In May of 1994 an American teenager was punished for vandalism by the government of Singapore with four lashes of a rattan cane. Caning was something many people had not heard of and the sentence sparked international protests of Singapore’s penal policies. The story dominated the news around the world and organizations from dozens of nations criticized Singapore. People all over the world condemned the practice as cruel and barbaric, even President Clinton weighed in during the trial and his involvement reduced the original six lash sentence to the four the teenager received.
As Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week, we will turn our attention once again to the biblical accounts of the trial, punishment, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Gospel accounts and for many years, I like so many of us do, skimmed through the brief phrases used to describe the cruel ordeal Jesus endured at the hands of the Roman Soldiers. John 19:1 describes it simply as: Then Pilate took Jesus, and scourged him. It wasn’t until my own experience portraying Christ in several passion plays; that I really dug into what the word “scourged” truly meant and gained a real understanding of what the soldiers did to our dear Lord.
The Romans were masters of this type of punishment. First, the lictors would have used their rods to bruise and batter the victim, then their canes would have began to open wounds on his back. The soldiers would have joined the process using the flagrum, a whipping device consisting of 3 to 9 cords embedded with bone, metal, pottery or glass and sometimes hooks at the ends, to tear into the persons flesh. Because there was no limit to the amount of lashes a prisoner could receive the beating often became a contest amongst the soldiers to see which one could do the most damage. Many victims died of shock or blood loss and one of the goals of a scourging was to weaken the condemned person so that the crucifixion wouldn’t last very long.
Pilate did not want to put Jesus to death and tried several times to release him. Christ would have been almost unrecognizable from the severe beating he received, his body would have been bloody, face swollen and bruised and most likely he was almost unable to stand. When Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd after the scourging in John 19:5 and says “behold the man” I believe he thought the people would take pity on him the way the world did on that American teenager in Singapore. That the sight of this person they had marveled at, chased after, been fascinated by, so beaten and abused would stir mercy and compassion in their hearts and demand his release.
There were no cries for mercy, headlines and news stories condemning the brutal actions of the soldiers or petitions from amnesty organizations for Christ’s release. Instead the very people he healed, fed, forgave and loved shouted for his execution! An execution carried out by one of the most tortuous methods ever devised. During this coronavirus outbreak, the world has been fixated on the need for ventilators to help victims breathe. The death Jesus suffered on the cross was a result of suffocation. As you commemorate Good Friday now and in the future, I hope that you will do it with a greater understanding of how much Christ willingly endured, how much He loves you, and that the gift of your salvation becomes even more precious.
—By Dean Marini