Each gospel records one instance in which Jesus was beaten just before His crucifixion, but it seems that a comparison of these accounts indicates that Jesus was beaten more than once. In trying to sort out the details, it is helpful to remember that a beating by the Romans could vary in intensity, and three Latin terms for their beatings show that one beating could be worse than the other.
First, a fustigatio was the least intense of these beatings for criminal but lesser offenses. Pilate’s suggestion to “punish” (paideuō) Jesus (Luke 23:16, 22) and his having Jesus “flogged” (mastigoō) in John 19:1 both refer to this type of punishment. Second, a flagellatio was “a brutal flogging administered to criminals whose offences were more serious.”1 Third, a verberatio was the worst of the beatings, a punishment given to those who had been sentenced to death. It was sometimes so severe that this beating itself could bring about death.
Along with noting the differences in these beatings, it is helpful to point out the timing of Jesus’ beatings. John 19:1 records a beating of Jesus before His being sent for crucifixion in John 19:16. Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15 record a beating that took at the time when He was sentenced in those same, parallel verses.
Putting the above data together in chronological order, we see that Pilate first said he would “punish” (paideuō) Jesus (Luke 23:16, 22). Pilate then made good on this promise and “flogged” (mastigoō) Jesus in John 19:1. Finally, when this fustigatio did not bring about the pity and release for which Pilate hoped, Jesus was sentenced to death and suffered the dreaded verberatio when “scourged” (phragelloō) in Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15. Then He went to the cross.
Having been tried by the Jewish leadership throughout the night before and then having experienced a fustigatio and then verberatio, it is no surprise that Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam for His own cross (Matt 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) and that He died within six hours on the cross (Mark 15:25, 34, 37). The average time suffering on a cross was 36 hours.2
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (PNTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 597. Carson’s summary is very helpful on this issue. [↩]
- For a couple of other helpful and brief articles see “Flog” by Ralph W. Vunderink and “Scourge” by David W. Wead in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988). [↩]