Matthew 27:27-44 Part 1


I’ve been having many discussions in cyberspace with people who wish to change the Biblical language in order to make it more “palatable” to those who might be “turned off” or driven away.  It is amazing how many read the chains of postings and jump in with a vigorous defense of “dumbing down” and simplifying the Gospel language so that the “lost” can more easily understand it!

And naturally, having already reduced the Gospel to its lowest denominator, none of these “language innovators” understand the nature of depraved and cursed mankind!  And therefore, their view of what is required for our salvation consists entirely of speaking to others about God’s love and man’s experience with God’s love.

One woman, a musical worship leader, once let loose a “barrage” of criticism at me… saying that Martin Luther would never have used language that people couldn’t understand.  Words such as “propitiation” and “reconciliation” and “covenant”… and the like.  Apparently she had once produced a musical drama for a worship performance concerning the life of Luther.

But having read a book about Luther, she had never read Luther, who freely used the language of Scripture in expounding the doctrines of election, predestination, redemption, reconciliation, etc., etc.

The word which has come up several times in these discussions is “propitiation”.  Why would anyone ever want to use such a word?  What use does the Church have for such language?  Why can’t we just say “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so….”

Well, in the first place the apostles John and Paul use the word propitiation in their letters to the Churches!  And if that, and simply that, was a reason… it would be good enough!  If the early Church was deemed worthy of hearing and reading that word, then why should the modern Church be so pietistic as to eliminate it from its vocabulary?  (The answer, of course, is that it “feels” that words like that, and the theology they represent, are too difficult, and they drive people away.)

But the word “propitiation” is a word that needs to be learned by the people of God.  It needs to be heard and read and learned and used by the people of God… because it describes an element of the mighty work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  And without this word, and without the concept which it represents, we would be destitute of the knowledge of His work!

Underlying the propitiatory work of our Lord (and making it an absolutely necessary work for Him to accomplish) stands the Revelation of God concerning the nature of man.  Since we sinned against God, and since He cursed all mankind, and since we are therefore in a condition of depraved uncleanness, there exists a state of “enmity” at the seat of Justice!

And there is no man born of Adam who can take away that enmity!  No man can say anything, or do anything, or be anything that can erase the enmity or the cause of the enmity!  For the awful sin of rebellion against Almighty God, there is only one way to satisfy the perfect and holy justice of God – DEATH!  Death and eternal condemnation.

But, Jesus took on the flesh of man and suffered all the pains of condemnation and death for us!  And He satisfied the holy Justice of God which required our condemnation and death!  Listen to Paul:


“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Who God has set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His justice for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.”  (Romans three, verses twenty-three through twenty-five).


Jesus, according to Paul, satisfied the perfect justice of God; and, through faith in His blood, our sins are remitted!

Like children “coloring outside the lines” (that’s their term for innovative worship practices – since Jesus has come, and we don’t have to abide by the old “forms” any more) like children coloring outside the lines, the Church has concentrated on its personal enjoyment of worship – trying everything new they can think of; and they know little of the majestic and magnificent Work of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Well, all this has come up during the last several weeks during preparations to preach concerning our Lord’s crucifixion.  And it just struck me as so ironic that propitiation is so woven into and through this text.

Our Lord has “set His face toward the cross” in order to satisfy the Father’s wrath toward mankind; and Pilate is attempting to propitiate the envious leadership of Israel!  He is trying 1) to satisfy men and the evil justice of men, while Jesus has set Himself to satisfy God the Father and His Justice!

2) Pilate hopes that the scourging and further humiliation of this innocent Man will satisfy the crowd – and they’ll let him go.  But God requires the death of this innocent Man in order to satisfy His Justice!

3) Pilate wishes to be released from responsibility by man-made means of reconciliation.  But God said that only the death of the perfect God-Man would reconcile Him to us.

4) Pilate wished that partial satisfaction would turn the minds of the crowd and release himself from the blood of this innocent Man.  But God required the full (plenary) satisfaction of His holy Justice by the sacrifice of the holy Substitute!

5) Pilate attempted to be the “mediator” between the crowd of Jews and Jesus Christ, and he wished to “atone” for the life of Jesus by scourging Him and humiliating Him.  (He had before suggested to the Jewish leaders that they might be satisfied with “scourging” Him and realizing Him.)

But God had sent His Own Mediator, and He was Jesus Christ, Who was, Himself, the atonement for the sin of men.  And He had to be crucified… His blood had to be shed, and He had to die … and descend into Hades and be resurrected in order that men might live!

Pilate thought that humiliating Jesus and mocking Him as King of the Jews would show the Jewish leadership that this Man was nothing… no threat to them at all – that the soldiers could freely beat Him and mock Him and dress Him however they wanted.  There certainly was no threat to the Roman army in this Man… and the Roman army was the friend of Israel; so why should they be envious and afraid of the Man?  What repercussions could there possibly be to releasing Him?

Do you see the appeasement… the propitiatory attempt of Pilate toward the Jewish leaders?

But God would not be satisfied with scourging and humiliation of His Messiah!

But this is how it came about that Jesus was “scourged” (verse twenty-six) and then mocked and humiliated by the soldiers (verses twenty-seven through thirty-one).

Matthew, Mark and John report the scourging (with the proper sequence of events in the Gospel of John).  Matthew, as was his way of writing, focuses on the events rather than on the time sequences.

Without reading John’s account, some have concluded that scourging must have been a common preliminary to crucifixion in Roman practice.  But that’s not the case.  Jesus was scourged for the very reasons we’ve already stated.  And it wasn’t common practice.  In fact it wasn’t the practice at all!  Neither was the mocking!  Pilate was just trying to “satisfy” the Jews and avoid the responsibility of Jesus’ death!  But it wasn’t enough.

Now, none of the evangelists describe the scourging.  They were content to say that Pilate scourged Jesus (or that he had his soldiers scourge Him).  Everybody was familiar with scourging, and it wasn’t necessary for them to “fill in all the details”.

And I’m not going to attempt to shock you with the horror of this beating; but we in our society know nothing of scourging.  Therefore I think it would be valuable for us to hear what it is and how it was carried out.  We need to know what our Lord went through… without sensationalizing it.  As you already know we don’t “play” with emotions here.  We only want to hear the Gospel.

The Jews had received a Law from God (Deuteronomy twenty-five) that a wicked man found guilty at law may be beaten in public.  But God restricted the beating to a certain number of stripes; and it was to be done with a rod (a stick).

A man could be beaten with up to forty stripes.  Any more so would have been treating a man like an animal.  The public beating was punishment for wickedness… restricted in its severity in order to avoid abuse – which reduced humanity to animal life!  And after his beating, a man could get up and walk away like a man.  He was through with it… it was over.  There was no inhumane treatment like imprisonment!  That’s treating men like animals!

I heard a discussion on this issue – a few shorts comments, actually – (the issue of treating humans like animals) the other day on the radio… except it didn’t go far enough.  The discussion centered on the differences in the ways humans are to be treated as opposed to how animals are to be treated.

Animals can’t make responsible decisions about their futures – i.e. working and saving and building and taking dominion.  They have to be given, every day, that which they need… food, water, medical care, adequate shelter, etc.  If the pet dog didn’t have those things provided for it, it would die.  It is totally dependant on the ones who care for it.

Humans, on the other hand, are made in the image of God; and they are to work and save and build and take dominion.  They are to provide for their own food, water, clothes, medical care and adequate shelter.  If those things are given to them every day by someone upon whom they are totally dependant, they are being treated like animals!  And they will learn to act like animals which are dependant on the hand that feeds them!

Now, a “benevolent government” that wishes to feed and clothe and shelter the poor (and I’m sure that some are sincere in this desire) is treating its people – not like men and women made in God’s image, but – like animals!  And after sixty or seventy years of this welfare state, we see examples everywhere of men and women and children acting like animals!  The state has made human beings non-human.  It has forced them into an animalistic life-style which is vile and inhumane!

And not only that; but look for a minute at the prison system!  Not only have we “devolved” our populace into sub-human categories, but, upon finding them guilty of wickedness, our history has been to place them in “penal institutions” (that means punishment institutions).  Then, seeing that that’s too “inhumane”, we’ve decided that they are now institutions of “rehabilitation”!  No punishment!  Don’t say “punishment”!

But we put them in cages; and we give them water; and we give them food; and we give them clothes; and we give them medical and dental care; and we give them shelter; and we give them entertainment!  And we do that every day.  And they depend on it.

You see, the system treats them just like we treat our animals!  We make them subhuman; and it’s inhumane!  And when they emerge from their dependency “cages” they are then somehow expected to be image of God.  They are expected to be “rehabilitated”.  But how are they to walk out of prison “real men” and “real women” when they’ve been treated like animals?

God’s system of justice included (for non-capital crimes) a public beating which stopped short of making a man an animal.  And he could get up afterward and consider his wickedness, and repent, and be done with the punishment; and the thought of having to go through it again was enough to substantially reduce the recidivism rate!  In other words, the man who went through it was loathe to become a repeat offender!  You see, that’s justice that both protects society and retains human dignity in the image of God – at the same time!

Now, Israel, which had lived under Roman occupation and under Roman law for about ninety years at this point, even though they had been taught the proper system of justice, had probably seen many scourgings by 30 AD.  And it didn’t shock or horrify them to see a Jew scourged by the Romans.  In fact, the priests were probably pleased that it was a Roman scourging that Jesus received rather than a public beating under the Statute in Deuteronomy.

Because the Romans had no reservations at all about treating men like animals.  There was no “holding back” from inhumane treatment; there was no compassion by limiting the strokes; there was no compunction about the dignity of man.

A scourging was not with a rod.  A man was stripped of all clothes and bent over a low pillar – a curved base of some kind which was made that way so that a man could be bent over it.  His hands and feet were tied in spread-eagle fashion so that his back and sides were stretched out and exposed.

The scourge was a short-handled stick with several leather strips attached to the end.  And to the leather strips were attached small bones or pieces of metal.  And two soldiers, one on each side, would alternately lash the backside with full force – skin and flesh laid open in strips on back and sides, from shoulders to buttocks.

And that’s enough details.

Pilate had Jesus scourged… right here in full view of all.  And as I said, his object was to let the Jews see that this was an insignificant Jew… a joke of a king, a dreamer who didn’t amount to much – and certainly no one to be feared or envied!  And He wasn’t guilty of anything.  But they weren’t content with that.

Matthew and Mark make the mockery and humiliation by the soldiers the primary event in their texts – leaving out all details of the scourging.  John presents the two events simultaneously as Pilate’s last effort to satisfy the Jews and release Jesus.  But when it failed, Pilate ordered the crucifixion.

But this mockery followed immediately after the scourging.  Get the picture now; the verses here are very clear (twenty-seven through thirty-one).  This has all been set up by Pilate for its effect!  The cohort (those not on assignments doing other important things) but the cohort (six hundred soldiers) in full legionnaire regalia are brought into the courtyard (Jewish leaders splitting and moving away to give them room), and, as I said earlier, these are the crack troops of the garrison of Antonia; so they would have been moving in ordered ranks into the courtyard – always to give the impression of their invincibility.

And Jesus is now untied from the pillar upon which He was scourged; and He is escorted into the portico of the praetorium by the cohort!  As many of the six hundred soldiers as were available all marched Jesus up the steps into the portico where they all had room… and where they were still in full view and hearing of the Jewish leadership.

Do you see the pattern here?  See Pilate’s plan?  The cohort didn’t do any of this on its own initiative.  It had a commander (called a chiliarch), but Pilate was the commander in chief.  He’s the one who set all this up – for the effect on the Jews!  The soldiers would have done none of this on their own… this is all by design.  Sometime during this proceeding Pilate had given the cohort commander very specific instructions.

The apostle John reveals that Pilate went into the praetorium with the cohort to see the humiliation and mockery of Jesus.  It was all a staged event to show the Jews that this pitiful creature was “nothing”.  What was He in comparison to the mighty garrison of Antonia?  He was not “King of the Jews” unless Rome said so!  What could He possibly do that He should be envied by these Jewish leaders?

Fearing his wife’s wrath, and the possible wrath of Caesar, and the possibility of a major upheaval in Jerusalem, Pilate went to extraordinary means to get Jesus released.

And the soldiers undressed Him and redressed Him and plaited a crown made out of thorn bushes and pressed it down on His head.  And they put a rod in His right hand (like a king’s scepter) knelt down to (mock) worship Him as King of the Jews.  And they took the rod and gathered into Him and took their turns beating Him with it and spitting on Him.

Matthew, having already recorded Pilate’s condescension, now cuts right to the crucifixion (end of verse thirty-one).  But John is clearer in the order of events.  The Jews were not propitiated by all of this.  They were not satisfied.  They were not “cowed” at all by the presence of the legionnaires; and Pilate’s staged event was not effective; and the commotion grew and grew.

And that’s when Pilate washed his hands of the blood of this innocent Man and ordered His crucifixion.

As horrifying as this whole picture is, we now have to turn our eyes and our hearts in love to our God for doing this for us.  God the Son went through all of this in order that God’s perfect and eternal Justice might be satisfied where we are concerned.  Having seen all that Jesus had to suffer, it must now motivate us to repentance; and our hearts have to cry out toward God in true thanksgivng for the love wherewith He first loved us.