28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
(John 19:28-37 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, John told of Jesus’ crucifixion, the soldiers dividing Jesus’ clothes, and Jesus making sure that His mother is cared for after He is gone.
In today’s passage, John focuses on Jesus’ death. John leaves out many details of Jesus’ time on the cross that were covered in the other three Gospels. The other three Gospels were written before John’s Gospel, and John assumes His readers are already familiar with these details:
- the insults and abuse from the other two men crucified on either side of Jesus,
- the salvation of one of the two men crucified with Jesus,
- the abuse from the religious leaders,
- the abuse from the soldiers,
- the three hours of darkness,
John also leaves out the events surrounding Jesus’ death that are covered in the other three Gospels:
- the temple veil being torn in two from top to bottom,
- the earthquake,
- the soldier’s proclamation about Jesus,
In verses 28 – 29, John records that Jesus says He is thirsty so that Scripture may be fulfilled (Psalm 69:21). The soldiers soak a sponge in a jar of old wine that had turned to vinegar and offer Jesus the chance to drink. John records that they put the sponge on a hyssop stalk and raised it up to Jesus’ lips. The use of the hyssop branch indicates that Jesus was hung on a tall cross.
After Jesus had received the drink, He pronounced “it is finished”. His work on the cross was done. With that pronouncement, Jesus bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
Notice that John is careful to say that Jesus “gave up” His spirit. Remember when we walked through John 10:14-18, where Jesus said He was the Good Shepherd? In verse 15 of that passage, Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” In verse 18 of that same passage, Jesus says, “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my accord.” Connecting the dots back to today’s passage, Jesus voluntarily gives up His spirit and dies.
John now records that the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to be sure the men were dead and the bodies removed before sundown, as the next day was the Passover. The soldiers see that the other two men crucified beside Jesus were still alive, so they break their legs so they will suffocate and quickly die.
When the soldiers come to Jesus, they see that Jesus is already dead. The soldier takes his spear and runs it up under Jesus’ rib cage and pierces Jesus’ heart. Blood and water flow out separately, indicating Jesus is dead.
John then cites an eyewitness to these events. Some scholars think this might have been one of the soldiers; others believe this was John himself, as John was there earlier when Jesus asked John to care for Mary, Jesus’ mother.
John points out that two more prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ death:
- None of Jesus’ bones were broken (referring to the Passover Lamb, Exodus 12:46)
- The soldiers pierced Jesus’ body (speaking of the soldiers, Zechariah 12:10)
Jesus endured all of this for you and me. He died in our place, the spotless and perfect Lamb of God, taking our sins upon Himself, suffering the abuse and insults of others and the wrath and fury of hell itself so that we could be reconciled to God.
The Apostle Paul captures this exchange so well:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB)