“Behold, the man,” announces Pontius Pilate, as he brings forth the battered Jesus. It’s not a particularly pretty sight to behold. Jesus has been savagely beaten. His back and shoulders are deeply lacerated. His head is caked with blood as a result of wearing thorns, his face swollen from numerous blows. His hands are bound like any common prisoner.
Behold, the man. Pilate has had Jesus beaten to within an inch of his life in order to save his life. He hopes that the crowd will see a pitiful and powerless figure who poses no threat to anyone, a harmless man who has suffered enough. To him, Jesus is an innocent victim of the malice and jealousy of the chief priests. Though Pilate is beginning to worry that there’s more to Jesus than he knows, he has no way to understand what that could mean.
Behold, the man. The chief priests see an enemy who has nearly been vanquished — but not quite. They are ravenous to see the job done. At best, one might describe their motivation as righteous indignation: how could a mere man dare to make himself equal to God? Scandalous, blasphemous. But beneath the veneer of religious scrupulosity lies an unwillingness to see what God has been doing before their very eyes. They are making a show of defending God by handing over God’s Son to be murdered.
Behold, the man. What would the disciples have seen, if they had been standing among the crowd? Would the Sons of Thunder be waiting for fire from heaven to come down and consume Jesus’ enemies? What would Peter have made of the scene, thinking back to his behavior in the garden and in the high priest’s courtyard?
What would we have seen, if we had been there?
Behold, the man. Right from the beginning of the story, John has set up for us the question of faith. Light comes to darkness, but darkness flees or tries to extinguish the light. The eternal Word becomes flesh; the one through whom all things were made walks among us; the very presence of God comes to his people as in the tabernacle of old.
What then? What will people see in this man? And what will they believe when they Jesus reduced to something seemingly less than human, the abused shell of what used to be a man of power and influence?
This is still the challenge for us today. Jesus’ favorite title for himself was “Son of Man.” It’s not just an odd synonym for “Messiah”; it suggests that as the Word made flesh, Jesus embodied everything that humans were created to be. In his sinless perfection, Jesus bore the weight and horror of our sinful imperfection on the cross.
Behold, the man, the one who showed what it meant to be truly human. At that moment, in appearance, he was a broken man caught helplessly between the brokers of power.
But if we see the scene through the eyes of faith, we see…what? If we see him for who he is, what do we learn about what it means to be human?
And perhaps even more importantly, what do we learn about God?