The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 219)

The Crown of Thorns

Christian Living

Mark 15:15-21

In all the Gospel accounts of the Bible, everything that happened in the life of our Lord’s earthly ministry happened to fulfill the purpose of God. Every deed and every miracle that Jesus did was in accordance with the Father’s purpose. The incident before the Roman soldiers as described in the above passage in Mark also served to fulfill the Father’s purpose. The first stanza of the hymn The Purple Robe* vividly describes what Jesus went through with the Roman soldiers.

A purple robe, a crown of thorn, a reed in his right hand;
before the soldiers' spite and scorn I see my Saviour stand.
He bears between the Roman guard the weight of all our woe;
a stumbling figure bowed and scarred I see my Saviour go.

*“The Purple Robe” by Timothy Dudley-Smith. © 1968 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

What was the purpose of our Lord suffering ridicule and mocking by the Roman soldiers, and why did He have to wear the crown of thorns? Was it not enough that He had to die on the cross? Why the additional suffering and humiliation? Often we think of Calvary purely as physical suffering because crucifixion is one of the most painful and cruel ways to die. Those who are crucified die slowly from asphyxiation and progressive blood loss. Mark did not focus only on the physical suffering but also sought to bring out the agony and emotional torment that our Lord faced as He went to the Cross.

In the account in Mark 15, Pilate eventually succumbed to the demands of the Jewish mob because of his cowardice. He delivered Jesus to be crucified because he cared more for his own political career than to do what was right. Picture the physical state of Jesus by the time the Roman soldiers began their torment. He had already been scourged with a leather whip, probably plaited with bone fragments, lead or bronze. The act of scourging itself can sometimes lead to death because of the blood loss. Therefore, besides suffering tremendous pain with His skin torn in many places, Jesus would also have lost much blood. Yet Mark only described it in one sentence in v. 15 because he did not want us to focus on the physical suffering only. When Jesus was delivered to the Roman soldiers in the Praetorium, He would have been sleep-deprived, hungry, thirsty, in great pain and hypotensive from the blood loss. Isaiah gave us a vivid description of the change in appearance of the Lord, “As many were astonished at you - his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind -” (Isaiah 52:14). Then the torment from the soldiers began.

The Magnitude of The Humiliation
V. 16 tells us that Jesus was taken to the palace or the Praetorium to be humiliated by the Praetorium guards who were the elite of the Roman soldiers. The whole garrison or battalion would indicate that about 600 Roman soldiers were asked to gather so that they could have some fun mocking the Lord. The soldiers would not have any idea who Jesus was but they must have heard that He had claimed to be King of the Jews. However, they would also know that the Jews themselves had rejected this man as king and so they would not face any opposition if they made a mockery of this man who called Himself the King of the Jews.

Why did God allow His Son to suffer such mocking and humiliation if the purpose was for Jesus to die on the Cross? Was this mocking an unnecessary suffering for our Saviour? Picture 600 bored soldiers with nothing better to do and at their mercy was a seemingly helpless prisoner on whom they could have some cruel fun. And this they did by subjecting the Lord to tremendous emotional torment as well as physical abuse.

First they clothed Him with a purple robe and after twisting a crown out of thorns, they put the crown on His head. With this they then made fun of His claim to kingship and began to mock Him by saluting and hailing Him as King of the Jews. The crown of thorns was to show contempt for this Man who called Himself the King of the Jews. The thorns from the crown would have penetrated His scalp and caused even more pain and suffering.

As if that was not enough, the soldiers struck His head repeatedly with a reed. The reed was not made of soft straw, but is more like a firm wood. The language of the action indicated that they did it many times. Remember that Jesus was already wearing the crown of thorns and the striking of the head with the reed would cause the thorns to penetrate His scalp again and again. Matthew records that the soldiers then placed the reed in Jesus’ right hand, pretending that it was the scepter of a king (Matt 27:29). All the while they were spitting on Him, kneeling and bowing before Him in mock reverence until they got tired of the fun. And as the other soldiers looked on at the poor Man in His purple robe, with the crown of thorns on His head which was forcibly bashed into His scalp repeatedly, they must have laughed and jeered with wicked laughter.

Do you not feel indignant that these soldiers would subject the King of kings to such humiliation? Jesus could have called down legions of angels and in the twinkling of an eye, wiped out these 600 soldiers. Or just one word from Him and the soldiers would have ceased to exist. Jesus had the power but He restrained Himself from exercising His right as King and received the taunting and humiliation willingly. Such was the demonstration of the great love and patience of our Lord because He was fulfilling His Father’s purpose. We have no record of our Lord’s protest and neither did He vilify them for all the wrong they were doing to Him because He was like the sheep that was silent before its shearers. They did not give Him an iota of respect but only treated Him with contempt and scorn. By kneeling down and hailing Him as King in mocking tribute, the soldiers had inadvertently declared Jesus to be the King. Their actions were testifying to a truth which was ironically hidden from them. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:10-11).

The Significance of The Crown of Thorns
The soldiers’ chief purpose in weaving the crown of thorns was to inflict great pain and suffering upon the Lord but little did they know that by doing so, they were symbolising what Jesus came to do. Of all the torment that the soldiers could impose on Jesus, why did they choose a crown of thorns? What is the significance of the thorns?

In Genesis 3:17-19, after Adam sinned, God said to him, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

When God created the world, men were not supposed to reap thorns and thistles for their labour. The thorns and thistles represent God’s judgment upon Adam’s sin and disobedience. Instead of enjoying the fruit of their labour, men’s labour shall henceforth be filled with thorns and thistles. The crown of thorns that Jesus had to wear is a picture of the Lord taking on the judgment of God for our sins.

The author of Hebrews provides further insight into the issue of thorns and thistles in Hebrews 6:7-8, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”

The author of Hebrews was using the illustration that just as land receiving rain ought to produce good crops, those who have received the life-giving rain of God’s grace ought to bring forth fruit consistent with the blessings received. Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to enjoy the blessings of God’s perfect creation. However, he brought forth the fruit of disobedience and sin, and thus men were cursed with thorns and thistles.

Therefore, in wearing the crown of thorns, Jesus was demonstrating that He was bearing the curse that Adam incurred when he disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. Do you see the paradox in the symbolism? The crown was meant to be a symbol of majesty and royalty but the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns to mock Jesus. Little did they realise the significance of what they were doing! None of the Gospel writers said whether the crown of thorns was removed when they took away the purple robe. Many of the scenes of the Lord’s crucifixion depicted Jesus hanging from the Cross with His crown of thorns. However, one day, our Lord will be given a crown of gold (Rev 14:14) because He was willing to wear the crown of thorns. Instead of the reed, He will hold a scepter of righteousness. When we are reunited with our Lord in eternity, thorns and thistles will be a thing of the past because the curse of God has been removed by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus, Our Example of Suffering and Humiliation
We live in a high-pressured and increasingly unkind society where selfishness and narcissistic behaviour rule. People only care for their own benefit, even if it must come at the expense of others around us. Christians could descend to the same selfish behaviour as the society around us or we could continue to witness with our lives because Christ has set us the standard.

When we look at the supreme example of our Lord’s response to the humiliation from wicked men, it is a warning that as men have done so to the Lord, so will they treat those who belong to Him. We will be called to face injustice, humiliation and persecution, and what will be our response to the wicked world? Will we retaliate like the rest of the fallen world or tell the Lord that it is too difficult to bear such injustice in silence? Jesus’ example reminds us that He suffered silently and so why should we expect to have it easier than our Lord?

Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:9-14 to expect tribulation and even death and betrayal. The love of many for the Lord will grow cold because of persecution but the one who endures to the end will be saved. When we are prepared to suffer with Him for the sake of the Kingdom of God, we will one day also reign with Him in glory as Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

The suffering and humiliation of the Lord Jesus reminds us that the King of kings laid down His life as well as His kingly rights in order to wear the crown of thorns. He did it because He loved us and was willing to suffer all these at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Each time we remember that He wore the crown of thorns, how could we take His love lightly and continue to live in persistent sin? The Roman soldiers were ignorant but we have the revealed Word of God to instruct us as to how we can live to please our Saviour who bore our sins and set us free from bondage to sin. Let us live our lives in this world, declaring that we belong to the King who loved us and gave Himself for us. Let us crown Him with many crowns, and crown Him Lord of all.

Tan Chee Eng
- Tan Chee Eng is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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