16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified – he hands him over to the soldiers, who entertain themselves for a time by mocking him. The mockery of the high priest’s servants had been aimed at Jesus as a prophet – “Prophecy!” after blindfolding him; but the mockery of the soldiers is aimed at the claim that he is King of the Jews – the charge for which Pilate has condemned him. They take him into the courtyard – I have heard two versions of where this really was, either the Antonia Fortress or Pilate’s home /palace in the wealthy section of town where the high priest’s home was. I believe the Antonia Fortress the most likely place – Pilate would have been unlikely to hear a capital case on the steps of his own home, while there was a “chair” on the portico of the Antonia Fortress where Pilate judged. We saw two places that had been a part of the pavement of the Antonia Fortress – where soldiers, in boredom, had scratched grids for games into the stones. The fortress had intentionally been built adjacent to the temple, and taller than the temple – Rome intended to keep Rome above even God.
And so, the soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard – they flogged him – a beating with a whip into which bits of bone, sharp stones, broken glass, even fish-hooks had been braided. Flogging tore the skin, sometimes down to the bone. And then they took this bloodied man, and they set him up like a king, before the whole cohort (hundreds of soldiers) – they gave him a crown, which they had made from thorns, and thrust it upon his head; they found an old purple cloak somewhere, and dressed him in it, and they began saluting him, “Hail! King of the Jews!” they struck his head with a reed, spat on him, and knelt before him. Mark has used irony before, but here the irony is obvious – the very ones who torment Jesus, and will crucify him, are actually the first to bow before him, to pay him homage. Also ironically, while the temple authorities were adamant about getting Jesus crucified, what they actually opened up is a path of mockery of all the Jews. The soldiers are not just mocking Jesus as a king; they are mocking these people, the Jews, whom they control and rule. The temple authorities try to defuse the situation by doing the wrong thing – the result is a worsening of the situation.
Finally, the soldiers have had their “fun”. They lead Jesus out to be crucified. There is a cross ready; it had been meant for Barabbas.