My column this week is from the book of John, chapter 19, about Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus.
Verse 17 – Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
Jesus carried His own cross. A cross might be shaped like a T, an X or an I, as well as like the traditional form. A condemned man would normally carry a beam of it to the place of execution. Somewhere along the way Simon of Cyrene took Jesus’ cross (see Mark 15:21), probably because Jesus was weakened by the flogging. Golgotha, Aramaic for “the skull.” The name of the site is given in both Greek and Aramaic (“Calvary” is from the Latin with the same meaning). The Place of the Skull may have been a small hill (though the Gospels say nothing of a hill) that looked like a skull or it may have been so named because of the many executions that took place there.
Verse 18 – Here they crucified Him, and with Him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Being crucified is a Roman means of execution in which the victim was nailed to a cross. Heavy, wrought-iron nails were driven through the wrists and the heel bones. If the life of the victim lingered too long, death was hastened by breaking his legs (see John 19:33).
Archaeologists have discovered the bones of a crucified man, near Jerusalem, dating between A.D. 7 and 66, which shed light on the position of the victim when nailed to the cross. Only slaves, the basest of criminals, and offenders who were not Roman citizens were executed in this manner. First century authors vividly describe the agony and disgrace of being crucified. As with the scourging, John describes this horror with one Greek word. None of the Gospel writers dwells on the physical sufferings of Jesus. The two others, one on each side of Jesus, was perhaps meant as a final insult, but it brings out the important truth that in His death Jesus was identified with sinners.
Verse 19 – Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
A notice or placard stating the crime for which a man was executed was often fastened to his cross. THE KING OF THE JEWS. Again the royalty theme.
Verses 20, 21 – 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. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write “The King of the Jews.”
Aramaic was one of the languages of the Jewish people at that time along with Hebrew. Latin was the official language of Rome. Greek was the common language of communication throughout the empire. The threefold inscription may account for the slight difference in wording in the four Gospels.
Verse 22 – Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
Pilate must have a sufficient reason for the execution, and he was not above mocking the Jews, but for John his insistence may also have served to underscore that Jesus’ kingship is final and unalterable.
Verse 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.
The undergarment, a type of shirt, reaching from the neck to the knees or ankles. It was seamless and therefore too valuable to be cut up.
Verse 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 which said, “They divided My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Psalm 22:17-18 says: “I can count all My bones; people stare and gloat over Me. They divide My garments among them and cast lots for My clothing.”
Verse 25 – Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Clopas is mentioned only here in the New Testament. Mary Magdalene appears in the crucifixion and resurrection story in all four Gospels, but apart from that we read of her only in Luke 8:2-3.
Verses 26, 27 – When Jesus saw His mother there, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John is thought to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. He is also the author of this Gospel. The expression does not, of course, mean that Jesus did not love the other disciples, but that there was a special bond with this man John. The disciple took his mother into his home and took responsibility for her.
My prayer: In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. In Your Holy name I pray. Amen.
Scripture and commentary from “The NIV Study Bible” John 19:17-27.
Next week my column will be about the death of Jesus.
You can reach Dick at firstname.lastname@example.org.