28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” – John 19:28-37 ESV
Just as he did with his recounting of Jesus’ trials, John presents a highly truncated version of Jesus’ crucifixion. In some sense, John portrays the death of Jesus as the work of men. The Sanhedrin had plotted and planned for it to happen, and the Roman governor had given his official approval, commanding his troops to carry out the execution of Jesus. John has portrayed Jesus as the King of the Jews and purposefully juxtaposed Him with two of the most powerful men in Israel at the time: The chief priest and the Roman prefect. These two men played significant roles in the death of Jesus, ensuring that His crucifixion was carried out. And John’s abbreviated treatment of the death of Jesus may simply be His way of diminishing or downplaying the power of men over the Son of God.
During his interrogation of Jesus, Pilate had arrogantly proclaimed, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10 ESV). Pilate was backed by the full power and authority of the Roman government. He had been appointed by Caesar and had thousands of well-trained and heavily armed Romans legionnaires at his disposal. He could issue a command and it would be carried out. But Jesus, unphased by Pilate’s boastful declaration, had calmly responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 ESV).
In His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus had been confronted by Caiaphas, the high priest, who had demanded that Jesus publicly state His claim to be the Messiah.
“I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” – Matthew 26:63 NLT
Caiaphas was looking for a confession from Jesus, not some kind of confirmation. He harbored no suspicions that Jesus might truly be the Messiah. He was simply wanting Jesus to condemn Himself by proclaiming His claim to be the Son of God – in public and in front of witnesses. This powerful and influential leader of Israel’s religious elite believed that he held the fate of Jesus in his hands. But Jesus had responded by stating, “…in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 NLT).
Like Pilate, Caiaphas had no power over Jesus. And for John, the crucifixion seemed to represent man’s vain attempt to thwart the plans of God. Their treatment of Jesus had been cruel and unjust. They were putting to death an innocent man. But little did they know that they were actually fulfilling the will of God and the desires of Jesus. They were not the ones in control. While they believed they were taking the life of Jesus, He had made it clear that no one had that kind of authority over Him.
“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT
The death of Jesus was the will of God. It was being carried out by men, utilizing a man-made instrument of death, but it was all according to the sovereign and providential plan of God and the full consent of the Son of God. So, John seems to fast-forward through the gruesome details surrounding the crucifixion, focusing only on a few carefully chosen scenes. He is more interested in what happens next.
After recording how Jesus had personally commissioned him to care for His mother, John provides an interesting first-person impression of what he saw. He describes Jesus as “knowing that all was now finished” (John 19:28 ESV). Somehow, John ascertains that Jesus was reaching not only the end of His life but also the completion of His mission. And he reports hearing Jesus say: “I thirst” (John 19:28 ESV).
The one who had stated, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV), was declaring His own thirst. He was nearing the completion of His earthly ministry, having suffered greatly at the hands of sinful men, and He found Himself suffering from intense spiritual thirst. John indicates that the words of Jesus were in fulfillment of Scripture. It is likely that he is referring to two passages found in the Psalms that seem to prophesy this very moment.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death. – Psalm 22: 14-15 ESV
You know my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. – Psalm 69:19-21 ESV
But Jesus’ expression of thirst has even great implications because they tie back into His earlier declaration: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Jesus was about to complete the work of His Father, and that work had been grueling, painful, and exhausting. It had left Him physically and spiritually depleted. Jesus had told James and John that they would not be able to drink from the cup that He would be forced to drink (Mark 10:38). This cup represented the wrath of God (Jeremiah 25:15-16). In His crucifixion, Jesus was taking on Himself the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of mankind. And, as He had told Peter, “shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11 ESV).
Doing the work of His Father had left Jesus thirsting after righteousness. He was bearing the sins of mankind and, in doing so, feeling the displeasure of His Father for the first time in His life. And He longed to be restored to fellowship. Isaiah describes the extreme nature of His sacrifice.
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:12 ESV
It is impossible for us to comprehend the burden that Jesus bore on our behalf. When Isaiah states that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV), we have a difficult time understanding the gravity and intensity of that weight.
And in response to Jesus’ words, He was given a sponge dipped in sour wine. The one who had turned ordinary water into extraordinary wine was given sour wine to slake His spiritual thirst. He who had poured out His blood as a drink offering to satisfy the just demands of a holy God was given spoiled wine to satisfy His need for refreshment.
And then, John records the last words Jesus would utter from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30 ESV). With His final breath, Jesus proclaimed the successful completion of His God-ordained mission. He had done what He had come to do. Now, the rest was in the hands of His Heavenly Father.
In order to expedite death, the Roman soldiers broke the legs of the three men, making it impossible for them to push themselves up in order to breathe. But Jesus was spared this indignity because He was already dead. Yet, as a precaution, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ body with a spear. Even in death, Jesus was subjected to indignity and disrespect. And John declares that all that he has written is true because he saw it with his own eye.
This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe. – John 19:35 NLT
John reveals the reason why he chose to report the things he did. The facts that the legs of Jesus remained unbroken and that His side was pierced are crucial to John. For him, they provide further proof of Jesus identity as the Son of God. He sees these two details as evidence of the deity of Jesus because they fulfill Old Testament prophecy. John seems to have three primary passages in mind: Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and Psalm 34:20. The first two deal with the divine prohibition against breaking the bones of the Passover lambs. In His death, Jesus performed the role of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Paul ties Jesus directly to the Passover lamb, stating, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). Psalm 34:20 describes how God protects the truly righteous man, preventing anyone from breaking his bones.
Even in His death, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies of Scripture, providing further evidence that He truly was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. And for John, the proofs for Jesus’ identity are far from over.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.