The crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus by Pilate’s cruel soldiers was a parody of the triumphal wreath of a conqueror. John 19:1-5 describes the flogging and mocking of Jesus, apparently in an effort by Pilate to inflict enough suffering and humiliation on Jesus to avoid having to give in to the pressure to sentence him to death.
The crown of thorns mocks the kingship of Jesus. The soldiers, hardened by long service in Caesar’s legions, kept going up to Jesus and addressing him as “king.” The note of contempt in their voices is clear, and underlined by the blows delivered to Jesus. It may well be that the mockery was as much showing contempt for the Jewish nation as it was for the prisoner, but being used as an instrument of mockery is as humiliating as being the target of the mocking. Pilate’s “here is the man,” or “behold the man,” shows that this is no majestic figure.
But what the soldiers and Pilate say in mockery is true in a deeper sense than they realize. Jesus is your King and he wore the crown of thorns as your Savior. The blood of the flogging, the drips resulting from the crown of thorns, no less than what stained the cross, were shed as your substitute and for your salvation.
Jesus is not a king in the way that Pilate thinks. He is not starting a rebellion. The mocking, suffering, and torture in Pilate’s hall is not an interruption on his ascension to his throne–it is precisely the way he has planned. As mocking as the soldiers were, they spoke the truth. Jesus is King. And he is King, not just of the Jews, but all for whom he came to suffer and die.
This is not just a news clip of a brutal event. John is showing you the price that Jesus paid for your salvation. Frederick S. Leahy points this out well: “If we are to receive the crown of life, Christ must receive the crown of thorns. He cannot be our Saviour any other way. . . . . In the crown of his deity alone, Christ could only say to a dying thief, ‘Be thou accursed’; but in the crown of thorns he can say, ‘This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.’ In the crown of his deity alone, he can only say to a Magdalene or a publican, ‘Depart from me’; but in the crown of thorns he can say, ‘Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you.’ It is in his diadem of thorns that he stoops low in humiliation and shame and sorrow to seek and to save sinners. It is only by the sharp thorn of his suffering that the poisonous thorn of our sin is drawn. In other words, apart from the cross God cannot forgive sin.” (The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer, p. 66, © 2007. Pub. by The Banner of Truth Trust.). When you are tempted to give into sin, remind yourself that it was because of that sin that Jesus wore his crown of thorns.
It takes the eye of faith to recognize the truth that lies underneath the mocking, but Jesus is King. John wants you to see, not just the office of King, but the person who fills that office. He records Pilate saying, “Behold the Man!” Pilate’s tone may have been ironic and mocking. But John hears those words and makes deeper connections. John’s Gospel tells you that the Baptist had pointed to Jesus with, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” 1:29 (the same imperative is used in both places).
Throughout the Gospels Jesus’ preferred self-designation was “the Son of Man.” Pilate may well have been ignorant of that, but his words fit. Jesus had to be God to save us, but it was in his humanity and humiliation that he died.
Regardless of how Pilate inflected the words, John wants you to hear the words and recognize Jesus as the Man, the one chosen and sent by God, the Redeemer who suffered and died in your place.
We may think of suffering and humiliation when we hear “the Son of Man” (as we should),” but don’t forget the source in Daniel 7 refers to majesty and glory. John wants you to understand, as Hebrews 2:9 puts it, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”