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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      By a comparison of the four accounts of this momentous trial it is easy to trace its successive stages. 1. We have an account of the informal examination before Annas, recorded only by John (18:13-24), which terminates with the statement that Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas. 2. Next is the preliminary examination conducted by Caiaphas aided by a section of the Sanhedrim, of which accounts are given in Matt. 26:57-68 and Mark 14:55-65. 3. Luke gives an account of the formal meeting of the great Sanhedrim after the dawn of day (22:66-71). 4. Next comes the formal accusation before Pilate, recorded in all the Gospels. 5. The first conference between Christ and Pilate is recorded in John 18:33-38. 6. Pilate's first acquittal; further charges; Christ's silence (Matt. 27:12-14; Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4, 5). 7. Case sent to Herod (Luke 23:6-12). 8. Before Pilate again; second formal acquittal (Luke 23:13-16). 9. Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27:15-18; Mark 15:6-10). 10. Message of warning from Pilate's wife (while people are deciding) (Matt. 27:19). 11. Barabbas chosen. Cries of "Crucify him!" (Matt. 27:20-22; Mark 15:11-13.) 12. Efforts of Pilate to save Jesus (Matt. 27:23; Mark 15:12-14). 13. Pilate washes his hands; declaration of Christ's innocence (Matt. 27:24, 25). 14. Sentence of crucifixion (Mark 15:15; Luke 23:24, 25). 15. Scourging and mockery (Matt. 27:26-30; Mark 15:16-19; John 19:1-3). 16. Further efforts of Pilate to save Jesus (John 19:4-16). 17. Led away to be crucified (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:20).

      The great tragedy moves rapidly on. The chief priests, members of the Sanhedrim, and Jewish leaders, had prepared their plans well; so well that Pilate, with all his well-meant endeavors, found himself unable to frustrate them. A great crowd of their creatures surrounded his palace and met every expostulation against the injustice of murdering Jesus with hoarse remonstrances, loud cries and ferocious threats. Accustomed to the inflammatory temper of the Jewish population he feared an uprising at a time when the passover had brought two or three millions of people to the city and when it would be easy to overwhelm the little Roman garrison of 600 men. He feared still more the accusations against him that they proposed to despatch to Cæsar, for he had already learned by their victory over him in a former collision that they were not without influence at Rome. Hence, rather than sacrifice himself, he begins to yield to demands to which he is bitterly opposed and knows [276] to be cruel and unjust. His attempt to relieve himself of responsibility by sending the prisoners to Herod had failed.

      1. Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. Scourging was the usual preliminary of the Romans to an execution, but Pilate still hoped to appease the Jews by the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, without his death. The Roman scourging was terribly cruel. The word used for scourging implies that it was done, not with rods, for Pilate had no lictors, but with what Horace calls the "horribile flagellum," of which the Russian knout is the only modern representative. The person to be scourged was bound to a low pillar, that, bending over, the blows might be better inflicted. The scourge was made of several thongs with a handle; the thongs were made rough with bits of iron or bone, for tearing the flesh, and thus fitted, it was called a scorpion. See Psalm 129:3; Isaiah 53:5. It was our sins that made Christ suffer thus. Paul was scourged also more than once. See 2 Cor. 11:24.

      It would not be difficult for us to draw from the description of ancient eye-witnesses accounts of the scourging inflicted by the Romans, which would give us some idea of the shame and torture now endured by the Son of man, but perhaps it is better to look beyond the purely physical sufferings of our Savior. It is well to keep in mind, however, that a more brutal soldiery never existed in the world than the Roman. Even the Indian savage is not more unfeeling than was the soldier of the Roman legion. The national brutality which could choose for its sports the combats of gladiators in the arena, or of prisoners with ferocious beasts in the amphitheatre, reached its climax in the men whose trade was war. The laws, made in self-preservation, aimed to protect Roman citizens, but the prisoner of a subject race might as well have appealed for pity to the tiger of an Indian jungle. It is true that Pilate had become strangely interested in Jesus. There was something about the prisoner that excited his wonder and awe; his conscience had probably been stirred as never before, and he had made strenuous efforts to appease the Jewish clamor and to release a prisoner "in whom he found no fault at all." But while averse to decreeing an act of injustice, he had not that stern rectitude that would make him willing to sacrifice himself rather than do wrong, and he had therefore weakly yielded, after an ineffectual struggle. The delivery of Christ to his soldiers for the preliminary scourging, the cruel Roman method of preparing a prisoner for execution, would therefore be a signal to the ferocious men of war in his palace to expend their natural love of brutality on the Lord. Hence, we learn, not only that he was subjected to the scourge, but to the additional shame of mockery. When he was covered with blood and torn with stripes, a most pitiable object to human eyes, in mockery of his kingly claims they array him in the robes of royalty, crown him with thorns, and while pretending adulation, heap indignity on indignity. Oh, the wonders of his love and long-suffering! [277]

      2, 3. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns. The crown of thorns was probably a wreath of thorny leaves something like the common cactus. While presenting the appearance of a crown it would be an instrument of torture. To this emblem of royalty was added a purple, or scarlet robe (both colors are named and with the ancients differed little), which was thrown around him as a royal mantle. Matthew adds that a reed was placed in his hand as a scepter. Then, when they had thus arrayed their torn and bleeding victim, the brutal soldiers began to mockingly salute him and to cry, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Their whole conduct was designed to render his claims of kingly power contemptible. In order to make the humiliation greater they would approach him, as they saluted him as King, extending their hands as if to offer him royal tribute, and then strike him a blow. Whenever I think of one that could have called twelve legions of angels to his rescue, enduring these things, I am amazed beyond expression. Mark adds that they spit on him. In that vast hall were hundreds of ferocious soldiers and they would vie with each other in efforts to insult the prisoner whom they, in their ignorance, supposed to be a rebel seeking royal power.

      4. Pilate went forth again. He went out of his palace to the crowd upon the street, preceding Jesus, and again affirming that he found no fault with him, although he had scourged him. From Luke 23:16, we learn that he had proposed to scourge him and then let him go. He seems now to hope that the pitiable condition of the torn and bloody prisoner, as well as his humiliation, will appeal to the better feelings of his enemies. As Jesus, wearing the painful crown and the mocking robe, is led out he exclaims, Behold the man! His own heart is touched. He no longer speaks of him as King, but points to him as a human sufferer. Pilate, unconsciously, described the sufferer aright. That mocked and despised prisoner, with the thorny crown and the streams of blood trickling down from his brow, humiliated, beaten and insulted, was THE MAN, the one perfect man of the human race, the type of ideal manhood. To him all ages point and exclaim, Ecce homo! Behold the man!

      6. When the chief priests and officers saw him, etc. If Pilate had hoped to excite [278] pity he was doomed to disappointment. Even his hard, heathen heart could not fathom the depths of Jewish hate. His repeated declaration that Jesus was guilty of no crime against Roman law, and the appearance on the porch, of the prisoner in so wretched a state, only provoked the cry, "Crucify him, crucify him!" This cry was evidently tumultuous and threatening. Pilate replies, "Take ye him and crucify him, for I find no fault;" not a permission to crucify him, but an angry answer: "If you want him crucified do it yourselves; I will not, for he has done nothing." This they had no power to do. Pilate's reply is both a taunt and an accusation of the priests of a wish to crucify an innocent man.

      7. We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, etc. We is emphatic. Pilate has decided that Christ is guilty of no crime against Roman law. Then they assert that he has merited death by the violation of their law. They refer to the law against blasphemy in Lev. 24:16. Let it not be forgotten that the Sanhedrim condemned Jesus to death because he declared that he was the Son of God, and now when other means had failed they make the same charge before the Roman tribunal. Jesus died for the "good confession."

      8, 9. When Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid. The calmness and majesty of the prisoner had profoundly moved the stern Roman. Man had never endured with such patience and kingly dignity. Now when he heard the statement that he had said that he was the Son of God, he thought at once of all those stories in his heathen mythology, of the gods taking human form. What if this marvelous prisoner was the son of one the gods? He was alarmed. He retired into the judgment hall with Jesus for a fresh examination. He asks, Whence art thou? Art thou of earth or of heaven, human or divine? No answer was returned. The motive of the question was not to know his claims that he might worship him, but to got some knowledge that would relieve his perplexity. Christ gave no answer that would tend to save himself.

      10. Knowest thou not . . . that I have power to release thee? Pilate was baffled and piqued by Christ's calm silence. To extort an answer he boasted of his power and appealed to the motive of fear. He had power to crucify or release. The prisoner would do well to seek to please him.

      11. Thou couldest have no power against me, etc. Jesus breaks the silence and at [279] once assumes the position of Pilate's judge. His language shows that Pilate was the poor, powerless victim of his environment. He could have no power over himself unless it were given him. The divine majesty could blaze forth and smite at once Jew and Roman. Christ submitted because it was the Father's will that he should drink the cup. Poor, helpless Pilate was not so great a sinner as the Jews who might have known better, who were filled with devilish hate, who were now forcing Pilate to the crime. The words of Christ are really words of compassion. The prisoner to be crucified pities the judge that sends him to the cross!

      12. From thenceforth Pilate sought to release him. He continued his efforts, which John passes over with the statement. That they were persistent is indicated by the threatening reply of the Jews: If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar's friend. This means that he will be accused before Cæsar's tribunal of overlooking treason. The Cæsar then on the throne was Tiberius, dark, suspicious, cruel in character. Such a charge from the representatives of the Jewish nation at Rome would probably prove fatal to Pilate; would certainly end his career as a public man. The risk is too great. He would rather sacrifice an innocent man than himself. Hence he at once surrenders. The struggle is over.

      13. Sat down in the judgment seat. He had sat in the judgment seat before and had acquitted Jesus. Now he is brought forth again and Pilate takes the judgment seat in order to condemn him. The judgment seat was a raised platform, a kind of throne, from whence judicial decisions were rendered. John marks the spot where this, the most momentous of earthly decisions, was rendered. It was a spot called the Pavement, probably a square with mosaic pavement in front of the tower of Antonia. Here the seat of judgment was placed.

      14. It was the preparation of the passover, and the sixth hour. John marks the exact time when this remarkable judgment was rendered. It was about six o'clock in the morning, on Friday, the day of preparation for the passover. Mark says that the crucifixion began at the third hour, nine o'clock, as the Hebrews began to count at six. John wrote many years later, after Jerusalem had fallen, among people who began to count at midnight, as did all the Roman world, and he therefore used their language and called six o'clock the sixth hour, as we do, rather than the first hour as the Hebrews did.

      Another difficulty occurs in the preparation for the passover. Christ and his apostles had eaten the passover already. How then could it be that that was the [280] preparation day? Amid conflicting views I can only give what seems to me the best solution: 1. It is certain that Christ ate a meal the evening before in the Upper Room which was called a passover. 2. It is certain from John 18:28, that the Jews had not eaten the passover at that time. 3. It seems clear to me that Christ, anxious to eat this passover (see Luke 22:15), ate it in advance of the usual time, in order that he, the true Paschal Lamb, "Our Passover," might be offered on the same day that the passover was eaten. The priests hurried the trial and execution of Jesus so that they might proceed to the preparation for the passover that evening. As the Lord's supper was anticipatory of the suffering on the cross, so was the Lord's last passover.

      15. Shall I crucify your King? Pilate had yielded. His decision was made, but he was full of resentment against the Jews and the words with which he presented Jesus, prepared for crucifixion, were designed to taunt them. "Behold your King!" When they reply with the cruel shout, "Crucify him, crucify him!" he asks with a sneer, "Shall I crucify your King?" To this they reply: We have no king but Cæsar. They had not now. They had rejected the divine King, had chosen Barabbas instead, for life, and now make choice of Cæsar as their king instead of the Lord's Anointed. To Cæsar's tender mercies they commit themselves, and in about a generation Cæsar will trample them in the wine press of wrath.

      16. Then delivered he him . . . to be crucified. He gave to the Jewish leaders a guard of Roman soldiers ordered to take charge of the prisoner and to execute the sentence. The mob had triumphed, and the Roman had been forced to yield. Thus had been fulfilled the declaration of the prophet that his condemnation should be extorted (Isaiah 53:8). To be crucified. The death to which the Savior was now formally sentenced was regarded by the ancients as the most awful form of punishment known. Even burning was considered preferable. It was never inflicted by the Jews but was common among the Persians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans. It is spoken of by Cicero as "the most cruel and disgraceful of punishments," and was never inflicted upon a Roman citizen, though often upon slaves. It was preceded by scourging and the condemned was required to carry his own cross, or a part of it at least, to the place of execution. The place selected was outside of the gates, and on arrival, the sufferer was stripped naked, his clothing becoming a perquisite of his executioners, and the cross was so erected that his feet would only be one or two feet from the earth. Sometimes he was nailed to the cross after it was erected and sometimes before, being thrown upon his back upon the ground, and nails driven through each extended hand and through the feet. A medicated cup was usually given before the nailing [281] out of humanity, in order to stupefy the sufferer and render him less sensible to the exquisite pain. This our Lord refused to take in order that he might meet his fate with his senses all clear. These details are gathered from Smith's Bible Dictionary, which adds: "It only remains to speak of the manner of death, and the kind of physical suffering endured, which we shall briefly abridge from the physician Richter. These are, 1. The unnatural position and violent tension of the body, which causes a painful sensation on the least motion. 2. The nails being driven through parts of the hands and feet which are full of nerves and tendons (and yet at a distance from the heart), create the most exquisite anguish. 3. The exposure of so many wounds and lacerations brings on inflammation, which tends to become gangrene, and every moment increases the poignancy of suffering. 4. In the distended parts of the body more blood flows through the arteries than can be carried back into the veins; hence, too much blood finds its way from the aorta into the head and stomach, and the blood vessels of the head become swollen and pressed. The general obstruction of the circulation which ensues, causes an internal excitement, exertion and anxiety, more intolerable than death itself. 5. The inexpressible misery of gradually increasing and lingering anguish. To all of which we may add, 6. Burning and raging thirst."

      When left to the effect of the cross victims usually lingered about three days and have been known to suffer nine, before death ended their agonies. Sometimes methods of hastening death were resorted to, in mercy, one of which was the breaking of the legs; others were to build fires beneath and stifle with smoke, or to turn wild beasts upon the victim. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, abolished crucifixion as a method of punishment.


      1. Think of the love of Him who endured these things from those he came to save, and when he had the power to destroy them in a moment if he would!

      2. While thou pourest down thy drunken carouses, thou givest thy Savior a portion of gall; while thou despisest his poor servants, thou spittest in his face; while thou puttest on thy proud dresses, and liftest up thy vain heart with high conceits, thou settest a crown of thorns on his head; while thou wringest and oppressest his poor children, thou whippest him and drawest blood from his hands and feet.--Bishop Hall.

      3. They put a reed in his hands as a mock sceptre. Even in the midst of the mockery the truth made itself felt. Herod recognizes his innocence by a white robe, the Roman soldiery his royalty by the sceptre and crown of thorns; and that has become the highest of all crowns.--Cook.

      4. Pilate consented to do a deed of injustice rather than suffer the loss of an office and perhaps of his life. Three years later he lost the office and was sent into exile. He tried to "save his life and lost it." For 1800 years he has been pilloried in the estimation of the world. But the prisoner he scourged, suffered to be mocked and crucified, has become the King of men, and rules over a world-wide and eternal empire. "I came to be a king," said he, and he is King forever. [282]


      17. He went forth bearing his cross. It was customary to make the condemned carry the timbers of the cross to the place of execution. The cross was laid on Christ, but from weakness, perhaps caused by the scourging and abuse to which he had been subjected, he sinks under the burden. Simon, a Cyrenian who was met in the way, was then compelled by the soldiers to bear the cross. Called the place of a skull . . . Golgotha. A Hebrew word, meaning a skull. From its Latin equivalent, calvaria, comes our English word Calvary, which occurs in the English New Testament only in Luke 23:33, where it should be translated "a skull." The significance of the name is uncertain. Some suppose that it was the common place of execution, and that the skulls of those who were executed lay about; others that it was a bare rounded knoll, in form like a skull.--Abbott. It was, (1) apparently a well-known spot; (2) outside the gate (compare Heb. 13:12); but (3) near the city (John 19:20); (4) on a thoroughfare leading into the country (Luke 23:26); and (5) contained a "garden" or "orchard" (John 19:41).

      18. Where they crucified him. The cross was an upright pole or beam, intersected by a transverse one at right angles, generally in the shape of a T. In this case, from the "title" being placed over the head, the upright beam probably projected above the horizontal one, as usually represented. To this cross, the criminal, being stripped of his clothes, was fixed by nails driven through the hands, and not always, nor perhaps generally, though certainly not seldom, through the feet, separate or united. The body was not supported by the nails, but by a piece of wood which passed between the legs. A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly--dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds--all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. And two other with him. These two are called "thieves" and "malefactors" elsewhere. They may have been zealots who believed in a coming Judean kingdom, made their patriotism a cover for robbery and murder, and had finally been arrested and condemned. It is a reasonable hypothesis that they belonged to the band of which Barabbas was the chief. See Mark 15:7.

      19. Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. It was the Roman custom to place on the cross over the criminal's head, a placard, stating the crime for which he suffered. Luke (23:38) says that the title was written in Greek, Latin [283] and Hebrew, the chief languages then spoken, and all spectators would be able to read it. The superscription is given differently by each evangelist. This is Jesus the King of the Jews (Matt. 27:37). The King of the Jews (Mark 15:26). This is the King of the Jews (Luke 23:38). Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews (John 19:19). Although no serious and sensible writer would dream of talking about "a discrepancy" here, it is very probable that the differences arise from the different forms assumed by the title in the three languages.

      20. It was written in Hebrew, and Greek and Latin. The Greek was the universal language of literature; the Latin was the language of the Roman Empire; the Hebrew was spoken vernacularly by the Jews. The rabbins say there are three most powerful languages: The Roman for battle, the Greek for conversation, the Hebrew for prayers.

      21, 22. Write not, The King of the Jews. This was the crime of which our Savior had been guilty they said. Pilate intended that the inscription should have a sting in it for the chief priests and elders and scribes. He had been frustrated and galled; and he took his revenge by flashing the idea before the public mind, that it was a crime, in the estimation of at least the chief priests and scribes and elders, to seek to have a Jewish king. Pilate's shaft did not miss his mark. The chief priests wished him to amend the description thus: "He said, I am King of the Jews;" but he silenced them with the answer, "What I have written, I have written." Thus the cross proclaimed the Kingship of Jesus.

      23. Then the soldiers . . . . took his garments, and made four parts. There were four soldiers at the cross and the garments were a perquisite of the soldiers. The outer garments were divided into four parts, one to each, but the coat, rather the "tunic," an inner garment, was seamless, woven in one piece, probably of wool. As it would have been spoiled by dividing it, the soldiers decided to cast lots for it, thus fulfilling another prophecy (Psalm 22:18). This has given occasion to the remark that Christians have, in their party divisions, paid less respect to their Master than the heathen soldiers did. [284]

      24. Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it. Romans did not gamble with cards, but dice. Gamblers will ply their trade even in the shadow of the cross, and in the presence of death. The 22d Psalm, from whence a quotation was made, has been universally regarded by Christian critics as referring to the Messiah.

      25. There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, etc. While the apostles mostly were afar off, the women were near the cross. Some have held that there were only three, "his mother's sister" being "Mary the wife of Cleophas," but the best Bible students think otherwise and suppose that Salome, the mother of James and John, is the sister meant. Matthew names among the women, "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children." The last, Salome, is supposed to have been the sister of the mother of Jesus (Matt. 27:56).

      26, 27. Woman, behold thy son! Agonizing as the sight was, it was the part of a mother to press as near her great suffering son as possible, and she, with other saintly women, were near the foot of the cross. Jesus, in that awful hour, thought of others rather than himself, and looking at John, the nephew of Mary if Salome was her sister, he said to his mother, "Behold thy son!" No doubt a widow, and now bereft of her son, he commends her to the watch-care of John, an example of filial affection most wonderful when we consider the agonies of the cross. The original is more graphic than our English Version. The Savior's words are: "Woman, look! thy son I" and "Look! thy mother!" words brief, ejaculatory, in perfect harmony with his state of mortal agony. From that hour, or time, John took Mary to his own home, and she, doubtless, remained there till her death.

      28. After this, Jesus . . . . saith, I thirst. All things were now accomplished, the end was at hand, and in order that the predictions of the, Old Testament Scriptures might be fulfilled by his death, he comes to the last moment [285] saying, "I thirst." I hold this to be the meaning, as there is no prediction that he should utter these words.

      29. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar. This was the sour wine used by the soldiers; not mixed with myrrh, as in the case of the stupefying draught Jesus had refused before crucifixion (Mark 15:23). The sponge had probably served instead of a cork to the jar in which the soldiers had brought the drink that was to refresh them in their long day's work. Some one, probably a soldier, heard the cry, "I thirst," and, prompted by a rough pity, stretched out a cane or stalk of hyssop (John 19:29), with the sponge that had been dipped in the wine upon it, and bore it to the parched lips of the Sufferer. It was not now refused.

      30. He said, It is finished. This is a cry of triumph. He had won the victory and had reached the end of his cruel pathway. It betokens a deep sensation of relief, relief from a crushing burden, rest after agonizing toil. The work of redemption was wrought. He had said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" His baptism of suffering was now over. It is interesting to study all the words uttered by Jesus on the cross. By a comparison of all the Evangelists this will be found to be his sixth utterance. The three Evangelists all dwell upon the loudness of the cry, as if it had been the triumphant note of a conqueror. The last words from the cross were those recorded in Luke 23:46, "Father, into thy hands," etc. This cry of Jesus teaches us that his death does not proceed from the decay of his strength, but from the excess of his love; that his life is not taken from him by violence, but that he gives it up by his power. It is, on the part of the Jews, a Deicide and a sacrilege; but on his own it is a holy and voluntary sacrifice. He bowed his head and gave up the ghost. "Gave up his spirit" (Revision). The record does not say that he died. He, voluntarily, of his own act, surrendered up his spirit. He had declared, "I lay down my life to take it up again." He died by his own act; he was raised by his own power. If he died by his own surrender of his spirit, his death was not due to the effect of the cross. The two malefactors outlived him, and were put to death by other means in the evening in order that they might not be upon the cross upon the passover sabbath (see verses 31-33), but Jesus was already dead. The physical cause of Christ's death has been thought by many to have been rupture of the heart. (1) Crucifixion was generally a very lingering death; the victim lived seldom less than twenty-four hours, often three or four days. (2) Usually the victim died of sheer exhaustion; but Christ was not exhausted, as he cried with a loud voice. (3) John records that blood and water flowed from Christ's side when pierced by the spear. This could only occur if the heart had been ruptured, and the blood, before death, had flowed out into the cavity which surrounds the heart. Christ then literally died of a broken heart. This theory draws our hearts away from the mere bodily [286] tortures which Christ endured, to the mysterious woe that pressed upon him on account of imputed sin. For a full discussion of this question, see Hanna's Life of Christ, vol. 3, in which the views of the most eminent British physicians are given. Dr. Simpson, whose reputation is world wide, declares that the cross could not have caused the death so soon, and the thrust of the spear was a rude post mortem examination, revealing the blood and water, which could only result from a rupture of the heart. For further information on this subject we refer the reader to Dr. Stroud's Physical Cause of the Death of Christ, chap. iv., and also to McClintock & Strong's Cyclopedia, art. on Crucifixion. Gave up the ghost. More correctly, gave up the spirit. The word rendered ghost (pneuma) occurs in the New Testament 393 times, is applied to the spirit of God 288 times, to evil spirits some 30 times, and to the human spirit 40 times, while it is applied to the disposition 17 times. "God is a spirit," and he created man in his own image, that is, gave him a spirit also. When death occurs the spirit, or deathless portion of our being "returns to God who gave it." Stephen said: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" the Lord said: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit;" John says of the Lord's death, "He gave up the spirit." We have a body, soul and spirit, and Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, prays God to preserve "their whole spirit, soul and body, blameless unto the coming of the Lord." The body perishes, the soul dies, but the spirit departs. The soul (psuchee) is never commended by the dying saint to God, but the never-dying spirit (pneuma). Nowhere in the divine volume is the spirit said to be destroyed, to die or cease to exist. Mortality belongs to the mortal portion of our being, but is never predicated of a spirit. The words applied here to the Savior's death are those that apply to his death as a member of our race.

      31. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation. Some urge that this refers to the preparation for the Sabbath day, but John explains the meaning in which he uses the word "preparation," in verse 14, where he says distinctly "it was the preparation of the passover." It is true that the next day was the Sabbath and "that Sabbath was an high day." It was more than an ordinary Sabbath. The annual Sabbath of the passover, "the first day of unleavened bread," which was set apart as a Sabbath by the law, coincided with the weekly Sabbath, making that Sabbath of unusual solemnity. That the bodies should not remain upon the cross. It was the Roman custom, as well as that of other Gentile lands, to leave the body on the cross to putrefy and be devoured by carrion eating birds and beasts, but this was forbidden by the Jewish law which, partly as a sanitary measure and partly as a ceremonial obligation, required immediate burial (Deut. 21:23). Hence, in Judea, out of deference to Jewish prejudices the Romans yielded their custom. These Jews, who had no scruples about sending an innocent man [287] to death on trumped-up charges, and who resorted to the most unscrupulous methods to defeat justice, were such sticklers for these ceremonials that they would have considered it an awful profanation of sacred things if the body of one whom they had murdered had remained on the cross over the Sabbath day! Their legs might be broken. Breaking the legs was a barbarous method adopted to hasten death, probably instituted as much to add horror as to terminate sufferings. The legs were crushed with a hammer somewhat like a sledge, and the shock would bring speedy death. The Jewish authorities simply request Pilate that he shall order the coup de grace to be administered in order that the bodies may be taken down from the cross.

      32, 33. Then came the soldiers. At the orders of Pilate the soldiers, beginning with the two outside sufferers, broke their legs in succession, but when they came to Jesus, the central figure, they found him already dead, and, hence, "broke not his legs." Thus as the paschal lambs, slain at that very hour, and eaten that evening, were preserved with bones unbroken, so "the Lord our passover" descended from the cross, pierced and mangled, but not a bone was broken.

      34. One of the soldiers . . . pierced his side. The object of this thrust is apparent. When they came to him to break his bones he was lifeless. It occurred to the soldiers that he might have swooned away, and to put his death beyond a doubt, he thrust his spear into his left side, the side of the heart. There came out blood and water. The blood and water that followed the withdrawal of the spear shows that the heart was pierced. The soldier, no doubt, aimed at the heart. The water, with clots of blood, can only be accounted for naturally by the previous rupture of the heart and the flow of blood into the pericardium, or outer sac of the heart, where it would be liable to separate very rapidly into water and clots of blood. Hence, as already stated, the Savior died of a broken heart.

      35. He that saw it bear record. The writer here identifies himself as an eye-witness, as one standing near the cross, as in fact, John the apostle. The reader cannot but note the emphasis that he places upon what he has just recorded concerning the spear thrust and the blood and water. Already in the days of John there was prevalent an agnostic skeptical theory that Jesus did not really, but only seemed to, die; and John proposed to set this matter at rest. What he saw proves the death of the Lord beyond a doubt. His testimony equally sets at rest the suggestions of modern skepticism [288] that Christ merely fainted from exhaustion and was taken down from the cross, and subsequently restored by his disciples. There has been much spiritualizing of the blood and water by a class of mythical commentators who see in everything a deep, mysterious, hidden meaning. The fact that in 1 John 5:8, it is stated that three bear witness, the Spirit, the water and the blood, furnishes some warrant for allowing a special emphasis upon the blood and the water, but not for some of the curious interpretations. If we seek aid from the epistle we find that there John declares that Christ came by "water and by blood;" that is, his work was inaugurated by his baptism and the great tragedy was ended when he shed his blood. Then he adds that the three bear witness, the Spirit, the water, and the blood. It must be kept in mind that John is citing these as witnesses to Christ, and to understand him we must seek how they bear witness. 1. We have already ascertained, in the discussion of the Comforter, how the Spirit bears witness and to this discussion I refer the reader. 2. Taking up the blood, it is also clear how it bears witness. The Lord himself appointed an institution, in which a chosen symbol represents his blood, and he has said, "As oft as ye do this (use this symbol in the appointed way) you do show forth my death." As the passover bore witness to the first passover in Egypt, so every celebration of the Lord's Supper, a memorial institution appointed at the foot of the cross, bears witness to his death, and the "blood of the New Testament, shed for many for the remission of sins," to his blood shed on the cross. 3. It thus becomes clear that the water must refer to the other great positive institution established by our Lord. Every baptismal rite bears witness also. The burial in the water is emblematical of the Lord's death and burial, and "we are buried by baptism into death," while the uplifting from the watery grave is "in the likeness of his resurrection." Hence, the water of the baptismal rite bears witness to the Lord's death, burial and resurrection, or to the three great facts of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). If, therefore, John attaches any deep meaning to "the water and the blood" it is because they symbolize the two great positive institutions established by our Lord, and which are two of the "three witnesses" which testify to the vital facts of his life, death, burial and resurrection.

      36, 37. For these things were done that the scripture should be fulfilled. The prophetic Scriptures alluded to are Exodus 12:46, and Zech. 12:10. The paschal lamb, the bones of which were not to be broken, was regarded by the Jews, and is spoken of both in the Old and New Testaments, as a type of the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world." As the writers of the Gospels were Jews and had in mind, to a great extent, while writing, a Jewish class of readers, they pay great attention to the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ. We find the same thing in the speeches of Peter and [289] Paul to Jewish audiences, of which a report is given Acts. Nothing conveyed conviction quicker to a Jew than to see that, even in the minutest particulars, Jesus corresponded, not only with the predictions of the prophets, but the types of the law.

      38. After this Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea is not named except in connection with the burial of Christ, and we know nothing of him save what is related in that connection. We learn by a comparison of statements that he belonged to Arimathea, a place now unknown, that he was a member of the Sanhedrim like Nicodemus, both of whom were absent or overawed during the trial of Christ, that he was a rich man, was a disciple "secretly for fear of the Jews," and in this respect, like Nicodemus, and that he had a new sepulcher "wherein no man had been laid" near where the Lord was crucified. The death of Christ seems to have given new courage to both him and Nicodemus. Coward before, be now boldly asks Pilate for the body, and the secret disciples do not hesitate to take the body from the cross and to bury it lovingly in the new-made, rock-hewn sepulcher. Pilate gave him leave. We learn from Mark that Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was so soon dead, and that he sent to ascertain whether it was really true. As soon as he learned, he gave assent. As the Savior died at 3 o'clock, the burial took place between that hour and sunset.

      39. There came also Nicodemus. This is the third mention of Nicodemus, the first in 3:1, the second 7:50, where he enters a protest against the injustice of the Sanhedrim, and here he come to assist in the burial of Christ, bringing along an hundred weight of myrrh and aloes. The Sanhedrim had condemned Christ to death, but two Sanhedrists gave him a costly burial. Myrrh and aloes. These were fragrant materials, and placed, in a pulverized condition, in the linen grave-clothes with which the body was wrapped. They not only gave off a pleasant fragrance but delayed decomposition. The great quantity used shows that his very couch was formed of spices.

      40. As the manner of the Jews is to bury. The Jews did not embalm as did the Egyptians, though in the case of King Asa there seems to be a hint of it, but it was the custom to wash the body, anoint it, and then wrap it in fine linen with spices and ointments enveloped in the folds. It is probable that the approach of the Sabbath hurried the preparation of the body, and it seems from the return of the women after the Sabbath that they did not [290] consider the burial rites fully completed. Comparing the four accounts we learn that the body was wrapped in fine linen clothes with spices, and laid in a new rock-hewn sepulcher in a garden near the place of crucifixion, and that the sepulcher had never before been used. It was common in Palestine to cut vaults for the burial of the dead in the sides of the rocky cliffs and to close them with stones. It is probable that Joseph had built this for the sepulcher for himself and family. Thus is fulfilled the prediction of Isaiah (chap. 53), that though Christ was "numbered with the transgressors," "he was with the rich in his death."

      42. There then because of the Jew's preparation . . . and they laid Jesus. This probably is mentioned to explain that the burial was hurried and not fully completed, a fact that seems to be indicated in the Gospels. How much pathos in the words, "there they laid Jesus!" In the tomb of Jesus the Jews supposed his works to be buried forever. In it were buried the hopes of his disciples who had "trusted that he would restore the kingdom to Israel." In it, had he not risen, would have been buried the Gospel, Christian civilization, and the hopes of the world. The future of the world was sleeping in his tomb.


      1. To the cross the Old Testament pointed. From the cross the New Testament histories radiate, and thence comes all the inspiration of the Christian life.

      2. At the crucifixion scene, Rome, with her paganism, was represented in the executioners; Judaism with its formalities, in the rulers and the people whom they swayed; and Christianity with its tender fidelity, in the women, who with John, stood by.

      3. The parted garments are an emblem of the Church in its universality, to be sent out into the four quarters of the globe; the unparted garment is emblematic of the Church in its unity, to be kept whole and unparted; the gambling soldiers are an emblem of those who treat the unity of the Church of Christ as a matter of indifference.--Wordsworth.

      4. Christ crucified shows (1) the evil of sin; (1) the greatness of our danger; (3) the value of salvation; (4) the wonderful love of God; (5) it strengthens every motive for being good; (6) it is the culmination of our perfect example.

      5. THE ATONEMENT.--We read in the introduction of the Holy Word that "he suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust;" "he was crucified for us;" "he was made sin for us;" "he made his soul an offering for sin;" [291] "he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified;" "he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;" "he hath reconciled us to God by his blood;" "he gave his life a ransom for many;" "he redeemed us to God by his own blood;" "his blood was shed for many for the remission of sins;" "he hath washed us from our sins in his own blood;" "his blood cleanseth from all sins;" "we are justified freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;" "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses;" "Christ purchased us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." It is futile to say that all these passages are more or less figurative. So is nearly all language. Sir William Hamilton showed that most of the apparently literal terms used in logical discussions are faded metaphors. There are certain unmistakable thoughts conveyed in these sacred texts, and they are that the atonement made by Christ for the sins of men is a ransom, a propitiation, a sacrifice.--Joseph Cook.

      6. THE RETRIBUTION OF HISTORY.--And now mark, for one moment, the revenges of history. Has not His blood been on them, and on their children? Has it not fallen most of all on those most nearly concerned in that deep tragedy? Before the dread sacrifice was consummated, Judas died in the horrors of a loathsome suicide. Caiaphas was deposed the year following. Herod died in infamy and exile. Stripped of his Procuratorship very shortly afterwards, on the very charges he had tried by a wicked concession to avoid, Pilate, wearied out with misfortunes, died in suicide and banishment, leaving behind him an execrated name. The house of Annas was destroyed a generation later by an infuriated mob, and his son was dragged through the streets, and scourged and beaten to his place of murder. Some of those who shared in and witnessed the scenes of that day--and thousands of their children--also shared in and witnessed the long horrors of that siege of Jerusalem which stands unparalleled in history for its unutterable fearfulness. "It seems," says Renan, "as though the whole race had appointed a rendezvous for extermination." They had shouted, "We have no king but Cæsar!" and they had no king but Cæsar; and leaving only for a time the fantastic shadow of a local and contemptible loyalty, Cæsar after Cæsar outraged, and tyrannized, and pillaged, and oppressed them, till at last they rose in wild revolt against the Cæsar whom they had claimed, and a Cæsar slaked in the blood of its best defenders the red ashes of their burnt and desecrated Temple. They had forced the Romans to crucify their Christ, and though they regarded this punishment with especial horror, they and their children were themselves crucified in myriads by the Romans outside their own walls, till room was wanting and wood failed, and the soldiers had to ransack a fertile inventiveness of cruelty for fresh methods of inflicting this insulting form of death. They had given thirty pieces of silver for their Savior's blood, and they were themselves sold in thousands for yet smaller sums. They had chosen Bar-Abbas in preference to their Messiah, and for them there has been no Messiah more, while a murderer's dagger swayed the last counsels of their [292] dying nationality. They had accepted the guilt of blood, and the last pages of their history were glued together with the rivers of their blood, and that blood continued to be shed in wanton cruelties from age to age. They who will, may see in incidents like these the mere unmeaning chances of History; but there is in History nothing unmeaning to one who regards it as the Voice of God speaking among the destinies of men; and whether a man sees any significance or not in events like these, he must be blind indeed who does not see that when the murder of Christ was consummated, the axe was laid at the root of the barren tree of Jewish nationality. Since that day Jerusalem and its environs, with their "ever-extending miles of grave-stones and ever-lengthening pavement of tombs and sepulchres," have become little more than one vast cemetery--an Aceldama, a field of blood, a potter's field to bury strangers in. Like the mark of Cain upon the forehead of their race, the guilt of that blood has seemed to cling to them--as it ever must until that same blood effaceth it. For, by God's mercy, that blood was shed for them also who made it flow; the voice which they strove to quench in death was uplifted in its last prayer for pity on his murderers. May that blood be efficacious I may that prayer be heard!--Farrar.

[NTC3 276-293]

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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

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