What does John 19:3 mean?
ESV: They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
NIV: and went up to him again and again, saying, 'Hail, king of the Jews!' And they slapped him in the face.
NASB: and they repeatedly came up to Him and said, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' and slapped Him in the face again and again.
CSB: And they kept coming up to him and saying, "Hail, king of the Jews! " and were slapping his face.
NLT: Hail! King of the Jews!' they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.
KJV: And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.
Verse Commentary:
Soldiers are sarcastically abusing Jesus, making fun of the controversy which brought Him to the Roman governor. Although Jesus was condemned by Jewish leaders for claiming to be God (Matthew 26:64–66), they seek a legally-valid death sentence (John 18:29–38). So, they have accused Him of rebellion against Rome. Pilate has seen through this, and knows Jesus is innocent. His goal in having Jesus scourged and humiliated (John 19:1–2) is part of his effort to release Jesus, rather than giving in to mob bloodlust.

Scourging involved graphic injury: the flagrum was a multi-headed whip weighted with lead, rocks, or metal. What Jesus experiences afterwards at the hands of the Roman soldiers is meant to be degrading, instead. This shaming is meant to express dominance and make Jesus seem less of a threat. John's Greek phrasing here implies Jesus was hit with slaps or backhanded strikes. Throughout history, these are associated with insult. To mock a grown man and "slap them around" is an expression of contempt; it's meant to embarrass more than to hurt.
Verse Context:
John 19:1–16 continues Jesus' interrogation by the Roman governor, Pilate. Pilate has already recognized Jesus' innocence and continues to look for ways to release Him without an execution. Religious leaders refuse this, using the threat of a riot to coerce the governor. Eventually, Pilate gives in and orders Jesus to be crucified. Parallel accounts are found in Matthew 27:24–30, Mark 15:12–15, and Luke 23:20–25.
Chapter Summary:
Pilate recognizes Jesus' innocence, but fears the mob assembled by Jewish religious leaders. He attempts to satisfy them by having Jesus viciously whipped and mocked. This only results in more cries for Jesus' death. The governor then shifts to protect his own reputation, ordering Jesus to be crucified on a charge of being "King of the Jews." John is directly present as Jesus is executed. He notes the fulfillment of several prophecies as Jesus dies. Once He is confirmed to be dead, Jesus' body is taken by two friendly members of the ruling council. They hastily bury Him in the borrowed crypt of a rich man.
Chapter Context:
When Jesus was first brought to Pilate, His innocence was obvious (John 18:36–38). However, the mob refuses to be satisfied with anything less than crucifixion. Pilate gives in to these demands. John, who is present for the entire gory spectacle, notes several instances of fulfilled prophecy (Psalm 22:18; Psalm 69:21; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10). Jesus is then buried in the borrowed tomb of a rich man (Isaiah 53:9) to complete yet another Old Testament prediction. A guard will be posted to ensure no one steals the body (Matthew 27:62–68), which will only serve to confirm that Jesus' eventual resurrection was a true miracle (John 20:1–8).
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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