Teaching series from John

Jesus' Crucifixion

John 19:16-42

Teaching t22495


Reminder that John writes as an eye-witness. He is emphatic that he witnessed Jesus’ death (read 19:35a), which we will cover today.

Read 19:17,18. Note the reserve with which John describes the act of crucifixion. His audience was well aware how terrible it was, though modern people were ignorant of this until “The Passion of the Christ” informed them.

It was so gruesome that the idea that anyone would voluntarily endure it was inconceivable. Seneca, a Roman philosopher-statesman who was a contemporary of Jesus, asked this rhetorical question: “Can any man be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man be found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly wheals on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long, drawn-out agony?”

It was also inconceivable to Jewish people that any crucifixion victim could be the Savior of the world. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be a ruling, reigning King. And the Law of Moses declared that anyone who was executed by being hung from a tree/pole was under God’s curse (Deut.23:21). So the Jewish leaders insisted: “If Jesus is the Messiah, He cannot be crucified; if Jesus is crucified, He cannot be the Messiah.”

But Jesus insisted that they did not properly understand God’s plan. He told His disciples over and over again: “I am the Messiah, and My crucifixion is God’s plan” (Matt.16:21). This is what John emphasizes in his description of Jesus’ crucifixion...

Pilate’s written notice

Read 19:19. This was a common Roman practice with capital criminals. On a board whitened with gypsum would be written the crime(s) for which the person was being crucified. This was one of the ways the Romans used crucifixion as a public deterrent.

Read 19:20-23. The Jewish leaders protest because Pilate’s notice states that Jesus is the King of the Jews—the very thing they were determined to disprove to the Jewish people. But Pilate refuses their request to change the wording. Why did Pilate refuse? We don’t know—maybe just to irk them and assert his own power. So Pilate had his purposes for doing this—but God also had His purposes. The point is that the wording of the notice ironically announces to the whole world (3 languages) that Jesus the crucifixion victim is the King (“Christ crucified”)!

Soldiers’ gambling for Jesus’ clothes

Read 23,24a. This also was common practice for the soldiers who executed prisoners. This was rough duty, so one compensation was the clothing of the condemned. (This also shows that Jesus was crucified naked.) The four soldiers each took one of Jesus’ garments, but it didn’t make any sense to cut up His seamless robe, so they gambled for it while He hung from the cross.

So the soldiers had their reason for doing this, but John says they were unknowingly fulfilling God’s plan (read 19:24b NIV). This is a quotation from Ps.22:18 (read)—which is part of a detailed description of someone being crucified (read 22:14-18). What’s amazing is that this Psalm was written several centuries before crucifixion was invented! What’s even more amazing is that (although David wrote it in the first-person) this Psalm can’t be about David, because he never went through anything like this. It is a prophetic Psalm about someone who will ultimately be rescued by God and honored in future generations for what He did (read 22:24,30,31)—namely the Messiah. So John is saying again: “Jesus’ crucifixion, far from refuting His claim to be the Messiah, demonstrates that He is the Messiah.”

Jesus’ commission to John

Read 19:25-27. Notice the contrast between the four soldiers, who are totally callous about Jesus, and these four women who care so deeply about Him. John also tells us that he was there with them, and that Jesus commissioned John to care for His (already widowed) mother, and that John obeyed Jesus’ word.

The point is that Jesus is not like other crucifixion victims, who normally either shrieked curses on their executors or begged onlookers for help. Even during His greatest hour of agony and need, He is concerned about others. He cared about His mother’s future welfare (and He cared about the soldiers’ forgiveness – quote Lk.23:34). I believe John is saying through this: “The love of others that Jesus showed from the cross is the same love that took Him to the cross. He loves us so much that He died to meet our greatest need.” This is clearly what John communicates next...

Jesus’ death

Read 19:28. Crucifixion victims suffered from terrible dehydration, so it is not surprising that Jesus asks for something to drink. But John there is more going on than this when Jesus says “I am thirsty.”

“So that Scripture would be fulfilled.” In Ps.69, David describes a person who is suffering unjustly at the hands of His enemies (read Ps.69: 4a,7,20,21). He also says that this person is somehow suffering for the sins of those who are persecuting Him (read 69:7,9b,26a). Who is this person? Not David—he never suffered like this or for this reason. It is another prophecy of the Messiah which Jesus was fulfilling.

Jesus asked for a drink for another reason (read 19:29,30)—to clear His throat so that He could say “It is finished!” This is not a cry of defeat (“I am finished!”); it is a shout (the Synoptics’ “loud cry”) of victory (“It is finished!”). Tetelestai means to be finished in the sense of being brought to completion or fulfillment. John uses the exact same word in 19:28 to describe what Jesus knew—“that all things had now been finished.” What is finished? What has been accomplished? God’s plan for this part of His Messiah’s life! He had said that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mk.10:45), and He had finished this work.

It is interesting to note that this same word was used in first-century commercial life. When you owed a debt, you got a bill called a “certificate of debt.” When your bill was paid in full, the creditor would write tetelestai on the bill. This was your proof of payment and release from future financial liability.

We owe God a moral debt for our sins, a debt that makes us liable to God’s judgment. But God put all of our moral debt on Jesus, and He paid our debt in full through His death on the cross. This is what Paul means in Col.2:13b,14 (read).

Jesus’ death verified

John not only witnessed the moment of Jesus’ death; he also witnessed the verification of Jesus’ death (read 19:31-34). The soldiers perceived that Jesus was already dead; that’s why they didn’t break his legs. But just to be sure, one of them thrust his spear into Jesus’ side (probably His heart cavity)—and out poured blood and water (probably pericardial fluid & blood from His heart muscle).

These actions by the soldiers were not just unusual. Like their gambling for His clothes, like Jesus drinking the sour wine, these actions fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah (read 19:36,37).

“Not one of His bones will be broken” is a quote of Ex. 12:46. This was one of the rules for the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, which was offered in order to avoid God’s judgment. John is saying that this strange Passover Feast rule was given by God as a prophetic picture of Jesus’ death – because Jesus’ death was the Sacrifice that delivers us from God’s judgment.

“They will look upon the One they have pierced” is a quote from Zech.12:10, which predicted that the One who would one day be recognized as the Messiah would first be pierced (thrust through) by His enemies.

Responding to Jesus’ crucifixion

So John recorded his testimony of Jesus’ crucifixion—both his eye-witness account of what happened and its remarkable fulfillment of the plan God foretold—His plan to offer forgiveness to us through the voluntary death of His Messiah. And John is adamant that his testimony is true (re-read 19:35a).

But why did he give us his testimony? Not just so that we may know that it happened, not even so that we may know that it fulfilled God’s plan. You can know that Jesus was crucified, and you can understand why Jesus was crucified—and still live the rest of your life alienated from God and stay alienated from Him forever when you die. John told you these things “that you may believe” (read 19:35b)—so that you will choose to personally entrust yourself to Jesus and His death for your sins.

What does it look like to do this? I love the way the Dutch artist Rembrandt answered this question in “The Raising of the Cross.” Do you see Rembrandt? He is right in the middle of the painting, with his artist’s beret. Do what he is saying? He is saying, “My sins put Jesus on the Cross. I deserve the death that He died. But Jesus loved me and died in my place—so I am forgiven.” This is why his face is filled with hope rather than despair.

Will you take your place with Rembrandt? Or will you reject Jesus’ death for your sins? There is no middle ground!

For a description of crucifixion, see Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John (Eerdman’s, 1971), p.805.

Seneca, Dialogue. Cited in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp.30,31.

Leon Morris, The Gospel according to John, p.806.

For examples, see Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p.630. “The word translated ‘It is finished’ (tetelestai) was used in Greek commercial life. The term signified the completion of a transaction by the full payment of a price or the discharge of a debt by a completed payment.” J.Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), p.487.