Have you ever had a terrible day that you hoped would get better? Does life seem hopeless or dark at the moment? The cross and the day Jesus died is reminder that dark days can be used by God to bring better days.
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.
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. 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).
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 (20:19).
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)
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.