Paying the Price
Sunday School Lesson for February 9, 2003
Background Passage: John 19:1-42
The Crucifixion of Jesus (19:16-18)
Following His beating at the hands of Pontius Pilate (19:1), Jesus was placed under the authority of the Roman soldiers who prepared Him to be crucified. The flogging Jesus received from Pilate’s men, also known as the verberatio, was a horribly cruel and painful form of torture “from which Roman citizens were exempt” [Hendriken, 414]. Kostenberger explains this procedure:
In this form of punishment, the victim was stripped naked, tied to a post, and beaten by several soldiers with a whip whose leather thongs were fitted with pieces of bone or lead or other metal. The scourgings were so severe that persons subjected to this torture sometimes died; others were left with their bones and entrails exposed. .
“Carrying his own cross,” as was the customary requirement for condemned prisoners, Jesus was directed toward “The Place of the Skull,” or “Golgotha” (v.17). The Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 22:32; Mark. 14:21; Luke 23:26) record that Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to bear Christ’s cross. Understandably, Jesus was left in a severely weakened state following the scourging, beatings, sleeplessness, and the emotional stress and abuse inflicted upon Him throughout the night.
The simple announcement in verse 18—“Here they crucified him”—masks what is perhaps one of the most horrible forms of execution practiced in antiquity. This method of punishment, perfected by the Romans, was designed to result in a slow, agonizing death with maximum pain and suffering. Being one of the most disgraceful and cruel forms of punishment, crucifixion was normally reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals.
The crucifixion involved the fastening of the condemned upon a wooden cross, often in grossly contorted positions, by means of 5-7 inch iron spikes that were driven through both wrists and the heels. The prisoner, in such an unnatural position, would find breathing painfully difficult, if not impossible. In order to execute each breath, the victim would be required to push downward with his feet to lift his body into a position where exhalation would be possible. This produced excruciating pain. Typically, crucified prisoners would suffer from shock and asphyxia ultimately resulting in cardiac arrest and death.
Observe also that John makes note of the fact that the Lord was crucified with “two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.” This simple detail supplies the literal fulfillment of Isaiah’s words—“he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered among the transgressors” (53:12).
The Death of Jesus (19:28-37)
Having committed His mother Mary into the care of John (19:25-27), Jesus uttered the first of the seven sayings from the cross—“I am thirsty” (v. 30). John indicates that these words of our Lord served as yet another fulfillment of “the Scripture” (v.28). Here the reference is most likely Psalm 22:15 or 69:21. In response to Jesus’ cry, the soldiers provided Him with a wine-soaked “sponge on the stalk of the hyssop plant” (v. 30). This mixture of wine and vinegar, unlike the drink initially offered to Jesus earlier in His trial (Mk. 15:23), was intended to keep the victim alert for a longer period of time, thereby prolonging the intense agony of the crucifixion. After Jesus had “received the drink,” He uttered His final words from the cross—“It is finished” (v. 30). F. F. Bruce sets forth the significance of this statement:
All scripture that was due to be accomplished in his passion had now been accomplished; the entire purpose for which the Father had sent the Son into the world was now assured of fulfillment, and since that purpose included the salvation of the world and the procuring of eternal life for all believers (John 13:14-17), salvation and eternal life were henceforth freely available. .
John indicates that following Christ’s final worlds from the cross, He “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (v. 30). This language confirms what Jesus had declared earlier concerning the nature of His death—“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11). From one perspective, Christ’s death on the cross was the result of betrayal and murder. From another perspective, however, it was God’s gracious plan from eternity past (see Acts 2:23 where these two truths appear in one verse).
Here the witness of the soldiers who were responsible for the crucifixion confirms Jesus’ death on the cross. Note that when Jesus was examined, it was discovered that “he was already dead” and there was no need to “break his legs” in order to accelerate the process (v. 33). In order to fully determine that Jesus was dead, a soldier “pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (v. 34). This fact provides the irrefutable evidence, objectively confirmed by hostile witnesses, that Jesus actually died as a human being. Once again, John connects this detail with the Old Testament announcement from Psalm 34:20, “Not one of his bones shall be broken,” and Zechariah 12:10, “They will look on the one they have pierced” (v. 37).
The Burial of Jesus (19:38-42)
After the Roman authorities had confirmed Jesus’ death, “Joseph of Arimathea” and “Nicodemus” secured His body (vv. 38-39) in order to make preparations for internment “in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” This involved wrapping the body in a number of layers consisting of “strips of linen” and “a mixture of myrrh and aloes.” Some have estimated that when the process of properly dressing the body was complete, the wrappings and spices would weigh in excess of 120 pounds. Note that the myrrh and aloes alone weighed about “seventy-five pounds” (the NASB reads “a hundred pounds”). Following this procedure, the two men placed the Lord’s body in a “new tomb” near a “garden” in the vicinity of the place of His crucifixion (v. 41). Kostenberger observes that the tomb’s location near Golgotha in a garden “concur[s] with speculation that the site of the crucifixion [was] just outside the second north wall of the city” .
One: Fulfilled Scripture: Why does John insist on reminding his readers (19:24, 28, 36) that the events related to Christ’s life and death were the fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture? Where else in Scripture do we find the theme of promise-fulfillment?
Two: Jesus’ literal death: Relate the story of Christ’s death to John’s statements in 1 John 1:1-3 and 4:2. Why is it so important that Christians emphasize and defend the humanity of Christ? What other Scriptures support your answer?
Three: Christ’s appeasement of divine wrath: Using a Bible dictionary, look up the terms atonement, propitiation, and sacrifice. How do these terms apply to what Christ accomplished on the cross? How does Christ’s death communicate the holiness of God?
Four: The cross as a display of infinite mercy: From whom or what did Jesus’ death save us? Can you find Scripture passages to support your answer?