The crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus; the truths I read here never cease to move me; I pray they have the same effect on you.
“Out of the greatest evil people could commit, God brought immeasurable good. No matter how bleak our outlook may be or how terrible our circumstances, we must remember the results of our Lord’s suffering. He suffered beyond anything we could ever endure, yet triumphed through it. His courage should motivate us and his power enable us to persevere.”
These and other *Life Applications are found in today’s reading.
Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified / 19:1–19:16a
19:1 Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be flogged. This was another attempt by Pilate to set Jesus free. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent of any crime, and he desperately wanted Jesus freed to quiet his own conscience. So Pilate thought the flogging would appease the Jews. This was ruthless but not intended to kill him. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for prisoners to die of floggings. Some of the whips used for flogging were designed to inflict terrible damage to the human body. The leather thongs that formed the striking surfaces were lead-tipped so that victims were both bruised and cut severely. Punishment was applied to the bared upper body of a bound prisoner. Apparently, Pilate thought this flogging was a humane alternative to crucifixion. He was avoiding condemning Jesus to death.
“No believer should ever forget that the source of their joy was the pain and suffering of their Lord.” M. G. Gutzke
19:2-3 The Roman soldiers jammed a crown of long, sharp thorns onto Jesus’ head and obtained a purple robe (purple was the color of royalty) in order to mock Jesus’ supposed kingship. The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus further by bowing before him and striking him. This had been prophesied in Isaiah 50:6 (see also 52:14–53:6).
19:4-7 After Jesus’ beating and the display of mockery, Pilate, for the second time (see 18:38), declared Jesus not guilty—that is, not guilty of a crime warranting death. Pilate hoped the sight of this beaten, bloody person would elicit pity and make the crowd realize that there could be no possible threat from this poor fellow. The tone of these words implies ridicule, as if he said, “How can you possibly believe this pitiful man’s claim to be a king?”
But the bloodthirsty chief priests and officials responded: “Crucify! Crucify!” That they demanded crucifixion reveals their intense hatred of Jesus. Crucifixion was a shameful death reserved for criminals, slaves, and rebels. Jesus was none of these, and Pilate knew it. But the Jewish enemies of Christ wanted not only to kill him but also to discredit and humiliate him thoroughly.
Pilate dared the Jewish leaders to usurp the exclusive Roman authority of capital punishment by crucifying their “King” themselves. The leaders responded that Jesus ought to die because he called himself the Son of God. The law they were referring to is Leviticus 24:16. For anyone to claim to be God (as Jesus did) was a clear case of blasphemy and thus required that the person be put to death. The irony here is that Jesus was not violating the law, for what he had said was true! The Jews just didn’t believe it.
*LIFE APPLICATION: GOLDEN MOMENT
Pilate let his golden moment slip away. Three times he pronounced Jesus “not guilty” (18:38; 19:4; 19:6). He even tried to set Jesus free (19:12). But Pilate would not stand for truth or justice in the face of opposition. Instead, he tried to preserve his position at the expense of doing what was right.
Under pressure, we too may feel our power or security threatened. But unlike Pilate, we must stand for what is right even if the consequences mean personal loss. If we don’t, we will lose something even more valuable—our integrity. When we face tough choices, we can take the easy way out or with God’s help speak out for what is right. When we know what is right yet do not act on it, we sin (James 4:17).
19:8 Pilate’s fear may have had its origin in a combination of three factors:
- Romans were inclined to believe in human deities; so Pilate may have sensed that the man in his presence was a god.
- According to Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife may have influenced his thoughts about Jesus, for she had had a troublesome dream, and had sent word to Pilate to leave Jesus alone.
- Pilate may well have been concerned that a riot was about to break out among the Jews. Hatred for Romans and the extremely crowded conditions in Jerusalem created a powder keg of unrest that needed only a good spark to become explosive.
19:9-11 Pilate asked Jesus about his origin: “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. Some commentators see Jesus’ silence as fulfilling Isaiah 53:7. Pilate, astounded by Jesus’ silence, reminded Jesus: “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or to crucify you?”
Pilate’s power did not intimidate Jesus because God’s authority overrules all human authority. Instead, the one who had brought Jesus to Pilate had the greater sin. Jesus referred to Caiaphas, the high priest, who handed Jesus over to the Romans, not to Judas, who had betrayed him to the Jews. For a Jewish high priest to deliver the Jews’ King and Messiah over to the Romans for execution was an even more heinous sin than for the Roman governor to sentence him to death. Pilate was merely a pawn in a very elaborate game, but the high priest would be more severely judged because he should have known better. Caiaphas turned from the “light” in order to side with the darkness and made excuses for disobeying God’s law. However, Jesus was at the same time clearly charging Pilate with sin. Pilate was responsible for his choices.
19:12 By this time Pilate was apparently convinced that Jesus was some kind of extra-special, supernatural person, so he tried still another time to release him. But the Jewish leaders were not about to let Jesus escape. In a final desperate ploy, they played their trump card: “If you release this man, you are not a friend of Caesar.” Since the Jews despised Roman rule, this was blatant hypocrisy. But these Jews hated Jesus so much that to get rid of him they were claiming their allegiance to Rome and to Caesar! Their strategy worked—very likely Pilate was afraid that he would be reported to Caesar as having released a man who had been charged with claiming to be a king. Historical records indicate that the Jews had already threatened to lodge a formal complaint against Pilate for his stubborn flouting of their traditions. Most likely such a complaint would have led to being recalled by Rome, losing his job, or even losing his life. The Roman government could not afford to put large numbers of troops in all the regions under its control, so one of Pilate’s main duties was to do whatever was necessary to maintain peace.
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE TRAP CLOSES
Pilate tried to avoid or disarm the conflict over Jesus, but he waited too long to take decisive action. A mob mentality was beginning to form, and Pilate knew that events were almost beyond his control. Because Pilate had not really tried to beat the Jewish leaders, he found himself forced to join them. When we continually compromise with sin, we risk falling so deeply under its control that we cannot extricate ourselves. Pilate’s actions also demonstrate that we must never conclude that we have fallen so far that going along with sin is better than repentance.
19:13-14 Pilate brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat. Although the text does not explicitly state that Pilate passed judgment on Jesus, the fact that Pilate seated himself on the judgment seat indicates that the judgment originated from him; thus, he was responsible. But the judgment was very indirect. Perhaps Pilate was too guilt-ridden to summarily condemn Jesus, and he was angry at having his hand forced against his better judgment. So his words ring with anger and mockery at these Jews by saying to them: “Here is your king!”
19:15-16a But the Jews continued with their shouting: “Away with him—crucify him!” Again Pilate retorted, “What? Crucify your king?” His repetition of Jesus as “your king” angered the leaders all the more, to the point where they made a ludicrously hypocritical statement: “We have no king but Caesar.” Nothing could be farther from the truth than this pronouncement of loyalty to Caesar from the Jewish leading priests. These religious men, in the heat of the moment and in their blindness, had forgotten their faith—the Jews were God’s people. God was their King (Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 8:7). But perhaps the words rang with truth, for in their murderous plans against Jesus, God’s Son, they showed that God was no longer their king. And if that was the case, they, the Jewish leaders, were committing blasphemy. Pilate gave Jesus to them to be crucified, but Roman soldiers actually carried out the crucifixion.
*LIFE APPLICATION: NO KING BUT CAESAR
In rejecting Christ’s rightful control over their lives, the religious leaders claimed Caesar as king. They acknowledged a human power that they thought would guarantee their own status. Instead, that power destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and killed 500,000 Jews. The next generation paid dearly for the sins of their leaders.
Today people still refuse to let God have any control or influence over their decisions. They make choices based on short-term goals. They grasp present “benefits” without regard for the long-term costs. We must not give allegiance or cooperation to leaders and systems that have no regard for God’s authority. Who or what holds the position of king in your life?
Jesus Is Led Away to Be Crucified / 19:16b-17
We must never forget the reason Christ died. Unless we recognize the eternal tragedy that would have occurred to the human race without the Cross, we will not be able to see the Cross as our victory. At great personal cost, Jesus won eternal life for us. He paid the price for our sin with his own life. That he offers us life as a free gift ought to give us deep joy. We must be touched by Christ’s death, for he died in our place!
19:16b-17 Jesus was led away, forced to carry his cross by himself. But he became weak because of the flogging, and Simon was commanded to take over (see Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Jesus was taken to Skull Hill. This hill may have been called this because of its stony top or because it was shaped like a skull. Golgotha is the Hebrew word for “skull.” The familiar name “Calvary” is derived from the Latin calvaria (also meaning “skull”).
As the drama of the cross unfolds, John’s writing captures the simple ironies of the tragedy. The soldiers who escorted Jesus to Calvary didn’t know who he was; they were just doing their duty. Pilate knew that Jesus wasn’t guilty of death, but he still didn’t understand who Jesus was. The people, roused to a fever pitch by the religious leaders, didn’t take the time to care about who Jesus was (even though they had hailed him as their king a few days earlier. Obviously, they were disappointed by the mocking display of him as a pitiful king). The chief priests perhaps were the most blind of all, for they had totally lost sight of everything they stood for, seeking Jesus’ death only to hold onto their precious positions and to stop the teachings that were threatening their status quo.
Jesus Is Placed on the Cross / 19:18-27
Jesus knew his destiny (see 18:37), and he approached death boldly and courageously. Jesus endured the shame of crucifixion, the ridicule of the crowd, and the insults of those who cast lots for his clothing as he died. Though he was in agony, his thoughts included the care of his aged mother, whose care he entrusted to the disciple he loved. The Jews and the Romans were not taking Jesus’ life from him; he was laying it down of his own accord.
19:18-22 The others were criminals (see Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32). This again fulfilled prophecy (see Isaiah 53:12). Luke records that one of the criminals insulted Jesus, while the other turned to Jesus and asked to be saved (Luke 23:42). To which Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Pilate had a sign prepared and fastened to the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate wrote this notice in three languages so that anyone passing into or out of the city would be able to read it: Hebrew (or, Aramaic—the language of the Jews), Latin (the Roman language, the official language), and Greek (the lingua franca, the common tongue).
Probably bitter over his political defeat at the hands of the Jewish leaders, Pilate posted a sign over Jesus that was meant to be ironic. The sight of a humiliated king, stripped of authority, fastened naked to a cross in public execution could only lead to the conclusion of complete defeat. But the irony that Pilate hoped would not be lost on the Jews pales before the irony that God wanted to communicate to the world. The dying King was actually taking control of his Kingdom. His death and resurrection would strike the death blow to Satan’s rule and would establish Jesus’ eternal authority over the earth. Few people reading the sign that bleak afternoon understood its real meaning, but the sign was absolutely true. Jesus was King of the Jews as well as the Gentiles, the universe, and you. This sign became a universal proclamation, an unconscious prophecy, that Jesus is the royal Messiah.
The leading priests wanted Jesus’ crime posted as a false claim to kingship, but no persuasion from the chief priests could induce Pilate to change his mind. He dismissed them by saying, “What I have written, I have written.”
*LIFE APPLICATION: CRUCIFIXION
Both the Greeks and the Romans used crucifixion to execute victims and criminals. Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 prisoners of war at one time. For the Romans, it was a slave’s punishment; it was not used against freeborn citizens. It was a death for the worst criminals and terrorists. Before the crucifixion, the prisoner was flogged; the blood loss hastened the death. The prisoner was then nailed to the crosspiece by the wrists and to the stake by the ankles. He died completely naked to complete the humiliation. The death was slow and painful; the person died of shock or suffocation when the lungs collapsed.
For Jesus to die this way was hideous; Deuteronomy 21:23 says that anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed. But Jesus’ crucifixion was the path to his exaltation; he was “lifted up on the cross” and then exalted into glory for his ultimate act of sacrifice on our behalf.
19:23-24 Contrary to the paintings depicting the Crucifixion, Jesus died naked, another horrible part of his humiliation. The Roman soldiers who performed the Crucifixion divided the victim’s clothes among themselves. Clothing was not a cheap commodity in those days as it is today. Thus this was part of the “pay” the executioners received for performing their gruesome duties. But his robe was not divided because it was seamless. So they threw dice to see who would get it. In so doing they fulfilled the Scripture: “They divided my clothes among themselves and threw dice for my robe” (quoted from Psalm 22:18).
*LIFE APPLICATION: TRAGIC FATE OR GOD’S PLAN
A miscarriage of justice, a jaded political figure, and now soldiers gambling over his torn clothing. On the surface it appeared that Jesus’ life was as wasted as a treasure lost in a game of chance. Little did the Jews or Romans know that God’s divine plan was being worked out. In this dark and terrible humiliating moment, God was completely in control. Out of the greatest evil people could commit, God brought immeasurable good. No matter how bleak our outlook may be or how terrible our circumstances, we must remember the results of our Lord’s suffering. He suffered beyond anything we could ever endure, yet triumphed through it. His courage should motivate us and his power enable us to persevere.
19:25 The four women, in contrast to the four soldiers, are the faithful; they stayed with Jesus until the end. Even more so, in contrast to the disciples who had fled after Jesus was arrested, these women followed Jesus to the cross and became eyewitnesses of his crucifixion. The first woman mentioned is Jesus’ mother (see 2:1ff.). Imagine her incredible grief, helplessly watching her son suffer and die unjustly. Indeed the prophet Simeon, who had spoken to her in the Temple just after Jesus’ birth, had been correct when he had told her, “A sword will pierce your very soul” (Luke 2:35). Surely Mary was feeling that “sword” at that very moment.
The other women mentioned here have not appeared earlier in John’s Gospel. Mary’s sister could have been Salome (see Matthew 27:55ff.; Mark 15:40ff.), the mother of John (the Gospel writer) and James. If this is true, Jesus, John, and James were cousins. Mary (the wife of Clopas) was the mother of James the younger. Mary Magdalene is mentioned here for the first time in this Gospel. She will be a prominent figure in the next chapter—for Jesus appears first to her after his resurrection.
19:26-27 Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved (John, the Gospel writer), Jesus directed his disciple John to take care of Mary, his mother, in his absence. Mary had apparently been widowed and was being cared for by Jesus himself. Even while suffering in agony, Jesus demonstrated his care for his mother.
Jesus Dies on the Cross / 19:28-37
As he had stated in 17:4, Jesus knew he had carried out the mission his Father had given him. His success was complete at the moment of his death. He was about to surrender his life to his Father who would carry out the crowning touch of the plan by raising the Son from the grave.
19:28-30 Some scholars believe this fulfilled Scripture is Psalm 69:21, “They offer me sour wine to satisfy my thirst.” Thus, Jesus said, “I thirst.” This emphasizes Jesus’ humiliation. Others point to Psalm 42:2, “I thirst for God, the living God.” This affirms Jesus’ submission to the Father. In either case, Scripture was fulfilled.
This sour wine was not the same as the drugged wine offered to Jesus earlier (Mark 15:23). Jesus did not take the wine earlier because he wanted to be fully conscious through the entire process. Jesus tasted it, and then said, “It is finished!” According to the Greek, the one word, tetelestai, means “it is accomplished,” “it is fulfilled,” or even, “it is paid in full.” Jesus’ death accomplished redemption—“paid in full”; and his death fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies. It was time for Jesus to die (see 4:34; 17:4).
Up to this point, sin could be atoned through a complicated system of sacrifices. Sin separates people from God, and only through the sacrifice of an animal, a substitute, and faith in God’s promise could people be forgiven and become clean before God. But people sin continually, so frequent sacrifices were required. Jesus, however, was the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin. With his death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon himself. Now we can freely approach God because of what Jesus did for us. Those who believe in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection can live eternally with God and escape the penalty that comes from sin.
Then Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The language describes Jesus voluntarily yielding his spirit to God. Luke records Jesus’ last words from the cross: “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands” (Luke 23:46, echoing Psalm 31:5). Jesus’ life was not taken from him; he gave his life of his own free will (see 10:11, 15, 17-18; 15:13). This shows Jesus’ sovereignty over all—he was even in control of his death!
19:31-34 The Jewish leaders were concerned that the dead bodies would remain on the crosses during the Sabbath. The Sabbath began on Friday evening—and this was a very special Sabbath because it coincided with the Passover festival. The Jews did not want to desecrate their Sabbath (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) by allowing the bodies of three crucified Jews to remain hanging on crosses overnight. Thus, they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. A person being crucified could use his legs to lift up his body in an attempt to take more oxygen into his collapsing lungs. To break the legs of one being crucified would, therefore, speed up the death. Pilate agreed with the request.
However, when the soldiers came to Jesus, they saw that he was dead already, so they didn’t break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water flowed out. This piercing would make sure that Jesus was really dead. Medical experts have tried to determine what was punctured to create a flow of blood and water. Some think the pericardial sac was ruptured. John’s testimony of this occurrence was important to affirm a major argument in this Gospel against the Docetists who were denying Jesus’ humanity. Jesus was indeed a man composed of blood and water. He actually experienced death as a human being (see 1 John 5:6-7). The mention of the blood and water also answers the argument by some that Jesus did not really die but fell into some type of coma from which he later awakened in the tomb. But the eyewitness account of the blood and water refutes that. The piercing itself would have killed Jesus, but he was already dead as the separation of blood and water reveal. Jesus did indeed die a human death. In addition, the Roman soldiers, who had participated in numerous crucifixions, reported to Pilate that Jesus was dead (Mark 15:44-45).
19:35 The eyewitness who saw the Crucifixion and witnessed the issue of blood and water is John the apostle (see 20:30-31 and 21:24-25). Luke’s prologue (Luke 1:1-4) and John’s words demonstrate that the Gospel writers were writing reliable history, not just a subjective description of what they felt (see also 2 Peter 1:16-18).
JESUS AND THE EXODUS EXPERIENCE
John shows the parallels between events in Exodus and the life of Jesus. God filled the wilderness experience of his people with illustrations of his eternal plan to save the world. The rescue of a people from captivity itself became a prophetic clue that God would offer a way of escape to the world through Jesus Christ. John indicated:
- As God temporarily took up residence in a tent among the people, Jesus is the living tabernacle of God. (John 1)
- As Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus is the perfect bronze serpent. (John 3)
- As God provided bread from heaven to feed the people, Jesus is the real manna. (John 6)
- As God provided water from the rock, Jesus is both source and substance of living water from the rock. (John 7)
- As God’s presence was seen in the column of fire in the wilderness, Jesus is the Light of the World. (John 8)
- As God instituted the memorial of the sacrificed lamb and the blood of Passover, Jesus is the perfect Passover Lamb. (John 1:29; 18:28; 19:14, 36)
19:36-37 Without knowing it, the soldiers fulfilled two biblical prophecies when they lanced Jesus instead of breaking his bones: (1) Not one of his bones will be broken. Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12 speak of the bones of the Passover lamb that are not to be broken. Because Jesus was the final sacrifice, these verses apply to him; and (2) They will look on him whom they pierced. This is from Zechariah 12:10; see also Revelation 1:7. The risen Christ bore this mark in his side (20:19ff.).
Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb / 19:38-42
Two secret disciples of Jesus came forward to take care of Jesus’ burial. They both had feared persecution from the Jewish religious leaders, so they had not openly declared their faith in Jesus as the Messiah (see 12:42).
19:38-39 Joseph was from Arimathea, a town not exactly pinpointed today but generally considered to have been about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem. He was a secret disciple. Matthew’s Gospel says Joseph was a rich man (Matthew 27:57); Mark describes him as “an honored member of the high council” (Mark 15:43); and Luke adds further that he was “a good and righteous man,” who had “not agreed” with the council regarding Jesus (Luke 23:50-51).
Joseph would not have been able to stop the council’s planned murder of Jesus, but he did what he could afterwards by boldly going to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body so he could give it a proper burial. He had to ask for permission because the Romans usually left the bodies exposed without burial, both as a lesson to anyone passing by, and as a final humiliation for those executed. So Joseph went to ask Pilate, and Pilate agreed to let him take and bury the body.
Jesus had talked at length with Nicodemus about being born again (3:1ff.), and Nicodemus had stood up for Jesus among the leading priests and Pharisees (7:50-52). Nicodemus joined Joseph in embalming and wrapping Jesus’ body in regal style. The seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment was an extraordinarily large amount and must have been extremely expensive.
Perhaps the action of Joseph and Nicodemus points to a lesson in teamwork. Both men were naturally cautious. Perhaps they had been chastised repeatedly for not openly rejecting Jesus. But when the moment for boldness came, they worked together. When we join with other believers we can often accomplish what we would not dare to try alone. Though Joseph and Nicodemus were probably each very much afraid, they nevertheless acted courageously. Obedience will often require us to act in spite of our fears.
*LIFE APPLICATION: STANDING UP
Joseph and Nicodemus were secret believers, but after seeing the horrible treatment of Jesus, they decided that it had gone far enough and they were going to stand up, show their loyalty, and take care of Jesus’ body for burial. Today, many treat the Bible and Jesus with similar horrible treatment. Now is the time for believers to step forward. Now is the time to come forward and testify to what God has done for you. Now is the time to join “that courageous and faithful band who are not afraid to stand up and be counted!”
19:40-42 The Jewish custom of burial did not include mummifying or embalming; instead, they washed the body, then wrapped it in a cloth soaked with aromatic oils and spices. According to Matthew 27:60, this new tomb was Joseph’s own that he gave up for Jesus (see also Luke 23:53). Such rock-hewn tombs were expensive. Even in burial, Jesus fulfilled prophecy (see Isaiah 53:9). It was fortuitous that Joseph had a tomb nearby and that he wanted to put Jesus’ body there; the burial had to happen quickly because it was the day of preparation, prior to the coming of the Sabbath. So they laid Jesus there.
*LIFE APPLICATION: CHANGES
The death of Jesus made a dramatic change in the lives of four people. The criminal, dying on the cross beside Jesus, asked Jesus to include him in his kingdom (Luke 23:39-43). The Roman centurion proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God (Mark 15:39). Joseph and Nicodemus, members of the Jewish council and secret followers of Jesus (John 7:50-51), came out of hiding. Each of these men were changed more by Jesus’ death than by his life. As a result of realizing who Jesus was, they believed and put their faith into words and actions. When confronted with Jesus and his death we should also be changed—to believe, proclaim, and act.