Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentJohn 19
This chapter continues the narrative of the trials and the ultimate triumph of the Jewish leaders over the stubborn will of Pilate, who under the duress of political blackmail and mob violence at last gave in to their will. It details the actual crucifixion, the affairs regarding the inscription, the disposition of the Lord's clothes, his provision for his mother, some of the last words, and the burial.
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.
This was actually an effort by Pilate to substitute a lighter penalty for that of death (Luke 23:22), although there was nothing light about the type of scourging inflicted. Men were known to die under the lash; and one shudders to think of such punishment being inflicted on any human being, especially upon a man the governor had just declared to be innocent. The horrible injustice of it was sickening. In post-apostolic times, there was a tendency to romanticize the role of Pilate in the crucifixion, viewing him as a helpless victim of circumstances imposed upon him by the Jews; but the glaring facts do not support any romantic view of this spineless procurator who ordered the scourging of a man he knew to be innocent, and followed that by condemning him to death. The kind of man that Pilate was, based solely upon what is in this chapter, is enough to declare him worthy of the odium that fell upon his name. Philo mentioned his corruption, outrage, robbery, insult, contumely, his indiscriminate and continuous murders, and his unceasing and vexatious cruelty." F1
The synoptics leave an impression (but do not state it) that the scourging was part of the sentence of crucifixion; but John sets it in a different light, causing some to suppose there were two scourgings; but Westcott is doubtless correct in seeing only one. He said:
It is not to be supposed that the
scourging was repeated ... the passing
references (in the synoptics) do not
necessarily bear that meaning. There
is no real discrepancy between the
Pilate's tactic failed. A taste of blood only intensified the sadistic hatred of Jesus' enemies. Pilate had arbitrarily imposed the scourging on Jesus, supposing that such brutality might awaken a sense of humanity in his foes; but it failed. Thus it came to pass that this pagan procurator fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, "By his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
Excavations in the old tower of Antonio, Pilate's Praetorium, have uncovered a truncated column in a vaulted room, having no architectural connection with the building, and being exactly the kind of device to which criminals were tied for scourging. F3
For an account of scourging in this present century, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:26.
And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple garment.
This conduct on the part of the Roman military, brutalized from experience on many a bloody field, nevertheless seems atypical, even in such men as themselves. It seems out of character that they could have been sufficiently motivated to perform the repulsive actions of this mockery. The crooked hand of Satan appears in these events, as in the equally repugnant mockery in the very palace of the high priest of Israel, where they "spat in his face, buffeted him, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ: who is he that struck thee" (Matthew 26:67,68).
Purple garment ...
This was a three-color fabric of sufficient extravagance of design to suggest royalty, being, in all probability, red and blue on opposite edges, blended into purple in the middle, thus accounting for the variable descriptions of it as "crimson," "scarlet," or "purple." These were the colors of the veil of the temple; and, in view of the extensive symbolism of that veil, standing in one figure for Christ himself (Hebrews 10:20), it was most appropriate that he should have borne the colors of it in his sufferings. See full treatment of this subject in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:51.
A crown of thorns ...
See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:29.
And they came unto him, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they struck him with their hands.
For an entire article on the mockery, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:28.
There is a spiritual mockery of Jesus more damnable even than this which appears in the text. We dare not judge our fellow mortals; but, time and again, we have discovered upon our own lips words of loyalty and devotion not fully consonant with our deeds.
And Pilate went out again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him out to you, that ye may know that I find no crime in him.
John kept the principal actors of this dark drama perpetually on stage. The very fact of Pilate's again confronting the Jewish leaders exhibits his determination to release Jesus, his view apparently having been that his brutal punishment of Jesus, if it could satisfy the leaders, was far better than crucifying him; but he reckoned without consideration of the satanic hatred of Israel's leaders.
Jesus therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment. And Pilate said unto them, Behold the man!
Barnes ascribed the following meaning to Pilate's actions here: "In all this suffering, he is meek and patient. Behold ... this man that you accuse! He is brought forth that you may see that he is not guilty." F4 Hendriksen interpreted Pilate's meaning thus: "Look! The Man! Has he not suffered enough already? Is it really necessary to inflict any more punishment upon him?" F5
When therefore the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him! Pilate saith unto them, Take him yourselves and crucify him: for I find no crime in him.
This might be taken in two ways. It looks like a suggestion by Pilate that the Jews go ahead and crucify Jesus without a legal sentence, with the implied promise of the governor to look the other way. Had not Pilate himself just imposed a merciless scourging upon an innocent, and without any legal sentence? Perhaps he was saying, "Look, I have just shown you how I handle things like this. Why don't you do likewise? Why all this bother about trying to get a legal condemnation from me?"
However, Reynolds, Hendriksen, Hovey, and others view Pilate's remark differently.
Take him yourselves and crucify him;
that is, if you dare. Go do your deed
of blood by your own hands and take
the responsibility for it; for I find
no fault in him. He thus derides
their powerlessness and repeats his
verdict of acquittal. F6
That Reynolds' view is the better one seems proved by what immediately happened. Those evil men, so intent on Jesus' death, were extremely reluctant to reveal their true reason for demanding Jesus' death; and, if there had been any way by which they could have accomplished it without revealing it, they would have done so. But, at this point the governor balked at doing what they wished. No legal reason for Jesus' death had appeared; in fact, his innocence had been established; and, in that situation, those hypocrites had the choice of losing their quarry or producing a capital charge. They chose the latter and, in the next verse, gave the real reason why they condemned him. All kinds of excuses have been offered on behalf of those religious murderers to explain their so long concealment of their actual charge against Jesus; but the best explanation of it is that, in their hearts, they knew Christ's testimony under oath that he was "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed" was the truth of God, and that they dreaded swearing in open court that it was false. That element of self-condemnation within themselves alone explains their reluctance to bring out their charge publicly. Moreover, Satan, so visibly active in the whole drama, was determined, if possible, to murder Jesus upon any other charge than the real one.
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
Well, there it was. All of Satan's efforts to get Jesus crucified for sedition, or as a trouble-maker, failed. The solemn fact that Jesus had sworn under oath that he was the divine Messiah came squarely into focus in those events, and it would remain forever visible in the heavenly light shining upon the cross. Christ had, in this, at last accomplished the enlightenment of all men for all ages, who would thenceforth have his testimony under oath, and sealed with his blood, to the effect that he was the only begotten Son of God, the divine Messiah, the Saviour of the world, and the world's only Redeemer. No wonder his enemies so stubbornly resisted letting the word out. They instinctively knew that the myriads of the human race would believe Jesus' testimony.
This verse gives the technical charge upon which Jesus was crucified. His sworn testimony was the truth, for he was indeed the Son of God; but the Jewish law to which the priests appealed made it a capital offense for one to claim to be the divine Messiah, UNLESS IN TRUTH HE WAS SO (Leviticus 24:16). Thus the technical charge that Jesus had violated that law by falsely swearing that he was the divine Messiah was itself fraudulent, untruthful, and damnable. In speaking of the "true" grounds for Jesus' death, it should be remembered that the "true grounds" was their lie! What Jesus swore was God's truth; their calling his testimony false was Satan's lie.
Son of God ...
as Jesus used this title, and as the Pharisees understood it, meant the same unique, divine Sonship believed in by Christians of all ages. There is a lesser sense in which all believers are "sons of God," but the meaning here is that of the unique, supernatural Sonship of God's only begotten. The action of the Jewish hierarchy in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God shows that they fully understood all of the majestic overtones inherent in that precious title, SON OF GOD. Strangely, if Jesus had falsely made such a claim, they would have been correct in demanding his death. Thus, from that moment, and ever afterward, people are confronted with the dilemma in Christ Jesus, there being no middle ground. He either was, or was not, what he claimed to be; and the way every soul answers that question determines the soul's destiny.
When Pilate therefore heard this saying, he was the more afraid.
Pilate had many fears, fearing for his relations with Herod, his reputation with the emperor, the outbreak of violence in his city, the implications of his wife's dream; and now, typical pagan that he was, this injection of Jesus' claim to be the Son of God thoroughly moved him, but not toward any good conclusion. Skepticism and fear go hand in hand. Herod, it will be recalled, who would have scoffed at the doctrine of the resurrection, nevertheless feared that Jesus was John the Baptist (whom he had beheaded) risen from the dead! Therefore, Pilate may have believed that "the wondrous Being before him was enshrouded in a mystery of supernatural portent that he could not fathom, and before whom he trembled." F7
And he entered into the Praetorium again, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.
Jesus did not reply because: (1) he knew that Pilate would not stand against the hierarchy, and (2) his silence allowed the Pharisees' testimony concerning his claim to be the Son of God to stand unchallenged. As Lipscomb noted, "His silence was answer enough - that if he did not make that claim, he certainly would have denied it." F8
Pilate therefore saith unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to release thee, and have power to crucify thee?
Pilate was astounded at Jesus' silence. His words indicate near belief that any man could so behave in his presence. His words show how unspiritual, selfish, proud, and arrogant was the heart within him. Such a misjudgment of his "power" by Pilate deserved a reply from the Master; and Jesus promptly delivered it.
Jesus answered him, Thou wouldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath greater sin.
Jesus here pointed to that doctrine which was elaborated at a later time by Paul (Romans 13:1ff), regarding the state and civil authority as God-ordained. (See my Commentary on ) Jesus' application of this to Pilate reveals the hand of God in the affairs of state. Pilate's being the Procurator that year F9 was not Pilate's sole achievement, despite his arrogant assumption that it was; but God had raised him up, no less than Esther at another time, "for such a time as this."
The greater sin ...
The high priest of Israel was the person guilty of greater sin, a greater sin shared by all who had aided and abetted that crime of the centuries; but, in what way was their sin greater than Pilate's? Westcott thus explained it:
Pilate was guilty of using wrongfully
the civil power. The high priest was
doubly guilty in using a higher
(spiritual) power and in transgressing
his legitimate rules of action ... By
appealing to a heathen power to
execute an unjust sentence on Christ,
he had sinned against God by
unfaithfulness, and by
Except it were given thee from above ...
Pilate's power of continuation in office was directly from God and was exercised only under God's permission. Jesus might have called for legions of angels; he even had the power to have changed Pilate's mind, or to prostrate the entire garrison of Antonio on their faces, as had happened to some of them the previous night. The tiniest display of Jesus' supernatural power could have turned Pilate into putty in Jesus' hands. The procurator was already frightened, and the silence of Jesus recorded in the previous verse was probably for the purpose of permitting him to act in character, rather than as a judge frightened out of his wits. It was here that Satan played out his last tactic in the strategy of inducing Jesus to abandon the purpose of redemption by refusing to die on the cross. Pilate, in this scene, actually seemed to plead with Jesus to do something that would enable him to deny the religious leaders the sentence they wanted. The Lord was silent. He would not resort to any miracle to avoid crucifixion. Regarding the satanic strategy here referred to, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 26:39ff.
Upon this Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou release this man, thou art not Caesar's friend: everyone that maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.
This was vicious political blackmail. If Pilate would not do their will, they would prefer charges against him before Caesar, charges which both Pilate and themselves knew to be false; but also known to both was the fact that such charges, whether true or false, could blast the procurator out of office. Such was the political climate of the times; and, alas, it must be hailed as the usual political climate of all times. This did it. Pilate moved at once to crucify the Lord, caving in completely before the unscrupulous scoundrels before him.
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 seat mentioned here was a stone platform in the courtyard of the Praetorium, or near the adjacent tower of Antonio. From its name, it appears to have been made of stones ingeniously joined in the manner of Roman stone masons, to form a throne-like platform with steps and ornaments for the purpose of adding dignity to the decisions announced by the procurator therefrom. Upon that judgment-seat, Pilate, the all-powerful deputy of Caesar, seated himself and ordered the innocent Christ before him for sentencing.
Now it was the Preparation of the passover: it was about the sixth hour. And he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
The Preparation ...
This was the day before the passover which began that night at sunset.
The sixth hour ...
Since this was an official Roman event, the time was Roman time, making this 6:00 A.M.
Behold your King! ...
Very well, Pilate seems to have concluded; if the Jews would blackmail him as an enemy of Caesar, he would prove his loyalty by crucifying the Jews' King! In forcing the procurator's hand, the Jews got far more than they intended. Having exhausted every means of avoiding it, except, of course, incurring any personal political risk, Pilate ordered the crucifixion.
They therefore cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him! Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
Pilate here maneuvered the chief priests in a manner that enraged them and drove them to a blind fury. "Shall I crucify your King?" was his mocking taunt; but their blindness to the consequences of what they were doing was so complete that in their irrational rage they even renounced God himself.
We have no king but Caesar ...
It was just as well that they said this, for in crucifying Christ they had indeed renounced the Father; but it is one of the ironies of their hardening that they were goaded into this public renunciation for the records of all subsequent sacred history.
We have no king but Caesar ...
Where was all the professed devotion of those people for God as their only King? That they hated Caesar was known to all. That they claimed God as their true king was the major thesis of the whole history of Israel; but here they were shouting before the pagan governor:
We have no king but Caesar ...
Caesar would crucify 30,900 of their young men on the walls of ruined Jerusalem within a generation (at the siege in 70 A.D.). Caesar would expel them from Rome; Caesar would perpetrate countless injustices and atrocities upon them; God had never done anything except love them, bear with them, and protect them throughout their wretched history; but now hear them:
We have no king but Caesar ...!
What an avalanche of woe this unhappy people loosed upon themselves by their rejection of the Lord! As Hovey said, however:
We are thankful that it was not the
whole multitude that made this
profession, but only the chief
priests. ...They who gloried in the
Theocracy and boasted that whey were
never in bondage to any man"
(John 8:33) - THEY confess that
Caesar is their only king. F11
Then therefore he delivered him unto them to be crucified.
has reference to the chief priests. Yes, Pilate provided the soldiers and a centurion to command the detail; but he put those evil priests squarely in charge of the crucifixion.
The decision was then final, and the further deeds of that dark day would unfold on schedule. Pilate had vainly tried to avoid what he knew was an injustice; but there was no way that such a man as he could avoid doing what, in the last analysis, he held to be expedient to the maintenance of his political power. He hated the whole Jewish nation; and what matter to him was it, if an innocent was put to death? The chief priests too must have thought the whole business was finished. God was out of it, as far as they were concerned; they had shouted their allegiance to Caesar only; but history held some surprises for them also. As Hendriksen put it:
They forgot, however, that God as king
of the universe was not through with
them. In a certain terrible sense, he
was still their King. Indescribable
punishments were not far away. In
winning this battle, they had lost the
There is no evidence that the chief priests actually supervised the crucifixion, but, in a sense, it was their act. They demanded it and were present for the gory execution of the sentence, even adding insulting taunts of the holy Saviour on the cross itself!
They took Jesus therefore: and he went out, bearing the cross for himself, unto the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha.
John omitted many details found in the synoptics. This verse is all that John related of the Via Dolorosa. For an account of the events associated with that title, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:32.
The place of the skull was near the city but outside the walls, but any certainty as to the exact location is precarious. The favored location for many is the hill which strikingly resembles a deaths-head, and which is always pointed out to visitors in the Holy City.
Where they crucified him, and with him two others, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.
For discussion of the malefactors and the words of Jesus with one of them, and for other particulars, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:32.
And Pilate wrote a title also, and put it on the cross. And there was written, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
The full inscription actually had ten words, thus: THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS, as indicated by a composite of all four Gospel accounts. Matthew recorded eight of the ten, omitting "of Nazareth." Mark gave the last five words, which appear in all four Gospels. Luke omitted "Jesus of Nazareth," giving the other seven; and John gives us eight of the ten words, omitting only the words "this is." This is a perfect example of the type of reporting found in the sacred Gospels. Not one of them gave a word that was not in the inscription; not one of them omitted the final five words; each writer gave it as he remembered it; and no two are exactly the same. A composite of what they all said gives the perfect and complete inscription.
In the light of the above, one can only be astounded and disgusted at the allegations of scholars pontificating about "discrepancies," "contradictions," etc., in the Gospel accounts of the inscription. Even Alfred Plummer complained that "No two Gospels agree as to the wording of the title on the cross." F13 Against such a view, we would present the undeniable truth that all four accounts are in perfect harmony. For full discussion of this, see my Commentary on Matthew (Matthew 27:37).
This title therefore read many of the Jews, for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city; and it was written in Hebrew, and in Latin, and in Greek.
The roads to the city were choked with thousands traveling to the Holy City for Passover; and it must have been a matter of widespread consternation when the entire city was filled with buzzing conversation about the "King of the Jews" being crucified just outside the city. Intended by Pilate as a sadistic joke and as a final slap in the face of the priests, the inscription was nevertheless the truth of God! As so frequently in history, the "wrath of man" praised the Lord (Psalms 76:10).
Verses 21, 22
The chief priests of the Jews therefore said to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
The King of the Jews ...
Thus the chief priests also gave an abbreviated summary of the inscription. The diabolical murder of Jesus backfired upon the perpetrators of it. Events were not turning out at all as they had planned. Pilate's inscription was being painted in blood upon every conscience; and the shocking truth of the inscription was a double-barreled blast against everything the priests wanted. The inscription shouted two overwhelming facts to the crowds entering the city: (1) Jesus of Nazareth was the King of the Jews, and (2) the Romans had crucified him. No matter how one read it, it was bad news for Israel, and one can easily understand the chagrin and anxiety of the priests who sought to get it changed.
The chief priests ...
This indicates that the hierarchy attached a great deal of importance to the inscription, indicating also a much greater perception on their part in this matter than they had exhibited in so many other things. The great hour of their influence, however, had slipped away. No longer would a frightened and vacillating governor bend to their desires; the tables were turned. From that hour, history hardened around the deeds of the day, and there could be no alteration of them. Forever etched into the conscience of the human race was the crucifixion of the Lord and Saviour of men.
What I have written I have written ...
What's done is done. A proverb was born in this reply of Pilate; and the pagan palace of the procurator must have resounded that day with many a ribald laugh - for a while, that is; because the day was not over; and before it ended, the sun would stop shining; the veil of the temple would fall asunder; an explosive earthquake would occur; and a dreadful apprehension would fall upon the city of the great King (Matthew 5:35). Pilate's words, if spoken in Latin, were "Quod scripsi scripsi!"
Verses 23, 24
The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also the coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore one to another, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my garments among them, And upon my vesture did they, cast lots.
The soldiers ...
There were four of them, a quaternion. A centurion was in charge. They did not wait for Jesus to die but went about, dividing up his clothes as if he were already dead.
The coat ...
may be rendered tunic" (English Revised Version margin). This was the vesture, or undergarment, which formed a usual part of the clothing of that day. Here John described the manner of its manufacture. This is one of the most astounding things in the Bible. The clothes of Jesus! Can anyone tell what Napoleon was wearing when he died, or what Franklin D. Roosevelt had on when he was stricken, and how the garments were made and what became of them? The record of Jesus is itself supernatural. Concerning that seamless vesture, Saunders said: "It was the type of garment worn by the high priest (Leviticus 16:4). Christ is the true high priest whose death is the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world." F14
That the Scriptures might be fulfilled ...
The soldiers did not consciously fulfill prophecy in their disposal of the clothing; but this was a case of the all-powerful Providence accomplishing through evil or indifferent men the fulfillment of divine prophecy. The Scripture fulfilled is Psa. 22:18. For an extensive examination of twenty prophecies of the crucifixion contained in that Psalm, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:66.
These things therefore the soldiers did. But there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
His mother's sister ...
was Salome, the wife of Zebedee, and the mother of James and John, according to Westcott, thus making James and John cousins of Jesus. He wrote:
This connection of St. John with the
mother of the Lord helps explain the
incident which follows .... The
omission of the name of Salome, on
this supposition, falls in with John's
usage as to his brother and to
Any so-called "problem" concerning the mention by one Gospel of different women, or different numbers of women at the cross, or of different distances from which they viewed it - all such differences derive from eyewitness observance of the scene at different times throughout the day. Where is the critic who will affirm that exactly the same number of women, and exactly the same women, stood in exactly the same place throughout the whole day?
Verses 26, 27
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved, he said unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy, mother! And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
This is one of the seven utterances from the cross; and, as Westcott observed, the seven make an entire sequence in their own right and deserve treatment together. For a detailed discussion of all seven, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:66. This is the third in the chronological sequence of the seven utterances.
From that hour ...
is not a statement that within sixty minutes John took Mary to his own home, but means rather that from the authority conveyed in that hour the future residence of the blessed Mary was with the beloved John.
Significantly, Jesus did not here address his mother as "Mother of God," a title which developed long afterward; and regardless of the intentions of the people using it, it is unscriptural: inappropriate, and, in a sense, even idolatrous.
After this Jesus, knowing that all things are now finished, that the Scriptures might be accomplished, saith, I thirst.
This does not mean that Jesus said, "I thirst" in order to fulfill prophecy. As Westcott said, "The fulfillment of scripture was not the object which the Lord had in view, but there was a necessary correspondence between his acts and the divine foreshadowing of them." F16 Old Tesatament passages prophesying the Lord's thirst are Psa. 22:15 and Psa. 69:21. See under John 19:27.
There was set there a vessel full of vinegar; so they put a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to his mouth.
There is no way that any person, except an eyewitness, would have filled this account with so many specific details. The words before us are clearly the result of a vivid menial picture in the mind of the narrator of what he had seen. The vessel full of vinegar, the sponge, the very kind of stick used to lift it to the Lord's mouth. No forger would have dared to piece together such a narrative as this; and, besides that, there could not possibly have been any motive for doing such a thing. Matthew and Mark mention the "reed" that bore the sponge, but there are many kinds of reeds; John here spontaneously described it as "hyssop," identified with the caper plant, and usually some three or four feet long. These are the words of an eyewitness.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.
For detailed comment on the seven words, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:66. The vessel of vinegar was probably the property of the soldiers in charge of the crucifixion, something they had probably brought along for refreshment during the long watch. It was not the product marketed under that label today, but the thin sour wine provided by the Roman army as the soldiers' daily rations (Luke 23:36). It is reasonable to infer that one of the soldiers, near the end, performed this act of mercy for our Lord. It is not necessary to infer that Jesus drank the proffered vinegar. He had promised not to drink of the fruit of the vine until the day when he would drink it new with them in the kingdom of God (Matthew 26:29). The sour wine offered by the soldier was not new; the kingdom had not begun; and it was not a disciple who offered it. "And when he had tasted it, he would not drink" (Matthew 27:34). Although Matthew referred to the earlier offering of vinegar, it is the key to what happened later. John's statement that Jesus "received" it refers only to its having been brought to his mouth.
The Jews therefore, because it was the Preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross upon the sabbath (for the day of that sabbath was a high day), asked of Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
This verse, beyond all others in the New Testament, casts doubt on the widely accepted view that Christ was crucified on Friday. True, he was crucified on the day of Preparation, the day before the sabbath; but John was careful to point out that the ordinary sabbath was not meant, but rather the high day (also a sabbath, whatever day of the week it was) which always initiated the Passover celebration. A detailed discussion of this is in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 12:40. It is the conviction of this writer that Jesus was crucified on Thursday, April 6, 30 A.D. See CMK under Mark 15:42.
That their legs might be broken ...
The hierarchy had hastily contrived the crucifixion without regard to the approaching high sabbath, and they were suddenly embarrassed by the prospect of the victims still remaining upon the crosses on the holy day, which in their view would have desecrated it. This brutal coup de grace was given by smashing the leg bones with a massive hammer and had the effect of hastening death. One suspects, also, that there was another motive in the minds of the priests who were so determined that the Lord should not be their Messiah. The well-known prophecy of Psa. 34:20 declared flatly that "He (the Messiah) keepeth all his bones; not one of them is broken"; and there is far more than a possibility that it was their purpose to thwart the fulfillment of that divine prophecy. If they could have succeeded, they might well have urged, afterward, that Jesus could not have been the Messiah, because his legs had been broken. Whether the Jewish leaders had that in mind is not known; but we may be sure that Satan had such a thing in view.
Christ was the great antitype of the paschal lamb, fulfilling the type in every conceivable manner. He died at the very moment the lambs were being slain for the Passover; and no bone of him was broken, despite the governor's specific orders, which were disobeyed. His innocence, submissiveness, and vicarious suffering also fulfilled the type.
Verses 32, 33, 34
The soldiers therefore came, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other that was crucified with him: but when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: howbeit one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and straightway there came out blood and water.
Two prophecies regarding Jesus were fulfilled in this: (1) that no bone of him should be broken (Psalms 34:20), and (2) that "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10). The soldiers disobeyed one set of orders to fulfill the first, and instituted actions without any orders to fulfill the second. Soldiers in a disciplined army would not have followed such a pattern of behavior once in a million events. Who but God was commanding that detail of soldiers? One cannot resist the thought that there was not enough power in the Roman army to have broken the little finger of Jesus. And where was Satan when this happened? Maybe he was still talking to the Sanhedrin and gloating over the fact that they had contravened the prophecies!
There came out blood and water ...
There has to be some element of the miraculous in this. Naturalistic explanations have some plausibility, as for example that of Dr. Stroud quoted by Westcott, who supposed that "the blood rapidly separated into its more solid and liquid parts, which flowed forth in a mingled stream." F17 But the trouble with that explanation is that blood serum is not water; and there is also the time factor, there having been insufficient time for such a separation to have taken place. In addition, as Westcott pointed out, "the separation of the blood into its constituent parts is a process of corruption." F18 The Father did not permit the Holy One to see corruption (Psalms 16:10).
John attached the greatest importance to this phenomenon, and also wrote, "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood" (1 John 5:6).
The Ante-Nicene writers elaborated all kinds of fanciful teachings based on this occurrence, most of them finding a suggestion of the two baptisms (as they viewed it) of blood for the martyrs and water for all Christians. The most reasonable interpretations, as viewed here, are those of Augustine and Leo, as follows:
The sleep of the man (Adam) was the
death of Christ; for when he hung
lifeless on the cross, his side was
pierced by the spear, and thence
flowed forth blood and water, which we
know to be the sacraments (baptism and
the Lord's Supper), by which the
church, the antitype of Eve, is built
When the side of the Crucified was
opened by the soldier's spear let the
impugner of Christ's person understand
whence flowed the blood and the water,
that the church of God might be
refreshed both by the laver (baptism)
and the cup (the Lord's supper). F20
The so-called seven sacraments exhibit only two with Greek names (baptism and the Lord's supper), indicating that the other five are not mentioned in the Greek New Testament and are therefore excluded from apostolic Christianity.
I am poured out like water ...
from Psa. 22:14 was also fulfilled by the event mentioned in this verse. As noted above, the great ordinances of the faith, baptism and the Lord's supper, typified by this issue from the side of Jesus, made it appropriate to observe that, in a sense, the church itself thus came forth from Jesus' side, as Eve, the type of the church, came from Adam's side; and, as the guilt (through the woman) came out of Adam's side, so salvation came out of the side of the Second Adam (Christ).
Verses 35, 36, 37
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. For these things come to pass that the Scripture might be fulfilled. A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another Scripture saith, They shall look upon him whom they pierced.
He that hath seen hath borne witness ...
John here refers to himself. As many of the most capable scholars have affirmed, if John had had in mind some other witness than himself, he could not possibly have used the words here rendered "hath borne witness." Westcott, in his masterful discussion of this place, declared that John's use of the perfect tense makes it certain that the reference is to himself. The use of the third person also harmonizes with John's earlier use of it in this same chapter (John 19:26-27), both references speaking unequivocally of himself.
For discussion of the two prophecies mentioned here, see under John 19:34, above.
And after these things Joseph of Arimathaea, 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.
For discussion of Joseph of Arimathaea, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:57. John seems to have introduced Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, a moment later, to demonstrate that weak and timid faith on their part had come dramatically out into the open on this occasion. Also, there may have been a special reason for mentioning Joseph. Alan Richardson said, "The apostolic church saw in the action of Joseph the fulfillment of an Old Testament type. Joseph had begged permission of Pharaoh to bury the body of the old Israel (Jacob) (Genesis 50:4-6)." F21
And there came also Nicodemus, he who at the first came to him by night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.
Richardson also supposed that the purpose of citing the participation of Nicodemus was that of introducing "independent evidence - that, perhaps, of a Sanhedrin member - of the fact that Jesus REALLY died, as against Gnostic theories of resuscitation and Jewish accusations of fraud on the part of the disciples." F22
For more on Nicodemus, see under John 3:1.
So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.
Throughout John, there appears the most exact and intimate knowledge of Jewish customs, proving that the author could have been none other than a Jew.
Linen cloths ...
The word "cloths" does not mean "clothes," nor "a linen cloth," such as was mentioned by all three synoptics, according to Westcott. This is the type of "discrepancy" seized upon with such glee by skeptics, there being several other examples in the sacred Gospels. There ARE discrepancies, of a sort; but they are far more effective in establishing the truth and dependability of the Gospels than any VERBATIM narratives could have been. Even the points of apparent disagreement, when carefully studied, reveal deeper insights into the facts.
CONCERNING THE CLOTHS
As Westcott noted, "The exact word for CLOTHS is the diminutive form which is used in Greek medical writings for BANDAGES. This distinguishes these SWATHES in which the body was bound from the linen cloth mentioned by the other evangelists." F23
Observe this total record of all four Gospels:
Joseph took the body, and wrapped it
in a clean linen cloth (Matthew 27:59).
Joseph bought a linen cloth, and
taking him down, wound him in the
linen cloth (Mark 15:46). Joseph took
the body down and wrapped it in a
linen cloth (Luke 23:53). Joseph and
Nicodemus took the body of Jesus and
bound it in linen cloths with the
spices (John 19:40).
Thus, Joseph in the lead, and joined by Nicodemus a little later, after the latter had bought the spices, received Pilate's permission to take the body. Did they wrap, wind, or bind the body with that linen cloth? They did all three. Did they keep that linen cloth in one piece while that was done? Certainly not. They first cut it into SWATHES, as John said, making medical bandages of the type one can still see on the body of the old Israel himself in the Cave of Macpelah! As John tells us, "as the custom of the Jews is to bury." If such is not what happened, the synoptics would merely have said, "They rolled him up in a sheet." On the contrary, they used three different verbs: wrapped, wound, and bound. Any fair interpretation requires the inference of what John here declared as fact, namely, that the linen cloth was first reduced to medical type bandages used in winding up the bodies of the dead. Those who seek a contradiction in God's word must seek it elsewhere.
But there is a great deal more to this. The astounding miracle of the grave clothes was about to be related, the validity and impact of which depended utterly upon an exact understanding of what the grave clothes were and how they were applied. That is WHY John gave more exact details than the synoptics who did not record that miracle.
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb wherein was never man yet laid.
Thus the Second Adam slept in a garden, associating the redemption of the race with a garden, even as the fall of the first Adam had occurred in a garden. Matthew identified the tomb as Joseph's, noted that it was new, hewn out of rock, and that it was closed by a great stone. Luke recorded that it was hewn out of rock and that no man had ever lain in it. John supplied the details that it was in a garden and that no one had ever lain in it. This composite description is fully harmonious.
THE TWO GRAVES OF JESUS
- It was prophesied of Messiah that "THEY made his grave with the wicked (plural) and with the rich (singular) in his death" (Isaiah 53:9). Matthew's identification of Joseph as a rich man, together with the description of the garden tomb itself, makes it clear that the second clause of the prophecy was fulfilled by the burial in Joseph's tomb.
But what about the grave with the wicked? Here is another example of prophecy supplying details regarding Jesus which are not given in the Gospels (such as the piercing of Jesus' feet mentioned in Psalms 22:16). In the same manner, this prophecy mentions the two graves: (1) one with a rich man (singular), (2) the other with the wicked (plural). Remember that the prophecy speaks of "grave" with the wicked, not merely "death" with the wicked. The soldiers who carried out the execution certainly provided the graves for all three men who were crucified, that being a part of their duty. Not knowing of the efforts and intentions of Joseph and Nicodemus, and having had all day in which to do it, they had without any doubt at all provided three graves for the condemned, including, of course, a grave for Jesus. That grave was with the wicked (plural), fulfilling the prophecy exactly. Authority for this conclusion is the prophecy itself. The "they" of the prophecy (RSV) would have been "he" if only Joseph had been meant. It therefore includes prophetic mention of the soldiers. That Jesus never slept in the grave made by the soldiers did not keep it from being the one "they" made for him.
- "Wherein was never man yet laid ..." is important for two considerations: (1) Jesus' body never came in contact with corruption; and (2) it removed any possibility that his resurrection might have been attributed to his body's having come in contact with the bones of a prophet. The Old Tesatament records such a miracle, thus:
It came to pass, as they were burying
a man, that, behold they spied a band
of men; and they cast the man into the
sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man
was let down and touched the bones of
Elisha, he revived, and stood up on
his feet (2 Kings 13:21).
Jesus' being buried in a new tomb (mentioned in three Gospels) prevented any false ascription of his resurrection to such an occurrence as that of the Old Tesatament. There is no evidence that Jesus' enemies ever admitted his resurrection, choosing to deny it rather than to explain it as a miracle like that involving the bones of Elisha; but the infinite Wisdom guarded the sacred event of our Lord's resurrection against every possible deprecation of it, even against eventualities that never materialized.
- This detailed description of the grave where Jesus was buried is important also as a refutation of the satanically inspired slander of the priests to the effect that his disciples had stolen the body. The "great stone" was so large that several women freely admitted that all of them together would never have been able to roll it away (Mark 16:3). Also, the particular type of rock-hewn sepulchre described in the Gospels facilitated the official sealing of the grave which was ordered by the governor (Matthew 27:62). The sealing of another type of grave, such as that provided by the soldiers, would have been far more difficult and less secure.
There then because of the Jews' Preparation (for the tomb was nigh at hand) they laid Jesus.
See under John 19:31.
The Preparation had almost expired, and with sunset the high sabbath would begin, leaving no time to bury the Lord in a distant tomb, which might have required travel after sunset; and such a desecration of the sabbath would have precipitated ugly action by the hierarchy. God, however, had providentially arranged a tomb near at hand, the priceless sepulchre of Joseph who gave it to the Lord. Speculation as to whether this was intended as a permanent burial place of Jesus is preempted by the fact that he needed it only three days and three nights. The thought recurs that no one ever gave anything to the Lord without receiving it again, multiplied and enriched. When the time came to bury Joseph, the tomb was still his, enriched and made holy by the knowledge that from it the Christ had risen from the dead. Similarly, the little lad who gave his basket of loaves and fishes was certainly the legal owner of the twelve baskets of fragments left over. What is given to Christ is saved; all else is lost.
There they laid Jesus ...
How much pathos in the words, "There
they laid Jesus." In the tomb of
Jesus the Jews supposed his works to
be buried forever .... In it, had he
not risen, would have been buried the
gospel, Christian civilization, and
the hope of the world. The future of
the world was sleeping in the
The pressure of the approaching high day did not thwart observance of the last appropriate detail in the Lord's burial. Even the wrapping of the body had been done after the manner associated with the burial of the most distinguished leaders of the Jews. "After the manner of the Jews to bury ..." indicates that the sacred body was not mutilated, as in Egyptian burial customs. As Gaebelein observed, "What true believer need fear the grave now? Solemn as is the thought of our last narrow bed, we must never forget that it is the place where the Lord lay." F25 As Paul exclaimed, "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:56).
Footnotes for John 19
1: B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971), p. 275.
4: Albert Barnes. Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 368.
5: William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 416.
6: H. R. Reynolds, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), Vol. 17, II, p. 418.
7: H. R. Reynolds, op. cit., II, p. 419.
8: David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the Gospel of John (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 293.
9: Note to critics: This writer is aware that they did not change the procurator every year!
10: B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 270.
11: Alvah Hovey, Commentary on John (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1885), p. 379.
12: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 422.
13: Alfred Plummer, Commentary on Matthew (London: Elliot Stock, 1909), p. 396.
14: Ernest W. Saunders, John Celebrates the Gospel (New York: Abingdon, 1966), p. 149.
15: B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 276.
16: Ibid., p. 277.
17: Ibid., p. 279.
19: Ibid., p. 286.
20: Ibid., p. 15.
21: Alan Richardson, The Gospel according to St. John (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 204.
22: Ibid., p. 205.
23: B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 281.
24: B. W. Johnson, The New Testament Commentary (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Christian Publishing Company, 1886), p. 291.
25: Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of John (Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 379.
26: Ibid., p. 353.
27: G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel according to John (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company), p. 224.
28: B. F. Westcott, op. cit., p. 186.
29: Leslie Duncan, Protestantism (New York: George Braziller, 1962), p. 43.
30: William Hendriksen, op. cit., II, p. 130.
32: A. M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 100.
33: Frank Pack, op. cit., Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 5.
34: B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John, op. cit., p. 15.
35: John Macmillan, The Crucified and Risen Bible (London: Marshall Brothers Ltd.), p. 64.
37: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, vi, 7, 4.
38: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 97.
39: William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act II, Scene ii, line 61, and Act V, Scene i, line 56.
40: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 98,
41: Alvah Hovey, op. cit., p. 78 .
42: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 106.
43: Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1958), p. 49.
44: J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan), John I, p. 76.
45: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 76.
46: Herbert Lockyer, op. cit., p. 277.
47: Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Twelve (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1939), p. 40.
48: F. N. Peloubet, Peloubet's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: The John C. Winston Co., 1925), p. 91.
49: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 20.
50: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 88.
51: Edgar J. Goodspeed, op. cit., p. 41.
52: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 777.
53: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible (London: Mason and Lane, 1837), Vol. V, p. 521.
54: Horatius Bonar, Family Sermons (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863), p. 49.
55: Adam Clarke, op. cit., Vol. V, p. 520.
56: William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 110.
57: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 91.
58: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 654.
59: J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 89.