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C. Jesus’ civil trial 18:28-19:16
John reported much more about Jesus’ trial before Pilate than did any of the other Gospel writers. He omitted referring to Jesus’ appearance before Herod Antipas, which only Luke recorded (Luke 23:6-12). He stressed Jesus’ authority, particularly His authority as Israel’s King (cf. John 18:36; John 19:11; John 19:14). John seems to have assumed that his readers knew of the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion. This supposition by John supports the view that this was the last Gospel written. The other Gospels stress the legal aspects of this trial. John presented it more as an interview between Jesus and Pilate similar to His interviews with Nicodemus (ch. 3), the Samaritan woman (ch. 4), and the blind man (ch. 9). [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 174.] It proceeded as Pilate asked four questions: "What accusation do you bring against this man?" (18:29), "Are you the King of the Jews?" (18:33), "Do you want me to release the King of the Jews?" (18:39), and "Where are you from?" (19:9).
Pilate incorrectly hoped that if He flogged (Gr. emastigosen) Jesus this would satisfy the Jews (cf. John 19:4-6; Luke 23:16). Perhaps he thought that this action would increase popular support for Jesus against the chief priests, and then Pilate could release Him.
"From him [John] we learn that Jesus was not scourged in order to be crucified but in order to escape crucifixion." [Note: Lenski, p. 1243.]
There were three forms of flogging that the Romans administered. The lightest of these, the fustigatio, was a light beating that only hooligans experienced. The second, the flagellatio, was a severe beating that criminals who were guilty of more serious crimes received. The third, the verberatio, was the most brutal. The worst criminals including those sentenced to crucifixion underwent it. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 597.] Evidently Jesus received the first or second of these beatings at this time, namely, before His sentencing. He received the third type after His sentencing (John 19:16; cf. Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15).
4. The sentencing of Jesus 19:1-16 (cf. Matthew 27:22-26; Mark 15:12-15; Luke 23:20-25)
There is quite a bit of unique material in this pericope. This includes the details of the Roman soldiers’ abuse of Jesus (John 19:1-5) and the situation that Pilate’s learning that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God instigated (John 19:7-14). John omitted Pilate’s washing of his hands (Matthew 27:24) and the Jews’ taking the responsibility for Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:25). He also did not mention the release of Barabbas (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:24-25) and Jesus’ most severe scourging (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15).
The crown of thorns that the Roman soldiers wove and placed on Jesus’ head probably came from a local date palm tree. [Note: H. St. J. Hart, "The Crown of Thorns in John 19, 2-5," Journal of Theological Studies 3 (1952):71-74; Beasley-Murray, p. 336.] Some Roman coins pictured various emperors wearing such crowns that appeared to radiate glory from their heads. [Note: The article by Hart, cited above, contains photographs of such radiate crowns and palm thorns (plate 2).] However the palm fronds when turned inward instead of outward on such crowns proved to be painful spikes. Perhaps John wanted his readers to connect these thorns with the symbol of the consequences of sin (Genesis 3:18).
Likewise the reddish purple garment, perhaps a trooper’s coat, that the soldiers placed over Jesus’ shoulders, was an obvious attempt to mock His claim of being a king (cf. Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17). Vassal kings wore purple in Jesus’ day. [Note: D. A. Carson, "Matthew," in Matthew-Luke, vol. 8 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 573.] The soldiers also struck Jesus in the face with their open hands (cf. 18:22) contradicting their feigned verbal respect with violent brutality.
The Roman soldiers viewed Jesus as a pretender to the throne of Israel and despised Him as a loser. The Sanhedrin members would have been equally happy to see Jesus ridiculed and beaten for what they considered to be His pretense. The Jews who followed Jesus would have felt outraged and hurt by Jesus’ treatment. The believing reader sees the irony in the situation because Jesus really was the King of the Jews (cf. Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 52:14 to Isaiah 53:6).
Jesus received the abuse that John just described inside the Praetorium, Pilate’s headquarters. Now Pilate brought Him out so the Jews could see their King in His humiliation. First, he announced that he had found Jesus not guilty.
Undoubtedly guffaws of laughter mingled with gasps of horror as the Jews beheld the man who had done them nothing but good. Pilate called the Jewish leaders to behold the man (Lat. Ecce homo) whom they feared so much but who was now a beaten and pathetic figure. The governor meant, Look at this poor fellow whom you regard as a rival king! John called his readers to behold Him whom God had predicted would die voluntarily as a sacrifice for humankind’s sins as the Lamb of God.
If Pilate had thought that the sight of Jesus bruised and bleeding would satisfy Israel’s rulers, he was wrong. The sight of His blood stirred their appetites for even greater revenge. They cried out repeatedly for the ultimate punishment: crucifixion.
"Well-meaning preachers have often said that the crowd that on Palm Sunday shouted ’Hosannah!’ turned right around and shouted ’Crucify Him!’ on Good Friday. However, it was two different crowds. The Palm Sunday crowd came primarily from Galilee where Jesus was very popular. The crowd at Pilate’s hall was from Judea and Jerusalem where the religious leaders where very much in control." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:381.]
Pilate’s reply reflected his disgust with the Jewish leaders. It was really an expression of frustration with them. They had brought Jesus to him for a decision, he had given it, and now they refused to accept it. Pilate knew that the Jews could not crucify Jesus without his permission.
The Jewish leaders’ objections to Jesus were both political and religious. Until now, they had been stressing the political implications of Jesus’ claims to Pilate. Sensing that they were not going to receive the desired sentence against Jesus with this approach, they shifted their emphasis to the religious claims that Jesus had made.
Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, they admitted, which constituted blasphemy under normal circumstances. The penalty for blasphemy under the Mosaic Law was death (Leviticus 24:16). This charge of blaspheming had been the major issue in Jesus’ religious trial (cf. Matthew 26:59-66; Mark 14:55-64). John noted a growing conviction among the Jews that Jesus was blaspheming (cf. 5:18; 8:58-59; 10:33, 36). Their rejection of Jesus was an intelligent and deliberate denial of the evidence that He was deity, not simply a political Messiah.
John did not say specifically that Pilate was fearful before this verse. It seems obvious, however, that the predicament in which he found himself would have given him reason to fear. He had compromised his position as Rome’s representative by considering freeing a convicted insurrectionist named Barabbas. He had displeased the Jewish rulers by failing to hand down a guilty verdict, and he had alienated many of the Jewish people by abusing and ridiculing one of their popular heroes.
The Romans viewed certain people as demigods. They believed that their gods were super-humans. Pilate evidently understood Jesus’ claim to being God’s Son as a claim to being one of these creatures who wielded supernatural powers. If He had heard much about Jesus, He would have heard that Jesus had powers that the Greeks and Romans attributed to these divine beings. Consequently he may have begun now to fear that Jesus would take some type of revenge on him for the unjust treatment that Pilate had given Him (cf. Matthew 27:19). Jesus’ uncommon poise probably unnerved Pilate further.
"In pagan mythology the Olympian deities frequently consorted with men and women, and their semi-divine offspring, such as Hercules, had appeared on the earth and performed miraculous deeds. Hardened as he was, Pilate feared lest he should offend one of these visitors. . . . If Jesus really was a supernatural being, Pilate did not wish to be responsible for mistreating him. Divine judgment would certainly be the inevitable consequence." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 177.]
This explains why Pilate asked Jesus where He had come from. Jesus did not answer him. Jesus’ silence undoubtedly increased Pilate’s uneasiness. Jesus had earlier refused to answer questions from Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod (Matthew 26:63; Matthew 27:14; Mark 14:61; Mark 15:5; Luke 23:9; cf. Isaiah 53:7). He probably did not respond here because Pilate had already showed that he had no real interest in the truth. He only wanted to do what was personally expedient.
Moreover the answer to this question in Jesus’ case was quite complex. Pilate had shown little patience with Jesus’ explanation about His otherworldly kingdom. He would hardly have been more receptive to what Jesus might say about His otherworldly origin. The decision Pilate faced was clear-cut. Should he release this innocent man or not? The question of Jesus’ origin was irrelevant.
Pilate did not appreciate Jesus’ silence and the superior attitude that it implied. Consequently Pilate threatened Him by reminding Him of his power (Gr. exousia) to take or spare Jesus’ life.
Jesus reminded the bullying governor that there was a higher authority than his. Pilate only had authority because God had given it to him (cf. Romans 13:1). Apparently the authority over him that came to Pilate’s mind was Caesar. He immediately sought to set this just man free and thereby avoid trouble with the Emperor over a breach of justice (John 19:12).
"Typical of biblical compatibilism, even the worst evil cannot escape the outer boundaries of God’s sovereignty-yet God’s sovereignty never mitigates the responsibility and guilt of moral agents who operate under divine sovereignty, while their voluntary decisions and their evil rebellion never render God utterly contingent (e.g. Genesis 50:19-20; Isaiah 5:10 ff.; Acts 4:27-28)" [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 600.]
Who did Jesus have in mind when He spoke of the one who had handed Him over to Pilate? Some interpreters believe that Jesus meant Caiaphas. [Note: Morris, p. 705; Blum, p. 338; Tenney, "John," p. 177; Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 601-2; Beasley-Murray, p. 340.] This seems most probable since it was Caiaphas who had sent Jesus bound to Pilate (18:28). Another possibility is Judas Iscariot (cf. 6:71; 13:21; 18:2). However, Judas did not hand Jesus over directly to Pilate but to the Jewish authorities. Obviously Jesus did not mean that God was responsible since He viewed the act of handing Him over as a blameworthy sin. Satan might be in view, but Jesus was apparently speaking of another human being. The Jewish rulers do not qualify because Jesus spoke of one other person delivering Him to Pilate.
Both Pilate and Caiaphas were guilty because they treated Jesus as they did. However, Caiaphas was guilty of a worse sin since Caiaphas had received greater power from God than Pilate had. God had given Caiaphas the authority to lead God’s people as Israel’s high priest. Pilate had only received power (Gr. exousia) to govern politically. Specifically Jesus seems to have been referring to Pilate’s power to judge Him. Thus the reason for the greater sin of Caiaphas was his abuse of the greater privilege and power that God had given him.
Jesus’ reminder of the authority over Pilate moved the governor to press for Jesus’ release. However the Jewish leaders reminded Pilate that anyone who set someone who claimed to be a king free would not receive Tiberius Caesar’s approval. They placed Pilate on the horns of a dilemma. It seemed that whatever decision he made he could get into trouble with Caesar. The solution to Pilate’s problem, of course, was to do what was right, but Pilate was too much a man of the world to settle for that. He wanted to assure his own future with his boss. He cared less about his relationship with God.
The title "friend of Caesar" (Lat. amicus Caesaris) later became an official designation of an intimate friend of the emperor. At the time of Jesus’ trial, it was probably at least a semi-technical term that denoted the same thing. Pilate had been the protégé of Aelius Sejanus, a highly influential prefect in Rome. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote, "The closer a man is with Sejanus, the stronger his claim to the emperor’s friendship." [Note: Tacitus, Annals 6:8.] Thus it is possible that the Jewish leaders were implying that if word of Jesus’ release reached Tiberius, Pilate would lose his privileged relationship with the emperor. Bad reports about Pilate had already arrived in Rome, and another one might end his career and possibly his life. [Note: Cf. Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 602, 607.]
The Jewish leaders presented themselves as loyal subjects of Caesar, which was far from the truth. However ironically they were slaves of Rome and of sin (cf. 8:33-34). They appeared to be a greater threat to Pilate and to Rome than Jesus was.
It was evidently the "friend of Caesar" threat that inclined Pilate to decide to execute Jesus. Again self-interest rather than commitment to justice influenced his decision (cf. John 19:1). He brought Jesus out where the Jews could see Him again and took his seat for Jesus’ formal sentencing.
The judgment seat (Gr. bema, cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10) was the place where a powerful ruler pronounced his official verdicts in Roman culture.
Pilate had his chair of judgment placed on a piece of courtyard called "the pavement" (Gr. lithostrotos). Archaeologists have unearthed what many of them believe was this site in the area of the Antonia Fortress. Some of the pavement stones in this approximately 3,000 square foot area have markings on them that indicate that soldiers played games there. [Note: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. "Gabbatha," by D. J. Wieand, 2:373.] John gave the Aramaic (popular Hebrew) name of "the pavement" as gabbatha meaning "height" or probably "open space." He may have done so because it may have been a site in Jerusalem that was well known to his Gentile readers by its Aramaic name when he wrote.
The irony of the scene again stands out. Here was a corrupt Roman official sitting in judgment on the Person into whose hands God the Father had committed all judgment (cf. 5:22).
John has appeared to many readers of his Gospel to be contradicting the Synoptics and his own account of Jesus’ observance of the Passover meal with His disciples (cf. 13:1, 27). However the phrase "the day of preparation" normally described the day before the Sabbath. [Note: C. C. Torrey, "The Date of the Crucifixion According to the Fourth Gospel," Journal of Biblical Literature 50:4 (1931):241; A. J. B. Higgins, "The Origins of the Eucharist," New Testament Studies 1 (1954-55):206-8; Westcott, The Gospel . . . Greek Text . . ., 1:343; Hoehner, p. 70.] The day in view then would be Friday. Likewise "the Passover" can refer to the whole eight-day feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread as well as the Passover day (cf. 18:28; Luke 22:1). [Note: Cf. Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 14:2:1; 17:9:3.] The day of preparation for the Passover, therefore, evidently refers to the Friday of the eight-day feast. This harmonizes with the other chronological references to the Passion Week.
Why did John make this chronological reference here? Apparently he did so to encourage the reader to connect Jesus with the Passover lamb. Secondarily, this reference helps to explain why the Jews wanted the body of Jesus removed from the cross prematurely (John 19:31-37). It was the day before the Sabbath, and a special Sabbath at that, since it fell during Passover week. A similar early reference to a Sabbath followed by a later explanation of the significance of that reference is in 5:9 and 16-18.
Mark wrote that the soldiers placed Jesus on the cross "about the third hour" (i.e., 9:00 a.m., Mark 15:25). Here John wrote that Pilate sentenced Jesus about "the sixth hour." Obviously Jesus’ sentencing preceded His crucifixion. What is the solution to this apparent contradiction?
One explanation is that John used the Roman method of reckoning time whereas Mark and the other Synoptic writers used the Jewish method. [Note: E.g., Westcott, The Gospel . . . Greek Text . . ., 2:324-26; and Tasker, p. 209.] In the Roman method, the sixth hour would be 6:00 a.m. The problem with this view is that apparently this Roman system of reckoning time was not common. The only documentary evidence that the Romans used it appears in a few legal documents. [Note: Morris, p. 708.] Nevertheless this seems to be the best explanation. Another explanation is that a scribe miscopied the Greek numerals and inadvertently substituted "six" for "three." [Note: Barrett, p. 545.] However there is no manuscript evidence to support this theory. A third view is that both evangelists intended only approximate time references and did not expect their readers to be too fussy about the differences. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 605; Tenney, "John," p. 178; Morris, pp. 708-9; A Dictionary of the Bible, "Numbers, Hours, Years, and Dates," by W. M. Ramsay, extra volume: 479.] Nevertheless time references as well as other factual statements are usually capable of harmonization in the Bible. A high view of inspiration has led most conservative interpreters to conclude that Mark and John meant just what they said. A fourth view is that the Synoptic writers used a Galilean method of reckoning time that began the day with sunrise while John used a Judean method that began it with sunset. [Note: Hoehner, pp. 77-90.]
Before passing sentence on Jesus, Pilate presented Him to the Jews as though this was a mock coronation ceremony. He knew that the Jews did not acknowledge Caesar as their king even though they had just professed to do so (John 19:12). His announcement was therefore an expression of contempt for both Jesus and the Jews. Ironically Jesus was their King. Pilate spoke more truly than he knew.
"Unlike the presentation of Jesus in 19:4-6, this [presentation] was not intended to ridicule Jesus. Since that occasion, Pilate had been moved by Jesus and defeated in his attempt to rescue him. Now he makes the moment of his decision the moment of decision for the Jews. They have a final and crucial opportunity of declaring their mind on Jesus and recanting, if they will, on their unjust and bitter accusations of him." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 342.]
The Jewish mob led by their leaders shouted their rejection of their King. They went farther than that and called for His crucifixion. They also hypocritically professed their allegiance to Caesar as their only king (Gr. basilea). This was going way beyond merely rejecting Jesus. They were now repudiating Israel’s messianic hope, including the messianic kingdom, and rejecting Yahweh’s sovereignty over their nation (cf. Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 8:7). The chief priests probably went this far to encourage Pilate to grant their request and to crucify Jesus (cf. Matthew 27:25).
The Jewish hierarchy had accused Jesus of blaspheming, but now these men were guilty of blasphemy themselves (cf. 1:11). Such firm rejection helps us understand why God turned from Israel temporarily to continue His dealings with humankind through the church (cf. Romans 9-11).
"On this occasion they spoke in terms of cynical expediency. But they expressed the real truth. Their lives showed that they gave no homage to God." [Note: Morris, p. 710.]
Pilate’s action constituted his sentence against Jesus. Evidently John meant that Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to satisfy the demands of the Jews. He omitted any reference to the severe flogging (the verberatio) that the Roman soldiers then gave Jesus as preliminary punishment before His crucifixion (cf. Matthew 27:27-30; Mark 15:15-19).
"He was slapped in the face before Annas (John 18:22), and spat on and beaten before Caiaphas and the council (Matthew 26:67). Pilate scourged Him and the soldiers smote Him (John 19:1-3); and before they led Him to Calvary, the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him with a rod (Mark 15:19). How much He suffered for us!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:379.]
The NASB and NIV translators divided the material in John 19:16-17 differently, but the content is the same.
In his account of Jesus’ civil trial, John stressed the divine kingship of Jesus and the Jews’ rejection of Him. The Gentiles also rejected Him in the person of their leader, Pilate.
"From the human standpoint, the trial of Jesus was the greatest crime and tragedy in history. From the divine viewpoint, it was the fulfillment of prophecy and the accomplishment of the will of God. The fact that God had planned all of this did not absolve the participants of their responsibility. In fact, at Pentecost, Peter put both ideas together in one statement! (Acts 2:23)" [Note: Ibid., 1:381.]
1. Jesus’ journey to Golgotha 19:17 (cf. Matthew 27:31-34; Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-33a)
John omitted the detail that Simon carried Jesus’ cross (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26), which might have detracted from John’s presentation of Jesus as the divine Savior. He also made no reference to Jesus’ sufferings on the way to Calvary that Luke, who had a special interest in Jesus’ humanity, stressed (Luke 23:27-32).
The soldiers led Jesus from Pilate’s judgment seat to Golgotha. Normally an execution squad consisted of four legionnaires plus a centurion (cf. 27:23). [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 180.] John did not comment on Jesus’ painful journey to the cross, probably because He wanted to stress His deity. He did mention the fact that Jesus bore His own cross, however, probably for the same reason (cf. Genesis 22:6; Hebrews 13:11-13).
Criminals condemned to crucifixion, such as Jesus, normally carried all or only the crosspiece (Lat. patibulum) of their cross. [Note: Morris, p. 711.] This was common procedure in crucifixions, as John’s original readers undoubtedly knew. Jesus evidently carried the crosspiece.
All the Gospel writers identified the place of Jesus’ crucifixion as "the place of the skull." All but Luke gave its Aramaic title, namely, golgolta ("skull") the transliteration of which is Golgotha. "Calvary" is the transliteration of the Latin calvaria meaning "place of a skull." Why the place bore this name remains a mystery, though it may have been a common place for executions. Most modern scholars believe that the site was the traditional one over which the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands. There is little support for the fairly recent suggestion that Gordon’s Calvary was the correct location. The idea that Golgotha was on a hill came more from hymns than from Scripture.
D. Jesus’ crucifixion 19:17-30
The unique material in John’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion includes the controversy about the superscription over Jesus’ cross (John 19:19-22) and several references to the fulfillment of prophecy (John 19:24; John 19:28-29; cf. John 19:36-37). John was also the only Gospel writer to record Jesus’ care for His mother (John 19:25-27), His sixth cry before His death (John 19:30), and the piercing of His side (John 19:34).
2. The men crucified with Jesus 19:18 (cf. Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33b)
The horrors and shame of crucifixion are difficult for people who have grown up hearing pleas against "cruel and unusual punishment" to appreciate. It was a deliberately long and painful form of death that humiliated the sufferer as well as torturing him. Its purpose was to discourage others from rebelling against Rome, the main reason for crucifixion. John’s original readers would have been only too familiar with it, which probably accounts for his lack of elaboration.
"It was so brutal that no Roman citizen could be crucifed [sic] without the sanction of the Emperor. Stripped naked and beaten to 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 [sic] wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the strain went on and on. This is also why the sedecula [a piece of wood that served as a small seat in some cases] . . . prolonged life and agony: it partially supported the body’s weight, and therefore encouraged the victim to fight on." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 610. Cf. M. Hengel, Crucifixion.]
"Crucifixion was probably the most diabolical form of death ever invented." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 181. For an extended description of crucifixion, see ibid, pp. 180-81.]
"Popular piety, both Protestant and Catholic, has often emphasized the sufferings of Jesus; it has reflected on what happened and has dwelt on the anguish the Savior suffered. None of the Gospels does this. The Evangelists record the fact and let it go at that. The death of Jesus for sinners was their concern. They make no attempt to play on the heartstrings of their readers." [Note: Morris, p. 713.]
All the Gospel writers mentioned the men crucified with Jesus (Matthew 27:38; Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:27; Mark 15:32; Luke 23:32-33; Luke 23:39-43). They were evidently robbers (Gr. lestai) and terrorists, such as Barabbas (cf. 18:40). John may have mentioned them to remind his readers of the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. [Note: However see D. J. Moo, The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives, pp. 154-55.] Their mention also prepares the reader to understand John’s description of the breaking of their legs but not Jesus’ legs (John 19:32-33).
Normally the judge of a person sentenced to crucifixion would order that a placard (Lat. titulus) identifying his crime would accompany him to the place of his execution. This would inform onlookers who the criminal was and why he was suffering such a terrible fate as they passed him. The soldiers would then affix the sign to the criminal’s cross for the same purpose. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 610.]
The Gospels all report slightly different inscriptions. Probably what Pilate really wrote was the sum of all these variations, and the Gospel writers each just quoted a part of the whole. Perhaps some or all of the evangelists paraphrased the inscription. Another possibility is that the Gospel writers may not have been translating the same language since Pilate ordered the charge written in three different languages. [Note: Edersheim, 2:590-91.] Aramaic (popular Hebrew) was the common language spoken by the Jews in Palestine. Latin was the official language that the Romans, including the soldiers, spoke. Greek was the lingua franca of the empire. Pilate continued to insult the Jewish hierarchy for forcing his hand by identifying Jesus this way for all to read. However, his trilingual notice was God’s sovereign way of declaring to the whole world who His Son really was, the Jewish king whose rule is universal.
Clearly Pilate regarded Jesus as guilty of sedition, the political charge that the Jews had brought against Him rather than the religious charge of being the Son of God (18:33). By identifying Jesus as the Jews’ king and then crucifying Him, Pilate was boasting Rome’s superiority over the Jews and flaunting its authority.
3. The inscription over Jesus’ cross 19:19-22 (cf. Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38)
John evidently included the controversy about the inscription over Jesus’ cross because it underlines the Jews’ deliberate and conscious repudiation of and the true identity of God’s Son.
The chief priests’ emendation of the title would have robbed Pilate of this last chance to humiliate the Jews. He had already conceded once to their request, but he refused to give them the satisfaction of robbing him of this revenge. Ironically what Pilate let stand was the exact truth. He had unwittingly become God’s herald of His redemptive purpose.
4. The distribution of Jesus’ garments 19:23-24 (Matthew 27:35-36; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34)
Normally the executioners of a criminal received his clothes following his death. [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 181; Beasley-Murray, p. 347.] John spoke of the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments (plural). The Greek word translated "garments" is himatia. Usually when this word occurs in the singular it refers to the outer robe that most Jews wore. Here, because he used the plural, John evidently had in mind all of Jesus’ outer garments including His robe, sandals, belt, and head covering. [Note: See Edersheim, 1:625.] This would have resulted in each of the four soldiers receiving one piece of clothing. The tunic (Gr. chiton) that remained was a garment worn next to the skin, but it was not what we would think of as underwear. It was more like a long shirt. Since Jesus’ tunic had been woven as one piece, the soldiers decided to cast lots to determine who would get it.
John alone among the evangelists noted that this procedure was another fulfillment of prophecy (Psalms 22:18). The poetic parallelism in the prophecy found literal fulfillment in this event. Men continued to carry out God’s foreordained plan of salvation though unconsciously. This is another tribute to God’s sovereignty. Even as Jesus’ humiliation reached its depths, as enemies took even His clothes from Him, the Father controlled His destiny.
"That Jesus died naked was part of the shame which He bore for our sins. At the same time He is the last Adam who provides clothes of righteousness for sinners." [Note: Blum, p. 339.]
The four women standing nearby contrast with the four soldiers. Morris assumed that the four women were believers and the four soldiers were unbelievers. [Note: Morris, p. 717.] While the soldiers behaved callously and profited immediately from Jesus’ death, the women waited faithfully and patiently for what God would do. It was apparently common for friends and relatives, as well as enemies, to stand at some distance around the crosses of crucified criminals. [Note: E. Stauffer, Jesus and His Story, pp. 111, 179, footnote 1.] Only John mentioned that Jesus’ mother was present at His crucifixion.
|Some Women Who Observed the Crucifixion|
|Matthew 27:56||Mark 15:40||John 19:25|
|Mary Magdalene||Mary Magdalene||Mary Magdalene|
|Jesus’ mother (Mary)|
|Mary the mother of James and Joseph =||Mary the mother of James the less and Joses =||Mary the wife of Clopas|
|Mother of Zebedee’s sons =||Salome =||Jesus’ mother’s sister|
It is interesting that John did not identify his own mother by name or as the mother of Zebedee’s sons. John never named himself, or his brother James, or any other member of his family. He evidently wanted to play down his mother’s identity as well as his own since he did not mention himself directly in this Gospel either. By referring to his mother as the sister of Jesus’ mother, John set the scene for Jesus’ action in John 19:26-27. John was Jesus’ cousin on his mother’s side. As such, he was a logical person to assume responsibility for Mary’s welfare. Evidently Jesus’ physical half-brothers did not become believers until after His resurrection.
5. Jesus’ provision for His mother 19:25-27
John is the only evangelist who recorded this incident.
Jesus addressed his mother by saying, "Dear woman" (Gr. gynai, cf. 2:4). This was an affectionate and respectful way of speaking to her. Mary’s grief must have been very great (cf. 2:38). Even as He hung dying an excruciatingly painful death, Jesus compassionately made provision for his mother. The language Jesus used was legal and quite similar to the terms used commonly in adoption proceedings. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 616.] His action indicates that He was the person responsible for His mother, implying that Joseph was no longer alive and that He was her eldest son. Most interpreters assume that Joseph had died by now. Jesus’ act also placed Mary under John’s authority, a position that some Roman Catholics have found very uncomfortable in view of their doctrine of Mary’s supremacy.
This was Jesus’ third recorded saying from the cross.
|Jesus’ Words on the Cross|
|"Father, forgive them."||Luke 23:34|
|"Today you shall be with me in paradise."||Luke 23:43|
|"Woman, behold your son," and "Behold, your mother."||John 19:26-27|
|"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"||Matthew 27:46||Mark 15:34|
|"I thirst."||John 19:28|
|"It is finished."||John 19:30|
|"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."||Matthew 27:50||Luke 23:46|
All things necessary for the fulfillment of Scripture that predicted the provision of redemption were almost accomplished (Gr. teleiothe). John was speaking proleptically again (cf. John 12:23; John 17:1; John 17:4); He spoke anticipating what would happen. Obviously Jesus still had to die. As the moment of His death drew nearer, Jesus expressed His thirst. This showed His true humanity. A man in Jesus’ physical condition would have also experienced torture by dehydration. It is paradoxical that the Water of Life should confess thirst (cf. John 4:4-14; John 7:38-39). The solution obviously is that Jesus had referred to Himself as the source of spiritual rather than physical water.
"One may no more assume that John’s emphasis on the cross as the exaltation of Jesus excludes his desolation of spirit than his emphasis on the deity of the Son excludes the Son’s true humanity." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 351.]
"By accepting the physical refreshment offered Him, the Lord once more indicated the completion of the work of His Passion. For, as He would not enter on it with His senses and physical consciousness lulled by narcotised [sic] wine, so He would not pass out of it with senses and physical consciousness dulled by the absolute failure of life-power. Hence He took what for the moment restored the physical balance, needful for thought and word. And so He immediately passed on to ’taste death for every man.’" [Note: Edersheim, 2:608-9.]
The Scripture that spoke of Messiah’s thirst may be Psalms 22:15 (cf. John 19:24) and or Psalms 69:21 (cf. John 2:17; John 15:25). Jesus’ mention of His thirst resulted in the soldier callously giving Him vinegar to drink, which Psalms 69:21 mentioned. Thus John stressed that Jesus’ death not only fulfilled God’s will but also prophetic Scripture.
6. The death of Jesus 19:28-30 (cf. Matthew 27:48-50; Mark 15:36-37; Luke 23:46)
John did not mention the darkness that came over the land, as the other evangelists did (cf. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45). This is noteworthy in view of John’s interest in the light and darkness motif. Perhaps he did not want to detract attention from the person of Jesus. He also omitted Jesus’ words that indicated that the Father had withdrawn from Him (cf. Matthew 27:46-47; Mark 15:34-35). This is understandable since throughout this Gospel John stressed the Son’s essential unity with the Father. The Father’s temporary separation from the Son in judgment did not vitiate their essential unity.
Evidently it was customary to offer wine vinegar (Gr. oxos) to the victims of crucifixion since John described the jar of it as "standing there" or "set there." Only John mentioned that the soldiers put the sponge soaked with wine vinegar on a branch of hyssop that they extended to Jesus. Hyssop was readily available since it grew out of many rocky crevices as a weed. The hyssop reference may simply be a detail in the testimony of an eyewitness to Jesus’ crucifixion. However, it may hint at Jesus being the Lamb of God since the Jews used hyssop to sprinkle blood on their doorposts and lintels at Passover (cf. Exodus 12:22; 1 Corinthians 5:7). The sponge was evidently small enough so Jesus could put at least some of it in His mouth. The hyssop branch was obviously strong enough to remain erect under the sponge’s weight. Jesus was probably not extremely high above ground level as He hung on the cross, many famous paintings notwithstanding (cf. John 3:14).
Jesus’ reception of the sour wine did not relieve His pain, though it did moisten his parched throat so He could speak. It also fulfilled Scripture (Psalms 69:21).
"The ’vinegar’ was probably the cheap sour wine the legionnaires drank. Though it provided some refreshment, it was a strong astringent that could contract the throat muscles and prevent the condemned victim from crying out with pain. [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 184.]
Nevertheless Jesus cried out with a loud voice (Mark 15:37), "It is finished" (Gr. tetelestai). He probably shouted with a cry of victory. The verb teleo denotes the completion of a task. Jesus was not just announcing that He was about to die. He was also declaring proleptically that He had fulfilled God’s will for Him (cf. John 17:4). The use of the perfect tense here signifies proleptically that Jesus had finished His work of providing redemption completely and that it presently stands finished. Nothing more needed or needs to be done. This finished work of Jesus Christ is the basis for our salvation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
"Papyri receipts for taxes have been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning ’paid in full.’" [Note: Blum, p. 340.]
Having thus spoken, Jesus handed over (Gr. paredoken) His spirit to His Father (cf. Luke 23:46) and bowed His head in peaceful death. Normally victims of crucifixion experienced the gradual ebbing away of life, and then their heads would slump forward. All the evangelists presented Jesus as laying down His life of His own accord. No one took it from Him (cf. John 10:10; John 10:14; John 10:17-18). He did this in harmony with His Father’s will (cf. John 8:29; John 14:31).
John did not record Jesus’ final utterance from the cross (Luke 23:46). He evidently ended his account of Jesus’ death as he did to stress the completion of the work of redemption that Jesus’ sixth saying expressed. John stressed Jesus’ divine sovereign control over His own destiny in submission to His Father’s will.
The "day of preparation" was Friday, the day before the Sabbath (Saturday, cf. John 19:14; Mark 15:42). The Jews considered sundown the beginning of a new day. In this case the new day was a Sabbath. This Sabbath was an extra special day because it fell during Passover week. The Jews wanted to get the bodies down off their crosses so they would not defile the land. The Mosaic Law instructed the Jews to allow no one to remain hanging on a gibbet overnight because this would defile the land. Such a person was under God’s curse (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:29). To allow someone to remain overnight on a Passover Sabbath would be especially inappropriate.
Normally the Romans left victims of crucifixion hanging until they died, which sometimes took several days. Then they would leave their corpses on their crosses until the birds had picked the flesh off them. If they had to hasten their deaths for some reason, they would smash their legs with an iron mallet. This prevented the victims from using their legs to push themselves up to keep their chest cavities open allowing them to breathe. Death by asphyxiation, loss of blood, and shock would follow soon. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 622.] Archaeologists have found the remains of a victim of crucifixion with his legs smashed in Israel. [Note: N. Haas, "Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar," Israel Exploration Journal 20 (1970):38-59.]
"Thus the ’breaking of the bones’ was a sort of increase of punishment, by way of compensation for its shortening by the final stroke that followed." [Note: Edersheim, 2:613.]
1. The removal of Jesus’ body from the cross 19:31-37
This pericope is unique to the fourth Gospel.
E. The treatment of Jesus’ body 19:31-42
John recorded two incidents that happened following Jesus’ death and before His resurrection. They both deal with the treatment that His dead body received.
The Roman soldiers therefore broke the legs of the two terrorists whom they had crucified with Jesus because they were still alive. They did not break Jesus’ legs since He was already dead.
What led the soldier to pierce Jesus’ side with his spear (Gr. longche) is unclear and unimportant. Perhaps it was just another senseless act of brutality, or he may have wanted to see if he could get some reaction from Jesus.
It is also unclear why the wound produced a sudden flow of blood and water (cf. 1 John 5:6). Probably the spear pierced Jesus’ heart and its surrounding pericardial sac that contains water. The fluids could have drained out as John described if the spear had entered the body near the bottom of the chest cavity. [Note: See A. F. Sava, "The Wound in the Side of Christ," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 19 (1957):343-46.] Apparently the soldier pierced Jesus’ side before His blood congealed into a solid. This eyewitness testimony stresses the fact that Jesus really did die and that He was a genuine man (cf. John 1:14).
By the end of the first century, when John probably wrote this Gospel, Docetism and Gnosticism were on the rise. Both of these heresies denied that Jesus was a real man. Docetists claimed that Jesus only seemed (Gr. dokeo, "to seem," therefore the name "Docetist") to be fully human. Muslims take a similar view of Jesus. [Note: Koran, Sura 4:156.] Muhammad’s knowledge of Christianity came through docetic sources. [Note: Bruce, p. 382, footnote 38.]
Some interpreters have suspected that John was alluding to the Lord’s Supper and baptism when he mentioned this blood and water. [Note: E.g., Brown, 2:946-53; cf. Westcott, The Gospel . . . Greek Text . . ., 2:328-33.] However, there are no clues in the text that this was John’s intention. Others have seen the blood and water as symbolic of the life and cleansing that metaphorically flow from Jesus’ death. [Note: E.g., Dodd, p. 428; cf. Morris, p. 725.] Again it would be hard to prove or disprove that this was in John’s mind from what he wrote. Still others view it as referring to the Holy Spirit. However these are at best interpretations that rest on similarities. Others have seen a fulfillment of Psalms 69:20 here: "Reproach has broken my heart." Yet John did not make this connection, and Jesus did not die literally of a broken heart.
Several hymn writers have, however, developed this symbolism. For example, Fanny Crosby wrote, "Jesus, keep me near the cross. There a precious fountain, free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calv’ry’s mountain." [Note: Fanny Crosby, "Near the Cross."] Other non-literal interpretations see the water as an allusion to Exodus 17:6. Augustus Toplady wrote, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hid myself in Thee. Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure. Cleanse me from its guilt and power." [Note: Augustus Toplady, "Rock of Ages."] I do not mean to denigrate these worthy hymns but to point out that they go beyond the teaching of this passage.
Lest the reader miss the point of John 19:34, John explained that he had personally witnessed what he narrated and that he was not lying. Furthermore the purpose of his reliable eyewitness testimony was that his readers might believe what he wrote and what it meant, namely, that Jesus was God’s Son (cf. John 20:30-31; John 21:24).
Some commentators suggested that the eyewitness was someone different from John. Suggestions range from the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side, to an unknown eyewitness whom John did not identify, to an unknown editor, to Jesus, and to God the Father. However the most probable solution is to identify John himself as the eyewitness in view of the context and the parallel statements that follow (John 20:30-31; John 21:24; cf. John 1:14; John 12:23).
"These things" refer to the facts that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ bones but did pierce His side. Here were two more fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy.
In John 19:36, John could have had any of three passages in mind: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and or Psalms 34:20. The first two specify that the Israelites were not to break the bones of their Passover lambs. Elsewhere Paul and Peter described Jesus as the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19), and this figure is prominent in John’s Gospel as well (cf. John 1:36; et al.). Psalms 34:20 describes the righteous man by saying that God would not allow anyone to break his bones (cf. Luke 23:47). The first passage seems best since its fulfillment was more literal, though admittedly it involves the Passover typology.
This quotation has spawned the theory that Jesus died at the same time the Jews were slaying their Passover lambs. This view seems untenable since all the evangelists presented the Last Supper as a Passover meal. There have been several attempts to harmonize these views and to explain how there could have been two Passovers on successive days. [Note: See Hoehner, pp. 81-90.] None of these explanations is convincing to me. It seems better to view the Passover meal as happening on Thursday evening, Thursday being the fourteenth of Nisan, which was the normal day for the Passover. Even though Jesus’ death fulfilled the Passover typology it apparently did not coincide exactly with the Jews’ sacrifice of their lambs for their Passover meals. That happened the afternoon before Jesus died.
|April 1||Midnight3:00 a.m.6:00 a.m.9:00 a.m.Noon3:00 p.m.||April 2The Jews slew their Passover lambs||Midnight3:00 a.m.6:00 a.m.9:00 a.m.Noon3:00 p.m.||April 3Jesus was crucifiedJesus died|
|14 Nisan||6:00 p.m.Midnight||15 NisanThe Jews ate their Passover lambs||6:00 p.m.Midnight||16 Nisan|
In John 19:37, the prophecy in view is clearly the one in Zechariah 12:10 (cf. Revelation 1:7). Jesus quoted this verse in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:30). There He stressed a different part of it. The piercing of God’s coming Shepherd happened when Jesus died on the cross (cf. John 10:11). The Gentile nations will look on Him whom they have pierced when He returns at His second coming (cf. Revelation 1:7). Both Jews and Gentiles were responsible for Jesus’ death.
All four evangelists mentioned Joseph of Arimathea but only with Jesus’ burial. The Synoptics tell us that he was a rich God-fearing member of the Sanhedrin who was a follower of Jesus and who had not voted to condemn Jesus. Only John identified him as a secret disciple who feared the Jews, namely, the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Jesus had warned His disciples about trying to hide their allegiance to Him (John 12:42-43). Finally Joseph came out publicly by courageously requesting Jesus’ body from Pilate.
Normally the Romans placed the bodies of crucified offenders, whose bodies they did not leave to rot on their crosses, in a cemetery for criminals outside the city. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 5:1:14.] Family members could not claim the bodies of people who had undergone crucifixion as punishment for sedition. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 629.] Thus Jesus’ corpse would have ended up in the grave of a common criminal but for Joseph’s intervention. Pilate probably granted his request for Jesus’ body because he realized that Joseph wanted to give Jesus an honorable burial. That would have humiliated the Jews further.
Joseph’s courageous act doubtless alienated him from many of his fellow Sanhedrin members. We do not know what the ultimate consequences of his action were for him. Evidently it was Jesus’ death that made him face up to his responsibility to take his stand for Jesus.
2. The burial of Jesus 19:38-42 (cf.Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-54)
Only John mentioned that Nicodemus also played a part in burying Jesus (cf. John 3:1-15). He was also probably a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. John 3:1). He, too, was now taking a more visible position as a disciple of Jesus (cf. John 7:50-52). Nicodemus brought about 65 pounds (100 litrai, cf. John 12:3) of spices with which to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. This was a large quantity and reflected Nicodemus’ great respect for Jesus. Evidently these two wealthy rulers decided to honor Jesus together. They apparently divided their responsibilities, with Joseph securing Pilate’s permission and Nicodemus preparing the spices.
Myrrh was a fragrant resin that the Jews turned into powder and mixed with aloes, which was powdered sandalwood. [Note: Ibid., p. 630.] The purpose of covering a corpse with this aromatic powder was to dry it out and to lessen the foul odor that putrefaction caused.
The burial custom of the Jews was to place the corpse on a long sheet with the feet at one end. They would then fold the cloth over the head and back down to the feet, which they would tie together. They would also tie the arms to the body with strips of cloth. Normally a separate cloth covered the face. [Note: See my note at 11:44.] John’s interest was not in the manner of the burial as much as the honor that Joseph and Nicodemus bestowed on Jesus by burying Him in linen cloth (Gr. othonia). Their work had to be hasty because sunset was approaching quickly and all work had to cease when the Sabbath began at sunset on Friday.
The NIV translation of othonia as "strips of cloth" has seemingly contradicted the view that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus in a single piece of cloth, which the Synoptics suggest (Matthew 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53). One writer believed the custom was to wrap the body in long, bandage-like strips rather than in a shroud. [Note: Morris, p. 730.] However this Greek word does not necessarily mean narrow strips of cloth. It can describe one or more large pieces of cloth. [Note: Brown, 2:942.] The burial customs of the Jews are still obscure enough that it is unwise to insist dogmatically that Jesus had only one shroud covering Him. The shroud of Turin is such a piece of cloth, though whether it was the real burial shroud of Jesus is the subject of considerable controversy.
John is the only evangelist who recorded that there was a garden and an unused new tomb near the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. The tomb was probably an artificial cave in the limestone, several examples of which are observable in Palestine today. Matthew noted that the garden and its tomb belonged to Joseph (Matthew 27:60). John’s mention of the garden prepares for his reference later to a gardener (John 20:15). His reference to the tomb being new and unused prepares for the Resurrection in which no other corpse was in the tomb (John 20:8; John 20:12).
"The fall of the first Adam took place in a garden; and it was in a garden that the second Adam redeemed mankind from the consequences of Adam’s transgression." [Note: Tasker, p. 219.]
The site was probably not the "Garden Tomb" near Gordon’s Calvary since Jesus’ tomb would have been closer to the crucifixion site that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now covers. Jesus’ tomb could have been quite similar in appearance to this "Garden Tomb," however.
John implied that the burial of Jesus was hasty. Mark and Luke presented the same picture by writing that three of the women came to anoint Jesus’ corpse, on Sunday morning, with additional spices that they had prepared (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56). Joseph and Nicodemus’ work had necessarily been swift because the day of preparation before the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) was about to end with sundown.
John did not mention the fact that some of the women visited Jesus’ tomb late Friday afternoon (cf. Matthew 27:61-66; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:55-56). He also omitted that Joseph rolled a stone over the mouth of the tomb (Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:46). What follows in chapter 20 assumes these facts. John did not mention either that Pilate sealed the tomb and posted soldiers to guard it (Matthew 27:62-66).
"While we now recognize that all four Evangelists are theologians in their own right, the Fourth Evangelist has labored more than all to bring to the clear light of day the theological significance of the passion narrative handed on to the churches." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 361.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 19". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12