3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 19

Contents

Chapter 19

Crucifixion (3)This is part 19 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

In Chapter 19, Jesus is beaten, crucified, and buried. In a chapter which begins, “Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged”, has in the middle, “So they took Jesus…”, and ends with, “They laid Jesus there”, Jesus is seemingly passive, but nevertheless he is in control of events through what he says, (and what he refuses to say…), so that Scripture might be fulfilled (as mentioned four times in the chapter).


REVIEWING THE TEXT – CHAPTER 19

Jesus and Pilate

The chapter opens with Jesus being mistreated: “Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged“. It continues with more humiliation and abuse, and then Pilate triumphantly pronounces to the Jewish crowd that he has found “no case against” Jesus.

Presumably to Pilate’s surprise, this was not sufficient for the Jews, who then demand Jesus be crucified. Pilate then finds himself trapped…

Jesus demonstrates that, whereas Pilate thinks he is in a position of power, in fact it is Jesus who is in control:

Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

– John 19:10-11

Jesus’ words here are slightly ambiguous. On one hand he is pointing out that Pilate’s power is “from above”, a reference to God in keeping with the conversation so far. But Jesus is also opening Pilate’s eyes to the reality that the Jews have now got complete control over him, for as long as Jesus refuses to cooperate:

From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

– John 19:12

Checkmate, Pilate!

The Jews had wedged Pilate into acting against a potential pretender to the throne. Pilate, by now, was convinced that this was nothing but a Jewish religious matter, but was stuck. The Jews were right that any “king” should be executed, and Jesus was refusing to give Pilate any way of freeing him.

Jesus, through his refusal to speak in his own defense, created the situation where Pilate proclaimed Jesus king, again and again:

He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” – Verse 14

Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” – Verse 15

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews … it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.” – Verse 19 (+20)

From Pilate’s perspective, he needed to do this so that the reason for the crucifixion was clear. He resented the Jews for their manipulation, which is why he didn’t write, “This man said, I am king of the Jews“, as they demanded. In fact, presumably pleased that it bugged them, he dismissed their objection saying, “What I have written I have written” (v22).

Seeing

The visual scene of Pilate with Jesus, and with the Jews outside, is deceptive. It looks like a powerful ruler with the arbitrary power of life and death, deciding whether to kill a man. As the story unfolds through the chapter we come to see that in fact, the most powerless man in the story is Pilate, and the most authoritative is Jesus.

Hearing

Jesus says little in this chapter. Indeed, this is the sum total of his utterances:

Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

– John 19:11

 

He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.

– John 19:26

 

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.

– John 19:27

 

I thirst

– John 19:28

 

It is finished

– John 19:30

In this chapter it is not so much the words or sayings of Jesus that are crucial. In a sense, it is his silence that is so powerful, and which accomplishes God’s will. Pilate and the Jews speak back and forth several times, each with their own agenda, but the will of God inexorably progresses under Jesus’ almost completely silent control.

Believing

But although “hearing” Jesus’ words is not central to this chapter, and although Jesus’ silence is important, there is another kind of “hearing” which is being promoted.

As soon as Jesus is on the cross, the narrator starts talking about Scripture being fulfilled:

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

They divided my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

And that is what the soldiers did.

– John 19:23-25

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”

– John 19:28

These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.

– John 19:36

And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

– John 19:37

This is so that the reader understands: In Jesus’ absence, the “voice” of Scripture is still authoritative. We must “hear” what Scripture says, and believe that it is true. The authority of Scripture stands behind all that Jesus did, and is in agreement with him. That is why John goes to the trouble of reporting all this:

He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe.

– John 19:35

 


QUESTIONS TO PONDER FROM CHAPTER 19

The other Gospel accounts mention various other utterances of Jesus during this sequence. Why would John have chosen only to report so few?
What is the significance of the remark made by the Chief Priests, “We have no king but the emperor”, in Verse 15?
In Verse 39, a man named Nicodemus is mentioned. Who is he?

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