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Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ Before Pilate (Concluded)
Below is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:
1. Christ scourged and mocked, verses 1-3.
2. Pilate re-affirms His innocency, verse 4.
3. Pilate appeals to the Jews’ sympathies, verse 5.
4. The Jews’ response, verses 6, 7.
5. Pilate’s fear, verses 8, 9.
6. Pilate’s boast, verse 10.
7. Christ’s reprimand, verse 11.
Nowhere in Scripture, perhaps, is there a more striking and vivid demonstration of the sovereignty of God than Pilate’s treatment of the Lord Jesus. First, Pilate was assured of His innocency, acknowledging, no less than seven times, "I find no fault in him." Second, Pilate desired to release Him: "Pilate therefore willing to release Jesus" (Luke 23:20 ); "I will let him go" (Luke 23:22 ); "Pilate sought to release him" (John 19:12 ); "Pilate was determined to let him go" (Acts 3:13 ), all prove that unmistakably. Third, Pilate was urged, most earnestly by none other than his own wife, not to sentence Him (Matthew 27:19 .). Fourth, he actually endeavored to bring about His acquittal: he bade the Jews themselves judge Christ (John 18:31 ); he sent Him to Herod, only for Christ to be returned (Luke 23:7 ); he sought to induce the Jews to have him convict Barabbas in His stead (John 18:39 ,John 18:40 ).Yet in spite of all, Pilate did give sentence that Christ should be crucified!
What does man’s will amount to when it runs counter to the will of God? Absolutely nothing. Here was Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, determined to release the Savior, yet prevented from doing so. From all eternity God had decreed that Pilate should sentence His Son to death, and all earth and hell combined could not thwart the purpose of the Almighty He would not be all-mighty if they could! Christ was "delivered up (Greek) by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23 ). As God’s servant fearlessly announced, Both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts 4:27 , Acts 4:28 ). This is not simply "Calvinism," it is the explicit declaration of Holy Writ, and, woe be unto the one who dares to deny it. Christ had to be sentenced by Pilate because the eternal counsels of Deity had foreordained it. Moreover, Christ was dying for sinners both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, therefore Divine wisdom deemed it fitting that both Jews and Gentiles should have a direct hand in His death.
But, it will at once be objected, This reduces Pilate to a mere machine! Our first answer is, What of that? better far to reduce him to a non-entity than to deny the Word of the living God! Away with the deductions of reason; our initial and never-ceasing duty is to bow in absolute submission to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. Our second answer is, The deduction drawn by the objector is manifestly erroneous. An honest mind is forced to acknowledge that the Gospel records present Pilate to us as a responsible agent. Christ addressed Himself to Pilate’s conscience: "Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice" (John 18:37 ); God faithfully warned him that Christ was a just Man and to have nothing to do with Him (Matthew 27:19 ). Should it be asked, How could God consistently warn him when He had decreed that he should sentence Christ to death? Our reply is, His decree was a part of His own sovereign counsels; whereas the warning was addressed to Pilate’s responsibility, and he will be justly held accountable for disregarding it. Christ announced that Peter would deny Him, yet a few minutes later said to him, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation"! Finally, the Savior Himself told Pilate that he was sinning in holding Him: "he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin" (John 19:11 ) therefore it follows that Pilate’s failure to release Him was a great sin!
"Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him" (John 19:1 ). We believe that the real explanation of this awful act of the Roman governor is intimated in verse 4 "Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him." It was a desperate move, made against his better judgment, and, also made, we fully believe, against the strivings of his conscience. It was his third and last effort at a compromise. First, he had asked the Jews to judge Christ for themselves (John 18:31 ). Second, he had pitted against Him a notable outlaw, Barabbas, and made them take their choice. That having failed, he made a final effort to escape from that which he feared to do. He hesitated to speak the irrevocable word, and so scourged the Lord Jesus instead, and suffered the soldiers to brutally mistreat Him. We believe Pilate hoped that when he should present to the gaze of the Jews their suffering and bleeding king, their rage would be appeased. Luke 23:16 bears this out: "I will chastise him and release him." How entirely this wretched device failed we shall see by and by.
"Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him." "The cruel injury inflicted on our Lord’s body, in this verse, was probably far more severe than an English reader might suppose. It was a punishment which among the Romans generally preceded crucifixion, and was sometimes so painful that the sufferer died under it. It was often a scourging with rods, and not always with cords, as painters and sculptors represent. Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his ‘Antiquities,’ particularly mentions that malefactors were scourged and tormented in every way before they were put to death. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible says that under the Roman mode of scourging, ‘The culprit was stripped, stretched with cords or thongs on a frame, and beaten with rods’" (Bishop Rile).
"And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, king of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands" (John 19:2 , John 19:3 ). "One question springs from the heart on reading this How could it be! Where is the lauded Roman justice in this scourging of a bound prisoner of whom the judge says, ‘I find no fault in him!’ Why is an uncondemned one given into the rude hands of Roman soldiers for them to mock and smite at their pleasure? Where is the cool judgment of Pilate, that a little while ago refused to take action lest injustice be done? Why is Jesus treated in a way wholly unparalleled so far as we know? What is the secret of it all?" (Mr. M. Taylor). Difficult as it would be, impossible perhaps, for unaided reason to answer these questions, the light which Scripture throws on them removes all difficulty.
First, who was this One so brutally, so unrighteously treated? He was Immanuel, "God manifest in flesh," and fallen man hates God. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9 ). "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7 ). "Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways" (Romans 3:13-16 ). Never before or since did these awful facts receive such exemplification. Never were the desperate wickedness of the human heart, the fearful enmity of the carnal mind, and the unspeakable vileness of sin’s ways, so unmistakably evidenced as when the Son of God was "delivered into the hands of men" (Mark 9:31 ). All Divine restraint was withdrawn, and human depravity was allowed to show itself in all its naked hideousness.
Second, this was Satan’s hour. Said the Savior to those who came to arrest Him in the Garden, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53 ). On the day when sin entered the world, Jehovah announced that He would put enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between his seed and her seed (Genesis 3:15 ). That enmity was manifested when Christ became incarnate, for we are told, "And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born" (Revelation 12:4 ), and he it was who moved Herod to slay all the young children in Bethlehem. But God interposed and the dragon was foiled. But now God hindered no longer. The hour had arrived when the serpent was to bruise the Savior’s heel, and fully did he now avail himself of his opportunity. Jews and Gentiles alike were "of their father, the devil." and his lusts (desires) they now carried out with a will.
Third, Christ was on the point of making atonement for sin, therefore sin must be revealed in all its enormity. Sin is lawlessness, therefore did Pilate scourge the innocent One. Sin is transgression, therefore did Pilate set aside all the principles and statutes of Roman jurisprudence. Sin is iniquity (injustice), therefore did these soldiers smite that One who had never harmed a living creature. Sin is rebellion against God, therefore did Jew and Gentile alike maltreat the Son of God. Sin is an offense, therefore did they outrage every dictate of conscience and propriety. Sin is coming short of the glory of God, therefore did they heap ignominy upon His Son. Sin is defilement, uncleanness, therefore did they cover His face with vile spittle.
Fourth, Christ was to die in the stead of sinners, therefore must it be shown what was righteously due them. The Law required "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," a quid pro quo. All sin is a revolt against God, a treating of Him with contumacy, a virtual smiting of Him; therefore was Christ scourged by sinners. Again, when man became a sinner the righteous curse of the thrice holy God fell upon him, hence Christ will yet say to the wicked. "Depart from me ye cursed"! Unto Adam God declared, "cursed is the ground for thy sake... thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee" (Genesis 3:17 , Genesis 3:18 ); therefore the last Adam, as the Head of those He came to deliver from the curse, was crowned with thorns! Again, by nature and practice we are defiled: our iniquities cover us from head to toot sins which are "scarlet" and "crimson" (Isaiah 1:18 ); therefore was the Savior enveloped in "a purple robe" Matthew actually terms it "a scarlet robe" (Matthew 27:28 ), and Mark says "they clothed him with purple" (Mark 15:17 ). Finally, they mocked Him as "king of the Jews," for "sin hath reigned unto death" (Romans 5:21 ). Here then is the Gospel of our salvation: the Savior was scourged, that we might go free; He was crowned with thorns, that we might be crowned with blessing and glory; He was clothed with a robe of contempt, that we might receive the robe of righteousness; He was rejected as king, that we might be made kings and priests unto God.
"Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you that ye may know that I find no fault in him" (John 19:4 ). The private interview which Pilate had had with Christ at least convinced him that He had done nothing worthy of death; he therefore returned to the Jews and re-affirmed His innocence. The "therefore" points back to what is recorded in John 19:1-3 : he had gone as far as he meant to. "I bring him forth to you": there is nothing more that I intend to do. "I find no fault in him": how striking that the very one who shortly after sentenced Him to death, should give this repeated witness that the Lamb was "without blemish!" More striking still is it to observe that at the very time the Lord Jesus was apprehended and crucified as a criminal, God raised up one after another to testify of His guiltlessness. Of old the prophet had asked, "And who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living" (Isaiah 53:8 ). A sevenfold answer is supplied in the Gospels. First, Judas declared "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4 ) Second, Pilate declared, "I find no fault in him" (John 19:4 ). Third, of Herod Pilate said, "No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him" (Luke 23:15 ). Fourth, Pilate’s wife entreated, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him." (Matthew 27:19 ). Fifth, the dying thief affirmed, "We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss" (Luke 23:41 ). Sixth, the Roman centurion who glorified God, said, "Certainly this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:47 ). Seventh, those who stood with the centurion acknowledged, "Truly this was the son of God" (Matthew 27:54 )!
"Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe" (John 19:5 ). "That our blessed Lord, the eternal Word, should have meekly submitted to be led out after this fashion, as a gazing-stock and an object of scorn, with an old purple robe on His shoulders, a crown of thorns on His head, His back bleeding from scourging, and His head from thorns, to feast the eyes of a taunting, howling, blood-thirsty crowd, is indeed a wondrous thought! Truly such love ‘passeth knowledge’" (Bishop Ryle).
"And Pilate saith unto them, ‘Behold the man!’" (John 19:5 ). We fully believe that Pilate was here appealing to the Jews’ pity. See, saith he, what He has already suffered! He had no need to say more. The shame, the bleeding wounds, were tongues sufficiently moving if only they had ears to hear. Pilate hoped that their wrath would now be appeased. Is He not already punished enough! It is surely striking that the Governor said not, "Behold this man," but, "Behold the man." It was the ungrudging testimony of an unprejudiced witness. Never before had any other who had stood before his bar carried himself as this One. Never before had Pilate seen such quiet dignity, intrepid courage, noble majesty. He was deeply impressed, and avowed the Lord’s uniqueness.
"When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify, crucify" (John 19:6 ). Pilate’s scheming failed here as completely as had his previous attempts to avoid condemning our Lord; nothing short of His death would satisfy the Jews. The pitiful sight of the bleeding Savior softened them not a whir. Like beasts of prey that have tasted blood, they thirsted for more. The humiliating figure of their Messiah crowned with thorns by these heathen, instead of humbling, only infuriated them. They were "past feeling." Solemn it is to observe that the chief priests were to the fore in demanding His crucifixion the "officers" were the personal followers and servants of the priests, and would naturally take up the cry of their masters; the word for "cried out" signifies a boisterous shout. It is a painful fact that all through this dispensation the most cruel, relentless, and blood-thirsty persecutors of God’s saints have been the religious leaders in a hundred different instances the "bishops" (?) and "cardinals" of Rome. Nor is it otherwise to-day. The form of persecution may have changed, yet is the opposition which comes from those who profess to be the servants of Christ the most relentless and cruel which God’s children have to endure. It is to be noted that the cry was not "Crucify him," but "Crucify, crucify" refusing Him the "the man" of Pilate! It was Israel, all through, who hounded Him to His death: how wondrous then that God shall yet have mercy upon them.
"Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify: for I find no fault in him" (John 19:6 ). Pilate was disgusted at their lawless clamor, indignant at their challenging his decision, angry at their insistence. "Take ye him," if you want; "and crucify" if you dare. They had had the effrontery to appeal against the findings of his court, now he mocks them in regard to the impotency of their court, for according to their own admission, they were powerless (John 18:31 ). The Jews were insisting that Pilate should commit a judicial murder, now he challenges them to defy the Roman law. His "For I find no fault in him" was his challenge for them to continue opposing Caesar’s authority.
"The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7 ). Their words here show plainly that they discerned the satire in Pilate’s offer: had he really given them permission to crucify Christ, they would have acted promptly. They knew that he had not spoken seriously; they felt his biting irony, and stung by his sarcasm they now attempted some defense of their outrageous conduct. "We have a law" they insisted, much as you scorn us for wanting to act lawlessly. We have a law as well as you! "By our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" their reference was to Leviticus 24:16 . Instead of re treating before Pilate’s outburst of indignation, they continued to press their demands upon him. We charge your prisoner with having broken our law, the punishment for which is death. Their aim was to make out Christ to be a dangerous impostor as well as a seditious person, opposed both to Jewish religion and Roman law. Pilate had challenged them; now they challenge him. You have dared us to defy the Roman law; we now dare you to refuse to maintain the Jewish law.
"We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God." It is indeed remarkable that as soon as Pilate said "Behold the man," they proceeded to charge Him with "making himself the Son of God"! Their motive was an evil one, but how evident that a higher power was overruling! Finding the charge of sedition had broken down, and that Pilate could not be induced to sentence Him to death on that score, they now accused Christ of blasphemy. But how their hypocrisy was manifested: they appealed to their own "law," yet had no respect for it, for their law called for stoning not crucifixion, as the penalty for blasphemy! A careful comparison of the Gospel records reveals the fact that the Jews preferred just seven indictments against Christ. First, they charged Him with threatening to destroy the temple (Matthew 26:61 ); second, with being a "malefactor" (John 18:30 ); third, with "perverting the nation" (Luke 23:2 ); fourth, with "forbidding to give tribute to Caesar" (Luke 23:2 ); fifth, with stirring up all the people (Luke 23:5 ); sixth, with being king" (Luke 23:2 ); seventh, with making Himself the Son of God (John 19:7 ). This sevenfold indictment witnessed to the completeness of their rejection of Him!
"When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid" (John 19:8 ). The meaning of this is evident, yet, strange to say, many of the commentators have missed it. Some have supposed that fear of the Jews is what is intended; others, that Pilate was fearful lest it should now prove impossible to save Christ; others, lest he should take a false step. But the "therefore" is sufficient to show the error of these views: it was the declaration that Christ "made himself the Son of God" which alarmed the Roman Governor. Moreover, the "he was the more afraid" shows it was not an emotion which he now felt for the first time. The person of the Lord Jesus was what occasioned his fear. We believe that from the beginning there was a conscious uneasiness in his soul, deepened by an awe which the bearing and words of Christ had inspired. He had seen many malefactors, some guilty, some innocent, but never one like this. His "Ecce Homo" (John 19:5 ) witnesses to his estimate of Christ. The warning which he had received from his wife must also have impressed him deeply; and now that he is reminded his Prisoner called Himself the Son of God, he was the more afraid.
"And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer" (John 19:9 ). This was the sixth question Pilate asked Christ, and it is deeply interesting to follow his changing moods as he put them. First, he had asked "Art thou the king of the Jews?" (John 18:33 ) asked, most probably, in the spirit of sarcasm. Second, "Am I a Jew?" (John 18:35 ) asked in the spirit of haughty contempt. Third, "What hast thou done?" (John 18:35 ) a pompous display of his authority. Fourth, "Art thou a king then?" (John 18:37 ) indicating his growing perplexity. Fifth, "What is truth?" (John 18:38 ) asked out of contemptuous pity. Sixth, "Whence art thou?" In what spirit did he ask this question? Much turns upon the right answer, for otherwise we shall be at a loss to understand our Lord’s refusal to reply.
"Whence art thou?" Not "Whom art thou?" nor, "Art thou the Son of God then?" but "Whence art thou?" Yet it is clear that Pilate was not asking about His human origin, for he had already sent Christ as a "Galilean" to Herod (Luke 23:6 ). Was it then simply a question of idle curiosity? No, the "mote afraid" of the previous verse shows otherwise. Was it that Pilate was now deeply exercised and anxiously seeking for light? No, for his outburst of scornful pride in the verse that follows conflicts with such a view. What, then? First, we think that Pilate was genuinely puzzled and perplexed. A man altogether unique he clearly perceived Christ to be. But was He more than man? The deepening fear of his conscience made him uneasy. Suppose that after all, this One were from Heaven! That such a thought crossed his mind at this stage we fully believe, and this leads to the second motive which prompted his question: Pilate hoped that here was a way out of his difficulty. If Christ were really from Heaven, then obviously he could not think of crucifying Him. He therefore has Christ led back again into the judgment hall, and says, Tell me privately your real origin and history so that I may know what line to take up with thine enemies. "We may well believe that Pilate caught at this secret hope that Jesus might tell him something about Himself which would enable him to make a firm stand and deliver Him from the Jews. In this hope, again, the Roman Governor was destined to be disappointed" (Bishop Ryle).
"But Jesus gave him no answer." Ominous "but"; perplexing silence. Hitherto He had replied to Pilate’s questions; now He declined to speak. At first our Lord’s silence surprises and puzzles us, but reflection shows that He could not have acted otherwise. First, the fact that in John 19:11 we do find Christ speaking to Pilate, shows that His silence here in John 19:9 was no arbitrary determination to say no more. "With us, when we would patiently suffer in silence, there may be some such arbitrary purpose of our own; or, to put a better construction upon it, we cannot actually speak and at the same time suffer in patience, for we have inwardly too much to do with our own spirits, in order to maintain our proper posture of mind. But Christ is in His profoundest humanity elevated above this human imperfection; in His lips (as we shall hear from the Cross) the Word of God is never bound" (Stier). Second, Christ’s silence here makes evident the spirit in which Pilate had put his question: it was not the cry of an earnest soul, honestly seeking light, for our Lord never closed the door against any such! Third, Pilate was not entitled to a reply. He had acted in grossest injustice when he refused to release One whom he declared was innocent; he had despised God’s warning through his wife; he had declined to wait for an answer to his "What is truth"; he had, against his own conscience, scourged the Savior and suffered his soldiers to mock and maltreat Him. Why then should Christ reveal to him the mystery of His person!
"Pilate had forfeited his right to any further revelation about his Prisoner. He had been told plainly the nature of our Lord’s kingdom, and the purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world, and been obliged to confess publicly His innocence. And yet, with all this light and knowledge, he had treated our Lord with flagrant injustice, scourged Him, allowed Him to be treated with the vilest indignities by his soldiers, knowing in his own mind all the time that He was a guiltless person. He had, in short, sinned away his opportunities, forsaken his own mercies, and turned a deaf ear to the cries of his own conscience.
"‘He gave him no answer.’ Most men, like Pilate, have a day of grace, and an open door put before them. If they refuse to enter in, and choose their own sinful way, the door is often shut, and never opened again. There is such a thing as a ‘day of visitation,’ when Christ speaks to men. If they will not hear His voice, and open the door of their hearts, they are often let alone, given over to a reprobate mind, and left to reap the fruit of their own sins. It was so with Pharaoh, and Saul, and Ahab; and Pilate’s case was like theirs. He had his opportunity, and did not choose to use it, but preferred to please the Jews at the expense of his conscience, and to do what he knew was wrong. We see the consequence ‘Jesus gave him no answer’" (Bishop Ryle).
In addition to what has been pointed out above, may we not say, that as it had been Divinely appointed Christ should suffer for the sins of His people, He declined to say anything which was calculated to hinder it! True, Pilate was morally incapable of receiving the truth: to make him a definite answer would simply have been casting pearls before swine, and this the Savior refused to do. Moreover, had He affirmed His Deity, it would have afforded Pilate the very handle he sought for releasing Him. Thus we may say with Bishop Ryle "Our Lord’s silence was just and well merited, but it was also part of God’s counsels about man’s salvation." Finally, let us learn from Christ’s example here that there is "a time to be silent," as well as "a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7 )!
"Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" (John 19:10 ). Here the haughty, fierce, and imperious spirit of the Roman was manifested; the authoritative I asserting itself. We doubt not that all the emphasis was thrown upon the personal pronouns Thou mayest keep silence before the Jews, the soldiers and before Herod; but me also? What lack of respect is this! It was the proud authority of an official politician displaying itself. Knowest Thou not in whose presence Thou standest! You are no longer before Annas and Caiaphas mere figure-heads. I am the Governor of Judea, the representative of Caesar Augustus. "Speakest thou not unto me?" It was his seventh and last question to our Lord, asked in the spirit of sarcasm and resentment combined. Accustomed to seeing prisoners cringing before him, willing to do anything to obtain his favor, he could not understand our Lord’s silence. He was both perplexed and angered: his official pride was mortified.
"Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee!" How he condemned himself. How he revealed his true character. Here was one on the bench talking about his power to commit a judicial murder! Here was one who had, over and over again, affirmed the innocency of his Prisoner, now owning his power to release Him, and yet shortly after condemned Him to death. And this from a man holding high office, who belonged to the nation which prided itself in its impartial justice! Mark also his consummate folly. Here was a worm of the earth so puffed up with a sense of his own importance, so obsessed with the idea of his own absolute freewill that he has the effrontery to say that the Son of the Highest was entirely at his disposal! Mark too his utter inconsistency. He was boasting of his legal authority: but if the Lord were innocent he had no judicial power to "crucify" Him; if He were guilty, he had no judicial power to "release" Him! Out of his own mouth he stands condemned. Carefully analyzed his words can only mean I am above the law: innocent or guilty, I can do with you as I please.
"This high-handed claim to absolute power is one which ungodly great men are fond of making. It is written of Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down’ (Daniel 5:19 ). Yet even when such men boast of power, they are often, like Pilate, mere slaves, and afraid of resisting popular opinion. Pilate talked of ‘power to release,’ but he knew in his own mind that he was afraid, and so unable to exercise it" (Bishop Ryle).
"Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11 ). For His Father’s honor and as a rebuke to Pilate, the Lord once more spake, giving His last official testimony before He was crucified. Blessed it is to mark carefully the words of grace and truth which now proceeded from His lips. How easy for Him to have given the lie to Pilate’s boast by paralyzing the tongue which had just uttered such blasphemy! How easy for Him to have made a display of His power before this haughty heathen similar to what He had done in the Garden! But, instead, He returns a calm and measured answer, equally expressive of His glory, though in another way. A careful study of His words here will reveal both His voluntary lowliness and His Divine majesty how wonderful that both should be combined in one brief sentence!
"Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above." The Lord acknowledged that Pilate did have "power" but of quite a different kind, from quite a different source, and under different restrictions from what he supposed. Pilate had boasted of an arbitrary discretion, of a sovereign choice of his own, of a lawless right to do as he pleased. Christ referred him to a power which came from above, delegated to men, limited according to the pleasure of the One who bestowed it. Thus Christ, first, denied that Pilate had the "power" to do with Him as he pleased. Second, He maintained His Father’s honor by insisting that He alone is absolute Sovereign. Even so temperate a writer as Bishop Ryle says on this verse: "Thou talkest of power: thou dost not know that both thou and the Jews are only tools in the hands of a higher Being: you are both, unconsciously, mere instruments in the hands of God"!
"Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivereth me unto thee hath the greater sin." Our Lord conceded that Pilate did have power: He acknowledged the authority of the human courts. To the very last Christ respected the law, nor did He dispute the power of the Romans over the Jews. But He insisted that Pilate’s power came from above, for, "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1 ) and compare Proverbs 8:15 , Proverbs 8:16 . Christ acknowledged that Pilate’s power, extended over Himself "no power against me except," etc. so thoroughly had He made Himself of no reputation. But it was because Pilate’s "power," both personal and official, was "from above," that the Savior bowed to it. In His "he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin," the Lord, as in Luke 22:22 , shows us that God’s counsels do not abolish the guilt of the men who execute them. And mark here, for it is most striking, that the same One who meekly bows to Pilate’s (God-given) authority, manifests Himself as the Judge of men, apportioning the comparative guilt of Pilate and the Jews. Thus did He maintain His Divine dignity to the end. This, then, was our Lord’s reply to Pilate’s "Knowest thou not?" I know, first, that all the power you have is from above; second, I know the precise measure both of your guilt and of him who delivered Me to thee! This, we take it, is the force of the rather difficult "therefore." Mark how, out of respect for Pilate’s official personage, the Lord did not actually say "he that delivered me unto thee hath greater sin than thee"! though plainly that was implied. Here, as in Luke 12:47 , Luke 12:48 Christ teaches degrees of sin and guilt, and therefore degrees of future punishment. The "he who delivered me up" refers not to Judas (his was the "greatest sin") but Caiaphas, acting as the representative of the nation. Finally observe that the last word which Pilate heard from the lips of Christ was "sin"! the next, in all probability, will be the sentence of his eternal doom.
Below are the questions for our next study:
1. Why did the "chief priests" take the lead, verse 15?
2. Why was Christ "delivered to them," verse 16?
3. Why "in the Hebrew," verse 17?
4. Why were two others crucified with Him, verse 18?
5. Why the inscription, verse 19?
6. Why in three languages, verse 20?
7. What is the meaning of verse 23?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ Condemned to Death
The following is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:
1. Pilate’s effort foiled, verse 12.
2. Pilate on the Bench, verse 12.
3. The Jews’ rejection of their Messiah, verse 15.
4. Christ delivered to the Jews, verse 16.
5. Christ crucified, verses 17-18.
6. The inscription of the Cross, verses 19-22.
7. The soldiers and Christ’s garments, verses 23-24.
The death of Christ may be viewed from five main viewpoints. From the standpoint of God the Cross was a propitiation (Romans 3:25-26 ), where full satisfaction was made to His holiness and justice. From the standpoint of the Savior, it was a sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2 ), an offering (Hebrews 9:14 ), an act of obedience (Philippians 2:8 ). From the standpoint of believers, it was a substitution, the Just suffering for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18 ). From the standpoint of Satan it was a triumph and a defeat: a triumph, in that he bruised the heel of the woman’s Seed (Genesis 3:15 ); a defeat, in that through His death Christ destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Hebrews 2:14 ). From the standpoint of the world it was a brutal murder (Acts 3:15 ). It is with this last-mentioned aspect of the death of Christ that our present passage principally treats.
The ones who (from the human side) took the initiative in the slaying of the Lamb of God, were the Jews; the one who was judicially responsible was Pilate. In the introduction to our last chapter we pointed out two things: first, that God had ordained Pilate should pass sentence upon His Son; second, that Pilate was, nevertheless, morally guilty in so doing. We shall not review the ground already covered, but would supplement our previous remarks by a few words upon Pilate’s final actions.
From the very first move made by the Jews for Pilate to sentence their Messiah, it is evident that he had no relish for the part which they wished and urged him to play; and the more he saw of Christ for himself, the more his reluctance increased. This is apparent from his restless journeying back and forth from the judgment-hall; evidenced by his repeated protestations of Christ’s innocence; evidenced by the compromises he offered them; evidenced by the appeals he made to them. If, then, he was unwilling to pass the death-sentence, how comes it that he, the Roman governor, was finally prevailed upon to do so? In seeking to answer this question we shall now confine ourselves to the human side of things.
In the first place, the Jews had charged Christ with perverting the nation, stirring up the people, teaching them to refuse to pay tribute, and claiming Himself to be the king of the Jews (Luke 23:2-5 ). These were charges which Pilate could not afford to ignore. It is true the preferring of such charges was one thing, and the proving of them quite another; but the Governor was too much of a politician not to know how easy it was to manufacture evidence and to hire false witnesses. In the second place, Pilate had himself incurred the hatred of the Jews by mingling the blood of certain Galileans with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1 ) a thing not only morally wrong, but legally reprehensible. In the third place, when Pilate showed signs of weakening, the Jews told him that if he did let Jesus go, he was no friend of Caesar (John 19:12 ). Pilate was quick to perceive that if he released his Prisoner, complaint would at once be made to the Emperor, and under a charge of conspiracy and treason, he was likely not only to lose the governorship, but his head as well.
Here, then, was the issue which Pilate had to pass on: on the one hand he knew that Christ was innocent, that He was a unique Man, possibly more than man; on the other hand, he was threatened by the Sanhedrin with exposure before Caesar. In its final analysis, Pilate had to choose between Christ and the world. When the issue was clearly defined, he did not hesitate; he decided to please the people and win their applause, rather than intensify their already fierce hatred against him and condemn him to Caesar. "Here is the anticipative result of Pilate’s vacillation. When a man begins to temporize with his conscience, to trifle with sin be it the love of applause, the fear of man, or whatsoever thing is contrary to sound doctrine and plain morality it is easy to predict what is sure to follow. Sin is at the first like a tiny spark. Tread it out at once that is your duty. But indulge, foster, toy with it, and it will kindle and spread, and lay waste in a fearful conflagration the very temple of the soul. So here with this unhappy Pilate, trying to join together what God hath forever put asunder his carnal inclination and his duty; hoping all in vain to harmonize equity and injustice; to comply with the voice of wicked men without, and yet not offend the voice of God within him; thinking to serve two masters God and mammon. Miserable, impossible compromise" (Mr. Geo. Brown).
"And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him" (John 19:12 ). The time-mark here is significant. Following the Jews’ accusation that Christ had "made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7 ), Pilate, thoroughly uneasy, had retired within the judgment-hall, and asked the Savior, "Whence art thou?" (John 19:9 ). But the Lord returned him no answer. Thereupon Pilate said, "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" To this Christ made reply, "Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." That Pilate was deeply impressed, both by his Prisoner’s demeanor and words, we cannot doubt. Previously unwilling to condemn an innocent Man, he now resolves to make a real effort to save Him. Leaving Christ behind in the judgment-hall, Pilate returned once more to the Jews. What he now said to them John has not told us: all we know is that he must have made an earnest appeal to the Savior’s enemies, which they as decisively rejected.
"But the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar" (John 19:12 ). The Jews knew their man, for hypocrites are usually the quickest to detect hypocrisy in others. They had reserved their strongest card for the last: with diabolic cunning they insinuated that no matter what the Governor’s personal feelings might be, no matter how unwilling he was to please them, he could not afford to displease the Emperor. For him this was a clinching argument. From this moment his hopes of escaping from his unhappy situation were dashed to the ground. It is hard to decide which was the more despicable: the duplicity of the Jews in feigning to care for Caesars interests, or the cowardice and wickedness of Pilate in conniving at a foul murder. On the one hand we see the descendents of Abraham, the most favored of all people, professing to be eagerly awaiting the appearing of the promised Messiah, now clamouring for His crucifixion. On the other hand, we behold a judge of one of the high courts of Rome, defying conscience and trampling upon justice. Never did human nature make such a contemptible exhibition. Never was sin more heinously displayed.
"When Pilate, therefore, heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha" (John 19:13 ). "‘Pilate’s playing with the situation,’ observes Lange, ‘is now passed; now the situation plays with him!’ First he said, not asked, What is truth! Now his frightened heart, to which the Emperor’s favor is the supreme law of life, says, What is justice! He takes his place on the judgment-seat, therefore, and with what seems something between a taunt and a faint, final plea, says to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’" (Numerical Bible.) Pilate dared no longer oppose the bloody demands of the Jews. There remained nothing now but for him to take his seat publicly on the bench and pronounce sentence. It is striking to note that the trial of Christ before Pilate was in seven stages. This is seen by noting carefully the following scriptures, which speak of the Governor passing in and out of the judgment-hall. The First stage was on the outside: John 18:28-32 . The Second on the inside: John 18:33-37 . Third, on the outside: John 18:38-40 . Fourth, inside: John 19:1-3 . Fifth, outside: John 19:4-7 . Sixth, inside: John 19:8-11 . Seventh, outside: John 19:12-16 .
"When Pilate, therefore, heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha." Here, as everywhere in Scripture, if only we have eyes to see, there is a deep significance to the proper noun. The word for "Pavement" is found nowhere else in the New Testament, but its Hebrew equivalent occurs just once in the Old Testament, and it is evident that the Holy Spirit would have us link the two passages together. In 2 Kings 16:17 we read, "King Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases, and removed the laver from off them; and took down the sea from off the brazen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones." In Ahaz’s case, his act was the conclusive token of his surrender to abject apostasy. So here of Pilate coming down to the level of the apostate Jews. In the former case it was a Jewish ruler dominated by a Gentile idolator; in the latter, a Gentile idolator dominated by Jews who had rejected their Messiah!
"And it was the preparation of the passover" (John 19:14 ). There has been an almost endless controversy concerning this. The Lord and His disciples had eaten the passover together on the previous night (Luke 22:15 ), and yet we read here of the "preparation of the passover." Sir R. Anderson wrote much that was illuminating on the point. We can only give a brief selection: "These writers one and all confound the Passover-supper with the feast which followed it, and to which it lent its name. The supper was a memorial of the redemption of the firstborn of Israel on the night before the Exodus; the feast was the anniversary of their actual deliverance from the house of bondage. The supper was not a part of the feast; it was morally the basis on which the feast was founded, just as the Feast of Tabernacles was based on the great sin-offering of the Day of Expiation which preceded it. But in the same way that the Feast of Weeks can now be commonly designated Pentecost, so the Feast of Unleavened Bread was popularly called the Passover (Luke 22:1 ). That title was common to the supper and the feast, including both; but the intelligent Jew never confounded the two. No words can possibly express more clearly this distinction than those afforded by the Pentateuch in the final promulgation of the Law: ‘In the fourteenth day of the first month is the passover of the Lord, and in the fifteenth day of this same month is the Feast’ (Numbers 28:16-17 )."
But to what does "the preparation of the passover" refer? "Among the Jews ‘the preparation’ was the common name for the day before the sabbath, and it is so used by all the Evangelists. Bearing this in mind, let the reader compare with John 19:14 , verses 31-42, and he will have no difficulty in rendering the words in question, ‘it was Passover Friday.’" (Sir Robert Anderson.) Let the reader also compare Mark 15:42 , which is even more conclusive.
"And about the sixth hour" (John 19:14 ). This expression has also occasioned much difficulty to many. It is supposed to conflict with Mark 15:25 . "and it was the third hour, and they crucified Him." But there is no discrepancy here whatsoever. Mark gives the hour when our Lord was crucified; John is speaking of the Passover Friday, i.e., the day when preparations were made for the sabbath (which began at Friday sunset) preparing food, etc., so that none would have to be cooked on the sabbath. It was about the sixth hour after this "preparation" had commenced. This is the view which was taken by Augustine and Dr. Lightfoot. We believe the Holy Spirit has recorded this detail for the purpose of pointing a comparison and a contrast. For six hours the Jews had been working in preparation for the approaching sabbath; during the next "six hours" (compare Mark 15:25 , Mark 15:33-37 ), Christ finished His great work, which brings His people into that eternal rest of which the sabbath was the emblem! "And he said unto the Jews, Behold your king!" (John 19:14 ). This was evidently spoken in irony and contempt.
"But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him" (John 19:15 ). As on the previous occasions of Pilate’s private appeals, so now this final and public appeal of his had no effect upon the Jews. Once more they raised their fierce, relentless cry, demanding the Prisoner’s death by crucifixion. Nothing but His blood would satisfy them. He must die: so had God decreed; so they demanded. The decree of the One was from love; the insistence of the other, was from hatred. The design of the One, was mercy unto poor sinners; the aim of the others, barbarous cruelty to Him who was sinless. This rejection of their Messiah by Israel fulfilled two prophecies: "We hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Isaiah 53:3 ); "Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth" (Isaiah 49:7 ).
"Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your king?" (John 19:15 ). As one has said, "Pilate speaks here with a mixture of compassionate feeling and mockery. For the last time the Roman governor put the decisive question to the Jews, giving them a final chance to relent, throwing the emphasis, we believe, on the word ‘crucify.’ It was a frightful mode of execution, reserved for slaves and the most abandoned criminals.
"The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15 ). "They are entirely infidel, throwing off all allegiance to any but Caesar, and cry that they had no other king. It is purely of the Jews, the whole transaction, for they consign to the most cruel death Him whom the Roman governor would have let go. This is man’s religion, and it will, in the end, enthrone ‘the Wilful One’ and bow to his image" (Revelation 13:0 ). (Mr. M. Taylor).
"The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar." God took them at their word: they have been under their own verdict ever since. History repeated itself, though with a tragic addition. In the days of Samuel, Israel said, "Make us a king to judge us like all nations" (1 Samuel 8:5 ), and Jehovah’s response was, "Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." So it was here with their rebellious descendants, when they rejected Christ the king. In consequence of their fatal decision, Israel has abode "many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice" (Hosea 3:4 ). Bitter indeed have been the consequences. Jotham’s parable has received its tragic fulfillment: "And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon" (Judges 9:15 , and see verses 7-16).
"The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar." "It was not the verdict of the Jews alone, and they have not suffered alone. The whole world has been lying under the yoke which they have preferred to the easy yoke of Christ. They have got very tired of Caesar true; and, as we see by their fitful movements every now and then, would feign be rid of him. They are always crying, ‘Give us better government’; but all they can do is, with doubtful betterment, to divide him up into many little Caesars; better as they think, because weaker, and with divided interests, so that the balance of power may secure the even weights of justice. That is still an experiment some think; but this chronic war is never peace, nor can be; and the reason is, men have refused the Prince of Peace. Modify it, rename it, disguise it as you please, the reign of Caesar is the only alternative" (Numerical Bible).
"Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified" (John 19:16 ). Between John 19:15 and 16 comes in what is recorded in Matthew 27:24-25 . Seeing that the Jews would not be turned from their purpose, and afraid to defy them, he took water and washed his hands before them (cf. Deuteronomy 21:1-6 ; Psalms 26:6 ), saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it." Thus did this cowardly, world-loving Roman betray his trust. Never was a name more justly handed down to the world’s scorn than Pilate’s. By his act he sought to cast the entire onus upon the Jews. Their terrible response was, "His blood be on us, and on our children." Then, we are told, "Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required... He delivered Jesus to their will" (Luke 23:24-25 ). Thus the Lord’s execution was now in Jewish hands (Acts 2:23 ), the centurion and his quaternion of soldiers merely carrying out the decision of the chief priests.
"Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified." Our Lord’s own estimate of Pilate’s act is recorded by the Spirit of prophecy through the Psalmist: "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with that which frameth mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood" (Psalms 94:20 , Psalms 94:21 )! Let us not forget, however, that behind the governor of Judea, who delivered the Lord Jesus unto the Jews, was the Governor of the Universe, who "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32 ). And why? Because He was "delivered for our offenses" (Romans 4:25 ). Christ was delivered to death, that we might be delivered from death.
"And they took Jesus and led him away" (John 19:16 ). Observe the word "led" again. How often has the Holy Spirit repeated it! Christ was neither driven nor dragged, for He made no resistance. As prophecy had foretold long before, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7 ).
"And he, bearing his cross, went forth unto a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha"
(John 19:17 ). The Jews lost no time: Christ was taken straight from Gabbatha to Golgotha; from judgment to execution. The Savior "bearing his cross," had been marvelously foreshadowed of old when "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son" (Genesis 22:6 ). "He, bearing his cross, went forth." That is, out of Jerusalem, or as Hebrews 13:12 puts it, "Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without [outside] the gate." This, too, fulfilled an Old Testament type every detail of the Passion fulfilled some prophecy or type. In Leviticus 16:27 we read, "And the bullock for the sin-offering, and the goat for the sin-offering; whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place shall one carry forth without the camp." "Little did the blinded Jews imagine that when they madly hounded on the Romans to crucify Jesus outside the gates, that they were unconsciously perfecting the mightiest sin-offering of all!" (Bishop Ryle).
At this point the other Gospels supply a detail which John, for some reason, was guided to omit. In Matthew 27:32 we are told. "As they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross." Almost all of the commentators, both ancient and modern, draw the conclusion that Simon was compelled to bear the Savior’s cross because He was staggering and sinking beneath its weight. But there is not a word in the New Testament to support such a conjecture, and everything recorded about Christ after He was nailed to the tree decidedly conflicts with it. That Simon was "compelled" to bear His cross, shows there was not one in all that crowd with sufficient compassion and courage to volunteer to carry it for Him!
"Went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha." "The place of a skull the place of the kingdom of death. This is plainly what the world is, because of sin death being the stamp of the government of God upon it. For this the Lord sought it; here His love to men brought Him; only He could lift this burden from them, and for this He must come under it" (Numerical Bible).
"Which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha." This expression used twice in connection with the Savior’s crucifixion (John 19:13 , John 19:17 ) is found elsewhere only in John 5:2 : "Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep-gate a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda." What a contrast; there at Bethesda, we see His mercy; here at Golgotha, their brutality! Luke gives us the Gentile name, "Calvary" (Luke 23:33 ); John the Hebrew, "Golgotha," of the place where our Savior was crucified. Compare the same double name of the place of Pilate’s judgment-seat (John 19:13 ). "May it be that in these instances of double meaning that God is giving His in the words which He used with His people, and man is giving his in the language of the world? Moreover, this Death was for both Jews and Gentiles! There is a reason for every word which the Holy Spirit records" (Mr. M. Taylor).
"Where they crucified him, and two others with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst" (John 19:18 ). This one verse records the fulfillment of at least three Old Testament prophecies. First, the manner in which the Savior was to die had been clearly foretold. A thousand years before this He had cried, by the Spirit of prophecy, "they pierced my hands and my feet" (Psalms 22:16 ); this is indeed most striking. The Jewish form of capital punishment was stoning. But no word of God can fall to the ground, therefore did Pilate give orders that Christ should be crucified, which was the Roman form of execution, reserved only for the vilest criminals. Second, Isaiah had declared, "He was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12 ). The Jews’ object was to add a final indignity and insult to the Lord; it was a public declaration that He was counted no better than the scum of the earth. Little did they realize that this expression of their malice was but a means for the carrying out of Messianic prediction! Third, it had been written that He should be "with the wicked at his death" (Isaiah 53:9 literal translation). But why did God permit His Beloved to be so outrageously treated? To show us the place which His Son had taken. It was the place which was due us because of our sins the place of shame, condemnation, punishment. Moreover, the Lord crucified between the two malefactors, gave Him the opportunity to work one more miracle ere He laid down His life a miracle of sovereign grace. Let the reader at this point carefully ponder Luke 23:39-43 , and there he will find that the One on the central cross clearly demonstrated that He. was the Redeemer by snatching a brand from the burning, and translating from the brink of the Pit into Paradise, one of these very thieves as the first trophy of His all-sufficient sacrifice.
"And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews" (John 19:19 ). "He comes thus into death as King ‘King of the Jews,’ indeed, but which in its full rendering implies so much. It faces the Jew, the Greek, the Roman, affirming to each in his own language, with a positiveness which His enemies vainly strive to set aside, a meaning for each one. Here is indeed God’s King King in death as in life here in a peculiar way affirmed; His Cross henceforth to be the very sign of His power, the scepter under which they bow, in adoring homage" (Numerical Bible). Pilate’s reason for placing such a description of our Lord over His cross is not easy to determine; probably it was so worded in anger, and with the aim of annoying and insulting the Jews. Whatever his motive, it was clearly overruled by God. It is well known that the words of the four Evangelists vary in their several descriptions of this title. Enemies of the truth have pointed to this as a "contradiction." But all difficulty is removed if we bear in mind that we are told Pilate wrote the inscription in three different languages most probably not wording them alike. The Holy Spirit moved Matthew to translate one (most likely the Hebrew) and Luke another (most likely the Greek); Mark only quoting a part of what John had given us most likely from the Latin. There is, therefore, no discrepancy at all, and nothing for an impartial reader to stumble over.
"This title then read many of the Jews; for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city" (verse 20). No one could fail to see who it was that hung upon the central Cross. Even in death God saw to the guarding of His Son’s glory. Before He was born. the angel announced to Mary His "kingdom" (Luke 1:32 , Luke 1:33 ). In His infancy, wise men from the east heralded Him as "king" (Matthew 2:2 ). At the beginning of the Passion week, the multitudes had cried, "Blessed is the king of Israel" (John 12:13 ). Before Pilate, He Himself bore witness to His "kingdom" (John 18:36-37 ). And now His royal title was affixed to His very gibbet.
"And it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin" (John 19:20 ). Note that the Holy Spirit has placed "Hebrew" first! Hebrew was the language of the Jews; Greek of the educated world; Latin of the Romans; hence all who were gathered around the cross could read the title in his own language. Remember that the confusion of tongues was the sign of Babel’s curse (Genesis 11:0 ). Significantly are we reminded of this here, when Christ was being made a curse for us! Hebrew was the language of religion; Greek of science, culture and philosophy; Latin of law. In each of these realms Christ is "king." In the religious, He is the final revelation of the true God (Hebrews 1:2 ; John 14:9 ). In science, He is the Force behind all things. "By him all things consist" (Colossians 1:17 ). "Upholding all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:3 ); so, too, in Him are hid "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3 ). In jurisprudence, He is supreme; the Law-giver and Law-administrator (1 Corinthians 9:21 ).
"Then said the chief priests of the Jews to pilate, Write not, The king of the Jews; but that He said, I am king of the Jews" (John 19:21 ). It is noteworthy that this is the first and only time that they are termed "the chief priests of the Jews," the Holy Spirit thereby intimating that God no longer owned them as His priests: having rejected their Messiah, Judaism was set aside, and therefore its official leaders are regarded as serving the Jews, but not Jehovah. The words of the priests here show that they resented Pilate’s insult. It was most humbling to their pride that this crucified criminal should be publicly designated their "king." They desired the Governor to alter the wording of the inscription so that it might appear Christ was nothing more than an empty-boasting imposter.
"Pilate answered, What I have written, I have written" (John 19:22 ). Pilate could be firm when it suited him. The haughty, imperious character of the Roman comes out plainly here. His decisive reply evidences his contempt for the Jews: Trouble me no further; what I have written must stand; I shall not alter it to please you. "It, therefore, stands written forever. Caiaphas, as representative of the Jews proclaimed the Lord as Savior of the world; Pilate fastens upon the Jews the hated name of the Nazarene as their King" (Companion Bible). The truth is that God would not allow Pilate to change what he had written. Unknown to himself he was the amanuensis of Heaven. This was part of the Word of God the Scriptures, the Writings, and not a jot of it shall ever pass away. And wondrously was it manifested that very day that what Pilate had written was the Word of God. This was the text used by the Spirit of Truth to bring about the regeneration and conversion of the repentant thief. His "Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," shows that his faith rested on that which the Roman governor had written and placed on the cross, and which his Spirit opened eyes read and believed!
"Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments and made four parts, to every soldier a part" (John 19:23 ). "The soldiers having now finished their bloody work, having nailed our Lord to the cross, put the title over His head, and reared the cross on end, proceeded to do what they probably always did to divide the clothes of the criminal among themselves. In most countries the clothes of a person put to death by the law are the perquisite of the executioner. So it was with our Lord’s clothes. They had most likely stripped our Lord naked before nailing His hands and feet to the cross, and had laid His clothes on one side till after they had finished their work. They now turned to the clothes, and, as they had done many a time on such occasions, proceeded to divide them" (Bishop Ryle). There were four soldiers; some think this emblemizes the four quarters of the Gentiles’ world. It seems clear that they ripped His several garments to pieces, so as to divide them in equal parts. How this, once more, makes manifest the depths of humiliation into which the Son of God descended!
"And also his coat; now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be" (John 19:23 , John 19:24 ). The deeper significance of this is not difficult to perceive. Garments in Scripture, speak of conduct, as a display of character cf. Psalms 109:18 ; 1 Peter 5:5 , etc. Now, the Savior’s "coat," His outer garment, was of one piece intimating the unity, the unbroken perfection of His ways. Unlike our "garments," which are, at best, so much patchwork, His robe was "without seam." Moreover, it was "woven from the top throughout" the mind of Him above controlled His every action! This "coat" or "robe" was a costly one, so owned even by the soldiers, for they declined to tear it to pieces. It spoke of the righteousness of Christ, the "robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10 ), the "best robe" (Luke 15:0 ) with which the Father clothes each prodigal son. For this "robe" the soldiers cast lots, and we are told in Proverbs 16:33 that "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." Thus the action of these soldiers declares that the "best robe" is not left to the caprice of man’s will, but the Lord Himself has determined whose it shall be! Note another contrast; the sinful first Adam was clothed by God; the sinless last Adam was unclothed by wicked men.
"That the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did" (John 19:24 ). Three things come out plainly: First, that God Himself was master of this whole situation, directing every detail of it to the outworking of His eternal counsels. Second, that no word of God’s can fail. A thousand years before hand it had been predicted that these soldiers should both divide the Savior’s raiment among them, and also cast lots for His vesture or coat. Literally was this fulfilled to the very letter. Third, that the One who hung there on the Tree was, beyond a shadow of doubt, the Messiah of Israel, the One of whom all the prophets had written.
Below are the questions on the closing section of John 19:
1. Why "woman," verse 26?
2. What perfections of Christ are seen in verse 28?
3. What was "finished," verse 30?
4. Why "bowed His head," verse 30?
5. What is the spiritual meaning of "blood and water," verse 34?
6. What prophecy was accomplished in verse 38?
7. What type was fulfilled in verses 41, 42?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ Laying Down His Life
Below is an Analysis of John 19:25-42 :
1. The mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple, verses 25-27.
2. The Savior’s thirst, verses 28, 29.
3. The Savior’s victorious death, verse 30.
4. God guarding the Savior’s body, verses 31-33.
5. The piercing of the Savior’s side, verses 34-37.
6. The boldness of Joseph and Nicodemus, verses 38, 39.
7. The Savior’s burial, verses 40-42.
Each of the Evangelists treats of our Lord’s death with more or less fullness of detail. The birth, the baptism, and the temptation of Christ are described in only two of the Gospels; several of His miracles and discourses are found only in one; but the Savior’s Passion is recorded in all four, which at once denotes its supreme importance. But though each Evangelist devotes not a little space to the events of the last hours of Christ, there is a striking variation about their several narratives. Nowhere is the hand of the Spirit more evident than in what He guided each Gospel writer to insert and omit. Each of them was manifestly moved by Him to bring in only that which was strictly pertinent to the distinctive design before him.
The four Gospels are not four biographies of Christ, nor do the four together supply one. A harmony of the four Gospels reveals great blanks, altogether incompatible with the theory that they supply us with a "life of Christ." Only the briefest mention is made of His birth and infancy, and then nothing more is told us about Him till He had reached the age o£ twelve. After the few words relating to His boyhood, we see Christ no more till He was about thirty. Even His public ministry is not given us with anything approaching completeness: a journey, a miracle, a discourse, here and there, and that is about all. What, then, are the four Gospels, and what was the principle of selection which determined what should have a place in each of them?
The four Gospels give us delineations of the Lord Jesus in four distinct characters: the principle of selection is, that only that which serves to illustrate and exemplify each of these characters was included. Matthew presents Christ as the Son of David, the king of Israel, and everything in his Gospel contributes to this theme. Mark portrays Him as God’s Workman, and everything in his Gospel bears directly upon the Servant and His service. Luke depicts Him as the Son of man, hence it is His human perfections, sympathies, and relations which he dwells upon. John reveals Him as the Son of God incarnate, the Word become flesh, tabernacling among men; hence it is His Divine glories, the dignity and majesty of His person, which are most prominent here. Strikingly is this evidenced in what he has related and what he has omitted concerning the Redeemer’s sufferings.
John says nothing about the Savior’s agony in Gethsemane, but he and he only does mention the falling backward to the ground of those who came to arrest Him. John omits all details of what took place when our Lord appeared before Caiaphas, but he describes the trial before Annas. The fourth Gospel, and it alone, records our Lord’s words to Pilate about His kingdom (John 18:36 ), of His coming into this world to bear witness unto the truth (John 18:37 ), of his having no power to crucify Him except what God gave (John 19:11 ). John alone makes mention of His seamless robe (John 19:23 ), His legs not being broken (John 19:33 ), and the blood and water which came from His pierced side. John omits altogether the awful cry, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" and in its place gives His triumphant "It is finished." John says nothing of His being numbered with the transgressors, but does tell us of Him being with the rich in His death. John alone mentions the costly spices which Nicodemus brought for the anointing of the Savior’s dead body. Clearer proofs of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures we could not ask for.
Seven times the Savior spoke while He was upon the cross, thus exhibiting His perfections as the Word, in death, as in life. The first, the word of forgiveness, for His enemies (Luke 23:34 ). The second, the word of salvation, to the dying thief (Luke 23:42 , Luke 23:43 ). The third, the word of affection, to and for His mother (John 19:25 , John 19:26 ). The fourth, the word of anguish, to God (Matthew 27:46 ). The fifth, the word of suffering, to the spectators (John 19:28 ). The sixth, the word of victory, to His people (John 19:30 ). The seventh, the word of contentment, to the Father (Luke 23:46 ). The third, fifth and sixth of these cross-utterances are recorded by John, and will come before us in our present study.
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25 ). The Jews were present at the crucifixion to satisfy their fiendish craving for His death; the Roman soldiers were there from duty; but here is a group noticed by the Spirit who had been drawn there by affectionate devotion for the central Sufferer. They were not looking on from a distance, nor mingling with the morbid crowds in attendance. They stood "by the cross." A pitiably small company, five in all; yet a deeply significant number, for five is the number of grace, and in contrast from the crowds which evidenced man’s depravity and enmity, these were the trophies of Divine favor. This little company comprised four women and one man. The first was Mary, the Savior’s mother, who now realized the full force of that prophetic word spoken by the aged Simeon more than thirty years before: "Yet, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also" (Luke 2:35 ). The second was Mary the wife of Cleophas, of whom we read but little, yet in that little what a wealth of love! here at the cross, in Matthew 28:1 at the sepulcher; called here "his mother’s sister" evidently her sister-in-law, sister of Joseph, for it is most unlikely that she was a full-blood sister with the same name as herself. The third was Mary of Magdala, out of whom Christ had cast seven demons, and to whom He appeared first when He was risen from the dead. How significant that each of them was named "Mary," which means bitterness! What anguish of spirit was theirs as they beheld the dying Lamb! Equally significant is the absence of another Mary the sister of Lazarus! A fourth woman was there Matthew 27:56 the mother of John, though she is not mentioned here. The fifth one was "the disciple whom Jesus loved" so far as we know, the only one of the eleven apostles who was present.
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother." "Neither her own danger, nor the sadness of the spectacle, nor the insults of the crowd, could restrain her from performing the last office of duty and tenderness to her Divine Son on the Cross" (Mr. Doddridge). After the days of His infancy and childhood, we see and hear little of Mary. During His public ministry her life was lived in the background. But now, when strikes the supreme hour of her Son’s agony, when the world has cast out the Child of her womb, she stands there by the cross! Baffled, perhaps, at the unprecedented scene, paralyzed at His sufferings, yet bound by the golden chain of love to the dying One, there she stands. His disciples may desert Him, His friends may forsake Him, His nation may despise Him; but His mother is there, where all might see her near Him in death as in birth. Who can fully appreciate the mother-heart!
Marvelous fortitude was Mary’s. Hers was no hysterical or demonstrative sorrow. There was no show of feminine weakness; no wild outcry of uncontrollable anguish; no falling to the ground in a swoon. Not a word that fell from her lips on this occasion has been recorded by any of the four Evangelists: apparently she suffered in unbroken silence. The crowds were mocking, the thieves taunting, the soldiers callously occupied with His garments, the Savior was bleeding and there was His mother beholding it all! What wonder if she had turned away from such a spectacle! What wonder if she had fled from such a scene! But no! She did not crouch away nor fall in a faint. She stood by the cross. What tremendous courage! What love! What reverence for the Savior!
"When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son? (John 19:26 ). Occupied with the most stupendous work ever done, not only on earth but in the entire universe; under a burden which no mere creature could possibly have sustained; the Object of Satan’s fiercest malignity! about to drain the awful cup which meant separation from God Himself for three hours; nevertheless, even at such a time, the Lord Jesus did not deem natural ties as unworthy of recognition. To the very end He showed Himself both perfect Son of God and perfect Son of man. In boyhood He had "honored" His parents (Luke 2:52 ), so does He now on the cross. About to leave this world, He first provides a home for His widowed mother. First He had prayed for His enemies; then He had spoken the words of salvation and assurance to the repentant thief; now He addresses His mother.
"He saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!" Twice do we find our Lord addressing Mary as "Woman’!: at the Cana marriage-feast (John 2:4 ), and here. It is noteworthy that both of these references are found in John’s Gospel, the Gospel which treats specifically of His Deity. The Synoptics present Him in human relationships, but John portrays Him as the Son of God above all; hence the perfect propriety of Christ here addressing His mother as "Woman." That this term is neither harsh nor discourteous is clear from a comparison with John 20:13 . But there was another reason why He would no longer call her "mother" as, doubtless, He had addressed her many a time. The death on the cross made an end of all His natural ties: "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yet, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16 )! From now on, believers would be linked to Christ by a closer bond, by a spiritual relationship, and this is what the Savior would now teach both His mother and His beloved apostle. "Behold thy son!" I am thy "Son" no longer. It is a striking confirmation of this that Mary is not mentioned at all in connection with Christ’s resurrection: the only other time she is referred to in the New Testament is in Acts 1:14 , where we see her taking her place among (not over) believers at a prayer-meeting.
"Here it is that our Lord lays aside His human affections. He sees His mother and His beloved disciple near the Cross, but it is only to commend them the one to the other, and thus to separate Himself from the place which He had once filled among them. Sweet, indeed, it is, to see how faithfully He owned the affection up to the last moment that He could listen to it; no sorrow of His own could make Him forget it! But He was not always to know it. The ‘children of the resurrection’ neither marry, nor are given in marriage. He must now form their knowledge of Him by other thoughts, for they are henceforth to be joined to Him as ‘one spirit’; for such are His blessed ways. If He takes His distance from us, as not knowing us in ‘the flesh,’ it is only that we may be united to Him in nearer affections and closer interests" (Mr. J. G. Bellett).
"Then saith he to the disciple" (John 19:27 ) the one standing by "whom he loved." In Matthew 26:56 we read concerning the Eleven, "They all forsook Him and fled." This was the accomplishment of His own sad prediction, "all ye shall be offended because of me this night" (Matthew 26:31 ) the Greek signifying "scandalized." They were ashamed to be found in His company. But it is blessed to know that one returned to His side ere He died. And which one was it? Who of the little band shall manifest the superiority of his love? Even though the Sacred Narrative had concealed his identity, it would not have been difficult for us to name him. But the fact that Scripture informs us that it was the writer of this fourth Gospel supplies one of the many silent but indubitable proofs of the Divine inspiration of the Bible.
"Woman behold thy son! Then said he to the disciple, Behold thy mother!" (John 19:27 ). First, to His mother, Behold now this one who cares for you, who has taken his place by your side, who would not allow you to stand here alone. Second, to John, Behold thy mother! regard her henceforth with the tenderest affection; she is My living legacy to you! Thus did the Redeemer give to the apostle who had leaned on His breast, the one on whose breast He had once rested! Thus did He give to John the place which He had filled a higher place than that which He gave to Peter! The order is indeed striking: Christ bade Mary look to John, before He commanded him to care for her John was to be the stay of Mary, not Mary of John!
"And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home" (John 19:27 ). First, the Savior’s act has forever set an example for children to honor their parents to the end, not only while they are minors. Second, it marked His tender compassion: He would graciously spare His mother the worst, and therefore made arrangements that she would not witness the awful darkness, hear His cry of agony, or be present when He died. Third, it showed Him Son of God, the Protector and Provider of His people; it was the pledge of His equal care for all He leaves behind on earth while we are here in the world He will supply our "every need." Fourth, He here confirmed the law of love, under the shadow of the cross. He united together those who loved Him and whom He loved. There was no command, for love needs none; love will respond to a gesture, a glance. The beloved disciple at once understood his Lord’s mind. Fifth, He intimated that in providing for His people, He would do so by means of His people; it was John who was to provide hospitality for Mary. Christ is still saying to us: "Behold thy son!... Behold thy mother!" compare Matthew 25:40 . How marvelously are the Divine and human perfections of Christ blended here: as Man, honoring His mother; as God, the Head of the family, making arrangements for the children!
"From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." Of old it had been predicted that the Lord Jesus should act discreetly: "Behold, my Servant shall deal prudently" (Isaiah 52:13 ). In commending His mother to the care of His beloved apostle, the Savior evidenced His wisdom by the choice of her future guardian. Perhaps there was none who understood Him so well as His mother, and it is almost certain that none had apprehended His love so deeply as had John. We see, therefore, how they would be most suited companions for each other, the intimate bond of spiritual love uniting them together and to Christ. None so well fitted to take care of Mary; none whose company she would find so congenial; none whose fellowship either would more appreciate.
"From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." Here, as ever, the Roman Catholics err "not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." From this verse they argue that Mary could have had no other children, otherwise Christ had never committed her, a widow, to John. But the Word of God plainly declares that she did have other children "Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? and his sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matthew 13:55 , Matthew 13:56 ). The same Word of God also shows us that they were, at that time, ill-fitted to be Mary’s companions and guardians "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children" (Psalms 69:8 ), were the Savior’s own words. How, then, could they take the Savior’s place, and be unto Mary what He had been! "We surely need no stronger proof than we have here, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was never meant to be honored as Divine, or to be prayed to, worshipped and trusted in, as the friend and patroness of sinners. Common sense points out that she who needed the care and protection of another, was never likely to help men and women to heaven, or to be in any sense a mediator between God and man? (Bishop Ryle). How this incident also illustrates, once more, that spiritual bonds have the preference over natural ties! Moreover, what a heart-piercing rebuke to His unbelieving "brethren" (John 7:5 ) were His words here to Mary and John.
"After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst" (John 19:28 ). What a sight is this the Maker of heaven and earth with parched lips! the Lord of glory in need of a drink! the Beloved of the Father crying, "I thirst!" First, it evidenced His humanity. The Lord Jesus was not a Divine man, nor a humanized God; He was the God-man. Forever God, and now forever man. When the eternal Word became incarnate, He did not cease to be God, nor did He lay aside any of His Divine attributes; but He did become flesh; being made in all things like unto His brethren. He "increased in wisdom and stature" (Luke 2:52 ); He "wearied" in body (John 4:6 ); He was "an hungered" (Matthew 4:2 ); He "slept" (Mark 4:38 ); He "marvelled" (Mark 6:6 ); He "wept" (John 11:35 ); He "prayed" (Mark 1:35 ); He "rejoiced" (Luke 10:21 ); He "groaned" (John 11:33 ); and here, He "thirsted." God does not thirst; there is no hint (so far as we are aware) that the angels ever do; we shall not in the Glory (Revelation 7:16 ). But Christ did, as man, in the depths of His humiliation.
This fifth Cross-utterance of the Savior, "I thirst," followed right after the three hours of darkness, during which the light of God’s countenance had been withdrawn from the Sin-Bearer. It was then that the blessed Savior endured the fierceness of the outpoured wrath of a holy God. It was this which made Him exclaim, "My moisture is turned into the drought of summer" (Psalms 32:4 ). This cry, then, tells of the intensity of what He had suffered, the awful severity of the conflict through which He had just passed. "He hath made Me desolate and faint," He cried (Lamentations 1:13 ).
But unparalleled as had been His sufferings, great as was His thirst, it was not desire for the relief of His body that now opened His lips. Far different, far higher, was the motive which prompted Him. This comes out clearly in the first part of John 19:28 . Carefully has the Holy Spirit guarded the Savior’s glory, with delight has He brought before us His unique perfections. First, the very fact that He did now "thirst" evidences His perfect submission. He that had caused water to flow from the smitten rock for the refreshment of Israel in the wilderness, had the same infinite resources at His disposal now that He was on the cross. He who turned the water into wine by a word from His lips, could have spoken the same word of power here, and instantly met His own need. Why, then, did He hang there with parched lips? Because, in the volume of that Book which expressed the will of God, it was written that He should thirst! He came here to do God’s will, and ever did He perfectly perform it.
In death, as in life, Scripture was for the Lord Jesus the authoritative Word of the living God. In the temptation He had refused to minister to His own need apart from that Word by which He lived; so now He makes known His need, not that it might be relieved, but that "the Scriptures might be fulfilled"! Observe that He did not Himself seek to fulfill it God can be trusted to take care of that; but He gives utterance to His distress so as to provide occasion for the fulfillment. "The terrible thirst of crucifixion is upon Him, but that is not enough to force those parched lips to speak; but it is written, ‘In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink’ this opens them" (Mr. F. W. Grant) Here, then, as ever, He shows Himself in active obedience to the will of God, which He came to accomplish. He simply says, "I thirst," the vinegar is tendered and the prophecy is fulfilled. What perfect absorption in the Father’s will!
But mark how His Divine perfections come out here: "Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished." How completely self-possessed the Savior was! He had hung on that cross for six hours, and had passed through suffering unparalleled: nevertheless His mind was perfectly clear and His memory entirely unimpaired. He had before Him, with perfect distinctness, the whole truth of God. He reviewed in a moment the entire scope of Messianic prediction. He remembered there was one prophetic scripture yet unaccomplished. He overlooked nothing. What a proof was this that He was Divinely superior to all circumstances! Finally, mark the wondrous grace here: He thirsted on the cross, that we might drink the water of life and thirst no more forever!
"Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar; and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth" (John 19:29 ). The act recorded here must be carefully distinguished from that mentioned in Matthew 27:34 , being the same as that found in Matthew 27:48 . The first drink of vinegar and gall, commonly given to criminals to deaden their pains, the Lord refused; the drink of vinegar or sour wine, He here accepted in obedience to His Father’s will. The ones who tendered the sponge were, most probably, the Roman soldiers, who carried out the details of the crucifixion. Little did they think that they were executing the counsels of God! In view of the context in Matthew 27:0 we believe that these Romans had been deeply impressed by the Savior’s words from the cross, and especially by that mysterious darkness for three hours, and that they now acted either out of compassion or reverence.
"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished" (John 19:30 ). "It is finished" a single word in the original. It was the briefest and yet the fullest of His seven cross-utterances. Eternity will be needed to make manifest all that it contains. All things had been done which the law of God required; all things established which prophecy predicted; all things brought to pass which the types foreshadowed; all things accomplished which the Father had given Him to do; all things performed which were needed for our redemption. Nothing was left wanting. The costly ransom was given, the great conflict had been endured, sin’s wages had been paid, Divine justice satisfied. True, there was the committal of His spirit into the hands of the Father, which immediately followed His word here; there was His resurrection, ascension, and session on high, but these are the fruit and reward of that work which He completed. Nothing more remained for Him to do; nothing more awaited its fulfillment; His work on earth was consummated.
"It is finished." This was not the despairing cry of a helpless martyr. It was not an expression of satisfaction that the end of His sufferings was now reached. It was not the last gasp of a worn-out life. No, it was the declaration on the part of the Divine Redeemer that all for which He came from heaven to earth to do, was now done; that all which was needful to reveal the glorious character of God had now been accomplished; that everything necessary for the putting away of the sins of His people, providing for them a perfect standing before God, securing for them an eternal inheritance and fitting them for it, had all been done.
"It is finished." The root Greek word here, "teleo," is variously translated in the New Testament. A reference to some of its alternative renditions in other passages will enable us the better to discern the fullness and finality of the term here used by the Savior. In Matthew 11:1 "teleo" is translated as follows, "When Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples." In Matthew 17:24 it is rendered, "They that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute." In Luke 2:39 it is translated, "And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord." In Luke 18:31 it is rendered, "All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished." Putting these together we learn the scope of Christ’s sixth cross-utterance. "It is finished." He cried it is "made an end of," it is "paid," it is "performed," it is "accomplished." What was "made an end of"? our sins, our guilt! What was "paid"? the price of our redemption! What was "performed"? the utmost requirements of God’s law. What was "accomplished"? the work which the Father had given Him to do! What was "finished"? the making of atonement!
"And he bowed his head, and gave up the spirit" (John 19:30 ). The order of these two actions strikingly evidences the Savior’s uniqueness: with us the spirit departs, and then the head is bowed; with Him it was the opposite! So, too, each of these actions manifested His Deity. First, He "bowed his head"; the plain intimation is that, up to this point, His head had been held erect. It was no impotent sufferer who hung there in a swoon. Had that been the case, His head had lolled helplessly on His chest, and He would have had no occasion to "bow" it. Weigh well the verb here: it is not that His head "fell forward," but He consciously, calmly, reverently, bowed His head. How sublime was His carriage even on the "tree!" What superb composure did He evidence! Was it not His majestic bearing on the cross that, among other things, caused the centurion to cry, "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54 )!
"And gave up (delivered up) the spirit." None else ever did this or died thus. How remarkably do these words exemplify His own declaration in John 10:17 , John 10:18 : "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again"! The uniqueness of Christ’s action here may also be seen by comparing His words with those of Stephen’s. As the first Christian martyr was dying, he prayed, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59 ). In sharp contrast from Stephen, Christ "gave up the spirit"; Stephen’s was taken from him, not so the Savior’s.
"The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away" (John 19:31 ). The day on which the Savior was crucified was "an high day": it was on the eve of the regular weekly sabbath and also of the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, from which the Jews reckoned the seven weeks to pentecost; the same day was also the one appointed for the presentation and offering of the sheaf of new corn, so that it possessed a treble solemnity. Hence the Jews’ urgency here the breaking of the legs would serve the double purpose of hastening and ensuring death. Behind this motive and act of "the Jews," zealous for the Law (Deuteronomy 21:22 , Deuteronomy 21:23 ), we may behold, again, the over-ruling hand of God. Seemingly, Pilate would have allowed the body of Christ to remain on the cross, perhaps for several days, after He was dead. But the Lord Jesus had declared He would be "buried" and that He would be in the grave three days. For the fulfillment of this He must be buried the same day that He died; therefore did God see to it that no word of His failed! Once again were the Lord’s enemies unconsciously executing the Divine counsels.
"Then came the soldiers, and break the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him" (John 19:32 ). Why did the soldiers first give their attention to the two thieves? We cannot be certain, but most likely because they perceived that Christ was dead already. The Greek word for "break" here signifies to "shiver to pieces." A heavy mallet or iron bar was used for this. On this verse Bishop Ryle says, "It is noteworthy that the penitent thief, even after his conversion, had more suffering to go through before he entered into Paradise. The grace of God and the pardon of sin did not deliver him from the agony of having his legs broken. When Christ undertakes to save our souls, He does not undertake to deliver from bodily pains and conflict with the last enemy. Penitence, as well as impenitence, must taste death (unless the Savior returns first, A.W.P.)" Yet it is blessed to know that these Roman soldiers were also the unwitting agents for fulfilling Christ’s promise "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise"!
"But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they break not his legs" (John 19:33 ). This affords further evidence of the uniqueness of Christ’s death. The Lord Jesus and the two thieves had been crucified together. They had been on their respective crosses the same length of time. But now, at the close of the day, the two thieves were still alive; for, as it is well known, execution by crucifixion, though exceedingly painful, was usually a slow death. No vital member of the body was directly affected, and often the sufferer lingered on for two or three days, before being finally overcome with exhaustion. It was not natural, therefore, that Christ should be dead after but six hours on the cross observe how that "Pilate marvelled if he were already dead" (Mark 15:44 ). The request of the Jews to Pilate shows that they were not expecting the three to die unless death were hastened. In the fact that the Savior was "dead already" when the soldiers came to Him, though the two thieves still lived, we have a further demonstration that His life was not "taken from him," but that He "laid it down of himself"!
"But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they break not his legs." This was the first proof that the Son of God had really died. Trained executioners as these Roman soldiers were, it is quite unthinkable that they would make any mistake in a matter like this. Pilate had given orders for the legs of the three to be broken, and they would not dare to disobey unless they were absolutely sure that Christ were "dead already." Infidels expose themselves to the charge of utter absurdity if they claim that Christ never died, and was only in a swoon. The Roman soldiers are witnesses against them!
"But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:34 ). "That blood should flow from one now dead, that blood and water should issue together, yet separated, was clearly a miracle. The water and the blood came forth to bear witness, that God has given to us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son (1 John 5:8-12 ). We have not here the centurion’s confession, ‘truly this was the Son of God’; we have not Pilate’s wife, nor the convicted lips of Judas, bearing Him witness; Jesus does not here receive witness from men, but from God. The water and the blood are God’s witnesses to His Son, and to the life that sinners may find in Him. It was sin that pierced Him. The action of the soldier was a sample of man’s enmity. It was the sullen shot of the defeated foe after the battle; the more loudly telling out the deep-seated hatred that there is in man’s heart to God and His Christ. But it only sets off the riches of that grace which met it, and abounded over it; for it was answered by the love of God. The point of the soldier’s spear was touched by the blood! The crimson flow came forth to roll away the crimson sin" (Mr. Bellett).
"But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." Here was the second proof that our Lord really died. One of the soldiers determined to make sure work and leave nothing uncertain in all probability directing his spear at the Savior’s heart. He was singled out from the others even while dead between the dying thieves. "He has a place even here that belonged to Him alone!" (Mr. W. Kelly). "Behold now the sleeping last Adam, and out of His side formed the evangelical Eve. Behold the Rock which was smitten, and the waters of life gushed forth. Behold the Fountain that is opened for sin and uncleanness" (Augustine). "The blood and water signified the two great benefits which all believers partake of through Christ justification and sanctification. Blood stands for remission, water for regeneration; blood for atonement, water for purification. The two must always go together." (Matthew Henry).
"And he that saw it bear record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" (John 19:35 ). The reference is to what is recorded in the previous verse: John vouches as an eye-witness for the flowing of the blood and water from the Savior’s pierced side. It is evident that he had returned to the cross after conducting Mary to his own home, and it is equally evident that he must have remained there to the end. John’s solemn asseveration here plainly intimates that what is recorded in the previous verse is a notable miracle. We believe that the "record" of John includes both what he has written here and that which he says in his first Epistle: "This is he that came by [i.e., was manifest by means of] water and blood" (1 John 5:6 ). In the Gospel the blood is mentioned first, as satisfying God; then comes the "water" as applied to us. In the Epistle the order is the experimental one: we have to be regenerated before we have faith in the blood!
"For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken" (John 19:36 ). The Holy Spirit here quotes Psalms 34:20 : "He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken." Marvelously had this been fulfilled. God had kept all the bones of His incarnate Son. Notwithstanding Pilate’s order, the soldiers broke not His legs. All the legions of Caesar could not have broken a single bone: they, too, had "no power" except what was given them from above! The preservation of Christ’s bones was the fulfillment of an ancient type; "Neither shall ye break a bone thereof" (Exodus 12:46 ), i.e., of the paschal lamb. For fifteen hundred years Israel had punctiliously observed this item in the passover observance, and none of them (so far as we know) had any idea of its meaning. Now the Holy Spirit explains it.
"And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced" (John 19:37 ). In a most striking way the piercing of the Savior’s side demonstrated the sovereignty of God His absolute control over all His creatures and their every act. The soldier had received instructions to break the legs of Christ, but this he did not: had he done so, Scripture had been broken! The soldier had not received orders to pierce the Savior’s side, yet this he did: had he not, prophecy had failed of its accomplishment! The quotation is from Zechariah 12:10 and the reference is to a coming day, when Israel shall look upon Him whom they pierced they pierced Him, though the act was performed by a Roman. Observe here the minute accuracy of Scripture: in John 19:36 the word "fulfilled" is suitably used; but here in John 19:37 it is significantly absent. And why? Because the complete "fulfillment" of Zechariah 12:10 is yet future, hence the "another scripture saith."
"After this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore and took the body of Jesus" (John 19:38 ). This, too, was in fulfillment of prophecy: "Men appointed his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death" (Isaiah 53:9 , corrected translation). It is blessed to see the Holy Spirit here bringing Joseph to light in connection with the last offices of love to the precious body of the Lord; he was allowed a privileged part in the accomplishment of Isaiah’s prediction. How true it is that man proposes, but God disposes! Wicked men had prepared three graves for the occupants of the three crosses, but one of them was destined to remain unoccupied that day. Just as God would not suffer Christ’s bones to be broken, so He would not allow His body to be placed in a malefactor’s tomb; but instead, in a sepulcher prepared by one who loved Him. Hitherto, Joseph had, through fear of the Jews, been a secret disciple; but though afraid to own the Savior while He lived, now that He was dead, he went in "boldly" (Mark 15:43 ) and craved His body. What a witness was this to the power of the Redeemer’s death!
"And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pound weight (John 19:39 ). This also witnessed to the power of Christ’s death. Like Joseph, Nicodemus came out into the light but slowly. Timid by nature, yet grace overcoming, here is Nicodemus the only one, apparently, who dared to help Joseph in the holy work of burying the Lord. How great the contrast between his conduct in John 3:0 , when he crept into the Lord’s place of lodging under cover of night, and here, where he is not ashamed to openly show himself as one who loved the crucified Savior! The value of his gift testifies to the greatness of his love. "Joseph and Nicodemus had done what they could. That service done for Christ has never been forgotten. The names of these two are embalmed in the volume of inspiration, and the amount in weight of the spices that Nicodemus brought is likewise recorded. Service done to Christ, or in His name, is never by God forgotten" (Mr. C. E. Stuart).
"Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury" (John 19:40 ). "They wrapped that incorruptible body in spices, for it is to be fragrant for evermore to all His people as the death like which there is no other" (Mr. F. W. Grant). Here, too, a beautiful type was fulfilled. In 2 Chronicles 16:14 we read, "And they buried him in his own sepulcher, which he had made for himself in the city of David, and laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odors and divers kinds of spices."
"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid" (John 19:41 ). Beautifully suggestive is the reference to the "garden." It was in a "garden" that the first Adam sowed the seed which issued in death; so here, in a "garden" was sown the Seed which was to bear much fruit in immortal life. In the "new" sepulcher "wherein was never yet man laid" we have the fulfillment of still another type: "And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer (previously slain) and lay them up without the camp in a clean place" (Numbers 19:9 ).
"There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation; for the sepulcher was nigh at hand" (John 19:42 ). Here was the third conclusive proof that the Lord Jesus actually died He was buried. He who had been born of a virgin mother, was laid in a virgin grave; there to remain for three days when He came forth as the mighty Victor.
The following questions are to prepare for our next study:
1. Why was the "stone" removed, verse 1?
2. What is shown by Mary’s words, verse 2?
3. Why seek the two she did, verse 2?
4. Why went not John in, verse 5?
5. What is the significance of verse 7?
6. What was it he "saw" that made him "believe," verse 8?
7. Why did they go "home," verse 10?
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 19". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany