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!

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.

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.

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 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.

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 Crucifixion

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 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 Inscription

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.

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.

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.

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).

Ferocious Finish

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.

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.

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.

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).

Jesus Burial

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.

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.