Pilate Tries to Release Jesus

19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged severely. 19:2 The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe. 19:3 They came up to him again and again and said, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly in the face.

Since Pilate has already pronounced Jesus innocent, Jn 18:38, this flogging should be seen as another attempt to set Jesus free.  Pilate hoped, no doubt, so persuade the Jewish leaders that Jesus had been punished enough.

This flogging was, no doubt, a brutal affair.  Like the other Evangelists, John does not dwell on the physical details of Jesus’ horrific torture, and passes over this aspect of his suffering with a single word.

Mk 15:15 mentions the flogging at a later stage in trial, after the sentence of execution.  It is possible to argue from Mark’s use of tense that he is referring back to an earlier flogging (i.e. the one mentioned here in Jn 19:1.  Alternatively, two floggings may have been inflicted: an earlier, less severe form (recorded here) and a later, more severe form (recorded by Mark).

‘This pain and shame Christ submitted to for our sakes. (1.) That the scripture might be fulfilled, which spoke of his being stricken, smitten, and afflicted, and the chastisement of our peace being upon him (Isa. 53:5), of his giving his back to the smiters (Isa. 50:6), of the ploughers ploughing upon his back, Ps. 129:3. He himself likewise had foretold it, Mt. 20:19; Mk. 10:34; Lk 18:33. (2.) That by his stripes we might be healed, 1 Pt. 2:4. We deserved to have been chastised with whips and scorpions, and beaten with many stripes, having known our Lord’s will and not done it; but Christ underwent the stripes for us, bearing the rod of his Father’s wrath, Lam. 3:1…(3.) That stripes, for his sake, might be sanctified and made easy to his followers; and they might, as they did, rejoice in that shame (Acts 5:41; 16:22, 25), as Paul did, who was in stripes above measure, 2 Co. 11:23. Christ’s stripes take out the sting of theirs, and alter the property of them. We are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world, 1 Co. 11:32.’ (MHC)

Three Types of Sinner

  1. Those who sin against conviction, such as Pilate.
  2. Those who sin from conviction, such as the Jewish leaders.
  3. Those who sin without conviction, such as the soldiers and the crowd.

(D. Thomas)

The soldiers are responding to Pilate’s referral to Jesus as ‘the king of the Jews’, Jn 18:39.  From the Sanhedrin’s points of view he was a ‘Messianic pretender’ (Carson) and, they later suggested to Pilate, a rebel against Caesar.

Crown of thorns – ‘Vast is the contrast which there will be between the crown of glory that Christ will wear at his second advent, and the crown of thorns which he wore at his first coming.’ (Ryle)

The purple robe would have be that worn by a high-ranking military officer, and the soldiers would have had no difficulty obtaining one.

‘His sufferings, however sharp, are indeed his crown and his glory, and he accounted so of them that we might learn to glory in his cross, Gal 6:14.’ (Hutcheson)

Went up to him again and again – in repeated mock homage.  The mockery was problem aimed at the Jews as much as at Jesus.

‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ – ‘Here is another example of the dramatic irony of John. The soldiers made a caricature of Jesus as king, while in actual fact he was the only king. Beneath the jest there was eternal truth.’ (DSB)

They struck him on the face – This takes the place of real homage, which would had entailed a dutiful kiss or a gift.

‘If we be at any time ridiculed for well-doing, let us not be ashamed, but glorify God, for thus we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. He that bore these sham honours was recompensed with real honours, and so shall we, if we patiently suffer shame for him.’ (MHC)

This ‘touches us deeply, for there is almost nothing we dread more than being thought ridiculous.  Most people in fact are much more ready to be though bad than silly; nothing so readily penetrates the armour of our self-esteem than mocking laughter.  Yet is was with precisely that ring in his ears from the soldiers’ ridicule that Jesus appeared for the further mockery of the crowd…When such moments sweep paralysingly across our hearts and we collapse inwardly in a hidden torment of shame and confusion, or when the tapes of yesterday’s humiliations and shames begin to whir in our minds, there is a fellowship of his sufferings” which is wonderfully releasing and reassuring.  He is indeed our “fellow sufferer”.  He knows and he can share.’ (Milne.  See Psa 22:6; Isa 53:3)

‘He despised the shame, the shame of a fool’s coat, and the mock-respect paid him, with, Hail, king of the Jews. If we be at any time ridiculed for well-doing, let us not be ashamed, but glorify God, for thus we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. He that bore these sham honours was recompensed with real honours, and so shall we, if we patiently suffer shame for him.’ (MHC)

19:4 Again Pilate went out and said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no reason for an accusation against him.” 19:5 So Jesus came outside, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look, here is the man!”

“I can find no basis for a charge against him” – A declaration of Jesus’ innocence is found in Jn 18:38; 19:4; 19:6. See also Mt 27:23; 27:24; Mk 15:14; Lk 23:4; 23:13-15; 23:22.

‘It is very noteworthy that the expression, “I find no fault in him,” is used three times by Pilate, in the same Greek words, in St John’s account of the passion…It was meet and right that he who had the chief hand in slaying the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for our sins, should three times publicly declare that he found no spot or blemish in him.  He was proclaimed  a Lamb without spot or fault, after a searching examination, by him that slew him’ (Ryle)

‘Nevertheless, in a few more moments this same Pilate is going to succumb to the persistent clamor of the Jews, and is going to sentence Jesus to die the accursed death of crucifixion. “No guilt in him … no guilt in him … no guilt in him … no guilt in him . .. So then he handed him over in order to be crucified.”’ (Hendriksen)

‘Christ in his sufferings was innocent of any personal crime, even in the consciences of his persecutors, whereby the Lord made it clear that his sufferings were for others.’ (Hutcheson)

‘Hereby he condemns himself; if he found no fault in him, why did he scourge him, why did he suffer him to be abused?…If he found no fault in him, why did he bring him out to his prosecutors, and not immediately release him, as he ought to have done? If Pilate had consulted his own conscience only, he would neither have scourged Christ nor crucified him; but, thinking to trim the matter, to please the people by scourging Christ, and save his conscience by not crucifying him, behold he does both; whereas, if he had at first resolved to crucify him, he need not have scourged him. It is common for those who think to keep themselves from greater sins by venturing upon less sins to run into both.’ (MHC)

Jesus came out – ‘A sorry sight, swollen, bruised, bleeding from those cruel and ridiculous thorns.’ (Carson)

“Here is the man” – lat. ‘Ecce homo’; AV ‘Behold the man!  This expression could mean, “the poor creature”; or simply, “Here is the accused”.  ‘Pilate is speaking with dripping irony: here is the man you find so dangerous and threatening: can you not see he is harmless and somewhat ridiculous?’ (Carson).

‘Jesus must have looked a shocking sight, enough to horrify anyone who knew him.’ (Beasley-Murray)

John, of course, with his love of double meanings, may see here an acknowledgement of ‘THE man’, or even, ‘the Son of Man’.

Jesus was, and is, a real man.  He is the Word made flesh, Jn 1:14, made like ourselves, Heb 2:17, and our companion in our sufferings.  The participation of God incarnate in our sufferings is a key distinctive of the Christian faith.  The Koran teaches that ‘every misfortune that befalls you is ordained’.  A Buddhist writer says that his religion offers sympathy and resignation, but no consolation.  But the present passage shows us that ‘in Jesus we have a God who enters into our sufferings and shares them with us.’ (Milne)

It may be that Pilate, having had Jesus beaten and humiliated, hoped that the Jews would now be satisfied, and let him be released.  ‘How could anyone want such a pathetic figure finished off?  What power could he exercise?  What harm could he do to the status quo?’ (Tidball)

19:6 When the chief priests and their officers saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said, “You take him and crucify him! Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him!” 19:7 The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God!”

If Pilate hoped that his presentation of Jesus as a pathetic and pitiful caricature of a king would satisfy the crowd’s lust for death, he was gravely mistaken.

‘These were the children of Israel and the seed of Abraham, to whom pertained the promises and the Mosaic ceremonial, the temple sacrifices and the temple priesthood.  These were men who professed to look for a Prophet like unto Moses, and a son of David who was to set up a kingdom as Messiah.’ (Ryle)

‘Let us mark with fear and trembling the enormous danger of long-continued rejection of light and knowledge.  There is such a thing as judicial blindness; and it is the last and sorest judgment which God can send upon men.  He who, like Pharaoh and Ahab, is often reproved but refuses to receive reproof, will finally have a heart harder than the nether mill-stone, and a conscience past feeling, and seared as with a hot iron.  This was the state of the Jewish nation during the time of our Lord’s ministry; and the heading up of their sin was their deliberate rejection of him, when Pilate desired to let him go.  From such judicial blindness may we all pray to be delivered!  There is no worse judgment from God than to be left to ourselves, and given over to our own wicked hearts and the devil.  There is no surer way to bring that judgment upon us than to persist in refusing warnings and sinning against the light.’ (Ryle)

“You take him and crucify him” – Pilate is taunting the Jews, for in fact they had no power to crucify him themselves, Jn 18:31.

“I find no basis for a charge against him” – Yet another public declaration of Jesus’ innocence.

‘Three times he vainly tried to evade condemning our Lord, or to make the Jews desist from their bloody design: one by asking the Jews to choose between Christ and Barabbas, – once by sending him to Herod, – once by scourging him, and exhibiting him in a contemptible light before the people.  Three times he failed utterly.’ (Ryle)

“We have a law” – The Jews, having failed to get Jesus killed on the basis of Roman law, now appeal to their own law (Lev 24:16).  If they cannot get him condemned on political grounds, then they will charge with an offence against their religion, which Pilate, as Governor, was bound to defend.  There is an allusion here to the trial before Caiaphas, recorded in Mk 14:61-64 and not explicitly recorded by John, in which Jesus was accused of blasphemy.  The penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (cf Jn 10:33).

‘Loo, what blinds them!  Te Word of God that should make them see, blinds them so that they use it to their ruin.  The best things in the world, yea, the Word of God itself, serve to wicked men for nothing else but their induration.  The more they read, the blinder they are.  And why?  Because they abuse the word, and make it not a guide to direct their affections and actions. ‘ (Rollock)

“According to that law he must die” – ‘The Old Testament called the Messiah (and all David’s line) the Son of God (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7; 89:27); in a more general sense, all Israel was called God’s child (Ex 4:22; Deut 8:3 Hos 11:1). But even falsely claiming to be the Messiah was not a capital offense in standard Jewish teaching, as long as one were not a false prophet advocating other gods. On their own terms, Jesus’ accusers are thus mistaken about the law’s teaching about him (10:34–36).’ (IVP Background Commentary)

“He claimed to be the Son of God” – Not an absolute indicator of blasphemy: in the OT, the anointed king was sometimes referred to as God’s Son (Psa 2:7; 89:26f).  But as Jesus used the title ‘there are overtones not only of messiahship but of sharing the rights and authority of God himself (cf Jn 1:34; 5:19-30).’ (Carson)

‘If a Hindu announced to his guru, “I just discovered that I am God,” the response would be: “Congratulations. You finally found out.” If a Jew had said that 2,000 years ago, the response would have been stoning (Jn 8:31-59) or crucifixion (Jn 19:1-7).’ (Handbook of Apologetics)

What, of course, they failed to mention were the many miracles that Jesus had performed in support of his divine Sonship.

19:8 When Pilate heard what they said, he was more afraid than ever, 19:9 and he went back into the governor’s residence and said to Jesus, “Where do you come from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

‘Although many wandering philosophers claimed to be sons of gods and were not taken seriously, some teachers were thought to actually possess divine wisdom or power, and Pilate may be cautious not to offend such a powerful being. Some Romans were cynical about the gods, but most believed in them, and Pilate may be especially cautious, given the reputation of Jewish magicians for being among the best in antiquity.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

‘The thought that the meek and gentle prisoner before him might after all be some superior Being, and not a mere common man, filled his weak and ignorant conscience with alarm.  What if he had before him some God in human form?  What if it should turn out that he was actually inflicting bodily injuries on one of the gods?  As a Roman he had doubtless heard and read many stories, drawn from the heathen mythology of Greece and Rome, about Gods coming down to earth, and appearing in human form.  Perhaps the prisoner before him was one!  The idea raised new fears in his mind.’ (Ryle)

‘[Pilate] had been told plainly the nature of our Lord’s kingdom and the purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world and been obliged to confess publicly His innocence.  And yet, with all this light and knowledge, he had treated our Lord with flagrant injustice, scourged Him, allowed Him to be treated with the vilest indignities by his soldiers and held Him up to scorn, knowing in his own mind all the time that He was a guiltless person.  He had, in short, sinned away his opportunities, forsaken his own mercies, and turned a deaf ear to the cries of his conscience.’ (Ryle)

Serious concerns had been raised in his mind by Jesus’ calm and dignified manner, his evident innocence, the unusual malevolence of the Jews, and his wife’s dream.  Now, with this mention of Jesus being the ‘Son of God’, he becomes even more troubled and anxious.

Although Pilate was not obligated to implement Jewish law, he was alarmed by this fresh accusation.  He is sufficiently in awe of Jesus to believe that the accusation might (in some sense) actually be true.  But his reaction is more superstitious than religious.

‘In view of the habit of referring to the Roman Emperor as divi filius it may be that Pilate feared that, after all, Jesus was claiming to be King in a political sense’ (Morris).

“Where do you come from?” – In those days, a person’s place of birth would say a lot about about their identity and status (cf. Acts 21:39).  Pilate knew that Jesus came from Galilee (Lk 23:6). It is likely, therefore, that he was not enquiring about Jesus’ earthly origin, but about his (alleged) heavenly origin. He probably understood the Jews’ complaint, v7, as meaning “He claimed to be the son of a god” – that is, a demigod in the usual Greek or Roman sense. The fact that the author of the Fourth Gospel passes over this without any effort to make theological capital out of it shows his primary concern to record the historical facts, without distorting them to his own ends.

Readers of the Fourth Gospel already know that Jesus came from heaven (Jn 3:13,31; 6:33, 38,41-42, 50-51).

‘There is a kind of superstitious curiosity about Pilate. He wished to know whence Jesus came—and it was more than Jesus’ native place that he was thinking of. When he heard that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God, he was still more disturbed. Pilate was superstitious rather than religious, fearing that there might be something in it. He was afraid to come to a decision in Jesus’ favour because of the Jews; he was equally afraid to come to a decision against him, because he had the lurking suspicion that God might be in this.’ (DSB)

Jesus gave him no answer – He had already given an account of himself to Pilate, Jn 18:33-38, only for this to prove fruitless and to lead only to a flogging.

‘It may be that the answer must be such that Pilate would never have believed it, or possibly, have understood it.’ (Morris)

‘What answer, long or brief, could Jesus have provided for the Roman prefect who is more interested in political manoeuvring than in justice, who displays superstitious fear but no remorse, who (in the next verses) still struts on the stage of human power but is enslaved by the political threats of his frenzied opponents?’ (Carson)

‘With his mind full of stories about gods who married women, and of the offspring of such unions, how can be begin to understand the relation of Jesus, Son of God, to the Father?’ (Temple)

‘Our Lord’s silence, when this appeal was made to Him by Pilate, is very striking. Up till now He had spoken freely and replied to questions; now He refused to speak any more. The reason for our Lord’s silence must be sought in the state of Pilate’s soul–he deserved no answer and therefore got none. He had forfeited his title to any further revelation about his Prisoner. He had been told plainly the nature of our Lord’s kingdom and the purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world, and been obliged to confess publicly his innocence. And yet, with all this light and knowledge, he had treated our Lord with flagrant injustice, scourged Him, allowed Him to be treated with the vilest indignities by his soldiers, and held Him up to scorn, knowing in his own mind all the time that He was a guiltless person. Pilate had, in short, sinned away his opportunities, forsaken his own mercies, and turned a deaf ear to the cries of his own conscience. Hence our Lord would have nothing more to do with him, and would tell him nothing more.’ (Ryle)

‘Here, as in many other cases, we learn that God will not force conviction on men, and will not compel obstinate unbelievers to believe, and will not always strive with men’s consciences. Most men, like Pilate, have a day of grace and an open door put before them. If they refuse to enter in and choose their own sinful way, the door is often shut and never opened again. There is such a thing as a “day of visitation” when Christ speaks to men. If they will not hear His voice and open the door of their hearts, they are often let alone, given over to a reprobate mind, and left to reap the fruit of their own sins. It was so with Pharaoh, Saul, and Ahab; and Pilate’s case was like theirs. He had his opportunity and did not choose to use it, but preferred to please the Jews at the expense of his conscience, and to do what he knew was wrong. We see the consequence. Our Lord will tell him nothing more.’ (Ryle)

‘A petition to Christ for enlightenment, even when offered up in a man’s last moments from a deathbed, never fails of being answered if offered in sincerity and from the heart, and obtains for the suppliant as much grace as is needful for salvation. But to a Pilate, Jesus is silent.’ (Besser)

19:10 So Pilate said, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?” 19:11 Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin.”

‘Pilate interprets Jesus’ silence as at best stupidity, at worse a baiting sullenness.’ (Carson)

‘”I have power…to free you” – But in his very weakness he will fail to do the right thing and exercise that power.

‘This high-minded claim to absolute power is one which ungodly great men are fond of making…Yet even when such men boast of power, they are often like Pilate, mere slaves, and afraid of resisting popular opinion.  Pilate talked of “power to release;” but he knew in his own mind that he was afraid, and so unable to exercise it.’ (Ryle)

Pilate was indeed the only one who had the power to condemn or release Jesus.  This makes his attempts to avoid making a decision ludicrous.

‘How Pilate magnified himself, and boasts of his own authority, as not inferior to that of Nebuchadnezzar, of whom it is said that whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive. Dan. 5:19. Men in power are apt to be puffed up with their power, and the more absolute and arbitrary it is the more it gratifies and humours their pride. But he magnifies his power to an exorbitant degree when he boasts that he has power to crucify one whom he had declared innocent, for no prince or potentate has authority to do wrong.’ (MHC)

‘Though Christ did not think fit to answer him when he was impertinent (then answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like him), yet he did think fit to answer him when he was imperious; then answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit, Prov. 26:4, 5.’ (MHC)

“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”– Cf. Rom 13:1.  “From above” means “from heaven” = Jn 3:3:27.

Jesus ‘was not just speaking of political power being delegated by God (in the sense of Rom 13), but rather that Pilate was just doing what was being brought about according to the will and authority of God.’ (EDBT)

‘Typical of biblical compatibilism, even the worst evil cannot escape the outer boundaries of God’s sovereignty – yet God’s sovereignty never mitigates the responsibility and guilt of moral agents who operate under divine sovereignty, while their voluntary decisions and their evil rebellion never render God utterly contingent (e.g. Gen 50:19f; Isa 5:10ff; Acts 4:27f).  Especially in writing of events that lead up to the cross, New Testament writers are bound to see the hand of God bringing all things to their dramatic purpose, no matter how vile the secondary causalities may be; for the alternatives are unthinkable.  If God merely outwits his enemies, whose evil sets both the agenda and the pace, then the mission of the Son to die for fallen sinners is reduced to a mere after-thought; if God sovereignty capsizes all human responsibility, then it is hard to see why the mission of the Son should be undertaken at all, since in that case there are no sins for the Lamb of God to take away.’ (Carson)

“The one who handed me over to you” – Caiaphas, Jn 18:28-30.  (Not Judas, who handed Jesus over to the Jews, not to Pilate).  Pilate was culpable, but Caiaphas was more so, since it was he who was ‘chief among those responsible for vigorously seeking the death of an innocent man’ (Kruse).

“Guilty of a greater sin” – ‘There are gradations in sin (Lk 12:47, 12:58). Unto whom much is given, from him much will be required!’ (Hendriksen)

‘By this it appears that all sins are not equal, but some more heinous than others; some comparatively as gnats, others as camels; some as motes in the eyes, others as beams; some as pence, others as pounds.’ (MHC)

‘That the possession of superior knowledge increases the sinfulness of a sinner’s sin, seems taught by implication in this verse. It was more sinful in the Jews, with all their knowledge of the law and the prophets, to deliver up Christ to be crucified than it was in Pilate, an ignorant heathen, to condemn Him and put Him to death.’ (Ryle)

‘The sin of the Jews was heavier than that of Pilate. Pilate was a Gentile, ignorant alike of the Messiah and His distinguishing marks; the Jews had read the prophecies about Him. Pilate could only have heard something about our Lord’s great miracles by rumor and report; they were all done under the very eyes of the Jews. Pilate injured Jesus unwillingly and from cowardice; they injured Him from hatred and envy. Finally, Pilate was only the instrument; the Jews were the impelling cause. Thus our Lord pronounces His opinion concerning His judges, an opinion according to which He will one day judge them.’ (Lampe)

‘Hengstenberg remarks that in apportioning the comparative guilt of Pilate and of the Jews, our Lord shows Himself even at this crisis the true Judge of mankind.’ (Ryle)

‘Hutcheson observes that “the greatest height of impiety is found within the visible Church,” where there is most knowledge.’ (Ryle)

‘Often as we have had occasion to notice in the History the consistency of the divine determinations with the liberty of human actions, nowhere is it more conspicuous than in this Section.  Observe how the Lord meets the threat of Pilate, when he asked him if he knew not that the power of life and death was in his hands.  “No, Pilate, it is not in thine hands, but in Hands which thine only obey; therefore is the guilty man who delivered me unto thee, the more guilty.”‘ (JFB)

Pilate is not in control, after all.  God is in control.  ‘Pilate warned Jesus that he had power to release him or to crucify him. Jesus answered that Pilate had no power at all, except what had been given him by God. The crucifixion of Jesus never, from beginning to end, reads like the story of a man caught up in an inexorable web of circumstances over which he had no control; it never reads like the story of a man who was hounded to his death; it is the story of a man whose last days were a triumphant procession towards the goal of the Cross.’ (DSB)

These were the last words spoken by Jesus during his trial.

19:12 From this point on, Pilate tried to release him. But the Jewish leaders shouted out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar!” 19:13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus outside and sat down on the judgment seat in the place called “The Stone Pavement” (Gabbatha in Aramaic). 19:14 (Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover, about noon.) Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, “Look, here is your king!”

From then on – or, ‘Because of this’ (referring to what Jesus had just said about Caiaphas being the greater sinner).

TNIV translates: ‘Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar…”’ It has been noted that ‘the TNIV inserts the word “leaders” into the text and thus arbitrarily absolves other Jews from responsibility for the death of Jesus despite the distinction between John’s specific references to leaders (Jn 18:35; 19:6,15) and more general reference to Jews (Jn 18:35; 19:12,14), and the involvement of large crowds of Jews opposing Jesus (Mark 15:8-15 and Matthew 27:15-25). See also John 7:1,11; 19:31,38; 20:19.’

The charges of sedition and blasphemy did not convince Pilate, so the Jews tried another tack.

“You are no friend of Caesar” – ‘If Pilate failed to act against one the Jewish hierarchy believed was a threat to the emperor, the suspicions of the paranoid Tiberius could easily be aroused, and Pilate would suffer for it’ (Kruse).

Pilate already had a poor reputation as governor.  Philo mentions (probably with exaggeration) ‘the briberies, the insults, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.’

‘On October 18, A.D. 31, Sejanus, Pilate’s political sponsor in Rome, fell from power, and Pilate had much to fear from any bad reports about him. But Jesus’ trial may well have taken place before A.D. 31, and the accusation of 19:12 would be a fearful one even with Sejanus in power: the emperor Tiberius was suspicious of the least talk of treason, and a delegation to Rome providing the slightest evidence that Pilate had supported a self-proclaimed king could lead to Pilate’s beheading. Philo tells us that Pilate also backed down much earlier in his career when the Jewish leaders threatened to petition the emperor against him.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

”This was a settling and clinching argument. Pilate knew well that his own government of Judea would not bear any investigation. He also knew well the cold, suspicious, cruel character of Tiberius Cæsar, the Emperor of Rome, which is specially mentioned by Tacitus and Suetonius, the Roman historians, and he might well dread the result of any appeal to him from the Jews. From this moment, all his hopes of getting rid of this anxious case and letting our Lord go away unharmed were dashed to the ground. He would rather connive at a murder to please the Jews than allow himself to be charged with neglect of Imperial interests and unfriendliness to Cæsar.’ (Ryle)

Note the irony: ‘in order to execute Jesus, the Jewish authorities make themselves out to be more loyal subjects to Caesar than the hated Roman official Pilate is.’ (Carson)

‘It is clear why Pilate acted as he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus. They said: “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” This was, in effect: “Your record is not too good; you were reported once before; if you do not give us our way, we will report you again to the Emperor, and you will be dismissed.” On that day in Jerusalem, Pilate’s past rose up and haunted him. He was blackmailed into assenting to the death of Christ, because his previous mistakes had made it impossible for him both to defy the Jews and to keep his post. Somehow one cannot help being sorry for Pilate. He wanted to do the right thing; but he had not the courage to defy the Jews and do it. He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job.’ (DSB)

‘It is hard to say which was the more wretched and contemptible sight at this point of the history–Pilate trampling on his own conscience to avoid the possible displeasure of an earthly monarch, or the Jews pretending to care for Cæsar’s interests and warning Pilate not to do anything unfriendly to him! It was a melancholy exhibition of cowardice on the one side and duplicity on the other; and the whole result was a foul murder!’ (Ryle)

‘Of all people, these Jews should not have pretended a concern for Caesar, who were themselves so ill affected to him and his government. They should not talk of being friends to Caesar, who were themselves such back friends to him; yet thus a pretended zeal for that which is good often serves to cover a real malice against that which is better.’ (MHC)

When Pilate heard this– The Jews had just played their trump card.  Pilate probably understood their words as a veiled threat – “If you release this man, we will make sure that Caesar hears about it.”

‘All they had said to prove Christ a malefactor, and that therefore it was Pilate’s duty to condemn him, did not move him, but he still kept to his conviction of Christ’s innocency; but, when they urged that it was his interest to condemn him, then he began to yield.’ (MHC)

Pilate…sat down on the judge’s seat – indicating that he was about to give his final judgement on the case.

‘The verb for to sit is kathizein, and that may be either intransitive or transitive; it may mean either to sit down oneself, or to seat another. Just possibly it means here that Pilate with one last mocking gesture brought Jesus out, clad in the terrible finery of the old purple robe and with his forehead girt with the crown of thorns and the drops of blood the thorns had wakened, and set him in the judgment seat, and with a wave of his hand said: “Am I to crucify your king?” The apocryphal Gospel of Peter says that in the mockery, they set Jesus on the seat of judgment and said: “Judge justly, King of Israel.” Justin Martyr too says that “they set Jesus on the judgment seat, and said, ‘Give judgment for us’.” It may be that Pilate jestingly caricatured Jesus as judge. If that is so, what dramatic irony is there. That which was a mockery was the truth; and one day those who had mocked Jesus as judge would meet him as judge–and would remember.’ (DSB)

The Stone Pavement – For centuries, there was no archaeological record of the court where Jesus was tried by Pilate. W.F. Albright has shown that this court was the court of the Tower of Antonia which was the Roman military headquarters in Jerusalem. It was left buried when the city was rebuilt in the time of Hadrian and not re-discovered until recently.  John’s mention of this has the hall-mark of a personal reminiscence.

The day of Preparation of Passover Week – Friday.  The day of Preparation not for the Passover itself, but for the Sabbath (which, because it was Passover Week, was a special Sabbath).

About the sixth hour – According to Mk 15:25 Jesus was crucified at ‘the third hour’.  Although it is possible that John used the Roman method of computing time (in which the day began at midnight, rather than at sunrise), Morris think it more probably that both are using the same method, but with approximations that were characteristic of the time.  In that case, the crucifixion would have taken place in the middle of the morning.

‘The place, the day, and the hour are all mentioned, for the Evangelist is conscious of the momentous nature of the even now taking place…It is the sixth hour (noon) of Preparation day; at this hour three things take place: Jews cease their work, leaven is gathered out of their houses and burned, and the slaughtering of Passover lmabs commences.’ (Beasley-Murray)

“Here is your king” – Note the bitter irony.  Pilate is taunting the Jewish leaders.  Did they accuse Jesus of claiming kingship for himself?  Well, says Pilate, look at him now – they only king you’re ever likely to get.  But for John, the kingship was real, and he wants his readers to see it that way too.

As for the reality of Jesus as king: ‘No one can read this story without seeing the sheer majesty of Jesus. There is no sense that he is on trial. When a man faces him, it is not Jesus who is on trial; it is the man. Pilate may have treated many Jewish things with arrogant contempt, but he did not so treat Jesus. We cannot help feeling that it is Jesus who is in control and Pilate who is bewildered and floundering in a situation which he cannot understand. The majesty of Jesus never shone more radiantly than in the hour when he was on trial before men.’

19:15 Then they shouted out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests replied, “We have no king except Caesar!” 19:16 Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Fickelness, or misunderstanding?

When preachers compare the response of the crowd on Palm Sunday (“Hosanna!”, Mk 11.9; Mt 21:9) to that of the crowd just a few days’ later (“Crucify him!”, Mk 15:13; Lk 23:21; Jn 19:15) they often explain this in terms of fickleness (“How quickly they changes their minds about Jesus!”).  I’ve done it myself.

But it’s not at all clear that the crowd who acclaimed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the same group of people who called for his execution.  The former were probably mainly pilgrims from Galilee, along with Jesus’ followers.  The latter were mostly from Jerusalem itself.

In any case, the responses of both crowds was based on misunderstandings of Jesus’ mission.  The crowd shouting “Hosanna!” were motivated by nationalistic fervour, whereas the people calling for Jesus’ death had been incited by those who were falsely accusing him of blasphemy.

Their common bond was not fickleness, but misunderstanding.

Based on this article by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

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“We have no king but Caesar” – It is deeply ironic that these religious leaders, having accused Jesus of blasphemy should, in effect, commit blasphemy themselves, by placing Caesar over the Lord, who is the true king of Israel (cf Isa 26:13).  And these were the same people who had scrupled over entering the governor’s palace (Jn18:28), lest they render themselves ceremonially unclean.  All of this was ‘both a travesty of the Jewish faith as well as a renunciation of Jesus, their true Messiah’ (Kruse).  Cf. Jn 1:11.

‘This retort is a fateful utterance on the part of these official representatives of the Jewis theocracy, for it represents nothing less than the rending of the sacred covenant with God.  Nothing was more fundamental to that covenant than the kingship of God, over the world in general, but in a special way over his chosen people, Israel.  It was a conviction that no invading power could weaken or eradicate, whether Persian, Ptoemaic, Syrian, Greek or Roman…Secure in that conviction, they waited patiently through the long centuries for the appearing of the Messiah to vindicate Israel’s faith and establish his rule visibly and powerful over the whole world.  But now, in a terrible moment of apostasy, that sacred tryst is violated, and the holy place is desecrated as the centuries of anticipation are cast aside…From that moment the church comes to replace Israel at the centre of God’s purposes in history, and will continue to do so to the end.’ (Milne.  This author’s articulation of ‘replacement’ would be likely to upset some Christian Zionists, but within his own meaning and context I believe that he is correct.).

‘In order to compass the death of Jesus the Jews denied every principle they had. The most astonishing thing they said that day was: “We have no king but Caesar.” Samuel’s word to the people was that God alone was their king (1 Sam 12:12). When the crown was offered to Gideon, his answer was: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you: the Lord will rule over you” (Judg 8:23). When the Romans had first come into Palestine, they had taken a census in order to arrange the normal taxation to which subject people were liable. And there had been the most bloody rebellion, because the Jews insisted that God alone was their king, and to him alone they would pay tribute. When the Jewish leader said: “We have no king but Caesar.” it was the most astonishing volte-face in history. The very statement must have taken Pilate’s breath away, and he must have looked at them in half-bewildered, half-cynical amusement. The Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus.’ (DSB)

This statement is ‘nothing less than the abandonment of the Messianic hope of Israel.’ (Beasley-Murray)

‘These memorable words inflicted indelible disgrace on the leaders of the Jews, and stamped the Jews forever as a fallen, blinded, God-forsaking, God-forsaken, and apostate nation. They, who at one time used to say “The Lord God is our King,” renounced the faith of their forefathers and publicly declared that Cæsar was their king, and not God. They stultified themselves and gave the lie to their own boasted declaration of independence of foreign powers. Had they not said themselves, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man”? (John 8:33.) Had they not tried to entrap our Lord into saying something in favor of Cæsar, that they might damage His reputation? “Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar?” (Matt. 20:17.) And now, indeed, they shout out, “We have no king but Cæsar!” Above all they madly proclaimed to the world, though they knew it not, that “the sceptre had departed from Judah” and that Messiah must have come. (Gen. 49:10.) Truly the sceptre had departed when chief priests could say “We have no king but Cæsar.”‘ (Ryle)

‘Writing as a Jew for other Jews, [John] is concerned from beginning to end to present the condemnation of Jesus, the true king of Israel, as the great betrayal of the nation by its own leadership’. (Robinson)

The Crucifixion

So they took Jesus, 19:17 and carrying his own cross he went out to the place called “The Place of the Skull” (called in Aramaic Golgotha). 19:18 There they crucified him along with two others, one on each side, with Jesus in the middle.

Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified – Not that they themselves would carry out the crucifixion, but in the sense that he is granting them their demand (Lk 23:24).

‘(i) Pilate began by trying to put the responsibility on to someone else. He said to the Jews: “You take this man and judge him according to your laws.” He tried to evade the responsibility of dealing with Jesus; but that is precisely what no one can do. No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.

(ii) Pilate went on to try to find a way of escape from the entanglement in which he found himself. He tried to use the custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover in order to engineer the release of Jesus. He tried to evade dealing directly with Jesus himself; but again that is precisely what no one can do. There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide what we will do with him, accept him or reject him.

(iii) Pilate went on to see what compromise could do. He ordered Jesus to be scourged. It must have been in Pilate’s mind that a scourging might satisfy, or at least blunt the edge of, Jewish hostility. He felt that he might avoid having to give the verdict of the cross by giving the verdict of scourging. Once again, that is what no man can do. No man can compromise with Jesus; no man can serve two masters. We are either for Jesus or against him.

(iv) Pilate went on to try what appeal could do. He led Jesus out broken by the scourging and showed him to the people. He asked them: “Shall I crucify your king?” He tried to swing the balance by this appeal to emotion and to pity. But no man can hope that appeal to others can take the place of his own personal decision; and it was Pilate’s place to make his own decision. No man can evade a personal verdict and a personal decision in regard to Jesus Christ.

In the end Pilate admitted defeat. He abandoned Jesus to the mob, because he had not the courage to take the right decision and to do the right thing.’ (DSB)

‘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).’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)

Carrying his own cross – That is, the horizontal bar of the cross.  The upright beam would already have been fastened into the ground at the place of execution.

He carried it as far as the gate to the city, where Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry it, Mt 27:32; Mk 15:21; Lk 23:26.

In contrast with the weakness and frustration of Pilate, John presents Jesus as strong and in control of events.  He mentions the part of the journey during which Jesus did carry his own cross (Simon of Cyrene being unmentioned).  He is the central figure in the drama – little is said of those who were crucified with him, apart from the fact that they were crucified on either side of him, v18.

The place of the Skill – Gk. kranion.  Note once again John’s local knowledge.

The site is marked today by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Crucified – As with the flogging, so with the execution itself – a single word is used for the horror.  Contrary to some popular piety, the Gospels do not dwell on the physical sufferings of Jesus.

‘Several stakes, at most about ten feet high, stood in Golgotha ready to be reused whenever executions occurred. On the top of the stake or slightly below the top was a groove into which the horizontal beam of the cross would be inserted after the prisoner had been fastened to it with ropes or nails.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

With two others – They are described as robbers or criminals in Mt 27:38; Mk 15:27; Lk 23:32.  To be crucified with common criminals was, perhaps, the final indignity.  But John also wants to stress how completely Jesus identified with sinners, cf. Isa 53:12.

19:19 Pilate also had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” 19:20 Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 19:21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’ ” 19:22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross – Such a notice would normally be used to list the crimes of which the condemned criminal was guilty.

Pilate continues to bait the chief priests, even after he has consented to Jesus’ crucifixion.  ‘He is determined to humiliate those who have humiliated him.’ (Carson).  As Wright (The Day the Revolution Began) comments, Pilate intended to send out the message, “This is what we think of your kind.”

Yet, at the deepest level, Pilate’s action here serves the purpose of God, just as Caiaphas’ did (Jn 11:49-52).  Unintentionally, he is proclaiming the kingship of Jesus to the whole world.  ‘Thus did Pilate Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King‘ (Hoskyns, alluding to Psa 96:10).

The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city – Golgotha was outside the walls of 1st-century Jerusalem, although it is within today’s city walls.

Aramaic, Latin and Greek – The medieval argument, based on this inscription, that these three languages were the only ones suitable for public worship is, of course, absurd.

‘Each of the languages has a significance of its own.  Aramaic was the language of the country, Latin the official language, and Greek the common language of communication throughout the Roman world.  This will surely symbolize the universality of Jesus’ kingship.’ (Morris)  ‘Pilate announced that Jesus was not only king of the Jews but a universal king, a king for all people.’ (Tidball)

Pilate continues his mockery of the Jewish leaders until the end.  But John wants us to understand that there is something absolute and unchangeable about Jesus’ kingship.

19:23 Now when the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and made four shares, one for each soldier, and the tunic remained. (Now the tunic was seamless, woven from top to bottom as a single piece.) 19:24 So the soldiers said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but throw dice to see who will get it.” This took place to fulfill the scripture that says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they threw dice.” So the soldiers did these things.

Kruse comments that the soldiers are, in taking the clothes of a condemned man, following an ancient custom.

The scripture – Psa 22:18.  Jesus’ cry of dereliction was also drawn from that Psalm, cf. Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34.

John refers to the fulfilment of Scripture more and more as he approaches the passion.  If all aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry are within the Father’s plan and purpose, then this is especially true of his death.

This is what the soldiers did – leaving Jesus naked, and adding further to his humiliation.

19:25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 19:26 So when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, look, here is your son!” 19:27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home.

Carson says that the Gk syntax suggests a contrast between the barbaric and unfeeling behaviour of the soldiers and the quiet and patient devotion of these women.

‘In the light of Mt 27:55 and Lk 8:2f it is not impossible that these women had provided the very clothes over which the soldiers gambled.’ (Morris)

All the Gospels refer to the women who stood near the cross, Mt 27:55f; Mk 15:40f; Lk 23:49.  But only John specifically mentions Jesus’ mother.

His mother’s sister – Probably Salome, Mk 15:40, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, Mt 27:56.  She was, therefore, John’s mother.  The fact that she is not names is consistent with John’s practice in this Gospel: he never mentions himself, his brother, or any other member of his family.

Mary the wife of Clopas – The original has ‘Mary of Clopas’ – she could have been either his wife or his daughter.

This scene demonstrates once again not only Jesus’ compassion (cf Jn 18:8), but also his self-composure and control of the situation.

“Dear woman” – lit. ‘woman’, but there is an affectionate tone that invites the adjective.  On the other hand, here as elsewhere Jesus does not address her as ‘mother’, probably because he was so aware of being about his Father’s business.

“Here is your son” – ‘Behold, my beloved disciple shall be to you a son, and provide for you, and discharge toward you the duties of an affectionate child. Mary was poor. It would even seem that now she had no home. Jesus, in his dying moments, filled with tender regard for his mother, secured for her an adopted son, obtained for her a home, and consoled her grief by the prospect of attention from him who was the most beloved of all the apostles. What an example of filial attention! What a model to all children! And how lovely appears the dying Saviour, thus remembering his afflicted mother, and making her welfare one of his last cares on the cross, and even when making atonement for the sins of the world!’ (Barnes)

This disciple was probably chosen because he was a close relative. From John 19:25, where the third woman at the cross is called the sister of Jesus’ mother, and Matthew 27:56, where she is called the mother of the sons of Zebedee, we infer that John was the son of Mary’s sister.  He was probably chosen because he, like her (Jn 7:2-5), was a believer in Jesus, whereas Jesus brothers did not yet believe in him (and, in any case, they were probably not in Jerusalem at the time – their home was in Capernaum).

‘When Jesus saw his mother, he could not but think of the days ahead. He could not commit her to the care of his brothers, for they did not believe in him yet (Jn 7:5). And, after all, John had a double qualification for the service Jesus entrusted to him—he was Jesus’ cousin, being Salome’s son, and he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. So Jesus committed Mary to John’s care and John to Mary’s, so that they should comfort each other’s loneliness when he was gone.’ (DSB)

“Here is your mother” – Some, especially Roman Catholics, hold that in Jesus’ word to John from the cross he commissioned Mary as the ‘mother’ of all disciples, or of all Christians. Brown even sees the present verse as virtually the climax of Jesus’ ministry, given that in the next verse we are told that Jesus now knew that all things had been completed.  But all of this is reading far more into this verse than it can possibly bear.

‘Some see in Jesus’ words to the beloved disciple “Here is your mother” the elevation of Mary as the mother of all disciples, but this goes well beyond the intention of the evangelist, and ignores the significance of the evangelist’s final words, “From that time on, this disciple took her into his home,” which suggest that Jesus’ mother was placed in the disciple’s care and not vice versa.’ (Kruse)

This disciple took her home – Tradition says that they came to live in Ephesus, and the traditional sites of the tombs of both John and Mary are there.

‘Jesus makes an oral testament in front of witnesses, which makes it binding, and formally places his mother under his disciple’s protection, providing for her after his death. Dying fathers could exhort sons to take care of surviving mothers (which they normally would do); for a disciple to be accorded a role in his teacher’s family was a great honor to the disciple (disciples sometimes called their teachers “father”).’ (IVP Background Commentary)

Jesus’ Death

19:28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!” 19:29 A jar full of sour wine was there, so they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a branch of hyssop and lifted it to his mouth. 19:30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Knowing that all was now completed – cf. Jn 4:34; 5:36; 17:4.  See especially v30, where the same word (τετέλεσται) is used.

The Scripture – This might be a reference back ‘knowing that all was now completed’, or to Jesus’ expression of thirst (if the latter, cf. Psa 22:15, or perhaps Psa 69:21).  Again, John would have us understanding that all this was happening in accordance with the divine plan.

A jar of wine vinegar – cheap wine.  It may have been provided for the soldiers, although the mention of a sponge and a hyssop stalk suggest that it was intended also for the crucified.  It was probably one of the soldiers who gave it to Jesus; this was a kind gesture, and it may have been the same soldier who later acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, Mk 15:39.

What was finished?

Following Milne (BST), we may say that what was ‘finished’ at the cross was at least these:-

1. He completed the work that his Father had given him to do.  Time and again in the gospel we see conscious Jesus was of his oneness with the Father (“I and the Father are one”).  And yet, at the same time, he had a great sense of obligation to the Father  (“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work”, Jn 4:34)’.  He obedience to the Father’s will was completed at the cross.  It was for this reason that the Father had willingly sent him, and the Son had willingly come.

2. He completed his relevation of his Father’s heart.  This revelation is asserted as early as Jn 1:18.  Then, his recommitment to finishing the work that his Father had given him to do is immediately followed by an affirmation that, ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me’ (Jn 17:4, 6). This echoes 1:18: ‘no-one has ever seen God … the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’  Nowhere is the heart of the Father revealed more fully than at the cross.  This heart is revealed to be holy, for nothing less than the blood of his own son could atone for human sin.  The Father’s heart is revealed to be loving, for the Father was willing to give, and to give up, his beloved Son in order to deliver us from the consequences of our own wrong-doing.

3. He completed his work of redemption. It is not accident that the crucifixion took place at the time of the Passover sacrifice.  For in that ritual, everyone who applied the blood of the sacrificed lamb to their own houses escaped judgement and received liberation from bondage.  ‘So Jesus comes, as God’s own Lamb, without blemish or broken bone (33) in the perfection of his obedience, and there at Calvary, in the presence of the hyssop plant (29), he offers freely the one ‘full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the world’. As he cries, ‘It is finished,’ and gives himself up for death, the knife falls, and all the sacrifices of the ages are gathered up and rendered obsolete for ever. Because he has died, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, for all who have come and trusted in the virtue of that sacrifice there is ‘no longer any sacrifice for sin’ (Heb. 10:18).’

“It is finished” – One word in the Gk. – tetelestai.  “It is accomplished!”  See v28, and the comment there.  See also Jn 17:4, where Jesus refers to completing/accomplishing (teleiosas) his work.  John does not indicate the tone of voice in which this was uttered, but the other Evangelists tell us that Jesus uttered a loud cry just before his death, Mt 27:50; Mk 15:37; Lk 23:46.  ‘This expression is almost certainly a shout of victory.’ (EBC)

‘This is not the moan of the defeated, nor the sigh of patient resignation.  It is the triumphant recognition that he has now fully accomplished the work that he came to do.’ (Morris)

‘The Father’s will had been obeyed to the last detail.  The Father’s love had been revealed in its ultimate form.  The Father’s grace had been released in the most convincing manner.  The Father’s forgiveness had been purchased with the costliest payment.  The Father’s glory had been displayed in the least expected way.  The Father’s enemies had been definitively defeated.’ (Tidball)

‘He had finished the work he came to do.  He had given his flesh for the life of the world, Jn 6:51, as the good shepherd he had laid down his life for the sheep, Jn 10:11,14, he became the one man who died for the nation, Jn 11:50, he was the seed that had fallen to the ground, and would now produce many seeds, Jn 12:24, and he had shown the love greater than any other – he had laid down his life for his friends, Jn 15:13’ (Kruse)

‘Surely it is not an exaggeration to think that is the key word of the Fourth Gospel.’ (Corell)

‘The story begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Jesus had already seen the sun set for the last time. Within about fifteen hours his limbs would be stretched out on the cross. Within twenty-four hours he would be both dead and buried. And he knew it. Yet the extraordinary thing is that he was thinking of his mission as still future, not past. He was a comparatively young man, almost certainly between thirty and thirty-five years of age. He had lived barely half the allotted span of human life. He was still at the height of his powers. At this age most people have their best years ahead of them. Muhammad lived until he was sixty, Socrates until he was seventy, and Plato and the Buddha were over eighty when they died. If death threatens to cut a person’s life short, a sense of frustration plunges him or her into gloom. But not Jesus, for this simple”] reason: he did not regard the death he was about to die as bringing his mission to an untimely end, but as actually necessary to accomplish it. It was only seconds before he died (and not till that moment) that he would be able to shout, “Finished!” So then, although it was his last evening, and although he had but a few more hours to live, Jesus was not looking back at a mission he had completed, still less that had failed; he was still looking forward to a mission which he was about to fulfil. The mission of a life-time of thirty to thirty-five years was to be accomplished in its last twenty-four hours, indeed, its last six.’ (John Stott)

‘Michelangelo was a genius. He excelled as a sculptor, designer, painter, and architect. His statues of Moses and David, to name but a few, and widely recognised and appreciated. What many people do not know is that in Florence, Italy, an entire hall is filled with his “unfinished” scuptural works. As great as this artist was, he left much unfinished. Jesus Christ left no unfinished works.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 422) See Jn 17:4.

Greek word tetelestai, which in our version of the Scripture is translated, “It is finished.” Archaeologists have repeatedly found its Latin equivalent, consummatum est, scrawled across tax receipts used in those days, indicating it also meant “paid,” A renowned Presbyterian professor has conjectured that many standing near the cross probably interpreted the Savior’s words as having that connotation. With sin’s account settled, our debt of guilt was indeed wiped out!

The three English words represent a single word in the Gk. It has been called the greatest word ever uttered. For it meant, (a) suffering was ended; (b) shadows became substance; (c) the Father’s will was fulfilled; (d) Satan was defeated; (e) redemption was accomplished. (J.O. Sanders)

Stott (The Cross of Christ) writes: We note the achievement Jesus claimed just before he died.  It is not men who have finished their brutal deed; it is he who has accomplished what he came into the world to do.  He has borne the sins of the world.  Deliberately, freely and in perfect love he has endured the judgement in our place.  He had procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins.  At once the curtain of the Temple, which for centuries had symbolised the alienation of sinners from God, was torn from top to bottom, in order to demonstrate that the sin-barrier had been thrown down by God, and the way into his presence opened.’

He bowed his head – Only mentioned by John, and possibly an eyewitness detail.  The same expression is used in Mt 8:20/Lk 9:59.  He found no resting place in his earthly life, but now in his death he rests in his Father.

Gave up his spirit – An unusual way of referring to the moment of death.  It is consistent with the thought that he laid down his life voluntarily, rather than was killed.

19:31 Then, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not stay on the crosses on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was an especially important one), the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to have the victims’ legs broken and the bodies taken down.

The next day was to be a special Sabbath – because it fell in Passover week.

The Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath – which would have contravened Deut 21:22f.

Carson tells us that normal Roman practice was to leave the individual on the cross until they died (and this could take several days), and then leave the rotting body there to be devoured by vultures.  If there was a reason to hasten death, then the victim’s legs would be smashed with a metal mallet, as happened here, in response to the request of the Jews.

They asked Pilate to have the legs broken – The victims would not be able to support their weight with their arms for very long, and so would quickly die from asphyxiation.

‘The irony was the “the Jews”, rightly seeking to ensure no desecration of the land, were at the same time desecrating themselves by pursuing to death an innocent man, their true Messiah’ (Kruse)

19:32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other. 19:33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. 19:35 And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe. 19:36 For these things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled, “Not a bone of his will be broken.” 19:37 And again another scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear – presumably, to make sure he was dead.

A sudden flow of blood and water – John may be mentioning this detail because of the heresy of Docetism, which denied Jesus’ physical nature. He wants to remind his readers that the Word did indeed become flesh.  See 1 Jn 4:2; 5:6-8.

Physiologically, this flow of blood and water may have come from the heart (blood) and the pericardial sac (water-like fluid), or from the pleural cavity (with haemorrhagic fluid separating into clear serum and red fluid.  At any rate, these symptoms could only occur post-mortem, and thus assure us that Jesus was already dead

Some have seen in this flow of blood and water the two sacraments – the Lord’s Supper (blood) and baptism (water).  But this is scarcely plausible.  It is much more likely that John’s motive for mentioning this was to assure his readers that Jesus really did die.  If there is further symbolic, meaning in this event, then it may be that the blood suggests sacrificial atonement (cf. Jn 6:53f; 1 Jn 1:7) and the water symbolises cleansing (Jn 3:5):-

Rock of Age, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.


We presume that this witness is the beloved disciple, the author of the Fourth Gospel.  ‘It would not be unnatural for an author, who had carefully concealed his identity, to use the third person pronoun when referring to his personal knowledge of the event.’ (NBC)

“Not one of his bones will be broken” – This links the death of Jesus with the Passover sacrifice, Ex 12:46; Num 9:12.

v37 This quotation is from Zech 12:10.  This prophecy is also quoted in Mt 24:30 in connection with the parousia.  Carson suggests that the argument in that passage is a fortiori: ‘Just as the Jews in Zechariah 12 wept in contrition and repentance when they saw the one whom they pierced, how much more will the nations of the earth mourn at the parousia when they see the exalted and returning Christ coming in glory, the Christ whose followers they have been persecuting, the Christ whom they pierced since it was their sins that sent him to the cross?’

John’s readers may well have connected this quotation with Zechariah’s reference to God’s promised shepherd, and with Jesus’ description of himself as ‘the good shepherd’, Jn 10:11, and also with Zech 13:1 – ‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.’

Once again, the fact that these events were foreshadowed in Scripture indicates that the occurred in accordance with God’s plan, and were not merely some terrible miscarriage of justice.

Jesus’ Burial

19:38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away.

Roman custom was for the bodies of executed criminals to be left to be devoured by cultures, rather than buried.  Jewish custom was to bury criminals in common graves.  But the burial of Jesus followed neither custom.

‘Burying the dead was a crucial and pious duty in Judaism, and an important act of love; being unburied was too horrible to be permitted even for criminals. To accomplish his task before sundown and the advent of the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea has to hurry.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

‘The Jews of that day regarded proper burial of their dead as most important.  Many went out of their way to see that fellow-countrymen received proper burial, and this may have had something to do with Joseph’s action.’ (Morris)

Joseph of Arimathea – a rich man, Mt 27:57; a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, and one ‘who was waiting for the kingdom of God, Mk 15:43.  John adds here that he was a secret disciple; but his action here is likely to have become know to the other members of the Sanhedrin, and he would thereafter bear the reproach of a disciple of Christ.

With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away – Pilate may have given his permission because he remained convinced that Jesus was innocent, or as a final insult to the Jewish leaders.

19:39 Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. 19:40 Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs.

Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin, and a secret disciple, Jn 3:1; 7:50f; 12:42.  Now, like Joseph, he makes his discipleship public.  He steps out of the darkness into the light (Carson).

‘As the Fourth Gospel unfolds…we see Nicodemus, an influential teacher of Israel, moving gradually but surely from inquiry through tentative support to public confession of faith in Jesus.  He functions as another example of the sort of belief that the evangelist hoped his Gospel would evoke in readers’ (Kruse).

‘Even in his burial we see details that remind us of royalty.  Nicodemus buried him, like a king, in a new tomb in a garden, v41.  He embalmed his body with a huge amount of spices, 34 kg of myrrh and aloes.  This was treatment fit for a king.  The signs of sovereignty did not desert him even in his grave.’ (Tidball)

A mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds – This was a very large amount of these perfumes, a quantity fit for the burial of royalty.  In recording this detail, John may be alluding once again to Jesus’ divine kingship.

‘It is not without its interest that, whereas the disciples who had openly followed Jesus ran away at the end, the effect of the death of Jesus on these two secret disciples was exactly the opposite.’ (Morris)

Unlike Egyptian embalming, the Jewish method of burial did not involve mutilating the body.

Strips of linen – It is not quite clear, from the original, whether this is one piece, or several pieces, of linen.  As Beasley-Murray comments, the matter is of concern to those attempting to establish the genuineness of the Turin shroud, but to few others.

19:41 Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. 19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there.

A garden – This prepares us for Jn 20:15.

A new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid – This fact prepares us for the account of the resurrection, when just one body disappeared, and just one body could have been raised.

They laid Jesus there– ‘This would have been only a preliminary burial even had the sabbath not approached, to be completed a year later, after the flesh had rotted off the bones.’ (IVP Background Commentary)

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