There was no mercy because these were condemned prisoners who were slated to be executed immediately after the scourging. It was very common for condemned prisoners never to make it to execution because they would frequently die from the scourging itself! This was because of the massive trauma and bleeding that would happen in the process. Remember that scourging was designed to inflict the most damage possible within the time frame, and by the time of Jesus, the Romans had perfected this to a macabre art form!
Now picture this happening to Jesus. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, this scene was the most realistic ever to come out of motion pictures (in my opinion), and Gibson actually wanted to do more with this scene but decided that he couldn’t because the mainstream audience would see it as gratuitous violence and that they would be repulsed by what they saw.
In actuality, though, scripture says that what we saw in that scene was not enough! There are several Psalms that describe what happened to Jesus. Isaiah 53 says that people couldn’t recognize Him after this was over. Isaiah 53:2-3 says:
2 He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (NKJV, italics added for emphasis)
Many people read this poetically, and there is a poetic flair to how it reads. At the same time, given that the rest of this chapter details what Jesus did for us and how He took our transgressions and gave us peace and healing, I read this within tighter parameters. I don’t think it is allegorical in what it describes. I think that it describes what Jesus looked like at the time of His execution. There was nothing beautiful left about Him, and he had no form or comeliness, which defined means anything pleasing to appearance (verse 2). He was associated with sorrow and grief, and the end result was so hideous that people had to turn their faces away from Him because they could not bear to look upon Him (verse 3). I think this is supported elsewhere in scripture, which I’ll likely address in subsequent posts on the covenant.
OK, with that being said, imagine what actually happened to Jesus in the final moments leading up to the Cross. He was beaten about the face by those in the Sanhedrin. He was beaten (most likely with rods) by Herod. Then He was scourged, which means that He was beaten unmercifully about His entire body. I can imagine entire pieces of flesh missing, and possibly exposed layers of bone and muscle. Certainly there would have been damage to nerves and blood vessels, even potentially life-threatening ones. Who knows, maybe some of the damage also affected organs in some way. He very likely had virtually every area of His body beaten during this process. Then comes the crown of thorns, which would have been made from a vine where the thorns were between two and three inches long. This would have been pushed into His head by the soldiers after the scourging when they placed the robe on his back. They also hit Him about the face and area where his “crown” was. All of this, just before He was to carry His cross nearly a mile to face the most excruciating torture of all…crucifixion.