“And they stripped him and laid a scarlet cloak on him. And they twisted together a crown from a thorn vine and put it on his head with a reed in his right hand, and they knelt before him and mocked him saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews.’ And they spat on him and took the reed and beat him on the head.”
“And they clothed him with a purple cloak and they put on him a crown woven from a thorn vine and they began to recognize him: ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they were striking him on the head with the reed and spitting on him and bowed the knee to worship him.”
“And the soldiers wove a crown from a thorn vine and put it on his head and clothed him with a garment of purple. And they came up to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they gave him blows.”
There are so many details that are part of the passion account that are contained in these few short verses. I suppose that the first of the details that we should address, though, is that of the apparent discrepancy in the color of the tunic placed on Jesus by the soldiers. Matthew describes it as scarlet while Mark and John describe it as being purple. The obvious answers that are based on a similarity in the words don’t really apply well here as there are two very distinct words being employed by the Gospel writers. The word for scarlet is ko/kkinoß (kokkinos) and the word for purple is porfurouvß (porphurous).
Historically, the scarlet robe was one worn by the Roman soldiers as it could be prepared and dyed cheaply where the purple would be worn by society’s elite, given the cost of purple dye (in those days extracted from shellfish). There is some debate amongst commentators as to what is being emphasized in this difference in colors recorded. Some seem to stretch the text in favor of spiritualizing the colors into a representation of blood but that is a stretch that is further than the text really permits. Those with lower views on scripture simply write it off as an error, yet again, yet that comes from those with no commitment to an inerrant text of scripture. So, where shall we go from here? Some suggest two cloaks, one red and one purple, and while plausible, is unnecessary to make sense of the text.
To begin with, we must ask what it is that these Roman soldiers are doing. The obvious answer is that they are mocking him — making him out loosely as a king and giving him “honor” before they destroy his life. The elements of royalty are all there — the cloak, the crown, and the staff. Yet in each case, the elements are a twisting of the reality — Calvin calls them “counterfeits.” The crown is made of thorns. The rod of rulership is made out of a flimsy reed, easily broken. And here we arrive at the cloak — what ought to have been the purple cloak of royalty, but in this case made out of a red Roman soldier’s tunic. All counterfeits…all a warping of the reality that they are meant to symbolize. And, in the case of Matthew, he focuses on the specifics of what transpired while Mark and John focus on what those specifics represented.
How often, though, we are surrounded by counterfeits in life and in the church. When people act in a way that puts on a false front, we call them hypocrites. But we find more than just hypocrites in our midst. Sadly, we often find outright liars. We find gatherings that profess to be Christian churches, but they teach a doctrine of men, not the Word of God in the scriptures. We find supposed mercy missions, but those who run the ministries line their pockets while giving only leftovers to the ones they claim to serve. We find government officials who call themselves “civil servants” yet the only ones they seek to serve is themselves. The list goes on and on, but how it calls us to live with integrity — that we make “what you see is what you get” our motto and model. That we seek to worship God in spirit and in truth should be our highest aim…not to tear down others to line our own nests.
Loved ones, this account is more about the mockery of Jesus than it is about the counterfeit that the Gospel writers help us see through, yet how often we are engaged with counterfeits in this world of ours. Reject the counterfeit that you see and call for repentance while honoring Christ in word and deed.