Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Monday, September 28, 2015

Was Jesus Flogged Twice?

Our sermon series has been in the Gospel of John for well over a year now. It's been a fascinating look at how John tells the story of Jesus being the Messiah.

St John the Evangelist
Along the way, we've had to gain an understanding of the tools John uses to communicate his idea.  Some of them require a few perspectives that can be a challenge to a Western-oriented way of thinking. 

  • John does not always use chronological order in his story-telling. It is frequently more important, to John, that we get his point rather than understand the sequence of events. 
  • John uses some words a bit differently than other biblical writers. John frequently uses "world" (kosmos) as a description of the lost, in need of redemption. When John says, "Jews", he almost invariably means "Jewish leadership"
  • John, very often, mentions seemingly trivial details to reveal the irony of a situation, using that irony to teach an important point. This, at times, makes it easy to miss the point.
Needless to say, John requires careful reading. That type of concentrated study moves John's gospel form being a profound theological treatise (at which he does an excellent job) to be a key part of the big picture of the New Testament story of God's redemptive plan. This is one of the reasons we've tried to tell the story rather than dwell on the theological riches of John. 

All this makes it difficult to harmonize John with the synoptic gospels. John plays loose with chronology and is far better at filling in some gaps than he is at lining up with Matthew, Mark and Luke.  

So, when we get to chapter 19, it would be easy to write some events off as the usual weak order-of-events John presents. Particularly with the trial before Pilate and the flogging. 

Few folks have the time to line things up between the the
gospels and John, so the problem in ch 19 is not one most folks are familair with. 

But, vs 1 says this, 

John 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him.
There were three degrees of flogging (scourging) during the 1st Century. (1) fustigatio -for minor offenses, usually accompanied with a stern warning. (2) falgellatio - fairly brutal, administered to criminals whose infractions were more serious. (3) verberatio -  brutal, inhumane in its scope, frequently fatal, usually administered along with other punishments like crucifixion, if the convicted survived the flogging. The verberatio only came after a death sentence was handed down. It was a way of weakening the condemned. 

In John's scenario, this is clearly prior to the official sentencing, which occurs in John 19:16. Even more importantly, the flogging ordered in vs 1 (emastigosen) is derived from the root word μαστιγόω (mastigo). Notice no sentencing has been issued. Pilate clearly does not intend to execute Jesus at this point (John 19:4-6). 

So was this the lighter form of flogging or the heavier one most of us are familiar with? We could write it off as all of them being the same, John doing what he frequently does, moving things around to suit his story. But Luke does something very similar. In Luke's gospel, we see Jesus, now before Herod, mocked prior to sentencing by Pilate.

Luke 23:11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.

Further more, both Luke (Luke 16:11, paideuses) and John (John 19:1, ematigosen) use words that denote the punishment of a trouble maker, not the execution required of a capital crime. Luke and John also record a humiliation at the hands of the soldiers prior to the formal sentencing. 

Mark, in describing his flogging, uses phragellosas (Mark 15:15), the same word used in Mt 27:26, the same word used in conjunction with the most severe form of flogging. Both Mark and Matthew depict their floggings and the humiliation of the crown of thorns and purple robe as occurring after the formal sentence of crucifixion is handed down. 

From all this, we can safely assume that there were two floggings, a light one given as a way to appease the Jews and a far more brutal one preparing Jesus for the crucifixion.

Why is this even important?

None of us can begin to imagine the horror and suffering Jesus went through on the cross or prior to it. Many of us have seen graphic depictions of the flogging and the nailing to the cross. Many find it hard to watch. All of us should understand the sheer physicality of the torture and be profoundly moved that Jesus Christ endured it all for you and me. I often wonder how far my torture would have progressed before I broke. Jesus never reached that point, never protested, never resisted. He absorbed it all...for us. 

Now, imagine ways to magnify the pain and suffering even further. One of the primary ways would be to prolong it, multiply it. Jesus is accused, refuses to defend Himself, then is flogged and humiliated. The flogging is not what they considered "severe" back then.  But He still emerges from it wounded, bleeding, weakened, spat on and in tremendous pain. As the "trial" progresses, He is finally sentenced to die the most horrible death imaginable on those days. Then He hears that, prior to that pain, He will be flogged again, this time far more brutally than before. He still goes willingly. He is weak, injured, painful and alone but He never hesitates, never protests, never asks for mercy. He absorbs far more than any of us would be willing or able to absorb. He allows Himself to be pushed beyond human endurance...because He want us to be with Him forever. 

Amazing grace, indeed.  

Sources: "Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John", edited by D.A.Carson, "The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: John" edited by Andreas Kostenberger. "The Gospel According to John (XII-XXI): Introduction Translation and Notes (AYBC)" edited by Raymmond Edward Brown, "Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36: John (Second Edition)" Edited by George R. Beasley-Murray,


  1. Perhaps Isaiah was looking forward to these two floggings as he wrote the familiar pair of parallelisms in Isa. 53:5 where the first of each one describes an event somewhat less painful than the one that followed it.

    But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
    the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

  2. Very interesting Doug! John, as always, thank you for teaching us so deeply and so thoroughly!