Title: The Soldiers of Pilate
Text: John 19.1-37
When my cousin Jeffery was murdered, I remember watching the news on the local stations. There was video and reporting – just like so many other homicides reported on. But this one was different. This one was someone I knew and loved. I told myself that I’d never forget that when I see a news report of someone being murdered or dying in some sort of accident; That was somebody’s son – husband, friend.
I guess, to be honest, as the years have passed, I’ve reverted back to the callousness that pads the emotions. Oh, it still effects me, but not like when I first experienced it. I wonder if we’ve grown calloused to the death of Christ. And, not just his death, but also the way he died. We forget the trials, the mistreatment. We forget the hours that passed. We forget the people involved. We become desensitized to the suffering of Christ.
I wonder if not only us, but those who were closest to the execution were calloused to the pain they were inflicting. I’m talking about the soldiers who were tasked with the responsibility of punishing and executing Christ.
I’ve been working my way through the gospel of John this year. I started in January with the Lord’s Prayer and have been looking at Christ’s suffering over the past two months. Really, I’m focusing on characters on the way to the cross. Today, we’ll focus on The Soldiers. In John 19, you’ll find them listed as not only the soldiers, but also with the pronoun: They. 3; 16; 18; 23; 24; 29; 33; 37.
Two notes about the soldiers.
– Please understand, not every They is referring to the soldiers, so I’ll be careful to point that out.
– These soldiers are not of the Temple Guard. These soldiers are Roman.
As we look at the soldiers, I’ve divided this message up into three parts:
- Their Responsibility
- Their Ridicule
- Their Reaction
Transition: Let’s look first at their responsibilities
1. Their Responsibilities:The soldiers impose the punishment
exp.: rd v 1; Pilate rendered the verdict; the soldiers imposed the punishment.
- They flogged him (1)
ill.: we spoke about this last week, so please bear with me a bit as we review for those who missed: to flog someone meant to discipline them; Heb 12.6: For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Hughes tells us:Many died from it, and others went mad. Ancient authorities as diverse as Eusebius, Josephus, and Cicero relate that scourging normally meant a flaying to the bone. Eusebius tells of martyrs who “were torn by scourges down to deep-seated veins and arteries, so that the hidden contents of the recesses of their bodies, their entrails and organs were exposed to sight.”M.S. Mills in The Life of Christ: A study guide to the Gospel record says that there were 6 soldiers, each with a flagel or what is commonly called today A Cat of Nine Tails. Jesus would have been tied to either a column, with his hands above his head or to a stake, where he would have been down on his knees, his arms out in front of him. These six soldiers would have taken turns whipping Jesus, one swing at a time. This way the whipping would be applied to the back and the chest. The flagel’s tail would often strike the face, sometimes knocking out teeth and, on occasion, even an eye. The victim was invariably reduced to a bloody mass of quivering flesh, with virtually all strength drained from his body.
t.s.: so, we begin to see the number of soldiers involved. Maybe too many, because next we see them mocking Jesus.
2. Their Ridicule:The soldiers mock Jesus
exp.: rd v 2-3;
- Mt 27.27 & Mk 15.16: mocked him before a whole battalion
exp.: now, Pilate brings him out in the ‘mocked state’; rd v 4-5; I mentioned when we looked at Pilate that I don’t think Pilate was joining in on the mocking. I wonder if he was appealing to the compassion of the crowd. I wonder if he thought they’d agree with Pilate’s verdict of: I find no guilt in him. The soldiers have had their fun at Christ’s expense, but Pilate might be able to use this to gain compassion for Christ. That’s just my assumption.
app.: So we’ve read that they flogged him and they’ve mocked him, we even see him paraded around in this kingly outfit.
t.s.: We’ve looked at their responsibility to flog and scourge him and how they mocked and made fun of him. Now, we’ll return to their responsibilities. After Pilate tries to release Christ and is unable to do so, he turns Christ over to the soldiers to impose the punishment rendered in the verdict – crucify him.
- Their Responsibilities:The soldiers impose the punishment
exp.: we’ve already seen their responsibility to carry out the punishment of flogging Christ. Now, as they continue their responsibilities,
- They flogged him (1)
- Rd v 16a; Pilate delivers him over to the soldiers – not the Jews. Rd 16b; lit.: They took charge of Jesus; They took him to the hill of Golgotha; the via dolorosa; he was marched through the streets out of the city; this would be humiliating, but this isn’t the soldiers mocking – this is them doing their job. Rd v 17; he left the governor’s quarters, and carried this large piece of wood on his back. Scholars believe it weighed as much as a hundred pounds. Barclay says that it was customary to parade the condemned throughout the streets, taking the longest way, so as to be seen by the most people. Somewhere along the way, we know Christ collapsed under the beneath the weight of all he’s endured. Mt, Mk & Lk tell us about this moment: 26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. Mark tells us that he is the father of Rufus and Alexander. We read about Rufus in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is where Peter mentored Mark. Once this processional arrived at the hill, these soldiers would have laid Jesus down on this large piece of wood and driven a large spike through each wrist and crucified him.
- They crucified him (16-23a; 18; 23); v. 23 clarifies that it is the soldiers, not the Jews who crucify Christ. It is their responsibility. Hughes: At the place of execution Christ was laid upon the patibulum. Quickly spikes were driven through his hands or wrists, and then the crossbar was hoisted into place. His legs dangled until they were nailed, leaving only enough flex in the knees so he could begin the horrible up and down motion necessary to keep breathing.
ill.: we could spend some time now discussing the excruciating pain and suffering Christ endured. We could list the medical aspects of his misery. As we move each week toward Easter, I’d encourage you to study this. For now, we’ve seen enough and heard enough to know or at least be reminded of Christ’s suffering.
app.: So the soldiers have done their duty. They’re actually not done, but as the minutes pass into hours, they begin to act like their bored. Rd v 23-24;
t.s.: And so we come to another of their moments of ridicule…
2. Their Ridicule:The soldiers mock Jesus
exp.: So, we’ve seen them mock him, mistreat him before an entire battalion. Now, Let me paint this picture for you: as he hangs on the cross dying, in your minds eye, as your above the cross, you see Jesus. Back away with the camera of your mind down below and just to the side, there some soldiers are arguing over his clothes. Rd v 23-24.
- They divided his garments; someone took his sandals, another his cloak; dividing what he had among the four soldiers. That makes sense, because it was four soldiers, one on each side that walked with him to Golgotha. Then, they cast lots for the one piece that they didn’t want to ruin (23-24). Their so calloused to the pain and suffering of Christ. Maybe they’ve done this before. Maybe so much so that it doesn’t even bother them anymore. Some hours pass and just before he dies, they mock him again. Rd v 28-30;
- Mocked him further by offering him sour wine (28; Luke 23.36); you don’t notice this when you read v 28 – nor in a couple of the synoptics; but listen to DA Carson: The drink offered here is not to be confused with the ‘wine mixed with myrrh’ which some charitable people offered him on the way to the cross (Mk 15.23). That was a sedative designed to dull the agony and Jesus refused to drink it. He was fully resolved to drink, instead, the cup of suffering the Father had assigned him. The episode in John 19.29 finds its parallel rather in Mark 15.36. Far from being a sedative, it would prolong life and therefore prolong pain.
i. So, their ridicule is to extend his pain and suffering. They could do this by putting the sponge on a stalk, kind of like a nest in some limbs that come together. Also,
ii. Some believe these particular branches were weak and would bend and wave around. Even if Jesus wanted to drink, he wouldn’t be able to do so because the branch would bend away.
transition: even here, they’re still mocking Jesus. But, when the time comes for this to be over with, the soldiers are given the task of speeding up the process of death. We read about this in v 31-33
1. Their Responsibilities: The soldiers impose the punishment
exp.: they broke the legs of the two criminals, so that they could no longer rise up and get a breath. Basically, they suffocated. Not Jesus, though. He died up in v. 30; but, the soldiers must be sure their responsibilities have been fulfilled. So, rd v 34;
- They flogged him (1)
- They took him to the hill of Golgatha
- They crucified him (16-23a; 18; 23)
- They pierce his side with a spear
3. Their Reaction: The soldiers confirm his position (Matt 27.54)
exp.: 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Surely this was the son of God; Notice: they were filled with awe.
Conclusion: rd v 19.35; Invitation to come to Christ