Pilate’s multiple attempts to release Jesus have failed. The Lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world and it is the will and plan of God for Jesus to die by crucifixion. This is the climax of redemptive history. We are reading the supreme expression of God’s love for the world and the supreme display of humanity’s sin.
Jesus Crucified (19:17-22)
In verses 16-17 we see Jesus led like a lamb to the slaughter, just as Isaiah prophesied (cf. Isaiah 53:7). Jesus is not reluctant nor is he compelled. He is carrying his own cross to the place of his execution, fulfilling the foreshadowing in the days of Abraham when Isaac carried the wood to the place of his own execution (Genesis 22:6). What a name for the place of execution: the Place of the Skull! The Place of the Skull was just outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem. While executions were to be held outside of the camp according to the Law of Moses, there is a greater picture in place. According to the Law of Moses, the sin offering were to be taken outside the camp of Israel (Leviticus 4:12; 16:27). Jesus is presented as our sin offering as he goes outside the city gates to his execution to offer his life for the sins of the people. As succinct as John is in 19:1, he again is concise for something so horrible: “There they crucified him” (19:18). The nails went through the hands and feet of Jesus into the wood and he was lifted up before the crowds, hanging on the cross. Pilate’s inscription continues to incite the Jewish people: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The chief priests tell Pilate not to write this, but to change the inscription to, “This man said, I am the King of the Jews.” But Pilate does not care about their desires. He simply responds, “What I have written I have written.” The inscription was written in three languages so that all people would be able to read the crime that brought about his punishment. Consider how this inscription does not read anything that would be deserving of death. If Barabbas had been crucified the inscription would have read “thief, insurrectionist, and murderer.” The crime that Jesus committed is that he came his own to be their saving king of righteousness and his own did not receive him.
Fulfilling Scripture (19:22-29)
Once the soldiers were finished lifting Jesus up on the cross, they take Jesus’ articles of clothing and divide the clothing among themselves, one for each soldier. Many presume this would be his belt, sandals, head covering, and cloak. But the tunic was seamless and the soldiers did not want to tear it. So they cast lots to see who would receive his tunic. Why is this important? As we have studied through the Gospel of John we have noticed his frequent use of symbolism. John does not just tell facts. The reason he picks the information he is giving is so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. As we read John, we should consider that John is not just saying he fulfilled a couple of prophecies. Why are these prophecies chosen? What is the symbolism behind these fulfillments?
First, we should note that this prophecy is contained in Psalm 22:18. Psalm 22 has so many prophecies that relate to the events concerning the death of Jesus. Psalm 22 contains the quotation that Jesus utters, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The message of Psalm 22 was that it appeared that God had forsaken the sufferer, but God was always with his people even though they suffer. But of all the quotations from Psalm 22 that could have been used, John by means of the Holy Spirit chose the prophecy that his clothing was divided among the soldiers by casting lots. His tunic was not torn. According to the Law of Moses, the high priest’s robe was seamless. Consider in the scriptures that torn robes represented division in God’s kingdom (1 Samuel 15:27; 1 Kings 11:30). John tells us that the tunic of Jesus was not torn, but remained intact, even though he was crucified. The death of Jesus was the uniting of God’s kingdom, the restoration of God’s kingdom in Christ, acting as our high priest for our sins.
As the soldiers are doing these things, standing by the cross of Jesus were the women disciples of Jesus as well as Jesus’ mother. In his great agony, Jesus shows concern and love for those who are his. Jesus tells his mother that this disciple whom Jesus loved (that we presume to be John) would now act as his son. He tells John that Mary would now be her mother. From that moment we see the disciple took her into his own home. This is fascinating. First, this implies that Jesus’ father has died. Mary would not need care if Joseph was still alive. Second, this implies a fractured family. Jesus is the eldest of the family. The next son would be the one to care for Mary. Remember Jesus had many brothers and sisters. But also remember that none of Jesus’ brothers believed in him (John 7:5). Jesus had taught that his work would divide houses and during the lifetime of Jesus his claims and teachings divided his own family’s house. John would now care for Mary. We learn that the brothers would later believe after his resurrection. But at this moment they are unbelievers and Jesus prepares for her mother to be cared for after his departure.
This leads John to tell us about another fulfillment of scripture. But before he does, John wants to show us again that Jesus is in total control of the events that are happening to him. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished….” Jesus knows why this is happening and knows what is going to happen next. His time is nearly done and he had accomplished all that the Father had given to him, he said, “I thirst.” This quotation from Psalm 22:15 and Psalm 69:21 is only recorded in this gospel. Why does John by the Holy Spirit choose this quotation to be fulfilled in his account? We must observe that both of these psalms are songs of the righteous sufferer. How vivid this truth is at this moment! The only righteous person who ever lived on the earth is now suffering because of his righteousness. Both psalms picture God drawing near the righteous suffer and showing steadfast love while bringing judgment on the enemies.
Then this gospel brings us back to a theme that has been so important in this gospel. Repeatedly, John reminded us about the Passover. A few verses earlier we were reminded that this was the day of Preparation, the day when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. Verse 29 records a detail that is not found in any of the other gospel accounts. Therefore we must pay close attention to this new detail. When the wine is brought to Jesus, the wine was put on a sponge and held to his mouth by a hyssop branch. It is the hyssop that is a new detail. Hyssop has Passover significance. Hyssop was used to prepare for the Passover in Egypt, where it was dipped in blood then used to spread the blood on the doorposts and lintel. Now we see the hyssop with a sponge dipped in wine and given to the Passover lamb. The use of hyssop became a symbol for cleansing of sins in the scriptures. David said this in his repentant psalm:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 ESV)
The writer of Hebrews declared:
Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” (Hebrews 9:18–20 ESV)
This gospel continues to remind us of the Passover imagery. We are to see Jesus as the Lamb of God who is taking away our sins. We are to see him as the offering for our sins. We are to see him as the righteous sufferer. We are to see him uniting and restoring his kingdom through his sacrifice.
It Is Finished (19:30)
This brings us to the three most powerful words that Jesus uttered while on the cross. “It is finished.” What final words! It is the cry of victory. The work is done. The will of the Father is accomplished! Sin is now atoned for by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:12; 10:12). Sin has been removed from our account (John 1:27). Jesus has established himself as our high priest and intercessor (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 9:11). Satan has been defeated at the cross (Hebrews 2:14). Salvation is now available to all who will come to Jesus. We noted that Psalm 22 is a powerful prophecy that speaks of the righteous sufferer. It is a psalm that is repeatedly quoted in the gospels as being fulfilled in Jesus.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. (Psalm 22:27–31 NRSV)
The proclamation of God’s deliverance will be told to future generations saying that he has done it. Jesus on the cross utters the same words that he has done it. He has accomplished the deliverance of the world. The work is done by Jesus. It is finished. At the cross God demonstrated his love for you. Faith entails us relying on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. He has done it. We could not save ourselves. We could not be righteous. We could not obey the law. He has done it! Nothing else is necessary. Nothing else is added. We need no other sacrifice. We need no other Savior. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews describes this once for all work of Jesus.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12–14 ESV)
His offering has perfected us for all time. Our sins have been redeemed. Our sins are paid in full and nailed to his cross (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19; Colossians 2:14). The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins (1 John 1:7). We live for him because he died for us. But we do not look to our own works as if we can earn this salvation. We must recognize that we are not good and our works completely condemn us. Now we look to the cross and find healing.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14–15 ESV)
Will you believe in Jesus and find grace his completed work on the cross? Believe in him today by repenting of your sinful ways and submitting your life to his will. Faith in Jesus is obeying his commands and trusting in him to save from your sins. Confess him to be the Son of God and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins today.