We all know what irony is. Some of it is bitter. Some of it is vicious. Some of it is funny. But at its best, irony has the capacity to clarify an incident and express what is important about it. It always works at two or three levels, and it makes a story pregnant with meaning that you might otherwise miss.
In the New Testament the writers most given to irony are Matthew and John. In Matthew 27:27-50, Matthew placards the cross before our eyes, but in terms rich with irony so we may see truly what the cross was about.
At this point Jesus has been in public ministry for two or three years. For much of that time he was a popular figure, but now he has fallen afoul of the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem. They resent his popularity, they fear his power, and they are also afraid that by his rabble rousing he will stir up the people to a rebellion against Rome, and there could be only one end to that. Rome was the superpower, and little Israel wasn't going to win. So Jesus had to be crushed. They arranged a kangaroo court and secured the sanction of the Roman governor to have Jesus executed by crucifixion.
So now we pick up the account. The sentence has been passed, and in those days there was no long delay between sentence and execution. So we follow the storyline and reflect on four profound ironies.
The first irony of the Crucifixion is the one who is mocked as king is King.
It was customary in those days to beat people as part of interrogation. It was thought they were more likely to tell the truth if they were bleeding, raw, and terrified. So Jesus had faced that kind of beating. Then it was customary to beat a person again before execution was actually worked out.
But this vignette in verses 27 and following ...
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D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and author of numerous books, including Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway).