“Then the Soldiers”
“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.” (Matthew 27:26-32)
Here is a short, but very solemn description of the scourging, mockery, and shame inflicted upon our Lord Jesus Christ by the Roman soldiers before he was crucified. May God the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with reverence and gratitude as we are again reminded of all that our Redeemer endured at the hands of wicked men, and are reminded again that he endured it all for us according to the will and appointment of God, “that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a people zealous of good works.” The Lord of glory was humiliated, scourged, and mocked by men, that we might be exalted, embraced, and honored by God.
The Scourging of our Savior
“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (v. 26). When Pilate had scourged the Savior, he delivered him to be crucified. Barabbas was released; and the Lord Jesus took his place, was scourged, and crucified in the place of a vile criminal, a man who was condemned as one worthy of death. Thus, by an act of divine providence, we are given a vivid picture of our own salvation by substitution. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Luke tells us that Pilate tried to appease the Jews by scourging the Lord Jesus rather than crucifying him (Luke 23:22). But the Jews wanted his death. Therefore, we read here that the order was given first for our Lord to be scourged and then crucified. The indignities heaped upon the Lord Jesus, as the prelude to his crucifixion, must never be considered lightly. These things were also a part of his physical sufferings and deep anguish of soul as our Substitute, and demand our reverent attention.
“Christ was scourged when we had offended, that he might free us from the sting of conscience, and those scourges and scorpions of eternal torments, that he might make us a plaster of his own blessed blood, for by his stripes we are healed, by the bloody weals (welts) made upon his back we are delivered.” (John Trapp)
This act of scourging was almost as cruel, inhumane, and barbaric as crucifixion. It was done with a whip with multiple strands. The cords were made of something like rawhide. Each strand had numerous pieces of bone fragments tied into it. When the whip was dragged across a man’s back, it literally plowed it up. One lash would be indescribably painful. Our Lord Jesus received thirty-nine lashes from the scourge! Thus the Scriptures were fulfilled “The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows” (Ps. 129:3). “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6). “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). “And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again” (Matt. 20:19).
This scouring of Christ was an emblem of the scourges and strokes of divine justice, which he endured in his soul as our Surety, when he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted by the sword of divine justice as our Substitute. But scourging was not enough. We could never be saved if our Lord had only been scourged for us. He must be slain for us, and slain in a manner identifying him as one cursed of God. Therefore, once Pilate had scourged him, “he delivered him to be crucified.” No peace could be made, except by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:20).
The Sport of the Soldiers
“Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him” (vv. 27-31).
Notice the first word of verse 27 - “Then.” Normally, a convicted felon, even in those barbaric times, was given some time between being sentenced to death and his execution. Usually, he had a few days to be visited by family members. But the Son of God was hurried off by the soldiers to be tormented as soon as he had been scourged. While they were preparing the place of execution, an entire band of Roman soldiers (At least 500. Perhaps 1200 or 1300.) got together in Pilate’s palace to have a little fun with this man who was to be executed.
The Lord of glory became an object of sporting torment for a band of depraved men! Yet, even this was according to the will of God for the fulfillment of Scripture, both to assure us that Jesus is the Christ and that he has ransomed our souls by his great sacrifice for sin. These barbarians, hardened by a lifetime of bloodshed, tried to make our Lord’s death a thousand deaths in one. These things are written for our comfort and learning. May God the Holy Spirit both teach us and comfort our hearts by them. We are specifically told by Matthew of seven things, seven acts of barbarism these soldiers did to the Son of God.
1st. “They stripped him” (v. 28). It appears that the only thing in this world that belonged to him, were the clothes on his back; but now he was stripped even of them. The shame of nakedness came into the world with sin (Gen. 3:7). Therefore, when Christ came to be made sin for us, to satisfy the justice of God for it, and to put it away, he was stripped naked and put to public shame! He was put to shame that we might be given honor. He was stripped that we might be clothed with the white raiment of his perfect righteousness (Rev. 3:18).
2nd. They “put on him a scarlet robe” (v. 28). They took some old red coat of one of the soldiers, or some old red blanket, and draped it over Immanuel in mockery, because he claimed to be the King. Thus, they derided him. Yet, in their derision of him, they fulfilled the will of God and the Word of God. This is he of whom the prophet declares, he was “red in his apparel” (Isa. 63:1-2), who “washed his garments in wine” (Gen. 49:11). Our sins are described as being both scarlet and crimson. Thus, as he was about to be made sin, our Lord was here providentially draped in the scarlet robe as our sin-bearer.
3rd. “they platted a crown of thorns and put it on his head” (v. 29). Continuing to mock his claims as the Messiah and King of Israel, they made a crown for his head, but a crown of thorns designed by them to torture him. Had they made the crown merely for laughter, they would not have chosen thorns. It was made specifically to cause our blessed Savior as much pain as possible. What horrible pain it must have caused when shoved into his sacred head!
Yet, this too was done according to the purpose of our God. Thorns are the result of sin and part of God’s curse upon it (Gen. 3:18). Therefore, when Christ was being made a curse for us and would remove the curse from us, he wore the emblem of the curse. This was a fulfillment of the typical ram caught in the thicket that Abraham sacrificed for Isaac (Gen. 17:13). These thorns drew forth blood upon the brow of our great High Priest, which flow down from his head as precious ointment (Ps. 133:2).
4th. “They put a reed in his right hand” (v. 29. Again, this was mockery of our Master. They gave him a bamboo scepter, as if to imply that his claim to a throne and his kingdom was no more than a reed shaken in the wind. How mistaken they are who fail to see that Jesus Christ is King forever! “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre” (Ps. 45:6).
5th. “They bowed the knee before him and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews” (v. 29). Like Joseph’s brethren, they said, “Shalt thou indeed reign over us?” Like multitudes today, they mocked his claims to sovereignty and dominion. But man’s mockery will not last for long.
“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
6th. “They spit upon him” (v. 30). Robert Hawker wrote, “Their spitting on him was intended to manifest the highest indignation and contempt. Among the Jews it was the greatest indignity, imaginable. If a father spit in his daughter’s face, so filthy was she considered thereby, that like the leper, the law enjoined the being shut out of the camp seven days (Num. 12:14).” I do not know which is more shocking: that men should dare spit upon his holy face, or that the Son of God should stoop to being spit upon as one who is utterly contemptible! Yet, to this great depth our God condescended for the salvation of our souls. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
7th. “They took the reed, and smote him on the head” (v. 30). They beat him on the head, while he was wearing the crown of thorns, inflicting all the pain they could upon him. Why? Why was all this done? Why did the Lord of glory submit to it? FOR US! The Son of God endured this misery, this shame, this torture, that he might purchase for us everlasting life, and joy, and peace, and glory! But these things were not sufficient to save us. These torments could never satisfy the justice of God. He must be crucified. Therefore, we read, “And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him” (v. 31). They put his own clothes back on him, that all might recognize him, and led him away, as a lamb to the slaughter, to crucify him.
Carefully read what the Lord Jesus said by the Spirit of prophecy in Psalms 22 and 49 about the sorrow of his soul in suffering these things, and worship him who loved us and gave himself for us. John Trapp admonished, “We should read with regret for our sins, the weapons and instruments of all his sufferings; and see through his wounds the naked bowels, as it were, of his love to our poor souls.” As our blessed Savior was led away to suffer for us, “that he might sanctify us with his own blood,” suffering “without the gate, let us go forth unto him without the camp bearing his reproach” (Heb. 13:12-13).
The Service of Simon
“And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross” (v. 32). This man Simon was one of the Lord’s disciples (Mark 15:21; Rom. 16:13). Whether the soldiers knew that or not we do not know. But he was compelled to carry the Master’s cross, because they feared they might be robbed of their final sport of crucifying him. However, even in this, our God was ruling and overruling to teach us spiritual lessons. If we would follow Christ, we must take up his cross and do so daily (Luke 14:25-33). And it is certain the cross of Christ is so contrary to our flesh that, if we take up his cross and follow him, we must be compelled to do so by the grace of God.
“Oh, that we were as willing to bear Christ’s cross as Christ was to bear our sins on his cross! If anything happens to us by way of persecution or ridicule for our Lord’s sake, and the gospel’s, let us cheerfully endure it. As knights are made by a stroke from the sovereign’s sword, so shall we become princes in Christ’s realm as he lays his cross on our shoulders.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
The Substitute for Sinners
All that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, he suffered vicariously, as the sinner’s Substitute, because he was made sin for us. This is a matter of the deepest importance. Until we understand the purpose of our Redeemer’s sufferings and death, we can never understand why he suffered and died, or what he accomplished by his sacrifice. The Lord Jesus Christ died in the room and stead of chosen sinners, that sinners loved by him from everlasting might be made the righteousness of God in him.
He bore our sins in his own body on the tree. He died the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God in perfect reconciliation and perfect righteousness. He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. The holy Lamb of God was made a curse for us, that he might redeem us from the curse of the law. He was once offered to bear the sins of his elect, that we might bear them no more. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, because the Lord God laid upon him all the sins of all his people (1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; Isa. 53:5-6).
As we read of his sufferings, let us follow our Savior through all his agony, viewing him as our sin-atoning Substitute and Surety, who voluntarily undertook from eternity the redemption of our souls. Was he scourged? It was that through his stripes we might be healed. Was he condemned, though innocent? It was that we might be acquitted, though guilty. Did he wear a crown of thorns? It was that we might wear the crown of glory. Was he stripped? It was that we might be clothed in his perfect righteousness. Was he mocked and reviled? It was that we might be honored and blessed. Was he reckoned a sinner and numbered among transgressors? It was that we might be reckoned righteous and numbered among the holy. Could he not save himself? It was that he might be able to save others to the uttermost. Did he die the painful, shameful, ignominious death of the cross? It was that we might have eternal life and be exalted to the highest glory.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!” Our sins are many and great. But our blessed Christ has put them all away forever by the sacrifice of himself. There is infinite merit and efficacy in his sufferings and death. He who suffered and died as our sin-atoning Substitute is God as well as man. It is written of him, “He shall not fail…He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied.” Let this picture of Christ crucified, as it is set before us by God the Holy Spirit upon the pages of Inspiration, be stamped upon our hearts by that same Spirit’s almighty grace, compelling us to trust and love our great Savior!