From:  Busy Person’s Guide to John 11 to 21                                  Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding John

 

(Volume 2:  Chapter 19)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

 

 

Even a Brutal Beating by Soldiers Does Nothing to Satisfy the Blood Lust of the Religious Leaders’ Arranged Mob; the Leaders Insist That Under Their Law Jesus Fully Deserves Death  (John 19:1-7):  1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged severely.  The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe.  They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face.

Again Pilate went out and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no reason for an accusation against him.”  So Jesus came outside, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  Pilate said to them, “Look, here is the man!” 

When the chief priests and their officers saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  Pilate said, “You take him and crucify him!  Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him!”  The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God!”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            19:1     So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.  He tried to substitute one horrible punishment for another.  Although in most situations this would be the preliminary to execution, in this case he hoped that it would be enough for them to back off from their insistence on outright death.  Compare verse 6 and  Luke 23:22:  I have found no reason for death in Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.”  They wanted obvious “blood” so he would give it to them.  But even that turns out not to be enough.

            Sidebar on the severity of this kind of punishment:  The Roman punishment inflicted hideous torture.  ‘It was executed upon slaves with thin elm rods or straps having leaden balls or sharply pointed bones attached, and was delivered on the bent, bare, and tense back.’  The victim was fastened to a pillar for the purpose. . . .  The flagellation usually brought blood with the first stroke, and reduced the back to a fearful state of raw and quivering flesh.  Strong men often succumbed under it. . . .”  (Pulpit Commentary)  

 

            19:2     And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe.  The Roman soldiers took the opportunity to mock their Jewish prisoner by dressing Him in a regal-like “purple robe.”   The pseudo-crown would cause pain with every movement and allow themselves some entertainment.  The waiting crowd wanted Him dead so they would take pleasure in hearing of it and they themselves were surely venting some of their own rage at the needlessly early hour.  Furthermore, it would allow them a way to take out their resentment of Jews in general.  Where they were hardly counted as a “prime” assignment in the Roman army!

            Sidebar on the nature of the robe:  Mark has ‘purple,’ Matthew ‘scarlet,’ Luke is silent.  ‘Purple’ with the ancients was a vague term for bright rich color and would be used of crimson as well as of violet.  The robe was a military chlamys, or paludamentum, perhaps one of Pilate’s cast-off cloaks.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  

 

            19:3     Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they struck Him with their hands.  Although they kneeled to Him as they uttered their words (Matthew 27:28-30), they showed their mockery by accompanying this with slapping Him around.  They could not normally physically display much of their hostility toward Jews and toward Jewish aspirations for national independence since there was usually no credible excuse to invoke.  But they could take their frustrations out on the single Jew under their control--especially one whose enemies claimed portrayed Himself as King.  This would be the way they desired to treat any Jewish king.  In most cases Jews in general as well.

 

            19:4     Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.”  Pilate formally presented Jesus to the accusers and reinforced his earlier annoyance at the case by asserting that he still could “find no fault in Him.”  But he had authorized the abuse (verse 1) and probably hoped that the humiliation and literally blooded body of the Lord would be adequate to satisfy their rage. 

 

            19:5     Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.  And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”  Adding pictorial insult to his words, Jesus was brought out dressed with a pseudo-crown (of thorns) and the pseudo-regal purple robe.  Is this a King?  he seemed to be implying.  No, “Behold the man.  Surely you can see that!  Nothing more than a mere mortal like you.  No King ever looks like this!”  

 

            19:6     Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!  Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.”  You want Him dead, you crucify Him yourself insisted Pilate.  “I find no fault in Him.”  At this point Pilate had provided the verbal formula that, arguably, permitted them to do so.  They had gained the “authority” if they dared use the Roman method. 

            This was impossible for at least three reasons.  First, they wanted Him dead without their direct fingerprints on the execution.  Secondly, doing so exposed them to the danger of what we today would call “a public relations disaster:  If they had dared to crucify Him, can you imagine the mockery that could have followed them for imitating the alien Roman method of death?  Especially after the person they submitted the case to had repeatedly denied that he saw any punishable element of guilt!  Thirdly, Pilate could have unleashed retaliatory actions after the Passover against the Sanhedrin’s prerogatives and rights:  “You knew full well I was being sarcastic.  You do not play games with the Roman government!”    

 

            19:7     The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”  The accusers insisted that under their law Jesus deserved death because of who/what He claimed to be.  Now they finally admit that the real issue for them is strictly a religious one and, at least briefly, they are not hiding behind the veneer of a political justification (claiming kingship).

            Roman governors were supposed to respect local customs to the extent they were not hostile to or incompatible with Roman law and governance.  Especially in regard to local religious custom.  So they are challenging him by asserting that, under that standard, the death penalty would be fully justified.  Hence the unspoken argument, “Therefore it is your duty to carry it out since we are not supposed to.”

 

 

Pilate Again Interrogates Jesus (John 19:8-11):  When Pilate heard what they said, he was more afraid than ever, and he went back into the governor’s residence and said to Jesus, “Where do you come from?”  But Jesus gave him no answer.  10 So Pilate said, “Do you refuse to speak to me?  Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?” 

11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above.  Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            19:8     Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid,   In one sense what they had said (verse 7) made an innocent verdict even more defensible than the lack of real evidence against Him:  they had abandoned their political accusations and those were the ones that had to be of main concern to Pilate as governor.  On the other hand by raising the accusation that Jesus was clearly guilty of a capital crime under their religious law—and citing a specific religious offense—they made Pilate even more nervous about the entire situation.  He could be smeared with the accusation of encouraging unrest himself by refusing to act against offenses that their highest religious leaders insisted represented fundamental violations of their beliefs.  In modern bureaucratic speech “destabilizing the country through lack of action” could be the accusation against him.

            On the other hand--and equally alarming--what if the claim against Him were true . . . in the sense that a reasonably educated Roman official would take it?  “Doubtless he had heard of some of the many miracles which Jesus had performed, and now, it seems, began to think that perhaps what had been currently reported was true, and that he really had performed the wonderful works ascribed to him.  For it is very well known, that the religion which the governor professed directed him to acknowledge the existence of demi-gods and heroes, or men descended from the gods.  Nay, the heathen believed that their gods themselves sometimes appeared on earth, in the form of men (Acts 14:11-12).”  (Benson Commentary)  Add in the deeply personal element--the fearful dream his wife had had that very night (Matthew 27:19).  Whether he regarded it as from the Jews’ God or one of his one, it would be hard for him to interpret it as anything but a divinely given warning.     

 

            19:9     and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?”  But Jesus gave him no answer.  Returning to the inside of the facility, Pilate attempted to get more information from Jesus.  Jesus initially frustrated this goal by insisting upon remaining silent.  He had already implicitly given the answer:  He was from beyond this world:  “I have come into this world;” John 18:37.  If He had chosen to elaborate on it, Pilate would be diverted from his central obligation as the governor:  To judge fairly and equitably.  He already had sufficient evidence that there was no legitimate accusation of endangering the peace.

            Furthermore, there is an element of prophetic fulfillment as well:  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  (In all fairness this could also refer to His not protesting to the soldiers at the abuse they put Him through.) 

 

            19:10   Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me?  Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?”  As a judge, he was surely used to lies, excuses, justifications (good or foolish), but silence was the least likely situation he would face in dealing with an accused person.  It had to disconcert him even further since this was a death penalty case.

            To psychologically force an answer, Pilate reminded Him that he had the power of life and death over Him.  To that Jesus was willing to respond. . . . 

 

            19:11   Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.  Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”  Pilate’s claim was quite true--but it did not adequately cover the entire situation:  Pilate only had such “power” because it had been given him “from above.”  Either the emperor or God could be under consideration, the point being the same in either case.  Pilate surely thought of it in terms of the Emperor:  He had been given great responsibility with the obligation to exercise it wisely.  What he decided about Jesus would show which it was.

            Of course, from the broader perspective the power was delegated by God.  He fully recognizes that no human society can operate without law and those to enforce it (Romans 13:1-5); anarchy can destroy not only its practitioners but the very society that allows it to prosper.  On the other hand, the right to exercise power carries with it the inherent obligation to exercise it justly.        

            Whatever Pilate’s own responsibility, “the greater sin” was still on the souls of those who had unjustly “delivered” Jesus to His tribunal in the first place.  But is being an “accessory to murder” all that much better than being the murderer?  Although Judas “delivered” Jesus to the arresting party, he had no role in “deliver[ing] Me to you.”  That atrocity lies at the feet of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin.

 

 

The Religious Leaders Loudly Insist That to Release Jesus Would Make One an Enemy of Caesar and Pilate’s Resistance Finally Collapses (John 19:12-16a):  12 From this point on, Pilate tried to release him.  But the Jewish leaders shouted out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar!” 13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus outside and sat down on the judgment seat in the place called “The Stone Pavement” (Gabbatha in Aramaic).  14 (Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover, about noon.) Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, here is your king!”

15 Then they shouted out, “Away with him!  Away with him!  Crucify him!”  Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?”  The high priests replied, “We have no king except Caesar!”  16a  Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            19:12   From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.  Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.  Pilate made a sustained effort to avoid even a more extreme punishment than he had already inflicted upon the Lord through scourging (19:1).  But this brought not agreement but vehement protest.  The crowd insisted that it was a test case of who was a friend of Caesar and who was not.  (As if any but the smallest faction of the population of the region would admit to being such a friend under any other set of circumstances!)

            Anyone, they insisted, who claimed to be “a king”—in any sense of the term—was automatically and irrevocably Caesar’s enemy.  That was not the kind of accusation any provincial ruler wished to have passed on to Rome, even by an unruly local population that was frowned upon and even despised in the capital of the Empire.

            Especially at the then current time:  The Jews perhaps scarcely knew how powerful their weapon was.  Pilate’s patron Sejanus (executed A.D. 31) was losing his hold over Tiberius, even if he had not already fallen.  Pilate had already thrice nearly driven the Jews to revolt, and his character therefore would not stand high with an Emperor who justly prided himself on the good government of the provinces.  Above all, the terrible Lex Majestatis was by this time worked in such a way that prosecution under it was almost certain death.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

            The jealous fear of Tiberius had made ‘treason’ a crime, of which the accusation was practically the proof, and the proof was death.  The pages of Tacitus and Suetonius abound with examples of ruin wreaked on families in the name of the ‘law of treason.’   (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  And Pilate unquestionably was the type of ruler who would be wary of anyone looking too closely at his record.    

 

            19:13   When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.  When Pilate formally sat down on the official “judgment seat” he was symbolically indicating that the entire matter was about to be brought to an official close.

            Both [Pavement and Gabbatha] occur here only, and are instances of the writer’s minute knowledge of the localities in Jerusalem. . . .   [Pavement] literally means ‘stone-paved,’ and was the Greek name for the tesselated ‘pavement’ of marble and colored stones with which from the time of Sylla the Romans delighted to adorn the Prætorium.  The [Hebrew] word means ‘an elevated place,’ so that the one name was given to it from its form, and the other from the material of which it was made.  Suetonius (Life, chapter 46) tells us that Julius Cæsar carried about with him such pieces of marble and stone, but the mention of the ‘place’ bears the impression that it was a fixture in front of the Prætorium at Jerusalem, in which the [judgment seat] was placed; or it may have been a portion of the northern court of the sanctuary to which Pilate came out, if we identify the Prætorium with the tower Antonia. . . .  Josephus mentions that the whole of the Temple mountain was paved with this kind of Mosaic work (Antiquities v. 5. 2. . . .).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            19:14   Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour.  And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”  Laying the ground work for his own much regretted decision, he motioned to Jesus and declared Him their “king.”  Beaten; abused; insulted without cause by the soldiers--this was the kind of “king” they deserved so far as he was concerned.  A subtle insult to the crowd if one interprets the behavior from that standpoint:  “A sort of quiet revenge on them by this irony, which he knew would sting,” argues Albert Barnes.

            Or was he making a final effort to appease them by arguing from His appearance that whatever offense He had given had already been adequately punished?  Jesus presumably still has on the purple robe and crown of thorns mentioned in verse 5.  Looking at that blood stained prisoner, how can they consider Him either a king or deserving of more punishment?

 

            19:15   But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him!  Crucify Him!”  Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”  The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”  A profession of loyalty that any governor of the region would automatically take with thorough skepticism.  But that didn’t remove their rage and their loud insistence on His death.  The mob was run by the “chief priests”--the kind of men who, if they chose to, could lodge a formal protest in Rome.  Pilate now throws in the towel.  

 

            19:16a    Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified.  With no sign they would relent, Pilate ordered the penalty they sought to be carried out.  In that sense “he delivered Him to them to be crucified:  He delivered Him to their wishes and demands.  They will be behind the punishment but the hands carrying it out will fully be Roman.

 

 

The Crucifixion of the Lord (John 19:16b-27):  16b So they took Jesus, 17 and carrying his own cross he went out to the place called “The Place of the Skull” (called in Aramaic Golgotha).  18 There they crucified him along with two others, one on each side, with Jesus in the middle.  19 Pilate also had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” 

20 Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.  21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’”  22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” 

23 Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained.  (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.)  24 So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.”  This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.”  So the soldiers did these things.

25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!”  27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!”  From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.     --New English Translation (for comparison)  

 

 

            19:16b    So they took Jesus and led Him away.  The “they” here shifts to the appointed execution squad, since the execution will be carried out by them, bringing with them both Jesus and the two other prisoners to die that day.  They are the ones in actual charge of the implementation of the sentence.

            His religious foes, of course, happily escorted the condemned from the place of the coerced “trial” to the place of execution.  This way they could fully savor their triumph.  Perhaps the idea was also going through their heads that this would also assure that nothing unexpected aborted their intentions.  After all, Pilate had already attempted to do so!

 

            19:17   And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha,  As part of the condemnation and humiliation, Jesus had to carry the cross He was to die on to Golgotha, the site of execution.  This would likely be only one beam of the cross since the entire cross would seemingly have been too heavy for one person alone.  At some point the physical abuse He had gone through made it no longer possible to handle even that and the Romans ordered a passerby to complete the task (Luke 23:26).

            Presumably the site had some similarity to a skull to have gained its name.  If it had, at some time, been a place where the skulls of the executed were left behind (or the entire body to rot to pieces), then the name would surely have been “place of skulls” plural.  The Romans had no objection to leaving bodies to decay, but they were in a country where the local “prejudices” were against such.  Even more important, these sentiments would have been even more intense at the time of any of the annual feasts such as Passover.

            Sidebar:  The exact physical location (in modern terms) has been hotly debated.  What little additional information is provided by the most ancient sources:  “It was outside the gate (Hebrews 13:12) and yet ‘nigh unto the city’ (John 19:20).  In the Mishna it is placed outside the city by a reference to Leviticus 24:14.  It is said to have been ‘two men high’ (Sanh. vi. 1).”  (ConderHandbook to the Bible, as quoted by Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  “The Romans were accustomed to execute their criminals in some conspicuous position, adjoining a traveled road, so that those passing by, as well as those who congregated for the purpose, might know and learn its meaning.”  (Pulpit Commentary)      

 

            19:18   where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.  Their presence may be because their executions were already scheduled for that day or because it would have been a waste of manpower to postpone their death until a different day since that fate had already been decided upon.  Furthermore to keep the Sanhedrin happy, Jesus had to die today, so why not clear the cells of others awaiting the same fate?

            All the Synoptists describe the character of the two who were crucified with Jesus.  Matthew and Mark, robbers; Luke, malefactors (κακούργους).  All three use the phrase, one on the right, the other on the left, and so, substantially, John: on either side one.  John says nothing about the character of these two, but simply describes them as two others.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

 

            19:19   Now Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross.  And the writing was:  JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  This was Pilate’s piece of revenge upon the religious leaders who had been pushing the unjust execution:  “You said this was the claim being made; I’m simply repeating it and those who know who Jesus is will think you fools.” 

            In addition, he could get in a major verbal thrust at the common aspiration for national independence by merely ordering the title to be inscribed above the convicted.  So far as Pilate went, this was how any “king of the Jews” should be treated—any real one at least.  That kind the religious leadership might well be far more tender hearted toward.  So he scorns the entire concept.

 

            19:20   Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.  Roman officialdom wanted locals to be painfully aware that if you crossed the lines they considered as most important, retribution would be dire; locating the execution site where few would see it would be contradictory to this purpose.  Hence they would prefer one near Jerusalem and a location easily seen from a well traveled route for both entering and leaving.

            “Many” of these people took time to read what was posted about Jesus.  There is no hint of a “notice” over the other two men, so it was likely an uncommon step for these Romans and those traveling by were naturally curious as to what was so serious an action that they thought it was called for.  And it was written in three languages to guarantee that anyone who was literate would be able to read it!   Again an unneeded step unless the governor wanted to drive the point home hard.  (Latin was the official language in the Empire; Hebrew the local sacred language; Greek the international second language.) 

 

            19:21   Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘He said, “I am the King of the Jews.” ’   22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” The religious leaders saw the inscription and recognized the jab at their own politico-religious aspirations and insisted that it be rewritten.  They had gotten the punishment they wanted so on this secondary issue Pilate dug in his heels and refused to change a single word by addition or removal:  He had already decided what was to be written and it was to be left that way.  They had tried to “boss him around” once too often.  On this they had no leverage with which to threaten him to the emperor.      

 

            19:23   Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic.  Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece.  These four individuals included a centurion (Matthew 27:54) in charge.  Three men, three guards, and one supervisor to make any decisions that had to be made.

            Since the execution squad received the garments of the deceased as a kind of “bonus” to their regular pay, they naturally separated them among those assigned to the crucifixion detail.  Most of the clothing presented no problem--the sandals, any headwear.  Even the outer garments:  The outer garment, being composed of several parts--fringes, borders, etc.--could be easily divided.”  (Barnes’ Notes)   

            The inner garment (tunic) was where the problem was encountered.  The two criminals had the customary attire, but not Jesus.  Ordinarily the tunic consisted of two pieces connected at the shoulder by clasps; but that worn by Jesus was made in one piece.  This seems to have been the rule with the priestly tunics.  (Compare the account of Aaron’s tunic in Josephus’ Ant. iii. 7, § 4.)”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  If torn, it would fully destroy its usefulness.

            Sidebar on what these garments typically looked like in the first century:  On His head He wore a white sudar, fastened under the chin and hanging down from the shoulders behind.  Over the tunic which covered the body to the hands and feet, a blue tallith with the blue and white fringes on the four ends, so thrown over and gathered together that the gray, red-striped undergarment was scarcely noticeable, except when the sandal-shod feet came into view.”  (Delitzsch, “A Day In Capernaum,” as quoted by Vincent’s Word Studies)

             

            19:24   They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”  Therefore the soldiers did these things.  Tearing the garment would simply transform it into little more than worthless trash and none of them would benefit by it.  Furthermore, if whoever “won” it proceeded to sell it, the unusual design would assure the best price for it.   To protect against favoritism (or prolonged argument) in their small group, they agreed to “cast lots” to determine who would receive it. 

            What they did--since they were Romans it was obviously without any intent to do so--perfectly fit the words of Psalms 22:18, which had spoken of one’s clothing being both divided and cast lots over.  

 

            19:25   Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  Near the cross stood several of the women closest to the Lord.  Clearly the scattered apostles had brought back word to them of the terrible tragedy that had occurred and escorted them to the site--arguing that this was the well known site for such executions to be carried out.  It wasn’t going to happen anywhere else.

            Sidebar:  Although only these few are specified, a much larger group was also present:  “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar” (Matthew 27:55; similarly Mark 15:41).

            Sidebar on this being the next to last appearance of Mary in the pages of the New Testament:  Neither her own danger, nor the sadness of the spectacle, nor the reproaches and insults of the people, could restrain her from performing the last office of duty and tenderness to her divine son on the cross.  Grotius justly observes, that it was a noble instance of fortitude and zeal.  Now a sword (according to Simeon’s prophecy, Luke 2:35) struck through her tender heart, and pierced her very soul; and perhaps the extremity of her sorrows might so overwhelm her spirits, as to render her incapable of attending the sepulchre, which we do not find that she did.  Nor do we, indeed, meet with any thing after this in the sacred story concerning her, or in early antiquity: except that she continued among the disciples after our Lord’s ascension, which Luke observes, Acts 1:14.”  (Unknown source quoted by Benson Commentary)     

 

            19:26   When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”  Seeing His mother as well as “the disciple whom He loved,” He glanced from one to the other and told her to count the disciple as her son in the future.  He Himself could no longer do anything to assist her; now this trusted apostle could take up that responsibility.  In a deep sense Jesus loved all the apostles, but for this particular duty He regarded this one as the ideal choice:  Different people are simply better qualified than others when it comes to a specific responsibility.

 

            19:27   Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”  And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.  To reinforce the point made to his mother in the previous verse, Jesus also instructed the disciple to treat Mary as his own mother from then on.  Without pause or hesitation or reluctance--“from that hour”--that disciple took over the responsibility. 

            This instruction also implies that His earthly father was dead and unable to take on that task.  Nor does He leave her the responsibility of one of the brothers in the family, who have figured earlier in the narrative of even this gospel--though as skeptics of Jesus rather than enthusiastic adherents (John 7:5).  They did come to embrace Him, if not by now at least after a resurrection appearance:  We later read of how “the mother of Jesus, and . . . His brothers” met with the apostles in Jerusalem after the ascension into heaven (Acts 1:14).  At a much later date, we have the apostle Paul referring to how in Jerusalem he saw both Peter and “James, the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19). 

 

 

The Death on the Cross (John 19:28-37):  28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!”  29 A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth.  30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!”  Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Then, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not stay on the crosses on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was an especially important one), the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to have the victims’ legs broken and the bodies taken down.  

32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other.  33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 

35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe.  36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” 37 And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

            19:28   After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!”  The words can be read either as uttering these words to fulfill Scripture or because everything that Scripture had ordained was now being finished that it was time to take a final drink before His last words.  Either way, perhaps taking this “drink” was required so that His final “word” could be spoken with loudness and clarity of voice.  Several hours of this intense agony would weaken any human being’s body and voice and we are told in the Synoptics that the final words were spoken loudly (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37).

            If John is meaning to make (or include) the speaking of these words as the fulfillment of scripture, the reference would be to Psalms 69, which well fits the current situation when the crowd present was large and strongly anti-Jesus and mocked Him repeatedly :  19 You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; My adversaries are all before You.  20 Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; I looked for someone to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.  21 They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

 

            19:29   Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.  It had to be delivered on a sponge because that was the only practical way to get Him something to drink since He was physically above them.  “Sour wine” was the normal low cost and low quality drink that would be issued to such soldiers on an official detail.  It might be shared with the prisoners as well if they felt in a benevolent mood.  

            Sidebar on “hyssop:”  The plant cannot be identified with certainty.  The caper-plant, which is as likely as any, has stalks which run to two or three feet, and this would suffice.  It is not probable that Christ’s feet were on a level with the spectators’ heads, as pictures represent:  this would have involved needless trouble and expense.  Moreover the mockery of the soldiers recorded by Luke (see Luke 23:36) is more intelligible if we suppose that they could almost put a vessel to His lips.  John alone mentions the hyssop; another mark of exact knowledge. 

            “[Who are the ‘they’ who ‘put it to his mouth?’]  The actors and their motive are left doubtful.  Probably soldiers, but possibly Jews, and probably in compassion rather than mockery; or perhaps in compassion under cover of mockery (compare Mark 15:36).  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            19:30   So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!”  And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.  The wine wasn’t anything fancy--these were Roman soldiers during duty hours after all.  But it “wet his throat and lips” when it was surely dry and parched.  That way He could be sure He would be able to call out loudly and distinctly, “It is finished!” But there was more--either just before or just after these three words:  And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’  Having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46). 

            The two apostles mark with special clearness that the Messiah’s death was entirely voluntary.  Matthew says, ‘He let go His spirit’ (Matthew 27:50); John, ‘He gave up His spirit.’  None of the four says ‘He died.’  The other two have ‘He breathed out;’ and Luke shows clearly that the surrender of life was a willing one by giving the words of surrender ‘Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’—‘No one taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.’  It was the one thing which Christ claimed to do ‘of Himself’ (John 10:18).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

            Sidebar on the order of Jesus’ words from the cross:  “The order of the seven words of the cross will be,

            (1)  ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34);

            (2)  ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43);

            (3) ‘“Woman, behold thy son,’ ‘Behold thy mother’ (John 19:26-27);

            (4)  ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34);

            (5)  ‘I thirst” (John 19:28);

            (6)  ‘It is finished’ (John 19;29);

            (7)  ‘Into Thy hands I commend My spirit’ (Luke 23:46).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            19:31   Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.  The Romans customarily left the bodies to rot as a kind of “living warning” of the dangers of crossing their rules and laws.  But they recognized that there were situations when this was not practical.

            Knowing what was otherwise going to occur, the Jewish religious officials were especially concerned that the Sabbath would be dishonored at the time of the most important feast of the year, the Passover.  Hence they requested that the process be speeded up by breaking their legs.  Jesus dying before this was carried out spared Him that, but if it had been any other day one can’t help but wonder whether they would have wanted a quick death for any of the prisoners.  There would surely have been a certain “emotional satisfaction” in their hearts by needlessly drawing out the duration of the sufferings of their arch foe.   

            Sidebar:  To the extent that the Jews practiced hanging from a tree (either to produce death or as a grim warning after execution), the clear cut Mosaical provision was for the body to be cut down and buried before the day was over (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  This law is conspicuously not appealed to--only that it was a specially important Sabbath:  “that Sabbath was a high day:”  “a special Sabbath” (NIV); “an especially important one” (NET).  

            Sidebar:  Death on the cross was produced by suffocation—the pressure on the chest and lungs.  Hence by breaking of the legs, death would come quicker because they would no longer be able to lift themselves up to breathe.  In spite of the intense immediate pain, it actually speeded up the death.

 

            19:32   Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him.  The two criminals had their legs broken as well to assure quick death since the death of all of them was necessary before sunset.  It has been suggested that to do this they used the steel shaft of their spears.  Since they would have needed a mallet (or something very similar) to have driven the nails in, it is more likely that they used this to shatter the leg bones as well.

 

            19:33   But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.  It would have been a waste of their time to do so.  Probably the limpness of the body not trying to keep itself raised up so He could breath was the visual tip off.  When they first heard it, Jesus’ words “it is finished” may have meant (to them) nothing more than His dreams and hopes had been crushed.  To us, in vivid contrast, it seems the amazingly appropriate end for the horrifying series of events of that day.   

 

            19:34   But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.  Perhaps out of spitefulness but far more likely in order to be doubly certain of the death, one of the soldiers thrust a spear into his side and “blood and water came out.”  One can’t imagine a situation, in fact, when they would not have done this to someone who had been on the cross only a few hours:  If it turned out the man had survived, they themselves would be executed.

            Sidebar:  This outflow of “blood and water” is often attributed to the physical side effects of the spear cutting into both the heart and the pericardium surrounding the heart:  the liquid there combining with the blood from the heart wound.  This would occur either as the final contribution to causing the death or be the result of the death having already occurred.  In favor of the latter John 10:18 is cited (“No one takes it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself”) and John 19:30 (“He gave up His spirit”).

            Sidebar:  This spear wound was far from a superficial one; it created a large and deep penetration of the body.  It provided absolute assurance that Jesus was unquestionably dead.  When Thomas doubted whether Jesus had really been resurrected, Jesus appeared in their midst and the Lord urged him:  Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. “ (John 20:27).  

 

             19:35  And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.  What is recorded about Jesus’ death in this chapter was written by an eyewitness.  Not only an eyewitness but one who was determined to tell the full and complete truth so that others might be encouraged to “believe” Jesus’ message on the basis of its evidence.

            Note here that loyalty to the actual events required that the accurate version be told.  Misrepresentation and distortion were viewed as incompatible with that obligation:  it had to be a truthful account—which tells us much of the mind frame behind the authors of the New Testament gospels.

            Sidebar on John’s double stress on truth telling--“testimony is true and he knows that he is telling the truth”(KJV:  “true” and “he said true”):  There is no tautology, as in the Authorized Version.  John first says that his evidence is adequate; he then adds that the contents of it are true.  Testimony may be sufficient (e.g. of a competent eyewitness) but false:  or it may be insufficient (e.g. of half-witted child) but true.  John declares that his testimony is both sufficient and true; both alêthinos and alêthês. . . .

            “Why does John attest thus earnestly the trustworthiness of his narrative at this particular point?  Four reasons may be assigned.  This incident proved (1) the reality of Christ’s humanity against Docetic views; and these verses therefore are conclusive evidence against the theory that the Fourth Gospel is the work of a Docetic Gnostic. . . ;  (2) the reality of Christ’s Divinity, against Ebionite views; while His human form was no mere phantom, but flesh and blood, yet He was not therefore a mere man, but the Son of God;  (3) the reality of Christ’s death, and therefore of His Resurrection, against Jewish insinuations of trickery (compare Matthew 28:13-15;  (4) the clear and unexpected fulfillment of two Messianic prophecies.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)        

 

            19:36    For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.”  He could do nothing else but record the truth for he was fully aware that what he was recording was the fulfillment of scripture--even this last element, the non-breaking of the Lord’s body.  Interpreters vary as to which place (or both places) to ground this allusion.  First, Psalms 34:20 had spoken of the man of whom not even one bone would be broken (Psalms 34:20).  Secondly, this was also true of the literal Passover lamb (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12).  On a spiritual level, Jesus was the Divinely sent “lamb” whose sacrificial blood offering would enable redemption for the repentant throughout the world (cf. Paul’s use of the parallel in 1 Corinthians 5:7:  “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us”).   

 

            19:37   And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”  The earlier Psalms text (34:20) did not stand alone as being embodied on that terrible day of agony:  Yet another passage (Psalms 22:16-18) became eerie reality--one which spoke of how those who had “pierced” their victim also looked/stared upon the body:  16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet; 17 I can count all My bones.  They look and stare at Me.  18 They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.”  Surrounded by dangerous and hostile enemies; pierced hands and feet; divided garments and it done by lots.  If the other parts seem aptly fulfilled in the events on Calvary that day, would this not be the logical place to seek John’s reference?

            Yet there is another passage that most prefer far more:  they will look on Me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).  But this is set in the context (verses 10-14) of massive sorrow over the event:  “they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (verse 10).  This reaction would occur throughout the land with Jerusalem specifically included (verse 11).  Also deep in sorrow would be the priestly class as embodied in ”the house of Levi” as well (verse 13).  Is this anywhere near as likely a text to have been in John’s mind as the Psalms one?  On the other side of the question:  It has been argued that “pierced” in Psalms uses a word normally indicating a small wound, while the one here uses a term for a much larger one such as a sword or javelin would produce--which is what the armed Roman soldiers would have.           

 

 

A Wealthy Secret Disciple Arranges the Release of the Body for Burial (John 19:38-42):  38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. 

39 Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds.  40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs.

41 Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried.  42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there.         --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            19:38   After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.  So he came and took the body of Jesus.  Even a position as high as being on the Sanhedrin did not protect one from retaliation.  At a minimum, snobbery and contempt; perhaps even social ostracism would occur if this loyalty were widely known.  These were men of a class where favors and help would be routinely exchanged.  Hence breaking ranks could do serious economic damage as well--through opportunities lost and useful assistance refused.  Not to mention outright expulsion from synagogues hostile to Jesus (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2). 

            We know that he was rich (Matthew 27:57) and “a prominent council [= Sanhedrin] member” (Mark 15:43).  He had no part in pushing through the decision to either convict Jesus or take Him to Pilate:  “He had not consented to their decision and deed” (Luke 23:51).   

            How much he actually spoke out in those hearings we do not know.  We do know that the entire affair deeply frightened him for he had to “tak[e] courage” when he “went into Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43).  That would have been viewed as almost as bad as openly opposing their false accusations in the first place.  In their mind, Jesus’ body--just like Jesus while still alive--only deserved to be treated contemptuously.

            Sidebar on the retrieval of bodies of the legally executed:  According to Roman law.  Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the third century, says:  ‘The bodies of those who are capitally punished cannot be denied to their relatives.  At this day, however, the bodies of those who are executed are buried only in case permission is asked and granted; and sometimes permission is not given, especially in the cases of those who are punished for high treason.  The bodies of the executed are to be given for burial to any one who asks for them.’  Avaricious governors sometimes sold this privilege.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)     

 

            19:39   And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.  Nicodemus, with whom Jesus had discussed the second birth in chapter three, was also a member of the Sanhedrin (3:1). 

            On an earlier occasion the Sanhedrin made an unsuccessful effort to have Jesus arrested (7:30) and when the officers came back without success they were roundly rebuked (7:45-49).  Perhaps fearing the group was going to take some official action without even hearing a defense he interjected,  Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (7:51).  This thoroughly outraged the others as a subject that absolutely had no need for discussion, ‘Are you also from Galilee?  Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee’ ” (7:52).  To them the issue was beyond even the need for discussion.  Jesus was a fraud.  Shut up!

            In this kind of hostile environment prudence was a natural course.

            The situation now being beyond anything he could possibly help with, there was one remaining thing that was within his ability.  He could show his respect by helping with the burial preparations.  This took the form of purchasing spices--quite possibly with the assistance of Joseph (verse 38) since they were both expensive ones and in large volume. 

            Clearly he was in charge of this aspect while Nicodemus (because of previous interactions with Pilate?) intervened to obtain the body itself.  The weight of the spices alone surely argues that one or more others were assisting him carry them.  Indeed, in light of his high position, quite possibly carrying all of them, as servants would be expected to do.  (The famous rabbi Gamaliel was said to have been buried with eighty pounds of spices.)

            Sidebar on the spices used:  “Frankincense and myrrh were products of Arabia, and, according to Herodotus, of that country only.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Matthew 2:11).  “Myrrh-resin and pounded aloe-wood [were] both aromatic substances.”  (Cambridge Bible).  The Messianic Psalm 45 had spoken of the Messiah wearing garments with these substances as a kind of expensive perfumery (verses 6-8).  

 

            19:40   Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.  To the extent they could, they would have followed the customs of the period.  It was, however, late in the day, allowing little time for the hurried work to be completed. 

            In the very early hours of Sunday morning, certain women brought additional spices to use on the body (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56; Luke 24:1).  This certainly involved showing their own deep personal respect toward the Man who was buried there.  It might also reflect the suspicion that the little time available on Friday had hindered things being completed as they should.  Not to mention the suspicion that even well intended males might not know how to do this as well as women. 

            Sidebar on ancient Jewish burial practices from the Benson Commentary (quoting an unidentified source for most of it):  “ ‘Those who have written upon the manners and customs of the Jews tell us, that they sometimes embalmed their dead with an aromatic mixture of myrrh, aloes, and other gums or spices, which they rubbed on the body, more or less profusely, according to their circumstances and their regard for the dead.  After anointing the body, they covered it with a shroud, or winding-sheet, then wrapped a napkin round its head and face, others say, round the forehead only; because the Egyptian mummies are observed to have it so; last of all, they swathed the shroud round the body as tightly as possible, with proper bandages made of linen.

            “ ‘At other times, they covered the whole body in a heap of spices, as is said of Asa, 2 Chronicles 16:14.  From the quantity of myrrh and aloes made use of by Joseph and Nicodemus, it would appear that the office performed by them to their Master was of this latter kind; for they had not time to embalm him properly.’  They seem, however, to have done all that was usual in such circumstances to persons of wealth and distinction, which, as well as the sepulcher itself, agreed to Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 53:9).”    

 

            19:41   Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.  There were burial spots that had been in a family for decades or longer, with new bodies added as individuals passed away.  But this one involved a “new tomb”--hence one never previously used.  Perhaps this indicates that the owner had relatively recently purchased the property (because to move closer to Jerusalem?) or simply because he wanted a pleasant looking location primarily to use for future burials.  The positive side of the property was its closeness to the city; the negative was that it either literally or nearly bordered the site the Romans routinely used to execute prisoners.

            Sidebar on the tomb bearing witness to the resurrection:  By the circumstance of the sepulcher’s being ‘nigh to the place where Jesus was crucified, and consequently nigh to Jerusalem, all the cavils [complaints] are prevented, which might otherwise have been occasioned, in case the body had been removed farther off.  Moreover, it is observed that the sepulcher was a new one, wherein never any man had been laid.  This plainly proves that it could be no other than Jesus who arose; and cuts off all suspicion that he was raised by touching the bones of some prophet who had been buried there, as happened to the corpse which touched the bones of Elisha, 2 Kings 13:21.  Further, the evangelists take notice that it was a sepulcher hewn out of a rock, to show that there was no passage by which the disciples could get into it, but the one at which the guards were placed, Matthew 27:60; and, consequently, that it was not in their power to steal away the body, while the guards remained there performing their duty.-Macknight.”  (Benson Commentary)   

 

            19:42   So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.  The burial spot was selected because of the ready availability, geographic proximity (it “was nearby” the execution site), and because it was “Preparation Day” with the Sabbath shortly beginning (verse 31)--which ruled out waiting any longer or taking the body much further.