The Crucifixion of Jesus: Part II
Introduction – The Crucifixion (John 19:17-18)
John does not give some of the details surrounding the Lord's crucifixion that are
mentioned by the Synoptics. For example, he does not mention the fact of Simon of
Cyrene bearing the cross (Matthew 27:32).
Rather, he says briefly, "And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called
the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him,
and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst."
One of the primary designs of death by crucifixion was the visible humiliation.
The victim's nakedness was exposed to all onlookers in a public place. Just outside of
Jerusalem, on one of the main roads leading into the city, was a place called in the
Hebrew or Aramaic language, "Golgotha." The Latin translation is "Calvary." The word
means "place of the skull," and was probably so named because of its regular use by the
Romans as a spot for punishing common criminals by crucifixion.
William Hull gives a brief description of the Roman custom of punishment by
crucifixion (p. 358).
Crucifixion was designed not only to expose the naked victim to public shame but
to induce death by slow physical torture. Since no vital organs were damaged
when the body was nailed or tied to the tree, death usually came only after several
days as the result of excruciating hunger, thirst, muscle cramping, and shock. So
repulsive was the ordeal that Rome reserved it only for slaves and foreigners. In
Palestine it was commonly used to punish robbery and sedition. Therefore, when
"they crucified" Jesus "and with him two others," this was to all outward
appearances just another grim reminder of the power of Rome. No description is
given in John of the "two others" (cf. Luke 23:39-43), attention focusing entirely
on Jesus in the middle "between them."
A. The Inscription on Top of the Cross
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF
NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews:
for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in
Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate,
Write not, The King of the Jews: but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate
answered, What I have written I have written.
1. The Inscription
The "title" was "a placard listing the crimes of the condemned, and attached to the
cross" (Morris, p. 806). Pilate insisted here, as he had throughout the trial proceedings,
that there was really no cause for putting this man to death. Some scholars feel that the
inscription saying, "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews," was a type of "grim revenge
against those who had hounded him into consenting to Jesus' execution" (Morris, p. 807).
2. The Setting of the Inscription
Since Golgotha was located alongside a heavily traveled road close to the city of
Jerusalem, many people witnessed the gruesome event. Pilate wanted to make sure that
all who could read would be able to understand the words of the inscription. Therefore, it
was written in the three languages that would have been prevalent in that part of the
world at that time – Hebrew or Aramaic was the language of Palestine; Latin was the
official language of the Roman government; and Greek was the common language
spoken throughout the Roman empire.
The Jews were incensed that the sign actually called Jesus a king and insisted that
Pilate change the wording so that it would say, "HE SAID" that He was king of the Jews.
However, Pilate was adamant concerning what he had written. So throughout the whole
area both citizens and travelers came to know about the "crucifixion of the King of the
3. The Meaning of the Inscription
Regardless of the reason for Pilate's writing the inscription, John uses the message
to force the readers of his Gospel to consider the royalty of Christ even in His death. How
marvelous are the ways of God! Even those who conspired together to crucify Him found
themselves proclaiming that Jesus was their King.
B. The Soldiers at the Foot of the Cross
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made
four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without
seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let
us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be
fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture
they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.
1. The Dividing of the Clothes
It was customary for those soldiers who fulfilled the morbid task of a crucifixion
to be able to lay claim to the clothes of the victim. After the initial dividing of the
separate articles among them one piece of clothing remained. The "coat" or CHITON was
"a tunic, an undergarment, usually worn next to the skin" (Thayer, p. 669). The one worn
by Christ was seamless and "woven from the top throughout" in a manner similar to the
one worn by the high priest (see Josephus, Antiquities, III, 161). In order not to cut the
tunic the soldiers cast lots to determine which one would receive it.
2. The Fulfillment of Scripture
John carefully points out that this action by the soldiers was more than just a
simple daily happening in history. It was in fact prophesied by the Psalmist when he
himself had been in such dire straits that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he
penned the words of the twenty-second Psalm.
John and the Synoptic writers see in these actions a fulfillment of David's plaintive
words, "They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Psalms 22:
C. The Disciples in Front of the Cross
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary
the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his
mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother,
Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And
from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
1. The Women and the Beloved Disciple
While John only specifically mentions the four women standing by the cross,
Mark adds that there were "many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem"
(Mark 15:41). Probably, Jesus' "mother's sister" is the same as "Salome" and "Mary the
wife of Cleophas" the same as "Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses," as these
were referred to by Mark (Mk. 15:40).
Since, while on the one hand only one male disciple is mentioned by the gospel
writers as being present at the crucifixion while two different writers name at least four
women who were present, it would be only conjecture to say that other male disciples
were present at that time. It seems more likely that because of their fear of the Jews the
men were already in some secret place hiding from the officials. This makes the presence
of the "beloved disciple" even more remarkable.
The identity of the "disciple whom Jesus loved" has been debated by scholars for
centuries. However, there seems to be many good reasons for saying that in all likelihood
this beloved disciple was none other than the author John himself.
2. Mary Entrusted to John
Even though by now Jesus' body was wracked by intolerable pain He did not fail
to make provisions for His mother in the same faithful manner that He had assured that
His disciples would not be arrested. In a poignant and paradoxical scene of both hideous
sin and tender mercy the Lord commended His mother to the care of the disciple who
drew from Him the most affectionate love and compassion. Furthermore, He then
charged the disciple of love with the responsibility of providing for the woman who now
was losing her firstborn Son through a cruel execution. He was to accept her as his own
mother and she was to accept him as her own son. From that time John took Mary into
his own household and evidently provided for her until her death.
D. The Lord’s Death on the Cross
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the
scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of
vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it
to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is
finished: and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost.
1. "Knowing That All Things Were Now Accomplished"
The fact that Jesus "knew" certain things in an unusual manner is a theme that
runs throughout John's Gospel. Jesus "knew from the beginning who they were that
believed not, and who should betray him" (6:64). In referring to the Father Who sent Him
Jesus said, "I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. But
I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me" (7:28,29).
When He later accused the Jews of not knowing the Father He strongly asserted,
"But I know him: and if I should say I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I
know him, and keep his saying" (8:55).
However, in chapter 13 John begins to focus our attention on the Lord's
knowledge as it relates to His death. Jesus "knew that his hour was come that he should
depart out of this world unto the Father" (v. 1); He knew that "the Father had given all
things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God" (v. 3); "He
knew who should betray him" (v. 11); and He said, "I know whom I have chosen" (v. 17).
As Judas and the multitude came to arrest the Lord John says, "Jesus therefore,
knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth" (18:4). Now as the Lord
hangs from the cross with death lurking in the shadows, John reminds us one more time
that the happenings of that fateful day were not merely the chance events in the course of
human history. Rather, Jesus, "knowing that all things were now accomplished" prepares
to give Himself over into the hands of the Father.
2. "I Thirst"
Having accomplished the purpose for which He had come into the world and
having made proper provision for His mother, the Lord finally allows His humanity to
express one passionate desire as He exclaims, "I thirst." But even in this most natural
expression of human desire His voiced words are in perfect harmony with that eternal
Word "which has been written."
His own thirst is the Messianic fulfillment of that prophetic experience of the
Psalmist who cried, "They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me
vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21). Having earlier refused the drugged wine which would
have eased the pain (Mark 15:23; Matt. 27:34), He now does not hesitate to sip a few
drops of the OXUS ("mixture of vinegar and water," Thayer, p. 449) from the sponge
which had been dipped in a nearby container and lifted up to him on the end of a piece of
hyssop. The moisture will prepare His lips for His final cry from the cross.
3. "It Is Finished
This is the moment for which the Lord had been born and the cause for which the
King of Glory had come unto the world (John 18:37). Now the LOGOS Word which was
"in the beginning with God" and "was God" is "made flesh" (John 1:1,14) in its ultimate
destiny with death.
Now the life which was the "light of men" (1:4) that "lighteth every man that
cometh into the world" (1:9) is shining forth in the darkness of man's most dismal
moment of misery (1:5). Now the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world"
(John 1:29) is being "lifted up" even as "Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness"
(John 3:14; Nu. 21:8,9).
Now the seed of woman is to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Now the
Edenic sacrifice is slain in order to cover the disobedient Adamic man with the righteous
clothing of the Son of Man (Gen. 3:21). Now the "ram caught in a thicket" on Mount
Moriah is slain instead of Isaac (Gen 22:8-13). Now the Passover Lamb is killed (Gen
12:1-13) in order that the "blood of the new testament" may be "shed for many for the
remission of sins" (Mt. 26:28).
Now He that grew up as a "tender plant" and as "a root out of dry ground" is
"despised and rejected of Men" (Isaiah 53:2,3). Now He "bears our griefs" and "carries
our sorrows" even as man "esteem(s) him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (v. 4).
Now He is "wounded for our transgressions," "bruised for our iniquities," "the
chastisement of our peace" is "upon him" and "with his stripes we are healed" (v. 5).
Now the "sheep have gone astray" and "turned every one to his own way" and
"the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6). Now He is "oppressed" and
"afflicted" (v. 7) and "cut off out of the land of the living" because of "the transgression"
of the people (v.8). Now He "hath poured out his soul unto death" and is "numbered with
the transgressors" (v. 12).
Now all is fulfilled as He cries to Heaven and Hell, "It is finished!"
4. "He Bowed His Head and Gave Up the Ghost"
Even though death, like a specter, had hovered by the side of Jesus from the
moment He had been taken by the multitude, mortality could not conquer Him by its own
force. In a final act of His own Divine will He "bowed his head" even in the midst of the
The expression "gave up the ghost" (PAREDOKEN TO PNEUMA, literally,
"delivered over His Spirit") is never used of the death of another man or woman. Only
the Christ Who "had come from God" and now would "go to God" was able to truly "lay
down His own life." No man could take it from Him.
E. The Witness From the Cross
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not
remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high
day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken
away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other
which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was
dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced
his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare
record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might
believe. For these things were done that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone
of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on
him whom they pierced.
1. The Soldiers Do Not Break His Legs
Ordinarily death by crucifixion was a very long and torturous ordeal that
sometimes would last two or three days. Since the Jews did not want to defile the holy
day by leaving a body on the cross (see Deut. 21:23) they asked Pilate permission for the
victims' legs to be broken so that death would come quickly and the bodies could be
removed. However, after having broken the legs of the two criminals, when they came to
Jesus, seeing "that He was dead already" they "brake not his legs."
2. His Side Is Pierced
When one of the soldiers saw that Jesus was dead already, possibly simply
because of some type of morbid pleasure, he thrust a spear into the side of Jesus and as
John records, "forthwith came there out blood and water." John reinforces the actuality of
this phenomenon by assuring, "And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true."
3. "That Ye Might Believe"
John now gives a cursory indication of something he will expand on further in the
next chapter – that is, that his main purpose for saying these things is in order the reader
Even after the Lord's death there comes forth a twofold witness from the cross.
First, even though the Jews had been granted permission to do so, the soldiers did not
break Jesus' legs in order that it would come to pass even as it had been prophesied, "A
bone of him shall not be broken" (see Psalm 34:2). Second, even though Jesus was
already dead one of the soldiers plunged his spear into the Lord's side in order that the
Scripture might be fulfilled, "They shall look on him whom they pierced" (Zech. 12:10).
John sees in this twofold witness a testimony, strengthened by prophetic truth, which is
given in order that we might believe.
Nowhere is it more evident that the Lord reigns through His passion than it is
from the very cross which lifted up Jesus.
First, even though the Jews brought accusations of treason against Caesar and Pilate
mocked the very thought of His royalty, nevertheless the inscription on top of the cross
proclaimed to all the world, in the three languages of the Palestinian countryside, the
Roman courts, and the Roman world of commerce, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING
OF THE JEWS.
Second, while the Roman soldiers casually played and gambled at the foot of the
cross, nevertheless it came to pass as had been prophesied, "They part my garments
among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Psalm 22:18).
Third, while Jesus' body was wracked with the awful agony of the cross and while
the mob taunted and mocked, nevertheless He looked with love and compassion upon His
own natural mother and insured that she would be properly cared for by the beloved
disciple throughout the rest of her life.
Fourth, even while death was hovering over its certain prey the Lord of eternity,
knowing that He had accomplished the purpose for which He had come into the world,
strengthened Himself with a few drops of vinegar and water, cried, "It is finished," and
then bowed His own head and commended His Spirit back to the Father.
Fifth, even after death clamped its cold fingers around the naked body of the
Christ, the soldiers did not follow the directive of their superior by breaking His legs.
Thus was fulfilled the prophecy that not a bone would be broken. And, even though the
one soldier knew He was dead he impelled his spear into His side so that they looked
upon the one they had pierced.
Even in His condemnation He proved Himself to be merciful. Even on a criminal
cross He reigned in righteousness. Even while men played for His clothes He paid for
their sins. Even when He had been forsaken by His own disciples He made sure His
mother would never be forsaken. Even when His own nakedness had been exposed to the
whole world He bowed His head in reverence before He died. Even after mortality lay
hold on His body He insured that not one bone would be broken and that it would give
testimony through its pierced side.
Even in His own death the Lord reigned as King both in this world and in the
world to come!
Find more sermons by