The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the climax of redemptive history, the focal point of God’s plan of salvation. God’s redeeming work culminated in the cross, where the Lord Jesus bore the sins of the world. But also in the crucifixion of Christ the wickedness of man reached its apex. The execution of the Savior was the vilest expression of evil in human history, the utter depth of man’s depravity. The death of Jesus Christ was therefore the supreme revelation of the gracious love of God while also being the ultimate expression of the sinfulness of man.
"Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to. drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; anti sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS .” At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him, and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers also who had been crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him." (Matthew 27:27-44)
Man's Depravity; God's Sovereignty
And whereas John’s gospel focuses on the crucifixion primarily from the perspective of God’s redemptive love and grace, Matthew’s focus is primarily from the perspective of mans wickedness. Man’s wickedness attempted to kill Jesus shortly after His birth, tried to discredit His teaching, and made every effort to mislead and corrupt His disciples. Man’s wickedness had betrayed Him, denied Him, arrested, maligned, and battered Him. But the incomparable manifestation of man’s wickedness was in His crucifixion.
David Thomas wrote:
[For thousands of] years wickedness had been growing. It had wrought deeds of impiety and crime that had wrung the ages with agony, and often roused the justice of the universe to roll her fiery thunderbolts of retribution through the world. But now it had grown to full maturity; it stands around this cross in such gigantic proportions as had never been seen before; it works an enormity before which the mightiest of its past exploits dwindle into insignificance, and pale into dimness. It crucifies the Lord of life and glory." (The Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1979 (reprint of 1873 edition)], p. 536)
Jesus’ enemies so hated Him that even His death seemed to be a disappointment, because it ended their opportunity to spew venom on Him even as He suffered the agony of crucifixion. The heartless intensity of the evil words and deeds of those who participated in His death beggar description.
The Ignorant Wicked
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. And they stripped Him, and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they kneeled down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. And after they had mocked Him, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. And as they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink. And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; and sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. And they put up above His head the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS .” (27:27-37)
The ignorant wicked were the callous Roman soldiers who actually performed the crucifixion under orders from Pilate, who finally had succumbed to the intimidation of the Jewish religious leaders. The Roman governor had publicly declared Jesus’ innocence several times, but for fear of a riot that almost certainly would have cost his career and possibly his life, he capitulated to the execution. He had perverted Roman justice by agreeing to convict a man whom no one was able to legitimately charge with a crime against the state. He had sinned against his own convictions, integrity, and conscience, and against the truth. He bargained his eternal soul for temporary security.
In an even worse way, the Jewish leaders had perverted not only scriptural principles of justice but their own rabbinical traditions. Although they had been unable to properly charge Jesus with sin against God, they were determined to destroy Him, whatever the cost to Scripture, justice, truth, or righteousness. Although the soldiers of the governor were under his orders to scourge and crucify Jesus (v. 26), they exhibited their own wickedness by far exceeding what basic duty required. As they took Jesus into the Praetorium, they decided to make public sport of their prisoner and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him to watch.
The Roman Cohort
A full Roman cohort amounted to 600 soldiers, and because this particular cohort served the Roman governor at his Praetorium at Fort Antonia in Jerusalem, it was probably composed of elite legionnaires. They were not necessarily all, or even mostly, Italian, because Rome typically conscripted soldiers from among its occupied countries. Because most men would be reluctant to fight against their own countrymen, they were frequently sent to neighboring regions that spoke the same or similar language. We can be sure that none of this cohort was Jewish, because Rome had granted a special exemption of Jews from Roman military service. It is likely that the contingent in Jerusalem was composed largely of Syrians, who spoke Aramaic, the most common conversational and trade language of Palestine.
Because Pilate’s primary headquarters were in Caesarea, this cohort may have been stationed there, traveling from place to place with the governor as his military escort. If so, they would have been even less familiar with Judaism than the average Roman soldier in Jerusalem and probably had never heard of Jesus. To them, He was simply another condemned prisoner, whom they were free to abuse as much as they pleased, as long as he was not killed before the designated execution. If they considered Jesus to be in any way unique, it was only in that He had apparently claimed to be some sort of king. What they did to Him was therefore unrelated to religious or personal animosity. Their torment of Jesus was wicked and inexcusable, but it was done out of spiritual ignorance.
Jesus’ face was swollen from the slaps and beatings He received from the Temple police and was covered with spittle from His Jewish tormentors. He was bleeding profusely from the scourging, with terrible lacerations from His shoulders down, exposing muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, and perhaps even internal organs. Because He had not spoken for the past hour or so, the soldiers may have considered Him mentally deranged and worthy only of ridicule. They played Him as the fool, making sport of the comments they had overheard about His claim to kingship.
It did not matter to them that Jesus had never personally harmed them or that technically He was innocent according to Roman law. They had been trained to obey orders, which frequently required killing and torture. Jesus had been officially condemned, and no sense of justice or propriety, much less of mercy or compassion, tempered their cold-hearted entertainment at Jesus’ expense. Although in an extreme way, they expressed the natural wickedness of every human heart that is ignorant of God.
Pilate's Propitious and Perilious Ways
Pilate did not initiate the mockery, but neither did he oppose it. Despite his half-hearted efforts to acquit Jesus, Pilate was noted for cruelty and mercilessness. Having ordered Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion, he would hardly have had qualms about the relatively mild abuse of mockery. It is possible that the soldiers performed their derisive actions under the governor’s amused eye. The soldiers probably shared their commander’s hatred of Jews and took this opportunity to vent their malice on a Jew condemned by fellow Jews. With every nerve in agony and His body quivering in pain, Jesus became the object of a fiendish game.
The Scourging of Christ
Jesus was either naked or nearly naked for the scourging, after which He was probably clothed with His seamless inner garment. First, the soldiers stripped Him of that garment and put a scarlet robe on Him, still further irritating His exposed, bleeding flesh. The scarlet robe probably belonged to one of the soldiers, who used it to keep warm while standing guard on cold nights. Mark and John report that the robe was purple (Mark 15:17; John 19:2), suggesting that the actual scarlet color was the closest the soldiers could come to purple, the traditional color of royalty.
Although it was far from the soldiers’ intent, the use of scarlet was reminiscent of Isaiah’s declaration that “though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (Isa. 1:18). Just as the soldiers clothed Jesus in the scarlet robe, He willingly clothed Himself in the scarlet sins of the world in order that those who believe in Him might be freed from that sin.
To add to the pain as well as to the ridicule, after weaving a crown of thorns, the soldiers put it on His head. Many kinds of thorns were prevalent in Palestine at that time, and the particular variety used is unknown. The purpose was to mimic the wreath that Caesar wore on official occasions and that could be seen on Roman coins that bore his image. As the mock crown was pressed on His head, blood ran clown from the new wounds to mingle with the blood that already covered the rest of His body. Like the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns became an unintended symbol of the sins that Jesus was about to take upon Himself. After the Fall, thorns and thistles became painful reminders of the curse that sin had brought to the world (Gen. 3:18), the curse from which the world ever since has longed to be freed (Rom. 8:22).
Jesus’ face was now even more unrecognizable and His pain more intense. But still not content, the soldiers next placed a reed in His right hand. Like the robe and the crown of thorns, the reed was meant to represent royalty, mimicking a monarch’s scepter, the symbol of his authority and power. Such a scepter could also be seen in Caesar’s hand on Roman coins.
To complete the sarcastic taunt, the soldiers even kneeled down before Him and mocked Him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” The Jewish religious leaders had mocked Jesus as a prophet (Matt. 26:68), and now the Roman soldiers mocked Him as a king. Then, just as the Jews had done, they spat on Him, casting on Him what was considered the ultimate indignity.
Next in their brutal amusement they took the reed from His hand and, to further ridicule His supposed authority, began to beat Him on the head, which was already swollen, lacerated, and bleeding. It was as if to say, “Your kingliness is a joke. Look how easily we strip you of your dignity and your authority. We beat you with your own scepter. Where is your power? Where is your royal army to defend you from your enemies?” From John we learn that they struck Jesus with their fists as well as with the reed (John 19:3).
One day Christ will wield a true scepter, a rod of iron with which He will rule the world, including His subdued enemies (Rev. 19:15). Then the tables will be turned, and the mocking and derision will be by God of the ungodly. Then He who sits in the heavens will laugh, and the Lord will scoff at them (Ps. 2:4).
But in His incarnation, Jesus’ humiliation was essential to God’s plan for the Son, “who emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
As A Lamb to the Slaughter
Through all of that torment and pain Jesus said nothing either in defense or in reproach. He had predicted His mocking, His suffering, and His crucifixion long before Pilate or his soldiers knew who He was (Matt. 16:21; 20:18-19). That was God’s plan countless ages before it was the plan of wicked men, and it was for that very purpose that He had come to earth. As men fulfilled their evil and destructive design, God fulfilled His gracious and redemptive design. Christ was on the divine schedule, which even His enemies were unwittingly fulfilling in minute detail.
We learn from John that during this time Pilate brought Jesus out before the Jews, asserting again that he found no fault in Him. Jesus stood again on the porch of the Praetorium, “wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them ‘Behold, the Man!’” (John 19:4-5). Although he had agreed to the crucifixion and had permitted Jesus to be brutally beaten and mocked, the governor obviously still hoped, perhaps due to his wife’s warning, that Jesus’ life could be spared. But “when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify, crucify!’” As if to wash his hands of the whole unjust affair again, “Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’ When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was the more afraid” (vv. 6-8). Although they repeated only the religious charges against Jesus, the clear implication is that the Jewish leaders were insisting on Rome’s complicity in His execution. In effect, they refused to crucify Jesus by themselves, even with Pilate’s permission.
Taking Jesus back into the Praetorium, Pilate asked Him where He was from but received no answer. When he then told Jesus that he had power of life and death over Him, the Lord responded, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin” (John 19:10-11). Although he had little comprehension of what Jesus meant, Pilate was convinced all the more of His innocence of any civil crime and once again “made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar’” (v. 12).
The Sanhedrin's Judgment
Still holding out against them, Pilate brought Jesus to “the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha,” and mockingly said, “Behold your King!” Infuriated by Pilate’s continued defiance of them, the Jewish leaders “cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’" In one last taunt, Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” to which the chief priests hypocritically replied, “We have no king but Caesar.” Frustrated and exhausted, Pilate resigned himself to the injustice and “delivered Him to them to be crucified” (John 19:13-16).
As representatives of the people, the chief priests here pronounced the culminating apostasy of Israel. Rejecting God’s Son, they publicly, although insincerely, declared allegiance to the pagan emperor. Picking up the account at this point, Matthew reports that after they had mocked Him further, they took His robe off and put His garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.
Some interpreters suggest that only the cross-beam or the upright post was carried, but in all probability it was the entire cross, weighing in excess of 200 pounds, that the victim carried. He would normally be surrounded by a quaternion, four soldiers who would escort the prisoner through the crowds to the place of execution. A placard bearing the prisoner’s indictment was often placed around his neck, giving notice to others of the high price to be paid for the crime.
A Sermon of Suffering
It was during the grueling procession through the streets of Jerusalem that Jesus gave His last, and very brief, public message. “There were following Him a great multitude of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him,” Luke reports. Turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things in the green tree, what will happen in the dry?” (Luke 23:27-31).
Having children was considered the greatest blessing a Jewish woman could have, and only a tragedy of awesome dimensions could cause her to wish otherwise. Jesus’ reference to the green and dry tree related to a popular proverb that meant if something bad occurred under good circumstances, it would be much worse under bad. His point was that if the Romans did such a terrible thing as to crucify one innocent Jewish man, what could they be expected to do to the guilty nation of Israel? If they executed a man who had committed no offense against them, what would they do to a people who rebelled?
The Lord was, of course, referring to A.D. 70, when the Temple would be utterly destroyed and the majority of its inhabitants slaughtered by the Roman legions of Titus. From that holocaust the nation of Israel has not yet fully recovered even in modern times, because there is still no temple in Jerusalem, no sacrifices, no priesthood to offer them, and no priestly records to verify lineage. That was the horror of which Israel should have been fearful, Jesus said.
Because He was sinless and completely undefiled in body as well as in mind and spirit, Jesus was physically all that Adam was before the Fall and more. But Jesus’ severe beatings and the scourging had made even Him too weak to carry the heavy cross. Not only was He suffering excruciating physical pain, but He had had no sleep the previous night and was suffering the added agonies of betrayal, defection, and denial. In addition to that, He was still suffering the accumulated pain of having been tempted by and being in continual spiritual battle with Satan. There were now no angels sent to minister to Him as they had after the wilderness temptations, and His body was all but depleted of strength. More even than all of that, He knew perfectly that He faced the indescribably painful prospect of taking upon Himself the sin of all mankind, of becoming sin for their sakes. And for that He would suffer the wrath of His heavenly Father which that sin deserved.
Simon the Cyrene
All of those agonies-physical, emotional, and spiritual combined to utterly weaken His perfect but now emaciated body. Consequently, as they were coming out from the Praetorium, the soldiers found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.
Cyrene was a Greek settlement located west of Alexandria on the North African coast of the Mediterranean, directly south of Greece in what is modern Libya. It was a prosperous trade center and had a large population of Jews. Simon was a common Jewish name, and in all probability this man was a pilgrim who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
Simon was “a passer-by coming from the country” (Mark 15:21) as Jesus was being taken out of the city. Perhaps because he looked strong he was conscripted by the Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross. Mark also identifies Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (v. 21), indicating that those two men were Christians known to Mark and to many other believers at the time he wrote his gospel. Because Mark probably wrote from Rome, Alexander and Rufus may have been active in the church there. This Rufus may have been the man Paul greeted in his letter to Rome, and, if so, “his mother and mine” would refer to Simon’s wife (see Rom. 16:13).
It may have been the carrying of Jesus’ cross that led Simon to faith in Him. What began as a forced and probably resented act of physical servitude became the opportunity for spiritual life. Not only Simon himself but his entire family came to salvation, and his wife became like a mother to the apostle Paul.
The Curse of the Cross
Because the Mosaic law required that executions be performed outside the city (Num. 15:35) and also because hanging on a tree was considered a curse (Deut. 21:23; cf. Gal. 3:13), Jesus was taken outside Jerusalem to be crucified. And because crucifixion was a vivid means of showing the populace the price for opposing Rome, crosses were generally erected beside a well-traveled road, if possible on a hill, bluff, or other promontory where they would be visible to all.
A Hill Called Calvary
The place chosen for Jesus’ crucifixion was a hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull. As an outcast both of Israel and of Rome, Jesus “suffered outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12). Luke refers to the hill of crucifixion as “the place called The Skull” (23:33), and as several gospels explain, Skull translates a Greek term (kranion) equivalent to the Hebrew/Aramaic Golgotha (see John 19:17). The name Calvary is derived from the Latin word (calvaria) for skull, or cranium.
Contrary to what some scholars have suggested, the Place of a Skull was not a burial ground where skulls were commonly found. Jews would not allow dead bodies to be exposed, and no part of a human skeleton was to be seen in Israel. Rather the name referred to a particular site that had the appearance of a skull. Such a hill, commonly called Gordon’s Calvary, is the traditional site and can still be viewed today a short distance from Jerusalem’s northern wall.
Before the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross and it was placed upright in the ground, they gave Him wine to drink mingled with gall. The word translated gall simply referred to something bitter, which Mark identifies as myrrh (15:23), a narcotic that also was used as a perfume (see Ps. 45:8; Prov. 7:17), as an ingredient of anointing oil for priests (Ex. 30:23), and for embalming (John 19:39). It was quite expensive and was one of the gifts presented to the infant Jesus by the magi (Matt. 2:11).
Because crucifixion was designed to inflict maximum pain, the gall, or myrrh, was not offered as an act of mercy on the part of the soldiers. It was simply used to stupefy a victim to keep him from struggling violently as the nails were driven into his hands and feet.
From extrabiblical sources it is known that wealthy Jewish women would often provide wine mixed with myrrh to those about to be executed, especially by crucifixion. Contrary to the soldiers, their purpose was to ease the pain of “him who is perishing,” following the admonition of Proverbs 31:6. It may have been that such a group of women also offered Jesus the stupefying drink.
But Jesus did not want His senses dulled, and after tasting the mixture, He was unwilling to drink. As He had already declared in the garden, first in prayer to His heavenly Father (Matt. 26:39) and then to Peter as He was being arrested (John 18:11), He was determined to drink the cup the Father had given Him. He would endure the full measure of pain-physical, emotional, and spiritual. When they had crucified Him does not refer to the finished execution but to raising Him upright and placing the vertical beam into the hole prepared for it. It was at that point that the actual crucifixion began.
The History of Crucifixion
Crucifixion originated in Persia, where a deity named Ormazd was believed to consider the earth sacred, Because a criminal who was executed had to be raised above the earth in order not to defile it, he was suspended on a large pole and left there to die, The practice was picked up by the Carthaginians and then by the Greeks and especially the Romans, whose extensive use caused it to become identified with them. It is estimated that by the time of Christ the Romans had crucified some 30,000 men in Israel alone, primarily for insurrection. The crucifixion of only three men outside Jerusalem was therefore virtually insignificant in the eyes of Rome.
None of the gospel writers describes the procedure for securing Jesus to the cross. The literal Greek text is even less revealing than most English renderings, saying simply, “The having crucified Him ones parted His garments.” It is only from Thomas’s comments several days after the resurrection that we learn about Jesus’ being nailed by His hands and feet (John 20:25), rather than being tied with cords or thongs as was often the case.
Judging from nonbiblical descriptions of crucifixion in New Testament times, Jesus was placed on the cross as it lay flat on the ground. First His feet were nailed to the upright beam and then His arms stretched across the horizontal beam and nailed through the wrists just above the hand, allowing a slight bend at the knees when the body was extended. The cross was then picked up and dropped into the hole, causing excruciating pain as the weight of His body pulled at the already torn flesh around the nails.
In his book The Life of Christ, Frederick Farrar describes crucifixion as follows:
"A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly-dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of intended wounds-all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness.
The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, infiamed by exposure, gradually gangrened [when a victim took several days to die]; the arteries-especially at the head and stomach-became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood, and while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst, and all these physical complications caused an internal excitement and anxiety, which made the prospect of death itself-of death, the unknown enemy, at whose approach man usually shudders most-bear the aspect of a delicious and exquisite release.
One thing is clear. The first century executions were not like the modern ones, for they did not seek a quick, painless death nor the preservation of any measure of dignity for the criminal. On the contrary, they sought an agonizing torture which completely humiliated him. And it is important that we understand this, for it helps us realize the agony of Christ’s death." (Vol. 2 [New York: E. P. Dutton, 1877], pp. 403-4)
Dr. Truman Davis gives an additional description of Jesus’ crucifixion:
"At this point another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise Himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen...
Hours of this limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back as He moves up and down against the rough timber; then another agony begins. A deep crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart.
It is now almost over... the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues. The tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air." (“The Crucifixion of Jesus; The Passion of Christ from a Medical Point of View,” Arizona Medicine, vol. 22, Mar. 1965, pp. 183-87)
It was not Matthew’s purpose, however, to focus on the physical particulars of the crucifixion that led to Christ’s yielding up His life, but rather on the character of the crucifiers.
Through all of that torment the callous soldiers sat impassively, as they had done many times before. They had no idea who Jesus was, except for what was written on the sign above His head as a sarcastic taunt by Pilate. They doubtlessly were aware that Pilate, governor of the region and their military commander, had repeatedly declared Jesus innocent of any crime against Rome. But Jesus was probably not the first innocent man they had seen executed. They had no religious concern about Jesus’ identity and no moral concern about His innocence. Out of their wicked ignorance they, too, eventually joined in mocking Jesus, saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” (Luke 23:36-37).
The Song of the Suffering Servant
Jesus had repeatedly told the disciples of His coming suffering, scorn, and death, and it had been predicted by Isaiah and other prophets hundreds of years before that. The Messiah would be “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3). Not only was He to suffer unjustly at the hands of wicked men but He endured that affliction for the very sake of those responsible for it-which, in the fullest sense, includes every fallen, sinful human being who has ever lived and who will ever live. “He was pierced through for our transgressions,” Isaiah goes on to say, “He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. ... The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (vv. 5-6).
Christians in the early church are reported to have begged God’s forgiveness for the unknown sufferings they caused Jesus, realizing they could not conceive of the full extent of the pain He endured at men’s hands, a pain to which they knew their own sins had contributed.
Jewish men normally wore five pieces of clothing: sandals, an inner cloak, a headpiece, a belt, and an outer cloak, or tunic. The four soldiers divided up the first four pieces of Jesus’ garments among themselves by casting lots. Because “the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece,” they decided not to cut it into four pieces but to “cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be” (John 19:23-24). Having done that, they sat down near the cross and began to keep watch over Him there. The quaternion was required to remain with the victim until his death was certain, making sure that friends or family members did not rescue him or seek to reduce his suffering by putting him to death by a swifter means.
As a final mockery of Jesus and affront to the Jewish leaders, Pilate had instructed the soldiers (see John 19:19a) to put up above His head the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS .” Matthew recorded an abbreviated version of the full inscription, which read, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS ,” and was “written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek” (John 19:19b-20). Greek was the most nearly universal language in the empire at that time, Aramaic (closely related to Hebrew) was the language of Palestine, and Latin was the official language of Rome. By those three languages the governor made certain that virtually every person who passed by could read the inscription.