Last week we explored the theological and spiritual significance of the cross.
- Specifically, we learned about the atonement.
- What it was and why it was necessary.
- And why Jesus had to die, and the perils of the human condition that required a divine remedy.
Today we will deal with the last two sections of John 19.
- These sections answer the question “What happened to Jesus’ body?” – Kostenberger.
- The first section, one that shows us a dead Jesus on a Roman cross, is rarely contested (Richard Carrier is an exception).
- The second section, however, is seen by many Christian critics as fantasy.
- The beginning of the resurrection fairy tale.
- We will deal with each separately.
1) JESUS IS DEAD
John 19:31–37 (ESV) — 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 begins our text by telling us that, “it was the day of Preparation” (vs. 31).
- In other words, it was Friday, the day before the Sabbath.
- It was called the “day of Preparation” because Friday, especially on feast weeks, was literally the “day everything had to be prepared for the Sabbath” – BDAG.
- And given the fact that this was the Sabbath of Passover week, preparations would have been even more significant.
And because the Jews considered sundown on the day of Preparation to mark the beginning of the Sabbath, they were eager to remove the bodies.
- It would defile the land to leave corpses up on the Sabbath.
- Most believe this sentiment is related to Deut. 21:23 – “his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…”
John MacArthur notes the following about the Jews’ purity concerns:
“They were zealous to observe the minutiae of the law while at the same time killing the One who both authored and fulfilled it; they were scrupulously concerned that the land not be defiled, but were unconcerned about their own defilement from murdering the Son of God” – John MacArthur.
The Jews were eager to remove the bodies, but all three crucifixion victims would have to be dead to do so.
- A potential problem, then, was that it usually could take days for a crucifixion victim to die.
- And a further problem was that, even after death, the Romans liked to leave the corpses hanging in order to intimidate.
- Remember, the bodies would be within range of dogs and would be picked over by vultures.
- So between the visual gruesomeness and foul odor, the scene served as a powerful deterrent.
So the Jews “asked Pilate” to speed up the process by breaking the victims’ legs (vs. 31).
- Fortunately, “Romans accommodated Jewish wishes particularly during the crowded festivals” – IVPBBCNT.
- In fact, Josephus claims that Jews “always buried crucifixion victims before sunset” – IVPBBCNT.
The soldiers found that the two thieves were still alive (vs. 32).
- So they broke their legs (vs. 32).
- This practice of breaking the legs of a crucifixion victim is called crurifragium.
- “The victims’ legs (and sometimes other bones) would be smashed with an iron mallet” – Kostenberger.
- We can be fairly certain that the Jews wanted Jesus’ legs to be smashed as well.
- No doubt, to further humiliate Him and diminish His claims.
- This practice would often lead to death by suffocation.
- And no doubt the pain and additional blood loss made it all even worse.
But in Jesus’ case, the soldiers found Him “already dead” (vs. 33).
- This confirms much of what we said earlier:
- He was nailed to the stake, not tied.
- He was flogged twice.
- He was severely tortured in the 2nd flogging.
- It is for these reasons, and certainly the will of God, that Jesus’ death was so quick.
John tells us, however, that the soldiers did, “pierce his side with a spear” (vs. 34).
- This was apparently done to confirm that Jesus was dead.
From medical tests on cadavers, it has indeed been shown that, “where a chest has been severely injured but without penetration, hemorrhagic fluid, up to two litres of it, gathers between the pleura lining the rib cage and the lining of the lung. This separates, the clearer serum at the top, the deep red layer at the bottom. If the chest cavity were then pierced at the bottom, both layers would flow out” – D.A. Carson.
The “beloved disciple”, the writer of the Gospel of John, then tells us that he was an eyewitness to these events.
- “He who saw it has borne witness” (vs. 35).
- This statement is a “bioi” (ancient biography) claim.
- The author witnessed the events.
- His testimony is not second hand.
- And this is significant because he is testifying (so that we might believe) not only to the fact that Jesus died on the cross,
- But that the unfolding of events on the cross, “took place that Scripture might be fulfilled” (vs. 36).
The fulfillments, like the “Righteous Sufferer” from Psalm 69, are typology fulfillments.
- A typology is, “Key patterns of activity ascribed to God [that] recur in striking, discernible patterns such that the believer can only affirm the same hand of God at work in both events” – Beale/Carson.
- We will contend with typologies more when we get to the resurrection.
And the Scriptures that were fulfilled were:
(1) Psalm 34:20 (ESV) — 20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. – AND – Numbers 9:12 (ESV) — 12 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.
- The Psalmist is David and he is referring to how YHWH cares for the righteous.
- Numbers is literally referring to the Passover lamb.
BTW – From John the Baptist (“Behold the lamb of God…”) to Paul, Jesus was seen as the Passover lamb.
- 1 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV) — 7b For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
(2) Zechariah 12:10 (ESV) — 10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
- Referring, at the time, to the either a killing or a figurative “piercing” with sorrow of YHWH.
There can be no doubt that these professional executioners succeeded in killing Jesus.
- The evidence is even clear that they confirmed Jesus’ death.
- This was done to accommodate the request of the Jews.
- Something, we know from Josephus, was done routinely.
In fact, Mark 15:44-45 tells us that Pilate would not let Joseph have Jesus’ body until His death was confirmed by the executioners.
- Mark 15:44–45 (ESV) — 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.
So Jesus was dead.
- He was not passed out.
- He was not in a coma.
- It was not another who died in His place.
- And Jesus submitted to all of this of His “own accord”.
- John 10:18 (ESV) — 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Even the Jesus Seminar’s Crossan accepts this historic event as factual.
“Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus” – John Dominic Crossan.
BTW – One side note on the crucifixions deeper meaning in John’s Gospel.
“It is the means by which he returns to the Father. That is, John overcomes the scandal of the cross by interpreting it in terms of Jesus’ exaltation. This reading is encouraged by the fact that in those places where the reference to the “lifting up” of Jesus is clearest—3:14; 8:28; 12:32–34—John has developed the larger theme of the Son’s journey from and return to God. In this way the cross is interpreted by the journey motif as the means by which the Son of man left the world below to return to the world above” – DJG.
- John clearly saw the cross as the glorification of Christ, not His humiliation.
2) JESUS IS BURIED
John 19:38–42 (ESV) — 38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
What happened to Jesus’ body?
- We know from various historical sources that at least three things were done with the body of a crucifixion victim.
(1) “The body could be left on the cross to rot, and for the animals—especially vultures and ravens—to eat” – LBD.
“In a comedy of Plautus, one slave laments: “I know the cross will be my sepulcher: that is where my forbears are, my father, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and great, great grandfathers” (Miles Gloriosus, 372; text in Cook, “Burial,” 206). This indicates that the slave would not be buried” – LBD.
- “An inscription from Caria details that, after a slave murdered his master, he was: “hung while yet living for the wild animals and birds” (text in Cook, “Crucifixion and Burial,” 206)” – LBD.
- “Ancient writers often referred to crucifixion victims as food for ravens or vultures (Petronius, Satyricon 58.2; Juvenal, Sat. 14.77–78)” – LBD.
(2) “The corpse could be taken from the cross and abused—dragged through the streets—and then thrown into a mass grave for criminals (Cook, “Envisioning Crucifixion,” 280)” – LBD.
- In fact, “had the Romans had their way, the corpses would not have been buried at all” – IVPBBCNT.
- This is the fate ascribed to Jesus by most of Christianities skeptics and antagonists.
- Including John Dominic Crossan.
- And especially by those that reject any possibility of the resurrection.
(3) “Some condemned persons were handed over to family for burial” – LBD.
- “The Ulpian Digest of Roman law states that corpses of condemned criminals are not to be withheld from family members (Cook, “Envisioning Crucifixion,” 279)” – LBD.
- “Philo observed that in Alexandria, he had known of cases where the bodies of crucified persons were given to their relatives, especially on holiday evenings (Philo, Flacc. 83)” – LBD.
- “Josephus (J.W. 4.317) writes: “Jews show concern for burials so that they even take down those crucified and bury them before sunset” (text in Cook, “Crucifixion and Burial,” 212)” – LBD.
“The discovery of the bones of a crucified man in a tomb near Jerusalem demonstrates that crucified victims were sometimes buried. The Romans may have allowed Jews to bury condemned criminals because of the Jewish sensitivity about burial” – LBD.
The third historically attested option is of course the claim of the Gospels.
- Some of the more “covert” disciples of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, obtained Jesus’ body, prepared it for burial, and laid it in a rock-cut tomb.
- Archaeology has verified that “ancient rock-cut tombs of the period surround the walls of Jerusalem on three sides” – NBD.
- And throughout the OT, we have examples of bodies being buried in caves or rock-cut tombs.
- “Ge 23:19-20; 25:9-10; 50:13; Jdg 8:32; 16:31; 1Sa 25:1 “at his home” probably refers to the family tomb, but could mean more literally under the floor of the house or yard; 2Sa 2:32; 17:23” – DBT.
Joseph’s involvement is also another typological fulfillment of Scripture.
- Isaiah 53:9 (ESV) — 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
John points out that this, like the earlier request of the Jews to speed up the deaths, was both known and approved by Pilate – Joseph “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission” (vs. 38).
- This importantly gives multiple attestations to the burial of Jesus’ body by both His disciples and His executioner.
- The Romans knew what happened to the body of Jesus.
John tells us that Jesus’ dead body was prepared for burial in traditional Jewish fashion.
- “So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (vs. 40).
- According to Jesus, this preparation for burial started before Jesus was even crucified.
- Mark 14:8 (ESV) — 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.
The burial of the dead for the Jew at this time was a two stage process.
- The burial itself was stage 1.
- Then, typically, they would have come back a year later and collected the bones and put them in an ossuary.
- When Jesus was laid in the tomb, this second step surely crossed their minds.
It is interesting to note that this practice differs significantly from the way the Romans, Greeks or Egyptians treated their dead heroes.
- The Greeks and Romans usually burned their dead heroes.
- The Egyptians embalmed and mummified theirs.
- In either case, the body was destroyed or its insides completely removed.
Jesus’ body, on the other hand, was buried:
- Brutally tortured and traumatized
- Punctured side, arms and feet, flogged, severely beaten chest, etc.
- Wrapped in a burial shroud
- And with full approval of Pilate
All hope is gone?
The scene is pregnant with possibilities.
- But there is nothing unusual or non-historical about it at all.
- Jesus, a man hated by many and revered by few, was executed.
- He died for trumped up reasons.
- The system was manipulated by a politically savvy Jewish leadership.
- Pilate submitted to their conniving due to his politically tenuous circumstances.
- Power, greed and political maneuverings – nothing new there.
- Most of His followers had dispersed.
- Only the women, a few fearful, little known disciples, and the “beloved disciple” hung around.
- And the death they witnessed, one witnessed by thousands, was at best, the brutal murder of a great rabbi, prophet and martyr.
The most optimistic hope of Jesus’ followers’ was likely this:
- In a year, His bones would be collected.
- And He would be resurrected at the end times with the rest of the righteous and be vindicated.
- Daniel 12:2 (ESV) — 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
- The wicked Gentile rulers would be judged and things would be put right.
- Jesus’ resurrection 3 days later was not, I repeat, not on the radar at all – N.T. Wright.
- We will explore this more next week.