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Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priest answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.
In the last section of the previous chapter we had a view of Christ before Pilate. In the present portion the conditions are reversed. Now it is really Pilate who is on trial before Christ. What will this pusillanimous Roman politician do with One whom he knows to be absolutely innocent of all the charges brought against Him? Will Pilate acquit the innocent, as a righteous judge should? Or will he condemn Him as guilty in order to protect himself against the evil insinuations of the leaders in Judea who threaten him with political ruin if he does not accede to their wishes? We know the answer well, but let us consider the entire case anew as we meditate upon the most unrighteous trial in all human history.
In this section, then, we have Pilate before Christ. In the previous chapter we had the Lord Jesus dragged before Pilate’s judgment bar. But the trial was practically over when the judge himself went out to the people and said, “After careful examination, and after hearing all of the charges, I find in Him no fault at all.” That was really a judgment of acquittal. Jesus had been tried and found innocent of the charges brought against Him. According to all righteousness, Pilate should then have dismissed the case, and Jesus should have gone out free. But we know that in the purpose of God it had been settled from eternity that He who was born at Bethlehem was to die upon the cross to make propitiation for our sins. And God, therefore, so overruled and so permitted things that the mock trial should still go on.
Now Pilate is on trial. What about this Roman judge? What is his attitude? What is God’s thought of him? What does this scene reveal concerning him?
In the first place, it reveals Pilate as a weakling who knew what was right and did it not. He knew he should have freed the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew after investigating and pronouncing Him innocent that he should have ended the case right there. But he did not act upon his own deepest convictions because he was not true to his own conscience. We may see in the first five verses how he stifled the voice of conscience. We are told that “Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him” (v. 1). Why should he scourge Him? He has just declared Him innocent, and yet he permits Him to submit to the most ignominious punishment that involves terrible physical suffering. For that Roman scourge was made of a number of thongs in which sharp pieces of metal were set every few inches so that when the scourge was brought down upon the bare back of the victim, the flesh was literally stripped into ribbons and the blood poured forth. Why cause an innocent Man, an admittedly innocent Man, to submit to suffering like that? It was because Pilate wanted to appease the Jews. He wanted their favor even though it meant that the Man whom he had pronounced innocent should have to suffer. On the other hand, he hoped that the accusers of Christ would be satisfied with this punishment.
The soldiers having carried out the scourging “plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe” (v. 2)-some old discarded garment. Thus they decked Him up as a pretended king and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (v. 3), and they smote Him with their hands. How little they realized that though what they did was done in sport, the day would come when before that Blessed One every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord of all, and when He will indeed be acclaimed as King of the Jews as well as King of all the nations of the earth. For in God’s purpose it is declared that eventually Jew and Gentile will recognize in Him the One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
“Pilate,” we are told, “therefore went forth again and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him” (v. 4). This reiterated the judgment already given. “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (v. 5). In his own conscience he knows that Christ should go free, but debates within himself what is to be done, how to placate these ruthless persecutors! And, doubtless, back of it all was the thought of the insecurity of his own position. Pilate had done many things that had aroused the antagonism of the Jews, and there was always a party working against him to unseat him as governor of Judea. And so he presents Christ again and cries, “Behold the man!” One would have thought the sight of that patient, suffering One standing there with the thorny crown pressed on His brow, the purple robe on Him with a reed in His hand, and blood pouring down his face would have been enough to soften the hardest heart and break down the strongest opposition. But there is that in the heart of the natural man that leads him to hate that which is holy, to hate perfect righteousness.
Many years ago at a great meeting of the Synod of the Free Church of Scotland, one minister was asked to preach the synodical sermon on Sunday morning. He gave a marvelously beautiful discourse on the beauty of virtue and wound up with a great peroration in which he exclaimed, “Oh, my friends, if virtue incarnate could only appear on earth, men would be so ravished with her beauty they would fall down and worship her.” People went out saying, “What a magnificent pulpit oration it was!”
But on the night of the same Lord’s Day, another minister stood in that pulpit and preached Christ and Him crucified. He closed his sermon with these words: “My friends, Virtue Incarnate has appeared on earth, and men instead of being ravished with His beauty and falling down and worshipping Him, cried out, ‘Away with him, crucify him!’ (John 19:15). ‘We will not have this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19:14)!” That tells the wickedness of the natural heart-of your heart, of my heart-for those Jews that day were but representative men. They were no different than any of us. “There is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). But they told out the hatred of the natural man to the holiness of God.
“When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him” (John 19:6). Think of it! For the third time this judge declares the innocence of the prisoner who stood before him, and yet he was himself utterly vacillating. Instead of standing for the innocent as justice should, he puts Him in the hands of His enemies.
“The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (v. 7). This is something it is well for us to remember-they had no delusions regarding the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. They understood perfectly by things He said that He meant men to know that He was indeed the Son of the living God. And because of that, they charged Him with blasphemy. If He had only meant that inasmuch as all men have been created by God, there is a certain sense in which all are His offspring, there would be no blasphemy in that according to their own standard. But they knew, they understood that He claimed equality with God as the Son of the Father who came from heaven and became incarnate here on earth. They charged Him, therefore, with blasphemy against the unity of the Godhead.
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid” (v. 8). We are told that “the fear of man bringeth a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), and this man, always politic, always concerned as to what others might think and what others might do, and what effect it might have upon him, was more afraid “and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou?” (v. 9). Was he now really concerned? A little while before he had asked the question, “What is truth?” and did not even wait for an answer. Now when he hears the charge, “He made himself the Son of God,” is he really a bit concerned? Is he saying in his heart, “Can it be that this strange Man before me is more than man, that there is something supernatural about Him?” Was he for the moment in earnest when he asked the question, “Whence art thou?”
At any rate, there was no evidence of repentance, there was no evidence of self-judgment, no evidence of integrity of heart. So Jesus gave him no answer. Had he been earnestly desirous of learning the truth, we may be absolutely certain Christ would have answered his question in such a way as to have made clear to him who He really was. But Jesus never answers the caviler. He never attempts to explain to the man who is determined to refuse the truth. He does not attempt to make clear the things that are dark to those who have no desire to submit themselves to the will of God. He says, “If any man will to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (7:17). He knew that Pilate did not will to do the will of God. And Pilate was irritated because Jesus did not reply, because He stood there as predicted in Isaiah 53:0 where we read, “He is [led] as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (v. 7).
Then Pilate said unto Him, “Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10), and in that he spoke his own condemnation. But Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no authority at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (v. 11a). He recognized that the powers that be are ordained of God, and Pilate, therefore, was set in that position as governor to do the will of God and to administer justice. “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (v. lib). There are, then, differences in guilt, and Jesus is saying that the chief priests, Judas, and those who had to do with delivering Jesus over to judgment before Pilate were the guiltier. “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him” (vv. 11-12a). But he seeks to release Him in a way that will please the people. He is not ready to do the thing that he knows is right because it is right.
You and I need to face that question: Are we doing the thing that is right because we know it is right? Here is a man who all his life has known of the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows that he should open his heart to receive that Christ as his own personal Savior. Yet the years go by and he does not act upon his convictions. In what sense is he different from Pilate, this vacillating man, this man who hadn’t the courage of his convictions, this man who knew he should clear Jesus and yet eventually condemned Him to death? May we not ask ourselves the question: What is my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ today? Have I received Him? Am I confessing Him as Savior and Lord? The Scripture says: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Have you confessed Him? “Whosoever … shall confess me,” He says, “before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). And He solemnly adds, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (v. 33).
Pilate denied Him, and Pilate has to face that for eternity. What is our attitude? What is your attitude? Have you confessed Him? Will you today confess Him as your Savior and your Lord?
“From thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar” (John 19:12). And were they such ardent admirers of Caesar as their words would seem to imply? Not at all. They hated the very name of Caesar and being under subjection to the Roman governor. They knew Pilate’s weak point. They knew he wanted to keep in favor with Caesar. “This Man is a traitor in opposition to the Roman Government. If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” And “when Pilate therefore heard that saying,” because he was a political opportunist rather than a conscientious judge, “he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (John 19:13-15a).
Now ironically Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” (v. 15b) as though he would insult them to their faces, because deep in his heart he despised them as much as they hated him. And the chief priests, almost unthinkingly for the moment, I am sure, put themselves on record, “We have no King but Caesar” (v. 15c). And, oh, what they have suffered under the Caesars all through the centuries since.
Thus Pilate’s last effort to save Jesus was ended. “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified” (v. 16a). Pilate has sold his soul for the approval of the world. Take care that you do not do the same. For Jesus Himself has asked, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). “And they took Jesus, and led him away” (v. 16b). And so we see Him going out to die, to die as the Lamb of God for our sins. But, oh, thank God, for the untold millions who through the centuries since have found in Him a Savior, have found in His death redemption, and have found in His blood cleansing from all sin. A great host have already been gathered about Him in yonder glory to acclaim Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thousands more on earth love and honor Him.
But, alas, alas, Pilate is in the outside place! If we can trust early history, he died a suicide, still rejecting the One whom he had condemned to death that day in Jerusalem so long before.
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
It is very interesting to note the way in which the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in each of the four Gospels. In the Old Testament ritual there were four bloody offerings that the people of Israel were commanded to bring to God, and each of these presented the work of the cross from a different standpoint. When you turn to the opening chapters of Leviticus you read of the burnt offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. There is also the meal offering, but the meal offering was not a blood offering. It consisted of the presentation of certain cakes of fine flour and oil before God. It typified the perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, that comes out in all the four Gospels. As you trace the footsteps of the blessed Lord through this scene, as pictured for us by the four different writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you see in Jesus absolute perfection. He was the only Man who ever trod this earth who never had one word to take back, never had one sin to confess. His was a life in which there was nothing to be repented of-the Man Christ Jesus, God’s perfect, spotless Son, of whom He could say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I have found all My delight.”
The meal offering tells of the character of Jesus, and emphasizes the fact that He had to be who He was in order to do what He did. No other could have taken His place, no other could have made atonement of our sins, but the offerings in which blood was shed pictured the work of the cross in four different aspects. The burnt offering presented the Lord Jesus dying to glorify God in the scene where He had been so terribly dishonored.
In John’s gospel we get this thought in His words as He was going out to die: “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). He took the way to the cross, and in the cross through His sacrificial death God has received more glory than He ever lost by Adam’s fall and by all the sin that has come into the world since. So that we may say that if not one human soul were ever saved as a result of the death of the Lord Jesus, still God’s character has been vindicated, God’s majesty has been sustained, God has been fully glorified.
But in the other three Gospels we have the offerings that have to do more particularly with man and his sin. The peace offering presents Christ making peace by the blood of His cross. That is the way Christ is shown in Luke’s gospel. The sin offering presents the Lord Jesus Christ as being made sin for us, who died not simply for what we have done but for what we are. Our doings only manifest our true character as sinners. As has been said often, I am not a sinner because I sin, but I sin because I am a sinner. Therefore, the sin offering is not merely for the acts that I have done, but because of an evil, corrupt nature that unfits me for fellowship with God. So, “he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). That is the way the work of the cross is presented in Mark’s gospel. But there is something more.
The Lord Jesus not only died for our sin, but He died for our sins. Our actual guilt had to be atoned for. He had to make up to the divine majesty for the wrong that we have done, and that is the trespass offering. It is that which is set forth in Matthew’s gospel.
So, then, here in the record given us by John it is particularly the burnt offering of our Lord, dying to glorify the Father, that is set forth, and that explains why the three hours of darkness are not mentioned here. God’s Word is written with marvelous precision. In the other Gospels we have those three dark hours in which the soul of the Lord Jesus was made an offering for sin, and we hear His awful cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). The answer to that cry is that He was forsaken that we might not be forsaken. He took my place,
For man-oh, miracle of grace!-
For man the Saviour died.
But that cry of anguish is not recorded in John’s gospel. We simply see the blessed Lord in perfect subjection to the will of His Father yielding Himself without spot to God in His death upon the tree.
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull” (John 19:17). Many think that to be the little skull-shaped hill outside the Damascus Gate. Those of us who have been in Jerusalem and have stood on or beside that hill have found our hearts more deeply moved perhaps than by any other scene, unless it be indeed the Garden tomb on the side of the knoll. It was on that skull-shaped hill that, as many Protestant scholars believe, our Lord Jesus Christ died for us. “The place of a skull,… where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (vv. 17-18). It had been written in Isaiah 53:12: “He was numbered with the transgressors,” and so we see Him on that central cross in the midst of transgressors. Two thieves crucified with Him-He in the center, as though of them all He was the worst! That is the chief sinner’s place.
“And Pilate wrote a title,… JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). The charge that the high priests of Jerusalem had made against Him was that He declared Himself to be King of the Jews. Pilate had asked Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). It was necessary that Pilate, as the one who condemned Jesus to die, should make out a placard that should indicate the crime of which the crucified one was guilty. And so he wrote on this placard, “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” He wrote it in Hebrew, the language of religion; in Greek, the language of culture; and in Latin, the language of government. The charge against Jesus was: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” That was meant to say, “He is being crucified as a rebel, as an insurrectionist against the Roman Government.” Pilate did not believe that for one moment, as we saw very clearly in the previous chapter, but on his part it was an ironical, sardonic thing. He wanted to taunt these chief priests and scribes who had hounded him until at last he had condemned an innocent Man to death.
It is remarkable how the cross of Christ brings out all that is in the heart of man, shows men up as they really are. In the light of that cross Pilate comes before us in all his cynicism and his lack of conscience. In the light of that cross the chief priests were manifested in all their hypocrisy and bitterness and hatred of the holy, spotless Son of God. And as we follow the story in the light of that cross, we see the callousness, indifference, greed, and covetousness of the soldiers who were gambling for the clothing of the crucified One at the foot of the cross. But, thank God, we see brought out in beautiful relief the loyalty, the faithfulness, the tender love of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the other women, her companions, who had been blessed through the ministry of Christ, and also the fealty of his devoted follower, the apostle John, the author of this book. Where were the other apostles? They had fulfilled the Word that said, “They all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50). But John was there at the cross. Mary, the mother, was there, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleophas, were there, looking on with loving eyes and breaking hearts as they saw the Savior dying on that tree to glorify the Father and to save a guilty world.
And so Pilate designates Him as King of the Jews, and some day it will be found that the title Pilate put over the cross was more true than he or the world realized. For this One who has gone to His Father’s throne in heaven will return again. When He returns He will be welcomed by some from that very people who rejected Him, for a remnant in Jerusalem will be found whose hearts will be won for Him, the Messiah. We are told that “they shall look upon [him] whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). They will recognize Him when He comes again as the true King of the Jews, “great David’s greater Son,” who will fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies and bring in that righteous kingdom so long predicted.
But when Pilate wrote this title-THE KING OF THE JEWS-it stirred the chief priests to indignation, and they came to him and said, “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews” (John 19:21). But Pilate, looking at them with a hard, sardonic kind of smile, says, “What I have written I have written” (v. 22). As much as to say, “You forced me long enough, I’ll go no further with you. That placard remains just as I have written it.”
So He died, a King crucified,
To save a poor sinner like me.
But notice, though Pilate put over His head the placard that designated His supposed crime-that He made Himself the King of the Jews-actually God saw another placard over that cross. That other placard was unseen by mortal eyes. It is referred to in Colossians 2:13-17: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
What is the apostle Paul telling us here? Man was guilty before God, violating that holy law that He gave at Sinai, “For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). But there upon that cross Jesus is seen taking the lawbreaker’s place, and God sees, nailed on that cross, those ten ordinances given at Sinai-the law that God gave upon that mount, the law that was just and good, but which man had violated. Because of the transgression of that law Jesus died. But had He violated it? No! That law was against us because we were the lawbreakers, but Jesus upon that cross died under the judgment of that broken law. Because of what He endured when He took my place in judgment, God can now say to me: “You go free,” and through faith in His blessed Son I am justified from all things. And so we who believe are
Free from the law! Oh, happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission,
Curs’d by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
But now we pass on with this most wonderful story that ever was written. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his [tunic]: now the [tunic] was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be” (John 19:23-24). They had no idea when they said this, when they gambled for His clothing, when they determined not to tear the tunic in four places that every one should have a part, that they were actually fulfilling a prophetic utterance made a thousand years before in Psalms 22:18: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” “These things therefore the soldiers did” (John 19:24).
Psalms 22:0 is a prophecy of the sufferings of our Savior on that cross and of the glories that should follow. When we turn back to it we see it begins with His cry of distress, and it closes with a shout of triumph. It pictures the Savior suspended on that cross-“I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalms 22:17-18). And then in that hour of darkness He cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:1; see also Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), for with these words the psalm begins. Then it goes on, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel… But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Psalms 22:3; Psalms 22:6Psalms 22:6). It tells of the place He took in lowly grace for our redemption.
The figure He uses is a very striking thing! “A worm,” was the tola, a little insect like the cochineal found in Mexico. From the blood of the crushed cochineal we get a beautiful crimson dye. In the same way, from the tola was made a scarlet dye with which the great ones of this world colored their garments. Jesus was practically saying, “I am like the tola. I am to be crushed to death that others may be robed in glory.” So we see Him on that cross, bleeding and dying for our sins. But as we read on in Psalms 22:0 we come to the last verse where, in our Authorized Version, we get this, “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (v. 31). But in a more literal translation you find it reads, “They shall declare that it is finished.” So the psalm begins with the cry of distress, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and ends with the cry of triumph, “It is finished.”
Continuing in our chapter, we read: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:25-27). We scarcely know which to admire most- the faithfulness, the devotedness of these dear women, and the beloved young disciple, or the tender, compassionate love of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ and His consideration for the dear mother that bore Him. He recalls the prophecy, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35). He knows that sword is indeed piercing her mother heart as she sees her Son suffering in such awful agony hanging there upon the nails, and He would have her know that He is concerned about her and anxious to relieve her agonies. So He points her to John and says, “Behold thy son!” and to John He says, “Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” During the last of her sojourn here on earth, John became to her as a tender, loving son, and she to him as a loving mother.
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (v. 28). He knew that all things up to that present moment had been accomplished, but there was one Scripture yet to be fulfilled. That was found in Psalms 69:21: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” That Sixty-ninth Psalm also portrays Him as the Sufferer upon the cross, and so that that prophecy might not go unfulfilled, Jesus cried, “I thirst.” “Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth” (John 19:29). That vinegar told out all the malice and hatred of man’s heart, but Jesus took the vinegar at the hand of the soldier and drank it. A little earlier He had refused the wormwood and gall, for that typified the wrath of God, and He would take that only from the hand of His Father. Man had no right to press that cup to His lips.
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (v. 30). “It is finished!”-three words in our English Bible, only one in the Greek Testament. “Tetelestai!”-that was His cry of triumph. He had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He had glorified God to the full in the place where He had been so terribly dishonored, and now because of that finished work God can “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
And so the message of the gospel that goes out to all men everywhere today is this: “The work that saves is finished! Jesus did it all upon the cross.”
Have you met with God at the foot of that cross where full settlement was made for sin? When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He bowed His head and gave up the ghost. He did not die from exhaustion. He dismissed His spirit. We cannot do that. How many suffering ones have wished that they might. But when Jesus settled the sin question, when He had drunk the cup of judgment, when He had glorified God in the putting away of sin, He cried, “It is finished,” and He dismissed His spirit. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His spirit went to Paradise. The precious body of the Redeemer hung there upon the cross, soon to be quickened into new life on the day of His glorious resurrection.
Do you know this blessed Savior? Have you trusted Him for yourself? Oh, if you have not trusted Him, I plead with you, bow now at the foot of that cross, confess yourself a sinner, tell Him that you will put your heart’s confidence in Him who died to redeem you, and go forth to own Him henceforth as your Lord and Master as well as your Savior.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: but one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.
The Spirit of God has been at great pains to bring before us a number of most interesting and instructive details not only concerning the sufferings of our blessed Lord Jesus when He took our place upon the cross to make expiation for our iniquities, but of the events that took place afterward in connection with His burial.
First we read of what happened while His body was still upon the cross. The Jews, we are told, because it was the Sabbath could not let the body remain there. It was a high day in connection with the Passover celebration, and the Jews besought Pilate that in order to hasten the death of the three their legs might be broken. In Deuteronomy we read, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shaft in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” (21:22-23).
Here we have a peculiar evidence of the perversity of the human heart. The very men who had shown their utter indifference to the One who came to be the Savior of sinners, those who, in fact, had not only been indifferent to Him but had hated Him, and who had insisted upon His crucifixion, were now very punctilious to carry out the letter of the law. They did not realize that their rejection of Jesus was far worse than leaving His body upon the cross on the Sabbath. They had already committed the greatest crime anyone could commit. In the sight of God there is nothing worse than rejecting His Son.
How many there are today who pride themselves on their loyalty and responsibility, who are guilty of this most terrible of all sins. You remember the Lord Jesus Christ said of the Holy Spirit, “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9). That is the sin of all sins, the sin that will send men down to eternal perdition if it is not repented of. In the third chapter of John we read, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (3:18). Observe, it does not say he is condemned because he is a drunkard, because he is a thief, because he is immoral. These things are wicked in God’s sight, but for all of these Christ died on Calvary’s cross. He who turns to God in repentance and trusts that blessed Savior for cleansing from every stain stands cleared of every charge, but the sin that will never be forgiven is the final rejection of the Savior whom God has provided.
Here were men rejecting that Savior and yet so careful about carrying out the letter of the law which said no body was to hang upon the tree overnight. So they went to Pilate and besought him to hasten the death of these poor victims that their legs might be broken. The Roman soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves, one on either side of the Lord. But when they came to Jesus, though He had been there but a few hours-and we are told that sometimes men hung suspended as much as three or four days before they died-they were amazed to find Him already dead. But as if to make it doubly sure, one of the soldiers pierced the side of the blessed Christ of God, and blood and water flowed forth, giving evidence that He had pierced the heart-sac itself.
John took special note of that. He said, “Forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:34-35). That is, John would have us understand very definitely that he knew the Son of God was already dead before the Roman spear point was inserted into the heart. Then the amazing thing was that blood and lymph flowed forth freely from the body of the dead Man. Physicians say it would seem to indicate that Jesus died of a broken heart, but He died when He dismissed His own spirit to the Father. So it would be incorrect to say that a broken heart was the cause of His death, but Scripture tells us that He died with a broken heart. In Psalms 69:20 He says, “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness.”
Oh, dear unsaved friend, if you are reading these words today, it was because of your sins and mine that the heart of the Son of God broke in agony as He endured the wrath of God that we so richly deserved. And that blood and water that flowed from His side, John draws special attention to, because it has a typical meaning. Long years afterward, when John himself was an old man, the memory of that scene was before him. He wrote, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record… and these three [agree in] one” (1 John 5:6-7).
What is involved typically in the water and the blood coming from the side of the Lord Jesus Christ? It suggests two different aspects of our cleansing. When a poor sinner stained with guilt and polluted by sin, utterly unfit for God, has need for judicial cleansing the Word tells me, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The blood of Jesus cleanses us judicially. That is, it frees us from every charge that could ever be brought against us.
Once we stood in condemnation,
Waiting thus the sinner’s doom.
Christ in death hath wrought salvation,
God hath raised Him from the tomb.
Now we see in His acceptance
But the measure of our own,
He who lay beneath our sentence,
Seated high upon the throne.
If you are a Christian, think back to those hours when you were troubled about your sins. You realized your guilt, you felt how unclean, how unholy you were, how unfit for the presence of God. But oh, the joy that came to you when you learned that the precious blood would wash you from every stain. You remember when your heart saw the meaning of those words,
Lord, through the blood of the Lamb that was slain,
Cleansing for me, cleansing for me;
From all the guilt of my sin now I claim,
Cleansing from Thee, cleansing from Thee!
And then when you trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, you knew on the authority of the Word of God that all your sins were put away, and you stood perfect and clear before God as though you had never sinned. This is what it means to be cleansed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember it is written, “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls” (Leviticus 17:11). And so the Lord Jesus, by shedding His precious blood, giving up His holy, spotless life for us, bearing our judgment, has made full expiation for iniquity.
Oh, why was He there as the Bearer of sin,
If on Jesus thy guilt was not laid?
Oh, why from His side flowed the sin-cleansing stream,
If His dying thy debt has not paid?
This is the very heart of the gospel, deliverance through His blood from every charge that could be brought against us.
Now, that is one aspect of our cleansing. But there is another. If we are going to have fellowship with God, there must not only be judicial cleansing, there must be practical cleansing. It will never do to point back to the cross and say, “There at the cross my sins were put away,” if I am daily living in sin. It will never do to talk of justification by faith and redemption through His blood if my daily life is unholy and bringing dishonor on the name of Christ. I am called to walk with God day by day. I am called to walk before Him in purity of heart, and this is where cleansing by water comes in. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). By the precious blood of Christ I am justified before God. By the water I am practically sanctified. The water is a type of the Word of God, which is likened to water for practical cleansing in Psalms 119:9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
Let us imagine a young man who has been away from God, a stranger to His grace, and he is troubled because of his sin. He comes confessing his sin. If he is intelligently instructed, he comes to understand that his past sin is all put away, and he stands complete in the sight of God, as if he had never sinned at all. Now is that young man to go on living the way he did before? Oh, no. Now he studies the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit opens it up and reveals its truths to him. Thus, he is cleansed by taking heed to the Word.
And so Jesus said to His disciples, “Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). This is cleansing by water. He illustrated it, you remember, by washing the feet of His disciples, and He said to reluctant Peter, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (13:7). When did Peter find out its meaning? It was after he had slipped and fallen into sin and his feet became defiled. Later the blessed Lord applied the Word to Peter and he was restored to fellowship with God. Then he was made clean by the washing of water by the Word. You see why the Word is likened to water. It is because of its practical cleansing effect. I am to judge anything that God shows me to be wrong and then I am to seek, by grace, to walk as that Word indicates. What happens? Why, those things are literally washed away out of my life by the Word. My mind is purified by the Word, my heart is made clean by the Word. All this then is suggested by that which John saw on Calvary that day. The very spear that pierced the side of the Son of God drew forth the blood that saved, but not only the blood, there was also the water.
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
John next calls our attention to two Scripture passages that were in process of fulfillment that day. He says, “These things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36). Those soldiers had no idea they were fulfilling anything in Scripture when they forbore to break His legs, but long years ago Moses gave instructions concerning the first Passover. We read in Exodus 12:43; Exodus 12:46Exodus 12:46: “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the passover… In one house shall it be eaten; thou shalt not carry forth ought of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall ye break a bone thereof.” So God had commanded that not one bone of the Passover Lamb should be broken, and there hung upon the cross the true Passover.
No bone of Thee was broken,
Thou spotless Passover Lamb.
God’s Word was fulfilled even though the soldiers did not realize it.
But another Scripture had to be fulfilled. In Zechariah 12:10 it was written of Messiah, “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” And so when this other Roman soldier, without realizing that his act had anything to do with the Word of God, thrust that spear into the side of the Lord Jesus Christ, he too was simply carrying out what had been predicted long before.
But now, observe this, so long as our blessed Lord was in the sinner’s place, so long as He was viewed by God as the great trespass offering, God permitted every kind of indignity that satanic malignity could suggest to be heaped upon the body of His Son. That blessed Head was crowned with thorns. They smote Him in the face with their hands. They spit upon that lovely countenance. They beat Him with the cruel scourge until the blood poured down His back. They took Him out to Calvary and nailed Him to the cross. And then at last, they pierced His side, and God did not interfere. He permitted it all, and yet it was not what man did to Jesus that put away sin. It was not that which settled the sin question. It was what Jesus endured at the hand of God when His soul was made an offering for sin. But it pleased God that all the worst that was in man’s heart should be there told forth and the best that was in the heart of God. Man’s hatred and God’s love met there.
God did not interfere as long as Jesus suffered in the sinner’s place. But just the moment after the blood and the water flowed forth from that wounded side, it was as though God said, “Now, hands off! The sin question is settled. My Son is no more in the sinner’s place.” And from that moment on, no unclean hand touched the body of the Son of God. Not one person was allowed to do anything that would in any sense dishonor that sacred corpse. Loving hands took Jesus down from the cross, drawing out those dreadful nails and removing His hands and feet from the wood.
Joseph of Arimathea, who had for sometime been convinced in his own heart that Jesus was the Christ, came forth openly. We read, “And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus” (John 19:38). Joseph and the friends of Jesus gathered round that cross and took that sacred body down. Then just at the appointed moment there came also Nicodemus- the man who had come to Jesus by night, the man who had spoken up in the Sanhedrin-and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight, a vast amount. They took the body of Jesus and wound it in linen cloths. The Jews would dip these cloths in an ointment and spices, and then they would wind them round the arms, the lower limbs, and the torso, and then bind them altogether. You remember Lazarus came forth bound in the grave clothes.
And where did they lay Jesus? Well, in the place where He was crucified, a garden at the side of Calvary. We walked around there a few years ago, and oh, how our hearts were moved as we went from the place of the cross to the garden tomb. “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid” (v. 41). And in that new sepulcher they laid Him.
They took the rest of the spices that were not needed for the body and they made a bed in the crypt. They gave Him the burial of a King. We read that when King Asa died, they laid him on a bed of spices. And God seemed to say, “While My Son was in the sinner’s place, I allowed everything to be done to Him that satanic minds could think of. Now He must be recognized as the King that He is, and He must be given the burial of a King.” So He was laid upon a bed of spices. “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand” (v. 42). And until the resurrection morning He was to remain in that new tomb and then come forth in triumph, the Conqueror of death. How our hearts rejoice in Him today!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on John 19". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17