Looking at the Light through John - Chapter 19
The Next Presentation of Jesus
In trying to accommodate the Jewish leadership and yet free Jesus, Pilate had tendered this offer, "I will therefore punish Him and release Him" (Luke 23:16). While it seems un-American for someone innocent and uncondemned to be punished just for a show, the annals of history establish the practice to be commonplace. The selfishness and self-interest endemic in the human race requires that protecting that self-interest has priority over justice and fairness. Pilate, therefore, while knowing that Jesus was innocent, was willing to have Him flogged in order to satisfy the Jewish mob and at the same time preserve his own position. The Jewish hierarchy, however, knew the nature of their ruling governor and had already outflanked him; Jesus was going to die! The governor at this point was still working his strategy of appeasement, and entered back into the Praetorium. The apostle recorded: "Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged Him" (John 19:1). The Jews were restrained by their Law from administering more than forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3), but the Romans were under no such compunction. Jesus may have had one hundred stripes laid upon His back!
- Mocking the King - The unrestrained passions of mankind are legendary in their depravity. Like beasts, the mob kicks and tramples on the man who is down; when someone’s reputation has been tarnished, the mass attacks in what has been properly described as a "feeding frenzy." The soldiers, no different than the rest of the human race, were happy to mock and brutalize Jesus in His downtrodden condition. "And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head," were the apostle John’s notes, "and arrayed Him in a purple robe" (John 19:2). The rumor mill was working, and the information spread rapidly along the man-to-man chain that Jesus had claimed to be "the King of the Jews." The purple robe was probably the one that had come over from Herod, and the soldiers gleefully added the crown of thorns the Lord’s humiliating raiment. The mocking increased. "And they began to come up to Him, and say, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and to give Him blows in the face" (John 19:3).
- The show goes on - Pilate, pressured from all directions, hoped that this scourging and mocking of Jesus would satisfy the Jews and at the same time not put him in the position of executing an obviously innocent man. "And Pilate came out again," is the description of the governor’s coming out of his official residence to once again face the high priests, the ranking Pharisees, and the well-orchestrated mob, "and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.’ " (John 19:4). In accordance with the all-encompassing will of God, Jesus was thus publicly declared to be innocent; the true Passover Lamb was indeed without blemish! "Jesus therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ " (John 19:5). The public trashing of the Son of God thus went on.
It is important that each saint of God try to put himself in the sandals of Jesus of Nazareth as He went through this massive mocking, mistreatment, and miscarriage of justice. It was not necessary that He go through any of it, but He did it to demonstrate His love for each person, and as an example for all those who would follow in His steps, for all would suffer for the sake of the gospel. "He was oppressed and He was afflicted," was the prophetic utterance, "yet He did not open His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). "He was crushed for our iniquities," were words from the same passage. "The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). Let us take our "healing" to heart, and with joy sacrifice and serve Him!
More Pressure on Pilate
The anger of the Jewish hierarchy toward Jesus had been building for a long time. As early as the record of Mark chapter two, the detractors of the Lord were sitting in His audience, looking for opportunity to criticize Him. After He healed a man with a withered hand in a synagogue, the Pharisees "counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him" (Matthew 12:14). When the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to seize Him, they returned empty-handed, saying, "Never did a man speak the way this man speaks" (John 7:46). Numerous times He had eluded their grasp and evaded their attempts to stone Him. This time, to make sure their Man did not get away, they had prepared for every contingency. Hundreds of Roman soldiers, under the command of a chiliarch, accompanied the temple police in the arrest of Jesus, taking place under the cover of darkness so that there would be no interference by a multitude who were favorable toward the prophet from Galilee. The Lord was carefully tried before all proper Jewish authority, then brought before the Romans; all the loose ends were tied up. And should the Roman governor have some twinges about crucifying an innocent man, there was provision for applying pressure so that his objections could be assuaged.
- Call for crucifixion - "And Pilate," Luke recorded, "wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again" (Luke 23:20). Matthew’s account indicates that Pilate asked. "What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:22). Mark adds, "... whom you call the King of the Jews?" (Mark 15:12). "When the chief priests and the officers saw Him," John recounted, "they cried out, ‘Crucify, crucify!’ " (John 19:6). The "good ol’ boys" were primed and ready. As soon as Pilate reappeared, the orchestrated chanting started, the rhythmic call for crucifixion beginning to work the crowd into a fever.
- Pilate’s resistance - Dr. Luke in his dissertation most noted Pilate’s resistance to the crucifixion of Jesus. "And he said to them the third time," is the annotation, " ‘Why, what evil has this man done?’ " (Luke 23:23). The apostle John noted the exchange in these terms: "Pilate said to them, ‘Take Him yourselves, and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.’ " (John 19:6). He once again added the concession, "I will therefore punish Him and release Him" (Luke 23:22).
- The Jews’ persistence - The hierarchy were anticipating Pilate’s getting cold feet, and skilled in all the intrigue connected with remaining in high places, they had their comments ready. "The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.’ " (John 19:7). When their attempt to convince Pilate that Jesus was a threat to Caesar and Caesar’s throne failed, they brought into the discussion what they called "our law." The governor now had another level of law and pressure to deal with, and in the meantime the mob kept chanting, "Let Him be crucified!" (Matthew 27:23).
- The governor’s conundrum - The Jews had no conception that God would take human form; in fact, that mindset kept many initially from believing that Jesus really was the Christ. But the Romans, copycatting Greek mythology, thought that occasionally "the gods" would mingle with their human counterparts. The statement that Jesus claimed to be "the Son of God" rocked Pilate. "When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was the more afraid," was John’s accounting, "and he entered into the Praetorium again, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer" (John 19:8,9).
A lesser man than Pontius Pilate would have crumpled more quickly; a rarely great man would have stood for justice no matter what the cost to his personal career. But Pilate was the individual who was in this place at this time, and he was the one who would have to deal with the forces around him and the pressure within him.
The Royal Governor’s Authority
There is the great God whose hand truly governs human history. Man in his hubris assumes that he plays on a stage of his making, but as Mary the mother of Jesus noted in her prayer, "He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and exalted those who were humble" (Luke 1:51,52). The Almighty and All Wise is capable of executing His will and accomplishing His purpose through the sons of men, even as they exercise their free will in going about their business. "All things," said Paul, "have been created by Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16). Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea and representative of Rome, was ignorant of this, and stumbled through his life in the spiritual stupor which fell upon the Gentile world due to their rejection of God from the Tower of Babel onward. But that same Almighty Hand had placed him in the position of governor at this time, and he was the one who was face to face with Jesus of Nazareth.
Nothing in Pilate’s training or past experience prepared him for what he was facing now. The ranking Jews, with whom the governor had to deal on a continual basis, had just demanded capital punishment for Jesus, saying that their law required that an individual making the claim to be "the Son of God" should die. Pilate was afraid, and withdrew into the Praetorium with Jesus to converse with Him privately. Jesus’ refusal to answer the royal governor’s question, "Where are You from?" caused the official some consternation.
- Respect for authority? - The governor, flanked by soldiers and accompanied by attendants, was used to the Empire’s loyal subjects’ quaking before the representative of Rome’s might. Jesus had earlier amazed him by His refusal to answer the charges leveled against Him; now He further astonished the governor by refusing to answer his question. "Pilate therefore said to Him," is John’s history, " ‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ " (John 19:10). Pilate’s predicament should serve as an example to all who might tend to become arrogant or pompous. Those looking in from the Holy Spirit’s perspective can see that his statement about his authority was not predicated on solid reality, and that he was talking to Someone who knew all about authority.
- The Lord’s response - When Pilate asked Jesus where He was from, He did not answer; He had already stated that He had come into the world to bear witness to the truth, and Pilate shrugged it off. But when the governor upbraided Jesus for refusing to answer him, appealing to Jesus on the basis of his authority over the prisoner’s life and death, the Lord could not let that one pass. "You would have no authority over Me," He asseverated, "unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin" (John 19:11). So much for Pilate’s threat!
Yes, there is the God who governs in the affairs of men. Everyone of high position, be he Nebuchadnezzar or David Rockefeller, serves at the pleasure of God, and will serve God’s purpose. Jesus’ comment is foundational; all governing authority is given from above. The Christian, therefore, can take courage. The situation was not out of control as the Savior was being taken to His execution; it was all part of the great plan. Neither had anything gone wrong when the early Christians were beaten, tortured, and executed for their faith. The follower of Jesus thus has the calm assurance that he will be delivered up only as part of the design of God just as the Author of his faith was only delivered up in order that God’s work might be accomplished. No one on earth has any authority unless it was given him from above!
What Pilate Learned
Pontius Pilate, by whatever avarice, viciousness, cunning, and influence he possessed, had followed his ambition and had become governor of Judea. Like most of influence and affluence, he was overly impressed with his position and power. "Do You not know," said he to the King of the universe, "that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?" Jesus set the record straight by informing the local potentate that the only authority he possessed had been given from above. The Lord then indicated that others were more culpable in Jesus’ case; Pilate just happened to have to deal with the situation because he was governor at that time, whereas someone else was active in the arrest and prosecution of the Lamb of God. "For this reason," Jesus informed the governor, "he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin." Pilate was about to find out that someone else was orchestrating the events in which he was involved, and that he was about to be carried along by the whirlwind of circumstances greater than he was capable of controlling.
- Pilate tries again - The unruffled statements by Jesus, in control of the circumstances though in chains and in danger of being crucified, really affected the governor. He was obviously upset by the claim that Jesus was "a god," as he would think of it, and His apparent unconcern about His destiny. "As a result of this," the inspired record notes, "Pilate made efforts to release Him" (John 19:12).
- The Jews are prepared - The Jews had studied their governor, and they knew exactly how to pressure him. His function was to keep the province of Judea peaceful, to make sure the Emperor received proper honor, and that tax revenues flowed unhindered to Rome. His job was a lot easier if he could get the Jewish leadership to cooperate with him and keep the people under subjection. Some of these also had connections in Rome, and it was important that good reports of his governorship and loyalty be on the pipeline of information funneling into the government offices in the capital. Thus, when Pilate made efforts to release Jesus, the ranking Jews knew exactly what to say. John recorded, "The Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar" (John 19:12). This was the ultimate pressure for a politician who held his position at the whim of the Emperor - "no friend of Caesar." Pilate could not afford to have this circulated about him, and was therefore boxed into having Jesus crucified. Besides all this, the rioters continued in their uproar.
- Time for action - All Pilate’s efforts to release Jesus had, from his perspective, failed. Either Jesus was crucified by Roman authority, or Pilate’s career was over. This crucifixion would salvage his reputation, and the riots would die down. "When Pilate therefore heard these words," the sacred writ reads, "he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called ‘The Pavement,’ but in Hebrew, ‘Gabbatha.’ " (John 19:13). The Jews’ conspiracy was working exactly as they had planned.
Pilate claimed to have authority to release Jesus, and was trying to make Jesus grovel at his feet. But Pilate found out that there were others more skilled than he in intrigue and the techniques of "making the dominoes fall." Jesus, of course, knew this all along, and indicated that anyone involved in delivering the Christ over to Roman authority had greater sin. Thus the early preaching of the gospel dumps the blame on the Jews themselves, especially the leadership, for crucifying their Messiah. Him, said Peter, "you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). "God," the apostle stated, in re-emphasizing the Jews’ guilt, "has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified!" (Acts 2:26).
Orders for Crucifixion
Even though Pilate had taken his position on the judgment seat, the bema, the Jews did not back off. Suspicious that their politician might prove pliable to someone else, they kept the riot squad a clamoring until they were certain that their quarry would not escape their trap. The hierarchy did not, in their own words, want the Romans to take away their place and their nation. Their grim and ruthless determination was going to carry out that expediency, and Pilate would be manipulated by whatever means necessary in order to carry out their will.
- Day of preparation - The timing of Jesus’ eating the Passover with the disciples and the day of His crucifixion is a little more complex than it might seem on the surface. When Jesus met with the apostles in the upper room, He told them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). This was, according to Luke’s chronology, "the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed" (Luke 22:7). The apostle John, however, indicated that Jesus and the apostles participated in the Lord’s Supper before the Passover, describing their gathering in these words: "Now before the Feast of Passover ..." (John 13:1). Apparently the Pharisees and Sadducees had different ways for determining when the day of Passover (the 14th of Nisan) occurred. Because the Pharisees used a sunrise-to-sunrise reckoning for the day of the month, and the Sadducees used a sunset-to-sunset reckoning, the Pharisees sacrificed the Passover one day earlier than the high priests in the temple. Hence Jesus and His disciples had already participated in the Passover, on the Pharisees’ reckoning, but the high priests and their contingent had not when they came to arrest Jesus; that is why it was written that "they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (John 18:28). Thus when Pontius Pilate came out to The Pavement to render judgment on Jesus of Nazareth, the apostle John recorded, "Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour" (John 19:14). At six o’clock in the morning - the sixth hour on Pilate’s time - Pilate gave orders for the Christ to be crucified. By the hand of God, the two different systems of reckoning the day of Passover were in place; Jesus could eat the Passover with His apostles, and at the same time be offered as the true Passover Lamb just as the high priests were preparing the appointed sacrifices in the temple!
- "Behold your King!" - The governor did not want to be accused of being "no friend of Caesar," so he was ready for Jesus to be crucified. "And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ " (John 19:14). The orders for crucifixion, however, had not yet been issued, so the mob kept on with their uproar. "They therefore cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ " It was at this point that Rome’s representative washed his hands of the matter, and the people responded, saying, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25). Now Pilate was insistent, "Shall I crucify your King?" Pilate was a politician, and if he was going to have to crucify Jesus, he was going to get an important concession out of the proceedings; he was emphasizing that Jesus was the Jews’ king. The hand of the ruling priests was forced: "The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ " (John 19:15). What a blatant admission; they had indeed rejected God as their King, and for expediency’s sake had stated that Caesar was their king!
Pilate covered his bases. He released Barabbas for them as a gesture of good will toward the people; he acceded to the demands of the Jewish hierarchy in having Jesus crucified; and he forced the Jews to publicly announce their total allegiance to Caesar. "So he delivered Him to them to be crucified" (John 19:16).
The brutality to which Jesus was exposed is almost unimaginable. At His trial before the high priest Caiaphas, when the "guilty verdict" came, the contingent "spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him" (Matthew 26:67). To placate the Jews, Pilate scourged Jesus, had Him crowned with the crown of thorns, clothed Him in the reddish-purple robe, and brought Him out to the present Him to the mob. "Behold your King!" he had said. But now that orders were issued for the crucifixion, Jesus was once again turned over to the soldiers.
On to Calvary - The orders for Jesus’ crucifixion were given at 6:00 am (the sixth hour - John’s account is written using Roman time). According to Mark’s account, the crucifixion occurred at 9:00 am (the third hour - Mark’s account is written using Jewish time - Mark 15:25). It therefore took about three hours for the prisoners’ procession to make its way across Jerusalem to the hill overlooking the city where those adjudged criminals were to hang on their crosses. What stress Jesus’ body must have undergone - having been up all night, tormented, beaten - to now carry His cross through the town. "They took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha" (John 19:17). While the pain and exhaustion He endured must have approached the breaking point, all that is recorded is that the soldiers required a man named Simon of Cyrene to assist the Lord in carrying His cross through the dusty streets. So much pain, so little notice.
- The crucifixion - When the procession reached the top of The Place of the Skull, preparations were made for nailing the three prisoners to their crosses. While it is impossible today to determine with certainty the actual spot of the crucifixion, it was clearly outside the city of Jerusalem ("outside the gate" - Hebrews 13:12), and most likely a hill whose slope bears the resemblance of a skull with eye sockets and mouth, located near the junction of Mt. Zion and Mt. Moriah. The record of the apostle John at this point is: "There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between" (John 19:18). The anguish of the Lord in experiencing the driving of the spikes, the lifting of the cross into the air, and the dropping of the wood into its hole must have almost beyond comprehension. But all four gospel accounts are consistent; as with John, a portion of a sentence is given to the happening: "There they crucified Him..." So much pain, so little notice.
- As the apostle John tells the story of the Christ upon the cross, the bare-bones details only are included. There is no explanation of the meaning of the crucifixion; while Jesus had hinted at its significance during His earthly sojourn, its power and position would only be exposed through the preaching recorded in the book of Acts and through the teachings of the epistles. No one, then, including the apostles, understood what was going on during the crucifixion except Jesus. All who saw the darkness descend at noon, all who stood with the centurion during the final earthquake, and all who noted the signs and portents in connection with Jesus’ death on the cross were in a state of confusion as to what really was happening as the Son of God died for the sins of man.
The crucifixion of the Lord was the greatest means by which God’s love for children of the flesh could be exhibited. Herein was the law nailed and its punishments banished; herein was the fading old covenant taken away. "But may it never be," expostulated the apostle Paul, "that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).
The Roman government still retained some of the trappings of the former republic. A system of law and justice was still in place, wherein prisoners received the semblance of a trial, the proceedings were public, and the charges were announced to the populace at large. Once the prisoner was convicted, the crime of the perpetrator was written on a placard for the public to know what the charges against said criminal were. The inscription was eventually placed above the heads of those hanging on crosses, those who were convicted of a capital crime against the Emperor.
- Harmony of the inscription - Each of the four accounts gives some wording for the sign above the cross, but each of the four is different from the others. The difference in the recorded wording is instructive in that it shows in a concise fashion how the Bible is written, and how it is therefore to be interpreted. Mark’s account is the simplest: "THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mark 15:26). Luke adds the words "THIS IS" for more information on the inscription (Luke 23:38). Matthew inserts "JESUS" before the expression "THE KING" (Matthew 27:37). "And Pilate wrote an inscription also," annotates the apostle John, "and put it on the cross. And it was written, ‘JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ " (John 19:19). "It was written," also stated the apostle, "in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek" (John 19:20). None of the four accounts give a complete description of the sign that was on the cross; each of the accounts, however, is accurate in its reporting, and by putting all four together it can be determined that the sign said, "THIS IS JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS," and that the inscription was written in the three listed languages. Herein is an exhibition of how the Bible is to be understood: all the scriptures related to a topic are accurate, but all scriptures on that topic need to be looked at before the scriptures’ teaching on that topic can be determined with finality.
- Public execution - God intended that the crucifixion of the Christ be a public event. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was designed to attract the attention of the Jews coming in for Passover, and to set the stage for His entry into Jerusalem while riding the donkey’s colt. Thus the Father so designed and orchestrated the Passover that an estimated three to four million would be witnesses of the killing of the true Passover Lamb. "Therefore this inscription many of the Jews read," John testified, "for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and in Greek" (John 19:20).
- The chief priests’ appeal - Step by step Pilate forced the Jewish hierarchy to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Emperor; "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests had stated. They were understandably squeamish about Jesus’ having any claims to being the King of the Jews. "And so the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, ‘Do not write, "The King of the Jews"; but that "He said: I am the King of the Jews." ’ " (John 19:21).
Pilate, however, was fighting for his political - and maybe his physical - life. If he could present to his superiors that he had in fact quelled an uprising, and put to death "The King of the Jews," his position would be more secure. His answer to the chief priests’ request for clarification on the sign containing the charges was brief and pointed. The apostle again records, "Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’ " (John 19:22). As far as the official records were concerned, the King of the Jews was crucified, the threat to the stability of the Roman Empire passed, and the multitudes could read the charges against Jesus of Nazareth.
Division of the Clothing
For most of mankind’s history, clothing has been extremely valuable. Before the advent of the industrial revolution, all clothes were hand-made, and the labor for their production was intensive. Nowadays, non-expensive bolts of cloth made in Communist China are available even in Africa, and massive looms turn out clothing cheap enough for people all over the world to be able to buy and wear. But in the days of yesteryear, clothing was at a premium. Women, after doing their chores all day, at night took their treated flax, sat down at the spinning wheel, loaded up the flax on the staff feeding the wheel (the distaff), spun thread for use in clothing, and finally were able to head off to bed for much needed sleep in preparation for the work-filled coming day. So much was this the practice that an old time expression for women was the distaff side. Clothing was valuable.
- The crucifixion - Crucifixion was a form of capital punishment used by ancients from the sixth century BC until 337 AD, when Constantine, Emperor of Rome, banned its use. Because of the value of clothing, subjects were usually stripped before their being nailed to their crosses. "The soldiers therefore," stated the apostle John, "when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments ..." (John 19:23).
- Distribution of the garments - When a person is dead, he does not need his clothing any more. Since the clothing was valuable, in those days, someone was going to get the garments of the dead person, and in cases of crucifixion, the soldiers were privileged to do so. The combatants, then, "took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic..." The outer wear was evenly distributed. But for the underwear ... "Now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. They said therefore to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be" (John 19:23,24). This "tunic" was the Greek khiton, the light undergarment worn next to the skin. A person without his outer garments was said to be naked; Jesus without His tunic truly was crucified in the nude. It was for Jesus’ underwear that the soldier gambled.
- Fulfillment of prophecy - The Omniscient God knows the end before the beginning happens. Thus He is able to speak through His prophets and have them record the events before they happen in earthly time. The soldiers, then, were proceeding as soldiers do - dividing the outer garments, casting lots for the underwear. But it was "that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘They divided My outer garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots.’ " (John 19:24). This is the sort of detail that makes the scripture believable; the soldiers’ action was natural, not contrived. But the details of the prophecy - including the idea that the individual had his hands and feet pierced! - were written 1000 years before the events took place. Jesus could have read those prophecies, and arranged some of them, such as riding into Jerusalem on the donkey. But trying to make sure that Roman soldiers function as they have been foretold in Jewish scriptures... It’s just not "arrangeable." The actual events cast their shadow backwards for the prophets to see and record.
God’s hand guides and governs history, even through the free will choices of men! Jesus came into the world and was crucified "at the right time" (Romans 5:6). Pontius Pilate was exactly the right man to be governor at this time. Judas was in the right slot, as well as the high priest Caiaphas. Even the four nameless soldiers and the centurion who stood by were the ones who were supposed to be in their positions on the Day of Passover, 30 AD. The outer garments were to be parted among the four, and lots were to be cast for the inner clothing. "Therefore the soldiers did these things" (John 19:25).
Care For His Mother
The baby Jesus was entrusted to the care of Joseph and Mary. Faithful servants they were, selected by God to carry out this most important mission, of raising the Son of God in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Joseph was trustworthy and trusting, taking Mary into his home under suspicious conditions. Mary was trustworthy and trusting, riding to Bethlehem on the donkey, thus ensuring that the Child was born in that City of David. Joseph was still alive when Jesus, at the age of twelve, disputed with the doctors of the law in the temple. But, by the time of Jesus’ immersion when He was about thirty, Joseph has passed from the scene and Jesus is in charge of the family. Shortly after His immersion, therefore, He moved the family from the hills of Galilee to the shores of the Sea of that name, that He might have better opportunity to care for His dear mother. He left Nazareth, and "came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea" (Matthew 4:13). And at the hour of His death, His mother was standing nearby.
- The women - Quite a number of women were in the entourage of the Christ as He made His rounds through Galilee, Perea, Decapolis, Samaria, and His occasional jaunt into Jerusalem. Joanna, Susanna, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, His mother Mary, and others were around, participating in the events, and probably serving the men in meals and their preparation. "But there were standing by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Whether Mary the wife of Clopas is also Mary the mother of Jesus’ sister is not possible to determine; various opinions exist as to whether there were three women or four, although the construction would seem to favor that there were only three.
- Instructions to His mother - As important as family relationships are, spiritual relationships are more important. Jesus Himself exhibited the truthfulness of that perception in giving over the care of His mother to a disciple rather than to His brothers in the flesh, who at this point were not believers. "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby," is the beloved disciple’s accounting, "He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ " (John 19:26). Mary was obligated to follow the instructions of her oldest Son, and trust His judgment as to who would be caring for her in her old age.
- Instructions to John the apostle - The apostle John was obviously a faithful and, to some degree, courageous disciple. He had entered into the courtyard of the high priest at the arrest of Jesus, and had secured entrance for Peter as well. Now he is with those who are gathered at the base of the crosses on Golgotha, and near the cross of the Lord Himself. "Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household" (John 19:27).
In a Jewish society, care of the aged family members was to be of high priority. The Providence of God could have had James or one of the other brothers in the flesh to be near the cross and to take custody of Mary. But this was not the arrangement destined by the Father’s plan. In the process, the "family of God," the church, is elevated to the proper position in the coming disciples’ priorities. The exhortation is consistent; if necessary, the physical family is to be left behind so the fellowship with the spiritual family can continue. The apostle Paul puts the right perspective on the spiritual family: "Let us do good to all men," he affirmed, "and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10).
The ninth hour of the Jewish day - 3:00 pm - was fast approaching, and Jesus had been hanging on His cross since 9:00 that morning. His first recorded statement while on the cross was when He forgave the soldiers for their crucifying Him, not knowing that they were crucifying the Son of God. His second recorded saying is when He forgave the "good thief," and the third is the exchange in which He transferred the care of His mother to the apostle John. His fourth statement came shortly after the transfer, wherein He was separated from the Father in bearing the sins of the world in His body on the tree. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" were the words of His anguish (Mark 15:36). The fifth, sixth, and seven sayings of Jesus on the cross then followed in swift succession.
- Fulfilling scripture - There are strong indications that it was Jesus’ responsibility to make sure all the appropriate scriptures were fulfilled while He was still walking in the flesh. As He approached His 3:00 pm death, there was one prophecy that was still in His earthly power to fulfill. It was written: "They also gave Me gall for My food, and for My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21). Although they had touched His lips with the wine laced with gall, He had not yet had His vinegar to drink. "After this," the apostle John, eyewitness, wrote, "Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I am thirsty.’ " (John 19:28). Thus He set in motion the circumstance that would fulfill this prophecy.
- A bystander’s response - When Jesus issued His cry about God’s forsaking Him ("Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani"), some of the bystanders thought that He was calling for Elijah. Matthew’s record is this: "And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine [vinegar], and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink" (Matthew 27:48). John recorded the scene in this fashion: "A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth" (John 19:29). That the bystander had to put the sponge on a branch of hyssop to get it to Jesus’ mouth indicates that Jesus was crucified on a tall cross reserved for the more notorious of criminals. The scripture that was in His power to fulfill was accomplished; He had His vinegar for drink.
- The last words of Jesus - The sixth and seventh sayings of Jesus occurred at this point. John wrote, "When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His Spirit" (John 19:30). Luke’s accounting is as follows: "And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ And having said this, He breathed His last" (Luke 23:46). The sixth and seven sayings of Christ upon the cross probably came with the same last violent breath.
It has been well said that it was not the nails which kept Jesus on the cross, that it was His love for mankind which attached Him there. When He was ready, then He gave up His spirit. As in all else, Jesus is the perfect example. While He was in the type of pain that gives its name to "excruciating," He was saving the one thief. While He was in His last throes of consciousness, He made final arrangements to care for His mother. While He was in His last minutes, He took care to follow through on His commitment to fulfill Scripture. In His last seconds, He crossed the finish line of His earthly life in power, crying out, "It is finished!" and yet humbly committing His Spirit to the Father. What a "ferocious finish!" And how worthy is He of emulation and adoration!
The Precious Blood of Calvary
John the Immerser had proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). The one sacrifice, to which the blood of countless lambs had pointed toward, would now be offered. Jesus Himself had strongly hinted at what was to come in His giving of the Lord’s Supper. "This is My blood of the covenant," He had stated, "which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). But once again, all would proceed naturally, so the casual onlooker would not notice that anything but the death of a condemned man was occurring.
- Setting the stage - Normally the Romans would let the bodies of those crucified rot on their crosses. But, in deference to Jewish custom and the oncoming Sabbath, and probably not wanting any more disturbances, the Romans acceded to the Jews’ request for the bodies’ distribution. "The Jews therefore," adverted John, "because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away" (John 19:31). By breaking the legs of those on the crosses, they would suffocate soon, and therefore could be buried before sundown and the Sabbath of the Sadducees began.
- The shedding of the blood - "The soldiers therefore came," noted the apostle. It had taken the work of the Jewish hierarchy to get them on their way. They "broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water" (John 19:32-34). It would be natural for the soldiers not to break the legs of a man they perceived to be dead, but to simply pierce his heart with a spear to make certain; the casual onlooker would not be surprised at any of this. That it had been dark since noon, that a major earthquake had occurred in connection with Jesus’ last breath, and that the sky now began to lighten might sharpen his perceptions, but he would still not notice anything suspect in the actions of the soldiers. But, in the spiritual realm, Jesus had been separated from the Father in bearing the penalty of all mankind’s sins, bearing "our sins in His body on the cross," and having His blood poured out as the sacrifice of the Lamb.
- The eyewitness - The only blood that Jesus is recorded as having shed for the sins of the world is the blood that poured from His side in connection with His death. None of the synoptic gospel accounts noted it, and the apostle John, well aware of its significance in view of the controversies from the developing gnosticism of his late years, emphasized the actual blood in these words: "And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe" (John 19:35).
This blood, seen and witnessed to by the apostle, was the blood of the sacrifice, the precious blood of Calvary. But the blood of the sacrifice does not take effect until the priest offers it appropriately. The great God, then, who orchestrated the events leading up to Jesus’ death and His shedding of blood, also orchestrated the events following the cross. With the typology of the Old Testament tabernacle firmly in place, the plan of God required that Jesus be resurrected to a position of power on high, being the great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek who could offer spiritual blood in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man. Without the physical blood of the sacrifice, there could be no spiritual blood of cleansing. Praise God for His complete and orderly plan of salvation by faith in the blood of Christ!
The Death of Jesus
"For I delivered to you as of first importance," stated the apostle Paul to the Corinthian brethren, "what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3). The preachments and writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets make it very clear that Jesus’ death was so that future disciples (as well as past Old Testament saints) might have true and permanent forgiveness of sins. "We have been sanctified," stated Hebrews’ author, "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). "He Himself," added the apostle Peter, "bore our sins in His body on the cross" (I Peter 2:24). Christ, then, was indeed the "Lamb of God," whose body was sacrificed that man might be set free from the condemnation of sin.
- The inspired record - As the apostle John described the death of Christ, He did not at that point record its significance. His interest was in describing the actual crucifixion and shedding of blood rather than engage in a message on the purpose of the demise of the Son of God. And he wanted also to emphasize how Christ in the flesh really had a body to be sacrificed. Already at work in the church at the time of John’s writings were those known today as Gnostics, who in general denied that Jesus took on physical form. To counter these "deceivers ... who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh" (II John 7), the apostle was graphic in describing the events on the cross. Firstly, the moment of His expiration is recorded: "And He bowed His head," was the apostle’s portrayal of Jesus’ physical body, "and gave up His spirit." When the soldiers came up the hill to break the legs of those on the crosses, the record is that, in reference to Jesus, "they saw that He was already dead." It was not a ghost-like apparation that the soldiers saw on the middle cross! And thirdly, "one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water." Ghosts don’t bleed; this was a real body that was hanged on that cross , and John was an emphatic and persistent eyewitness of that fact.
- The true Passover Lamb - The great God has demonstrated His interest in the security of His disciples, that they might know the certainty of their core beliefs. Thus He had put in motion foreshadows - Old Testament physical events that so paralleled what would happen in connection with Christ that it would be clear that there was a divine design. Hence the Passover lamb. The lamb was to be male, without blemish. Specific instructions were given in regard to its sacrifice: No bone of it was to be broken (Exodus 12:46). Jesus, the One to whom the lamb was pointing was male, was declared by Pontius Pilate to be "without blemish," and was positioned to complete the foreshadow. The soldiers, stated the apostle, "when they saw that He was already dead, did not break His legs." "For these things came to pass," affirmed John, a few verses later, "that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’ " (John 19:36).
- Scripture fulfilled - Numerous Old Testament prophecies pointed to a crucifixion and shedding of blood for the Lamb of God. "But He was pierced through for our transgressions," Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 53:5). John quotes out of Zechariah: "And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him who they pierced.’ " (John 19:37).
This, then, is the description of how Jesus "died for our sins according to the Scriptures." "And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe" (John 19:35).
Ghosts do not have to be buried, but dead bodies do! The human race generally will make sure that a human body is disposed of in some way rather than letting the animals, ants, and general decomposition get to it. The Biblical way of handling a dead body was to bury it in a tomb; hence it was that the Son of God would also end up in a tomb. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures," Paul had stated, and "He was buried ..." ( I Corinthians 15:3,4).
Officialdom in those days was a bit more removed from care of prisoners and criminals than current American posturing. Prisoners generally had to be fed by family members or others who were concerned, and those hanging on crosses had to be taken down by those associates who cared enough to work through the protocol.
- Joseph of Arimathea - Those who had come under the influence of Jesus of Nazareth were among the highest of the high as well as the lowest of the low. One of these was Joseph of Arimathea, sitting on the Sanhedrin, "a prominent member of the Council" (Mark 15:43). This man, by the hand of God, had the political pull-power to secure an audience with the Roman governor. "And after these things," stated John, in reference to the piercing of Jesus’ side and the shedding of His blood, "Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body" (John 19:38).
- Nicodemus - The apostle John tracked the progress of Nicodemus in his following of Jesus. Nicodemus was first attracted to the Lord because he drew the conclusion that Jesus could not have done His miracles without backing from God. Later, when the ranking members of the Jewish High Council were trashing Christ, Nicodemus tried to get a fair hearing for Man from Galilee, but was short-circuited. Now, at Jesus’ death, Nicodemus once again is there. "And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight" (John 19:39). The coordination of Joseph’s getting Jesus’ body down off the cross and Nicodemus’ coming with the spices for burial indicates that there was communication and cooperation between the two. Even though each was formerly a "secret disciple" of Christ, they apparently had picked up that the other had high regard for Jesus, and thus were able to open the doors for their cooperating in the burial of Jesus.
- Taking the body - Even though only Joseph and Nicodemus are mentioned, considering their station in life, and the amount of work involved in getting the body down off the cross or in bringing the one hundred pounds of spices, it is not unreasonable to conclude that they actually had their servants doing the work for them. "And so they [Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus] took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews" (John 19:40).
- The tomb - It was prophesied of the Christ that He would be with a rich man in His death (Isaiah 53:9). Once again, by the providence of God, Joseph would have Jesus buried in his own new tomb, carved out of the rock. "Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden," is the record of the apostle John, "and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore on account of the Jewis day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there" (John 19:41,42).
The bodies, because of the oncoming Sabbath, had to be in the tombs before sundown. Joseph’s was handy, Jesus was buried there, and Joseph (through his men) "rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb" (Mark 15:46). Ghosts don’t have to be buried, but dead bodies do! No Gnostic belief system could be compatible with the description here.