The Last Hours of Jesus Christ

John 19:16—40

Time and again Pilate declared Jesus to be an innocent man.  In spite of that, Pilate sentenced Him to death.  Clearly, Jesus was being sentenced and would be punished for the sins of others, not for His own sins since He had none.  The priests and a crowd stocked with priests and religious leaders had gotten what they had wanted for a long time: a way to silence the Son of God.

1.  The crucifixion of Jesus, 19:16—25

Pilate ordered Jesus to be turned over to the execution squad.  Verse 17 is the sum total of all John had to say about what happened on the Via Dolorossa, the “Way of Sorrows.”  For a much fuller account of what happened on the way to Golgotha, we would turn to Luke 23:26—32.

Despite His back being torn to shreds by the whips of the soldiers, Jesus was forced to carry part of His own cross to Golgotha, a place just outside Jerusalem.   The word “Golgotha” means “The Place of the Skull,” and regardless of what the hymn says, it was not a hill and there weren’t skulls scattered all over the ground.  The fact is, we don’t know exactly where Jesus was crucified, only that it was a distance outside the city.   This is in keeping with the Old Testament “sin offering,” which was taken outside the camp—

…all the rest of the bull he must take outside the camp to a place ceremonially clean, where the ashes are thrown, and burn it there in a wood fire on the ash heap.  (Leviticus 4:12)

All the details of His crucifixion not only fulfill Biblical prophecy, but Jesus also fulfilled the Old Testament types.  Jesus Christ is our sin offering, and He was so offered outside the city.  The author of Hebrews makes mention of this—

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  (Hebrews 13:12)

Upon reaching Golgotha, four Roman soldiers proceeded to crucify Jesus.  According to Cicero, crucifixion was:

“…the most cruel and horrible death…a nefarious action [that is] incapable of description by any word, for there is none fit to describe it.”

Jesus was executed as a common criminal and there were two common criminals crucified with Him this day.  Unlike Luke, John does not record the conversation our Lord had with them, but all the Gospels record what Pilate did—

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  (verse 19)

It was customary to nail details of the victim’s offense to his cross, so the placard nailed to the top of Jesus’ cross was not unusual.  However, Pilate was careful to write Jesus’ title in the three languages common in his day:  Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.  This was so that whoever passed by the cross of Jesus could read of His offense.  However, this sign, attesting to the kingship of Jesus, was in reality an unwitting prophecy of Christ’s ultimate universal kingship.  Without knowing the extent of what he was doing, Pilate was proclaiming in the languages of religion (Hebrew), culture (Greek), and government (Latin) to the entire world that Jesus Christ is King.

Naturally, this did not sit well with the arrogant religious leaders, but Pilate could not be persuaded to change what he had written—

“What I have written, I have written.”  (verse 22)

Perhaps this was Pilate getting the last word in; verse 22 means, in essence, “You deal with what I have written; I’m not changing it.”

Just as having the criminal carry part of his cross and the placing of his offenses on top of the cross, so dividing his clothing among those who carried out the sentence was the custom of crucifixion.  This event is also recorded in all four Gospels, but John as an eyewitness, described in greater detail how the soldiers divided their bounty.  The agreement among themselves not to tear apart Jesus’ tunic apparently meant something very special to John, including the fact that their decision actually fulfilled David’s prophecy recorded in Psalm  22.  This whole Psalm, in fact, is a startling picture of the Jesus’ crucifixion.

Apparently, this tunic or robe was of good quality, though by no means regal or expensive.  It was probably made as a gift and given to Jesus, and the soldiers recognized its quality.  One commentator suggests:

The indivisible robe, which is closely associated with the body of the Lord, may therefore symbolize the unity of the believers who are joined to the Lord and feed upon His Body, in contrast to the divisions of the Jews, who are torn into factions because of Him.

These soldiers—gamblers, really—illustrate in dramatic fashion what was happening on the Cross:  Jesus had staked His very life on His faith in God.

Sadly, all the disciples save one, John, had forsaken their Lord.  Along with John was Jesus’ mother, Mary, her sister, Salome, wife of Zebedee, Mary wife of Clopas, and a third Mary, Mary Magdalene.   Although John records Jesus’ words to His mother as His first words spoken from the cross, they were, in fact, the third word from the cross.  Here are the “seven words of Jesus” from His cross:

  • Father, forgive them…Luke 23:34
  • Today you will be with me in Paradise…Luke 23:43
  • Woman, here is your son…John 19:26, 27
  • My God, my God…Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34
  • I am thirsty…John 19:28
  • It is finished…John 19:38
  • I commit my spirit…Luke 23:46

Why did Jesus not call Mary “mother?”  It was not meant to be disrespectful or brusque in any way.  Jesus must have been surely aware of the anguish and terror His mother was feeling, and to call her “mother” would have been to rub salt in her wounded heart.   As at the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus was far more than just Mary’s Son:  He was her Lord. From now on, it was time for Mary to start viewing this Man on the Cross in that way.  Furthermore, Jesus saw John standing at His mother’s side, offering her comfort and consolation.  These two statements, “here is your son” and “here is your mother” are really final instructions to both Mary and John as to their relationship from that day forward.  John was to look after Mary as though she were his very own mother.  Even from the Cross of His crucifixion, with the darkness of Hell reaching up to envelope Him, among Jesus’ final thoughts was for His mother’s well-being.

2.  Jesus’ death, 19:28—37

The way John records Jesus’ final  moments show that, as always, Jesus was completely in control; even as His life was ebbing away, Jesus was conscious that He was fulfilling His mission.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  (verse 28)

The soldiers offered Jesus a drink of vinegar.  This was yet another fulfillment of prophecy—

They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst. (Psalm 69:21)

In all, the crucifixion of Jesus is the fulfillment of a number of Old Testament passages, including:

  • Psalm 22
  • Genesis 22
  • Isaiah 53
  • Leviticus 16
  • Psalm 69

There were no less than 28 prophecies fulfilled as Jesus hung on the Cross!

When Jesus bowed His head in complete dignity and uttered His very last words, “It is finished,” what was He referring to?  Some say He was referring to His life:  His life was now over.  Others refer to His mission; His mission was officially over.  Others see this as an expression of complete anguish.  When we consider what the mission of Jesus was, it becomes crystal clear that what Jesus was referring to was our redemption.  Finally, after thousands of years of hopelessness marked by darkness and sinfulness, mankind could now be redeemed because Jesus had unerringly finished all that His Father gave Him to do.  Remember what Jesus Himself had said—

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  (John 17:4)

Both John and Mark agree that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath, which would have been Friday, “the day of preparation.”  It was a Roman custom to leave the crucified hanging on their crosses.  The corpses of the criminals would be thus taken care of by wild dogs and vultures.  However, to the Jews, this ran contrary to their religious laws, which was why they wanted the legs of the three men crucified broken.  This brutal practice had a name:  crurifragium, and it was used to speed up the death of the victim.   The two men crucified with Jesus had their legs broken, but when the soldiers came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead, so they left Him alone.  John makes note that this, too, was in complete accord with Scripture—

It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones.  (Exodus 12:46)

They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations.  (Numbers 9:12)

Instead of breaking Jesus’ legs, John saw something else—

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  (verse 34)

They did this to make absolutely sure this King of the Jews was really dead.  What is the significance of the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side?  Much has been written about this, often giving physiological reasons for blood and water mixing.  Many writers seem to favor the idea that the sword pierced Jesus’ heart, thus suggesting Jesus died of a “broken heart.”  However, to suggest Jesus died of a broken heart is overly sentimental; the Bible in no way teaches this; Jesus willingly and consciously laid down His life, fully aware of what was happening and the thrust of the spear in no way contributed to His death.

Christ’s body, inside and out, was perfect for He was the perfect Lamb of God.  It is likely that because Jesus suffered an extremely brutal and horrendous death, that His organs, especially His heart, had ruptured due to the strain of hanging on the cross.   Precisely why water and blood flowed from the side of Jesus may be unknown, but John wrote that he personally witnessed it.  When John witnessed the piercing of Jesus’ side, he saw it as a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10–

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”

3.  Jesus’ burial, 19:38—42

Jesus’ work on earth was officially finished, but what to do with His body?  Two of His “secret disciples,” Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, both aristocratic Jews, came out into the open. More than one scholar has observed that:

Christ on the Cross has a power ever greater than Jesus the Rabbi to ‘draw men to himself.’

In addition to being quite wealthy, both of these men were members of the Sanhedrin, though neither consented to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Traditionally, burial in the Middle East took place within 24 hours of death, and because Jesus died the death of a common criminal, His body would normally have been tossed into a sort of mass grave along with the other two criminals who died that day had His two friends not intervened.  This is the third time Nicodemus appears in this Gospel and he is a perfect example of one whose faith grew slowly, steadily until it finally reached this point of maturity.  Not all true believes can point to a single life-changing moment when faith dawned; some are like Nicodemus, who gradually grew into his faith.

The Jews did not embalm their dead; instead, they wrapped them tightly in bandages soaked in a potent mixture of sweet spices.   Because Jesus had no estate to speak of, His tomb was provided.  But it was no ordinary tomb.  Consider:

  • It was located near to where He was crucified, although its precise location is unknown.  In God’s wisdom, He made sure nobody would preserve its exact location; knowing human nature as He does, the tomb would probably receive more honor that did Christ!
  • It was a brand new tomb; it had never been used for any other purpose.  It was surely a fit resting place for the body of a king.  Note Psalm 16:10
  • According to Matthew 27:60, this was Joseph of Arimathaea’s own tomb, and Joseph was a very rich man.  Thus are the words of Isaiah 53:9 fulfilled:  He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death.
  • It was not a natural cave; it had been but out of solid rock (Mark 15:46).  A very large and very heavy rock had been rolled in front of the entrance, which itself was a few steps down.
  • Affixed to the stone in front of the entrance was a seal, which would have been a cord covered in clay or wax with the seal of the Sanhedrin impressed in it.

Even in His death and burial, everything pointed to Christ’s ultimate exaltation.  The plan of His death carried out according to Heaven’s plan, Jesus’ complete control of His own execution, the mode of His burial—the new tomb, never having seen any form of decay—the fact that this tomb belonged to a rich man; all these things show that the death of Christ and the events surrounding it were different.  Everything pointed to something more.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd

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