The Soldiers Mock Jesus
16 The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor's headquarters (called the Praetorium) and called out the entire regiment. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head. 18 Then they saluted him and taunted, "Hail! King of the Jews!" 19 And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. 20 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
21 A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus' cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 And they brought Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means "Place of the Skull"). 23 They offered him wine drugged with myrrh, but he refused it.
24 Then the soldiers nailed him to the cross. They divided his clothes and threw dice to decide who would get each piece.
The soldiers take Jesus and, after calling out the entire regiment, dress him in a robe and a crown of thorns. Then they ridicule and beat him. Finally, when they grow tired of their sadistic sport, they dress Jesus in his own clothes again and lead him away to be crucified. Along the way, a man named Simon is forced to carry Jesus' cross to the execution site. Once there, Jesus is nailed to the cross, and soldiers gamble for his clothing.
A purple robe ... a crown ... saluted him ... a reed stick ... mock worship (Mark 15:17-19)
Taking advantage of their superior numbers and his weakened condition, the soldiers subjected Jesus to both verbal and physical abuse. (While "[a] Roman 'cohort' [NASB; Greek speiran] was a tenth of a legion, about 500-600 soldiers,"1707 "in this case it may have been an auxiliary battalion of 200-300 soldiers that had accompanied Pilate to Jerusalem from Caesarea."1708) The soldiers' "mockery mimics aspects of the Roman triumph, whereby Caesar is hailed as memperor and receives homage. The purple cloak ["probably a discarded and faded soldier's mantle of a 'purple' hue"1709], the crown of thorns (resembling the crown of ivy), the reed, with which Jesus is struck on the head, and the bowing in mock homage are all components of the apparel worn and homage received by the Roman emperor, who at the triumph wore a purple robe and laurel wreath and held a scepter."1710 (Some see in the crown of thorns a symbol of "God's curse on humanity (cf. Genesis 3:18) being placed on Jesus"1711 - thus delivering nature, including humanity, from God's curse.1712) "All of this had been prophesied. Isaiah had written, 'I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting' (Isaiah 50:6)."1713 Little did the soldiers realize that the one they were mocking was far superior to Caesar, for whom any Roman soldier would have laid down his life. Not only did Jesus endure punishment from them, he also endured death for them. "Now they would lead Him outside the city and nail him to a cross, and the Servant would die for the sins of the very people who were crucifying Him."1714
Crucified (Mark 15:20)
Following his humiliating abuse at the hands of the Roman soldiers, Jesus was "led ... away to be crucified" (v. 20). "In being led out to be crucified, condemned prisoners would carry the crossbeam of their own cross, which weighed about one hundred pounds. It was carried across the shoulders. Carrying the crossbeam was intended to break the prisoner's will to live. It said to the prisoner, 'You are already dead.' Like flogging, it caused the prisoner to die more quickly. The heavy crossbeam was placed on Jesus' already bleeding shoulders (John 19:17), and he began the long walk out of Jerusalem."1715
Without a doubt, "[d]eath by crucifixion was one of the cruelest forms of capital punishment ever devised."1716 Originating as an upright wooden stake, with time the cross (Greek stauros) evolved into a vertical pole with a horizontal beam attached. Although several ancient nations employed crucifixion, it was the Romans who turned it into a macabre art form of public humiliation, torture, and death. It was reserved for the lowest and worst criminals, and "Roman citizens could be punished in this way only for the crime of high treason."1717 "The victim was forced to carry his cross along the longest possible route to the crucifixion site as a warning to bystanders. There were several shapes for crosses and several different methods of crucifixion. Jesus was nailed to the cross; condemned men were sometimes tied to their cross with ropes. In either case, death came by suffocation as the person lost strength and the weight of the body made breathing more and more difficult."1718 (See Cross in Mark 8.) The practice was done away with by Emperor Constantine (ruled A.D. 306-337).1719
Simon (Mark 15:21).
Customarily a condemned man carried the patibulum of his own cross, that is, the crossbeam weighing about 100 pounds, through the city streets out to the place of crucifixion."1720 (It is debatable as to whether it was the crossbeam or the entire cross that Jesus carried.1721 ) Although Jesus started out carrying his cross (see John 19:17), he was too "weak from trauma and loss of blood" to continue doing so. And so Simon of Cyrene, who doubtless had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, was pressed into service by the Romans and made to carry Jesus' crossbeam along the narrow, winding streets and then outside the city to Golgotha. The soldiers would have taken "not the shortest but the longest way to the place of execution," following "every possible street and lane so that as many as possible should see and take warning."1722 ("The condemned were generally led through the most populous streets, and the place of execution would be near a highway, where many people would congregate."1723) Merely touching the cross - a bloodied instrument of death - would have rendered Simon ceremonially unclean and thus "unable to participate in the important religious festival for which he came 'in from the country.'"1724 There is good reason to believe that eventually Simon came to realize the true and full significance of the cross which he had helped to carry, as he and his family became devoted Christians (see Acts 19:33; Romans 16:13).1725
Wine ... soldiers (Mark 15:23, 24)
After being nailed to the cross, Jesus was offered the customary drugged wine. He refused it, choosing instead to remain fully conscious for what lay ahead.1726 Meanwhile, the soldiers there gambled for his last remaining earthly possession: his clothes. "The division of the crucifixion victim's property, including his clothing, was apparently customary."1727
Return the Cross to Golgotha
I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church,
I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles:
But on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek ...
And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about.
And that is where Christ's men ought to be, and what church people ought to be about.
- George MacLeod1728
??? How can the courage with which Christ faced the cross help us in our efforts at living out the Gospel before an always-watching world?