THE SOLDIERS’ MOCKERY
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus to the military headquarters, and collected to him the whole of the detachment. They stripped him of his clothes and put a soldier’s purple cloak upon him; and they wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a reed in his right hand; and they knelt in front of him, and mocked him by saying, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spat on him, and took the reed and hit him on his head. And when they had mocked him, they took off the cloak, and clothed him in his own clothes, and led him away to crucify him.
The dreadful routine of crucifixion had now begun. The last section ended by telling us that Pilate h;id Jesus scourged. Roman scourging was a terrible torture. The victim was stripped; his hands were tied behind him, and he was tied to a post with his back bent double and conveniently exposed to the lash. The lash itself was a long leather thong, studded at intervals with sharpened pieces of bone and pellets of lead. Such scourging always preceded crucifixion and “it reduced the naked body to strips of raw flesh, and inflamed and bleeding weals.” Men died under it, and men lost their reason under it, and few remained conscious to the end of it.
After that Jesus was handed over to the soldiers, while the last details of crucifixion were arranged, and while the cross itself was prepared. They took him to their barracks in the governor’s headquarters; and they called the rest of the detachment. The detachment is called a speira (GSN4686); in a full speira there were six hundred men. It is not likely that there were as many as that in Jerusalem. These soldiers were Pilate’s bodyguard who had accompanied him from Caesarea, where his permanent headquarters were.
We may shudder at what the soldiers did; but of all the parties involved in the crucifixion they were least to be blamed. They were not even stationed in Jerusalem; they had no idea who Jesus was; they certainly were not Jews, for the Jews were the only nation in the Roman Empire who were exempt from military service; they were conscripts who may well have come from the ends of the earth. They indulged in their rough horse-play; but, unlike the Jews and unlike Pilate, they acted in ignorance.
Maybe for Jesus of all things this was the easiest to bear, for, although they made a sham king of him, there was no hatred in their eyes. To them he was nothing more than a deluded Galilaean going to a cross. It is not without significance that Philo tells us that in Alexandria a Jewish mob did exactly the same to an imbecile boy: “They spread a strip of linen and placed it on his head instead of a diadem … and for a sceptre they handed up to him a small piece of native papyrus bulrush which they found thrown on the roadside. And because he was adorned as a king … some came up as though to greet him, others as though to plead a cause.” So they mocked a half-idiot lad; and that is what the soldiers took Jesus to be.
Then they prepared to lead him away to crucifixion. We are sometimes told that we should not dwell on the physical aspect of the Cross; but we cannot possibly have too vivid a picture of what Jesus did and suffered for us. Klausner, the Jewish writer, says, “Crucifixion is the most terrible and cruel death which man has ever devised for taking vengeance on his fellow-men.” Cicero called it “the most cruel and the most horrible torture.” Tacitus called it “a torture only fit for slaves.”
It originated in Persia; and its origin came from the fact that the earth was considered to be sacred to Ormuzd the god, and the criminal was lifted up from it that he might not defile the earth, which was the god’s property. From Persia crucifixion passed to Carthage in North Africa; and it was from Carthage that Rome learned it, although the Romans kept it exclusively for rebels, runaway slaves, and the lowest type of criminal. It was indeed a punishment which it was illegal to inflict on a Roman citizen.
Klausner goes on to describe crucifixion. The criminal was fastened to his cross, already a bleeding mass from the scourging. There he hung to die of hunger and thirst and exposure, unable even to defend himself from the torture of the gnats and flies which settled on his naked body and on his bleeding wounds. It is not a pretty picture but that is what Jesus Christ suffered–willingly–for us.
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