As we observe Holy week leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, 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!
“No believer should ever forget that the source of their joy was the pain and suffering of their Lord.” M. G. Gutzke
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.
Pilate Hands Jesus over to Be Crucified – John Chapter 19
19:1 Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers to be flogged. 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.
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
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.”
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. 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 27:55; Mark 15:40), 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.
In the next post we’ll see how Jesus death is connected to the Passover in Exodus, in addition even in death Jesus was still in control, his burial in borrowed tomb and how his death affected people even more than his life.