1 So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands.
4 Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” 5 Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”
Pilate can see that he is losing the crowd, so he tries to appease them by having Jesus scourged. Perhaps this will be good enough for them; perhaps they will stop calling for Jesus’ execution. Regarding scourging, listen to Fr. Farley’s description of this brutal punishment:
“The Roman punishment of scourging was severe indeed, and calculated to wring the heart of anyone. It involved having the victim tied to a post with his back and legs exposed. One (or two) soldiers then lashed the length of the victim with a leather flagellum or whip of several thongs, each thong of which had pieces of bone or metal inserted into it. These pieces actually removed the flesh from the victim’s back and legs during this scourging, turning the back into a bloody pulp and exposing the bones, sinews, and nerves within. It was not uncommon for some to die during scourging” (319).
To me, this sounds exactly like what was depicted in The Passion of the Christ (although certainly, the real scourging might not have lasted as long, and in any case, it wasn’t necessary to show the whole thing!).
This brutal scourging was not enough for the soldiers. They also insisted upon mocking Jesus in a cruel parody of the ritual of greeting a Roman Emperor. In Jesus’ day, when a Roman citizen found himself in the presence of the Emperor (who would, of course, be wearing a crown), he would approach slowly, kneel before him, cry out “Hail Caesar,” and give him a kiss of allegiance. Instead of doing this before the King of Kings, however, the soldiers made him a crown of thorns, lacerating his scalp as they roughly placed it on him. They then placed a purple garment on him (purple being the sign of royalty), mockingly called out “Hail, King of the Jews!,” and gave him slaps instead of a kiss.
Pilate allows this abuse, then goes back out to face the crowd and show them just how beaten, broken, and humiliated Jesus now was. He is hoping “that the crowd, seeing one of their countrymen so badly abused, will rouse themselves to His defense and ask for him to be the one released” (Farley, 319). He cries to them, “Behold the man!”—“that is, ‘Look at the poor thing!’ His hope is that the spectacle will excite their pity for the Nazarene” (320). It is as if he is saying, “Are you satisfied now? Haven’t you had enough?”
Sadly, they had not.