John 19:17–42. The Death of Christ.
Key Notes: Old Testament prophecies fulfilled. The cup. He really died and was buried. The Plan laid out.
The description of the death of Christ in John is spare and minimally dramatic, as it is in the other Gospels. That is hard to reconcile with the most important event in the history of the human race. The physical shame and pain are minimized, although crucifixion was a most horrible and degrading torture-death. The spiritual suffering cannot be understood. But there are four notes of fulfilled prophecy to remind us that the Bible as a whole has been a prophecy and a testimony to this event. “The whole Old Testament is a testimony to the Messiah”.
Jesus’ last words to Peter were “…shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (18:11).
The cup of wine in the Old Testament is a symbol of God’s judgment, “the cup of wrath”; “the bowl of staggering” (Isa.51:17); “a cup of horror and desolation”; “drunkenness and sorrow” (Ezek.23:33). Jesus drained the cup of the wrath of God.
19:17 “…and He went out, bearing His own cross. “
We remember Jesus’ challenge to the disciples:
“He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt.10:38)
“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matt.16:24)
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. Therefore let us go forth to Him outside the camp and bear the abuse He endured.” (Heb.13:12–13).
But we are spared the cup He drank.
19:18 They crucified Him with a criminal on either side. "...and [He] was numbered with the transgressors;" (Isa.53:12)
One confessed his sin and was saved; the other refused (Lk.23:39–43), typifying the lot of mankind—some are saved, some lost.
19:19–22 The title over Him read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” It was written in the three languages of the civilized world. The Jews wanted Pilate to make the title refer only to Jesus’ opinion of Himself, but Pilate’s statement held, and still holds.
19:23–24 The soldiers usually got whatever was left of an executed criminal’s belongings. For a criminal to have a highly valued garment that had to be gambled away was most unlikely. But in this case, the seamless outer garment was the fulfillment of a prophecy from Psa. 22:18. Psalm 22 has other unique descriptions that seem only to apply only to crucifixion—unknown to Israelites of David’s time. So although the prophecy seems slight, it opens our minds to the wealth of OT references to Christ.
19:25–27 Jesus, in spite of His agony, rallied and took breaths to transfer the care of His mother to John, the beloved disciple. He is carrying out the IVth commandment, to honor father and mother. Evidently Mary was now a widow, and John was well-placed to care for her. His brothers were not considered, perhaps because of their unbelief.
19:28–30 Jesus fulfilled another prophecy by asking for a drink. Psa.69:21 says “They gave me poison for food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” He had previously refused wine mixed with gall (Matt.27:34), but wine vinegar was drunk by the soldiers and would relieve the thirst of a person dying and in shock.
His last words were “It is finished”. The other three Gospels say He cried out, making this last word a shout of triumph. He had done it. He had drained the cup of wrath of God. He had taken upon Himself the sin of the whole world.
19:31–37 The Jews wanted the bodies down for the Sabbath and requested Pilate to administer the fatal blows. Breaking the legs would make breathing almost impossible, and with the shock of violent trauma, bring death quickly. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but Jesus was already dead. Why the soldier pierced His side with a spear is not clear, unless it was to confirm His death. John speaks forcefully to that point: he was there as a witness; he tells the truth. Jesus was really dead. The water and the blood were real and significant and John will refer to them later. (IJn.5:6). We believe him. The point is serious because there is a school of thought that dismisses the resurrection on the grounds that He did not die, and was revived after lying on a cold slab for a while in the tomb.
Two more prophecies were fulfilled. Not a bone of Him was broken. That refers to the disposal of the Passover Lamb. “In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it.” (Ex.12:46; repeated in Num.9:12). Paul confirms that “Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us.” (ICor. 5:7)
The second prophecy says “They look on Him whom they have pierced.” There is a future fulfillment of this prophecy, for Zechariah says, “…when they look on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep over Him, as one weeps over a first-born.” (Zech.12:10). John also confirms this point in Rev. 1:7. We have yet to see this fulfillment, which predicts that Israel will mourn for Christ when He returns the second time. Further, Jesus said that all the tribes of the earth will mourn. (Matt.24:30). Another time of weeping is yet to come, hopefully with contrition and repentance.
19:38 The final event was the burial. Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. He was a secret disciple and opposed the decision of the Council to kill Jesus. (Lk.23:50–51). With Nicodemus who had visited Jesus by night, he put Jesus’ body into a new tomb near the crucifixion site. The indications are that they were in a hurry because of a holy day coming. They wrapped the body in linen infused with spices and herbs. No doubt they went away sad, broken-hearted, as the rest of Jesus’ friends and disciples were.
The prophecies are important. They accumulate throughout the OT beginning when God cursed the serpent in the Garden of Eden and promised his doom. (Gen.3:15). Although many prophecies refer to Christ, the prophets also addressed the sin of the people to their times and its consequences. Prophecy is important in itself because it declares that God knows in advance what will happen. Second, He reveals His mind to human beings who report in writing. Third, God controls the events of the world so that the prophecy is realized.
God is not weak; He is not ignorant; He is not remote. Pity those who worship the weak “open” God who is evolving with His creation and does not know what we will do until we do it.
“I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” Isa.46:9, 10
“For the Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” Isa.14:27
Why did Jesus die? Could there have been some other solution? Why could not God simply forgive people without condition, as He expects us to do with those who offend us?
Jesus said He “must”, or “it is necessary”, using the irregular Gr. verb (“dei”). It occurs several times in His speech.
“Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?" Lk.2:49 NKJV
“…the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected…and be killed, and the third day be raised again.” Lk.9:22; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7; 24:46
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jn.3:14
“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?" Lk.24:26
“...everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Lk.24:44
Why must He? He is obliged to fulfill the promises God made to His people.
But also, He must be the sacrifice for our sins because He is the only One who could do it. No other sinless person, both true man and God, has ever existed.
Why does God demand such a sacrifice? Could not God simply forgive sin as He commands us to do?
If I were to forgive the murderer of my child, it would be a heroic deed. If I were to welcome the murderer into my home so that he could murder my other child, it would be insanity. No murderer may invade my personal space. Where God is, there are no murderers, adulterers, unclean, idolaters or liars. (Rev.22:15). Our choices are an eternity of joy and praise with Him and on His terms, or a nightmare of regret and pain without Him.
Moreover, there is a penalty for murder; it is death. God’s forgiveness works to visit death on the Innocent, so that the guilty may live. It recognizes on one hand the extreme seriousness of sin, and God’s ability both to judge sin, and to forgive it. The murderer confesses, repents and is given a new heart. The murderer is now declared forgiven and restored to fellowship, made a member of the family. God has gone beyond forgiveness to atonement, reconciliation with Him.
The plan of salvation is laid out over the span of Scripture.
“The soul that sins shall die.” Ezek.18:4. “The wages of sin is death.” Rom.6:23
“…the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness…” Rom.1:18
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life." Lev.17:11
“But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.“ Heb.10:3
“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, 'Sacrifices and offerings Thou has not desired, but a body has Thou prepared for Me. '” Heb.10:5
“God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jn.3:16 KJV
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” I Pet.2:24
“He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” IICor.5:21
“We see Jesus…crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God, He might taste death for every one.” Heb.2:9
Ask Jesus to save you. May Jesus be glorified in your life.