NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 26: Then Pilate set Barabbas free. And he told some soldiers to beat Jesus with whips. After that, he handed him over to the soldiers to be hung on a cross.
Several early church writers give their opinions on what Pilate did next. For instance, Chrysostom had this to say: “Why did Pilate have Jesus whipped? Either as one presumably condemned, or to please the crowd, or as if he were willing to give their judgment some sort of standard legal expression. And yet he ought to have resisted them. For indeed even before this he had said, ‘Take Him yourselves and judge Him by your own law.’1 There were many reasons that Pilate and the others might have held back: the signs and the miracles, the great patience of the one who was suffering these things, and above all, His harmless silence. For since both by His defense of Himself and by His prayers, He had shown His humanity, again He now shows His glory and the greatness of His nature, both by His silence and by His indifference to what they said. This might have led them to marvel. But neither Pilate nor the crowd takes sufficient note of these pieces of evidence.”2 These irate Jewish leaders were so blinded by their jealous-envy, it made it impossible for them to see the shining glory of the Lamb of God being led to slaughter to set mankind free from the bondage of sin and death.
Then Jerome gives his impression: “Barabbas the robber, who had provoked a riot among the crowds and committed murder, was released to the Jewish people.… Now Jesus, having been delivered up by the Jews, was absolved of guilt by Pilate’s wife and was called a just man by the governor himself. Moreover, the centurion declared that He was truly the Son of God.3 The learned reader may be hard pressed to explain the fact that Pilate washed his hands and said, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just man,’4 and later handed over the beaten Jesus to be crucified. It is important to realize that Jesus was dealt with according to Roman law, which decreed that whoever is to be crucified must first be beaten with whips. Thus Jesus was handed over to the soldiers for scourging, and their whips did their work on that most sacred body and that bosom which held God. This came about so that, in keeping with the words “many cords of sins” and with the whipping of Jesus, we might be free from scourging. As holy Scripture says to the just man: ‘The whip did not draw near to your tabernacle.‘5”6
And early church scholar Apollinaris sees the spiritual aspects of what Jesus went through: “The floggings [are] for the sins of the world, because the sinner is flogged many times, according to the prophecy that says, ‘I gave my back to the whips.’7 And so is fulfilled [the saying] that the righteous [will give Himself] for sinners. The height of goodness is also fulfilled when ‘the righteous [suffered] for the unrighteous,’8 so that ‘by His wounds we might be healed,’ as Isaiah says.9”10 In other words, what Jesus suffered and endured as a result of the crowd’s frenzy and Pilate’s acquiescence to their wishes, was done for our sake, not His. It was all for our salvation and healing. O how much more should we honor, praise, and thank Him for what He did for us on that day.
Verses 27-31: Then Pilate’s soldiers took Jesus into the governor’s palace. All the soldiers gathered around Him. They took off Jesus’ outer garments and put a red robe on Him. Then they made a crown from thorny branches and put it on His head, and they put a beating-reed in His right hand. Then they bowed before Him, making fun of Him. They said, “We salute you, king of the Jews!” They spit on Him. Then they took the beating-reed and kept hitting Him on the head with it. After they finished making fun of Him, the soldiers took off the robe and put His own garments back on Him. Then they led Him away to be hung on a cross.
Now comes the mocking, jeering, and taunting of the Son of God. The Jewish leaders must have had a smirk on their faces as they watched the man whom many called the Messiah being so shamed and humiliated. Especially, since this worker of miracles who even raised the dead now seemed so hopeless and helpless.
They knew what well-respected rabbis had taught: “If one [makes a fist and] boxes another man’s ear, he has to pay him [on account of degradation] a [set fee of a] sela [for degradation]. Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Yose HaGalily says, [He has to pay him the set fee of] a maneh [i.e., one hundred dinar; the halachah does not follow Rabbi Yehudah]. If he slapped him [the Rabbis set a higher fee for greater shame and] he has to pay him two hundred zuz; [if he did it] with the back of his hand, he has to pay him four hundred zuz. If he pulled his ear, plucked his hair, spat so that the spittle reached him, removed his garment from upon him he must pay four hundred zuz; [however] the general rule is, all depends upon the dignity [of the insulted person].”11 But since these were Jewish laws, and the Romans were the ones beating Jesus, there was no need or pressure to abide by these humane rules.
What made this even more despicable, the clothes that Jesus wore were His only earthly possession. The Arabic version says that there were two garments put on Jesus, one a purple vest, and the other a scarlet robe. This was to signify the robes worn by kings. And since His followers claimed Him to be the King of the Jews, the Romans wanted to show Him how they felt about it. According to some scholars, such as John Gill, they say the Persiac Version of Matthew’s account states that this robe was very likely an old coat of one of their officers.
But they weren’t finished. Every king must have a crown. But, as was already forewarned: “People made fun of Him, and even His friends left Him. He was a man who suffered a lot of pain and sickness. We treated Him like someone of no importance, like someone people will not even look at but turn away from in disgust.”12 The word used in the Aramaic Version has been interpreted as “white thorns,” which were common in Judea at that time. A Danish physician discusses the various aspects of the crucifixion of Christ and speaks about the crown of thorns. He points out that in the Syriac Vulgate it reads: Hieronymus sed spinae genus non definiunt, meaning, “Jerome did not define the class of the thorns.”13
The crown of thorns was all part of the mockery. So as believers, we are not pressured to put too much emphasis on what type of thorn was used nor how the crown was woven. They must have chosen an old bamboo-type stick that was laying around and put it in His hand to serve as His scepter. As they laughed and spit on Him, they would grab the stick out of His hand and hit Him over the head with it. As the prophet said: “They will hit the Judge of Israel on the cheek with a stick.”14
Little did they know that the man they were beating was the Son of God who came to die for their sins. So when Jesus later would cry out on the cross, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing,” it would not be impermissible to include Isaiah’s picture of a shameful and belittled Messiah when he wrote: “It is true that many were shocked when they saw Him. He was beaten so badly that He no longer looked like a man.”15
1 John 18:31
2 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 86.2
3 See verse 54
4 See verse 24
5 Psalm 91:10
6 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 4, Ch. 27:24
7 Isaiah 50:6
8 1 Peter 3:18
9 Isaiah 53:6
10 Apollinaris: Commentary fragment 138
11 Jewish Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Bava Kamma, Ch. 8:6
12 Isaiah 53:3
13 De Cruce Christi by Thomas Bartholin, Sec. 3: De Corona Sinea
14 Micah 5:1; 4:14 – Complete Jewish Bible
15 Isaiah 52:14