John 19:1-6 – The Scourging of Christ as a Type of the Law

So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands. Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!” Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” (John 19:1-6 NKJV)

The Hebrew Bible is first and foremost a unit all to it’s own, but when joined, and thus fulfilled, by the Greek Scriptures, we can begin to see shadows of the Old by the Light of the New. One of those, I will attempt to discuss here.

The scourging is described as thus:

In the Roman Empire, flagellation was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, and in this context is sometimes referred to as scourging. Whips with small pieces of metal or bone at the tips were commonly used. Such a device could easily cause disfigurement and serious trauma, such as ripping pieces of flesh from the body or loss of an eye. In addition to causing severe pain, the victim would be made to approach a state of hypovolemic shock due to loss of blood. The Romans reserved this torture for non-citizens, as stated in the lex Porcia and lex Sempronia, dating from 195 and 123 BC. The poet Horace refers to the horribile flagellum (horrible whip) in his Satires, calling for the end of its use. Typically, the one to be punished was stripped naked and bound to a low pillar so that he could bend over it, or chained to an upright pillar as to be stretched out. Two lictors (some reports indicate scourgings with four or six lictors) alternated blows from the bare shoulders down the body to the soles of the feet. There was no limit to the number of blows inflicted— this was left to the lictors to decide, though they were normally not supposed to kill the victim. Nonetheless, Livy, Suetonius and Josephus report cases of flagellation where victims died while still bound to the post. Flagellation was referred to as “half death” by some authors and apparently, many died shortly thereafter. Cicero reports in In Verrem, “pro mortuo sublatus brevi postea mortuus” (“taken away for a dead man, shortly thereafter he was dead”). Often the victim was turned over to allow flagellation on the chest, though this proceeded with more caution, as the possibility of inflicting a fatal blow was much greater.

Any of us who have seen the Passion of the Christ remember the stark images of the bright red blood pouring from the Christ. It should be brought to mind the prophesy of Isaiah,

As many people were aghast at him — he was so inhumanly disfigured that he no longer looked like a man– so many nations will be astonished and kings will stay tight-lipped before him, seeing what had never been told them, learning what they had not heard before. (Isaiah 52:14-15 NJB)

This prophesy speaks to the scourging of Christ, and like so many before and after Him, the scourging would do irreparable damage to the body, so that on the rare chance in which the convicted was not crucified, he would forever be seen as a criminal, with no hope of recovering outwardly.

Is this a type of the Law?

We must remember that scourging was an appeasement for the Roman Law used by Pilate to satisfy the bloodthirsty mob.

Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” (Luke 23:22 NKJV)

A tradition holds that Christ was first scourged with thick ropes, then with knotted ropes and iron scorpions, then with chains, and lastly with rods of thorns. We do not know for sure the manner of the scourging, but if it adheres to the Isaiah prophesy, then Christ was literally unrecognizable as a man.

The Law of Moses was only a foreshadow of the things to come. It did not cleanse humanity from sin, requiring yearly sacrifices. It was bloody, requiring numerous animal sacrifices for the sins of the people, but it never fully cleanses anyone of anything.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16 NKJV)

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:19-25 NKJV)

The Law was not without purpose, Paul reminds us, in that we prepared the way of Christ, and the word of the Word. It was our teacher for a great many things, but it did nothing in restoring us to life with God. It offered blood for appeasement from punishment, not for reward of life.

For the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19 NKJV)

For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.” Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:19-22 NKJV)

The blood of the Old Covenant made things usable for God, but only as a shadow, just as the blood of the scourging made the body of Christ to fulfill the prophesies, and those become usable to God. It was the once for all life blood of Christ that purchased us, redeeming us from the captivity of sins (Acts 20.28), unlike the blood of the Old which must be applied year to year, generation to generation.

Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another– He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:23-28 NKJV)

Finally, we see that the scourging of Christ did not satisfy the mob just as the Law did not satisfy God’s holiness,

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4 NKJV)

Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast). And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”– who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested. And he released to them the one they requested, who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison; but he delivered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:13-25 NKJV)

The Scourging of Christ, or the flagellation of Christ, did nothing for the mob, nor satsified the holiness required by God. The Law, in the same way, bloodied the floors of the Temple, but did nothing to grant us peace. In the scrouging, we find a harkening back to the Law, in that both, althought bloody and required, did nothing to hasten our walk with God, but only the life blood of Christ shed up Golgotha, would.

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