Violence is a hot topic in our world. From bullying, to domestic violence, to police brutality, all the way up to terrorism and war; violence fills our homes, our schools, our cities, our nations and our daily news. It is impossible to get away from it. Speaking for myself, however, I sometimes get taken by surprise – as though violence is a new thing in human societies. Today’s readings in Mark 15, reminded me that violence is as old as the hills. It started with Cain (and his murderous seed) and will continue until the Prince of Peace comes to set things right.
If Jesus had been wearing a hidden camera – the activists of our day would certainly have risen up against the brutality to which he was subjected. Let’s attempt to get a full picture and draw some lessons on violence – as it played out in the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life. The best way to study Jesus’ life is to read all four gospels with an eye to detail. So I also considered the other Gospel accounts of this night, in order to get a complete overview.
The violence began when he was forcibly taken in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14. I will list here the violence as it is described in the Gospels. We can use our imaginations to fill in the many moments in-between, where there was likely additional abuse:
They laid hands on him and seized him Mark 14:46
Treatment at Annas/Caiaphas courts by chief priests, council elders etc. and their officers:
- False testimony is sought and given. Mark 14:57-58
- Testimony was obviously inconsistent – even to the accusers v.59
- The High Priest calls Jesus blasphemous vv.63-64
- Spit upon v.65
- Beaten with fists
- Punched by an officer John 18:22
- Slapped on the face
- Kept up all night in interrogation Mark 15:1
- Bound v.1
- Led away and delivered to Pilate v.1
Treatment at Pilate’s Court:
- Sent to Herod
Treatment at Herod’s Court (Luke 23):
- Questioned at some length
- Chief priests & scribes accuse him vehemently
- Herod & his soldiers treat him with contempt and mocking
- Dressed in gorgeous robe and sent back to Pilate
2nd Time at Pilate’s Court:
- Questioned further
- Chief priests & rulers incite crowd insistently
- Pilate’s Roman sentence pronounced Luke 23:24
- Scourged by Roman henchmen
- Delivered over to the will of the Jews
Treatment by the Roman Cohort before taking him to Golgotha (Mark 15:16-20):
- Dressed in purple
- Crown of thorns
- Verbal abuse and mocking
- Kept beating his head with a reed
- Spit upon
- Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross – probably because Jesus was so weak
Treatment at Golgotha:
- Tried to force pain-dulling mixture on him – but he refused it
- Crucified him
- Passers-by hurl abuse at him Mark 15:29-32
- Chief priests mock him
- Those crucified with him mock him
So this overview should give a better idea of the QUANTITY of violence that was aimed at the Lord Jesus. Let’s consider the QUALITY of that same violence. The first thing that struck me was that I never really considered just WHO and HOW MANY men were involved in all of these altercations.
I discovered in John 18 that “the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.” v.12 I looked up a cohort (battalion) to ascertain just what it was, and how many Roman soldiers this would entail. Apparently, it was a division of the Roman army consisting of about 480 men. The cohort was sub-divided into Centuries of which a Centurion (the leader/commander) would be over of roughly 80 men. So we are talking about hundreds of armed Roman soldiers and Jewish police men that descended on Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane! (cp. John 18:12) No wonder it was chaotic and the disciples lost their nerve!
Presumably many of these same men were a part of the rest of the evenings’ violence as well. That makes the beatings and abuse Jesus received more poignant, doesn’t it? Hardened men, whose very way of life revolved around violence were the ones delivering the blows and crucifying him. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that the “soldiers of the governor” gathered the WHOLE cohort together into the Praetorium to participate in Jesus’ humiliation and torture. So again, hundreds of men might have lined up to spit on and beat him. It is not at all surprising that he was unable to drag his own cross all the way to the Place of a Skull! And remember it was a bloodthirsty, jeering, mob-mentality crowd that he was walking past to be crucified. Certainly that horrible mob heaped additional physical and verbal abuse on the Son of God!
Given the great disturbance this man had caused, it is certain that there was a large contingent of soldiers around Golgotha that night. Once he was crucified, the soldiers knew that he was doomed to death. They gambled for his clothes because (like the thousands of crucifixions before him) they knew he would not need them anymore. The tyranny, oppression and injustice of Rome (combined with the worst of Judaism) had had their heinous way with this man too. Now they keep watch as they listened to the fury, pain and agony of these three criminals they had crucified, like so many before them. Or would they?
I’d like to now list some of the other moments (more hidden, perhaps) in this fateful evening. How did Jesus respond to the violence inflicted upon him? The brutality was punctuated by Jesus’ kindness – even in the midst of excruciating pain. Even unbelievers should (and did) take a second look at this story for this fact alone. It is not normal. He was an other-worldly hero. Just imagine these sweaty, muscled, violent soldiers with Jesus in their midst. Now picture the following moments that they witnessed; in spite of his beaten face, shredded skin and dripping blood.
Instances of Jesus’ gentleness and kindness – even as his tormentors beat him, probably within an inch of life:
- He acknowledges Judas and what he is doing (hoping still for repentance?) Luke 23:48
- He tries to reason with the Chief priests and Jews Luke 23:52-53
- He speaks calmly and entreats the soldiers to let his disciples go free John 18:1-9
- He heals the High Priest servant’s (Malchus) ear when Peter rashly cut it off John 18:1010-11, Luke 23:50-51 (This is just plain extraordinary in the middle of all of this!!)
- He rebukes Peter for cutting it off (still teaching his disciples?!) John 18:11
- He tries to reason with the High Priest John 18:19
- He affirms he is the Christ, the Son of God and that he will sit at God’s right hand and return in power someday – to the Chief Priest and his cronies Mark 14:61-62
- He seems honestly interested in the possibility of faith in Pilate cp. John 18:34,36,37, 19:11
- He quietly affirms he is the King of the Jews to Pilate (probably the most hardened soldier of them all – having clawed his way to the Governorship)
- He is meek and silent before the imposter/puppet King of the Jews – Herod Luke 23:9
- He prophesies impending doom to the people of Jerusalem Luke 23:27-31
- He prays for forgiveness for those who crucified him
- He considers his mother’s needs and asks John to care for her
- He responds to the repentance of the thief on the cross and tells him he will be a part of the Kingdom of God
- He is confident his breath/life will return to his Father at death Luke 23:46
- He focuses his mind on Psalm 22 as he is dying
- His behavior and the experiences surrounding his death convert a Roman Centurion and other soldiers Mt. 27:54
I gasp in wonder as I consider these details. He is not insane with fear or pain. He is not angry, or silent or selfish. There are so many deep lessons I never noticed before. And in a violent world, it is good to take heed.
Today seems to be a day I am expressing myself in lists so I will just conclude with some of the bullet-point lessons I draw from this discussion. I hope you will be motivated to mine out some of your own.
- Violence has ruled in most of history – it is not unique to our era. It should not surprise or terrify us. It is the condition of human hearts at their worst.
- Innocent people are the victims of violence throughout the world and throughout time. This is why the Bible hope is so compelling. A peaceful kingdom is not an oxymoron under the future rule of Jesus Christ.
- The magnitude of violence visited upon Jesus – the only entirely innocent man to ever live – is sobering. And his response is even more noteworthy. It should grip our attention and make us want to know what fueled this man.
- Even in the midst of his suffering, Jesus was not vengeful, hardened or bitter – rather, he was other-oriented, kind and compassionate.
- Focusing on God’s word and promises helped Jesus to endure the deep pain and injustice of his wrongful death. If it helped him, it can help us in a violent world also.
As already suggested, I feel this discussion would not be complete without bringing it back to our modern day. I believe that considering this story can give direction to those in our own times that are suffering from violence and injustice. Silent watchers may observe us too, if we respond appropriately to their hostility. How should we respond? The solution lies in this man – Jesus. A man like no other man. A man of peace. A man who lived out the highest principles of human dignity even in the midst of the most unjust act of human history. A man who focused on a future time when violence will prevail no more.. And because he endured, we can too. He is already exalted. We can be too. One day soon he will come to rule with justice and righteousness. It is certain.
After a litany of other faithful lives – many of whom also died in violent ways – here is the way that Jesus is described in Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Indeed. Consider him. So that we do not grow weary and lose heart!
I will close this out with this beautiful rendition of the words Pilate spoke to the bloodthirsty crowd, “Behold the Man!” by Jimmy Owens. Eyes of faith behold Jesus as the King of the Jews, the Son of God, the Name Above Every Name – sacrificed because His Father so loved the world: