2nd Half of Gospel for Good Friday – John 19: 1-42
Commentary from William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series:
Jesus and Pilate
The Romans had allowed a good deal of self-government, but they did not have the right of the sword (death penalty). “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people,” (Deuteronomy 17:7) is the word of Jesus that is fulfilled. Jesus had to die a Roman death, because he had to be lifted up. If the Jews had been able to kill him themselves, it would have been a stoning (Leviticus 24:16).
It is clear why Pilate acted as he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus. He had screwed up once before and been reported to Caesar. The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that he wouldn’t help them. If he gets reported again, he may lose his job and power. He is looking out for himself. He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job. But let’s look at his decision-making more closely:
- He tries to put the responsibility on the Jews: No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.
- He tries to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner: There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide if we accept or reject him…
- Pilate tries to compromise by ordering Jesus to be scourged. But we are either for Jesus or against Jesus. There is no compromise.
- He attempts to appeal. Maybe pity or emotion will change things. “Shall I crucify your king?” But this is Pilate’s personal decision that he cannot evade. He admits defeat. Pilate has not the courage to do the right thing.
Pilate asks, “What is truth?” Is it wistful? Maybe he finally saw what he missed out on. But to turn from his ways was too much work and he didn’t want to use the strength to change. Perhaps there have been times in our life when we felt the same.
In order to compass the death of Jesus, the Jews denied every principle they had. The ultimate was, “We have no king but Caesar.” These are the people who said God alone was their king (I Samuel 12:12, Judges 8:23). The Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus. Notice how easily they turn their ways to hate vs. how hard it is for Pilate to turn to good. Oftentimes it is easier to do wrong than right, isn’t it?
The Way to the Cross
Once a verdict of crucifixion was made, it was carried out immediately. The cross was placed upon his shoulders and he would normally be walked down as many streets as possible. An officer would walk in front with a placard that said the crime he committed. Walking down the street would call attention to what would happen to the onlookers if they did the same. It would also be an opportunity for anyone to come forward and bear witness in favor of the convicted. If that happened, the procession would stop and he would be retried.
Every Jew wore 5 articles of apparel: his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his tunic, and his outer robe. Since there were 4 soldiers, they each got 1 and the tunic was left. So they threw dice for it and gambled to see who would get it. Jesus is a gambler too. He took his own life and threw it for the world. He won. You wonder who made that tunic…was it Mary herself?
There were 4 women (perhaps balancing out the 4 soldiers?): Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Jesus’ mother, Jesus’ aunt and Mary of Magdala. We know nothing of the wife of Clopas. Mother Mary shows the ultimate love here. John does not name Jesus’ aunt, but Mark and Matthew name her Salome (James’ and John’s mother). This is the woman who asked Jesus to give James and John a special place in his kingdom and Jesus rebukes her (Matthew 20:20). Yet here she is in her humility. And Mary of Magdala had had 7 devils cast out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). That’s all we know of her. And that she is devoted.
There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the Cross, when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days ahead. Jesus thought more of the sorrows of others than of his own.
The Triumphant Ending
“I thirst.” It was important for John’s audience to know that Jesus is human. Gnosticism was rising. Gnostics separated spirit (good) and body (bad). So they taught that Jesus never had a real body. They said that when Jesus walked, he didn’t leave footprints. It was like he had a phantom body. They went so far to assume that Jesus never really suffered. This romanticizes God and makes God untouchable. God is with us. He had to become what we are in order to make us what he is. He experienced thirst.
Why does John use hyssop for what holds the sponge for Jesus to drink? Hyssop is a stalk of strong grass, only 2 feet long. It is unlikely that it would do a good job of holding. Hyssop is symbolic. In Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the first born sons, a smear of lamb blood using a bunch of hyssop on the doorpost would cause the angel to pass over the Israelites’ homes. Jesus is the great Passover lamb, saving the world.
“It is finished.” This is one word in Greek: tetelestai. Perhaps he did shout it as it says in the other gospels. The victory is won.
The Last Gifts to Jesus
Joseph of Arimathaea had a tomb for Jesus and Nicodemus had burial spices. It is bittersweet. Both of them were members of the Sanhedrin. Were they absent the day they convicted Jesus? Did they just remain silent? How different things would have been if they had only spoken up. But they were afraid. They kept their discipleship secret. What would it be like for us to keep our faith a secret? But they are no longer keeping secret. Jesus’ death strengthened them, made them bold. The power of the Cross was already at work.