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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
John 19

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XIX.

Christ is scourged, crowned with thorns, and beaten. Pilate is desirous to release him, but being overcome with the outrage of the Jews, he delivereth him to be crucified. The soldiers cast lots for his garments: he commendeth his mother to John: he dieth: his side is pierced, he is buried by Joseph and Nicodemus.

Anno Domini 33.


Verse 2

John 19:2. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, See the note on Matthew 27:29. To what has been said there concerning the crown of thorns, the following observations may be added. The form of the sentence for execution passed upon criminals, as recited by Cicero, was this: I, lictor, colliga manus, caput obnubito, arbori infelici suspendito: "Go, lictor, bind his hands, cover or veil his head, suspend him on the unhappy tree:" where the words colliga manus may signify no more than tie his hands together, though it was the custom to fasten them afterwards to the cross either with cords or nails, as in the case of our Saviour. That they covered the faces of the criminals, appears also from this passage of Cicero: the reason hereof might perhaps be the same as with us, to prevent the shocking sight of the horror and distortion of the countenance during their agonies. It seems highly probable, therefore, that the two malefactors who were crucified with our Saviour, were so treated, according to the usual custom; but the crown of thorns which was put upon his head prevented any such covering, so that his countenance was open and visible to the spectators: and this appears from what our evangelist mentions of his seeing and speaking both to his mother and beloved disciple, John 19:26-27. Now this might be so ordered by a particular direction of Providence; that the divine composure and serenity of his countenance, together with his whole deportment, might be rendered the more conspicuous to so vast a crowd of spectators as was then present during the last scene of his sufferings; and therefore Mr. Wright, in his Travels, has very justly censured the Italian painters, as generally guilty of an impropriety in representing our Saviour on the cross with his face distorted, as if under great uneasiness and discomposure: in which wrong notion they have also been usually followed by others. It can occasion no difficulty here to suppose, that the faces of the two malefactors were covered, because they are both said to have spoken to our Saviour while they hung upon the cross; for we are often told of things said by criminals amongst us in the like circumstances. But it has been remarked, that "nothing was set down by the evangelists touching the complexion, stature, or features of Christ, that no man might presume to set his hand to the framing of that astonishingwork wrought once for all by the Holy Ghost."


Verse 5

John 19:5. Behold the man! While thesoldiers were acting their impious buffooneries, Pilate entered, and, seeing the humiliating condition of the suffering Jesus, he thought that now at least the rage of his enemies would be satiated, and that the most envenomed heart would relent at the appearance of so sad a spectacle; he therefore brought Jesus forth, and, shewing him to them, said, Behold the man. He added no more, concluding that the deplorable condition to which Jesus was reduced would plead sufficiently on his behalf, and extort compassion from the most obdurate. And indeed no sight could be more moving:-his sacred body torn with scourges, his head pierced with thorns, and the blood flowing from so many wounds down his face and hair, rendered him an object of the greatest pity.


Verse 6-7

John 19:6-7. When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, The priests, whose rage and malice had extinguished not only the sentiments ofjustice, and all the feelings of pity, but that love which countrymen bear to one another,—no sooner saw Jesus, than they began to fear that the fickle populace might relent; and therefore, laying decency aside, they led the way to the mob, crying out with all their might, Crucify him! crucify him! The governor, vexed to find the rulers thus obstinately bent on the destruction of a person who appeared to him perfectly innocent, told them plainly, with great indignation, that, if they would have him crucified, they must do it themselves, because he would not suffer his people to murder a man who was guilty of no crime. But they refused this also, thinking it dishonourable to receive permission to punish one, who had been more than once publicly declared innocent by his judge. Besides, they considered with themselves, that the governor afterwards might have called it sedition, as the permission had been extorted from him. Wherefore they told him, that, though none of the things alleged against the prisoner were true, he had committed such a crime, in the presence of the council itself, as by their law, Leviticus 24:16 deserved the most ignominious death: he had spoken blasphemy, calling himself the Son of God; a title which no mortal could assume without the highest degree of guilt; "therefore, (say they,) since by our law blasphemy merits death, you ought by all means to crucify this blasphemer; for, though Caesar is our master, he governs us by our own laws."


Verse 8-9

John 19:8-9. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; When Pilate heard that Jesus called himself the Son of God, he was more perplexed than ever. Knowing the obstinacy of the Jews in all matters of religion, he was afraid they would make a tumult in earnest; and he might be the more reasonably alarmed on this head, as, since the beginning of his government, he had met with two remarkable instances of opposition to his authority; one, in anattempt which he made to bring the image of Caesar into Jerusalem; the other, in a design which he had formed of supplying the city with water at the expence of the sacred treasury of the temple. Or rather, the meaning of his uneasiness may be, that, when he heard this account of Jesus, he became more afraid than ever to take away his life, because he suspected it might be true. Perhaps the miracles of Christ which he had heard of, occurred to his reflection, and caused him to have some strong ideas that he was really the Son of God. Pilate therefore, resolving to act cautiously, went again into the judgment-hall, and said to Jesus, Whence art thou? Ποθεν ει συ ? that is, "Of what father art thou sprung? or, from what country art thou come?—Art thou from Olympus, the mansion of the gods, according to the Pagan notions?" But our blessed Lord, knowing that Pilate was no competent judge of this matter, and had forfeited his right to information about it, by so cruelly using him, while he believed him to be innocent, thought proper to make no reply to this unseasonable question.


Verse 10-11

John 19:10-11. Knowest thou not that I have power, &c.— See the note on ch. John 18:31. To what Pilate urged, our Lord replies, "Thou couldst have no power against me, unless it were given thee from above;—from the permission of the God of heaven, whose providence should be acknowledged in all events. Therefore he who has delivered me to thee, even the Jewish high priest, with his council, having far greater opportunities of knowing him and his law, hath the greater and more aggravated sin; yet thou thyself canst not but know, that, on the principles of natural equity, an innocent person ought not to be given up to popular fury." This gentle rebuke made such an impression upon Pilate, that he went out to the people, and once more declared his resolution of releasing Jesus. See the next verse, and ch. John 18:39.


Verse 12

John 19:12. And from thenceforth An inattentive reader may perhaps understand these words, as if this was Pilate's first attempt to release Jesus; nevertheless they cannot justly be thus interpreted, as St. John himself tells us expressly, that Pilate once before endeavoured to release him: ch. John 18:39. To which the answer of the priests corresponds, If thou let this man go, &c. Finding, by what the governor said unto them, that he was determined to release Jesus, they told him, with a haughty menacing air, that if he released his prisoner, who had set himself up for a king, he was not faithful to the emperor; by which they insinuated, that they would accuse him to his master, if he did not do his duty. This argument was weighty, and shook Pilate's resolution to the foundation; he was frightened at the very thought of being accused to Tiberius, who, in matters of government, as Tacitus and Suetonius testify, was apt to suspect the worst, and always punished the least crimes relative thereto with death. Wherefore we find, that, when the Jews told Pilate, that he could not be a friend to Caesar if he let Jesus go, he asks them no more if they would take Barabbas, and spare Jesus; but, though against the dictates of his conscience, gives him up to death, to secure his own safety.


Verse 14

John 19:14. And it was the preparation The governor being frightened into compliance, contrary to his inclination, was angry with the priests for stirring up the people to such a pitch of madness, and resolved to affront them. He therefore brought Jesus out a second time on the pavement, wearing the purple robe and crown of thorns, with his hands manacled; and, pointing to him, said, Behold your king; either in ridicule of the national expectation, or, which is more probable, to soften the Jews, and shew them how vain the fears were which they pretended to entertain about the emperor's authority in Judea; the person who was the occasion of them, shewing, in the whole of his deportment, a temper of mind no way consonant to the ambition wherewith they branded him. Augustus's rescript to the governors of provinces preserved by Josephus, Antiq. John 16:10 shews in what manner the Jews computed their preparation for the sabbath; for, among other things, it is therein ordered, that the Jews should not be compelled to appear in courts of judicature, either on the sabbaths, or on the day before the sabbaths, after the ninth hour of the preparation. The preparation therefore began at the ninth hour, or at three o'clock in the afternoon, which is the reason that the Jews were then freed from attendance in law-suits. Nevertheless, the manner in which the rescript is worded shews, that the whole of the day was called the preparation, consequently the evangelist wrote accurately, when he tells us, it was the preparation, and about the sixth hour. The Roman sixth hour is here meant, or our six o'clock in the morning, answering to the first Jewish hour, when Pilate brought Jesus out on the pavement.


Verse 15

John 19:15. Shall I crucify your king? According to most commentators, Pilate said this mocking them; but it is more agreeable to his general behaviour in this affair to suppose, that he spoke it with a view to move the populace, who, he knew, had once held Jesus in great esteem as the Messiah: for we are told, in the 12th verse, that he sought to release him. The chief priests replied to him, We have no king but Caesar; in which reply they publicly renounced their hope of the Messiah, which the whole oeconomy of their religion had been calculated to cherish. Likewise, they acknowledged publicly their subjection to the Romans, and, by so doing, condemned themselves when they afterwards rebelled.

The unwillingness which the governor shewed all along to pass the sentence of death upon Jesus, has something very remarkable in it; for, by the character which he bears in the Roman history, he seems to have been far from possessing any true principle of virtue. To what then could it be owing, that so wicked a man thus steadily adhered to the cause of innocence, which he defended with an uncommon bravery, till the threatenings of the grandees vanquished him? And when he did yield, taking from our Lordhis life, how came he to leave him his innocence? Certainly this can be attributed to no other cause than the secret powerful direction of the providence of God, who intended, that, at the same time, his Son was condemned and executed as a malefactor, his innocence should be made to appear in the most public manner, and bythe most authentic evidence; even by the testimony of his judges, Herod and Pilate; the latter of whom frequently declared him innocent in the course of his trial.


Verses 19-22

John 19:19-22. And Pilate wrote a title, The governor, as usual, put up a title or writing on the cross, signifying the crime for which Jesus was condemned: this writing was in black characters, on a whitened board, and in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages, that foreigners, as well as natives, might be able to read it. All the evangelists have given an account of the title, but the words of it are different in each: the difference however may easily have arisen from the languages in which the title was written; for one evangelist may have inscribed the words of the Greek inscription, a second might translate the Hebrew, a third the Latin, and a fourth may have given a different translation to the Hebrew or Latin. Thus the inscription of the title may be exactlygiven by each of the evangelists, though the words that they have mentioned be different, especially as they all agree inthe meaning of it. It has been observed, that this title was written in Latin, on account of the dignity of the Roman empire; in Hebrew, on account of the place in which the punishment was inflicted; and inGreek, on account of the great con-fluence of the Hellenistic Jews which was at that time in Jerusalem; and because Greek was then a very universal language. The inscription set up in the temple to prohibit strangers from coming within those sacred limits, was written in all these three languages. It is indeed remarkable, that, by the influence of divine Providence, the cross of Christ bore an inscription in the languages of those nations which were soon to be subdued to his faith; for not only the Jewish religion was to give place to him, but likewise the Grecian learning, and the Roman strength. The superscription, however, highly displeased the chief priests, because as it represented the crime for which Jesus was condemned, so it insinuated that he had been acknowledged for the Messiah. Besides, being placed over the head of one who was suffering the most infamous punishment, it implied that all who attempted to deliver the Jews should come to the same end. Wherefore, the faith and hope of the nation being thus publicly ridiculed, the priests thought themselves highly affronted, and came to Pilate in great concern, desiring that the writing might be altered: but Pilate having plainly intended the affront, because the Jews had constrained him to crucify Jesus, contrary to his judgment and inclination; rejected their application with some warmth, and with that inflexibility which historians represent as part of his character.


Verse 23-24

John 19:23-24. And made four parts, Because four soldiers are mentioned in the division of the clothes, it does not follow that there were but four present at the crucifixion. Since soldiers were necessary at all, a great number must have been present to keep off the crowds which usually press to see such spectacles. From Matthew 27:54 it appears, that the soldiers who assisted at the crucifixion were commanded bya centurion; wherefore it is more than probable that the whole band, which St. Matthew tells us expressly was gathered together to scourge Jesus, (Matthew 27:27.) was present at his crucifixion; especially as two others were crucified with him. The four soldiers who parted his garments, and cast lots for his vesture, were the four who nailed him tothe cross; each of them fixing a limb, and having, it seems, for this service, had a right to the crucified person's clothes. See Psalms 22:18.


Verse 25

John 19:25. There stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, &c.— Neither her own danger, nor the sadness of the spectacle, nor the reproaches and insults of the people, could restrain our Lord's mother from performing the last sad office of duty and tenderness to her divine Son on the cross. Grotius justly observes, that it was a noble instance of fortitude and zeal. Now a sword, according to Simeon's prophesy, pierced through her very soul; and perhaps the extremity of her sorrows might so overwhelm her spirits, as to render her incapable of attending the sepulchre, which we do not find that she did. After this we do not meet with any thing concerning her in the sacred history, or in early antiquity, except that she continued among the disciples after our Lord's ascension, Acts 1:14. The popish writers, indeed, have given us a variety of ridiculous tales concerning her. Instead of the wife, some commentators read the daughter of Cleophas. There is no word in the original either for wife or daughter.


Verse 26-27

John 19:26-27. Woman, behold thy son! We have elsewhere observed, that Joseph was probably dead some time before. See on ch. John 2:1; John 6:42. And as Jesus now shewed the tender concern he had for his mother, in committing her to the care of St. John; so this concern which he expressed for her support, must have affected her no less than if he had called her mother; which some have thought he might not choose to do, to avoid exposing her to the abuses of the populace by a discovery of her near relation to him. But woman was a title that he had before used in speaking to his mother, where no such caution was necessary; and it was frequently applied in ancient times, even to persons who were the most respected, as we have observed on ch. John 2:4. Some, however, have remarked, that the word Γυναι may very well be interpreted mother; which certainly renders the opposition to ο υιος σου, thy son; more sensibly affecting. See Antonin. Medit. 50: 9: 100: 3. Our Lord, besides expressing great filial affection towards his mother, gave the beloved disciple also a token of his high esteem. He singled him out for the important trust of his beloved mother; and as he desired her to consider him as a son, so he desired him expressly to reverence and love her, as if she had been his own parent,—a duty, which he gladly undertook, and no doubt most faithfully performed. Thus, in the midst of the heaviest sufferings ever sustained by human nature, Jesus demonstrated a divine strength of benevolence: even when his own distress was at the highest pitch, his friends had such a share of his concern, that their happiness for a little time engrossed his tenderest thoug


Verse 30

John 19:30. It is finished: See on Matthew 27:50.


Verse 31

John 19:31. (For that sabbath-day was an high day,)— It was not only a sabbath, but the second day of the feast of unleavened bread, from whence they reckoned the weeks to Pentecost, and also the day for presenting and offering the sheaf of new corn; so that it was indeed a treble solemnity. The Jews style a feast, or the day of solemn assembly in any feast, a high, or great day. It was customary among the Romans to let the bodies of persons who had been executed, continue on the crosses or stakes till they were devoured by beasts of prey; but as this was forbidden to the Jews, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 the Roman governors probably used to oblige them, by permitting such bodies as belonged to them to be buried.


Verses 34-37

John 19:34-37. And forthwith, &c.— Whether this was, as Dr. Drake and several others suppose, the small quantity of water inclosed in the pericardium, in which the heart swims, or whether the cruor was now almost coagulated, and separated from the serum; either way it was an indisputable proof of Christ's death. For the issuing of blood and water, not only shews that Jesus had been some time dead; but had he not been dead, this wound was of such a kind, as he could not have survived. And therefore, as it was of the greatest importance to mankind, to be ascertained of the truth of Christ's death, when St. John relates the circumstance which demonstrates it, he insists upon it particularly; and mentions it, not only as a thing which himself saw, but as the completion of a remarkable prophesy. See on Zechariah 12:10. Our Lord's legs too were not broken, that the scripture might be fulfilled, Exodus 12:46 where the words were primarily spoken of the paschal lamb, whose bones were not to be broken, that it might be a fit representation of the Messiah, typified by this sacrifice; and who, though he was to suffer a violent death, was to have none of his bones broken. Wherefore, as the scripture which speaks of the type, has necessarily a reference to the antitype, St. John had good reason to interpret what is there said of the paschal lamb, as prophetical of this circumstance of our Lord's death; and the rather as by so doing he makes his readers sensible, that it was not by accident that the soldiers treated Christ's body otherwise than they treated the bodies of those who were crucified with him: it happened by the direction of God, who had always determined that Christ's divine mission should be fully demonstrated by the evidence of miracles and prophesies united.


Verse 38

John 19:38. And after this Joseph of Arimathea, We have observed on ch. John 18:31 that Joseph of Arimathea seems to have been personally acquainted with Pilate, as he went to him, and begged leave to bury the body of Jesus. We can have no doubt of their being acquainted, if Joseph was one of the council who assisted Pilate in managing the affairs of his province, and particularly in judgingcauses. All governors of provinces had a council of this kind; accordingly we find it mentioned Acts 25:12. It is, however, objected to Joseph's being a member of Pilate's council, that it was composed of Romans only; yet even on this supposition he might be a member of it, since he might enjoy the privilege of a citizen, as well as St. Paul. What other reason can be assigned for his being called a counsellor, Luke 23:50 and Mark 15:43? — a name not commonly given to the members of the sanhedrim, whose proper title was αρχοντος, rulers. Further, St. Luke tells, (Luke 23:51.) that Joseph did not consent to the counsel ( βουλη ) and deed of them: he did not agree to the advice which the governor's council gave, when they desired him to gratify the Jews. See the note on Matthew 27:57.


Verse 39

John 19:39. About an hundred pound weight. The author of the Observations has the following remark: "What Joseph and Nicodemus did with the mixture ofmyrrh and aloes, doth not appear: Dr. Lardner supposes, that they might possibly form a bed of spices. But with respect to the quantity, which he tells us, from Bishop Kidder, a modern Jew has made an objection against the history of the New Testament, affirming that it was enough for two hundred dead bodies, (which is, saying in other words, that half a pound of these drugs is sufficient to embalm a single body) I would observe, that our English surgeons require a much larger quantity of drugs for embalming; and in a recipe, which I have seen, of a very eminent one, the weight of the drugs employed, is above one third of the weight brought by Nicodemus. Much less indeed would be wanted where the body is not embowelled; but even the cerate, or drugsused externally in our embalmings, is, I find, one seventh of the weight of the myrrh and aloes bought for embalming our Lord. However, be this as it may, as it appears from what Josephus says of the funeral of Aristobulus, the last of the high priests of the family of the Maccabees, that 'the larger the quantity of spices used in their interments, the greater honour was thought to be done to the dead;' we may easily account for the quantity which Nicodemus brought, in general, though we may not be able to tell, with the precision that could be wished, how it was disposed of. Dr. Lardner does not appear to have mentioned this passage, but it entirely answers the objection of this Jew."


Verse 40

John 19:40. Then took they the body Those who have written upon the manners and customs of the Jews, tell us, that they sometimes embalmed their dead with an aromatic mixture of myrrh, aloes, and other gums or spices; whichthey rubbed on the body more or less profusely, according to their circumstances, and their regard to the dead. After anointing the body, they covered it with a shroud or winding-sheet, then wrapped a napkin round its head and face; others say round the forehead only, because the Egyptian mummies are observed to have it so. Last of all, they swathed the shroudround the body, as tightly as possible, with proper bandages made of linen; which are the linen clothes mentioned in this verse, different from the clean linen cloth mentioned by the other evangelists. See Matthew 27:59. At other times they covered the whole body in a heap of spices: thus it is said of Asa, 2 Chronicles 16:14. They laid him in the bed, which was filled with sweet odours, and divers kinds of spices, prepared by the apothecary's art. From the quantity of myrrh and aloes made use of by Joseph and Nicodemus, namely, an hundred pound weight, it would appear that the office performed to their Master was of this latter kind; for they had not time to embalm him properly: they seem, however, to have done all that was usual in such circumstances to persons of wealth and distinction, which, as well as the sepulchre itself, accorded with Isaiah's prophesy, Isaiah 53:9. As none of the other evangelistshadmentionedthe spices with which the body was embalmed, John might choose to observe that circumstance, the better to obviate the false report which then prevailed among the Jews, that the body of our Lord had been stolen away in the night by his disciples: for, could they have been supposed so weak, as to lose time in attempting to take off the linen, both from the body and head, it must have clung so fast by means of the viscous nature of the spices, as to have put it out of their power to do it in such a manner as it was found in the sepulchre; the napkin, which was bound about his head, lying not with the linen clothes, but wrapped in a place by itself, ch. John 20:7 as if the body had miraculously slipped out of it, which was the real fact. The other evangelists indeed take notice, that the women afterwards carried spices to the sepulchre: for as Joseph and Nicodemus doubtless embalmed the body privately, after it was carried from the cross, the women, as they were not present, might know nothing of it; and, considering the shortness of the time, they might imagine nothing of that kind had been done, and therefore were willing to do what they could themselves. And this was very proper to be mentioned by the other evangelists, as it was a proof that the women had no expectation that Christ would rise again, any more than Joseph and Nicodemus; but St. John might omit it, as unnecessary to be repeated. See the note on ch. John 11:39.


Verse 41

John 19:41. And in the garden a new sepulchre, In the description of the sepulchre given by the evangelists, it is particularly remarked, that it was nigh to the place where Jesus was crucified, consequently nigh to Jerusalem. By this circumstance all the cavils are prevented, which might otherwise have been occasioned, in case the body had been removed further off. Moreover, it is observed, that the sepulchre was a new one, wherein never any man had been laid. This plainly proves, that it could be no other than Jesus who arose, and cuts off all suspicion that he was raised by touching the bones of some prophet or other, who had been buried there, as happened to the corpse which touched the bones of Elisha, 2 Kings 13:21. The evangelist further observes, that it was a sepulchre hewn out of a rock, to shew that there was no passage by which the disciples could get into it, but the one at which the guards were placed, Matthew 27:62; Matthew 27:66 and, consequently, that it was not in their power to steal away the body while the guards remained there performing their duty.

As we are now just arrived at the end of the evangelical history, and the conclusion of the two subsequent chapters will be taken up with the great subject of them,—our Lord's resurrection, we shall here endeavour to give the reader a brief sketch of the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, which itself affords the most incontestable proof of the truth and divine authority of the scriptures.

FOR, THE CHARACTER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, even considered only as it relates to his humanity, and as it may be collected from the plain narrations of the gospels, is manifestly superior to all other characters, fictitious or real; whether drawn by historians, orators, or poets. It is entirely different from that of all other men; for whereas they have the selfish passions deeply rooted in their breasts, and in their natural state are influenced by them in almost every thing they do, Jesus was so entirely free from them, that the narrowest scrutiny cannot furnish one single action in the whole course of his life, wherein he consulted his own interest only. The happiness of others was what he had chiefly at heart; and while his cotemporaries followed some one kind of occupation, some another, Jesus had no other business but that of promoting the welfare of men. He went about doing good. He did not wait till he was solicited; but sought opportunities of conferring benefits on such as stood in need of them, and always reckoned it more blessed to give than to receive.

In the next place, whereas it is common for persons, even of the most exalted faculties, on the one hand, to be elated with success and applause, and on the other, to be dejected with great disappointments, it was not so with Jesus. He was never more courageous than when he met with the greatest opposition, and the worst treatment; nor more humble than when men fell down and worshipped him. He came into the world inspired with infinitely the greater purpose that ever was formed, even that of saving, not a single nation, but the whole world; that is to say, all that would yield to be saved by his grace: and in the execution of it, went through the largest and heaviest train of labours that ever was sustained; and that with a constancy of resolution, on which no disadvantageous impression could be made by any incident whatever. In short, calumny, threatening, opposition, bad success, with the other evils befalling him, served only to quicken his endeavours in this glorious enterprise, which he pursued unweariedly, till he finished it by his glorious, though infamous death.

But again; whereas most men are prone to retaliate the injuries that are done them, and all seem to take a satisfaction in complaining of the cruelties of those who oppress them; the whole of Christ's behaviour breathed nothing but meekness, patience, and forgiveness, even to his bitterest enemies, and in the most extreme sufferings. The words, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do! uttered by him when his enemies were nailing him to the cross, or when he hung thereupon, fitly expressed the temper which he maintained through the course of his life, even when assaulted with the heaviest provocations. The truth is, on no occasion did he ever signify the least resentment, by speech or by action, nor indeed any emotion of mind whatever, except such as flowed from pity and charity; consequently such only as expressed the deeper concern for the welfare of mankind.

The greatest and best men have had failings, which darken the lustre of their virtues, and shew them to have been but men. This was the case with Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, David, Solomon, Paul, Peter, and the other heroes celebrated in sacred history. The same may be said of all the greater geniuses in the Heathen world, who undertook to instruct and inform mankind: for, omitting the narrowness of their knowledge, and the obscurity with which they spake upon the most important subjects, there was not one of them who did not fall into some gross error or other, which dishonoured his character as a teacher. The accounts that we have in history of the most renowned sages of antiquity, and the writings of the philosophers still remaining, are proofs of this.

It was otherwise with Jesus in every respect; for he was superior to all the men that ever lived, as well in the simplicity of his doctrine, and the purity of his manners, as in the perfection of his virtues. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners: he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.

His whole life was perfectly free from spot or weakness, at the same time that it was remarkable for the greatest and most extensive exercises of virtue: but never to have committed the least sin, in word or in deed; never to have uttered any sentiment that could be found fault with, upon the various topics of religion and morality which were the daily subjects of his discourses; and that through the course of a life filled with action, and led under the observation of many enemies, who had always access to converse with him, and who often came to find fault;—this is such a pitch of perfection, as is plainly above the reach of humanity; and therefore he who possessed it, must certainly have been Divine. Accordingly, the evidence of this proof being undeniable, both as argument and as a matter of fact, Jesus himself publicly appealed to it before all the people in the temple, Ch. John 8:46. Which of you convinceth, or rather, convicteth me of sin? And if, in affirming that I am perfectly free from sin, I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?

Upon this character of our Lord, we may make the following observations: first, that admitting the present disorders of the moral world, and the necessity of the love of God and our neighbour, and of self-annihilation, in order to the pure and ultimate happiness of man; which all must admit, who know any thing of themselves or of the nature of true religion;—there must be a necessity also for a suffering and atoning Saviour. Besides this, we may affirm, that the condescension of Christ, in leaving the glory which he had with the Father, before the foundation of the world, and in shewing himself a perfect pattern of obedience to the divine will, both in doing and suffering, has a most peculiar tendency, under divine grace, to rectify the present moral depravity of our natures, and to exalt us thereby to pure spiritual happiness. Now it is remarkable, that the evangelists and apostles have thus given to the world a character which all the great men among the antient heathens missed, and which, however clear it does, and ought now to appear to us, was a great stumbling-block to them, as well as to the Jews: the first, seeking, after wisdom, that is to say, human philosophy and eloquence; and the last, requiring a sign, or a glorious temporal Saviour. Nor can this be accounted for, but by admitting the reality of the character, that is to say, the divine mission of Christ, and the consequent divine inspiration of those who drew it up; that is to say, the truth and divine authority of the scriptures.

Secondly, It will be wonderfully difficult to reconcile so great a character, claiming divine authority, either with the moral attributes of God, or indeed with itself, upon the supposition of the falsehood of that claim. One can scarce suppose that God would permit a person apparently so innocent and excellent, so qualified to impose upon mankind, to make so impious and audacious a claim, without having some evident mark of imposture set upon him: nor can it be conceived how a person could be apparently so innocent and excellent, and yet really otherwise.

Thirdly, The manner in which the evangelists speak of Christ, shews that they drew after a real pattern, and demonstrates the genuineness and truth of the gospel history. There are no direct encomiums upon him, no laboured de-fences, or recommendations: his character arises from a careful and impartial examination of all that he did and said; and the evangelists appear to have drawn this greatest of all characters without any direct design to do it.

But it is evident that their view was to shew their Master to the persons to whom they preached, as the promised Messiah of the Jews, and the Saviour of mankind; and as they had been convinced of this themselves from his discourses, actions, sufferings, and resurrection, accompanied by the inspiration of his own divine Spirit, they knew nothing more was wanting to convince such others as were serious and impartial, but a simple narrative of what Jesus said and did, accompanied with the sacred influences of the same divine Spirit.

And indeed, if we compare the transcendent greatness of this character with the indirect manner in which it is delivered, and the illiterateness and low condition of the evangelists, it will appear impossible that they should have forged it; that they should not have had a real original before them; so that nothing was wanting for its authenticity, but to record it simply and faithfully under the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.

How could mean and illiterate persons excel the greatest geniuses, ancient and modern, in drawing a character?—How came they to draw it in an indirect manner?—This is indeed a strong evidence of genuineness and truth: but then it is of so recluse and subtle a nature, and, agreeable to this, has been so little taken notice of by the defenders of the Christian religion, that one cannot conceive that the evangelists themselves were at all aware that it was an evidence. The character of Christ, as drawn by them, is therefore genuine and true, and consequently proves his Divine mission, both by its transcendent excellence, and by his laying claim to such a divine mission.

And here it ought to be particularly remarked, that our Saviour's entire devotion to his heavenly Father, and sufferings for the sake of men in compliance with his will, is a pitch of perfection which was never proposed before his coming, unless as far as this is virtually included in the precepts for loving God above all, and our neighbours as ourselves, and other equivalent passages in the Old Testament.

To conclude, we may observe, that Jesus has, by his death, set open the gates of immortality to men; and by his great atonement, Spirit, word, and example, graciously offers to make them meet for, and to conduct them into the inheritance of the saints in light. Wherefore, being born under the dispensation of his gospel, we have through his grace enjoyed the best means of acquiring wisdom, holiness, virtue, and happiness, the lineaments of the image of God.

We have been called to aspire after an exaltation to the nature and felicity of God, set before our mortal eyes in the humanity of Jesus Christ, to fire us with the noblest ambition. His gospel teaches us, that we are made for eternity; and that our present life is to our after-existence, what childhood is to man's estate: but as in childhood many things are to be learned, many hardships to be endured, many habits to be acquired, and that by a tedious course of exercises, which in themselves though painful, and, it may be, useless to the child, yet are necessary to fit him for the business and enjoyments of manhood: just so, while we remain in this infancy of human life, things are to be learned, hardships to be endured, and habits to be acquired through the grace of God, and by the influences of his Holy Spirit, and by a laborious course of discipline, which, however painful, must be cheerfully undergone, because necessary to fit us for the employment and pleasures of our riper existence above.

Our heavenly Father, in his infinite pity and love, has sent down his own eternal Son, the express image and character of his person, to initiate us by his grace and Spirit, and carry us through this course of education for eternity by the same Spirit. Inflamed therefore with the love of immortality and its joys, let us submit ourselves to our heavenly Teacher, and learn of him those graces which alone can make life pleasant, death desirable, and fill eternity with extatic joys.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Pilate having failed in his first attempt to release the innocent prisoner, bethought himself of another to move the people's compassion.

1. He delivered him up to the officers to be publicly scourged, hoping probably, that after this ignominy and punishment their fury might be appeased. The soldiers to whose custody Jesus had been committed, added the most cruel mockery to his sufferings, and in derision of the dignity to which he pretended, platted a crown of thorns, and, put it on his head, arrayed him in robes of mock majesty, and bowing the knee, saluted him king of the Jews; while with their hands they smote him, and offered the vilest indignities. Note; (1.) By these stripes he fulfilled the prophetic word, and in part procured the healing of our guilty souls. (2.) Many now make a jest of things sacred, who will shortly prove them to their most serious realities. (3.) He who endured such pain and shame for us, has left us his example of patient suffering: how dare we then at any time complain, when we consider what he endured?

2. Thus arrayed, Pilate once more ordered him to be led forth, hoping that this would satisfy his persecutors, and that they might be prevailed upon to let him go; when he adds withal his solemn testimony, that he found no fault in him, and that he therefore regarded him as an object rather to be pitied than feared; and pointing to him as he stood, wearing the crown of thorns and purple robe, his face black with buffeting, and smeared with blood, he said, Behold the man! and let such an object of misery plead with you for mercy. Note; (1.) That man, once treated with such insult and contempt, should be for ever in our eyes the object of our admiration, love, and praise; for, as he humbled himself thus low, the more we see of his abasement, the more the riches of his grace should rise in our esteem. (2.) If we be hooted at, and made gazing-stocks by wicked men, we are only called to a fellowship in Christ's sufferings, and should therein rejoice.

3. Far from being softened and melted by the misery of the innocent sufferer, the chief priests and their officers, more exasperated through the fear of losing their prey, instigated the people, and in a most tumultuous manner headed the mob, and led the cry, Crucify him, Crucify him. Pilate, shocked at their cruelty and injustice, or ironically reproaching them, who pretended to so much sanctity, with so wicked a deed, replies, Take ye him, and crucify him, if ye are so madly set upon it; I choose to have nothing to do with so base an action, for I find no fault in him. Fearing that Jesus should yet escape them, they produce a new accusation of a capital nature. At first they charged him as a traitor against the government, now as a blasphemer against God; pretending, that according to their law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God, and pretended to the incommunicable honours of the Godhead.

4. Pilate, more terrified at that saying, lest he should bring the divine vengeance more fearfully on his head, determined to examine farther into the matter; and therefore, taking Jesus into the judgment-hall, demanded whence he came, whether of human or divine extraction. But Jesus, knowing it was useless to reply, gave him no answer. Pilate, resenting his silence as a contempt of his authority, with haughtiness adds, Speakest thou not unto me? art thou mute, though a prisoner at my bar? knowest thou not, that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? He boasts of his authority as absolute, as able to save or to destroy: so apt are proud worms in office to magnify themselves, and to affect a display of their power.

5. Christ nobly checks his arrogance, and exposes the vanity of his boasts. Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above; as a magistrate, it was from heaven he received his authority, and should rule with justice; and in this particular case, had it not been permitted in the councils of God, not all the Roman powers combined could have prevailed in the minutest particular against him. Therefore he that delivered me unto thee, Caiaphas the high priest, hath the greater sin. Note; (1.) There is a difference in sins; some transgress with more aggravated guilt than others, as they act against greater light, and offend with greater malice.

6. Pilate, now more deeply stung in his conscience, sought earnestly to obtain the release of Jesus, but in vain. Had he acted as an upright magistrate, and according to the convictions of his conscience, he would have feared no popular resentment; but his corruptions overcame his convictions; and the fear of offending the people, and of endangering himself, at last prevailed. The Jews, perceiving how he was disposed, in order to compel him to consent, clamoured loud, and urged, that if he let this man go, he could not be Caesar's friend; since whoever made himself a king, spoke against Caesar, and was a rebel against his government; though the fact was so notoriously false, Christ having never assumed the least temporal authority; he commanded, on the contrary, the tribute to be paid to Caesar; and when the people would have made him a king by force, he left them, and disappointed their designs. But this they craftily urge, as what must most powerfully influence Pilate, who might now be liable to an accusation before the emperor for betraying his trust, if he should let him go, whom they accused as a traitor. Thus they, who in heart abhorred the Roman government, now would appear the most zealous subjects of Caesar. Wicked men, to effect their purposes, can transform themselves into every shape.

7. Pilate, terrified into compliance with their request by this suggestion, and well apprized of the cruel and suspicious temper of Tiberius the Roman emperor, sat down on the judgment seat, in a place called Gabbatha, or the pavement, in order to pronounce sentence upon the prisoner. And it was the preparation day of the passover sabbath, a solemn season when very different subjects should have engaged their time and thoughts, and about the sixth hour. Once more to try if any thing would work upon them, Pilate bids them behold their king, and think a moment if such a miserable object could afford any real cause to fear his pretensions, even if he had affixed royalty. But they, impatient for his condemnation, shouted Away with him, away with him, crucify him; they will hear nothing in his favour, and are determined in their purpose. Pilate remonstrates with them hereupon, Shall I crucify your king? either meaning to excite their compassions, or ridiculing their hopes of a Messiah. They, who at other times ever testified their abhorrence of the Roman yoke, now eagerly embrace it, and with deep professions of loyalty cry, We have no king but Caesar. Pilate then, seeing it in vain to contend, pronounced sentence, and delivered up the innocent prisoner to them to be crucified. Thus was he arraigned and condemned for us, for a pretended crime, that the condemnation due to us for our real rebellions against God might be removed.

8. The sentence is immediately put in execution by his blood-thirsty persecutors, with every circumstance of ignominy. They drag him to the place where malefactors were executed without the city, bearing his own cross; and there nail him to the accursed tree, between two criminals, who were executed with him, to make him appear the vilest of the vile; thus fulfilling the scriptures, which foretold that he should be numbered with the transgressors, Isaiah 53:12. We cannot too frequently in our meditations come and see this great sight: calvary offers the noblest object to our view, God incarnate dying for our iniquities: with what anguish for our guilt, which brought the Saviour to the cross; with what love to him, who so freely consented to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, should we then look up to a crucified Jesus!

2nd, The circumstances of Christ's death are here somewhat more fully related than by the other evangelists.

1. On a tablet at the top of his cross, Pilate wrote a superscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, containing the accusation laid against him, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Multitudes of the Jews then, who came from the city to the place of execution, read the superscription; and the chief priests, offended at the title given him, regarded it as a mark of infamy upon their nation, and therefore requested Pilate to alter the writing into another form, and not to call him absolutely King of the Jews, but that he said, I am King of the Jews; desiring to fix upon his memory this infamy of an impostor. But Pilate, indignant at the injustice they had driven him to commit, with displeasure rejects their request, saying, What I have written, I have written, and will not alter. Note; (1.) The very superscription proved the innocence of Jesus. No crime was charged upon him, but his asserting his real character as the King Messiah. (2.) God holds the hands and lips of wicked men, and can, when he pleases, make them write and speak in such a way, as shall bear testimony to his truth.

2. The soldiers who crucified him, as he hung on the tree, sat down to part his garments among them; and, unwilling to rend his seamless coat, determined rather to cast lots which of them should have it, fulfilling literally the scriptures, which had said, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. (Psalms 22:18.) Those things therefore the soldiers did, with the utmost freedom as to themselves, and yet in a remarkable correspondence to the divine oracle and prescience.

3. In the midst of his agonies Jesus shewed the tenderest concern for his afflicted mother, who stood by his cross with the disciple whom he loved; and kindly addressing her, he recommends her to the care of his beloved John, desiring her to regard him henceforth as her son, and directing him to pay her the duty and affection due to a mother; and from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home, glad to obey the commands of his dying Master, and well pleased to have an opportunity of testifying his unfeigned love towards him. Note; (1.) Christ on the cross hath taught all children an eminent instance of filial duty towards their parents, whose wants to the utmost they are bound to provide for. (2.) When one friend fails, the Lord can raise us up another: if we trust him, we shall not be destitute. (3.) They who love the adored Jesus, will be happy to embrace every opportunity of testifying their regard for him.

4. Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, and his work of atonement nearly complete, that the scripture might be fulfilled (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 69:21.) saith, I thirst; and a vessel of vinegar being near, which was probably mixed with water, as drink for the Roman soldiers, they dipped a spunge in the liquor, and on a stalk of hyssop lifted it to his lips. Jesus felt that wrath of God, and thirsted, which had he not endured, we must for ever have lain down in everlasting burnings, without one drop of water to cool our tongues.

5. Jesus having received the vinegar, saith, It is finished, the victory is obtained over death and hell; the full atonement is made; all the types and prophesies fulfilled; the law magnified by a perfect obedience unto death, and the justice of God satisfied; and therefore now his sufferings end. He bowed his head and gave up the ghost; freely resigning his soul into his Father's hands, and surrendering that life which otherwise none could have taken from him, as the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2.)

3rdly, The indignity intended to be shewn to Jesus in the breaking of his bones, and that also shewn to him by the soldier in the piercing of his side, are recorded only by this evangelist.

1. The Jews, superstitiously observant of the sabbath, and hypocritically pretending reverence for that sacred institution, while their hands were red with the blood of him who was Lord of the sabbath—that the bodies might not hang on the trees till evening, when the sabbath began, which was a high day, and kept with great solemnity, they besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away; to kill them outright, if they were not dead before, and to bury them immediately. Note; Hypocrites often appear very scrupulous about the ceremonies of religion, while they are living in open violation of its most essential precepts.

2. Pilate granted their request; and the two malefactors, not being yet dead, had the dreadful operation performed on them: but when the soldiers came to Jesus, perceiving him already dead, they broke not his legs; but one of the soldiers, to put the matter past dispute, with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came thereout blood and water; either the pericardium bring pierced, and thus the water it contained rushing out with the blood, or this separate discharge was miraculous, but typical at all events of the great blessings of justification and sanctification, obtained by Christ's blood-shedding for us. And John, who was standing by, adds his attestation, as an eye-witness to this fact, as most indubitably true, that we might believe the certainty of Christ's death, and receive the inestimable blessings which this blood and water signified. Note; (1.) We are by nature polluted with guilt, and defiled with corruption; but this is the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. Jesus came by blood to make the atonement, by water to purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living God: whoever therefore cometh to him, shall find the mighty efficacy of his blood to pardon the most guilty, and of his grace to purify the most polluted soul. (2.) We have not followed cunningly devised fables in the gospel of our salvation, but believe on the evidences of facts, supported by the most unshaken authority, and attested by the most competent witnesses.

3. In this transaction particular notice is taken of the fulfilment of two scriptures: (1.) A bone of him shall not be broken (Exodus 12:46.); which, though spoken of the paschal lamb, yet especially regarded him, who in the fulness of time, as our passover, should be sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7.). (2.) Another scripture said (Zechariah 12:10.) They shall look on him whom they pierced. Thus were the prophesies accomplished by those, who thought of nothing less in what they did, than the confirmation of our faith in Jesus as the true Messiah.

4thly, Though now Jesus seemed deserted of all, and his corpse ready to be laid with malefactors in a common grave, God raises up one who is appointed to give it a more honourable interment.

1. Joseph of Arimathea, who through fear of the Jews had concealed his sentiments, and, though secretly a disciple of Jesus, was afraid to profess it, now boldly appears, and begs of the governor the body of Jesus, which was granted. Note; (1.) The higher men are in the world, the greater temptation they are under to shun the reproach of the cross; and, though persuaded of the truth of the gospel, not to make bold and open profession of it. (2.) When some of the most courageous disciples are foiled, God can say to the fearful hearts, Be strong, and can enable them to appear boldly in the cause of truth.

2. Nicodemus, who at the first appearing of Jesus came to him by night, now joined Joseph in this pious work, and provided a large quantity of myrrh and aloes, in order to embalm the body of Jesus, as was often done to men of eminent reputation and dignity. No expence to serve him, will be grudged by those who truly love the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. They took down the body, and wrapped it in linen clothes, with the spices, as was the manner of the Jews to bury their great men: and as Joseph had a garden near the place where Jesus was crucified, in which he had prepared himself a new tomb, hewn out of a rock, where never man had lain before, there laid they the body of Jesus, it being very convenient, as they were straitened for time, the preparation-day being far advanced, and the sabbath approaching. Thus was our great Surety laid under the arrests of death, and consigned to the silent grave, that he might make the clods of the valley sweet to us, prepare our bed of dust perfumed with his own glorious body, and comfort us in the reviving hope of following him through the grave, the gate of death, unto a joyful immortality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on John 19:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/john-19.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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