Monday, July 18, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus is Scourged

Matthew 27:26:

[26] Then he released to them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him unto them to be crucified.

Mark 15:15:

[15] And so Pilate being willing to satisfy the people, released to them Barabbas, and delivered up Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

Luke 23:22-25:

[22] And he said to them the third time: Why, what evil hath this man done? I find no cause of death in him. I will chastise him therefore, and let him go. [23] But they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified; and their voices prevailed. [24] And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. [25] And he released unto them him who for murder and sedition, had been cast into prison, whom they had desired; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

John 18:38-19:1:

[38] Pilate saith to him: What is truth? And when he said this, he went out again to the Jews, and saith to them: I find no cause in him. [39] But you have a custom that I should release one unto you at the pasch: will you, therefore, that I release unto you the king of the Jews? [40] Then cried they all again, saying: Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.

[1] Then therefore, Pilate took Jesus, and scourged him.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Following Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, Jesus is arrested by the betrayal of Judas. Jesus' Disciples all flee, abandoning Him to the authorities. Jesus is taken before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin. There, false accusations are brought against Him, and in the middle of it, Jesus pronounces the Holy Name in reference to Himself. This is regarded as blasphemy, for which the sentence is death. But because this sentence occurs during the Feast of the Passover, the Jews are not permitted to put Him to death at that time, so they present Him to the Roman authorities as a seditionist who was inciting the people to rebel against Rome, so that they might put Him to death lawfully.

Jesus is therefore taken before Pontius Pilate who interrogates Him, but Jesus remains silent before him. In Luke's Gospel, Pontius Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, because he realizes Jesus is from his district. Neither Herod nor Pilate find any fault in Jesus, and Pilate says so to the crowd that had gathered to witness Jesus' trial and execution.

The crowd, urged on by the chief priests, shout that Jesus should be crucified. Pontius Pilate, not wanting to put Him to death, offers the people, according to the custom of the Feast, the option to have one of two people freed: Jesus or Barabbas. The people ask for Barabbas to be released, and Jesus to be executed. Pilate permits their choice. Barabbas is freed, and Jesus is sent off to be scourged.


In the Gospels, this prisoner that is chosen over Jesus is called a robber, and was said to have been in prison for the crimes of murder and sedition. There are a number of things worth noting about this figure.

During Jesus' time, and in the centuries leading up to His coming, it was believed that the Messiah was going to be a military man, someone who would liberate Israel from foreign occupation. It was therefore not entirely uncommon for freedom fighters and rebels leaders to claim to be the promised Messiah, and throughout Israel's history, you had such figures pop up to lead attempted rebellions against foreign occupiers.

Barabbas was such a man. He had been arrested for sedition, and murder. Likely, he had incited acts of rebellion against Rome, like theft and violence. So, he was a Messiah figure. Moreover, his very name offers a striking juxtaposition against Jesus. Barabbas is a consonant name made up of two Aramaic words "Bar" and "Abbas", meaning "Son of the Father."

So, what we see here, when Pontius Pilate makes this offer, is a choice for the Jews between which kind of Messiah they would have for themselves. Their choice was between a military freedom fighter, who would liberate Israel from Roman occupation, and reinstate the Kingdom of Israel, as Israel's new king. Or something entirely different, someone who preached obedience to the ruling authority of an occupying state, who's central teaching was about inner obedience to the Law, not just outward obedience. Someone who claimed that His Kingdom was "not of this world."

This wasn't just about the Messiah, though, but it was also about what it means to be a "Son of the Father." Was "Son-ship" about earthly gain, health and prosperity, and self-governance? Or, was "Son-ship" about a righteous heart, and an obedient will?

This the essentially the choice the Jews faced in the selection. It is essentially the choice we all face when confronted with sin. The Jews chose Barabbas. The punishment for sedition was public torture and execution. Jesus, therefore, was sentenced to scourging and crucifixion.

Jesus is Scourged

In the place of the sinner, Barabbas, for whom such a punishment was just, the innocent Jesus willingly submits Himself to Roman scourging. This is a sign of the suffering He accepts as a consequence of all of our sins. It was a common procedure prior to crucifixion under Roman law, but it was brutal.

The whip that was used, both on Jesus, and in common practice at the time, was called a flagrum. It had a short handle, and two or three long, thick thongs. Each thong was weighted toward the tips by a lead ball or mutton thong. The thongs cut this skin, while the weights caused deep contusions, and internal hemorrhaging. The idea wasn't just to cause pain to the victim, but to break their wills, destroying their resistance to their impending execution.

Under Roman law, the number of lashes to be dealt had no limit. This was in contrast to Hebrew law, which limited the number of lashes to 40. The only limit to Roman law was that the prisoner had to be able to bear his cross to the place of execution. We know Jesus' scourging was unusually severe, because Jesus didn't have the strength to carry His cross to Calvary by Himself. This may be due to the fact that Jesus had an unusually strong will.

Take note of that, because Jesus would have been aware of how Roman executions were performed. He could have faked his resistance to His persecutors, in order to receive a less severe flogging. But He didn't, and He deliberately prolonged the scourge. For those who believe that the Shroud of Turin is authentic (and I do), the number of wounds that have been identified through it as lash wounds are between 100 1nd 120.

Jesus would have had His hands bound, tied to the column above his head, making Him unable to protect Himself with His arms. You can see that the image I have posted to this article is inaccurate in this regard. It's inaccurate in many regards, not the least of which is the lack of wounds to His body, or the serenity on His face. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as such depictions are the result of a pious love for Our Redeemer, and a sensitivity toward the viewer.

If you are interested to see what else the Shroud of Turin reveals about Jesus' scourging, you can read a bit about it here.

You will notice that the Gospels do not give detail about His scourging. This is likely because it was so common that the word alone evoked enough imagery in the mind of the hearer that no explanation was necessary. Let us be thankful that we are not witness to such torment in our own time.

So, for those of you who suffer bodily pain of any kind, whether that inflicted upon you by an aggressor, or simply the infirmities of old age, you can look to Jesus who suffered physical pain that we can't even imagine. If you've ever been punched by someone, as hard as they could, imagine that happening all over your body for a prolonged period of time. Have you ever been hit by a bb-gun, or a sling shot? Remember that paper cut, or the time you slashed your thigh open with a box cutter? Or how about that time you hit your head on the top bunk when you were getting out of bed, or when you slammed your fingers in the car door? Imagine these things happening all over your body, over and over again, and you're unable to protect yourself from it, and you can't tend to the wound. Blood is everywhere, dirt is getting in all your sores. The whips haven't been cleaned from the last flogging.

Thank you Jesus, for taking all of that for me.


  1. This article provides very insightful and accurate perspective of the Scourging of our Lord Jesus... I'm amazed to know even what "Bar-abbas" means! But I slightly disagree on one point: the Kingdom of God is far much more than inner obedience to the law because Jesus was always obedient to his Father's will. His teachings were more about love, forgiveness and the endless opportunities to amend our shortcomings with the Grace of God. It's not only about the infinite reward of Heaven, but also about the opportunity to live a happy life on this earth, in the middle of our daily activities at home, at work, while driving or drinking a coffee, a real possibility albeit of the pain, poverty and all other difficulties and limitations that life carries. It's about the possibility to be happy even in the face of death.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts Leo! I completely agree with you. I didn't mean to suggest that the Kingdom is limited to inner obedience to the Law. If you'd like a better understanding of where I'm coming from on that point, please read my post 20 Mysteries: The Proclamation of the Kingdom. God bless!