We are in the sentencing, death and burial chapter of Jesus’ earthly ministry from John’s account. Jesus has prepared his disciples for this hour and has gone ever so willingly to be put on trial. In 18:28-40, Pilate had interviewed Jesus and tried to release him to the crowd only to hear the crowd replay, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas the rebel!” Peter had shown bravery in the face of persecution to begin with but then succumbed to temptation and denied being one of Jesus’ followers. Jesus has willingly given himself over to people who hate him.
Verses 1-16 – Jesus is the King
The theme of Jesus being a king is carried throughout this section. He is mocked as a ‘so-called’ king in verses 1-5 while being jeered and flogged. The reason for his condemnation is on the basis of blaspheme – claiming to he the Son of God – in verses 6-7. Jesus belittles the power that Pilate has in verses 8-11. The crowd corner Pilate into sentencing Jesus on the basis that he claims to be a king in verses 12-16.
Notice how powerless the rulers of this world are over sin.
Firstly, the Jewish leaders have decided that Jesus needs to die on the basis that he is blaspheming. They cannot accept that he is actually the Son of God. The Word of God who has come into this world is being rejected by people. They have not believed Jesus, but have hate for him.
Secondly, the character in the story who thinks he’s in charge has very little control over what happens next. Verse 10, “Pilate said, ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’” Jesus’ reply is effectively: it is by God’s design that you are here sentencing me…the people have put me here before you…you are not in as much control as you think you are!
Thirdly, the crowd used a political angle against Pilate to force him to sentence Jesus to death. Verse 16 reads like Pilate surrendering to the only outcome that could happen. Of course, Pilate could have set Jesus free, but that would have been a miracle from God, and God has already decided that the cross will happen.
v1 “crown of thorns.” It’s interesting that the crown placed on Jesus’ head to mock him is made out of thorns. Not only is it a painful crown to wear but it is also one of the markers of the curse in Genesis 3 – that the ground will produce thorns and thistles. Now Jesus literally wears part of the curse on his head as he goes to the cross to pay for the sins of the world.
v7 “according to that law he must die.” See Leviticus 24:16. Remember that the Jews wanted Pilate to kill Jesus because it was the eve of the Passover and they didn’t want blood on their hands. So ridiculous. See also John 5:18 and 10:33 where they had previously tried to kill Jesus themselves for the same reason.
V13 Gabbatha – clearly this is Aramaic for Stone Pavement, or the name of the same judge’s seat. While the NT is written in Greek, the common language and often the first language for the Jews was Aramaic. The difference between Hebrew and Aramaic is, put simply, Hebrew was the ancient Jewish language which the bulk of the OT was written in while Aramaic overtook this as the common language by the time Jesus was on earth. John referred to Aramaic words in 5:2 and 19:17.
Verses 16-24 – What the soldiers did
This section begins and ends with the soldier’s actions. There appears to have been four of them (v23) escorting three prisoners (v18). Although we are told that the soldiers ‘take charge’, John describes it in a very different way!
Notice how well this event has been orchestrated by God.
Firstly, Jesus is being told where to go, what to carry and then pinned to the cross. His involvement is passive.
Secondly, Pilate makes one more statement about this situation as if to rub it in the Jew’s face. By organising a sign which is clearly aimed at biting back at the Jews for their sinister strategy, Pilate creates an image that has gone down in history – a man stripped naked and put to death on the most cruel and shameful method of the time is labelled “King of the Jews”. It’s like a modern day meme! This is how our world treats the King of Kings! The disciples didn’t put this sign there. Jesus didn’t either. But a malicious sneer from Pilate back at the Jews has told the world in three different languages, that they are crucifying their king.
Thirdly, and most profoundly, one aspect of Psalm 22 (a psalm that seems written entirely for the episode of Jesus on the cross) is played out and clearly understood. How can clothes be divided AND gambled for simultaneously? Well, John describes it perfectly.
Verses 25-37 It is finished
In these verses, Jesus speaks from the cross. Firstly, he talks to his mother and John and directs them to become family now. The mother who raised Jesus and the disciple whom Jesus loved are to comfort and support one another for the remainder of their lives. What love Jesus shows to others even when he is suffering. Secondly, Jesus says that he is thirsty and after he receives some wine vinegar, he declares that “it is finished.” Only then does he give up his spirit.
Notice how prepared Jesus was for this event.
Firstly, Jesus describes his death on the cross as a “finished” task. Something is finished, says Jesus, as he hangs there. Clearly, Jesus doesn’t feel like he’s in the wrong place or that his mission has failed. Anybody reading John’s gospel with their eyes and ears open would not conclude that Jesus didn’t mean to end this way. Lookup John 4:34; 5:36; and 17:4 to see that Jesus was concerned with finishing all of the work that his Father had sent him to do. This included his death on the cross.
Secondly, this was a work that the rest of the scriptures had been forecasting, see verses 24. 29, 36 and 37 in fulfilment of Ps 22:18 ; 69:21; 34:20 and Zech 12:10. God has had this moment planned for a very long time. The words of Jesus in John 16:2 become quite ironic as the people are killing him and thinking that they are offering a service to God. In killing him, they are doing exactly as God had predicted. Note, that this does not make them innocent of his blood since it is there own free will that has nailed Jesus to the cross. How interesting too that Zechariah 12:10 can be a prediction of a death on the cross!
About the water and the blood. Although John also uses this phrase in 1 John 5:6-8, the two phrases are better understood as unrelated. In John’s gospel, the author is giving eye-witness evidence that Jesus’ body was dead. If there are any medical students or practitioners in your group, you might allow them a moment to say something. The point, however, is to say that Jesus was dead. The words surrounding this make it clear that there was a witness to this and his words are true. Whether there is a scientific explanation to this, I don’t know. Is there a spiritual or fulfilment element to this, I am also unsure. It has been linked to Moses striking the rock in Exodus and to the water flowing out of the temple in Ezekiel. Personally, I am satisfied that the account makes it clear that Jesus didn’t die from the spear nor from crucifixion (in the normal sense). He gave up his spirit and was dead on the cross within only hours. Note John 10:18 “No one takes it fro me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Verses 38-42 Jesus is dead.
It seems that the large crowd crying for Jesus’ death have no concern for him once he’s dead. Only two men with the will and ability to take care of Jesus’ body are at hand to provide Jesus’ body with a burial place.
Notice how neatly the body of Jesus is given a tomb.
Firstly, there doesn’t appear to be a fight for the right of Jesus’ body. Since it is the eve of the Passover and the special Sabbath day, almost all of the Jews are concerned to keep clear of any dead bodies or else they will be unclean (John 18:28).
Secondly, two Jews who are followers of Jesus have the means and ability to deal with Jesus’ body. We know Nicodemus from chapter 3 and since he and Joseph of Arimathea are working together now, it is possible that they had talked much about Jesus and his claims prior to this.
Thirdly, the tomb appears perfect for Jesus. It is close to the site of the crucifixion. It is a brand new tomb. It is not being used by anybody else.
The arrangements for Jesus body seem too perfect to be an accident.
Notice too, I know it sounds obvious, but that Jesus is dead.
He had given up his spirit (v30), confirmed dead (v34) and then laid in a tomb by two intelligent men. Pilate was aware that Jesus was dead. Jesus…was…dead. This is the eternal Word (John 1). The one who came from the Father’s side (John 16:28) and who prayed that God would bring him glory like he had from the beginning (John 17:1-5). He died. Human beings killed him.
At this point, I imagine a movie of Joseph and Nicodemus taking, preparing and laying Jesus’ body in the tomb and the tomb closing. The whole sequence is shot in slow motion. And over the top of some celtic choir comes the very words of Jesus himself as he spoke about death in John. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (5:24) “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (8:51) “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (11:4) “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (11:11) “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (12:32-33) The tomb closes. the camera stays there a little longer as if to expect Jesus to burst out. But then the camera fades to black. We have to wait.
The true King of the world has fulfilled the mission that he came to earth to do while the fake rulers of this world shout and scream as if they are getting worthwhile things done too. The wisdom and strength of the world is foolishness and weakness to God. The strength and might and power of this world is nothing compared to the mighty work completed by God. Who would have known, looking on that scene at the cross, that Jesus was carefully completing his mission on earth.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
- Walk by faith and not by sight. God’s plans are long and he is patient but sure. Man’s plans are shallow, short-term, impatient and fickle. Stand firm on the rock and not upon the sand. Like Jesus said: this is eternal life (this is what’s foundational and fundamentally important for you): that we know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent. Giving our attention, effort, time and commitment to things of this world is to deny the eternal plans and steadfastness of God. So, keep close to God. Allow God to shape your thinking. Put to death the things of this world. Embrace the new creation that God is working in you and put to death the old self.
- Jesus is the absolute King. The theme of kingship is strong in John 19 and while Jesus is mocked as being the king, all other characters in the passage are working to his plans rather than their own. Don’t worry if Jesus appears to be weak in this world. Don’t be discouraged if the words and plans of people put Jesus down. Be sure that you stand up for Jesus. You create in your heart a throne for Jesus. In all of your thoughts and plans, acknowledge Jesus as King. What do you think King Jesus would say to you at the moment?
- All of God’s promises are YES in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). The passage was full of fulfilment type moments as Jesus died on the cross. All of the OT points to Jesus and his ministry of salvation. That is, the work of Christ is not a small thing for God. It is not a last minute plan. It is not a plan B. And neither are the future plans of God. Jesus said that all who believe and put their trust in him will not die but will live. Jesus calls us to follow him and live. So let’s take up our cross and follow him.
Father God, thank you for keeping to your plan of salvation which is found in Jesus death resurrection. As we linger between the moment of Jesus’ death and his victorious resurrection, we give humble and hearty thanks for his sacrifice for us. Please help us to bring glory to you with the joy that comes from knowing you through your beloved Son. Please forgive us for our betrayal of you. Thank you for your love which seeks us before we seek you. As we wait for our own death and resurrection, please help us to be bold followers of Jesus. Amen.