The Gospel of John was written so that all who read would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). We are reading how the events that happened to Jesus in life and in death were the fulfillment of God’s plan and prophecies. The author has established Jesus as our Passover lamb, offered up to set us free from our sins. None of his bones were broken in his death allowing him to be the perfect Lamb of God and indicating future hope of life and resurrection because God is always with his righteous sufferers. In particular, Psalm 34:19-20 prophesied that the Lord would remain with this one Righteous Sufferer, Jesus. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous one, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” There is one more prophecy the author wants us to examine before he turns to the burial of Jesus.
Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced
Not only will none of his bones be broken, but “they will look on him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It is important for us to go back to the prophecy of Zechariah and read the context so we can understand what this prophecy is declaring concerning Jesus. The prophecy is found in Zechariah 12:10-13:2 (page 799 in our pew Bibles). Zechariah 12 is promising salvation to Judah first (12:7) and destruction of their enemies (12:2,9).
In verse 10 God says he will pour out a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. There is a purpose to what God is doing. He will pour out grace and mercy so that when the people of Israel look at the one whom they pierced, they will mourn for him. They will mourn like one mourns for an only child. When we carefully consider the details we will see why John wants to draw our attention back to this prophecy.
Begin by noticing that the Lord himself is speaking. We see this in Zechariah 12:1 with “Thus declares the Lord.” The “I” in Zechariah 12 is referring to God as he is speaking to the people. God himself will be the one to pour out the spirit of grace and pleas for mercy. Now notice what God says next. “So that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced.” What did God just say through the prophet Zechariah? The one whom they have pierced is God himself! God says that they will look on me because they will look on him whom they pierced.
The Gospel of John is drawing our attention to a staggering fact. When Jesus had his hands and feet pierced as the nails went through to affix him to the cross, the people were crucifying God. This very point is what the apostle Peter teaches on the day of Pentecost.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36 ESV)
The Lord was crucified. It is hard to believe. It is hard to fathom. It is amazing that at moment that Jesus was crucified that God did not put the physical creation out of its existence for its hate and rebellion toward God. But the darkness coming over the land in the middle of the day certainly depicted the darkness of the hearts of the people and the grave sinfulness of what they were doing as they crucified the Lord.
When God is pierced, this was to cause something in the people. Notice against Zechariah 12:10. When they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child. They will weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Could there be a greater grieving that a person experiences than the death of an only child? This is the grieving that will happen as the people will look at the only Son of God whom they pierced. Think about how this is also fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. After the apostle Peter preaches to the crowd that they crucified the Lord, notice what happened next.
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart. (Acts 2:37 NASB)
BDAG lexicon says that this word for “pierced” was used for the feeling of sharp pain connected with anxiety and remorse. This is what is supposed to happen at the proclamation of the message about Jesus. There is to be great mourning and bitter weeping. Our sins are the reason Jesus had to die for us. The Lord died because of our rebellion. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)
The people will mourn because the Lord was pierced because of our sinful ways. One can easily imagine the sorrow on the day that Jesus died. One of the disciples of Jesus named Joseph asks for the body of Jesus. Joseph is a secret disciple, fearing what the Jewish leaders who do to him. We learn from the other gospel account that Joseph is a member of the Sanhedrin and did not consent to the crucifixion of Jesus. Another secret disciple also appears for the burial of Jesus: Nicodemus. In John 3 we saw Nicodemus, a ruler of Jews, come to Jesus at night and Jesus taught him about the kingdom of God. Two secret disciples now appear and they give Jesus a royal burial. About 65-75 pounds are spices are used, which is an extraordinary amount. But these disciples understood Jesus to be the Lord who had been pierced. They lay the body of Jesus in a new tomb that Joseph owned, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah that the Christ would be with the rich in death (Isaiah 53:9).
When we studied Isaiah 53 we noted that this was an amazing prophecy and an amazing fulfillment. In the first century, people had family tombs. A family member would take his relative and put him in the tomb. After a year, all that would be left of the body would be the bones. Those bones would be placed in the ossuary (a bone box) with the bones of other family members and left in the tomb. Rather than going to a family tomb, Jesus’ body ends up in the tomb of the rich. If Joseph had not asked for the body, we are left to assume that Jesus’ body would have been dumped with the rest of the criminals in a valley near Jerusalem.
But the prophecy of Zechariah is not over. We would be remiss to not consider the rest of what was said concerning the piercing of God. Consider Zechariah 12:10 again. God does not promise to pour out a spirit of wrath upon the people for what they have done. Rather, God will pour out a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy. The goal for God to come and die for our rebellion was not so that God would judge us wrathfully for our sins, as we certainly deserve. God came to be the answer to our sin problem. Jesus is the sacrifice of atonement for our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Notice what God says through the prophet Zechariah that will also happen on that day when God is pierced.
On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. (Zechariah 13:1 ESV)
A fountain will be opened that will cleanse people from their sins and impurities. Grace and mercy would now be available because God has sent the answer for our sins. The pierced one becomes the source of salvation for all who look on him in faith. Consider again how we see this on the day of Pentecost.
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:36–41)
The apostle Peter said that we have pierced the Lord. The right response occurs in the people. They are pierced through the heart. They are mourning for their sins and mourning that they killed the Son of God. What should we do then? Look at our condition before our God! What are we going to do? Every person should feel the weight of sin and weight of doom on their shoulders! Look at what we have done! But God did not leave us without hope. Our Lord was pierced so that grace and mercy would be poured out. Peter therefore commands the people to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Look on him whom you have pierced and submit to the will of God. The fountain for cleansing from sins has been opened. What must we do to receive cleansing? Be broken by your sins, submit to the will of God by being willing to do all that he says, and obey his calling of you to him.