And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!
The moment of the devil’s spite!
Behold the man!
He holds Himself forth to be a king, but He is no king at all!
It is very plain that the trial of the Lord Jesus before the Roman governor centered on the issue of Jesus’ kingship. Before the Sanhedrin it was especially His deity, His being the Son of God, that was at stake in His trial. Before the governor, however, it was definitely His kingship, in which His Messiahship culminated, that was the issue. The Jews accused Him before Pilate that He made Himself a king. Pilate is evidently fearfully concerned about this, as is plain from his question, “Art thou a king then?” And Jesus, Himself, confirms that this is the issue when He answers the question of Pilate affirmatively. This is also the idea in this moment of Jesus’ maltreatment by the soldiers: they made Him a mock king. And thus the Roman governor presents Jesus to the people in this scene.
The moment of Jesus’ royalty!
It is very plain that when Pilate takes Jesus from the soldiers and presents Him to the people, Jesus bears the aspect of a king. This is evident from the crown on His head, from the royal robe on His shoulders, from the scepter in His hand, and from the obeisance of the soldiers.
But it is the moment of the soldiers’ mockery!
There is a cutting sarcasm in all this. The soldiers, evidently acting on the accusation that He made Himself a king, now mocked at such a hopeless king. The crown of thorns which they plait and put on His head is a mock-crown: it causes the blood to run down His sacred brow. It causes suffering. The royal garb with which they clothe Him is a mock-garb. Its purpose is to testify that He is not a king whatsoever. The scepter which is placed in His hand is a mock-scepter: for Matthew informs us that this scepter was a reed. Moreover, the subjects of this king are mocking and therefore mock-subjects. They spit on Him. They smite Him with their hands. They strike Him on His thorn-crowned head with1 His own reed-scepter.
And is not the language of all this graphically clear?
Behold the man!
Look at Him, a king! Helpless, powerless, in the hands of His enemies! Surely, there is no reason to fear such a man! Surely, there is no semblance of royalty in Him! He may call Himself a king, but a king He is least of all!
Such is the idea of the soldiers’ action. They act upon the accusation that Jesus made Himself a king. But a king, in their opinion, must have power. And Jesus stood before Pilate and before His accusers as a silent sufferer. There was no one to defend Him. He did not even defend Himself. And such a king the soldiers could not understand. There was no room in their conception for a king who would not fight. For such a king they were filled with contempt. They despised Him. They hated Him. And they expressed all this by presenting Jesus as a mock-king.
The devil’s spiteful vengeance! Oh, the soldiers surely were not innocent. They were responsible. Indeed, throughout the trial and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus it is by wicked men that He is delivered. This is true also of Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the soldiers. Not without responsibility were they. True, if they had been merely executors of the sentence imposed by the judge, they would have been innocent. Then the responsibility would have been that of the judge alone. But now they testified that they joined in the judgment of wicked men concerning Jesus Christ. They knew that Jesus was innocent, even as Pilate had declared. But they did far more than was required of them in their capacity as soldiers and servants of Pilate. They gathered together the whole band of soldiers, and they made Jesus the object of their mockery and their cruel maltreatment. Surely, here is an instance of terrible lack of discipline on the part of these Roman soldiers. And when, even before Jesus had been finally sentenced, they engage in this cruel sport and make Jesus the innocent victim of their ribald mockery, they testify thereby that they, as well as Pilate, assume responsibility for what here takes place.
Indeed, when Pilate brings Jesus before the multitude with the words, “Behold the man!” he acts as the representative of the whole world. At the cross of Jesus Christ the entire world manifested itself as wicked, and stands condemned before the Judge of heaven and earth.
But do not forget: this moment of the cross is the moment of the devil’s spiteful vengeance!
Behind the seen in this entire history is the unseen.
Seen are Judas, the Sanhedrin, the wicked Jews, Pilate, the mocking soldiers—the whole world!
Unseen—and behind them all—is the devil, the prince of darkness, the serpent; who is here heaping vengeance upon the Seed of the woman.
It is he, the prince of darkness himself, who here makes Jesus the mock-king!
Jesus, the Christ of God!
And the Evil One, the Prince of darkness!
Had not the battle between these two been joined from the very outset of Jesus’ public ministry? Had not the devil offered Him all the kingdoms of this world if He would but bow down and worship him, that is, if He would but be king under the devil? Was it not the same prince of darkness who was still tempting Him at Capernaum when the bread-eating multitudes would make Him king? Had not the same ruler of this world tempted Him when His disciples were willing and ready in His behalf to take up the sword and fight? For did not the Lord Himself testify that if His kingdom were of this world, then His servants would fight?
And had not the devil’s temptation of a throne and a kingdom always been on the condition that Jesus, Who came as the Servant of Jehovah, would become his servant? Had not the offer of kingship always been connected with the temptation that Jesus should depart from the way of suffering, the way of obedience, the way of the Father’s will, should become disobedient to the Father, and should bow down and obey the prince of darkness? He, the devil, must remain the prince of this world: and Jesus must become his servant!
And had not the Lord Jesus steadfastly despised this offer of the devil and chosen the path of obedience? Was it not this very fact that accounted for His presence before Pilate, that cynical, proud, self-seeking, thoroughly wicked and hypocritical representative of the kingdom of this world?
And does the prince of darkness not now have Jesus in his power? Is he not in a position—through the soldiers and through Pilate—to demonstrate the folly of Jesus’ divine royalty, the folly of One Who would be king in the way of obedience to the Lord of heaven and earth?
Yes, it is the devil who here makes mockery of Jesus’ kingship!
It is the hour of the world, and of the prince of darkness!
“See,” he says, “what becomes of your kingship if you despise the kingship which I offer!”
Behold the man!
The moment of the devil’s spite!
But the devil was a fool!
The moment of the devil’s spite is nevertheless God’s moment!
And God’s moment is the moment of grim reality!
For God made man a king. He made him in His own image; and He gave him royal dominion, dominion over all things. Man was created and destined to reign. And in Paradise the First that man stood for a brief moment in royal power and glory. But he was king under God. And that means that he was king and could be king only as the servant of God, so that he ruled not according to his own fancy, but according to the will of God his Creator and Lord. And it was only in that living relation of servant-king under God that man could ever really be king and could experience the blessing of His favor.
But the adversary of God seduced man. As servant-king under God man was to be enemy of the devil. But he listened to the devil’s lie, “Ye shall be as God.” He rebelled and became a servant and friend of Satan, the slave of sin, a slave-king, a usurper, a mock-king!
For the Lord God always maintains Himself!
He strikes down that rebellious servant. The devil had promised higher glory and power: “Ye shall be like God!” But God maintains His own Word. And under the devil man becomes a mock-king!
Mighty Word of the cross!
Behold the man! Behold the mock-king!
No, the devil does not intend it that way. But this Word of the cross can properly be read in this way nevertheless. There is a Word of God in this event—a Word of God concerning man, concerning you and me! Jesus stands there before the howling mob as the devil had made Him to appear through his instruments, wicked Pilate and the wicked soldiers. And surely, Satan does not intend to have it understood in this way. But is it not grim reality nevertheless, when we read this word of Pilate in the light of the Word of the cross?
Behold the man after the devil has finished with him!
That crown of thorns is ours! That mock robe and that mock scepter are ours! Behold man! There is still the trace of his royalty, portrayed in crown and robe and scepter. But in the service of the devil it has all become—in the most real sense of the word possible—mockery!
Man, in the service of the devil, has become a mock-king!
Is it not a Word of God calculated to bring us on our knees in repentance?
A Word of grim reality?
But there is more.
The moment of the devil’s spite is also God’s moment of the cross of reconciliation.
The moment of vicarious suffering!
For the Man Whom the devil spitefully mocks is nevertheless God’s Anointed!
Anointed was He from before the foundation of the world, and that, too, as our Head and Mediator. And in the fulness of time He assumed our state, and also our condition as far as our death is concerned. Personally He is not that mock-king. He Himself did not become disobedient to the Father. He did not surrender the kingdom and Himself to the service of the devil. But we did! His appearance is the true representation of our appearance. And He assumes it voluntarily because He has entered into the state of our sin and guilt! For this He has come in the fulness of time—to wrestle with the prince of darkness, to wrest His rightful kingdom from the power of the devil, to deliver His people from that power, the power of sin and death, the very power which has subverted them and perverted them so that they became rebel-kings, usurper-kings, mock-kings, and to deliver them from the wrath of God which can only come upon such usurpers.
As such He takes our place, the place of the mock-king. He takes all our rebellion upon Himself—not, indeed, so that He became personally rebellious, for this could not possibly be. But He does so thus, that He suffers the wrath of God over us as mock-kings in perfect obedience to the Father—bears our suffering and the mockery of our kingship under Satan.
Behold the Man!
In Him we see ourselves. That cruel crown of thorns is our mock-crown, voluntarily assumed by Him. That mock-robe is our robe, cast about His shoulders in order that we might never wear it again. That mock-reed is our scepter, after we had cast away willfully the royal power and dignity that we had in God’s service. That mockery, that maltreatment, that suffering, those blows—it is all the chastisement of, our peace that was upon Him!
Nay, it is not His proper appearance! How could it be? He is the glorious Son of God!
But it is our appearance, because of our rebellion and sin!
And He bears it all, that we may be redeemed and exalted as kings and priests unto God. He wears it all—crown, robe, scepter—in order that we should nevermore wear the devil’s crown and garb and scepter.
Behold the Man—in faith!
And adore the infinite love displayed in that silent Sufferer Who answers nothing, Who restrains His divine power, in the garb of a mock-king!
Adore the infinite love of the God Who was in Christ reconciling us unto Himself!