They Flog Him
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. (John 19:1)
I offered my back to those who beat me. (Isaiah 50:6)
The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
All four New Testament gospels tell us about the punishment—the flogging—that Pilate ordered for Jesus. John, however, gives the more detailed account, not about the physical flogging itself, but about Pilate’s reasoning and purpose in having Jesus flogged.
Pilate held audience with Jesus, he spoke with Jesus and questioned him, and he came away believing that the charges against Jesus were baseless. He wanted to release Jesus, but the crowds shouted “No! Crucify him!” He offered the crowds a choice between releasing Jesus or Barabbas, a known criminal who had healed nobody, fed nobody, and shared God’s wisdom with nobody. But the crowds shouted, “Give us Barabbas!” It’s at this point that our text reads, “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”
The question is, Why? Why did Pilate have his soldiers whip Jesus and tear up his flesh? Why fashion a crown of thorns and push those spikes into Jesus’ skull? Why mock Jesus by draping a robe of royal purple over his bleeding shoulders? Why bring Jesus back to Pilate in this wounded and awful condition?
Clearly, Pilate wanted to make a spectacle of Jesus—not a spectacle of derision, but a spectacle of pity. Pilate brought Jesus before the Jews one more time—now beaten, bloodied and humiliated—because he wanted the Jews to feel sorry for Jesus. He wanted the Jews to wring their hands in pity and cry out, “Oh, poor Jesus . . . please release him!” As you know, this was not the response of the crowds.
It cannot be our response to Jesus’ suffering either. Should we pity Jesus as he suffers for our sins? Should we feel sorry for him as he shoulders the curse of sin? Should we look at the Suffering Servant God sent to accomplish our redemption and say, “Oh, poor Jesus!”? No, our response to Jesus’ suffering is horror, because we see with clarity God’s holy, powerful hatred against sin and sinners like us. At the same time, our response to Jesus’ suffering is also joy, because we see with clarity God’s gracious, powerful love for sinners like us. The realities of law and gospel, sin and grace, punishment and pardon, death and life—they become crystal-clear for us in Jesus’ vicarious suffering and death as our Savior. So, do we pity Jesus in his suffering? No, we praise him.
I don’t pity you, Jesus, but praise you for your mercy, grace, and power as you gave your life for my salvation. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey Schone serves Martin Luther College as vice president for student life.