Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.(1) Then Pilate therefore took Jesus.—For the connection and the force of “therefore” comp. Luke 23:21-23.
(1) That the earlier Gospels all make the darkness last from twelve until three (the sixth hour until the ninth hour). This is apparently intended to indicate the time of the Crucifixion, and they thus agree generally with St. John’s account.
And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,(2) For the crown of thorns, comp. Matthew 27:26; and for the purple robe, Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17.
(2) That St. John distinguishes between the condemnation to be scourged (John 19:1) and that to be crucified. In St. Matthew and St. Mark the flagellation is regarded as the preliminary and part of the punishment. If it was the third hour at which this commenced—i.e., if the incident of John 19:1 of this chapter is to be assigned to nine o’clock—then the Crucifixion itself would naturally come about twelve o’clock.
And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.(3) And said, Hail, King of the Jews.—The reading of the better MSS. is, and they kept coming to Him and saying . . . It is a description of the mock reverence which they paid Him. They kept drawing near and bowing before Him. (Comp. Matthew 27:29.)
They smote him with their hands.—Comp. Note on John 18:22.
(3) That St. John is not careful to give the time more than roughly “about the sixth hour.” The hours of that day may well be confused, for their sorrow would have made minutes seem as hours, and the sun, which on other days marked the hours, was on that day itself darkened. St. Matthew is equally uncertain at what exact time there was the cry with a loud voice (Matthew 27:46), and St. Luke does not give the exact time when the darkness commenced (Luke 23:44).
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.(4) Pilate therefore went forth again.—He had returned to the palace, and had ordered the scourging in the courtyard (Mark 15:15-16). He now goes forth again with Jesus wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and hopes by the spectacle to move the sympathy of the people, and to prevent the design of the rulers.
That ye may know that I find no fault in him.—Comp. Note on John 18:38. Had he found proof of a legal crime he would have ordered His execution, and not have led Him forth in this mock royal attitude to move the feelings of the people.
(4) That the third, sixth, and ninth hours (comp. Matthew 20:3; Matthew 20:5) seem to have been, in common life, rough divisions of the day, corresponding to the watches of the night. An event occurring at ten o’clock might have been spoken of roughly as about the third hour, while it might, on the other hand, be thought of as within the division called the sixth hour.
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!(5) Then came Jesus forth.—The verse describes the scene as the writer remembers it. The figure of the Lord whom he had himself followed and loved, and of whom he thinks as ascended to the throne of the King of kings, led in the cruel mockery of royal garments, was one which left its mark for ever in his mind.
Behold the man!—Pilate’s “Ecce homo!” is an appeal to the multitude. That picture of suffering—is it not enough? Will none in that throng lift up a cry for mercy, and save Him from the death for which the Sanhedrin are calling?
(5) That St. John’s narrative is that of an eyewitness, relating what he himself saw and remembered. (Comp. Chronological Harmony of the Gospels, p. 35)
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.(6) When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him.—Comp. John 18:3. The spectacle, so far from moving their pity, excites their passionate hatred, and they frustrate any other cry which may arise by that of “Crucify Him!” (Comp. Matthew 27:22.)
Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.—Comp. Notes on John 18:31; John 18:38. “Crucify Him,” the words mean, “if you dare to do so; there is no charge on which I can condemn Him; and I will be no party to your act.”
The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.(7) We have a law, and by our law he ought to die.—The better reading is,. . . . and by the law He ought to die. (Comp. Leviticus 24:16.) They feel the bitter sarcasm of Pilate’s taunt, and appeal to their own law, which, in accordance with the general Roman policy, was in force in all questions which did not directly affect the Government. They change the accusation then from one of treason against Cæsar (John 19:12), of which Pilate claimed to be judge, to one of blasphemy against God, of which they only could be judges; and assert that Jesus is by that law guilty of a capital offence, for which He ought to die. (Comp. Matthew 26:63-66, and Luke 22:70.)
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid;(8) When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid.—That is, as the verses which follow show, he was the more afraid because of his wonder who Jesus really was. He must have heard of some of the current impressions as to His life and words; he had himself heard Him claim a kingdom which is not of this world; his wife’s dream (Matthew 27:19) had furnished an evil omen which the superstition of the most educated classes of the Roman empire would interpret as a message from the gods; and now the Jews speak of Him as one who claimed to be the Son of God. (Comp. Notes on the words of the Roman centurion in Matthew 27:54.)
And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer.(9) And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus.—He had brought Jesus out to the people. He now led Him back to the palace in order to inquire further of Him in private.
Whence art thou?—The question is based upon the claim to be Son of God, of which he had heard. He knew that Jesus was a Galilean before sending Him to Herod (Luke 23:6). It is not of His earthly habitation, therefore, that he inquires, but of His origin and nature. (Comp. the same word, and in the same sense, in John 8:14, and Matthew 21:25.)
But Jesus gave him no answer.—This silence of our Lord has seemed hard to understand, and very many and very different have been the explanations suggested. An explanation can only be suggested; it cannot be given with any degree of certainty; but that which seems most in harmony with the position is that Pilate’s question was one which to him could not be answered in reality, and therefore was not answered in appearance. The answer had, indeed, already been given (John 18:37), but he had treated it with the impatience which showed he could not receive it now. Not of the truth, he could not hear the voice of the Son of God, and therefore that voice did not speak.
Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?(10) Speakest thou not unto me?—The position of the pronoun in the original is strongly emphatic—“To me dost Thou not speak?” Pilate is true to the vacillating character which now as man trembles before One who may be a Being from the other world, and now as Roman governor expects that Being to tremble before him.
Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?—The text of the better MSS. inverts the order, reading,. . . . have power to release Thee, and have power to crucify Thee. This is the more natural order of thought—“Thy life is in my power; yea, and Thy death also.”
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.(11) Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.—Pilate had twice said, with something of the pride of his position, “I have power.” Jesus says that he had of himself neither power of life nor power of death, that he had no power against Him but that which was given to him from above. By this is meant, of course, the power which was given to him by God, and the form in which it is expressed (“from above”) has a special force in connection with the question of John 19:8, “Whence comest Thou?” That power of which he boasted existed only because He against whom he boasts submitted to it of His own will. “He that cometh from above is above all” (John 3:31). But that power was given to him of God for the carrying out of the Messianic purposes which rendered the death of Jesus necessary. The position of Pilate was that of a half-conscious agent wielding this power. He indeed had sin, for he acted against his own better nature; but not the greater sin, for he did not act against the full light of truth.
He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.—This cannot mean Judas, who is nowhere mentioned in this connection, and is excluded by the words “unto thee.” Judas delivered our Lord to the Jews. It was the Sanhedrin, and especially Caiaphas, the high priest, who, professing to represent God on earth, had delivered up the Son of God, and had declared that by the law He ought to die. (Comp. John 11:49; John 18:14-28.)
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.(12) And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him.—The words may be interpreted of time, as in the Authorised version, or of cause—“For this reason Pilate sought to release Him.” The latter is more probable, as the reference seems to be to the attempt which he made at once. (Comp. Note on John 6:66.)
If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar’s friend. . . .—There was another weapon left in the armoury of their devices, against which no Roman governor was proof. The jealous fear of Tiberius had made “treason” a crime, of which the accusation was practically the proof, and the proof was death. The pages of Tacitus and Suetonius abound with examples of ruin wreaked on families in the name of the “law of treason.” (Comp. Merivale: History of the Romans under the Empire, vol. v., p. 143 et seq.) Here was One who had claimed to be a king, and Pilate was seeking to release Him. They knew, indeed, that it was a claim to be “king” in a sense widely different from any which would have affected the empire of Cæsar; but Pilate has refused to condemn Him on the political charge without formal trial, and he has refused to accept their own condemnation of Jesus on the charge of blasphemy. He dare not refuse the force of an appeal which says that he is not Cæsar’s friend, and suggests an accusation against himself at Rome. See Note on Matthew 27:2 for the special reasons which would lead Pilate to dread such an accusation.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.(13) When Pilate therefore heard that saying.—Better . . . these sayings—i.e., the two sayings of the previous verse.
He brought Jesus forth ., .—Comp. John 19:9. He hesitates no longer about the course to be taken. His own position and life may be in danger, and he prepares, therefore, to pronounce the final sentence, which must necessarily be done from the public judgment seat outside the palace. (Comp. Matthew 27:19.)
The Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.—Both these words occur here only, and are instances of the writer’s minute knowledge of the localities in Jerusalem. It may have been better to have preserved the Greek name (Lithostrōton), as well as that by which the place was known in the Hebrew (Syro-Chaldaic) of the time. The word literally means “stone-paved,” and was the Greek name for the tesselated “pavement” of marble and coloured stones with which from the time of Sylla the Romans delighted to adorn the Prætorium. The Chaldee word means “an elevated place,” so that the one name was given to it from its form, and the other from the material of which it was made. Suetonius (Life, chap. 46) tells us that Julius Cæsar carried about with him such pieces of marble and stone, but the mention of the “place” bears the impression that it was a fixture in front of the Prætorium at Jerusalem, in which the Bema was placed; or it may have been a portion of the northern court of the sanctuary to which Pilate came out, if we identify the Prætorium with the tower Antonia. (Comp. Note on Matthew 27:27.) Josephus mentions that the whole of the Temple mountain was paved with this kind of Mosaic work (Ant v. 5. 2. Caspari, Chron. Geogr., Introd., Eng. Trans., p. 225).
And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!(14) And it was the preparation of the passover.—Comp. Note on Matthew 26:17, and Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.
And about the sixth hour.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:25; Luke 23:44. St. John’s statement of time (twelve o’clock) seems opposed to that of St. Mark, who states that the Crucifixion took place at “the third hour” (nine o’clock); and no solution of the discrepancy is wholly satisfactory.
There are, as we may have expected, some variations of MSS., and as early as the time of Eusebius we find a suggestion that “third” should be here read for “sixth.” No competent critic would, however, for a moment admit that either in the parallel in St. Mark, or in this passage, there is even a strong presumption in favour of any reading except that of the Received text.
The common supposition that St. John adopted the Roman division of hours, and that by “sixth hour” he meant six o’clock is equally unsatisfactory. (Comp. Notes on John 1:39; John 4:6; John 4:52; John 11:9.) Even if it could be proved that this method was in use at the time, the fact would not help us; for if we read this text as meaning six o’clock, it is as much too early for the harmony as twelve o’clock is too late.
It is better, therefore, simply to admit that there is a difficulty arising from our ignorance of the exact order of events, or, it may be, of the exact words which the Evangelists wrote.
Candidly admitting this, and not attempting to explain it away, we may still note:—
But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.(15) But they cried out . . .—Better, they cried out therefore . . . They feel the sting of Pilate’s irony, therefore cry the more passionately, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him.”
Shall I crucify your King?—In the order of the Greek words “your King” comes emphatically first, “Your King—shall I crucify Him?” The taunt is uttered in its bitterest form.
We have no king but Cæsar.—They are driven by Pilate’s taunt, and by their hatred of Jesus, to a denial of their own highest hopes. They who gloried in the Theocracy, and hoped for a temporal Messianic reign, which should free them from Roman bondage; they who boasted that they “were never in bondage to any man” (John 8:33); they who were “chief priests” of the Jews, confess that Cæsar is their only king. The words were doubtless meant, as those in John 19:12, to drive Pilate to comply with their wishes, under the dread of an accusation at Rome. They had this effect.
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.(16) Then delivered he him therefore unto them—i.e., to the chief priests. The Crucifixion was actually carried out by the Roman soldiers, acting under the direction of the chief priests,
And led him away.—These words should probably be omitted.
And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha:(17) For the way of the cross, comp. Matthew 27:31-34; Mark 15:20-23; Luke 23:26-33. For the present passage, comp. especially Note on the parallel words in Matthew 27:33.
Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.(18) Comp. Notes on Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33-34.
And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.(19) Comp. Notes on Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38. St. John speaks of the title placed over the cross. This was the common Roman name for an inscription of the kind, which was meant to give information of the crime for which the sentence of crucifixion had been given. St. Matthew calls it the “accusation;” St. Mark, “the superscription of the accusation;” St. Luke, “the superscription.” (Comp. Luke 23:38.) The inscription varies in word, though not in sense, in each of the narratives; i.e., the Evangelists, in dealing with a written inscription, in which there could have been neither doubt nor difficulty, have not been careful to give us the exact words. The fact is significant, as bearing upon the literary characteristics of the Gospels, and upon the value which the writers set upon exact accuracy in unimportant details. The reason of the variations may, of course, be traced to the fact that one or more of the accounts may be a translation from the Hebrew inscription.
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.(20) This and the following verses are peculiar to St. John, and furnish another instance of his exact knowledge of what took place at Jerusalem.
Many of the Jews.—That is, of the hierarchical party, as generally in this Gospel. (Comp. Note on John 1:19.) It has been sometimes understood here of the people generally, because the inscription was written in the three languages; but the last clause of the verse furnishes the reason for the action of the chief priests in the next verse. It would be better to punctuate the verses thus: “This title therefore read many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city. And it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Therefore said the chief priests . . .”
Nigh to the city.—Comp. Note on Matthew 27:33.
Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.—“Hebrew,” i.e., the current Syro-Chaldaic, was the language of the people generally. The precise form which occurs here is used in the New Testament only by St. John (John 5:2; John 19:13; John 19:17; John 19:20; John 20:16; Revelation 9:11; Revelation 16:16). “Greek” was the most widely-known language of the time. “Latin” was the official language of the Roman Empire.
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.(21) Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate.—Better, Therefore said . . ., i.e., because the inscription could be read by all comers, and the Messianic title, “King of the Jews,” would be exposed to scorn. Yet these are the men who said, in order to accomplish the death of Jesus, “We have no king but Cæsar.”
The expression, “chief priests of the Jews,” occurs only here in the New Testament, perhaps in contrast to the title, “King of the Jews,” to indicate that their anxiety about the title came from them as representatives of the national honour.
What I have written I have written.—The words are a formula to signify that the thing was done and could not be undone. There are frequent instances of similar expressions in the Rabbinical writings.
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.(23) On John 19:23-24, comp. Notes on Matthew 27:35-36; Luke 23:34. St. John’s account is again more full than any of the others.
And made four parts, to every soldier a part.—The soldiers there who carried the sentence into execution were one of the usual quarternions (Acts 12:4), under the command of a centurion.
Also his coat: now the coat was without seam.—More exactly, the tunic, or under-garment. It reached from the neck to the feet, while the outer “garment” was a square rug thrown round the body. Ordinarily the tunic consisted of two pieces connected at the shoulder by clasps; but that worn by Jesus was made in one piece. This seems to have been the rule with the priestly tunics. (Comp. the account of Aaron’s tunic in Jos. Ant. iii. 7, § 4.)
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.(24) That the scripture might be fulfilled.—Comp. Note on Matthew 1:22.
They parted my raiment among them.—The quotation is from Psalm 22:18, closely following the Greek translation.
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.-25John 19:25-27 relate an incident which is found in St. John only.
Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.—Better, Mary the (wife) of Clopas, as in margin. This Clopas is usually identified with Alphæus. (Comp. Matthew 10:3; Matthew 27:56, and Introduction to the Gospel according to St. Matthew, p. 41) The question arises, Are there three or four women mentioned here?—i.e., Is “Mary the (wife) of Clopas” sister of Mary the mother of our Lord? or does St. John mean by “His mother’s sister” an unnamed woman, who may not improbably be his own mother, Salome, whom he nowhere mentions? The question cannot be answered with certainty; but upon the whole, the balance of evidence inclines to the view that we have four persons here mentioned in two pairs: “His mother and His mother’s sister; Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” As early as the second century, the Peshito Syriac version adopted this view, and inserted “and” after the word sister. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 28:1 and Luke 24:18, and especially the Excursus on The brethren of the Lord in Lightfoot On Galatians, pp. 247-282.)
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!(26) The disciple standing by, whom he loved.—Comp. Note on John 13:23.
Woman, behold thy son!—Comp. Note on John 2:4. There were those who were called the “brethren of the Lord” who may seem to us to have been of nearer relationship (comp. Note on Matthew 13:55), but He regards whosoever doeth the will of His Father which is in heaven, as “brother and sister and mother.” (Comp. Notes on Matthew 12:46 et seq.) He now sees standing by the cross her who. by His death will be left without son as well as without husband, for the silence of the history can only be accounted for on the supposition that Joseph was already dead; and in the tenderness of His love He commits her to the care of him whom He Himself had loved beyond others, because beyond others he could receive His love.
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.(27) Behold thy mother!—The solemn committal is a double one. The loving heart of the disciple should find, as well as give, sympathy and support in the love of the mother. The sympathy in their common loss is to be the source of love for each other.
And from that hour.—The words do not necessarily mean, but they certainly may mean, that St. John at once took Mary away from the scene that a mother’s heart could hardly bear; but he is himself present (John 19:35), and the whole account, brief as it is, is that of an eye-witness.
Unto his own home.—Comp. Note on John 1:11, and Introduction, pp. 369, 371. The word is used in John 16:32 of the lodging or sojourning place of the Apostles. The meaning here is that whatever was his home became hers.
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.(28) Comp. accounts of the darkness and death in Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-39; Luke 23:44-46.
Knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled.—It is difficult to give the exact meaning of the words in English. In the original the words for “accomplished” and “fulfilled” are derived from the same root, and the latter word is not the ordinary formula of quotation which we have had, e.g., in John 13:18 (see Note there). The Vulgate has “Postea sciens Jesus quia omnia consummata sunt ut consummaretur Scriptural Perhaps the nearest English rendering is “that all things were now completed that the Scripture might be accomplished.” But then there arises the difficult question, Is this connected with the words which follow, or not? The margin assumes that it is, and refers to Psalm 69:21. On the other hand (1) St. John’s custom is to quote the fulfilment of Scripture as seen in the event after its occurrence; (2) he does not here use the ordinary words which accompany such a reference; (3) the actual meaning of “knowing that all things were now accomplished” seems to exclude the idea of a further accomplishment, and to refer to the whole life which was an accomplishment of Scripture; (4) the context of words as they occur in the Psalm (John 19:22 et seq.) cannot be understood of our Lord. There seems to be good reason, therefore, for understanding the words “that the Scripture might be completed,” of the events of the whole life, and not of the words which immediately follow.
I thirst.—He had refused the usual stupefying drink at the moment of crucifixion (comp. Notes on Matthew 27:34; Matthew 27:48), but now all has been accomplished, the moment of His departure is at hand, and He seeks relief from the physical agony of the thirst caused by His wounds.
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.(29) Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar.—This vessel of the ordinary sour wine drunk by the Roman soldiers, was placed near in order to be given to those who were crucified. Thirst was always an accompaniment of death by crucifixion, and that the vessel of wine was prepared for this purpose is made probable by the mention of the sponge and hyssop (Comp. Note on Matthew 27:48.)
And put it upon hyssop.—This detail is peculiar to St. John. Bochart (Hierozoicon, i. 2, 50) thinks that the plant was marjoram, or some plant like it, and he is borne out by ancient tradition. The stalks, from a foot to a foot and a half high, would be sufficient to reach to the cross. The plant is named in one other passage in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:19), and is frequent in the Greek of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word is ēzōv, and the identification must always be uncertain, because we cannot know whether the Greek translation is based upon an identification of the plant, or upon a similarity in the sound of the names.
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.(30) It is finished.—That is (comp. John 19:28, and John 17:4), the work which God had given Him to do. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 27:50, and Luke 23:46.) This word is the expression by Jesus Himself of what St. John had expressed by saying, “Jesus knowing that all things were now finished, that the Scriptures should be fulfilled.”
The order of the seven words of the cross will be, (1) “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); (2) “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43); (3) “Woman, behold thy son,” “Behold thy mother” (John 19:26-27); (4) “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34); (5) “I thirst” (John 19:28); (6) “It is finished” (John 19:29); (7) “Into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
And he bowed his head.—This reminiscence of the very attitude of the last moments is peculiar to St. John.
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.(31) The account of the piercing of the side (John 19:31-37) is peculiar to St. John.
The preparation,. . . . an high day.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord, p. 559. The Roman custom was to allow the bodies to remain on the cross. To the Jews this was defilement (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), against which they were the more anxious to take precaution because the approaching Sabbath was “an high day.”
That their legs might be broken.—The breaking of the legs by means of clubs was a Roman punishment, known by the name of crurifragium, which sometimes accompanied crucifixion, and appears also to have been used as a separate punishment. It is not otherwise clear that its purpose was, or that its effect would be, to cause death, but this is the impression we derive from the present context (John 19:33).
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.(32) Then came the soldiers,. . . .—The words do not mean, as they have sometimes been understood, that other soldiers came, but refer to the quaternion before named (John 19:23), who had naturally fallen back from the crosses, and are here represented as coming forward to complete their work. The mention of the “first” and the “other” suggests that they formed two pairs, and began on either side breaking the legs of the thieves crucified with Jesus.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:(33) And saw that he was dead already, . . . The only explanation of their not breaking the legs of Jesus seems to be that the purpose of the crurifragium was to ensure death, or, in any case, prevent the possibility of escape. Crucifixion itself would not necessarily cause death for several days, nor, indeed, at all; but Jesus had by His own will committed His spirit to His Father.
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.(34) But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side.—They had seen that He was dead, and therefore did not break the legs. To cause death was not, then, the object in piercing the side; and yet it may have seemed to make death doubly sure. The word rendered “pierced” occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but it is certain, from John 20:27, that the act caused a deep wound, and that the point of the lance therefore penetrated to the interior organs of the body. If the soldier stood before the cross, this wound would naturally be in the left side.
And forthwith came there out blood and water.—“Various physiological explanations have been given of this fact, such as—(1) that the lance pierced the pericardium, which contained a small quantity of watery lymph, which immediately flowed out; and also the heart, from which the blood flowed, the actual death taking place at this moment; (2) that the physical death of Christ resulted from rupture of the heart, and that the cavities of the heart and the surrounding-vessels contained a watery fluid; (3) that decomposition of the blood in the corpse had taken place, the solid matter being separated from the fluid, so that it would appear to be blood mixed with water. (Comp. Notes on 1John 5:5-6.)
Whatever solution we adopt, it is clear that death had taken place some time previously (John 19:30), and that, while we cannot say which physical explanation is the true one, there is within the region of natural occurrences quite sufficient to account for the impression on the mind of St. John which he records here. We have to think of the disciple whom Jesus loved looking at the crucified and pierced body of his Lord, and remembering the picture in later years, and telling that there flowed from that pierced side both 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.(35) And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true.—Comp. John 1:7. It may be better to render the word here, as elsewhere, by “witness,” in order that we may get the full force of its frequent recurrence. The writer speaks of himself in the third person (comp. Introduction, p. 375), laying stress upon the specially important fact that it was an eye-witness—“he that saw it”—who testified to the fact, and one who therefore knew it to be true. The word rendered “true” in this clause is the emphatic word for “ideally true,” which is familiar to the readers of this Gospel. (Comp. Note on John 1:9.) It answers to the idea of what evidence should be, because it is the evidence of one who himself saw what he witnesses.
And he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.—The witness was ideally true, and therefore the things witnessed were actually true. He cannot doubt this, and he testifies it in order that others may find in these truths ground for, and the confirmation of, their faith.
For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.(36) For these things were done (better, came to pass), that the scripture should be fulfilled.—The emphatic witness of the previous verse is not therefore to be confined to the one fact of the flowing of the blood and the water, but to the facts in which the fulfilment of Scripture was accomplished, and which establish the Messiahship of Jesus.
He saw—that which might have seemed an accidental occurrence—that they brake not the legs of Jesus; he saw—that which might have seemed a sort of instinct of the moment—that the Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus; he saw in the water and blood which flowed from it visible proof that Jesus was the Son of man; but he saw, too, that these incidents were part of the divine destiny of the Messiah which the prophets had foretold, and that in them the Scripture was fulfilled. (Comp. Note on John 13:18.)
A bone of him shall not be broken.—The reference is, as the margin gives it, to the Paschal Lamb, in which the Baptist had already seen a type of Christ (comp. Note on John 1:29), and which St. Paul afterwards more definitely identifies with Him (1Corinthians 5:7). It is not equally apposite to refer to Psalm 34:20, as the thought there is of preservation in life, but the words of the Psalm are doubtless themselves a poetic adaptation of the words of Exodus.
And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.(37) They shall look on him whom they pierced.—The words, as they occur in the Authorised version, of the prophecy are, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced,” but the reading which St. John has followed is that of many MSS., and is adopted by many Rabbinic (as Rashi and Kimchi) and many modern authorities (as Ewald and Geiger). The Greek translation (LXX.) of the prophet avoided the strong word “pierced,” as applied to Jehovah, and substituted for it “insulted.” St. John translates the original Hebrew freely for himself (comp. Revelation 1:7), and gives the undoubted meaning of the Hebrew word, translating it by the same Greek word which is used by Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. He thinks of the prophecy which spoke of Jehovah as pierced by His people, and sees it fulfilled in the Messiah pierced on the cross.
For the fulfilment of the prophecy, comp. Notes on John 8:28; John 12:32. Jewish Rabbis, and Greek proselytes, and Roman soldiers alike looked, as they stood before the cross, on Him whom they pierced. That scene is typical. He shall draw all men unto Him, and the moral power over the heart of humanity will be the heart of love, which loves and therefore saves him that has pierced it through and through. “God commendeth His love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.(38) For the burial (John 19:38-42), comp. generally Notes on Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56.
But secretly for fear of the Jews.—This is the only additional fact which St. John supplies with regard to Joseph. He places him in these verses side by side with Nicodemus, and ascribes the same trait of character to both.
And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.(39) Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night.—He is mentioned only by St. John. (Comp. Notes on John 3:1-2; John 7:50.)
A mixture of myrrh and aloes.—For “myrrh,” comp. Note on Matthew 2:11. “Aloes” are not elsewhere mentioned in the New Testament, but they are joined with myrrh in the Messianic Psalm 45:8. The aloe is an Eastern odoriferous wood—to be distinguished from the aloes of commerce—and chips of the better kinds are now said to be worth their weight in gold. The myrrh and aloes were probably pulverised and mixed together, and then placed in the linen in which the body was wrapped.
About an hundred pound weight.—Comp. Notes on John 12:3 et seq. The quantity is clearly much more than could have been placed in the linen which surrounded the body; but the offering was one of love, and part of it may have been placed in the sepulchre. We read of the burial of Asa, that they “laid him in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries’ art” (2Chronicles 16:14).
Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.(40) And wound it in linen clothes with the spices.—Comp. Notes on Luke 24:12. The same word does not occur, but the manner of the Jews to bury has been also illustrated in the Note on John 11:44.
Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.(41) Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden.—Comp. John 18:1. St. John’s account makes the choice of the sepulchre depend on its nearness to the place of crucifixion; the account in the earlier Gospels makes it depend on the fact that the sepulchre belonged to Joseph. The one account implies the other; and the burial, under the circumstances, required both that the sepulchre should be at hand, and that its owner should be willing that the body should be placed in it.
There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.(42) The Jews’ preparation day.—Comp. John 19:14; John 19:31, and Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord, p. 559.