Here we read about the final trial of Jesus and we get a little knowledge of Pilate’s character and his unpopularity with the Jews helps us to understand his behaviour on this occasion.
‘Flogging,’ Luke 23:16 was the governor’s attempt to convince the Jews that Jesus had suffered enough and should be released. Once again, all four Gospels mention the flogging but say absolutely nothing about it, there is no attempt to play upon the reader’s emotions. Also, at that age, people were perfectly familiar with it and needed no explanations.
Flogging was usually administered to one who was about to be crucified, Antiochus Epiphanies used it to force Jews to eat swine’s flesh, 2 Maccabees 6:30 / 2 Maccabees 7:1.
The flagellum was similar to the ‘cat o’ nine tails’ a handle with leather thongs, tipped with bone or metal. The prisoner was stripped to the waist, then bound in a stooping position to post.
The blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, to the face and the bowels. So, hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted with and not rarely died under it.
Eusebius describes the death of Christian martyrs at Smyrna about 155 A.D., ‘so torn with scourges that their veins were laid bare, and the inner muscles and sinews, and even the bowels, were exposed’.
Josephus tells of a man who was ‘flogged to the bone’ before a Roman governor.
It was often a prelude to crucifixion, but in this case, it wasn’t as Pilate later tries to have Jesus released and this flogging was an attempt to satisfy the Jews without killing Jesus.
The soldiers went further than just flogging, and placed a crown of thorns upon His head. This was a mock Coronation for the one claiming to be the king of the Jews and it was followed by mock worshipping of Him.
1. That it was an instrument of torture, long sharp spikes turned inward, or
2. That it was a radiant crown, with the spikes turned outward, similar in appearance to a crown worn by an emperor.
There is a shrub in Palestine called ‘spina Christi’ or ‘palimus shrub’ which has long, sharp spikes, and leaves similar to the ivy used for emperors or general’s crowns, this is the traditional source of the crown of thorns.
John records ‘a purple robe’ whilst Mathew records a ‘scarlet’ robe, Matthew 27:28. Purple, with the ancients, was a vague term for bright, rich colour, and would be used for crimson as well as violet. It was probably the cloak of a Roman soldier, i.e., an officer.
The ‘robe’, ‘himatismos’, is used generally for costly or stately raiment, the apparel of kings, of officials etc., Luke 7:25 / Matthew 27:28 / Matthew 27:31.
Matthew tells that they ‘put a reed in his hand’, Matthew 27:29 and note the tense, ‘they kept coming up to Him, kept striking Him,’ John 19:3 it was repeated action, Matthew 27:27-30 tells us ‘the whole battalion’ was involved.
The picture is of a soldier after soldier coming up to Jesus, kneeling before Him, slapping Him, spitting on Him and shouting, ‘Hail king of the Jews!’
In John 19:4 we see Pilate for the second time telling the people that he can find no charge with which to charge Jesus. He ought to have released Jesus at this point, if the prisoner’s guilt or innocence had been the sole consideration, Jesus would have been set free before this, but he is afraid of possible political repercussions.
When Jesus comes out, Pilate shows Him to the crowd, ‘behold the man!’, this was an attempt to gain sympathy for Jesus as if to say, ‘look at this poor fellow!’
How could they accuse such a pitiable object of treason? It’s a weak attempt to free Jesus. The governor is almost begging the Jews to show pity for the prisoner.
No doubt he shows them the wounds that have been inflicted in the hope that they would now be satisfied, but alas the appearance of Jesus only makes the mob rowdier and bloodthirsty. You never get rid of a pack of wolves by showing them blood!
It ought to be noted that the call ‘crucify, crucify’ came not from the mob, but specifically from the religious authorities. The response of the chief priests and officers is simply, ‘crucify! Crucify!’
The word ‘him’ isn’t in the text. This has been called ‘an ominous chant, a monotonous refrain, ‘Crucify! Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!’ manipulated by their rulers, the mob shouted the same demand, Matthew 27:20-23.
In John 19:6-16 we see Pilate’s final decision. For the third time Pilate pronounces Jesus innocent, ‘I find no crime in him’, the Gospels stress the same point, Matthew 27:23-24 / Mark 15:14 / Luke 23:4 / Luke 23:13-15 / Luke 23:22.
The governor taunts the Jews with the words, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him.’ Pilate would rather they should do their dirty work themselves than he should be forced into a decision contrary to his conscience.
They couldn’t have Jesus killed without Pilate’s official permission, also, if they had that and executed Him according to the Law of Moses, it would be by stoning. They didn’t ever practice crucifixion but they wanted Jesus crucified, so, Pilate must condemn Jesus and the Romans must carry out the sentence of death.
Pilate knows that the Jews aren’t allowed to crucify someone and the offer to them here isn’t genuine, but an attempt to get the crowd to move away. He is afraid of them and wants this problem to go away as soon as possible.
The Jews again refer to the Law, specifically Leviticus 24:16, and declare the need for the disposal of the ‘guilty one’. Pilate knows that it’s the policy of Rome to allow the natives religious freedom, as long as they worship the Caesar claiming deity as well. The Jews are aware of this policy and hope to use it to persuade the reluctant Pilate.
They have tried to have Jesus condemned for sedition, Luke 23:2, now, here in John 19:7 they are forced to reveal the real charge against him, ‘he ought to die because he made himself the Son of God’.
The charge was blasphemy, and their ‘Law’ of Moses called for the death penalty, Leviticus 24:16. It was on this charge that the Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death, Mark 14:61-64 / Matthew 27:23-66, but they don’t reveal this until they are forced to do so.
If Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was false, then the Sanhedrin was right in condemning Him to death for blasphemy. John 19:8 tells us that the governor was already a frightened man, two things would have made him afraid,
1. His wife’s message, Matthew 27:19 and
2. The words and demeanour of Jesus.
And so, Pilate takes Jesus into the Praetorium, and asked, ‘where are you from?’, ‘to what world do you belong?’ He seems to get into a rage and he can’t fathom what Jesus is all about. He arrogantly brags about his power, trying to get a response out of Jesus, even offering his freedom for the correct answers.
Notice that Jesus didn’t answer, perhaps because worldly Pilate had already been told, and could not grasp the answer, John 18:37-38. Perhaps also because a man who would scourge a prisoner he had declared innocent did not deserve a reply.
To the governor, a kingdom based entirely on ‘Truth’ was incomprehensible, for Jesus to have said that He was the Son of God who had come from heaven would have been more so. Refusing to answer could be regarded as ‘contempt of court’, Pilate, as Tiberius’ representative, had the power of life and death over a prisoner.
He says, ‘do you not know that I have power ‘exousia’ to release you, and power ‘exousia’ to crucify you?’ The governor’s ‘exousia’ was delegated authority, derived from Caesar.
Calmly Jesus tells Pilate of the origin of His power, His authority is ‘given from above’, from God, Romans 13:1. God had trusted Him with the power He has, and He is answerable to God for the way He uses that power.
Jesus reassures Pilate that he is not totally to blame for putting the Son of God to death as he does so out of ignorance of the truth.
Caiaphas, acting officially for the Sanhedrin, had delivered Jesus to Pilate, he had ‘the greater sin’. The deeper guilt lies with the man who ‘handed me over to you’.
This is Jesus’ final statement to Pilate and in it He affirms God’s supremacy, He is in control of human affairs and also man’s accountability, the Jewish rulers and the Roman governors are answerable to God.
John 19:12 tells us that Pilate knew that Jesus was no leader of the sedition against Rome, he was also frightened, so he ‘sought’, notice again the tense, ‘kept on seeking’, to free Him. John doesn’t say how he did so but he records that the governor finally gave up the efforts because of fear.
The chief priests however had the Law, they ought to have recognised the Messiah, but instead, they are about to force His execution.
This short speech of Jesus impresses Pilate, who recognises some characteristics that he doesn’t quite understand so, he tries again to persuade the Jews to allow him to allow Jesus to go free. The Jews shouted, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friends’, this was political blackmail and it ended the efforts to release Jesus.
The Jews were saying, ‘free this man and we will accuse you to the Emperor. The charge against you will be high treason, that you released a man who claimed to be King of the Jews’.
Tiberius was a very suspicious ruler, even a hint of disloyalty would be disastrous for a Roman official. Pilate knew that a charge of high treason could cost him a position, liberty and life and so, this frightened him and then he decided to put personal safety before justice, to condemn an innocent man to death.
The Jews’ new weapon against Jesus is all-powerful against Pilate, Jesus claims to be the king thus, He opposes Caesar who is the king of all the vast Roman domains.
This was the ultimate hypocrisy as all present knew that the Jews didn’t consider Caesar their king and held no allegiance to him. This very good argument must have again caused a troubled Pilate to slip into a rage, but they now had him in a corner.
Pilate makes one last attempt to change the mob’s mind, they will not hear of it, they want Jesus dead. Verse thirteen could imply that Pilate had Jesus sit on the judgement seat, the Greek could have either meaning.
The Jew’s threat has decided Pilate and at once he prepares to pass sentence, he ‘brought Jesus out’, that is out of the Praetorium and ‘sat down on the judgment seat’, Acts 18:12 / Acts 18:16-17 this was a raised platform on which roman judge sat to pronounce sentence.
‘The pavement’, ‘luthostratos’, was stone-paved, Josephus states that Temple Mount was covered with a mosaic pavement. Hebrew ‘Gabbatha’, means raised place, elevation.
John 19:14 seems to make this quite possible, Pilate showing the Jews a weak, blood-covered man not able even to stand and needing the seat more than Pilate.
‘Day of Preparation’ was the day before Passover, which began at the next sunset. John mentions it was ‘about the sixth hour’, scholars and commentators are divided about whether John here uses Jewish or Roman time. Jewish time is noon but Roman time is 6 a.m.
John is in Asia Minor, writing toward the end of the first century when Jerusalem has been destroyed and the Jewish state ceased to exist. It would be natural for him to give the time according to Roman reckoning. In Mark 15:25, Mark would use Jewish reckoning, at 6 a.m. the trial was in progress, at 9 a.m. Jesus was crucified.
When Pilate says, ‘Behold your King!’ this was a joke in bad taste at the expense of the Jews.
‘They yelled, ‘off with him! Off with him! Crucify Him!’ Pilate replied, ‘the King of you shall I crucify?’ The chief priests who were the religious leaders and teachers of the nation replied, ‘we have no king but Caesar.’
They claimed that as Israel was God’s special nation, God was their only King and they hated Caesar and bitterly resented the Roman occupation.
With the use of the argument by the mob, in favour of Caesar, Pilate knows that he has lost, to satisfy them, he hands Jesus over to be crucified. This declaration was ‘the crowning apostasy of Judaism’ and ‘the utterance of a nation turned traitor to its noblest traditions.
Notice that John doesn’t record Pilate’s ‘hand washing’, Matthew 27:24-26.
Notice that the mere fact of the crucifixion is recorded, in John 19:18, as with flogging, John 19:1, it isn’t described. First-century readers knew well what was involved in these acts.
Roman law didn’t permit a Roman citizen to be crucified, it was regarded as the death of a slave. The punishment was meted out for such crimes as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, sedition, etc.
Cicero said, ‘Let every name of the cross be far away not only from the body of a Roman citizen but even from his thought, his eyes, his ears.
Jesus went out, bearing His own cross, the condemned man was made to carry His cross to the place of execution. Later Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross, Matthew 27:32 / Mark 15:21 / Luke 23:26. This must mean that Jesus was unable to carry it, an execution party would show no mercy to a condemned man.
We need to read Luke 23:37-41 for details of the procession to Golgotha. It’s called ‘the place of a skull’ but what and where was this?
1. It was a hill resembling a skull but the Bible nowhere describes it as a hill.
2. It was a place of execution, littered with skulls. but Jews wouldn’t allow bones of dead men to litter the ground close to the city. Joseph of Arimathea wouldn’t have a tomb near such a place, John 19:41.
3. That according to legend, it was the place where Adam’s skull had been buried.
The truth of the matter is that we simply don’t know why this place was simply named ‘Skull’, Luke 23:33.
Whatever the speculation, the fact remains, Jesus is taken by Roman soldiers to the place of execution, called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, which was probably the hill on the Northern side of Jerusalem. It’s outside the city walls, a wall was present at the time, and the hill has a strange appearance almost like the face of the skull.
This may well be why it is called the place of the skull, and why it was designated the place of execution, some, even most say that the crucifixion occurred at the present-day site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but this place is now generally accepted to be inside the city walls at Jesus’ time.
We see in John 19:18 that ‘two others’ were crucified with Jesus. Matthew and Mark say, ‘robbers’ whilst Luke says, ‘criminals’. John says one on each side, this occurred simply to ensure Isaiah 53:12 was fulfilled. The actual physical pain endured by Jesus is too horrific to contemplate, John 19:19-22.
Above the head of Jesus was placed this sign reading, ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’.
The people passing along the road North all saw Jesus on the cross and read the sign as it was in all three main languages of the time, Aramaic, used by the common people, Latin, used by the elite and legal rulers of the empire, and Greek, used by the forces in the region, it was the language that was universal at the time. Hebrew was being used only by the Jews in their religious dealings.
Pilate had been willing to yield to the rulers’ demand for the death of an innocent man. His own safety was threatened, John 19:12-13. Regarding the ‘title’, ‘titlon,’ this was a board stating the victim’s mane and crime for which condemned, he was adamant and he refused to change what he had written.
The ‘title’, ‘charge’, Matthew 27:37, ‘inscription of charge’ Mark 15:26, ‘inscription’, Luke 23:38. John gives the fullest form of the inscription, including all that Matthew, Mark and Luke give, except the words ‘this is’.
Golgotha was close to the city, and the inscription read by many, John 19:20. The Gospels suggest it was close to the road as Jesus was insulted by ‘those who passed by’, Matthew 27:39 / Mark 15:29
The Jews protested to Pilate about the sign, but Pilate wouldn’t remove it probably because he wanted to do something to impose his will on the people in response to them imposing their will on him by having Jesus put there.
This was, of course, an entirely honest and true statement to make, Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews and the King of all nations. The cross here is, ‘stauros’, and it means a pole or stake and it could imply a few things,
1. That it was simply an upright pole or stake.
2. That it was the crux decussate, or St. Andrew’s Cross i.e., an ‘X’ shape.
3. That it was the crux commissa i.e. a ‘T’ shape.
4. That it was the crux immissa, this is the most common representation.
In John 19:23-24 we are reminded again that this was to fulfil prophecy, the clothes Jesus had been wearing were split up among the Romans present and His only possession, His cloth was gambled for. Jesus was thus left with nothing to give to those He had left behind, He had given His all, even Himself.
An execution squad comprised four soldiers commanded by a centurion, the clothing of one crucified went to the soldiers, Matthew 27:35 / Mark 15:24 / Luke 23:34.
The ‘four parts’ would consist of a head-dress, turban, sandals, outer robe and girdle, the soldiers cast lots for these. Because His tunic was seamless, they then diced for this as a separate item. Josephus states that the linen tunic of the Jewish high priest was a seamless garment, this fulfilled Psalm 22:18. John’s statement in this verse sums up his abhorrence of the whole incident, ‘so this is what the soldiers did.’
In John 19:25-27 we see Jesus commits His mother to John’s care. Matthew 27:55 says, ‘many women there, looking on from afar’. John names four, ‘His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’, the first time she is named in the Gospel. They were ‘standing by the cross’, they at first stood afar off, with others, then later drew near to the cross.
It is interesting to see the love these women had for Jesus His own disciples had all, except John, deserted Him but the women, those courageous and loving women were there.
Jesus cares to the last moment and He sees both His mother and the disciple He loved together and commends her to his care. He ignores His own suffering, Jesus is concerned for her and commits her to John’s care.
‘He took her to his own home’ means either he took her home immediately, then returned, John 19:35. This seems probable as Matthew and Mark don’t mention Mary was present when Jesus died or, alternatively, he took her home after the crucifixion.
They didn’t believe in Him, John 7:5 but Mary did, Mark 3:31-35. His brothers became believers after the resurrection, Acts 1:14.
If His, ‘Jesus’ mother’s sister’ is the mother of James and John, then John was her nephew. He doesn’t call His mother ‘mother’ as she must now stop looking at Jesus as her son and consider Him as her Lord.
Even upon the cross, just moments before He is to die, Jesus considers His task here during His visit to earth. Jesus knew ‘that all was now finished’, ‘telso’, this frequently signifies, not merely to terminate a thing, but to carry out a thing to the full, the same word is used in John 19:30.
He ensures that all is completed and that His task was done, then to ensure the fulfilment of all Scripture, Jesus says ‘I am thirsty’, Psalm 69:21 / Psalm 22:15.
John 19:29 could refer to Psalm 42:2 or Psalm 69:21.
‘A bowl full of vinegar’ was a jar of cheap wine, a very bitter wine called posca or sour wine commonly drunk by the Roman soldiers. This wasn’t the drugged wine usually offered to the condemned man just before the crucifixion, He had refused that, Matthew 27:33-34 / Mark 15:23. Victims often lived for many hours on the cross and so, giving Jesus a drink was an act of kindness.
The Bible records seven statements made by Jesus on the cross, John records only three of these. Of the seven, four are related to the well-being of others around him, two are directed to listening and greatly concerned, Father and one to all who were listening.
1. Forgiveness. ‘Father forgive them’ etc., Luke 23:34.
2. Salvation. ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’ Luke 23:43.
3. Love. ‘Women behold your son! Behold, your mother!’ John 19:26-27.
4. Despair. ‘My God My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Matthew 27:46 / Mark 15:34.
5. Suffering. ‘I thirst’, John 19:28.
6. Triumph. ‘It is finished!’ John 19:30.
7. Committal. ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’ Luke 23:46.
It is finished, ‘teleo’ means it is accomplished, the task is done, it’s all over. The Gospels state that Jesus uttered a loud cry immediately before He died.
‘It is finished!’ was shouted, a cry of triumph. His commission is fulfilled, John 17:4. His death isn’t that of a defeated or beaten man, it’s the death of a victor who triumphs. The ‘loud cry’ of Matthew 27:50 and Mark 15:37 tells us that Jesus died as a victor, He had completed what He came to do.
Jesus ‘gave up his spirit’ is an unusual way of describing death, Matthew 27:50 / Mark 15:39 / Luke 23:46. He ‘gave up’ His spirit was a voluntary act, John 10:17-18 / Matthew 20:28.
In John 19:31-37 after Jesus was dead we see the other men with Him had not suffered as Jesus before being put on the cross, so they languished longer than the Lord. The Jews wanted the bodies removed before the Sabbath which was due to start at 6 a.m. that day.
This wasn’t the normal Sabbath, but a special one, the Passover. There was an urgency to get the bodies taken care of quickly so that those who dealt with the body would not be unclean for too long.
It was now Thursday afternoon and in order to ensure the two of them on the cross would die soon, their legs were broken preventing them from picking themselves up to breathe and causing them to suffocate.
Roman practice was to leave corpses on the cross to putrefy, a warning to others, among the Jews to leave a body on the cross all night, was the worst kind of religious defilement, Deuteronomy 21:23.
Additionally, the coming day was the Sabbath, also ‘a high day’, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened bread, Exodus 12:16 / Leviticus 23:7. It was a double holy day, and the Jews, religious leaders, were anxious to avoid defilement and so, they asked Pilate to have the legs of the three broken.
This was called the ‘crucifragium’ legs broken by blows from the heavy mallet, resulting in constriction of the chest hastened death. This was done to the two robbers, but not to Jesus, He was already dead. A Roman soldier made absolutely sure, he ‘stabbed his side with a lance, and at once there was a flow of blood and water’.
The piercing of Jesus’ side is seen as the fulfilment of Zechariah 12:10 / Revelation 1:7. Jesus was dead so there was no need to break His legs, but to ensure that Jesus was dead, the soldier thrust his spear into the side of Jesus, also perhaps just a simple act of brutality.
John goes to great lengths to assure us that this did occur and that a mixture of blood and water flooded forth, John was the man who saw it occur. There is much debate about the source of this blood, some say Jesus was bleeding and thus He wasn’t yet dead, He bled to death. However, verse thirty puts that to rest immediately.
Some have proposed that pericardium which would separate into congealed blood and serum, water. This is very difficult to prove, and many say that it isn’t possible, so no conclusion shall be drawn.
Let it be suffice to say that Jesus was dead before the spear ruptured His body and that the whole series of events fulfilled prophecy after prophecy as it unravelled.
Two men Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, Mark 15:42-47, also didn’t consent to the execution, Luke 23:50-54. He was ‘rich’, Matthew 27:57, ‘a respected member of the council’, Mark 15:43, ‘a good and righteous man.’ who had ‘not consented to their purpose and deed’, Luke 23:51.
He was ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews’, John 12:42-43 evidently, he had kept his belief secret until now. He ‘took courage and went to Pilate’, Mark 15:43 he wished to give the body a proper burial.
Nicodemus joined him for His burial, he too was a member of the Sanhedrin, and a believer, John 3:1-2 John 7:50.
‘Myrrh’ was a gum resin used as a perfume and embalming fluid, ‘alces’, pounded wood of the aloe tree, also used for embalming, Psalm 45:8 / Proverbs 7:17 / Matthew 2:11.
A hundred pounds weight, 100 litras, one letra being equal to 12 ounces, John 12:3-5 indicates that Nicodemus was a rich man also, the amount brought suggests that they intended to completely cover the corpse with spices.
Both were willing to risk their own reputation and physical safety came and took Jesus’ body down to arrange the burial. Pilate, surprised that Jesus was already dead, first confirmed the fact by asking the centurion in command, they released the body, Mark 15:44-45. The ‘lined cloths’ were linen strips were bandages.
Joseph’s ‘new tomb’ had not been used and was in a garden close to Golgotha, John 19:41 / Matthew 27:60. Because this tomb was ‘close to hand’, and the Sabbath imminent a temporary arrangement, to be buried elsewhere after the Sabbath.
It was now close to the Passover and they hurried to arrange Jesus’ body in a nearby tomb. The tomb was Joseph’s own and was new, unused, it wasn’t a natural cave but one dug out of the rock. It was very convenient as it was so near the place of the skull and the Sabbath was fast approaching.
Joseph the owner was a believer, so His body was always in the hands of believers. One layer of bandages would have been applied followed by another layer of the spices Nicodemus brought along, and His body would have been finally wrapped in a sheet-like piece of linen.
Both men would have been unclean as a result of this action and wouldn’t have been able to participate in the Passover.