THE SCOURGING AT THE PILLAR AND THE CROWING OF THORNS
Jesus was lead a short distance from Pilate’s chambers into a courtyard for the scourging. He was stripped of His clothing, except for His undergarment. His hands were tied to a post. Scourging used a whip with 7 leather strips. To make the suffering greater and the damage more serious, two small lead balls were sharpened and tied to the ends of each leather strip so that they would cut deeply into the flesh. There was a team of 6 executioners.
They were violent criminals from Egypt who were condemned for their crimes to hard labor. They resembled wild beasts that were half-drunk; they took delight in scourging prisoners. One executioner stood on either side of Him so that Jesus; entire body, front and back from His neck to His feet, was covered with lashes. The two executioners alternately swung their whips with the force of their entire bodies. At each stroke, Christ’s body shook with an agonized shudder, but He did not utter a word, and His silence redoubled the satanic rage of His executioners. When they tired, a second and then a third team took control of this barbarous torture.
The Jews were required to limit the scourging to 40 lashes, and in order to be strictly correct they limited the scourging to 39 lashes. But the Roman soldiers were in control of Jesus and they had no interest in being strictly correct. Scourging had the potential to kill the victim, because of the violence that was inflicted. The art of the torture was to bring someone close to the point of death, without having Him expire. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus’ subcutaneous tissue was unusually sensitive because of the sweating of blood, the Hemathidrosis, so that the scourging was even more severe for Him. The Shroud clearly shows the effect of the leather strips with the lead balls attached. At first, the thongs bruised the skin and caused contusions. Then as the blows continued, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous fatty tissue causing an oozing of blood and serum from smaller vessels. Finally, the sharp lead balls cut more deeply into the underlying muscle tissue. Blood spurted from open arteries; the skin and muscles hung in long, quivering ribbons. The entire area was an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue.
After 45 minutes, when this brutal torture was completed, and Christ was nearly unconscious, they untied His hands and He collapsed to the ground. His open, bleeding wounds were contaminated with dust and dirt. Christ’s clothes were returned to Him.
During the night, the Roman soldiers demonstrated their ingenuity and cruelty in further defaming and debasing our sacred Lord. Since He claimed to be a king, they stripped Him of His tunic and draped a purple rag over His shoulders to signify His royalty. A reed was placed in His hand to serve as a scepter.
They then fashioned a crown of thorns for His head. This was not part of the normal Crucifixion ritual. One of the soldiers brought branches from a wild hawthorn bush with long, sharp, hard thorns. Although depictions of Christ usually show the crown as a wreath placed around His forehead, investigations suggest it was more likely shaped like the bottom of a basket and covered His entire scalp. The thorns penetrated the skin, and were driven more and more deeply when He was repeatedly struck on the head with reeds. Surgeons know that scalp wounds can bleed profusely. Long streams of blood flowed down Our Lord’s forehead, through His tangled hair, into His beard and down His neck. They had Him sit on a tub which served as His throne. A comedy of adoration was played out as the crowd yelled, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They roared with laughter. Jesus uttered no rebuke and accepted their vile treatment without response. When they tired of their amusement, they violently tore off the purple cape. The open wounds across His shoulders and back were stuck to the fabric; as it was removed, the raw lacerations were once again torn open.
After Jesus had been taken away, Judas Iscariot wandered through the town in a confused and stuporous state. He was aware he had turned over an innocent friend and had received 30 pieces of silver as his reward. He felt remorse for his actions, but was devoid of hope which might lead Him to true repentance.
He went to the Sanhedrin and told the elders, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” He attempted to return the coins, but they treated the betrayer with contempt; they refused to accept the silver because it was blood money. Judas finally forced them to acknowledge responsibility for their action: he flung the coins into the temple sanctuary and departed. The chief priests announced that it would be sinful to deposit such money in the temple treasury because it had become unclean from the purpose for which they had used it. The money was allocated to purchase a burial place for foreigners, called the Potter’s Field or the Field of Blood.
I personally believe Judas saw Jesus twice during His transit for the trials. He later went to the upper room where the Last Supper was celebrated. He found himself in front of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She asked Him why he had come and what he had done. When Judas was about to run away, she called him with a kind, gentle voice saying, “Judas, Judas! Stop, Stop! I am telling you in His name; repent Judas. He forgives...”
I believe that Judas had the opportunity, even after the betrayal, to express sorrow for his actions and seek repentance, and Jesus would have forgiven Him. However, he lost all hope and fell into the depths of despair. We are told, “It were better for that man if he had not been born.”
At this point, Judas had gone mad and staggered through the town. He saw Jesus’ blood everywhere. He wandered to the southwest corner of the city, to the Pottery Gate. This region had a reputation dating back hundreds of years. It was here that ancient kings of Juda had worshipped Moloch. Children were burned as offerings to the pagan God. Possibly because of its evil history, the area had become a dump; it was known as Gehena and had become a symbol of Hell, because of the smoldering fire and smoke from the burning garbage.
Judas climbed to the top of a cliff and selected an olive tree. He took the belt from his waist and tied it about his neck. The other end he attached to a limb of the tree and he leaped into space. Either the limb or the belt broke; Judas went hurtling onto the jagged rocks below. Luke’s gospel tells us, “Falling forward, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.”