One cannot doubt historically that Jesus was crucified by the Romans; Christians would hardly have invented the execution, and certainly not Roman execution, and never Roman execution on the charge of high treason (the claim to be king of the Jews)! Worshiping one crucified for treason would have painted all Christians as seditious and hence directly invited repression from the Roman authorities.
Pilate often went to great lengths to quell even public complaints; his violent suppression of a crowd once led to many deaths (Jos. War 2.176-77; Ant. 18.60-62). Although slaves (as in Suet. Domitian 10) and dangerous criminals (Suet. Julius 4) were regularly crucified, crucifixions of free persons in Palestine usually involved the charge of rebellion against Rome (Harvey 1982:12; for example, Jos. War 2.75, 241, 253, 306; 3.321; 5.449; Ant. 20.102).
Genuinely following Jesus to the cross means we follow a road that may quite well cost us our lives physically (16:24); it also means sacrificing our own honor for Christ's along the way. Ridicule was often the social backdrop of public executions, especially naked crucifixion, which constituted the ultimate form of shame. Those of us who value our dignity too much to live with unjust criticisms and the world's hatred must seek a different messiah to follow.
Soldiers often taunted captives, and here they mock Jesus' kingship (27:27-31), not for a moment considering the possibility that he really is a king. That Jesus submits to such abuse teaches us that power does not function in the kingdom the way it does in the world. In the next paragraph Jesus bears public humiliation in front of and from the crowds he had come to save (vv. 32-40). The soldiers draft a bystander to suffer with Jesus (v. 32); this man performs the role disciples should have been performing (16:24). As Jesus participated with us in our suffering under injustice in the world, he summons us to endure the unjust treatment visited on us for his name's sake. Also, here Jesus refuses a beverage that could have dulled his agony; he came to embrace our pain and would accept nothing less than the full impact of his bloody death (27:34). When we are so convinced of God's will that we forsake the world's power and wealth to perform his mission, we show ourselves disciples of the One who redeemed us at the cost of his own life.
The crowds invite Jesus to prove his divine sonship by escaping the death of the cross (vv. 39-40); thereby they act as Satan's final mouthpieces to turn Jesus from his divine mission (4:3-10; 16:21-23). In the final section of this unit, the religious authorities (at the top of the Jewish social order) and the dying robbers (at the bottom) join the crowds in functioning as Satan's mouthpieces. Neither outward piety nor being oppressed necessarily guarantees a heart obedient to God.
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