Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’
Pilate thought perhaps he could satisfy the blood-thirsty crowd by flogging and ridiculing Jesus. And so, he sends him to his soldiers to be flogged – flogging was a brutal form of punishment, using a leather whip woven with bits of glass and metal. It cut the skin, sometimes to the bone, and people often died of flogging. But it was not Pilate’s intention to kill Jesus; he was trying to satisfy the crowd without doing so. Pilate was not a man known for having a kind heart, or even for being fair or just in his rule; he was, in fact, eventually removed from his position due to his excessive cruelty. Yet, all four gospels portray him as a reluctant executioner. Something about Jesus grabs his attention, makes him reluctant to kill him. Perhaps he is simply trying to balance the crowd response, fearful that those who supported Jesus will rise up if he is executed; perhaps he is superstitious and something about the man makes him uneasy, makes him think maybe he really is who he says he is. In John, more than the other gospels, his conversation with Jesus seems to have an impact – his cynicism comes through in the conversations, and in his responses to the crowd, but he seems to be impacted by Jesus’ words, and his demeanor.
The soldiers do as they are told – they punish Jesus, and then they mock him. It generally takes much longer for someone to die of crucifixion than it did Jesus – suffering for a prolonged period was the whole point. Many scholars believe that the flogging was so severe, and the loss of blood from it so extreme, that Jesus’ death was hurried by it. And after they had flogged him, they thought to mock him. They put a crown of thorns on his head, and a purple robe around his shoulders, and they struck him in the face, saying “Hail, King of the Jews!” This is one of the great ironies of the gospel stories – the first to proclaim Christ as their king were those mockers who would put him to death.
Pilate took him out onto the portico and showed him to the crowd (remember, this is a crowd assembled by the Chief Priest, likely paid by him) and proclaimed “Here is the man!” He is thinking perhaps they will say “enough” but they do not; instead, they shouted, “Crucify HIm!” Pilate says, you take him and crucify him – but, of course, they cannot do so legally. They answer Pilate that Jesus must die, because he has broken their law by claiming to be the Son of God.
Jesus, the Christ, the true Son of God, stands before them, beaten and humiliated. But I doubt he looked at the ground – I see him standing as straight as he can, and looking them in the eyes. And that gaze is direct and frightening, and they shout all the louder, “Crucify Him!”