Jesus' Finest Hour... His Last
- Friday, April 21, 2006
It began Thursday night in the Jewish month of Nisan [April] about a.d. 30. One of Jesus' disciples, Judas Iscariot, planned to betray him for thirty pieces of silver. The deadly signal: a kiss. In the garden of Gethsemane just outside Jerusalem, Jesus knew exactly what was coming, and he was praying. His heart was almost unable to support the weight: “ My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). Then the mob appeared with swords and clubs. Judas kissed Jesus, and the mob seized him. The disciples of Jesus fled and left him alone.
The Passion of Jesus Before the Jewish Council
Jesus was taken to the Jewish Council, which was ready to put him on trial in the middle of the night. The decisive charge was blasphemy:
The high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:61-64)
“Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you? . . . And the guards received him with blows” (Matthew 26:67-68; Mark 14:65).
Meanwhile in the courtyard nearby, his disciple Peter who had said, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14:31), denied him three times: “I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:72). When Jesus looked at him across the court, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
The Passion of Jesus Before Pilate and Herod
Then they delivered Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate, early Friday morning. After interrogation, Pilate sent him to King Herod, who happened to be in town at that time and hoped to see Jesus do a miracle. Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt, put a royal robe on him in mockery, and sent him back to Pilate.
According to a strange custom, Pilate offered to release a prisoner and gave the crowd the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a notorious terrorist “who had committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7). The crowd chose Barabbas and cried out for Jesus to be crucified. They made him out to be an imperial threat who claimed to be a king. “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). Pilate was cornered. Shall he kill an innocent man, or risk the appearance of sedition?
Pilate made his decision. He washed his hands, in a futile attempt to remove his guilt, then freed Barabbas, and handed Jesus over to the soldiers. “I am innocent of this man's blood” he said (Matthew 27:24). What happened in the next several hours is beyond description or depiction. The mere facts do not tell the whole story. But they are crucial.
Jesus was scourged. The word cannot carry the reality of the torture.
Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals. . . . For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied. . . . The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers (licitors) or by one who alternated positions. . . . It is not known whether the number of lashes was limited to 39, in accordance with Jewish law. 
After the scourging, the entire battalion of soldiers gathered around this faint and bleeding man, put a scarlet robe on him, pressed the weight of a scarlet robe onto his torn shoulders, set a reed in his right hand, knelt down before him, and mocked him, “Hail, King of the Jews.” They struck him with their hands. They spit on him. They wove a crown out of thorns—probably not the kind of thorns you see on rose bushes, but the longer kind that are more like needles. Then they not only put the crown on his head, but hit him over the head—to drive the thorns into his skull (Mark 15:17-19).
The Passion of Jesus on the Cross
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