John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) 2000
Again in this chapter John makes it clear that he was an eye witness of the events. He leaves out much of what was reported by the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. But he adds that the inscription that Pilate had posted over Jesus' head was in the three main languages of John's world.. Hebrew was the language of the Jews, Greek the language of the Hellenistic world, and Latin was the official language of the Roman empire.
He also remembers that the chief priests objected when Pilate put up on the cross the title "Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews" (recorded in the other three Gospels). They wanted him to write "This man said, I am the King of the Jews," but Pilate gave his superbly terse answer, ho gegrapha gegrapha, "What I have written, I have written."
The other Gospels record that the soldiers divided Jesus' garments and cast lots "to decide what each should take" (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34). But John wants us to know that there were four soldiers at hand for the crucifixion, and Jesus was wearing a "seamless tunic" woven like a poncho "in one piece from the top." He heard them say "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it" (19:23-24).
Then he remembers standing by the cross with Jesus' mother Mary, his mother's sister also called Mary (probably a sister in law), and Mary Magdalene. Then Jesus saw John standing beside his mother, and told her "Here is your son," and said to John "Here is your mother." As if that was not sufficient evidence that John was right there, John again identifies himself as "the disciple whom he loved" (as he did at the last supper, 13:23, and he would say again three times after the resurrection, 20:2, 21:7, 20, see also "the other disciple in 18:15, 20:3, 4, 8, 21:24)
And who could doubt or deny the fact that John, the beloved disciple, from that time on took Jesus' mother into his own home (19:27).
Another detail could only have come from an eye witness. Luke tells us that early in the crucifixion the soldiers mocked Jesus by offering him sour wine (Luke 23:36, mixed with a bitter ingredient Matthew 27:34, which Jesus refused, and by using a Greek imperfect Mark 15:23 tells us they kept playing this game). The other two Gospels tell us that just before he died one of the bystanders filled a sponge with vinegar wine and put it on a reed (the Greek means a stick, cane, or staff, Matthew 27:48, Mark 15:36) for Jesus to drink. John with great precision tells us that the sponge full of wine was tied around "a branch of hyssop" (the marjoram plant which grows to a height of about three feet). And John makes clear that Jesus now "received the wine" and immediately said "it is finished" and "bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (19:30).
But those are the carefully remembered details of a loving eye-witness. Of much deeper theological significance are the two references to "the Day of Preparation" (19:31, 42). The other Gospels tell us that Jesus was hanging on the cross for the three hours from twelve midday to three in the afternoon (Matthew 27:45-46, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44-45). But John makes clear that that timing was exactly when the Passover lambs were being killed for the Passover ritual that night.
Early in his Gospel John had introduced Jesus with the words of John the Baptist. "Here is the Lamb of God who keeps taking away the sin of the world" (the force of the Greek present participle is carelessly missed by the NRSV of John 1:29). That makes clear that John did not think Jesus would only become the Lamb when he dies on the cross. The Messiah was already Lamb (and King, Shepherd, Servant, Lion, Son of God, etc.) throughout the Old Testament. And as Lamb he has been and will continually be dealing with human sin by absorbing it in his own body like the Lamb that Isaiah saw (Isaiah 53:4-9).
Later when John was exiled on the Island of Patmos he had a vision (Revelation 1:9-11). Throughout the Book of the Revelations he refers to the Messiah. On the one hand the Lamb is particularly concerned for his church (7:9-17, 15:3, 19:7-9, 21:9-27). He has made us "a kingdom and priests" (Revelation 7:10) as was the original intention of the Exodus people (Exodus 19:6, as in 1 Peter 2:5, 9).
But the Lamb is also the "Lord of Lords and King of kings" (17:14) who keeps reigning and intervening among the nations (Revelation 6:1-2, 16). And John describes him as reigning in Kingly (Messianic) majesty and exercising wrath in exactly the same way at the Lord of Hosts of the Old Testament (see the song of Moses in Revelation15:3-4).
The killing of the Messiah on the Day of Preparation is therefore a visible expression in space and time of a cosmic war in heaven (Revelation 12:1-17). "The dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born (see Herod's attempt in Matthew 2:1-18). But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne" (Revelation 12:4-5). John knew that Satan managed the crucifixion, but the resurrection snatched away his prize.
John will go on in two final chapters to show that the crucifixion was a victory over Satan (as in Revelation 12:9), and the victory is that "the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God" (Revelation 12:10). That does not end the danger of accepting guilt and condemnation. The early Christians had to conquer Satan's lies "by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:11). But the resurrection and outpouring of the Spirit proves that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
That is why in John's Gospel and his account of the Day of Preparation there is no trace of a merely law court transaction in which the Son had to make a payment to satisfy the wrath of the Father. By the Spirit the Son is totally in control and totally victorious over the worst that Satan can hurl at him.
19:19-22 John was more concerned with the inscription in three languages: Hebrew the language of his own Jewish people, Greek the language he was writing in, and Latin the language of Pilate the Roman governor. That Pilate should do that is high testimony to the importance of what was happening. John also notes the complaint of the chief priests, who objected to the title "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." And Pilate's "what I have written, I have written."
19:23-24 Jesus' undergarments were divided among the soldiers. But John mentions Jesus' tunic, which was "seamless, woven in one piece from the top." Rather than cut it up into pieces, the soldiers cast lots for it. And John remembers a quotation from the Psalms, "They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots" (Psalm 22:18).
19:25-27 The three women at the cross are all called Mary. By tradition Clopas (probably not the Cleopas of Luke 24:18) was identified with Alphaeus, the father of James (different from James the son of Zebedee) who is mentioned by all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, and again in Acts 1:13). In his Ecclesiastical History ( 3.3 & 4:22) Eusebius also suggested that Clopas was the brother of Mary's husband Joseph.
Mary of Magdala had been freed from seven demons (Luke 8:3), and became a faithful disciple of Jesus (Luke 8:2-3). John will record that she was the first to come to tomb on the Easter Sunday morning (20:1) and she was the first disciple Jesus spoke to after his resurrection (20:16-18, see also Matthew 27:55-56, 28:1, Luke 24:10).
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had been told by Simeon soon after Jesus' birth that "This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35). And now the sword had indeed cruelly pierced her soul as she saw her son bleeding slowly to death in terrible agony. Jesus told her to view John as her son, and John was to take her into his own family. Later we find her active in the early church (Acts 1:14).
19:28 John may have in mind words from the Psalms, "my mouth is dried up like a potsherd" (Psalm 22:15), and "for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21), or the fulfilling At thof Scripture may refer to the completion of his sacrifice.
19:29-30 Earlier Jesus had refused the bitter wine vinegar (mixed with gall) the soldiers had kept taunting him with (a Greek imperfect participle, Mark 15:23) and Jesus had refused (Matthew 27:34). Now one of the bystanders (Mark 15:35-36) filled a sponge with wine, and John tells us that Jesus received it.
Immediately after that Jesus said "It is finished." This means the work of glorification is now complete (4:34, 12:22-24, 31-32, and the words spoken less than a day before in his prayer, 17:1). John tells us his Messiah Lord was now ready to leave what remained of his body.
The wording John uses is very significant. Mark and Luke both say Jesus expired, which is translated "breathed his last" (Mark 15:37, Luke 21:46). Matthew's Greek has "he let go the spirit" which is a deliberate act, so it is wrongly translated "breathed his last"(Matthew 27:50). But John leaves us in no doubt about the deliberate nature of the decision to abandon his old body by using another verb (paradidomi meaning to hand over, deliver, give up). What he hands over is not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit which is the life force that animates our body. We will see in the next chapter, as in our own death as Christians, that the dead body is left behind to be buried but the person is immediately resurrected into the presence of the Father.