So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,“Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
(John 19:16b-27 NIV)
In our last time together, we saw Pilate try to set Jesus free, as he believed that Jesus was innocent of all the charges before Him. The Jews knew what buttons to push with Pilate, and they found a button that Pilate would react to – questioning Pilate’s allegiance to Rome and Ceasar.
True to form, Pilate had no issue executing an innocent man if it meant demonstrating his loyalty to Ceasar. Pilate sat down at the judge’s bench and issued official orders to crucify Jesus.
In today’s passage, we see the soldiers carrying out Pilate’s orders. In typical Roman fashion, the condemned person was forced to carry the whole cross (or at least the crossbeam) from the trial to the place of execution. The Romans picked the most public routes from the trial to the execution site to remind their subjects of Roman intolerance of breaking their laws.
John leaves out the details of the roads and the fact that Jesus was in shock and bleeding from the flogging and abuse and did not have the physical strength to carry His cross. John also omits the gory particulars of the crucifixion process, as he knew the first-century readers would be all too familiar with the details.
Pilate, in one last act of revenge on the Jews, had a sign made and ordered it to be attached to Jesus’ cross. The sign was written in three languages so everyone who could read would be able to read it. The Jewish officials objected, but Pilate’s orders stood firm: “What I have written, I have written.”
In typical soldier behavior, the soldiers divide up the spoils. In Jesus’ case, all that is left is His clothes. From verse 23, we can infer that there were four soldiers dispatched to crucify Jesus.The piles divided evenly except for the very last garment. This seamless tunic was a special prize, so the soldiers decided to roll dice to determine who would get it. The garment was useless in four pieces; it needed to be preserved to retain any value.
John also points out that this was a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, not just a random act. God is at work in the middle of the chaos as well as the calm of the day. John may have mentioned this because of the Scripture fulfillment; he may also have mentioned this garment because it was likely made by Jesus’ mother when Jesus left home to begin His ministry.
John notes the four women that were standing near the cross and referred to himself in the third person as being there also (v. 26). Even thought Jesus was on the cross and was about to die, He still fulfilled His duty as the oldest son to be sure someone would care for His mother. Jesus asked John to care for His mother as if she were his mother. And John, in obedience to Jesus’ request, takes Mary into his home that very night.
We see Jesus’ compassion toward others, even in His worst pain, as He cared for His mother. May we remember that even in our discomfort, we can minister to others and care for their necessities and essentials.
May we always remember that Jesus voluntarily endured the cross to suffer and die for our sins. As the Apostle Paul said later, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV, bracketed text mine).