John Bible Study (That You May Believe)

John 19:31-36, Not One of His Bones Will Be Broken


The thirtieth verse of John 19 records the final words of Jesus. With the words, “It is finished,” Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit. But John does not move on to the burial of Jesus yet. What is recorded in this paragraph is not contained in the other gospel accounts. Remember that John’s purpose is that we would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing would have life in his name (John 20:30-31). When we come to unique information in John’s gospel account, we must slow down and carefully consider what John is trying to teach us about our Lord and Savior Jesus.

The Passover is quickly approaching. Remember that a new day began at sundown (6pm in our language). Therefore, with the crucifixion occurring on the day of Preparation, the crucifixion needed to end before the start of the Passover in a few hours. Therefore, the Jews asked for legs of the crucified to be broken so that their deaths would quicken and their bodies be taken away. It would be expected by all that the legs of all the crucified would need to be broken because they had only been on the cross for  a few hours. The Romans broke the legs of the criminals but when they come to Jesus they did not have to break his legs because he was already dead. Though he was dead, an extra precaution was taken. One of the soldiers pierced his side. Immediately blood and water poured out. Medical experts argue over the reason why blood and water came out. The blood is expected, but the water is not as easy to explain. The point for John is that this is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was dead.

Evidences For Jesus’ Death (19:35)

Notice verse 35. This is recorded for us so that we would know that the testimony is true. John takes the witness stand and says that he saw this for himself. All the statements that are recorded are used to ensure that all readers know that Jesus was truly dead. This address a number of false teachings that seemed to be circulating toward the end of the first century. The Gnostics said that Christ did not come in the flesh, denying that he was truly a man. John’s testimony denies this. Jesus died, and blood and water coming from his body proves his humanity. This testimony also denies that Jesus never really died, but just appeared to have died. This false doctrine has continued through the centuries. But the author of this gospel wants us to know that the medical evidence shows Jesus died, the Roman soldiers ensured he was dead, and John himself testifies that Jesus was dead. With these testimonies, we have faith that Jesus truly died.

Not One of His Bones Will Be Broken (19:36)

But we are not read this gospel only so that we will know with certainty that Jesus truly died. Verse 36 has far more for our consideration. Notice that what took place was also to fulfill the scriptures, which is found in Psalm 34:20, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” There are two important symbols used in the scriptures regarding bones not being broken.

Passover.The most obvious symbol that we must consider is that the bones of Jesus were not broken so that he could be the perfect Passover lamb. Remember that John has emphasized the Passover throughout this gospel and particularly in John 18. As the lambs were being slaughtered for the Passover on the day of Preparation, Jesus was dying as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). Jesus is the true Passover lamb (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7). The Law of Moses declared two important aspects concerning the Passover lamb.

In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight they shall keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:11–12 ESV; cf. Exodus 12:46)

Notice that John is showing us both of these aspects. The lamb was not to be left until the morning. Jesus’ body was not left overnight, but was taken down from the cross before sundown. Further, the Passover lamb could not have any of its bones broken. The lamb was to be without blemish, not only during its life, but also in its death. In the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover has been inaugurated again. The Passover of Egypt was a shadow of the true Passover offering in Jesus who would set people free from their slavery to sin.

The righteous sufferer.But there is another symbol that John is drawing us to see in Jesus. John quotes from Psalm 34:20. We do not have time for a full, detailed analysis of Psalm 34, which would be very useful to do at this moment. As an overview, the first 14 verses of Psalm 34 is a description of the author magnifying and blessing the name of the Lord. Throughout this psalm the author is explaining why he will bless the Lord. For example, in verse 4 he exalts the name of the Lord because when he sought the Lord, God answered him and delivered him from all his fears. In verse 6 we see this man cried, the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The psalm is praise to the Lord and calling for people to put their trust in the Lord and obey the Lord because of the blessings of being in relationship with God. We need to turn our attention to verses 15-22, which is the context of the quotation that John uses in John 19:36.

Verse 15 notes that the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous. The Lord hears the cry of the righteous. The face of the Lord is against evildoers, not the righteous, and God will cut their memory off of the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of their troubles (34:17). The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (34:18). Notice the continued emphasis of this truth by repetition in verse 19. The afflictions of the righteous are many, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. Now the verse that is quoted by John: “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” Continue reading the rest of the verse to see the context. Those who hate the righteous are condemned and the affliction will slay the wicked (34:19). Finally, the Lord redeems the life of his servants. No one who takes refuge in the Lord will be condemned (34:20). So what does this mean that God keeps all his bones and none of them are broken?

The context of this psalm is the repeated refrain that God delivers and God rescues. God hears the cry of the righteous. God is near the righteous and God delivers the righteous. Verse 20 gives a great picture of this truth. God keeps the bones of the righteous whole. The righteous do not avoid troubles. Rather, the righteous are delivered from their troubles. God keeps the righteous whole. This is a symbol of God’s protection and blessing upon the righteous who are afflicted.

The scriptures use this picture of bones elsewhere in the scriptures. It is the adversaries of God whose bones are broken.

God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. (Numbers 24:8 ESV)

There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them. (Psalm 53:5 ESV)

God breaks the bones of the wicked. The picture of breaking their bones is that they have no hope. In particular, with the bones broken, there was no hope of life or resurrection. But, according to Psalm 34, God keeps the bones of the righteous. Not one of his bones will be broken. They remain in God’s favor and protection. Their hope remains for life and resurrection though they suffer affliction.

Now, there is something so interesting that the psalmist does in Psalm 34:20. Throughout this section you will notice that the author speaks of the righteous in the plural. In verse 15 we see the eyes of the Lord toward the righteous (plural). The plural carries through all the way to verse 18. But then in verse 19 and 20, the author switches to the singular noun, which is reflected by the HCSB, NIV, and NLT.

Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the LORD delivers him from them all. He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:19–20 HCSB)

The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. (Psalm 34:19–20 NIV)

It is as if God wanted to make sure that we knew this was not just a general statement about his righteous servants, but this also applied specifically to one particular Righteous Servant. Many adversities come to his righteous one, but the Lord delivers him from them all. Not one of his bones will be broken. We now reread this psalm with the lens of Jesus, as John does, and we see John teaching us that God’s face never turned away from Jesus because the eyes of the Lord are always toward the righteous and he always hears his cry. The face of the Lord turns against evildoers and we know from the scriptures that Jesus was sinless and righteous. The Lord delivers him from all his troubles and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. Listen to verse 22 again. “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

John’s presentation of the crucifixion of Jesus is presenting hope. Though Jesus is crucified, he is the Passover lamb whose body was not broken while on the cross. His body would not remain on the cross overnight to continue to function as our Passover lamb. Further, not one of his bones being broken shows that Jesus is righteous and dies with the hope of life and resurrection. God redeems the life of his servants. None of them are condemned by the Lord. John uses this quotation to show Jesus as the righteous sufferer who God defends and protects. Most important, God will deliver this Righteous Servant Jesus out of this affliction three days later when the stone is rolled back and Jesus raises from the dead.

This hope is also for us. Psalm 34 tells us that all the righteous experience the same deliverance. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that what Jesus experienced was a firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20-23) and that we will follow with him. The afflictions of the righteous are many but the Lord will deliver us into his eternal home.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26 ESV)

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