Mark 15:15-20 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. 16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
A soldier is a man of war. A soldier is used to bring a people in subjection to a king. At this point in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion we see what was in the hearts of the soldiers in how they respond to Jesus. As the Jews were a conquered people, the Roman soldiers were to do whatever was necessary to keep the nation of Israel under control of the powers of Rome. These same Roman soldiers would have been used in battle to conquer and subdue foreign nations and were the means by which the Roman Empire could be expanded or they were used to defend it against any attacking enemy. They were also used to collect taxes. If anyone refused to pay what the tax collectors in Israel had declared, the Roman soldiers were brought in to force what had been demanded. Because the Roman soldiers were trained and skilled in battle and were armed and allowed to use force, their power could be abused. They were able to extort money by threatening the Jews and would even make false accusations in order to become rich themselves. We know this was true because John the Baptist called on the soldiers to repent of such behavior as they came under conviction of sin under his preaching:
Luke 3:8, 13-14 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance...13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
There were perhaps some soldiers that were honorable and kind to the Jews but this was probably quite uncommon. The Jews were taught to hate the Gentiles or anyone who wasn’t a Jew. They misinterpreted the Scriptures based upon the commands of God declaring that they were to be separate from the Gentiles. They had no desire to have anything to do with the Roman soldiers and so it is entirely probable that the Romans soldiers hated the Jews in return.
Joshua 23:6-8 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day.
Adding to their motivation for why the Romans soldiers acted the way in which they did with Jesus, was the fact that Jesus had accepted the praise of the people on Palm Sunday, just a few days earlier. Pilate knew that Jesus had accepted the praise of the people as their king. Some of the soldiers may have even been watching as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt. What kind of a king was this as compared to the leading men of Rome who would ride in a procession before the people in the back of a chariot led by a powerful horse suited in armor? What kind of power did Jesus possess? Surely He was not as powerful as the Romans. Surely He was not a great king as any great king was full of military power and physical strength. In their eyes this king must be weak and they would prove it.
So while Pilate, even as an unbeliever was amazed at Jesus, the soldiers did not care. They would use their power and authority over Jesus. They would absolutely abuse Him and shame Him. They would do all that they could to use their skills of brutality upon Jesus. But all of this was according to God’s perfect plan of salvation.
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
The soldiers scourged Jesus. They used a multi-lashed whip with embedded bone and metal to severely beat Jesus. They made Him wear a purple cloak that would stick to His open wounds only intensifying the pain. They put a crown of thorns on His head and then struck His head with a reed causing the blood to flow from His head. They spit upon Him and mocked Him by kneeling before Him. When they were done toying with Him they ripped off the purple cloak reopening the wounds from His beating. The soldiers had their way with Jesus and appeared to have complete authority over Jesus. But this was not the case. The crown of thorns was the exact crown that Jesus had entered into Jerusalem to wear. It was the blood stained crown of the Savior of mankind. Jesus Christ came to this earth to endure the wrath of man. The wrath of man reveals the depravity of sin. The Roman soldiers did not hide the evil nature that was within them. They would beat and mock and destroy. The chief priests and the religious leaders and Pilate and the crowd would try to hide the wickedness within their own hearts but the Roman soldiers publicly revealed what is in man. They had no shame to manifest the evil within the heart of man. This is the very heart of every man.
Isaiah 59:7 Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways.
Do not try to deny the wickedness of your own heart. All of us are corrupt at the very core of our being. This is our fallen condition as the Roman soldiers so clearly reveal. And yet herein lies the power of God. In spite of this truth and the apparent weakness of Jesus at the hands of the Roman soldiers, the infinite power of God was soon to be revealed. Soon Jesus would die removing the penalty for my sin and for your sin for all who believe. Soon Jesus would rise from the dead. But first, the full evil of sin had to be revealed. Everyone involved in Jesus’ crucifixion was absolutely guilty. Everyone had a hand in the crown of thorns that was placed upon His head. Do you see your hand in the brutality that Jesus suffered? Do you see your guilt in placing a crown of humiliation upon His head? None of us are innocent. Our sins caused the King of King and Lord of Lords to wear a blood stained crown of humiliation and shame.
Pastor Murray Hack