Scorned and Ridiculed

Why did the people passing beneath the shadow of Golgotha cast insults at the man hanging above them?

Jesus led from Caiaphas to Pilate, by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894 (Image: Wikimedia Commons from Brooklyn Museum)

As the hour of the Passover sacrifice drew near, a growing stream of pilgrims filled the road leading to the city gates. Passing near Golgotha, they saw a knot of people standing around the three crosses on the rock. Naturally, they inquired about the victims. Caiaphas and his colleagues feared a potential backlash, so they did their best to sway the public reaction. They spread the word among the crowd and to those who passed by, explaining exactly why He had been crucified: “He threatened to destroy the Temple and then claimed He would rebuild it in three days. He claimed to be the Messiah, the King of Israel. He claimed to be the Son of God!”

Influenced by the Sadducee’s manipulation, some of those who passed by joined in, “hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross’” (Matthew 27:39-40).

All who pass along the way clap their hands in derision at you; they hiss and shake their heads. (Lamentations 2:15)

The chief priests, scribes, and elders who had been present at his trial sneered, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!” (Matthew 27:42). They said sarcastically, “Let this Messiah, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross” (Mark 15:32). Alluding ironically to Psalm 22, they said, “He trusts in God; let God rescue him now, if He delights in him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:39-44). This was to fulfill the scriptures:

A reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, “Commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.” (Psalm 22:7-9[6-8])

He was despised and forsaken of men … He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3)

I have become a laughingstock to all my people, their mocking song all the day. (Lamentations 3:14)

The Roman soldiers added to the stream of derision. Referring to the written charge on the placard above Him, they said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” (Luke 23:37). The Master made no reply to the taunts. The Apostle Peter took note of the Master’s noble reticence, pointing out that Yeshua offered no threats or insults in retaliation:

The Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, [as it is written in Isaiah 53:7], “Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth;” and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. (1 Peter 2:21-23)

Not everyone joined the abuse. Jews from the innumerable crowds who had been “hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) stopped to stare in shocked disbelief. Those who had hailed Him as Messiah during the triumphant entry just a few days earlier felt their stomachs sink and their hands grow limp. Many hurried past, unable to look.

Other voices made themselves heard at the cross as well. The lamenting women of Jerusalem and the women who had followed Him from the Galilee gathered around, wailing and keening. The disciple whom He loved looked on. Mary the mother of the Master arrived with her sister, and spilled out the sorrows only a mother’s heart could know.

Consider and call for the mourning women, that they may come; and send for the wailing women, that they may come! Let them make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may shed tears and our eyelids flow with water. (Jeremiah 9:17-18)

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