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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
John 19

 

 

Verse 1

John 19:1. Then Pilate therefore took Jesus and scourged him. It is the scourging itself that is the prominent thought, not the fact that it was inflicted by order of Pilate. The name of the governor indeed is mentioned, but this seems simply to be because without his authority the punishment could not have been inflicted. The punishment is itself the main point,—the increasing sufferings of Jesus and His deepening humiliation and agony as, under the pressure of His sinful nation, He goes onward to the cross. In the first picture (chap. John 18:33-40) Jesus is simply the prisoner bound; in the second, that before us, He is the prisoner scourged and treated with contemptuous mockery of his royal claims. This mockery follows the scourging.


Verses 1-16

The dreadful tragedy is still continued; and that it is so in the same line of thought and with the same object as before, is evident from the parallelism between chap. John 18:33-40 and chap. John 19:1-16. The subject is the humiliation of Jesus, the half-hearted efforts of Pilate to release Him, and the determined hostility and cruelty of the Jews.


Verse 2-3

John 19:2-3. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and placed it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and they came unto him and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they gave him blows with their hands. All is in mockery of His royal claims: first the crown of thorns, secondly the purple robe, thirdly the coming to Him with mock obeisance, fourthly the ‘Hail, King of the Jews,’ fifthly the blows with their hands. We include this last in the same series as the acts preceding it, for the Evangelist, by his peculiar language, appears to mean more than that Jesus was struck. The blows are the mock presents that the subjects bring. They approach Jesus with lowliness and with a ‘Hail;’ and then, as if laying their offerings at His feet, they strike Him. The picture of humiliation and suffering is drawn in striking colours, and its advance upon that of chap. 18 must be obvious to every reader. A similar advance appears in the next two verses.


Verse 4-5

John 19:4-5. And Pilate went out again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him out to you, that ye may perceive that I find no crime in him. Jesus therefore came forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And he saith unto them, Behold, the man! The difference between the situation here and that at chap. John 18:39 does not lie so much in the actual words in which Pilate proclaims the innocence of Jesus, although it is possible that the change of order is not a matter of entire indifference. It lies rather in the fact that on the former occasion he left Jesus in the palace, and came out alone to the Jews with his verdict of acquittal; while here he leads Jesus forth, exhibiting such a bearing towards Him that the Jews may themselves perceive that he considers Him to be innocent. It is further evident from the words of John 19:8, ‘he was the more afraid,’ that a mysterious awe had already taken possession of his soul, an awe increased no doubt by the message of his wife (Matthew 27:19) which had just before reached him. In his words ‘Behold, the man!’ we have a clear trace of the sympathy and pity existing in his breast. He speaks of the ‘man,’ not of the ‘king.’ It is the human sufferer to whom he draws attention, one whose sufferings and whole aspect would have melted any heart not dehumanised by personal envy or that fierce spirit of revenge which has marked ecclesiastical fanaticism in every age. So far, however, as he expected to touch the hearts of the Jews by the spectacle presented to them, he is doomed to be disappointed.


Verse 6

John 19:6. When therefore the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify! Crucify! The advance from what is stated at chap. John 18:40 to the present point is at once perceptible. Then the Jews refused to have Jesus released to them, and cried out for Barabbas. Now their cry reaches its culmination, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’

Pilate saith unto them, Take him yourselves, and crucify him; for I find no crime in him. The words do not seem to contain any serious authorisation on the part of Pilate to the Jews to crucify Jesus. The latter at least did not understand them in that sense, or they would probably have at once availed themselves of the permission given. The emphatic ‘yourselves’ guides us to the true interpretation. There is in the words partly scorn of the Jews, partly the resolution of Pilate to free himself from all responsibility in the guilty deed which he began to see could hardly be avoided. It is as if he would say,

‘Is He to be crucified? then it shall be by yourselves, and not by me.’ The Jews, accordingly, are sensible that they dare not avail themselves of the permission. They must adduce fresh reasons for the sentence of condemnation which they desire.


Verse 7

John 19:7. The Jews answered him. We have a law, and by the law he ought to die, because he made himself Son of God. The ‘We’ is emphatic. ‘Thou, Pilate, mayest pronounce Him innocent; and He may be innocent of all such crimes as are wont to be tried at thy bar. But We have a law, and that law denounces death to persons like Him; for He made Himself Son of God.’ The law referred to is Leviticus 24:16, and the crime is that Jesus represented Himself to be what He really was. Such was the guilt of the Jews. Not upon false pretences, but upon the greatest of all falsehoods, the misinterpretation of the truth,—in the thickest of all darkness, the light itself made darkness,—they hurried Jesus to His doom. The effect upon Pilate of this charge they had not anticipated.


Verse 8-9

John 19:8-9. When Pilate therefore heard this word, he was the more afraid; and he went again into the palace, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? The remarkable expression by which the Evangelist designates the language of the Jews deserves our notice,—‘this word.’ It is not a mere saying that the Jews have uttered. It is a ‘word.’ The Divine is in it. At the very time when they are pursuing the Lord of glory to His death, they are unconsciously impelled by a Divine power to ascribe to Him the glory that is His due. We are not indeed to suppose that Pilate felt this. But the strange awe—the sense of mystery—that had come over him before is deepened in his mind. He must renew his investigation with all seriousness; and for this purpose he goes again into the palace, taking Jesus with him, and asks Him, ‘Whence art thou?’ The question has certainly no reference to the place where Jesus had been born, or from which He had come to Jerusalem. It is a deeper origin that is asked after. Art Thou from this world, or from another? a man, or from the gods?

But Jesus gave him no answer. The question had not been asked in the spirit to which an answer was never refused. Pilate had no sense either of sin or need. Even had he been answered and received the answer as true, he would only have bestowed freedom upon One who sought nothing for Himself: he would not have ‘believed.’ That this was the state of his mind is clearly indicated in the words next spoken by him.


Verse 10

John 19:10. Pilate therefore saith unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to release thee, and that I have power to crucify thee? There is no trace of spiritual feeling in these words; nothing but the sense of offended dignity, that to one in his position, and possessed of his power, a poor prisoner should decline to reply. Hence the position of ‘to me,’ at the head of the sentence, and hence the twice repeated ‘power,’ to emphasize the authority which he possessed. The mention of ‘release’ comes first, as the consideration most likely to tell upon one in the danger in which Jesus stood. To this remark of Pilate an answer is given.


Verse 11

John 19:11. Jesus answered him, Thou wouldest have no power at all against me, except it had been given thee from above; for this cause he that delivered me up unto thee hath greater sin. These words call attention to the fact that the source whence Pilate derived his power,—‘from above,’—was the same as that whence Jesus came. In using his power, therefore, against the Son of God, he was really fighting against God. ‘For this cause,’ also, he that delivered Jesus up to him (not Judas or Caiaphas only, but whosoever shared in the deed) had ‘greater sin.’ Why ‘greater’? Partly, perhaps, because the delivering up was the first step in the process of invoking against God the power of God; mainly, because the sin thus committed was, on the part of those who were guilty of it, a sin against greater light than in Pilate’s case. The Jews professed to know (and ought to have known) God better than the heathen judge. They ought to have known better than he the true nature of that source ‘from above,’ from which they derived their power. Therefore their sin, a sin against God, was in them ‘greater’ than in him. In this reply Jesus had done more than speak as an innocent man. He had assumed a position of superiority alike to His accusers and His judge. The effect produced upon Pilate was proportionally great.


Verse 12

John 19:12. Upon this Pilate sought to release him. The verb ‘sought’ in the original implies that Pilate now made repeated attempts, not recorded, to effect with consent of the Jews the release of his prisoner. The attempts were vain.

But the Jews cried out, saying, If thou release this man, thou art not Cæsar’s friend: every one that maketh himself a king speaketh against Cæsar. The term ‘Cæsar’s friend’ had been, since the time of Augustus, conferred by the emperor upon legates and prefects as an honourable distinction. It is not improbable that the hope of obtaining it might even now be floating before Pilate’s eyes. The argument, although not deliberately reserved for this moment, but dictated by the quick insight of excited passion, was thus fitted to tell most powerfully upon him. How it did tell the sequel shows. We shall err, however, if we imagine that the only object of John in mentioning the circumstance is to point out the consideration to which Pilate yielded. He has another object far more nearly at heart,—to exhibit the woeful, the self-confessed, degradation to which the proud Jewish people, by their opposition to Jesus, had reduced themselves. Something similar had been already noted by him at John 11:48, but that fell far short of what is exhibited here. In order to effect their guilty end, they by whom the friendship of Cæsar was regarded as degradation and not honour, appeal to the desire for it as a noble ambition; they who would fain have trampled the authority of Cæsar under foot as the source of the oppression from which they suffered, and of the loss of all the ancient glories of their nation, represent the effort to maintain it as one that loyalty ought to make. With what clearness does the Evangelist see these wretched ‘Jews,’ in the very act of accomplishing their ends, plunging themselves into the greatest depths of ignominy and shame! The effect of the appeal is not lost upon Pilate.


Verse 13

John 19:13. When Pilate therefore heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called the Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. The decisive moment is now come; and, according to the frequent method of our Evangelist, the way is prepared for it by the mention of several particulars. First, we have the place. It was not in the palace, but at a spot called in the Aramaic tongue Gabbatha, and in the Greek the Pavement. The Greek name was probably given because the floor was laid down in the mosaic work common in those days in places of importance, such as theatres and halls of justice, and before altars of the gods. It literally means inlaid with stones. The Aramaic word Gabbatha signifies a hill or elevated spot of ground, so that we are to think of a spot in the open air where a tribunal was erected on a rising ground, the top of which was laid with tesselated pavement. The time is next noted.


Verse 14

John 19:14. And it was Preparation-day of the passover; it was about the sixth hour. It is not to be denied that the difficulties connected with each of these two clauses are very great; and we have again to regret, as at chap. John 18:28, that in a commentary such as this it is impossible to do justice to the question. We shall endeavour to indicate as clearly as our space will permit the solution that we propose.

1. It is urged that the first clause means, ‘It was the preparation of the Passover,’ that is, the day before it. Difficulties are thus removed at the cost of making John contradict the earlier Evangelists as to the night when the Last Supper was instituted, and the day when Jesus was crucified. Apart from all consideration of the new difficulty thus created, we observe—(1) That the interpretation thus offered makes the Evangelist contradict himself (comp. what has been said on chap. John 18:39; and bear in mind that Pilate at the moment there spoken of released Barabbas, Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:25). The Passover was therefore then begun. To speak now of the day preceding it is impossible. (2) The translation ‘the preparation’ cannot be accepted. There is no article in the original. The Greek term must be rendered either ‘a preparation,’ or it must be taken in its well-known sense of ‘Friday.’ (3) It has never been shown that the day before the Passover was called ‘The preparation of the Passover.’ It has been conjectured that it was, because it is believed that the day before the Sabbath was called ‘The preparation of the Sabbath.’ No such name as this last has been pointed out. It did not—we may venture to say that, without a different mode of connecting the two words, it could not—exist. The whole foundation upon which rests the idea of a day called ‘the preparation of the Passover’ is removed.

2. A second solution is offered. By ‘preparation’ we are to understand Friday; by ‘the Passover’ the Paschal feast; by the whole expression, ‘It was Friday of the Paschal feast.’ There is much in this to be accepted, for it appears from Josephus that the seven days festival was often designated ‘the Passover,’ and there can be no doubt as to the rendering ‘Friday.’ The difficulties, if nothing more can be said, are—(1) To see why the words ‘of the Paschal feast’ should be added; they are unnecessary; and they do not occur at John 19:31, although the day there spoken of is the same as that before us here. (2) That it is not easy to exclude from the original the thought of the ‘Paschal lamb.’ That is the proper rendering of the Greek, and the rendering which lies closest to the whole conception and drift alike of the chapters with which we are now dealing and of the special verses in which mention of ‘the Passover’ is made. Notwithstanding these difficulties, we accept this rendering as in part at least the meaning of the Evangelist. The difficulties will vanish when we consider that it is not all his meaning. For, in truth, he seems to be led to his choice of the particular form of expression which he employs by the tendency that we have so frequently had occasion to observe in him,—the tendency to see things in the doubles presented by symbols and their realities. Both the leading words of the clause before us are susceptible of this double meaning; and it is because they are so that we find them here. Thus—(1) The former word is to be taken in its double sense, ‘a preparation’ or ‘Friday.’ (2) The words rendered ‘the Passover,’ or as it might be simply ‘the Pasche,’ are to be taken in their double sense, ‘the Paschal lamb’ or ‘the Paschal feast or week.’ At the time when John wrote, if not also much earlier, both senses were in use in the Christian Church. Exactly then as in chap. John 3:8 John has in view the double meaning of the Greek word for spirit or wind, so here he has in view the double meaning of these expressions. The day now dawning, and the events now occurring, were ‘a preparation of the Paschal lamb’—yet not of the lamb of the Jewish feast, but of the true Paschal Lamb, Jesus Himself,—of the Lamb now on His way to be sacrificed for the life of His people. It was also ‘Friday of the Pasche.’ Both these meanings are prominent to the eye of the Evangelist; and as, with the ready appreciation of symbolism possessed by the symbolic mind, he sets that one of his deepest thoughts can be expressed by words which shall at the same time express an outward incident of the scene, he chooses his language for the sake of the richer meaning to which he is thus able to give utterance.

The view now taken derives confirmation from the fact that at John 19:31 of this chapter, where the word ‘a preparation’ or ‘Friday’ is again used, the addition ‘of the Passover’ is dropped. Why is this? Because by the time we come to that verse the true Paschal Lamb has been slain: it is no longer possible, therefore, to speak of a preparation of Jesus. If, on the other hand, the word denotes the weekly day of preparation (‘Friday’), it is clear that in John 19:31 any explanatory addition would be superfluous. The particular view to be taken of chap. John 19:28-37 also lend confirmation to what has been said.

The second clause of the words with which we now deal is much more easily explained than the first: ‘and it was about the sixth hour.’ If this hour be according to Jewish modes of reckoning (noon), we are in direct conflict with Mark 15:25, ‘and it was the third hour, and they crucified Him.’ There, at 9 A.M., the crucifixion takes place. Here, at noon, the sentence is not yet pronounced. The main elements of the solution are to be found in what has been already said with regard to the mode of reckoning time employed in this Gospel. ‘The sixth hour’ is thus 6 a.m., an hour supplying us, as nearly as it is possible for us to imagine, with the space of time needed for the events already past that night, as well as with that needed for things still to be done before the crucifixion at 9 A.M. To these considerations has to be added the fact, that Pilate now for the first time took his formal place upon the judgment seat, and pronounced sentence with the suitable solemnities of law. But by Roman law this could not be done before 6 A.M.; and it is much more likely that Pilate would embrace the earliest opportunity of ridding himself of a disagreeable case than that he would carry on the process until noon.

Both the place and the time for the last step in the trial of Jesus have now been mentioned. Pilate is on his judgment seat, on a spot elevated above the people. The true Lamb of God is before him ready for the sacrifice. The awful ‘hour is come.’

And he saith unto the Jews, Behold, your King! The words are not spoken sarcastically of Jesus, but contemptuously of the Jews. Pilate had no motive for being sarcastic with regard to the former. He had been impressed by the spectacle of meekness and innocence which Jesus presented. He would have set Him free had he possessed sufficient earnestness and depth of moral character to carry into effect what he knew to be right. We cannot, therefore, suppose that he has any wish to treat Jesus with contempt. But all the more that this was the case, and that his own conscience was reproving him for his weakness, would his contempt be increased for those who were urging him to act unjustly. His secret displeasure with himself would seek satisfaction in his indignation and disgust with them. He had shown his contempt for the Jews from the first (comp. John 19:35), and now, with that contempt raised to its highest point, he says, ‘Behold, your King.’ It is possible also that in these words the Evangelist sees one of those unconscious prophecies or Divine declarations concerning Jesus of which we have had repeated illustrations in this Gospel.


Verse 15

John 19:15. They therefore cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Instinct tells them that the last moment when they may accomplish their object is arrived: and, roused to the utmost pitch of fury by the words of Pilate, they cry out, with a quick repetition of words corresponding to their feelings, Let him be hurried off to crucifixion. But Pilate will still further provoke them, still further pour out his contempt upon them.

Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? Then follow those words evidently so full of meaning to the Evangelist.

The chief priests answered, We have no king but Cæsar. The chief priests, the heads of the Theocracy of Israel, give the answer, which thus comes upon us with a more terrible force than it could otherwise have done. What an answer is it! It is the utterance of self-condemnation, the renouncing of the chief honour of the chosen people, the casting away of what had most distinguished them in the past, of what they hoped most from in the future, ‘We have no king but Cæsar.’ God is rejected; Messianic hope is trampled under foot. In the moment of securing the death of their true King, ‘the Jews,’ by the mouth of their leaders and representatives, plunge themselves into the lowest depths of guilt and shame.


Verse 16

John 19:16 a. Then therefore delivered he him up unto them to be crucified. The tragedy has reached its climax; and in this single sentence the rest of the direful story may be told.

John 19:16 b. They therefore received Jesus. ‘They,’ not the soldiers, but the chief priests of John 19:15 and the Jews of John 19:14. The verb is that of chap. John 1:11, ‘His own accepted him not.’ Now they did ‘receive’ Him, but only to hurry Him to a cruel death. It will be observed how much this peculiar force of the verb is brought out by the true reading of the verse, which omits ‘and led him away.’


Verse 17

John 19:17. And bearing the cross for himself he went forth unto the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. It is a trace of the accuracy of John both in observing and relating facts, that he is the only Evangelist who mentions the circumstance. Nor is there any contradiction betwixt this statement and that of the three earlier Gospels which tells us that they compelled Simon of Cyrene to bear the cross after Jesus. Jesus had borne it at first, but had afterwards been compelled through fatigue to resign it. On ‘went forth’ comp. on chap. John 18:1. The place was called Golgotha, ‘the place of a skull,’ probably as being a small round hillock. The most interesting point to be noticed is the manner in which John dwells upon the meaning of the name. The ‘place of a skull’ is the emblem to him of the sad transaction about to be completed there. The Evangelist adds,


Verse 18

John 19:18. Where they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. On the lingering torture of death by crucifixion it is unnecessary to dwell. We learn from the earlier Gospels that the two crucified along with Jesus were robbers (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27). To this death they too must have been doomed by the Roman power, and as we find the Roman governor writing the inscription and Roman soldiers taking part in the crucifixion and dividing the spoils (comp. John 19:23), it is reasonable to think that it was also a Roman, not a Jewish, arrangement by which the two robbers were suspended on either side of Jesus. If so, the object must have been still more to bring out that idea of His royalty with which Pilate to the last mocked the Jews. Not only, however, did he mock them thus. Following the custom of the time, by which an inscription describing the crime for which a malefactor suffered was nailed to the cross, he ordered this to be done now, and he himself dictated the words.


Verse 19

John 19:19. And Pilate also wrote a title, and put it on the cross; and there was written, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. The object, as before, was to do despite to the Jews, not to Jesus. To the last moment their terrible crime must, under the overruling providence of God, be brought home to them.


Verse 20

John 19:20. This title then read many of the Jews, for the place of the city where Jesus was crucified was nigh. The language in which this proximity of Golgotha to the city is spoken of is in a high degree remarkable: not ‘the place was nigh to the city,’ but ‘the place of the city was nigh.’ We are not to imagine that by these words the Evangelist means to say that the place of the crucifixion was within the city. He knew well, as every one knew, that it was ‘without the gate.’ It is the power of the idea, not perverting the fact but leading to a special view of it, that meets us here, as so often elsewhere. The place outside the city, but really belonging to the city, is viewed only in this latter aspect, as ‘the place of the city,’ because a closer connection is thus established between the crime committed there and the guilty city of Jerusalem.

And it was written in Hebrew and Latin and Greek, the three great languages of the then known world.


Verse 21

John 19:21. The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews, but, That man said, I am King of the Jews. The offence taken might have been, and probably was, expected by Pilate; but the mode in which it is described is again highly worthy of our notice. This is the only occasion on which we meet with the expression ‘the chief priests of the Jews;’ and as it occurs in such close connection with the words ‘the King of the Jews,’ we can hardly doubt that the latter words determined the form of the phrase before us. On the one side we see the King of the Jews defeated, yet victorious; suspended on the cross, yet proclaimed to be what He is in all the great languages of the world; set before us as universal King. On the other side we see the chief priests of the Jews victorious, yet defeated; their object apparently accomplished, yet its accomplishment turned to their own shame, and their Victim’s glory.—Their request was denied in the most curt and contemptuous language.


Verse 22

John 19:22. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. It is impossible to mistake the feeling of the Evangelist that in all this the finger of God is to be traced. Those who refuse to ‘believe’ shall yet be compelled to own that Jesus is King.


Verse 23

John 19:23. The soldiers therefore, 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. The soldiers are no longer a ‘band.’ They are only four in number, the usual number of a Roman guard (comp. Acts 12:4). When they went out against Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane it was in force, because they knew not how far He might really be the leader in a popular insurrection against the government. There was evidently no occasion for such a fear now, and their number therefore could with perfect safety be reduced. By the ‘garments’ here spoken of we are to understand all the articles of clothing belonging to Jesus with the exception of His ‘vesture’ or tunic,—viz. His sandals, girdle, outer robe, head-dress, etc. These they divided into four parts, giving to each of the four soldiers a part. Another course had to be taken with the tunic or under-garment. By it we are without doubt to understand the long garment reaching to the feet, woven so as to fit closely to the body (not pieced or sewed together), which was worn by the high priest,—the garment of Revelation 1:13. It is hardly possible not to feel that this vestment is to John the symbol of the fact that He who now hangs upon the cross as King is also Priest of His people. We are next told what was done with the vestment.


Verses 23-30

This paragraph details some of the events of the crucifixion, but not in strict historical sequence to John 19:21-22. The conference with Pilate there alluded to following as it did the reading of the inscription spoken of in John 19:20, must have been later than the moment when the division of the raiment of Jesus by the soldiers began. We can hardly doubt that this latter would begin as soon as the cross was erected and Jesus nailed to it.


Verse 24

John 19:24. They said therefore to one another. Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be. Both in the dividing and in the casting of lots the Evangelist sees Scripture fulfilled.

That the scripture might be fulfilled, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture they cast lots. The quotation is from Psalms 22:18, and is accurately reproduced from the Septuagint.

These things therefore the soldiers did. The words may either be intended to emphasize the presence of God in the scene, as He made the Roman soldiers fulfil His Scripture; or may simply arise out of the intense interest with which John narrates each particular of these eventful hours.—Another scene is now presented to us.


Verse 25

John 19:25. But there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. In Matthew 27:55 we are told of ‘many women beholding from afar.’ But as there is nothing to say that the moment was the same as that now before us, the supposed contradiction between ‘by the cross’ and ‘from afar’ disappears. If the third of the women here mentioned be the same as the second, we shall have two sisters of the same name in one family; for ‘sister’ cannot mean cousin. The high improbability of this leads to the supposition that we have here four women, in two groups of two each. This view is confirmed by the fact that the lists of apostles are in like manner given us in groups of two, and by what does not seem to have been urged as an argument upon the point, that the four women seem designedly placed in contrast with the four soldiers. (Not that the Evangelist makes the number in order to suit his purpose; but that out of the ‘many’ spoken of by Matthew he selects four for its sake. It is the same habit as that of which we have seen so much,—the selection of particulars to illustrate the historical idea which he is desirous to unfold.) On the supposition that four women are mentioned, it appears from the earlier Gospels that the second, here unnamed, was Salome, John’s own mother. Whether Clopas may be identified with Cleopas (Luke 24:18) it is impossible to decide.


Verse 26-27

John 19:26-27. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom be loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold, thy son. Then saith he to the disciple, Behold, thy mother; and from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home. The act thus recorded has been variously interpreted; by some as in its main purpose an act of filial care for the mother whose soul was now about to be pierced by the sword spoken of in the prophetic word of Simeon (Luke 2:35); by others as a formal renunciation of her, that He may surrender Himself wholly to the will of His heavenly Father. It is in the first of these two lights that we must chiefly regard it. Then we can best explain the words of John 19:27, which are evidently the Evangelist’s commentary upon what had just passed; and the renunciation spoken of had really taken place at chap. John 2:4.


Verse 28

John 19:28. After this. Jesus knowing that all things are now finished, that the scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst. It is a question whether the words ‘that the Scripture might be accomplished’ are to be connected with what precedes or with what follows. In favour of the former connection it may be said—(1) It is John’s practice to point out the fulfilment of Scripture after, not before, the event fulfilling it. (2) It is his usual practice to notice the fulfilment of Scripture in what is done to Jesus, rather than in what is done by Him to fulfil it. (3) The use of the word ‘now’ seems to show that we have already reached a complete accomplishment of Scripture. It would thus appear that it is the intention of the Evangelist to present to us a word spoken by Jesus at a moment when He knew that Scripture had been already fulfilled. He is in the position of One whose work is done, and for whom nothing remains but to depart. The strong counter-argument is that everywhere else in this Gospel (see chap. John 2:22) ‘the scripture’ denotes some special passage. As, however, we cannot doubt that John regarded the utterance here recorded as fulfilling Psalms 69:21 (see chap. John 2:17), the difference between the two interpretations is less than it at first appears.—That thirst was a great part of the agony of the cross we know; nor in all probability should we think of more, were it not the manner of John to relate minor incidents, not for themselves alone, but for the sake of the deeper meaning which he always sees to be involved in them. This manner of the Evangelist, therefore, compels us to ask whether there may not be a deeper meaning in this cry? Let us turn to chap. John 4:7. There, immediately after mention of ‘the sixth hour,’ Jesus says to the woman of Samaria, ‘Give me to drink.’ Here, in close contiguity with another ‘sixth hour’ (John 19:14), He says, ‘I thirst.’ But we have already seen in the language of chap. John 4:7 the longing of the Redeemer for the fruits of that work which He was then accomplishing in toil and weariness; and we are thus led to think of something of the same kind here. It was not merely to temper suffering that Jesus cried, but it was for refreshment to the body symbolizing a deeper refreshment to the soul.—The request thus made was answered.


Verse 29

John 19:29. There was set there a vessel full of vinegar: they put therefore a sponge full of the vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to his mouth. It is possible that the vinegar here referred to may have been the mixture of vinegar and water used by the Roman soldiers to quench their thirst; or it may even have been a vessel of vinegar itself, of which large quantities were used at the Passover. The ‘hyssop’ cannot be equivalent to the ‘reed’ of Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36, for the hyssop plant was of too low and bushy a habit to supply a reed. It is simply a small bunch of hyssop, which was most probably attached to the end of a reed. A piece of sponge soaked in vinegar was fastened to the hyssop end of the rod, and the draught was in this way conveyed to the lips of Jesus.

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Verse 30

John 19:30. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and delivered up his spirit. It is not said that Jesus took much of the vinegar, and the probability is that He did not. When He had taken it He exclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ The word is the same as in John 19:28, but now He utters what there He ‘knew.’ It is the shout of victory, not the cry of satisfaction that suffering is at an end. Having said this, ‘He bowed His head’ (which had been previously erect), and ‘delivered up His spirit.’ The verb used for ‘delivered up’ is peculiarly important. The choice of the word leaves no doubt as to the meaning of the Evangelist. However true it is that by the cruelty of man the death upon the cross was brought about as by its natural cause, there was something deeper and more solemn in it of which we must take account. It was His own free will to die. There is in Him an ever-present life and power and choice in which He, even at the very last moment, offers Himself as a sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14). He tells us Himself of His life, ‘No one taketh it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again’ (chap. John 10:18); and these words have now their illustration. Compare the language of His dying cry, recorded by Luke (chap. Luke 23:46): ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’ We forbear to enter further upon the physical cause of the death thus recorded. It is impossible not to feel that the speculations which have been indulged in on this subject have done more to shock Christian feeling than to satisfy a legitimate spirit of inquiry.


Verse 31

John 19:31. The Jews therefore, because it was Preparation-day. It has already been remarked (on John 19:14) that the word here used has in itself the double meaning of ‘preparation’ and of ‘Friday.’ Here, without the article, it cannot have the general sense of ‘the preparation.’ Any thought of preparation, too, lying in the word must, as appears clearly from the following clause, be connected with the Sabbath and not with the Passover. Had the latter been thought of, it would surely have been expressly mentioned, to obviate the mistake to which the use of a well- understood technical term could not fail to give rise. These words, therefore, so far from supporting the view of those who think that the legal Passover had not yet been celebrated, tend rather in the opposite direction. Nor is there any weight in the argument that, had the term been used as we have supposed, the Evangelist would have explained it for the benefit of his Greek readers. It was the Christian name for Friday, and to Greek Christians it could suggest nothing else.

That the bodies might not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath day was an high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. It is generally allowed that the Sabbath here referred to is termed ‘high,’ because it was one of more than ordinary solemnity, deriving its importance on this occasion from the fact that it coincided with either the first or the second day (both being important) of the Paschal festival.—The operation of breaking the legs, though not sufficient to cause death, would naturally hasten it. Under any circumstances it prevented the escape of the prisoners.


Verses 31-37

Jesus is now dead, and this paragraph relates the events immediately following, before His body was removed from the cross.


Verse 32

John 19:32. The soldiers therefore came and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. The bodies had been suspended on the cross with Jesus in the midst. It is natural to suppose that the soldiers, approaching from two opposite sides, would proceed in the order thus mentioned: each would strike his blow on one malefactor’s body; then they would come to Jesus.


Verse 33-34

John 19:33-34. 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 straightway there came forth blood and water. The explanation of the fact here recorded has always been felt to be attended with peculiar difficulty. The idea that Jesus was not dead, but that death was produced by the spear-wound, must at once be set aside. It is inconsistent with the distinct language of the Evangelist, which states the fact,—and not merely what the soldier thought,—that Jesus was ‘dead already.’ It is inconsistent with what we have been previously told, that Jesus had ‘delivered up’ His spirit into the hands of His Father. And it is not less inconsistent with the symbolism of the passage, which would have been inadmissible had not John believed that death was past. But the impossibility that blood and water should issue from the side of a person already dead is urged on physiological grounds. It might be possible to adopt the explanation of some eminent commentators, that we have here a unique appearance based upon a unique situation. If it be a general truth that the moment death comes corruption begins, and if, notwithstanding, Jesus ‘saw no corruption,’ we are prepared to expect that the phenomena accompanying His death will transcend our experience; and it may well be that we have such phenomena before us here. Before we resort, however, to such an explanation, we ought to ask whether, when we take all the circumstances into account, it is really necessary. We remark therefore that—(1) There is nothing to prevent our assuming that the spear- wound was inflicted the instant after death. The Evangelist does not convey the slightest hint to us that any interval elapsed between the two events, and the nature of death by crucifixion is such as to call us to think of the latest possible moment as that of death. ‘Pilate marvelled if He were already dead’ (Mark 15:44). (2) In conformity with the opinion of all expositors, the region of the heart must be looked upon as that penetrated by the spear. (3) The ‘blood and water’ derive all their importance from that symbolical meaning which they have in the eyes of John. The circumstance which more than any other has led inquirers astray in judging of what we have here before us is, that they have supposed it to be the aim of the Evangelist to establish the fact that Jesus was really put to death. But, as we shall see on John 19:35, this is certainly not the point before him. The fact now spoken of has no connection whatever with proof that death had taken place; and it is mentioned solely for the sake of the deeper meaning which it involves. (4) These things being so, it is obviously a matter of no moment what the quantity of ‘blood and water’ that issued from the wound may have been. The smallest quantity will suffice; and will suggest the truth intended as well as the largest.

But it has never been proved that such a small quantity might not issue from a wound thus inflicted. The wound would be a large one; the iron point of the spear, we may be sure, was both heavy and rough; and if the instant after death the pericardium and heart were pierced, there is no difficulty in supposing such an effusion of blood and of water, or serum, as could not fail to attract the attention of the beholder, and suggest to his mind lessons of deep spiritual significance. If this be so, the literal interpretation of the passage may be retained. What the water and blood symbolized to John must be learned from the general tenor of his writings. The ‘blood’ brings to mind the sacrifice for the world’s sin (chap. John 1:29), the life laid down for the life of the world (chaps, John 6:51, John 10:15), the cleansing of and by atonement (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9). The ‘water’ recalls the teaching of chaps, John 3:5, John 7:38, John 13:8; John 13:10; and symbolizes the abiding gift of the Spirit of holiness. Thus in His death Jesus is presented as the Source of Life, in all its purity and spiritual power. That this section of the Gospel stands in closest connection with 1 John 5:6 seems to us beyond doubt: what is the exact nature of the relation between the passages is a question which belongs to the exposition of the Epistle, and cannot be investigated here.


Verse 35

John 19:35. And he that hath seen hath borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye also may believe. It is of himself that the Evangelist speaks: compare 1 John 1:1-3. The witness that he bears is ‘true.’ The word differs from that which is used in the second member of this verse and in John 21:24 (‘We know that his witness is true’). It designates the testimony as genuine and real. Not only is it truthful, but it is all that testimony can be: the witness will not deceive, but—more than this—in regard to the matter which he here attests he cannot have been deceived or mistaken. See the notes on chaps, John 4:37, John 8:16. The object of this solemn testimony is that they may ‘believe;’ not simply may believe the facts, but may rest in a true and settled faith upon Him of whom these wonders can be related. The significance belonging to the facts thus solemnly commemorated is now further illustrated (John 19:36-37): they are the fulfilment of the Divine counsels expressed in Scripture.


Verse 36-37

John 19:36-37. For these things came to pass, that the scripture might be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not he crushed; and again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced. The passages referred to in the first of these quotations seem to be Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12, rather than Psalms 34:20. It is probable, however, that the last of these is founded upon the first two. Great importance was attached by the Jews to the precept that no bone of the Paschal Lamb should be broken. God’s counsel, typified in this, is now fulfilled in the true Paschal Lamb (see chap. John 1:29).

In the second passage referred to (Zechariah 12:10), the Evangelist sets aside what is universally allowed to be the false translation of the Septuagint, and translates from the Hebrew. It is not impossible that in this passage also there may be a distant allusion to the rites of the Pass-over; for the bitterness of the ‘mourning’ alluded to seems to be founded on the mourning of Egypt for its first-born. But, whether this be so or not, it will not be denied that the allusion in the Prophet to Him who is to come as the manifestation of God to His people is distinct. The true reading of the passage in Zechariah is, ‘They shall look on Me whom they pierced,’ where the word ‘Me’ is to be explained by the fact that the Sender is identified with the Sent, the Lord with His prophet. It is worthy of notice that the words translated ‘pierced’ in John 19:34; John 19:37 are different, from which we may conclude that the Evangelist does not rest in the mere detail of the piercing, .but dwells upon the wider thought, that Israel rejected and crucified its Lord. Such, however, had been God’s counsel; and thus spoken, not only by the law but by the Prophets (comp. chap. John 1:45), this counsel is now fulfilled in Jesus.

One remark more may be permitted on the peculiar light in which the whole of this remarkable scene seems to present itself to the eye of the Evangelist. Jesus is obviously here, as indeed He has been throughout the Gospel, the true Paschal Lamb (chaps, John 1:29; John 1:6). Yet He is that Lamb looked at not simply in the moment of dying, but as, in dying (in that dying which has been going on throughout His whole suffering life and only culminates now), the true substance of His people’s Paschal feast, their nourishment, their life. The conduct of the Jews to Jesus as He hangs upon the cross thus assumes the form of an inverted, a contorted, Passover. They had that morning lost their legal Passover,—had lost even the shadow; because they rejected and despised the substance. ‘Yet,’ says the Evangelist, ‘they found a Passover. Let us follow them to the cross. There let us see the righteous dealings, the deserved irony, of the Almighty, as He makes their cruel mockings of the true Paschal Lamb shape themselves into a Passover of judgment, of added sin and deepened shame.’ If the passage be looked at in this light—the only light, as it seems to us, which at once explains the general structure of the section and the peculiar expressions employed—it will be found to be full of the most important consequences alike for the biblical critic and for the dogmatic theologian.


Verse 38

John 19:38. And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked of Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took away his body. It is easy to understand that Pilate should at once grant the permission asked. He had no interest in keeping the body; and by giving it up to disciples of Jesus he would have a fresh opportunity of at once doing despite to, and exasperating, the Jews. It seems not unlikely that in the fact that disciples receive the body of the Lord the Evangelist beholds a token of the care with which it was watched over by His Father in Heaven. Joseph, however, was not alone.

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Verses 38-42

The paragraph before us records the committal of the body of Jesus to the tomb.


Verse 39

John 19:39. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to him by night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. The quantity of spices thus brought by Nicodemus is certainly remarkable; and hence some have shrunk from taking the words in their literal sense, holding that ‘a hundred pound’ (especially as here qualified by ‘about’) may be an expression merely denoting a great quantity. Others, following the suggestion of 2 Chronicles 16:14, have supposed that, when part of the mixture of spices had been spread on the linen cloths in which the body was to be wrapped, the remainder was destined for ‘a burning.’ Whether this be accepted or not, the passage referred to is interesting as bringing before us the burial of a King. The distinct identification of this Nicodemus with the ruler who came to Jesus by night (chap. 3) is undoubtedly significant. The humiliation of the King of Israel (chap. John 3:3, John 12:13), so far from discouraging, does but strengthen the once weak faith of the true disciple; and in contrast with (and—may we not add—in expression of shame and penitence for) timorous hesitation, we read of the lavish offering of a love open and avowed. The declaration of chap. John 12:32 begins to receive its fulfilment.


Verse 40

John 19:40. They took therefore the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, even as the manner of the Jews is to prepare for burial. It is hardly possible to suppose that the fact mentioned in the last clause is without a purpose. The words ‘even as’ would of themselves seem to Indicate as much as this. Let us remember then the importance which was attached by all to a splendid burial (comp. Luke 16:22); let us bear in mind that by ‘the Jews’ we are here to understand not the nation, but lather that portion of the nation which best exemplified its narrowness and bigotry, and which included its more respectable class; lastly, let us think of the worldly circumstances of Joseph, and in all probability of Nicodemus; and we shall feel that the Evangelist desires to call our attention to the striking fact, that, notwithstanding the ignominious death to which Jesus had been put, and though the rage of His enemies appeared to have so completely triumphed, there were yet those who prepared for Him as honoured and as costly a burial as could await any ‘Jew.’ That the word ‘burial’ is used to describe the wrapping of the body in the linen cloths may arise from the Evangelist’s desire to mention a circumstance which brings strongly into relief the condition in which these cloths were afterwards found (John 20:7). The body having thus been prepared for burial, the actual entombment alone remains to be spoken of.


Verse 41

John 19:41. 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. Nothing further is told by John of the garden and of the sepulchre thus referred to. We learn only from the other Evangelists that they belonged to Joseph, and that the sepulchre, as is common round Jerusalem, was hewn in the rock. It is not easy to say whether the Evangelist, in referring to the particulars he mentions, may have desired to prepare the way for the reality of the resurrection. They certainly tend to do so, because they help to show that, when the grave was found empty, none but Jesus could have risen from it. It seems more probable, however, that they are mentioned with the view of bringing out the honour paid to Jesus in His death. He was laid, not in the place of common burial, but in a garden, and in a new sepulchre, where no one had been laid before Him. Finally, we are informed why they laid Jesus there in the condition in which He was.


Verse 42

John 19:42. There therefore, because of the Preparation-day of the Jews (because the sepulchre was nigh at hand), laid they Jesus. These words can hardly mean that Jesus was laid in this tomb simply as a matter of convenience, owing to the nearness of the Sabbath. The meaning must rather be that, owing to this nearness, the embalming had been more readily left in that unfinished state of which we read in the other Evangelists. The proximity of the tomb to the city has little bearing on the former, it has a distinct bearing on the latter point. It is unnecessary to say more on the question of ‘the Preparation-day of the Jews.’ There is only one simple and natural meaning of the words. It was now Friday afternoon; the Sabbath was at hand; the hours of that part of the Friday devoted to preparation for the Sabbath had set in. It was desirable, therefore, that the work of embalming the body should for the present be brought to a close. The reader cannot fail to be struck with the touching pathos lent to the whole sentence by making it close with the words ‘laid they Jesus.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 19:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-19.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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