When you consider the passion of the Christ, the suffering and death of Jesus, what do you see? What do you think? Is He simply a martyr dying for what He believed in like a Socrates, Savanorola, Michael and Margaretha Sattler, Mahatma Ghandi, or Martin Luther King Jr.? Was He a fool who believed He was actually the Son of God and was put to death amid His delusions of grandeur? Was He a blasphemer and false Messiah who was a threat to the well-being of Israel? Was He a political revolutionary that Rome wisely extinguished before His flame blazed out of control? Did He simply suffer the misfortune of irritating the religious leaders, who out of envy (15:10) appealed to the political pragmatism of Pilate to get rid of Him?
The people began to petition Pilate for his annual Passover amnesty gift (v. 8). Pilate saw this as a way out of a tough situation. He had already told the Jewish leaders concerning Jesus, “I find no grounds for charging Him” (John 18:38). Further, his wife had warned him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for today I’ve suffered terribly in a dream because of Him!” (Matt 27:19). He also knew the chief priests had only arrested Jesus out of envy (Mark 15:10). So Pilate asked the crowd, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” (v. 9). If the people went with his option, he could release an innocent man and stick it to the Sanhedrin as well.
Things did not go as he hoped, though we know God’s plan is proceeding exactly as He intended. It is easy to suspect that the religious leaders thought Pilate might pull such a stunt. They were ready. They “stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead” (v. 11). Pilate then asked what he should do with Jesus (v. 12). He may have thought they would ask for him to release both Barabbas and Jesus. Again they shouted their wishes: “Crucify Him!” Pilate made one last overture: “Why? What has He done wrong?” (v. 14). The crowd became even more boisterous: “Crucify Him!”
Pilate has had enough. He publicly washes his hands, while the crowd accepts responsibility for executing the King (Matt 27:24-25). Jesus was innocent but declared to be guilty. Barabbas was guilty but was treated as though he were innocent. Jesus died in his place. He also died in our place, that in an amazing reversal we might truly become sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. Sinclair Ferguson says,
Ferguson then asks a most important question: “Have you ever seen what they were all too blind to notice?” (Mark, 257).
In the Gospel’s record of the passion of the Christ, the emphasis does not fall on the physical suffering of Jesus—as great as it was. Mocking is clearly highlighted, but the focus is much more on the spiritual and psychological agony. Still, we would be negligent if we passed over too quickly the scourging and physical abuse He suffered.
In verse 15, Mark simply says, “And after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified.” William Lane details what being “flogged” entailed:
Following this life-threatening beating, “they called the whole company together.” This would number about six hundred hardened Roman soldiers. (1) They clothed Him in a purple cloak, probably a faded military garment serving the purpose of a mock robe of royalty (v. 17). (2) They twisted together a mock crown, one made of thorns, and pressed it down on His head. The crown of thorns pictured God’s curse on sinful humanity now being put on Jesus (Gen 3:17-18). (3) They began to mock Him again, this time with derisive salutes: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 18). As the Romans would hail Caesar, so these soldiers sarcastically hailed King Jesus. (4) They hit Him again with a stick, a mock scepter (v. 19; cf. Matt 27:29-30). (5) They continued spitting on and insulting Him in this manner. (6) They knelt down in mock worship. (7) When they had finished ridiculing Him, they “led Him out to crucify Him.”
Completely alone, humiliated, naked, and beaten nearly to death, our Savior endured yet again ridicule, shame, and pain at the hands of sinful men, at the hands of those He came to save. Oh, how heaven must have looked on in disbelief! Perhaps the angels wept. The Father sent His beloved348 Son to rescue and redeem a rebel race. Look at what they have done to our Lord! But look, and never forget, what our Lord has done for us!
One of the majestic hymns of the faith begins, “Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne” (Thring and Bridges, “Crown Him, ” 1851). This song rightly looks to heaven. However, here we see the Lamb on a different throne, the throne of His cross. He is crowned with a “crown of thorns” (15:17), a reminder of the curse from which He has redeemed us (Gen 3:15-18).
“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed” (Gal 3:13; see Deut 21:23). Jesus suffered the injustice and insult I should have suffered. Jesus experienced the shame and pain I should have experienced. Jesus bore the guilt and curse I should have borne. The shepherd was struck that the sheep might be saved. The great King was tortured and killed that His people might live.
I truly “stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned unclean! He bore my sin and my sorrow and made them His very own. He bore my burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone” (Gabriel, “Amazed,” 1905). Jesus is the great King, the sacrifice for sinners!