The theme of kingship continues as we now see the Roman soldiers dress Jesus up like a king, revere him and greet him as king of the Jews. They are doing so in cruel mockery, but they speak the truth. This may be another example of John's use of irony in having people speak truth that they themselves do not realize, providing "a sign that the Gentiles will ultimately confess the kingship of Jesus" (Brown 1970:889). This little section is at the center of a chiasm (see introduction to 18:28—19:16), which adds weight to this suggestion, since the center point of a chiasm is usually the main point.
Pilate turns Jesus over to the soldiers to be flogged (v. 1). In other Gospel accounts Jesus is flogged right before he is handed over for crucifixion (Mt 27:26 par. Mk 15:15), whereas here Pilate will make another effort to get Jesus released before he is eventually handed over (v. 16). Luke, like John, mentions several efforts made by Pilate to release Jesus (Lk 23:13-22), but Luke does not refer to the flogging itself, beyond Pilate's threat to punish Jesus (Lk 23:16, 22). Some think that Jesus was flogged once and that John has separated that event from the handing over (Sherwin-White 1965:104; Brown 1994:1:852-53), but more likely there were two floggings (Carson 1991:597). The Romans had several degrees of punishment (Brown 1994:1:851-52), with the lightest form being a beating that was both a pun-ishment and a warning (Sherwin-White 1963:27). The more severe forms were used in interrogations to extract information from people or in connection with other punishments (Sherwin-White 1963:27). Since the punishment at this point in John's account was neither of these severe forms, the reference would fit the lighter form better. Pilate, who considers Jesus innocent, may have wanted to satisfy Jesus' opponents with this relatively light punishment. The later flogging, referred to by Matthew and Mark in connection with the sentence of crucifixion, would have been the more severe form. This type of flogging employed a whip made of leather thongs with pieces of bone or lead attached, which chewed up the flesh. Such flogging could itself result in death. Jesus' own flogging, while brutal and inflicting great suffering, was not carried out to this extreme, since he did not die from it. Indeed, Pilate was surprised he died so quickly on the cross (Mk 15:44; cf. Blinzler 1959:226). Pilate, however, did not know the whole story, for he did not know of the spiritual wounds Jesus suffered as he took away the sin of the world (1:29), being "pierced for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities" (Is 53:5).
In addition to beating Jesus, as ordered by Pilate, the soldiers mocked him. The crown of thorns (v. 2) was most likely made from the date palm (Hart 1952), the same plant that had supplied the fronds laid on Jesus' path as he entered Jerusalem a short time before (12:13). The spikes on this plant can reach twelve inches long and were notorious for inflicting pain (cf. Midrash Rabbah on Num 3:1). Such long spikes would give the effect of a starburst around Jesus' head, in imitation of the likeness of deified rulers on coins of the period and much earlier. (H. Hart's article includes photos of such coins and the spikes from a date palm.) The purple robe (v. 2) and the greeting "Hail, king of the Jews!" (v. 3)—an imitation of the greeting to Caesar, "Ave, Caesar"—furthered the sick entertainment. As they lined up and came forward to greet him (cf. Bruce 1983:358), instead of giving him the kiss of greeting, they struck him in the face (v. 3).
This scene presents a powerful picture of Christ's glory, since this caricature of Christian worship, as E. C. Hoskyns calls it 1940b:621), actually speaks of Jesus' true identity as King of the Jews and, indeed, Lord of all. But throughout the story we have seen the chief characteristic of the glory of God revealed in Jesus to be his love. Jesus really is a king beyond the wildest imaginings of these soldiers. When we realize the power Jesus had we understand more of his humility and see God's brilliant glory. "Thus the kingdom which was not of this world overcame that proud world, not by the ferocity of fighting, but by the humility of suffering" (Augustine In John 116.1).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.