“You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4).
The members of the original audience for the Biblical book of Hebrews had undoubtedly suffered for their decision to follow Christ. Yet none had “…resisted to the point of bloodshed” (NET). The implication carried over from the previous verse is clear: “If you are becoming weary and discouraged, consider what Jesus endured. You have not yet suffered bloodshed, as He suffered on our behalf.”
So, the author of Hebrews encouraged the members of his original audience (and modern-day readers by extension) to expand their perspective beyond their personal hardships and discouragements. In the words of one Biblical scholar, “The readers have known persecution, but nothing as serious as what Jesus suffered, or indeed, what has been cataloged in 11:35–38. It is not time for them to think of giving up.” (1)
The following excerpt from the New Testament Gospel of Mark details a portion of Jesus’ experience that can help us put our afflictions in the proper perspective…
“Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he set Barabbas free. Then he ordered his soldiers to beat Jesus with a whip and nail him to a cross” (Mark 15:15 CEV).
With Pilate’s authorization, the Roman military personnel in charge of Jesus whipped Him repeatedly in advance of His crucifixion. Roman soldiers generally administered this beating (variously referred to as a scourging, or flogging depending on the translation), as part of a criminal sentence.
A “scourge” was a type of whip that was comprised of a wooden handle with multiple lashes or strips of leather. Sharp-edged pieces of bone, metal, and/or lead were commonly attached to these lashes. During this process, the condemned prisoner was first stripped of his clothes. His hands were then tied above his head to a support column. Two soldiers (called lichtors) then positioned themselves on either side of the prisoner and took alternate turns whipping the victim. In doing so, the embedded objects within the scourge slowly tore into the prisoner’s body, removing small bits of flesh with every strike.
The act of scourging a convicted criminal was primarily designed to eliminate his ability to resist the act of crucifixion. This horrific form of punishment continued until the prisoner was close to death. While the Jewish people were limited to thirty-nine lashes in scourging a prisoner, (2) the only condition placed upon a Roman lichtor was that the prisoner had to be kept alive to carry his cross to his place of execution.
(1) R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2218.
(2) See the historical reference in 2 Corinthians 11:24