The Scourging of Jesus
Devotion by Tim Sullivan
15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.
17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,
18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!
19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.
20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.
Scourging was a legal first step to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. The purpose was to not only cause a great deal of pain but to humiliate as well. To scourge a man was to beat him worse than one would beat a stupid animal. It was belittling, debasing, and demeaning. It was considered such a degrading form of punishment that, according to Roman laws, Roman citizens were exempt from it. It was, therefore, the punishment appropriate only for slaves and non-Romans, those who were viewed as the lesser elements in Roman society. To make it as humiliating as possible, scourging was carried out in public. Mark says “and they call together the whole band” which would have been around 600 men.
Remember earlier that Christ had sweated drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. This is a real and rare medical condition called hematidrosis. This is caused by great anguish and also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile, which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.
The instrument used to deliver this form of punishment was a flagrum. The lashes were delivered without any compassion or consideration for the victim’s health, and Roman law imposed no limit to the number of lashes inflicted at scourging. It was not a cat o’ nine tails, it was much worse. It was not made for punishment but rather for torture. It was not designed merely to bruise or leave welts on the victim. The flagrum was a whip with several thongs or strands, each strand was weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. This instrument was designed to lacerate. The weighed thongs struck the skin so violently that it broke open. The church historian Eusebius of Caesarea recounts a scene of scourging. He says, “For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view.
When a decision was made to scourge an individual, the victim was first stripped completely naked so his entire flesh would be open and uncovered to the beating action of the torturer’s whip. Then the victim was
bound to a two-foot-high scourging post. His hands were tied over his head to a metal ring, and his wrists were securely shackled to the metal ring to restrain his body from movement. When in this locked position, the victim couldn’t wiggle or move, trying to avoid or dodge the lashes that were being laid across his back.
Romans were professionals at scourging; they took delight in the fact that they were the “best” at punishing with this brutal act. Once the victim was harnessed and stretched over the post the Roman soldier began to put him through unimaginable torture.
Most often, two torturers were used to carry out this punishment, lashing the victim from both sides. As these dual whips struck the victim, the leather straps descended and extended over his entire back.
Every time the torturers struck a victim, the straps of leather attached to the wooden handle would cause multiple lashes as the pieces of metal, glass, wire, and bone sank into the flesh and then raked across the victim’s body. Then the torturer would jerk back, pulling hard in order to tear whole pieces of human flesh from the body. The victim’s back, buttocks, back of the legs, stomach, upper chest, and face would soon be disfigured by the slashing blows of the whip.
With so many blood vessels sliced open by the whip, the victim would begin to experience a profuse loss of blood and bodily fluids. The heart would pump harder and harder, struggling to get blood to the parts of the body that were profusely bleeding. But it was like pumping water through an open water hydrant; there was nothing left to stop the blood from pouring through the victim’s open wounds.
This loss of blood caused the victim’s blood pressure to drop drastically. Because of the massive loss of bodily fluids, he would experience excruciating thirst, often fainting from the pain and eventually going into shock. Frequently the victim’s heartbeat would become so irregular that he would go into cardiac arrest.
The beating left the victim bloody and weak, in unimaginable pain, and near the point of death. It is no doubt that weakness from his scourging was largely the reason Jesus was unable to carry his cross all the way to Golgotha. Matthew 27:32
A Roman scourging was the literal equivalent of being flayed alive. Some men bit their tongues off as the pain grew unbearable.
According to Jewish law in Deuteronomy 25:3, the Jews were permitted to give forty lashes to a victim, but because the fortieth lash usually proved fatal, the number of lashes given was reduced to thirty-nine, as Paul noted in Second Corinthians 11:24. Also, the Jewish lashing was typically done with a wooden stick or rod.
But the Romans had no limit to the number of lashes they could give a victim, and the scourging Jesu
s experienced was at the hands of Romans, not Jews. Therefore, it is entirely possible that when the torturer pulled out his scourge to beat Jesus, he may have laid more than forty lashes across His body. In fact, this is even probable in light of the explosive outrage the Jews felt for Jesus and the terrible mocking He had already suffered at the hands of Roman soldiers. The number of lashes given would have been stopped just short of death because the condemned was to die on the cross, not on the scourging block.
The Roman soldiers, amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, began to mock him by placing a purple robe on him, a crown of thorns on his head, and a wooden staff as a scepter in his right hand. Next, they spat on Jesus and struck him on the head with the wooden staff, driving the thorns into his scalp. After the soldiers tired of this, they removed the purple robe which had been soaked with Jesus’s blood and had more than likely adhered to his wounds and as they pulled the robe away, they would have reopened the now clotted wounds, causing excruciating pain.
The Roman garrison in Jerusalem was composed of the Roman 10th Legion. These soldiers were not generally Roman citizens, but mercenaries from Thrace. They were known as the most brutal of all the Roman Legions. Specialists in the Legion they were assigned to carry out punishments and executions for the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. They excelled at their jobs.
For the Legionnaires administering the lashes, this was not only their job but also sport. This is shown by the mocking of Jesus as he was scourged. Each soldier administering lashes would try to out-do the others in ripping skin and causing pain.
Jesus was fully human, a mortal man. He suffered as any man would suffer under this form of punishment. The Romans fully intended for scourging and crucifixion to be the MOST painful, torturous and humiliating form of punishment possible. They were completely successful in their efforts.
So when the Bible tells us that Jesus was scourged, we now know exactly what type of beating that Jesus received that night. What toll did the scourging exact on Jesus’ body? The New Testament doesn’t tell us exactly what Jesus looked like after He was scourged, but Isaiah 52:14 says, “As many were astonished at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.”
If we take this scripture literally for what it says, we can conclude that Jesus’ physical body was marred nearly beyond recognition. As appalling as this sounds, it was only the overture to what was to follow. Matthew 27:26 continues to tell us, “…and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” This scourging was only the preparation for Jesus’ crucifixion!
What love divine! Unending love, Amazing grace. To realize what He suffered for you and me is to realize the depth of love that Christ has for us.
- Knowing the details of the scourging, how does this affect your walk with Christ?
- What does this tell you about the love of God?
- How do we show the love of God to others?
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