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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
John 19

 

 

Verses 1-42

IN THE FIRST verse of this chapter the word, “therefore” is to be noted. Pilate had pronounced already the verdict of “No fault” as to Jesus, but because the Jews shouted for Barabbas and rejected Him, he took Him and scourged Him. All attempt at a display of ordinary human justice was thrown to the winds, all public decencies were outraged. Taking their cue from the action of the judge, the soldiers followed suit in their own rough way. Yet the hand of God was so over even Pilate that a second and yet a third time was he constrained to pronounce the verdict of “No fault” over the Lord. This was a much more sweeping pronouncement than if he had merely declared Him to be not guilty of the particular offences alleged against Him. He attempted to throw the onus of the death sentence on to the Jews. They repudiated it however, while declaring that His claim to be the Son of God demanded death according to their law.

They said He should die because He said He was the Son of God, while demanding that Pilate should condemn Him because He said He was the King of Israel. At the start of the Gospel we heard Nathanael owning Him in that twofold way, as we, thank God, own Him today. But on those two counts He was condemned.

The remark of the Evangelist in verse John 19:8, throws a flood of light on the situation as far as Pilate was concerned. Secular history informs us that he badly antagonized the Jews in the earlier years of his governorship and therefore he feared to irritate them further. Yet he was convinced of the innocence of the Prisoner, whose serene bearing made him even more uneasy. The accusation relating to “the Son of God,” raised fears which were probably superstitious, but nonetheless potent, and which prompted the question, “Whence art Thou?”

Had this question sprung from real spiritual exercise the Lord doubtless would have responded, as He did to the two disciples with their question, “Where dwellest Thou?” in the first chapter of this Gospel. As it was prompted by superstition and fear the Lord gave no answer. This led Pilate to the threatening assertion of the power of life and death which he held under Caesar. The Lord’s reply to this evidently increased his fears—for lo! the Prisoner calmly assumed the judicial position, and with an air of finality pointed him to a higher Power than Caesar as the real Source of any transient authority that he possessed, and also adjudicated on the degree of guilt attaching to himself and to the Jewish leaders respectively. The desperate animus lay with the Jews and he was but their tool. Still, though less guilty than they, he was definitely a guilty man. It was a shattering situation for Pilate, who found himself without knowing it in the presence of the Word become flesh. What then was the answer to Pilate’s unanswered question? Surely that Jesus was Himself “from above,” come from the Fountainhead of Pilate’s authority.

This episode greatly increased Pilate’s desire to release Jesus but the crafty Jews knew how to exert decisive pressure. In view of the tension previously existing between himself and the Jews he could only regard their cry, recorded in verse John 19:12, as a direct threat to impeach him to Caesar if he let Jesus go. The Jewish leaders themselves “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” (John 12:43); Pilate had much more regard for the praise of Caesar than for judgment according to truth and justice.

He made, however, one more appeal. In John 18:31, we saw him making a suggestion calculated to appeal to their national pride; again in verse John 19:39, he asked a question, appealing to their custom. Now in our chapter, verses John 19:13-14, he makes an appeal to their sentiment. All, however, was in vain as regards his wish to divest himself of the responsibility of pronouncing judgment against the Lord. All was ordered so that the guilt of the Jews, and more especially of the chief priests, should be proclaimed in clearest fashion by their own lips. They crown their cry, “Not this Man, but Barabbas,” with the statement, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Hosea’s prediction had been, “The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince... “ (Hosea 3:4). The two tribes had had the kings of the God-appointed line, and the ten tribes princes of their own selection. Hosea declared that soon they should have neither. But as if that were not enough for these evil men they now deliberately accepted Gentile despotism. They appealed unto Caesar, and under the iron heel of a succession of despots God has seen fit to leave them. For nineteen centuries the two names, Barabbas and Caesar, might serve to sum up their history of misery. The lawless and insurrectionary spirit of mankind had been headed up in Barabbas: the order which is enforced by powerful autocracy was expressed in Caesar. For nineteen centuries the Jews have suffered; now from the organized cruelty of the authorities, and then from the unorganized rabble—ground, as it were, between this upper and nether millstone. They have yet to suffer under the last forms of Caesar and Barabbas, which will prove to be worse than the first.

When Pilate brought Jesus forth to make his last appeal, he seated himself in the judgment seat on the Pavement, which indicated that he was about to pronounce judgment in the case. John pauses here to give us the note as to time, which is recorded in verse John 19:14. The fact that there is an apparent clash between it and that given so plainly in Mark 15:25, has occasioned much discussion and controversy. We cannot but enquire, If he was crucified at the third hour, how comes it that Pilate should be said to deliver his sentence about the sixth hour? The solution would appear to be that our Evangelist, dealing with what transpired before the Roman judge, uses the

Roman reckoning, which was similar to ours, whereas Mark reckons according to Jewish custom. If this is so, all is simple. It was about 6 a.m. when Pilate’s examination drew to a close, and about 9 a.m. when Jesus was crucified. The “preparation of the Passover” was the 24 hours, starting at 6 the evening before. Into that 24 hours were crowded the most tremendous events in time, or indeed in eternity.

In our Gospel nothing is said as to the further mockery of the Roman soldiers, when He was handed over to them, for these were but the crude actions of pagans and lay upon the surface. What we are told in verse John 19:16 is that Pilate delivered Him “unto them,” that is, the chief priests and officers, of which verse John 19:6 had spoken. They were His persecutors and prosecutors. The animus lay with them. They it was who hated both Him and His Father. Pilate delivered Him into their hands that they might perpetrate their greatest sin by handing Him over to the Gentile executioners.

As the other Gospels show, the Lord had used such expressions as “taking his cross,” and “bearing his cross,” as figurative of the fact that His disciple must be prepared to come under the death sentence of the world. The full force of that figure is seen here, for, “He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull.” The place got its name from the peculiar configuration of the rock, but it is significant for all that! A skull speaks of the humiliating end of all man’s power and glory. In some living man it may once have held as brilliant and powerful a brain as ever existed; and it has come to this! The Son of God accepted the judgment of death as from man’s hand, and to a place which set forth symbolically the end of all man’s glory He went to bear it.

Moreover, He accepted death from the hands of men in its most shameful form. Crucifixion was peculiarly a death of repudiation and shame. As a Roman invention it expressed the haughty contempt with which they put to death the conquered barbarians, nailing them up as though they were vermin. To such a death was Jesus delivered by the leaders of the Jews. John gives us but the briefest and plainest statement of that tremendous fact. The Lord of glory was crucified. That fact needs no embellishment of any kind.

But when this was accomplished Pilate intervened, writing a title and putting it on the cross. It would appear that not one of the Evangelists quotes every word of the title, though John comes nearest to doing so. In full it seems to have been, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” As regards the Jews this act of Pilate was definitely provocative, and intended to be so. They had forced his hand in the condemnation of Jesus and he retaliated by the public statement that the hated Jesus of Nazareth was the King of the Jews. This was the last thing they wished to admit, hence their expostulation. But here Pilate was adamant. He refused to alter one jot or little, and his curt answer, “What I have written I have written,” has become almost proverbial.

In all this we can see the hand of God. The Word had become flesh and had dwelt among us. God had so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son. He was known among men as Jesus of Nazareth—a title of disparagement. When He entered Jerusalem a week before there had been some testimony to His glory, and had there not been the stones would immediately have cried out—so Luke tells us. But here indeed there was no human testimony and so a piece of board, inscribed by the hand of Pilate, or by his order, cried out that the despised Jesus of Nazareth was indeed King of the Jews. It is remarkable how our Lord Himself adopted the title of shame, and weaved it as a chaplet for His brow when risen and glorified. It is an astounding fact that, JESUS of NAZARETH TS TN HEAVEN—see, Acts 22:8.

The title was written in the three prevailing languages of that day. Hebrew, the tongue in which the Law of Moses had appeared, the language of religion. Greek, the language of Gentile culture. Latin, the language of Gentile imperialism. In this representative way the whole world was involved in His death.

In verse John 19:23, the Roman soldiers do appear as the instruments of His death, and also as fulfilling prophecies that had stood in the Scripture for about a thousand years and of which they knew nothing. In Psalms 22:1-31, David had foretold the parting of His garments among them and the casting of lots upon His vesture. These two things the four soldiers did, and John puts on record the circumstances which led to so exact a fulfilment. His coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. Things which to us might seem quite trivial lead to the fulfilment of the Word of God.

We cannot but think, however, that this feature is mentioned because it has a symbolic value. Everything about our Lord, both as to His Person and work, was of one piece, woven throughout without seam. With man in his fallen condition it is otherwise. The appropriate symbol for man and his work is the fig leaf apron to which Adam and his wife had recourse after their sin. They sewed fig leaves together, and anyone who knows the shape of the fig leaf will realize how many a seam there must have been. All was patchwork of an elaborate sort. Theirs was the patchwork apron: His was the seamless coat.

In that coat Jesus appeared before men, the symbol of His perfection and it was not to be rent. It is remarkable that John only speaks of this coat, telling us it was woven “from the top throughout,” for unlike the other Gospels he omits any mention of the vail in the temple that was “rent in swain from the top to the bottom.” Everything about the Lord testified to the fact that He came from above and was above all. And the stroke that at the hour of His death set aside the old order of things came from above also.

Verses John 19:25-27 are particularly striking as occurring in this Gospel, written as it was to declare His divine glory that we might believe Him to be the Christ, the Son of God. Viewing Him thus we might have supposed that such lower things as human relationships would be disregarded. But it is just the opposite. All through the Gospel we have noticed how the reality of His Manhood is stressed. Every human perfection reached its fullest display in Him, and hence we see the affection connected with near human relationship fully displayed even in the hour of His deepest agony. The hour had struck when the words of the aged Simeon to Mary were fulfilled— “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.” The sword of Jehovah, according to Zechariah, was about to awake against the true Shepherd of Israel, but a sword of another kind would also pierce the soul of His mother, and the Shepherd thought of that.

Only seven words were spoken—four to Mary, and three to John; but their significance was plain, and they struck a chord of love which met with a ready response. Jesus entrusted His mother to the disciple whom He loved, and who in the knowledge of His love, loved in return. Love can be trusted, especially when it is not mere human affection but divine in its source, as springing from the appreciation of the love of Jesus.

In verse John 19:28 we get another of those flashes of omniscience which characterize this Gospel. A few verses earlier we saw the soldiers fulfilling Scripture, though utterly unconscious that they were doing so. We now see

Jesus Himself in that dark hour surveying the whole field of prophecy, and well aware that of all the predictions centring on His death only one remained to be fulfilled. In Psalms 69:1-36 David had written, “In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” A small thing in itself, but every word of God must be verified in its season, and we are informed that in that hour of suffering He was able to rise above His circumstances and not only discern the one thing lacking but also utter words that at once brought it to pass. No mere man could have done either the one or the other.

The remarkable thing is also that just before He was crucified the soldiers gave Him vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh, but He would not accept it, as recorded in Matthew and Mark. This was doubtless because He would have nothing of any human device to lessen the physical suffering involved, and also because at that moment there was no thirst on His part. Divine predictions must be fulfilled with exactitude and precision.

John makes no mention of the three hours of darkness, nor of the forsaking with the bitter cry that it called forth, which had been predicted in the first verse of Psalms 22:1-31. Those things did not particularly illustrate the Deity of Jesus, upon which the Spirit of God had led him to lay such emphasis. What did illustrate it was the triumphant cry with which His earthly life closed. Psalms 22:1-31 ends with the words, “He hath done,” and of this the New Testament equivalent is, “It is finished.” He had come into the world in the full knowledge of all that had been entrusted to Him of the Father: He was now leaving it in the full knowledge that all had been fulfilled; not one thing was lacking. The prophet had predicted that Jehovah should “make His soul an offering for sin,” and this was accomplished. As a consequence faith can now take up the language of Isaiah 53:5, and make it its own; just as the repentant remnant of Israel will adopt it in a coming day.

In this also our Lord was unique. There have been servants of God who like Paul have been able to speak with confidence of having finished their course, but none would have dared to affirm that they had put the finishing touch to the work in their hands; they have rather handed on the work to him who should succeed them. His work was exclusively His own, He carried it to its perfect completion. He could appraise His own work, and announce it as finished. All others have to humbly submit their labour to the Divine scrutiny and verdict in the day to come.

Both Matthew and Mark tell us that after crying with a loud voice Jesus expired. It would appear that Luke and John each give us a part of that last utterance. If so, it must have been, “It is finished, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” The first part helps to emphasize His Deity, so John records it: the second emphasizes His perfect Humanity, in its dependence upon God, so Luke records it. True also to the character of his Gospel, John chronicles the very act of His death in a special way— “He delivered up His spirit” (New Trans.). The wise man of the Old Testament has told us, “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8), but here is One who had that power. He is able at one moment to lift up His voice with unimpaired strength, and the next moment to deliver up His spirit, and thus fulfil His own words recorded in John 10:1-42. True, there He spoke of the laying down of His “life” or “soul,” saying, “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” But the two statements are entirely in agreement for we all know that when the human spirit quits the body a man’s life on earth ceases. When God calls his spirit, go he must. Here is One who has full command over His spirit; He delivered it up to His Father, and thus He laid down His life.

That, having laid it down, He took it again in resurrection, we find in the next chapter: the rest of our chapter is filled with the various activities of men, some of them His foes and some His friends, but all working together to the end that the determinate counsel of God should be fulfilled, just as He had spoken in His word.

First on the scene were the Jews, the men who were His most implacable foes. They were great sticklers for the ceremonial side of things and the Passover Sabbath being an high day it was of peculiar sanctity in their eyes. They could not enter the judgment hall lest they defile themselves, as we saw in the last chapter. Now we see that the idea of the dead bodies of men they esteemed evil-doers remaining exposed in the sight of men and Heaven over that day was abhorrent to their ritualistic souls. They were right of course, for it had been so ordered in Deuteronomy 21:23, but that was the type of enactment which they loved to observe, whilst overlooking matters of greater moment. Thus from them came the request that death might be hastened by the breaking of the legs, so indirectly they played their part in bringing to fulfilment another of the many predictions which were focussed on that great day when Jesus died.

We might have supposed that life with the Lord would have been prolonged far beyond the others, but in fact it was the opposite, just because He deliberately laid His life down. Had He not done so, man’s act in crucifying Him would have had no power against Him. It is significant also that John does not designate the two men as thieves or malefactors; they were “two other” (ver. 18). No need to mention their particularly bad character to heighten the contrast. The greatness of the Divine Son is such that it is sufficient to say that they were two other men.

Pilate’s order to the soldiers, at the instance of the Jews, had two effects. First, while the two other had their legs broken to hasten their end not a bone of our Lord was broken, and thus Scripture was fulfilled. The reference must be to Psalms 34:20, and to the instructions given as to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:1-51, and repeated in Numbers 9:1-23. This is worthy of note as showing how fully the Spirit of God identifies the typical lamb with its Antitype, inasmuch as that which is said of the type is treated as applying to the Antitype. With this agree the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, when he says, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.”

Secondly, there was the wanton and vindictive act of the soldier with a spear. Seeing that Jesus was dead, and hence he had no authority to break His bones, he thrust the spear into His side. He did it without the least understanding of the significant effect of his act. Once more, however, that which lay in the Divine counsel was brought to pass and a Scripture found its fulfilment. The prophet Zechariah had declared that at last the spirit of grace and of supplications should be poured upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “and they shall look upon Me, whom they have pierced” (John 12:10). Notice here how the act of the subordinate official is treated as the act of those whose determination and will lay at the root of all that happened. The Roman soldier was but the instrument of this wickedness, and in the coming day the repentant remnant of Israel will acknowledge it as the act of their nation. Even today do we not acknowledge that spear-thrust to have been the terrible expression of man’s hatred and contemptuous rejection of the Son of God?

But the Evangelist specially concentrates our attention upon the result of that wanton deed— “forthwith came there out blood and water.” When, in verse John 19:35, he solemnly affirms the truth of his record, so that faith may spring up in the reader, it is to this he refers. In the first place, this piercing of His side publicly demonstrated that death had really taken place. In the second place, by it His blood was actually shed, and we have only to recall that, “without shedding of blood is no remission,” (Hebrews 9:22), to realize the importance of that fact. In the third place, we know what gracious and blessed results flow to us each individually when our faith reaches out and reposes in the Christ who died and in the blood that He shed. So we are not surprised at John’s strong affirmation of the truth of his witness.

But water came thereout as well as blood and we do well to study the significance of that, for John dwells on it again in 1 John 5:1-21, where we read that Jesus Christ came “by water and blood,” and it is emphasized that it was “not by water only, but by water and blood.” If the blood speaks of judicial expiation, the water speaks of moral purification, and both are absolutely essential and only to be found in the death of Christ. There is always a tendency to separate the two. When John wrote, the tendency was to emphasize the water and ignore or belittle the blood, and this tendency is still powerfully felt, for there are many who like to think of His death as having a moral effect on us while they dislike the thought of death paying the wages of sin and thus effecting expiation. It is quite possible of course to find the opposite extreme in those who recognize nothing but the blood shed for our sins, and thus overlook the necessity of that moral cleansing of which the death of Christ is the all-essential basis.

It is remarkable too that in the Gospel we have the record of John as to the fact, whereas in his Epistle both the water and the blood are regarded as bearing witness, together with the Spirit. They bear record “that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” Blood and water came forth from the dead Christ. The Spirit has been shed forth from the risen and glorified Christ. Together they bear record that, while there is no life in us, we have eternal life in the Son of God.

Joseph of Arimathaea now appears at the precise moment when he can serve the purpose of God. He is mentioned in each of the Gospels, and each supplies us with some special detail concerning him. Matthew tells us that he was rich and a disciple. Mark calls him an honourable counsellor who waited for the kingdom of God. Luke says he was a good man and a just and that he had not consented to the counsel and deed of the great majority of the Sanhedrim in putting Jesus to death. John admits that he was a disciple, but a secret one for fear of the Jews. So apparently he had been in a position akin to that of the Pharisees, who are mentioned in John 12:42, John 12:43. Yet, wonderful to say, in this the darkest hour, when everything seemed hopelessly lost—as witness the attitude of the two disciples going to Emmaus (Luke 24:1-53)—Joseph found his courage and went to Pilate with his request to have possession of the body of Jesus. Mark it is, who tells us that he went in boldly to Pilate, and the decision of the Governor was overruled of God. Isaiah had declared that He should be “with the rich in His death,” though His grave was appointed to Him with the wicked. The Jews would have desired nothing better than that He should be flung under a heap of stones with the bodies of the malefactors. But God fulfilled His own word, firstly through the sudden boldness of Joseph, and then through Pilate’s disposition to thwart the Jews by reason of his irritation with them. God everywhere has sway and all things serve His might.

At this point Nicodemus again appears. Mentioned nowhere else, he is mentioned three times in our Gospel. We see him first as an enquirer, but needing to be humbled, and brought down from his high estate as Pharisee, teacher, and ruler in Israel. He must be born again. At the end of chapter 7 we find him raising a mild objection to the evil counsel and actions of the council, and standing up for what is right, and being snubbed for his remonstrance. Now we find him taking a further step in advance. He identified himself with Jesus in His death more definitely than he ever had during His life. He too must have been rich, judging from the amount of spices that he brought. The crisis, which had paralyzed the men who had boldly identified themselves with the Lord in His life and ministry, had nerved these timid and cautious men, who hitherto had been in the background unrecognized, into boldness and action. Truly Omnipotence has servants everywhere!

One other point remains at the end of the chapter. Close by the place of the crucifixion was a garden and a tomb in the rock. Only Matthew tells us that it was Joseph’s own tomb; he also says that it was new; both Luke and John are more emphatic on this point, saying no man before had lain there. It had been foretold through the Psalmist that Jehovah would not suffer His “Holy One to see corruption.” That this signified that the holy and sacred body of Jesus though undergoing death was not in the least touched by the process of disintegration and corruption, we all know. But it also meant that His body should not even come into contact with it externally. When God fulfils His word, He does so with thoroughness and completeness.

Thus, as we intimated, when the Divine Son suffered, the hand of Omnipotence overshadowed all men and all things, so that all that He had declared through holy men of old might come to pass. The counsel of the Lord, it shall stand.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 19:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/john-19.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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