occupation and taxation in their holy city, staged a sit-down protest for five days outside of Pilate’s house. In repsonse, he threatened to kill them, but they wouldn’t back down, and he was forced to relent and have the standards removed, but, as you can imagine, he remained acrimonious and held a grudge.

On later occasions he would try to get emblems proclaiming Caesar’s divinity into Herod’s palace, and even the Temple again, including the most sacrosanct inner section known as the Holy of Holies. Herod’s sons responded by peitioning Tiberius, who rebuked and reprimanded Pilate, making him take the emblems out.

Pilate also took money from the Temple treasury to pay for an aqueduct, which caused a mob scene or a riot, in which he didn’t let his soliders use their swords, although some Jewish protesters were clubbed to death and others were run over by chariots.

On still another occasion, in Galilee, he had some Jewish worshipers killed in the middle of their religious sacrifices.

This background helps to explain some of the bickering, bargaining, and badgering that went on between Pilate and the Jewish leaders concerning what was to be done with Jesus after His arrest.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

John 18:38

Pilate found no fault in Jesus. No one ever really did. However, even as he tried to be politically expedient he found himself becoming fearful.

But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

John 18:29

Pilate hinted that this was what he wanted the Jewish leaders to do.

Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

John 18:40

Barabbas, named “the son of the father” (bar = the son; abba = the father) was a terrorist and a real insurgent zealot who sought to overthrow Rome’s rule in his homeland.

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.

John 19:1

This would be the first of two beatings Jesus received at the hands of the Romans (in addition to the blows and abuse suffered during the accusations made against Him by the Jewish High Priest and council, and their questioning of Him). There were three types of beatings used as punishment by the Romans, and the word translated as “scourged” in John 19:1 was the first type – fustigatio in Latin, from which we get the little-used English word “fustigation” and which was the least-severe of the three types. It was used for lesser offenses, but it was still plenty bad. The second-worst beating was called flagellatio (“flagellation” in English), and may have been the only type not administered to Jesus. The third type was verberatio (incorporated into the Engish word “reverberation”), so called because the blows administered to the victim were so harsh and loud that they could be heard from a distance. This was the beating that was given to convicted criminals after the sentence of crucifixion had been handed down. It involved a whip with multiple strands which had been enhanced with shards of sharp bone, metal, and possibly glass tied to them. It flayed off the skin and exposed the internal organs. Many recipients did not survive it and thus never made it to their crosses. The verberatio was intended to dehumanize the victim and to deter other would-be criminals, while at the same time taking away any sympathy the crowd of spectators might have felt seeing someone less deformed and grotesque being crucified.

And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,

John 19:2

This crown was probably made from the thorns of the date palm tree – thorns that grew up to 12 inches in length.

And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

John 19:3

This mockery and additional abuse was not part of the official legal sentencing, but was cruelly allowed by Pilate or the Roman officer in charge as sort of a bonus, letting these sadistic soldiers have some of what they considered to be fun.

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.

John 19:4

Pilate thought the Jews would have sympathy toward Jesus now, and would be satisfied that He had suffered enough. The scene was staged to be dramatic as Jesus was presented as thorougly beaten and non-threatening.

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

John 19:5

This was the Son of Man, in Whom no fault was found, as attested by the “world’s” representative, Pilate/Rome, on at least three separate occasions.

When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;

John 19:6-8 (emphasis added)

I stated earlier that, as Pilate tried to dismiss Jesus with a claim that “truth” was relative or unknowable, he had begun to be fearful. As a Roman pagan who at least professed a belief in hundreds of deities, the possibility that he might be torturing a real God (or even THE real God) was starting to make him more and more nervous.

A Less Lurid Account of the Crucifixion

January 21, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Posted in John | Leave a comment
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Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:

John 19:16-17

Golgotha was also known as “Calvary,” which is from the Latin word for “skull.” It is possible that the place was named that because its shape bore a resemblance to a human skull.

Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

John 19:18

The Biblical narrative of the events which commenced after Jesus’s arrest, and some of the historical records and information concerning the Roman penal system give us insight into some of the terrible beatings, humiliation, mockery, and abuse that Jesus suffered as a prelude to His Crucifixion. These things are difficult to talk about, especially knowing that He endured such suffering for you and me, unworthy as we were to receive the blessings of that kind of love and sacrifice. John 19:18 says, “Where they crucified him…” without going into detail about exactly what it meant to be crucified under the Roman penal system. If you’ve attended church long enough, especially around Easter or Good Friday, you’ve probaby heard a Bible teacher or preacher go to great lengths to describe just how horrible death by crucifixion was. Specific information about the nerve centers where the spikes were driven, the pain of asphyxiation, the agony of dehydration and muscle cramping, etc., is used to paint a very vivid picture which is largely absent from the Biblical account. This raises a question: “Why didn’t the Gospel writers go into more detail about the mechanics and nuances of Jesus’s Crucifixion?” I believe there may be several reasons, but the two that seem apparent to me are:

1. The Gospel writers knew that their original readers would have been very familiar with crucifixion since they were under Roman rule and subjugation, so there was no need to go into more detail.

2. While the physical torture of Jesus certainly plays a significant role in our redemption, and must never be minimized, it was not His physical suffering alone (or even primarily) that paid for our sins. Remember, the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of every person who has been, or will be, saved was poured out upon Jesus in the eternal realm (Isaiah 53:10-12), and this was a type of punishment which no finite human could comprehend, and which no human eyes were allowed to see (Luke 23:44-46). It was a transaction between the Heavenly Father and His Divine Son (Romans 3:25; I John 2:2, 4:10), and it goes beyond the ability of mere mortals to put into words that could truly do it justice.

John mentions the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus, but does not tell us that one of them trusted Christ before he died and was saved.

And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.

John 19:19-20

The title, “King of the Jews,” was intended as mockery, but it was a true statement about Jesus, and was written in three languages, proclaiming it religiously, culturally, and legally.

Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.

John 19:21 (emphasis added)

Suddenly the chief priests who had vehemently opposed Jesus as the true “I AM” were now more than willing to have those words appended to His name.

Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

John 19:22

Pilate exacted a bit of petty revenge for what he felt they had forced him into doing.

Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.

John 19:23

The soldiers divided four of Jesus’s separate articles of clothing among themselves: His head covering, His belt/girdle, His outer garment, and His sandals. His seamless undergarment remained, and would have been ruined if torn, so they gambled for it.

They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

John 19:24-25

Four women remained near the Cross as Jesus was crucified: His mother, Mary; His mother’s sister (unnamed here, but traditionally known as Salome); another Mary, the wife of Cleophas, who was James’s and John’s mother; and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

John 19:26

Jesus again used the term “woman” as a public name of respect from an adult son.

Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

John 19:27

Joseph, Mary’s husband, was now deceased, and Jesus’s earthly brothers were not yet believers, so He appointed John to take care of Mary.

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

John 19:28-29

Having earlier refused the soporific wine, Jesus now drank the sour wine.

When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

John 19:30 (emphasis added)

The Greek term for “it is finished” (tetelestai) means that Jesus’s work of redemption for His people on the Cross was acommplished. The sin debt had been paid in full. He then laid down His own life.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

John 19:31

Cross-Eyed

March 23, 2016 at 11:32 am | Posted in Biblical Eyesight, Common Expressions, Mark | 5 Comments
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The sight of Jesus hanging on the Cross must have been gut-wrenching for those who followed Him and loved Him (and who had not fled and abandoned Him by this point). For most of the spectators, however, including the chief priests and the scribes, it was an occasion for mocking and cruel derision.

And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.

Mark 15:29-31

They were not at all ashamed to look fixedly at the Cross, jeering and taunting the Lord, making a jest that, if only He could get Himself down from there right in front of their eyes, then they would become believers.

Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

Mark 15:32

You may have heard the expression “cross-eyed,” which is used for a person whose eyes both appear to look independently inward toward his nose, instead of looking in the same direction. Children who are able to make their eyes do this intentionally are sometimes warned by a parent or teacher: “You had better stop making that face, or it will freeze like that!”

Today, as Christians, we ought to look fixedly with our mind’s eye at the Cross, as we consider Christ’s great sacrifice there. Refusing to take the bait and get down from the Cross in His Own power, He instead remained there, paying our sin debt in full, and ultimately laying down His Own life before being taken down and buried, only to rise again victoriously from the grave on the third day! We don’t think of contemplating the Cross of our Savior as “getting stuck like that,” but we should often and regularly meditate upon it with hearts of gratitude, affection, repentance, faith, wonder, amazement, reverence, and obedience. Had He come down from the Cross before death, the religious leaders who mocked Jesus would have no more been convinced of His Deity and glory than they were by His miracles, compassion, and Words of Truth. For us, though, we place our trust in the crucified and resurrected King of Israel because He died and rose again.


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