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.
I am intrigued by people who claim to have seen visions. I am neither wholly dismissive or wholly believing of such claims. Sometimes accounts of visions sound legitimate. Sometimes they sound concocted. Sometimes it is hard to know. I know this, though: God has oftentimes spoken to people through dreams and visions. I do believe that. He does so in Scripture and I have no basis for thinking He does not do so today. I also believe that the devil can appear to us in and try to deceive us through visions.
Two historical visions in particular are interesting in this regard. One appears to have been an instance of satanic deception. The other appears to have been a word from the Lord. The first is a vision beheld by Martin of Tours. The second is a vision beheld by Helena Kowalska.
Martin of Tours was a 4th century Hungarian man who would come to be known as a great Christian leader. A figure once appeared to Martin in a vision. The figure said that he was Jesus Christ. As Martin prepared to worship this figure he noticed that the one who had appeared to him had no scars. So Martin asked, “Where are your scars?” And at that the figure disappeared. Martin had, in fact, been visited by a fallen angel, a demon who was trying to deceive him. It was the absence of the scars that made this clear.
On the other hand, consider the vision that Helena Kowalska claims to have had.
In 1923 a teenager named Helena Kowalska attended a dance in Lodz, Poland. While she danced that evening, a naked Jesus covered in agonizing wounds appeared at her side. “[H]ow long will you keep putting Me off?” He asked her. The music halted and all the people but Jesus disappeared from sight.
Helena Kowalska felt God calling her to a life of devotion and service that night. She would eventually come to be known as Saint Faustina.
Two visions. One a deceptive lie. One a powerful word from God. In both the scars of Jesus made the difference. The absence of the scars revealed the first vision to be a lie. The presence of the scars revealed that the second was authentic.
The scars of Jesus are important to Christians. Why? Because He was wounded for us, struck for us, crucified for us. As we progress through Mark 15 we come now to Christ’s scourging, His beating, His wounding. We must come to His wounding before we come to His piercing.
We are not yet to the wounds of the crucifixion, but these wounds have their role to play. They, too, reveal to us the character and nature of God.
The Loved One becomes isolated so that we who are isolated can know love.
Having been abandoned by His disciples and having been condemned by the religious court, by the bloodthirsty mob, and now by Pilate, Jesus is led away by the soldiers.
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.
Collins observes that the word “battalion” “is probably equivalent to a ‘cohort’” which was “in principle, the tenth part of a legion” which “consisted of five thousand to six thousand men.” So we are looking at 500 to 600 men. Josephus, however, wrote that some of the cohorts in Judea at this time had 1,000 men in them. If the entire cohort was gathered, that would be between 500 and 1,000 men, all jammed into the courtyard of Pilate’s headquarters, with Jesus standing in the middle. Joel Marcus writes that the thought of an entire cohort being assembled in the courtyard “seems implausible.” Even so, Mark observes that “they called together the whole battalion.”
We must get this image firmly in our heads. Jesus stands in the middle of an amused mob of Roman soldiers. He stands alone. Why are His disciples not with Him? Because they have scattered. The one who dared to draw near up to this point only succeeded in denying Him three times. They are gone. Jesus stands isolated, alone in the midst of this murderous horde.
And what of the Jewish leaders who condemned Him? Have none of them come to watch? No. None. Why? The reason is quite astonishing. They do not enter Pilate’s courtyard because they believe that going onto pagan grounds would render them unclean before God! Again, they do not flinch at their delivering the Son of God up to be killed. But they do flinch at the thought of being declared ceremonial unclean. Erasmus of Rotterdam, writing five hundred years ago, saw the absurdity of this. He wrote:
After his condemnation the soldiers of Pilate led Jesus into the courtyard of the praetorium. For the Jews who wanted to appear pious did not dare to enter the praetorium of a pagan, so as to remain pure for the celebration of their great Passover. Yet their hearts were right in the middle of the praetorium, in the hands of the soldiers, men naturally inclined towards mischief, whom they had instigated to act.
Erasmus was right. Distance themselves though they tried, the religious leaders and all who condemned Jesus were equally present in that courtyard. They were there. Peter was there. Judas was there. But more than that: I was there, you were there, we all were there. Why? Because it was for our sins that He endured this scourging, this beating, this mockery.
We were all there, but we were there among the murderous soldiers and not there standing beside Jesus. Jesus is there alone in righteousness. It must be this way. He must stand alone because He alone is the One who could stand.
See Him there! Cut off from all sympathetic company. Cut off from family, friends, disciples, and all caring human company. He is surrounded by the horde that is the symbol of Roman political might and of religious hypocrisy.
He is there, in the unclean place, standing alone.
Why? He is there, alone, so that we who are truly alone can learn what love is, what family is, what belonging is. He was cut off so that we who are cut off could now enter in. He was isolated so that we who are isolated can enter into the family of God.
In Jesus, the Loved One becomes isolated so that we who are isolated can know love.
Do you feel alone, isolated, homeless, without family or friends? Know that through Jesus you can now enter in, that through Jesus you need never be alone.
The Royal One is mocked as a madman so that we madmen can become royal.
The Loved One is isolated and the Royal One is mocked. He is mocked by the soldiers as a madman.
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.
These soldiers have heard the term “King of the Jews.” They are as amused by it as the Jewish leaders are enraged by it. But to these men, this is all a joke, a diversion, something to be made sport of. How can this Jewish madman who clearly has no power, no followers, no kingdom, and no throne be a king? So they decide to hang their abuse of Jesus on that particular idea. They will mock Him as a king, convinced of the outlandish insanity of the idea.
William Lane notes that many of the soldier’s actions suggest that they were likely from the Eastern or Greek part of the Empire. He says that these were “troops recruited from among the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine who were assigned to the military governor…and had accompanied him from Caesarea to Jerusalem to assist in the maintenance of public order.” Furthermore, “the purple robe and the gilded wreath of leaves…were the insignia of the Hellenistic vassal kings,” “the bending of the knee before Jesus parodied an essential requisite of Hellenistic homage to the ruler,” and “[t]he act of spitting at him may be interpreted as a parody on the kiss of homage which was customary in the East.” Their shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” was, however, likely Roman in origin as it “corresponds formally to the Roman acclamation ‘Ave, Caesar!”
These men, likely Greeks, play act in defiance of the very idea that Jesus has any royalty. They crown Him, pressing a crown of thorns cruelly down upon His head. They salute Him, mocking the manner of the Latin Romans, and scornfully say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They strike Him in the face and head with a reed. They bow disdainfully before Him. They spit on Him.
Why would Jesus submit to this? Why would the King of kings, the One whose throne was above all thrones, allow Himself to be treated as a madman by men who had been driven mad by their lust for blood and violence? What kind of a world is it when the only sane man is condemned as a madman by madmen who fancy themselves sane?
Once again, Jesus allowed it to happen because He knew that only by allowing madmen to mock Him as a madmen could the world that had been driven mad be able to come into the Kingdom of God. More than that, Jesus knew that it was only by allowing His own royalty to be mocked and crucified by a world gone mad could a way be made for the world gone mad to enter the kingdom.
Jesus, the King of Kings, was mocked as a criminal and a fool so that we criminals and fools could enter the Kingdom. The Royal One is mocked as a madman so that we madmen can become royal. We are not the King. That title belongs to Jesus alone. But, through and in Jesus Christ, we are part of the royal family and are declared sons and daughters of Lord God. In Romans 8, Paul puts it like this:
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
What a glorious elevation! We rebels and traitors to the Kingdom are privileged to be counted children of God and joint heirs with Christ because Christ was willing to suffer and die in our place, in our stead.
The Strong One is beaten and wounded so that we who are beaten and wounded can be healed.
The Loved One is isolated. The Royal One is mocked. The Strong One is beaten. See the violence in our text.
15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus…
17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.
19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.
Pilate hands Jesus over to be scourged. This was an act of extreme violence in which a condemned persons spirit and body were broken as a prelude to their final execution. Joel Marcus points to the work of Blinzler to show that a variety of tools of violence were used in a scourging or flogging: “rods for free people, sticks for soldiers, but whips for slaves and other noncitizens, ‘the leather thongs of these being often fitted with a spike or several pieces of bone or lead joined to form a chain.’”
Jesus would have been tied to a post and mercilessly whipped. The pieces of bone and lead would have ripped into His flesh. The blood loss would have been horrific. He would have entered into a state of physical anguish and shock.
Then Jesus is beaten with a reed. Then He us crowned with a crown of thorns. His head is beaten with a reed. He is spat upon. He is mocked. He is humiliated.
And He did all of this for us. All of it. For us. For you. For me. The Strong One is beaten and wounded so that we who are beaten and wounded can be healed.
It is powerful to realize just how many of these specific acts of violence were prophesied in the Old Testament and how many of them point to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
For instance, the word for “reed” in verse 19 (“they were striking his head with a reed”) would normally be rabdos but Mark uses kalamo instead, possible, Marcus notes, as “an allusion to the ‘bruised reed’ of Isa 42:3.” By submitting to being beaten with a reed, Jesus was fulfilling the prophesy of the Suffering Servant from the Old Testament. In Isaiah 42, the Lord says:
1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
This isolated, beaten King is none other than the One who will have ultimate victory, who will establish justice on the earth. He endures injustice in order to establish justice! And again in Micah 5:
1 Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
This One who is beaten with a reed is the ruler of all Israel who is greater than anyone can imagine! He is “from ancient days!” He is lord of Heaven and earth! And He gives Himself for this and to this for us! He takes the mocking, the beating, the whip, the reed, the spit, the slapping, the taunting, and the pain. He takes it. He does not turn from it.
When we read of the scourging and beating of Jesus, we must remember also the prophecy of Isaiah 50, so powerfully fulfilled here.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. 6 I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. 7 But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. 8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. 9 Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
He came to be beaten, but He will never be beaten again.
He came to be mocked, but He will never be mocked again.
He came to be humiliated, but He will never be humiliated again.
His beard was torn out, but it will never be torn again.
Bad men knelt before Him in mockery, but next we will all bow before Him as King.
He was crucified, but now He is enthroned.
He was rejected, but now He can be accepted…if we will but call on His name!
He took the pain, the shame, and the loneliness, so that we who are hurting, ashamed, and lonely can now be healed, can now be forgiven, can now find a family.
All you need do is accept that you have been accepted and receive the gift of eternal life that is now offered to you through Jesus Christ our Lord!
 Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark. Hermeneia. Ed., Harold W. Attridge. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007), p.725. Marcus, p.1039.
 Marcus, 1039.
 Desiderius Erasmus, Paraphrase on Mark. Collected Works of Erasmus. Gen. Ed., Robert D. Sider. Vol. 49 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), p.15-16.
 William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Gen. Ed., Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p.559-560.
 Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16. The Anchor Bible. Vol.27A (New Haven, CT: The Anchor Yale Bible, 2009), p.1031.
 Marcus, 1040.