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The cloak and the crown


Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him." When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"

John 19:1-5

It is hard not to read this text in a purely sombre way. It is a painful thought to imagine our precious LORD Jesus being treated in such a barbaric, humiliating, shameful manner. Being subject to such brutality and injustice. I'm sure many who have seen Mel Gibson's “The Passion of the Christ” maybe like me left the cinema almost in pain at the heart wrenching scenes of torture and abuse. The Passion week, as it is called is a terrible, terrible tragedy at the worldly level. That such a pure, kind hearted, innocent man could be treated in such an inhuman, barbarous way by unrepentant savages is utterly sickening.

Yet if this is all we see when we read these verses, if this is all we think about the death of Jesus we have missed the main point John the gospel writer is screaming out to us. If we think of this as merely a low point in human history, it is one to be left in the past, forgotten for the sake of moral advancement. Not an event to be celebrated, not to be meditated over, not worthy of praising God for. John does not want us to be fixated with the tragic physical and mental abuse that was dealt to Jesus like Mel Gibson demonstrates in his film. He has a lot more to tell us in these three verses we have read and we would be fools to let any gut reaction of abhorrence deafen us to what he is saying.

If we are to realise what John is saying in these verses we must first come to grips with two of the main literary devices the disciple employs in writing this Gospel. The first is multiple allusion and the second is irony. He uses these two literary techniques to layer the text with meaning like a angel cake and reveal to us much of this meaning behind the text. Let me explain these to you with the help of some examples. Firstly, multiple allusion is used often in John to set up a understanding/misunderstanding scenario. Chapter four of John gives us a classic example of this, where Jesus meets the woman at the well and tells her

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." (Joh 4:10)

Here John uses a multiple allusion (the water in the passage being both the water in the well and spiritual water from God) to set up a understanding/misunderstanding scenario where Jesus understands obviously, the reader is meant to understand and the woman needs to be enlightened. In these particular verses John uses this to teach the reader a little more about Jesus and enlighten him/her to the spiritual revelation of the text (that Jesus gives life). So we see that John uses multiple allusions to give layers of meaning to the text.

Secondly, John uses irony like a vein running through his Gospel. For those whose English is not their first language or those who just want a reminder, irony (in broad terms) means an outcome of events contrary to what might have been, expected. John is a master of irony, in fact it can be said that the author smiles, winks and raises his eyebrows as the story is told. The ultimate irony in the Gospel of John is that Jesus the Messiah is rejected by the world and more incredibly by the Jews, his own people who he came to save. It makes sense that a Jew would find this ironic, the Messiah is not supposed to be rejected by the Jews, he is supposed to come and rule the Jews and save them from the gentile nations and set up the kingdom of God on earth, ruling on the throne of Israel. So it is incredibly ironic that Jesus is rejected, and crucified by his own people. If the gospel of John is to be applicable to a Jewish audience in the slightest, John needs to address this issue. And he does so repeatedly throughout the gospel explaining that Jesus had to come be rejected by his people and die for the sins of the world.

So now we have these two literary devices John uses, let us re-assess these verses looking to see how he uses them here and to what effect. Firstly, considering the words Pilate spoke about Jesus in 18:38 “I find no guilt in him.” Is it not ironic that Pilate has him flogged anyway? Having admitted to the crowd Jesus innocence. John is clearly trying to show us the injustice of the punishment inflicted on Jesus and the unjustness of the rulers who inflict it. As a side note on the flogging at this point, the word used for the flogging here describes a lighter flogging than the scourging described in the other gospels. This is the kind of flogging used to deter criminals or used on Roman citizens, the kind Paul would of received often. But John wants to make it clear to us, Jesus is innocent and even this lesser flogging is unjust. John clearly demonstrates to us the injustice of man and the innocence of Jesus. This is the beginning of the point he is trying to make.

Moving on, John then mentions two items they put on Jesus body. The crown of thorns on his head and the purple robe. Remembering John's use of allusions It would not be unusual if there was more to these items than first meets the eye. In the crown of thorns we can rightly see an allusion to the fall as many commentators have suggested. It is right to consider the crown of thorns as a representation of the curse God placed on nature at the fall.
And to Adam he said, "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.
(Gen 3:17-18)
It is a curse of pain. Because the man who was made lord over creation, the steward of the garden must now bear the burden of toilsome labour of a overrun, uncontrollable garden. The very purpose God made him for to be the master over creation, this creation has turned against and ridiculed its master. Unfallen man wore a crown signifying his control and mastery over a beautiful creation and it had been replaced by fallen man's crown of thorns signifying a unruly, vicious, rebellious creation man is constantly toiling to control. This is the curse of pain.

The second item John mentions is the purple robe. And again I think this may be an allusion to the curse of the fall. Remember before the fall it says;
the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
(Gen 2:25)
Adam and Eve have no shame, they have nothing to be ashamed about. They have no burden of guilt or feeling of awkwardness or wrongdoing. They are shame and guilt free. But after they ate the apple Adam and eve saw their shame (nakedness) and needed to cover it so they made clothes. They see there is something wrong with us, we are not perfect, they are burdened with fear and shame and so they sew themselves loincloths out of fig leaves. But then letter, having been found by God and cursed for their disobedience God makes clothes for them out of animal skin, God covers up their shame. Notice that there is no need for clothing before the fall, it is only upon the arrival of sin and the removal of innocence that the concept of nakedness and shame arrives. Notice secondly as Matthew Henry says

“when God made clothes for our first parents he made them warm and strong, but coarse and very plain: not robes of scarlet, but coats of skin. Their clothes were made, not of silk and satin, but plain skins; not trimmed, nor embroidered, none of the ornaments which the daughters of Zion afterwards invented, and prided themselves in.”

And so we can conclude that the nakedness and need for clothing represents the second mark of the curse, which is shame or guilt. A sense of wrongdoing and fear of God which Adam and Eve experienced after they had eaten the fruit.

Therefore coming back to the passage. If John means the crown of thorns to represent the curse of pain and toil. The robe may represent the clothing man needs to cover the curse of shame and guilt before God.

What is really ironic about the way John presents both these items if they are indeed to be seen a symbolic of the fall is that man shapes the curse of pain like a crown and fashions clothes of luxury and pride. Mocking God, “even the curse you have given us we wear as a crown and we have covered our shame in splendour.” John wants us to see the truly rebellious nature of unrighteous man who mocks the righteous God.

And so in both these items we see the image of fallen man. And what happens? Jesus takes this image and takes it upon himself. He is clothed in the robe and wears the crown of thorns. Jesus becomes the image of fallen man, cursed with pain and covering his glory with shame and human pride. He the fullness of God becomes crowned and clothed in the fullness of fallen man.

And so John sets the scene for his final piece of irony. Here, unrighteous man takes God's seat of judgement over the righteous son of God who has taken man's fallen nature and man mocks God. Jesus in the image of man rightly receives the righteous mockery from the unrighteous. Let me say that again. Jesus in the image of man rightly receives the righteous mockery from the unrighteous. John's greatest piece of irony is that the mockery Jesus receives is right and righteous because Jesus has taken upon himself the full curse of fallen man. But that mockery comes from the very lips of those who should rightly bear that image and therefore receive that mockery.

And so these verses do not simply represent the horrific mistreatment of the innocent by savage man. John is screaming out to us, here is the fullness of God becoming the fullness of man. Jesus takes upon himself every facet of the curse of fallen man right down to the ridiculous as he wears the curse as a crown and the robes of pride to cover fallen shame.

What a saviour we have that even although he is the righteousness of God, He took upon himself the full curse of the fall and the punishment that is ours by right. This is what John is saying to us. The death of Jesus does not merely represent the barbaric nature of humanity who slaughtered the innocent son of God for Jesus did not come into the world to rescue the Jewish nation from the Roman occupation and set up the heavenly kingdom of God on earth the way the Jews though the Messiah would. Jesus came to die for our sins that we may be clothed not with shame and nakedness but rather clothed with righteousness and no longer be subject to the pain and toil of the world, but be given eternal life in heaven. Jesus came to bear the curse and reverse the curse that we might be set free to know Him, love Him, rejoice in Him. In Christ we are free. And soon we will see him face to face. This Easter let us not mourn the death of a innocent but rejoice at the grace of God in the face of Christ Jesus our Saviour.