Study Notes: John 19:25-42

Below are my study notes for the last part of John 19.  This section covers the death of Jesus, and the burial as well.  The main point of emphasis is the fulfillment of OT Scriptures.

John 19:25-42

19:25-27 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. [26] When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

It is notable that of the 11 men that surrounded Jesus during His ministry – the 11 disciples who had been hand-picked by Jesus to comprise His inner circle – only John was at the cross from what it seems.

William Hendricksen rightly comments:

It would seem that of the entire circle of eleven men only one was at the cross. That one was the apostle John. But there were several women. All honor to them, to their courage, and to their love.

There were four women. Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary’s sister whose name was likely Salome. It seems that when we harmonize the gospel accounts it makes the most sense to say that Mary’s sister’s name was Salome, and that she was “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”

It was a lifetime ago that Mary had taken this child in her hands and had Him dedicated in the temple in Jerusalem. And it was during that trip to the temple that His destiny, and her own future pain, was revealed by Simeon:

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [23] (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) [24] and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” [25] Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [26] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. [27] And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, [28] he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, [29] “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; [30] for my eyes have seen your salvation [31] that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” [33] And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. [34] And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed [35] (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:22-35)

Last Will

As Jesus looks down from the cross upon those who are left to watch, He give what is called His “last will and testament.” This passage really impacts me. Jesus is in complete agony right now, yet He cared for those around Him until His dying breath. I want to love like that.

I am reminded of John’s words from chapter 13, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

How convicting is it – and revealing of our corrupted hearts – that during trials and great ordeals we cannot think of anything or anyone but ourselves and the circumstances which envelope us.

Think to your last trial – perhaps even a current trial you are wading through. What preoccupied your thoughts in those difficult hours? Who were you primarily concerned with?

I find my own thoughts in times of great peril or trial are often turned inward, at myself and my own survival.

Not so with Jesus.

Jesus was a man who was touched with the infirmities of humanity. He was suffering excruciating pain (that word, by the way, is a etymological creation passed down from the pain of the crucifixion) and yet His mind wavered not. It was on His mission, and on those closest to Him.

Also, I find it very interesting that Jesus was on a great mission to save the world, and yet He did not overlook the weakest among Him. He took care of His earthly mother before departing this world. So often it is great men of this world who are so enraptured in their work, or their circumstances, that they fail to love and tenderly care for those who are their kin. This is so much the case in the evangelical church that Pastor’s children are notoriously ill-behaved. These great men of God fail utterly to invest in their children. They are so busy carrying out their life’s mission that they overlook those whom God has given them to care for most.

Our loved ones ought not to be sacrificed on the alter of “mission” – whether that be the mission at work, or the mission of the Gospel. We have been entrusted by the Almighty God with the investiture of souls who ought to be loved and cared for above all else. This is the example of Jesus, our Lord. He suffered not to let Mary go into the remainder of her life without the care and attention of a specific caretaker. That caretaker was John.

What a grand lesson to all who are entrusted with mighty tasks. Let world leaders, church leaders, political and business leaders take note. Let us humble ourselves before the example of our Lord and Savior, and ask God to make our hearts like His!

19:28-37 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [31] Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would 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. [32] So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. [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 at once there came out blood and water. [35] He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. [36] For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” [37] And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

To Fulfill the Scripture

Just looking at this section here as a whole (28-37), one thing we notice is that John is on a mission to show how the death of Christ has fulfilled numerous scriptures. This is something we’ve mentioned and looked at before. He is intent on proving to his readers that this man, this Jesus, is the One Messiah promised by God.

Some commentators (Carson etc) have noticed that as the crucifixion drew closer, John intensified this commentary of fulfillment. This clearly shows that in John’s theology it is through the cross that Jesus is exalted – the cross is central to the thesis of his book.

Now, the number OT scriptures fulfilled in the events and actions surrounding the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus really is amazing – to the point of near mathematical impossibility that any one man could have accomplished all of these things. There simply isn’t another person who could fulfill all of these things to the “t” the way this man from Nazareth did.

John sees this and wants us to pay attention – this is no mere man! This is the Son of God in the flesh (John 1:1-18)!

Some people have spent time calculating the odds of Christ fulfilling these prophecies, and just fulfilling 8 — only 8 —- of the several dozen major prophecies would be almost mathematically impossible. One writer puts it this way:

A number of years ago, Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman wrote a book entitled Science Speaks. The book was based on the science of probability and vouched for by the American Scientific Affiliation. It set out the odds of any one man in all of history fulfilling even only eight of the 60 major prophecies (and 270 ramifications) fulfilled by the life of Christ.

The probability that Jesus of Nazareth could have fulfilled even eight such prophecies would be only 1 in 1017. That’s 1 in 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.

Stoner claims that that many silver dollars would be enough to cover the face of the entire state of Texas two feet deep. Now I’ve been to Texas. I’ve driven for days to get across Texas. Texas is a very big state. Who in his right mind would suppose that a blindfolded man, heading out of Dallas by foot in any direction, would be able, on his very first attempt, to pick up one specifically marked silver dollar out of 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000? (see: http://christiananswers.net/q-aiia/jesus-odds.html)

I Thirst

Jesus has been hanging on the cross for a while now, and under the desert sun He is thirsty.

I’ve seen hyssup growing alongside the roadside in Israel, and it’s a very small herb. So it seems hard to understand how this same herb plant could have been used in this way. Fortunately Henricksen has done some good work on the Greek here re: the “hyssup” branch that was used to lift up the vinegar to Jesus’ mouth:

The hyssup or hyssup-stick to which John refers may have been the marjoram (Origanum maru), whose woody stalks are sufficiently sturdy and sufficient in length to satisfy all the requirements. It did not have to be very lengthy to reach the lips of Jesus, for the cross was probably not very high above the ground.

From a theological/prophetic standpoint we read earlier in our study how these words parallel David’s from Psalm 22, and I believe this saying is a reminder to us of two things:

  1. Jesus in His humanity thirsted as we do – this isn’t a merely spiritual being as the Gnostics claimed. This is a man – a human being – with feelings, hungers, pains, thoughts, and emotions etc. etc. as we have.
  2. It is His great pain, which was endured on our behalf. He wasn’t thirsty for no reason. His discomfort led to my comfort, His pain has led to my healing. He was parched so that we could receive living water and be satisfied forevermore.

We are reminded of His words to the Samaritan woman:

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, [14] but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Hendricksen rightly says, “Here also, as before, the emphasis is on the infinite love of the Lord, revealed in being willing to suffer burning thirst in order that for his people he might be the everlasting fountain of living water.”

It is Finished

Looking at these odds, and the amazing way in which Jesus fulfilled all of these Scriptures really causes you to step back in awe of who He is. But more than that, this passage gives us the account of what He said from the cross. Specifically, John records that Jesus, knowing everything that He had to accomplish had been done, said, “it is finished.”

Many of us have heard sermons and teachings on these important words before. Jesus using the business or marketplace term tetelestai which reminds us that the payment has been made. There is no more to do, no more to pay, no outstanding bill.

Whatever the sin you have, whatever the doubt you have, whatever the shame you’re hiding, there is nothing which Christ did not pay for Christian. You are His, which means He has bought ALL of you – your past, your present, and yes even your future. All that you have done and all that you will do that does not comport to His righteous standard has been covered once and for all. As Hebrews says:

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, [13] waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. [14] For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

This work of Christ, this great sacrifice, this payment is enough. It’s enough for you and its enough for me. Today, we can rest in this wonderful truth!

Now we cannot go further without noting the authority of Jesus here – and John would have us know this as well. Notice that he says, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” Everything about John’s writing connotes intentionality. Jesus was acting according to His own will until the very end. Notice that it was Jesus who yielded His life – He held it until He was ready to give it up.

And this is what we read earlier:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)

Blood, Water, and no Broken Bones

As if he hadn’t emphasized this enough, John adds the coup de grace on his on thesis that Jesus was fulfilling scripture after scripture by stating “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.”

In other words, “You can’t make this stuff up! This is just too much to be coincidence.”

These final two prophecies concerning His death were fulfilled from OT passages. Let’s examine those passages.

First, not a single bone on Jesus was broken. This is so spectacular because if you were there with John beholding all of this it would be amazing that as badly as they had destroyed the body of this man, yet they still didn’t manage to break a single bone.

Most people don’t get through life without at least one or two broken bones. Jesus was absolutely massacred. He was whipped, beaten, scourged, and hung on a cross, yet no bones were broken. And even at the end – the time where everyone had their legs broken to speed things up – Jesus had already died! So there was no need to break his legs. Really, going a step further than that, given all that had happened to Jesus and taking into account the cruelty of these people, its crazy that they didn’t just break His legs for the heck of it! Yet somehow they restrained themselves – somehow…

In the OT law it is clear that no Passover lamb is to be broken:

It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. (Exodus 12:46)

And…

They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:12)

Furthermore, David prophesies and speaks better than he knows at the time about the coming Lamb:

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. [20] He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. [21] Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. [22] The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34:19-22)

He was also pierced…MacArthur says, “His dying early also led to His being pierced to be sure He was dead. That unusual act of piercing Jesus’ side was essential to fulfill prophecy.”

Specifically, Zechariah said this:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10)

From a medical perspective there are several things that could have caused this, but what I’ve read seems to indicate a bursting of the heart as the most likely occurrence.

Many theologians are undecided as to the meaning of the reference to blood and water. I think Morris is right to look to how John uses the terms elsewhere for an indicator of why it stands out to him now:

Water is used more often, but perhaps the significant references are those to being born “of water and the Spirit” (3:5), to the “living water” that is the gift of Christ (4:10, 11, 14), and to the “living water” that would flow from the inner being of the believer, which is explained as referring to the Spirit (7:38-39). There is a consistent reference in the use of both terms to the life that Christ gives. We conclude, then, that John is reminding us that life, real life, comes through Christ’s death.

19:38-39 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was 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 away his body. [39] Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.

These two men had been deeply moved by the ministry of Jesus. What strikes me about this is that Jesus affected men of all ranks and from all backgrounds and nations. This man Jesus doesn’t simply have a monolithic following. The diversity of those who were touched by his word testifies to the fact that He came to seek and save men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Calvin gives us background on the men:

Matthew (23:50) says, that he (Joseph) was a counselor; that is, he held the rank of a senator. As to Nicodemus, we have seen, in the third chapter of this gospel, that he held an honorable rank among his own countrymen; and that he was also rich, may be easily inferred from the great expense which he laid out in procuring this mixture.

John MacArthur notes that the city that Joseph was from (Arimathea) is not a place known to historians: “the location of Arimathea is unknown; some identify it with Ramathaim-zophim, the birthplace of Samuel.”

MacArthur also gives some insight on the Jewish protocol of dealing with the dead during this time:

Unlike the Egyptians, the Jews did not embalm their dead; they used fragrant spices to stifle the smell of putrefaction for as long as possible. The spices were probably sprinkled along the entire length of the strips of cloth that were wrapped around the Lord’s body. More spices were then packed around and under His body once it was placed in the tomb.

19:40-42 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. [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. [42] So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Matthew says more about the tomb:

And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud [60] and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. [61] Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:59-61)

All of this preparation was going on Friday and had to be done prior to sunset in order for the Jews to be at their homes and ready to obey the Sabbath. They are still working to fulfill the Sabbath. It wouldn’t be long now and the truth of what Jesus had accomplished would cause them to appropriate His fulfillment of the Sabbath in such a way that would forever change how generations of followers observed these days. Soon Sunday, and not Saturday, would become the holy day – the “Lord’s Day.”

Obviously no one expected what was going to happen next…

 

Study Notes: John 19:16b-27 – The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

The Crucifixion of Jesus

As we turn to John’s narrative of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, one of the things you’ll notice about his description is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time detailing the ins and outs of crucifixion. He doesn’t give the kinds of detail that one finds in the synoptic gospels.

Instead, John is more focused on what Jesus says, and the “why” of this whole event. We too should focus on the why, and not get overly caught up in the gruesomeness of the “how.” I’m not saying that it isn’t important, but rather we need to look to what is of first importance.

That being said, in each of these verses there are some interesting and relevant details that we’ll examine as we go verse by verse.

19:16b-17 So they took Jesus, [17] and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.

The first thing we read in the end of verse 16 is that “they” took Jesus. I think John can only be referring to the Roman soldiers at this point. Jesus is now in the custody of Rome; His trial now over, and He is making His way to the place of execution through the streets of Jerusalem – the path we now refer to as the via dolorosa (The way of Grief/Sorrows).

Lifted Up Along a Highway

Next, the place Jesus was taken was outside the old city walls, to a hill near the road which ran alongside the city where travelers and citizens of the city could see Him and the others being executed. Foreigners coming in for the feast days and for trade in the city would be coming from all over the known world at the time. Therefore, as Jesus was lifted up, He was lifted up for all the world to see.

Remember, that throughout his gospel when John talks about Jesus being “lifted up” this is His way of showing that Jesus is being exalted. The emphasis is that exaltation for the Christ comes through humiliation.

Earlier John wrote this:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. [16] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14-18)

Therefore it is significant that He is led to a place that is highly trafficked, and where travelers from all over the known world would have beheld His humiliation/exaltation.

Now from a Roman perspective, it made a lot of sense to bring criminals to this point along the highway because the execution of criminals near the road would send a message to those daring to oppose their rule.

Any foreigner coming to Jerusalem would know what happens to those who misbehave during their stay in the ancient city, and any native of David’s city would be reminded that they were under occupation by a regime from the north. They were living in the land, and yet living in exile.

Outside the City

The next thing we have to note is that the place the Romans took Jesus was outside of the city walls at the time. From a prophetic perspective, this is really important. Jesus died outside the city just as the OT sacrifices would be slaughtered outside the camp.

In Exodus 29 we read this:

But the flesh of the bull and its skin and its dung you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering. (Exodus 29:14)

And it is no coincidence that in the parable of the vineyard, Jesus describes His own death at the hands of the sinful servants as ending “outside the vineyard”:

And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. (Matthew 21:39)

Taking all of these thoughts and words together, the author of Hebrews explains the significance:

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. [12] So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. [13] Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. [14] For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. [15] Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. [16] Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:11-16)

So Jesus is led outside the city walls. He is to be a sin offering, our sin offering. He is lifted up, because that it is through humiliation that He will be exalted. This is all done on the edge of a road where travelers from around the known world will behold Him, indeed in this way He will be lifted up for the entire “world” to see (there is a significant parallel with how people from all over the known world gather together in Jerusalem at Pentecost just a few weeks later and hear the truth of God proclaimed in their language – see John Stott’s Acts commentary for more on this).

The Place of the Skull

Now John says Jesus was led to a place called “Golgotha.” From a contextual note, there are a few places where Jesus was said to have suffered and died and historians are not agreed on the exact location.

The two most popular are called “Gordon’s Calvary” and the ground upon which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built. I have just recently come back from Jerusalem, and have visited both locations. At Gordon’s Calvary there is still a very distinct side of a mountain where a face (or skull) can be seen etched out of the rock. It used to be that in days past, a rock quarry lay just beneath the etching and that Jesus would have been crucified in front of the skull in the quarry – not on top of that particular hill, but on the hill that the quarry was on top of with the skull providing the background image.

Gordon’s Calvary is named after British General Charles “Chinese” Gordon who popularized the idea that this could be the location. The Garden Tomb Association, who owns the land there now, gives this brief history on their website:

As early as 1842 a German Theologian named Otto Thenius proposed the idea that the outcropping of rock known today as “Skull Hill” could possibly be significant in the identification of the site of the crucifixion. That idea lay seemingly dormant for quite some time until General Charles Gordon on sabbatical in the area (1883) began to publish similar ideas. Because of his importance in British society at that time the idea took hold and people began to look seriously at the claims that this could possibly be the site listed in the New Testament as Golgotha (Aramaic) or Calvary (Latin) – the place of the skull. It was the efforts of two ladies in particular, Charlotte Hussey and Louisa Hope, who followed these ideas and began to take them seriously and thought that the place ought to be preserved.

They also discovered a tomb nearby which matched many of the descriptions of the tomb we find in the Bible narrative where Jesus was laid:

After people began to take seriously the claims that the area at the base of the rock cliff could possibly be Golgotha, it led to a renewed interest in other findings of earlier times. In 1867 an ancient Jewish tomb had been discovered and subsequently detailed and published by Conrad Schick. In light of all that was happening, people began to believe that the site may have significance and they re-examined what had been detailed previously. The Bible describes that Jesus was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem near a gate of the city along a major thoroughfare, that at the place where He was crucified there was a garden and in the garden a tomb. The tomb is described as being a tomb cut out of rock, belonging to a wealthy man by the name of Joseph of Arimathea. It had a weeping chamber, a burial chamber, it was sealed with a rolling stone, it had a traditionally low doorway through which the disciples were forced to stoop in order to look into (and enter) the tomb that morning. (http://www.gardentomb.com/about/why-the-garden/)

The second location, and I might say the “first” in terms of historical tradition, is the location upon which the current Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built.

This location is located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem and has been held at the traditional site since at least the 4th century. Wikipedia (that all knowing and trustworthy source…) has a few graphs on the early history:

According to Eusebius, the Roman emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century built a temple dedicated to the Roman goddessVenus in order to bury the cave in which Jesus had been buried.[4][5] The first Christian Emperor, Flavius Constantinus, ordered in about 325/326 that the temple be replaced by a church.[6] During the building of the Church, Constantine’s mother, Helena, is believed to have rediscovered the True Cross, and a tomb (although there are some discrepancies among authors).

In his ‘Life of Constantine’ Eusebius speaks about this location saying that it showed “a clear and visible proof” that it was the tomb of Jesus.

It is interesting that most commentators I read during my exegetical study of the passage completely rule our Gordon’s Calvary. But whatever the place, we know that both locations stood outside of where the city boundaries were during those days.

19:18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

Crucifixion was the most horrific way a person could die in these days. Carson gives a good explanation:

In the ancient world, this most terrible of punishments is always associated with shame and horror. It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could be crucified without the sanction of the Emperor. Stripped naked and beaten to a pulpy weakness, the victim could hang in the hot sun for hours, even days. To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms to keep the chest cavity open and functioning. Terrible muscle spasm wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on. This is why the sedecula (the piece of wood that was sort of like a seat) prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body’s weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on.

The history behind this form of execution is well documented. William Barclay describes the background:

Even the Romans themselves regarded it with a shudder of horror. Cicero declared that it was ‘the most cruel and horrifying death.’ Tacitus said that it was a despicable death.’ Crucifixion was originally a Persian method of execution. It may have been used because, to the Persians, the earth was sacred, and they wished to avoid defiling it with the body of a criminal and an evildoer; so they nailed him to a cross and left him to die there, and then left the vultures and the carrion crows to complete the work. The Carthaginians took over crucifixion from the Persians; and the Romans learned it from the Carthaginians. Crucifixion was never used as a method of execution in Italy; it was only used in the provinces, and there only in the case of slaves. It was unthinkable that a Roman citizen should die by such a death. Cicero says, ‘It is a crime for a Roman citizen to be bound; it is a worse crime for him to be beaten; it is well nigh parricide for him to be killed; what am I to say if he be killed on a cross? A nefarious action such as that is incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it.’ It was that death, the most dreaded death in the ancient world, the death of slaves and criminals, that Jesus died” (Boice’s Commentary on John, Volume 5, Pg. 1496).

There were also two men on either side of Jesus. Each was a criminal – the language used by John could indicate that they could have been rebel fighters/guerillas/insurrectionists. We know from Luke’s account and from the other gospel writers, that one of them had a miraculous change of heart, and place his faith on Jesus before his life expired. John, however, does not focus on that event, but rather chooses to give us insights that the other writers had not mentioned to date.

19:19-22 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” [20] Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. [21] So 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.”

It was common practice for the Romans to inscribe the crime of an offender on a piece of wood or label like this and then hang it around the neck of the criminal during the execution. After the criminal died, the tag would be fastened to the cross as a reminder of the payment, the cost if you will, of committing that crime. People could look up, see the crime of “stealing” or “sedition” and note in one glance the blood stained cross which served as an indicator what that crime had cost the one associated with it. A significant deterrent.

Now the crime that we read is associated with Jesus is the one which the Jews used before the Romans, and not the one they had used in the Jewish trial. In the Jewish trial before Caiaphas and Annas, they had accused Jesus of blasphemy because He had claimed to be equal with God. But before the Romans they accused Him of being s traitor and inciting sedition because He claimed to be the Christ, a king. And even though Pilate didn’t buy it, he still gave Jesus over to be killed – an act of murder for one not found to be guilty.

Therefore, Jesus’ sign said – in Aramaic (Hebrew), Latin, and Greek – that He was the king of the Jews. The variance of languages served as a way for all men who would be passing by to be able to read what was written, “the local vernacular, the official language, and the language of common international communication” with Latin being the official language of the Roman soldier (cf. Ridderbos, Boice etc.).

Of course having the crime indicate that Jesus was king of the Jews enraged the Jewish leadership, so they wanted an adaptation. However, Pilate basically delivered a final shot to the Jews by saying “hey, you used this charge of sedition to accuse this man, and now your stuck with your accusation, even if it makes your people look ridiculous.” So this was another way to demean the Jews, and exact some vengeance on them for forcing his hand in the verdict.

19:23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, [24] so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things,

Here again John sees fulfilled prophecy in each little even that happens in the death of Jesus. He has had decades to think on these things, to search the scriptures, and to realize the depth of richness that encompass what took place here on Golgotha.

The OT passage that John cites is from Psalm 22. That Psalm was written by David and carries with it great significance. The Psalms talks of the faithfulness of God to His elect. It describes the pain of David, and his anguish and humiliation before his enemies. But his writing found its greater and fuller significance in David’s Greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose body was wasted away to nothing on our account. It is a Psalm which celebrates the salvation/righteousness of God to all who are His people – including “a people yet unborn” – from every tribe, tongue and nation.

There is one first, 22:1, which Jesus quoted from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Later in the Psalm we read the specific passage that pertains to His garments, which we have just read about here in John, but it also mentions his hands and feet being pierced, and even his thirsty condition.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; [15] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. [16] For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— [17] I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; [18] they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 22:14-18)

I love how the Psalm ends, and George Robertson describes its meaning:

It is the suffering of Christ that has secured these patterns of faithfulness for the unfaithful. Jesus did this by carrying out God’s eternal plan to provide “righteousness” through his own sacrificial death (Ps. 22:31; Rev. 13:8). His cry of forsakenness from the cross was the announcement that he had become a “curse” for his people, which “redeemed us from the curse of the law” and fulfilled the Abrahamic promise to bring salvation to the nations (Gal. 3:13-14; cf. Ps. 22:1). Those who put their faith in Christ can therefore be assured that they will never be cursed (The Gospel Transformation Bible).

The last few verses in Psalm 22 read this:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. [28] For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. [29] All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. [30] Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; [31] they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. (Psalm 22:27-31)

19:25-27 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. [26] When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” [27] Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Last Will 

These words of Jesus are said to be His “last will and testament”, and we’ve all no doubt studied them in the past. It is of great significance that Jesus cared for those around Him until His dying breath.

I am reminded of John’s words from chapter 13, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

How convicting is it – and revealing of our corrupted hearts – that during trials and great ordeals we cannot think of anything or anyone but ourselves and the circumstances which envelope us.

Think to your last trial – perhaps even a current trial you are wading through. What preoccupied your thoughts in those difficult hours? Who were you primarily concerned with?

I find my own thoughts in times of great peril or trial are often turned inward, at myself and my own survival.

Not so with Jesus.

Jesus was a man who was touched with the infirmities of humanity. He was suffering excruciating pain (that word, by the way, is a etymological creation passed down from the pain of the crucifixion) and yet His mind wavered not. It was on His mission, and on those closest to Him.

Also, I find it very interesting that Jesus was on a great mission to save the world, and yet He did not overlook the weakest among Him. He took care of His earthly mother before departing this world. So often it is great men of this world who are so enraptured in their work, or their circumstances, that they fail to love and tenderly care for those who are their kin. This is so much the case in the evangelical church that Pastor’s children are notoriously ill-behaved. These great men of God fail utterly to invest in their children. They are so busy carrying out their life’s mission that they overlook those whom God has given them to care for most.

Our loved ones ought not to be sacrificed on the alter of “mission” – whether that be the mission at work, or the mission of the Gospel. We have been entrusted by the Almighty God with the investiture of souls who ought to be loved and cared for above all else. This is the example of Jesus, our Lord. He suffered not to let Mary go into the remainder of her life without the care and attention of a specific caretaker. That caretaker was John.

What a grand lesson to all who are entrusted with mighty tasks. Let world leaders, church leaders, political and business leaders take note. Let us humble ourselves before the example of our Lord and Savior, and seek to emulate His caring heart.