The episode of the Roman soldiers putting a crown of thorns on Christ head is told in 5 short verses in Mark 15:15-20.
After Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested by the Jewish leaders, he was taken to Pilate, the Roman ruler of Palestine. The Jewish leaders demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus. Pilate was reluctant to order Jesus’ death because he could find no crime committed by Jesus. To placate the Jews, Pilate had Christ flogged. Pilate thought that flogging Jesus would be sufficient punishment to satisfy the Jews; however, it made no difference to the Jewish leaders. They continued to incite the crowds to call loudly for Christ’s crucifixion. Finally, Pilate ordered Jesus’ death by crucifixion.
Jesus was turned over to the Roman soldiers who took him to the quarters for the Roman soldiers called the Praetorium. To mock Jesus’ claim that he was a king, the soldiers put a purple robe on him. The robe was probably a cloak; purple was the symbol of royalty. Instead of a jewel-encrusted gold crown or the traditional Roman crown of flowers, the soldiers put a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head. The thorns would have dug into Jesus scalp adding addition pain to his already whipped and tortured body. The soldiers called out to Jesus mockingly, “Hail, king of the Jews.” Again and again the soldiers struck Jesus on the head and face with a staff. They spit on Jesus in a parody of the traditional kiss given to Roman rulers.
After the soldiers had sufficient “fun” torturing Jesus, they removed the robe, put Jesus’ own clothes on him, and led him away to be crucified. The soldiers did not remove the crown of thorns from Jesus’ head. The thorn crown went to the cross on Christ’s head.
Crown of Thorns
Although there is some controversy surrounding the plant used as the crown of thorns, credible sourced identified it as the Paliurus spina-christi, commonly called Christ’s thorn and the Jerusalem thorn. In Israel, it grows near Mount Hermon in the north and in the Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands in central Israel. Plants have slow to moderate growth and at times seem to stop growing altogether. Stems and twigs are flexible and hairless. They have a pair of unequal length, hard, sharp thorns. The longer of the two spines is up to 1 inch long. The flexibility of stems and twigs in the Jerusalem thorn made it ideal to plait into a thorn crown.
Suggested symbols of the Jerusalem thorn include grief, tribulation, and sin . Although these are valid symbols, the situation described in Matthew’s (27:26-31) and Mark’s (15:15-20) is about “cruelty.” A cruel act is one devoid of human feelings as grief, pain, and injury are inflicted. Jesus had been flogged and condemned to death. It was deliberately cruel for the Roman soldiers to take Jesus to the Praetorium and there ridicule and torture him to include placing a braided crown of thorns on his head.
Reflection. Cruelty is often on purpose; but sometimes it is merely neglect of something we know we should be doing. Are your cruel to your spouse, children, friends, co-workers in God’s vineyard? Are you cruel to your enemies? Is that cruelty more permissible than other cruelty?