The King of the Jews Crucified
“The chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews,” but rather, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written’ ” (vv. 21–22).- John 19:16b–22
Upon sentencing Jesus to crucifixion, Pontius Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers who were tasked with carrying out the death penalty (John 19:16a). We read that Jesus then “went out, bearing his own cross” (v. 17). Although John does not mention it specifically, we know from Matthew and Mark as well as accounts of other Roman crucifixions that Jesus was flogged again just before carrying His cross to Golgotha (Matt. 27:26; Mark 15:15). This beating was the terrible verberatio that we discussed in our study of John 19:1–5. This horrible scourging would have left Jesus severely weakened and suffering from a great deal of blood loss. The cross that Jesus bore was not the full instrument of death, for the Romans customarily had persons sentenced to crucifixion carry only the cross beam. Still, this beam would have been heavy, and the soldiers eventually commissioned Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry it when it became too much for His weakened body to bear (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26).
Crucifixion was the most shameful way to die in the first-century Roman Empire, and it was so awful that Roman citizens could be crucified only under the direct order of Caesar himself. Victims endured tremendous physical suffering from their beatings and the driving of nails through their extremities. Those who were crucified were placed in such a way that they had to exert pressure on their hands and feet to raise their bodies to take a breath, causing fresh pain at the points where the nails had been driven into their flesh. Death came at the end of a slow, agonizing process of asphyxiation.
Yet, the horrible physical pain and shame of crucifixion paled in comparison to the additional suffering that Jesus alone experienced on His cross. He was crucified outside the city—outside the camp of God’s people, where the scapegoat was sent on Israel’s Day of Atonement, cut off from the Lord’s blessings (Lev. 16:27). Moreover, Jesus was crucified on the wood of a tree, and the Mosaic law curses those who hang on a tree (Deut. 21:23). Jesus suffered outside the camp, cut off from God’s blessing, bearing the curse of divine wrath against the sin of His people so as to redeem them (Gal. 3:10–14; Heb. 13:12–13).
Pilate inscribed “King of the Jews” on Jesus’ cross, likely intending only to mock the Jews who rejected Christ (John 19:20–22). He spoke better than he knew, indirectly witnessing to the One who is King not only of the Jews but of all people (Amos 9:11–12).
The physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross was intense, but the greatest suffering He experienced was in bearing the wrath of God for our sin. His willingness to bear God’s wrath reveals His love for us, and it should give us confidence that this love is an enduring love. If such love was willing to endure God’s wrath, it will persevere even when we sin. And if we are the true recipients of the love of Christ, we will more and more repent for our transgressions.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 2:2