Gospel of John 19:16b-47
So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 So 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.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” ESV
John may differ from the Synoptics about who carried the cross. The three Synoptics have Simon of Cyrene forced to carry the cross most of the way. But all four Gospels have Jesus starting with the cross. It could be that John chose not to include Simon because he had nothing to add to the other accounts.
John alone adds which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There is a problem with the ESV use of Aramaic. The Greek word used is Hebraisti. Even in Greek, it looks like Hebrew, and it is. I did not do an exhaustive search, but most translations chose Hebrew. ESV placed a note on the word Aramaic, referring to John 5:2; Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda. The same Greek word is used, Hebraisti, and it is used again in verse 20. Strong’s Dictionary lists three other Greek words that could have been used and translated as Aramaic. Hebraisti is the only one that does not mention the Aramaic option.
All four Gospels place Jesus on the cross, centered between two others. Matthew and Mark label them as robbers, and Luke has them as criminals, but John leaves their crimes in doubt.
We have no idea how long the two robbers had been on their crosses when they brought Jesus to his. They had likely been there since early morning. The Jewish leaders insisted that no one be left on the cross overnight. We do not know if the two were nailed or tied to their crosses. Nailing would result in quicker deaths.
Jesus was nailed to the cross to make sure he died that day. He had a nail driven into each wrist and one long nail driven through his crossed feet. The nail on the feet causes excruciating pain when he tries to push his body upright. The nails on the wrists cause agonizing pain when he slumps down. The nails push against the median nerve before the nerve runs through the carpal tunnel. Slumping causes wrist pain and puts stress on the chest, making it hard to breathe. In addition, fluids quickly build up around the lungs and heart until they cease to function. That is most likely the cause of Jesus’ death.
Matthew records the plaque as reading, This is Jesus the King of the Jews. Mark and Luke have the short version, The King of the Jews.
Verses 20-24 have no parallel in the Synoptics. I have a feeling in verse 22 that Pilate had had more than enough appeasing of the Jewish leaders.
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.) 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. NET
The cross is a sacred symbol of Christianity, yet the Gospels have very little to say about the actual crucifixion. It was not necessary in the first century because nearly everyone had to witness many executions. Today, we can learn the details from other sources. Just know that Jesus experienced suffering for only a few hours. The Romans always agreed to have the bodies removed before Shabbot. More on that later.
All Christian art shows Jesus wearing ‘undies’ while on the cross. That may have been true because the Jews may have insisted that no naked men be hung up. Nowhere else in the empire would that have been the case, and we do not know if it was in Palestine.
Four soldiers generally handled crucifixions and they were allowed to keep whatever property was on the prisoners at the crosses. They mostly sold whatever they received.
The seamless tunic is worth a note because it was in the first century that weaving looms were made large enough to weave a one-piece tunic. The industrial age in its infancy. The few weavers who could afford the new looms charged so much that only the well-to-do could own one. Yet another indication that Jesus had supporters with money. It seems less likely that Jesus would have purchased it for himself.
Psalm 22:18; They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. ESV The Psalm opens with; My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ESV Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 have Jesus quoting that exact line in their crucifixion stories. Psalms 22, 23, and 24 make a triptych for Christians by describing three stages of the Son of God.
25 Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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!” 27 He then said to his disciple, “Look, here is your mother!” From that very time the disciple took her into his own home. NET
While women do not dominate, they play important roles in John’s Gospel. We see here that these four women stayed as close to Jesus as the guards would allow. Of the men, only John was willing to risk his life. We will read of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the resurrected Jesus.
Clopas is mentioned here as the husband of Mary. Luke 24:18 mentions Cleopas as one of the two men who meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
As the oldest male of the family, Jesus was responsible for making sure his mother was safe and cared for. Now that death is upon him, he hands her to John, who willingly takes on the duty. This was no small thing at that time.
Nothing is said of Jesus’ brothers. Typically, the next eldest, presumably James, would take care of her. I suspect that Jesus knew even then that James would be very busy becoming the Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. Having John take on the responsibility supports the Roman Catholic position that James and the boys were not brothers but cousins. I disagree, but it does help their argument.
We have no idea how long Mary lived. As a guess, she was fourteen when Jesus was born, so she would have been about 45 as she stood at the foot of the cross. Half of the people born the same year as Mary—say 20 BCE—were already dead.
28 After this Jesus, realizing that by this time everything was completed, said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty!” 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. 30 When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. NET
For this section, I will quote freely from the NET notes.
In order to fulfill the scripture. There is a wordplay here that we lose in the translation. There is one Greek word—teleiotes—that translates everything was completed, while—teleioo—translates to fulfill. Both words come from the same root word, and they both mean much the same thing.
Psalm 69:21 reads, They put bitter poison into my food, and to quench my thirst they give me vinegar to drink. NET This is the scripture that John seems to refer to. Psalm 22:15 adds another image to the thirst. The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery; my tongue sticks to my gums. You set me in the dust of death. NET While this quote does not fit as well as 69:21, it has the advantage of including the above quoted passage: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ESV
NET adds this: In light of the connection in the Fourth Gospel between thirst, and the living water which Jesus offers, it is highly ironic that here Jesus himself, the source of that living water, expresses his thirst. And since 7:39 associates the living water with the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ statement here in 19:28 amounts to an admission that at this point he has been forsaken by God.
For God to forsake (abandon) the Son of God is a difficult concept for many to accept. How can God abandon God? The answer is that Jesus is also the Son of Man. We cannot understand that paradox—being both human and God, but that is the reality. From the day of his conception to the day of his arrest, Jesus was connected to God in a way none of us can experience. God supported him day and night. Suddenly now, Jesus, as a human, can no longer hear the Word of God; can no longer feel his presence. He must die as we die, alone.
William Barclay writes; It was the blood of the Passover lamb which saved the people of God; it was the blood of Jesus which was to save the world from sin. The very mention of hyssop would take the thoughts of any Jew back to the saving blood of the Passover lamb; and this is John’s way of saying that Jesus was the great Passover Lamb of God whose death was to save the whole world from sin.
Jesus did his duty. As we read these verses, we see Jesus asking for a drink, and after receiving it, he declares the last passage of scripture is fulfilled.
Jesus did not just die, he gave up his spirit. As Merrill C. Tenney points out, It implies voluntary action, not deprivation. The fact that Jesus laid down His life of His own choice goes far toward explaining the remarkable character of His death.
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. ESV
There are several important points packed into this paragraph. The day of Preparation tells us it was the day the lambs were sacrificed. Passover begins at sundown as the families and groups recline around the tables to eat the Passover meal. That is the simple description, but I will leave the details for another time.
Calling the Sabbath a high day tells us that Passover occurred on the seventh day of the week—our Saturday. Jesus was executed on Friday and buried before sundown. The Synoptics agree that the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was on Thursday, and the arrest and execution of Jesus occurred on Friday. So all four Gospels agree the crucifixion occurred on Friday, but the Synoptics have Passover on Friday, and John places it on Saturday. That difference has puzzled commentators for centuries, and we are no closer to having an answer today.
The Synoptics include more detail about the crucifixion, suggesting they may be more accurate. More likely, John considered their work acceptable for the most part; he added a few incidents that he believed would complete the story.
John alone records the breaking of legs. The guards needed to force the men to hang on their arms until their hearts stopped so as not to violate the Jewish overnight rule. With their legs broken, the men could not hold themselves up, so their hearts and lungs would fill with fluids. There was no need to break the legs of Jesus because he had already died. But, it is not that trivial. John went out of the way to record Jesus being the sacrificial Passover Lamb on the same day the individual lambs were sacrificed. Exodus 12:46—repeated by Numbers 9:12—It must be eaten in one house; you must not bring any of the meat outside the house, and you must not break a bone of it. NET
34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” ESV
Verse 35 suggests several possibilities. I subscribe to the theory that John is still describing himself in the third person. He could have just as well said, I saw this and I say it is true so that you might believe.
It could be that someone else has been telling followers for decades about what he saw, and John is referring to that well-known person.
It might even be the testimony of the soldier who used the lance.
Verse 37 comes from Zechariah 12. 10 And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
William Barclay writes; But, even so, why does John stress it so much? … To John it was the final, unanswerable proof that Jesus was a real man with a real body. Here was the answer to the gnostics with their ideas of phantoms and spirits and an unreal manhood. Here was the proof that Jesus was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
Barclay continues: But to John this was more than a proof of the manhood of Jesus. It was a symbol of the two great sacraments of the Church. There is one sacrament which is based on water—the sacrament of baptism; and there is one sacrament which is based on blood—the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with its cup of scarlet, blood-red wine.
John is still presenting testimonies, here in the form of scripture quotes. At every step of the arrest, trial, execution, and death, Jesus has been in charge. Every step fits the promised Messiah.
38 After it was all over, Joseph (who came from Arimathaea and was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly for fear of the Jews) requested Pilate that he might take away Jesus’ body, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took his body down. Phillips
39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. ESV
41 In the place where he was crucified, there was a garden containing a new tomb in which nobody had yet been laid. 42 Because it was the preparation day and because the tomb was conveniently near, they laid Jesus in this tomb. Phillips
We need to learn what we can about Joseph. According to John, Joseph was a disciple of Jesus. John would certainly have known that well before the crucifixion.
However, there is a well-developed notion in the first and second centuries that Joseph was an enemy of Jesus and that Joseph and Nicodemus did the bidding of Caiaphas.
Acts 13:27-29 seems to fit that position. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. 28 And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. ESV Several later sources have Jesus buried by his enemies.
However, Matthew 27:57 reads: When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. ESV
Mark 15:43. Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. ESV
Luke 23:50-51. Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. ESV
There is one more quote, from Isaiah 53:9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. ESV
The scriptures seem to agree with John.
How difficult would it have been for Joseph to make that request of Pilate? Most of Jesus’ disciples were in hiding, yet this highly placed Jewish leader—possibly a member of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin—asked for the body of a criminal. And why would Pilate agree to let him do it? Most executed criminals were dumped into unmarked graves well away from the city. Would Joseph have worried that word would get back to Caiaphas?
We also see our old friend, Nicodemus. We first met him—at night—in chapter three. We see him again briefly in John 7. 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed. 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them [the leaders], said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” ESV
The Synoptics all record Joseph as asking to bury Jesus, but none of them mention Nicodemus. It may be that Nicodemus never publicly committed himself to being a follower or was not sure he wanted to be a follower. Notice that John still does not call him a disciple.
But by the time John was writing, Nicodemus was long dead, so John included his part in the burial—as a guess.
Verse 39 in Greek gives the weight of spices as one hundred pounds, which Phillips failed to calculate to the English pound. The Greek cites the Roman pound, about twelve ounces modern, or seventy-five English pounds total.
But verses 38-39 present a couple of problems: can one man—an older man—handle a dead body by himself, and can one older man carry seventy-five pounds of anything through the busy city streets? The Roman guards would have been busy getting rid of the other two bodies, but one may have helped Joseph get Jesus off the cross. I doubt he would have done any more than that. The picture now is two older men carrying a dead body between them while one also carries seventy-five pounds of spices.
Solution? Both these men would have had servants and would have used them. That gets us into the next issue. Touching a dead body would make the men unclean—as in a week of ritual cleansing unclean. Here is a job for the servants again.
John does read they, so we assume John meant Joseph and Nicodemus. However, the Greek does not use a word to translate as they. Our English translations insert the pronouns to fit how we write and read. Otherwise, we would read, So came and took body down. So took the body of Jesus…
In that culture, there was no need for John to write; Joseph had his two servants take Jesus from the cross, and Nicodemus had his two servants carry the spices. Nor would anyone in the first few centuries have believed that two high-ranking officials would have done that kind of physical work themselves.
In verse 40, we see Jesus wrapped in linen with the spices next to his body. The Synoptics all record Joseph alone wrapping Jesus in linen, with no mention of spices. John even adds that they followed the burial custom of the Jews. That is significant, for later, there would be no reason for the women to finish the burial as the Synoptics have it.
The Synoptics write that Jesus was placed in a rock-hewn tomb. Matthew alone adds that the grave was intended for Joseph.
For John, the tomb was close and unused. It is worth noting that all four agree that Jesus lay in a brand new tomb. The Son of Man did not have to share a grave.
Be Righteous and do Good