The Inscription on the Cross; The Crucifixion.
19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. 21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. 22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. 23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. 28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. 29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
Here are some remarkable circumstances of Christ’s dying more fully related than before, which those will take special notice of who covet to know Christ and him crucified.
I. The title set up over his head. Observe,
1. The inscription itself which Pilate wrote, and ordered to be fixed to the top of the cross, declaring the cause for which he was crucified, v. 19. Matthew called it, aitia—the accusation; Mark and Luke called it epigraphe—the inscription; John calls it by the proper Latin name, titlos—the title: and it was this, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, Pilate intended this for his reproach, that he, being Jesus of Nazareth, should pretend to be king of the Jews, and set up in competition with Cæsar, to whom Pilate would thus recommend himself, as very jealous for his honour and interest, when he would treat but a titular king, a king in metaphor, as the worst of malefactors; but God overruled this matter,
(1.) That it might be a further testimony to the innocency of our Lord Jesus; for here was an accusation which, as it was worded, contained no crime. If this be all they have to lay to his charge, surely he has done nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
(2.) That it might show forth his dignity and honour. This is Jesus a Saviour, Nazoraios, the blessed Nazarite, sanctified to God; this is the king of the Jews, Messiah the prince, the sceptre that should rise out of Israel, as Balaam had foretold; dying for the good of his people, as Caiaphas had foretold. Thus all these three bad men witnessed to Christ, though they meant not so.
2. The notice taken of this inscription (v. 20): Many of the Jews read it, not only those of Jerusalem, but those out of the country, and from other countries, strangers and proselytes, that came up to worship at the feast. Multitudes read it, and it occasioned a great variety of reflections and speculations, as men stood affected. Christ himself was set for a sign, a title. Here are two reasons why the title was so much read:–
(1.) Because the place where Jesus was crucified, though without the gate, was yet nigh the city, which intimates that if it had been any great distance off they would not have been led, no not by their curiosity, to go and see it, and read it. It is an advantage to have the means of knowing Christ brought to our doors.
(2.) Because it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin, which made it legible by all; they all understood one or other of these languages, and none were more careful to bring up their children to read than the Jews generally were. It likewise made it the more considerable; everyone would be curious to enquire what it was which was so industriously published in the three most known languages. In the Hebrew the oracles of God were recorded; in Greek the learning of the philosophers; and in Latin the laws of the empire. In each of these Christ is proclaimed king, in whom are hid all the treasures of revelation, wisdom, and power. God so ordering it that this should be written in the three then most known tongues, it was intimated thereby that Jesus Christ should be a Saviour to all nations, and not to the Jews only; and also that every nation should hear in their own tongue the wonderful works of the Redeemer. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, were the vulgar languages at that time in this part of the world; so that this is so far from intimating (as the Papists would have it) that the scripture is still to be retained in these three languages, that on the contrary it teaches us that the knowledge of Christ ought to be diffused throughout every nation in their own tongue, as the proper vehicle of it, that people may converse as freely with the scriptures as they do with their neighbours.
3. The offence which the prosecutors took at it, v. 21. They would not have it written, the king of the Jews; but that he said of himself, I am the king of the Jews. Here they show themselves,
(1.) Very spiteful and malicious against Christ. It was not enough to have him crucified, but they must have his name crucified too. To justify themselves in giving him such bad treatment, they thought themselves concerned to give him a bad character, and to represent him as a usurper of honours and powers that he was not entitled to.
(2.) Foolishly jealous of the honour of their nation. Though they were a conquered and enslaved people, yet they stood so much upon the punctilio of their reputation that they scorned to have it said that this was their king.
(3.) Very impertinent and troublesome to Pilate. They could not but be sensible that they had forced him, against his mind, to condemn Christ, and yet, in such a trivial thing as this, they continue to tease him; and it was so much the worse in that, though they had charged him with pretending to be the king of the Jews, yet they had not proved it, nor had he ever said so.
4. The judge’s resolution to adhere to it: “What I have written I have written, and will not alter it to humour them.”
(1.) Hereby an affront was put upon the chief priests, who would still be dictating. It seems, by Pilate’s manner of speaking, that he was uneasy in himself for yielding to them, and vexed at them for forcing him to it, and therefore he was resolved to be cross with them; and by this inscription he insinuates,
[1.] That, notwithstanding their pretences, they were not sincere in their affections to Cæsar and his government; they were willing enough to have a king of the Jews, if they could have one to their mind.
[2.] That such a king as this, so mean and despicable, was good enough to be the king of the Jews; and this would be the fate of all that should dare to oppose the Roman power.
[3.] That they had been very unjust and unreasonable in prosecuting this Jesus, when there was no fault to be found in him.
(2.) Hereby honour was done to the Lord Jesus. Pilate stuck to it with resolution, that he was the king of the Jews. What he had written was what God had first written, and therefore he could not alter it; for thus it was written, that Messiah the prince should be cut off, Dan. ix. 26. This therefore is the true cause of his death; he dies because the king of Israel must die, must thus die. When the Jews reject Christ, and will not have him for their king, Pilate, a Gentile, sticks to it that he is a king, which was an earnest of what came to pass soon after, when the Gentiles submitted to the kingdom of the Messiah, which the unbelieving Jews had rebelled against.
II. The dividing of his garments among the executioners, v. 23, 24. Four soldiers were employed, who, when they had crucified Jesus, had nailed him to the cross, and lifted it up, and him upon it, and nothing more was to be done than to wait his expiring through the extremity of pain, as, with us, when the prisoner is turned off, then they went to make a dividend of his clothes, each claiming an equal share, and so they made four parts, as nearly of the same value as they could, to every soldier a part; but his coat, or upper garment whether cloak or gown, being a pretty piece of curiosity, without seam, woven from the top throughout, they agreed to cast lots for it. Here observe,
1. The shame they put upon our Lord Jesus, in stripping him of his garments before they crucified him. The shame of nakedness came in with sin. He therefore who was made sin for us bore that shame, to roll away our reproach. He was stripped, that we might be clothed with white raiment (Rev. iii. 18), and that when we are unclothed we may not be found naked.
2. The wages with which these soldiers paid themselves for crucifying Christ. They were willing to do it for his old clothes. Nothing is to be done so bad, but there will be found men bad enough to do it for a trifle. Probably they hoped to make more than ordinary advantage of his clothes, having heard of cures wrought by the touch of the hem of his garment, or expecting that his admirers would give any money for them.
3. The sport they made about his seamless coat. We read not of any thing about him valuable or remarkable but this, and this not for the richness, but only the variety of it, for it was woven from the top throughout; there was no curiosity therefore in the shape, but a designed plainness. Tradition says, his mother wove it for him, and adds this further, that it was made for him when he was a child, and, like the Israelites’ clothes in the wilderness, waxed not old; but this is a groundless fancy. The soldiers thought it a pity to rend it, for then it would unravel, and a piece of it would be good for nothing; they would therefore cast lots for it. While Christ was in his dying agonies, they were merrily dividing his spoils. The preserving of Christ’s seamless coat is commonly alluded to to show the care all Christians ought to take that they rend not the church of Christ with strifes and divisions; yet some have observed that the reason why the soldiers would not rend Christ’s coat was not out of any respect to Christ, but because each of them hoped to have it entire for himself. And so many cry out against schism, only that they may engross all the wealth and power to themselves. Those who opposed Luther’s separation from the church of Rome urged much the tunica inconsutilis–the seamless coat; and some of them laid so much stress upon it that they were called the Inconsutilistæ–The seamless.
4. The fulfilling of the scripture in this. David, in spirit, foretold this very circumstance of Christ’s sufferings, in that passage, Ps. xxii. 18. The event so exactly answering the prediction proves,
(1.) That the scripture is the word of God, which foretold contingent events concerning Christ so long before, and they came to pass according to the prediction.
(2.) That Jesus is the true Messiah; for in him all the Old-Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah had, and have, their full accomplishment. These things therefore the soldiers did.
III. The care that he took of his poor mother.
1. His mother attends him to his death (v. 25): There stood by the cross, as near as they could get, his mother, and some of his relations and friends with her. At first, they stood near, as it is said here; but afterwards, it is probable, the soldiers forced them to stand afar off, as it is said in Matthew and Mark: or they themselves removed out of the ground.
(1.) See here the tender affection of these pious women to our Lord Jesus in his sufferings. When all his disciples, except John, has forsaken him, they continued their attendance on him. Thus the feeble were as David (Zech. xii. 8): they were not deterred by the fury of the enemy nor the horror of the sight; they could not rescue him nor relieve him, yet they attended him, to show their good-will. It is an impious and blasphemous construction which some of the popish writers put upon the virgin Mary standing by the cross, that thereby she contributed to the satisfaction he made for sin no less than he did, and so became a joint-mediatrix and co-adjutrix in our salvation.
(2.) We may easily suppose what an affliction it was to these poor women to see him thus abused, especially to the blessed virgin. Now was fulfilled Simeon’s word, A sword shall pierce through thy own soul, Luke ii. 35. His torments were her tortures; she was upon the rack, while he was upon the cross; and her heart bled with his wounds; and the reproaches wherewith they reproached him fell on those that attended him.
(3.) We may justly admire the power of divine grace in supporting these women, especially the virgin Mary, under this heavy trial. We do not find his mother wringing her hands, or tearing her hair, or rending her clothes, or making an outcry; but, with a wonderful composure, standing by the cross, and her friends with her. Surely she and they were strengthened by a divine power to this degree of patience; and surely the virgin Mary had a fuller expectation of his resurrection than the rest had, which supported her thus. We know not what we can bear till we are tried, and then we know who has said, My grace is sufficient for thee.
2. He tenderly provides for his mother at his death. It is probable that Joseph, her husband, was long since dead, and that her son Jesus had supported her, and her relation to him had been her maintenance; and now that he was dying what would become of her? He saw her standing by, and knew her cares and griefs; and he saw John standing not far off, and so he settled a new relation between his beloved mother and his beloved disciple; for he said to her, “Woman, behold thy son, for whom henceforward thou must have a motherly affection;” and to him, “Behold thy mother, to whom thou must pay a filial duty.” And so from that hour, that hour never to be forgotten, that disciple took her to his own home. See here,
(1.) The care Christ took of his dear mother. He was not so much taken up with a sense of his sufferings as to forget his friends, all whose concerns he bore upon his heart. His mother, perhaps, was so taken up with his sufferings that she thought not of what would become of her; but he admitted that thought. Silver and gold he had none to leave, no estate, real or personal; his clothes the soldiers had seized, and we hear no more of the bag since Judas, who had carried it, hanged himself. He had therefore no other way to provide for his mother than by his interest in a friend, which he does here.
[1.] He calls her woman, not mother, not out of any disrespect to her, but because mother would have been a cutting word to her that was already wounded to the heart with grief; like Isaac saying to Abraham, My father. He speaks as one that was now no more in this world, but was already dead to those in it that were dearest to him. His speaking in this seemingly slight manner to his mother, as he had done formerly, was designed to obviate and give a check to the undue honours which he foresaw would be given to her in the Romish church, as if she were a joint purchaser with him in the honours of the Redeemer.
[2.] He directs her to look upon John as her son: “Behold him as thy son, who stands there by thee, and be as a mother to him.” See here, First, An instance of divine goodness, to be observed for our encouragement. Sometimes, when God removes one comfort from us, he raises up another for us, perhaps where we looked not for it. We read of children which the church shall have after she has lost the other, Isa. xlix. 21. Let none therefore reckon all gone with one cistern dried up, for from the same fountain another may be filled. Secondly, An instance of filial duty, to be observed for our imitation. Christ has here taught children to provide, to the utmost of their power, for the comfort of their aged parents. When David was in distress, he took care of his parents, and found out a shelter for them (1 Sam. xxii. 3); so the Son of David here. Children at their death, according to their ability, should provide for their parents, if they survive them, and need their kindness.
(2.) The confidence he reposed in the beloved disciple. It is to him he says, Behold thy mother, that is, I recommend her to thy care, be thou as a son to her to guide her (Isa. li. 18); and forsake her not when she is old, Prov. xxiii. 22. Now,
[1.] This was an honour put upon John, and a testimony both to his prudence and to his fidelity. If he who knows all things had not known that John loved him, he would not have made him his mother’s guardian. It is a great honour to be employed for Christ, and to be entrusted with any of his interest in the world. But,
[2.] It would be a care and some charge to John; but he cheerfully accepted it, and took her to his own home, not objecting the trouble nor expense, nor his obligations to his own family, nor the ill-will he might contract by it. Note, Those that truly love Christ, and are beloved of him, will be glad of an opportunity to do any service to him or his. Nicephoras’s Eccl. Hist. lib. 2 cap. 3, saith that the virgin Mary lived with John at Jerusalem eleven years, and then died. Others, that she lived to remove with him to Ephesus.
IV. The fulfilling of the scripture, in the giving of him vinegar to drink, v. 28, 29. Observe,
1. How much respect Christ showed to the scripture (v. 28): Knowing that all things hitherto were accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, which spoke of his drinking in his sufferings, he saith, I thirst, that is, he called for drink.
(1.) It was not at all strange that he was thirsty; we find him thirsty in a journey (ch. iv. 6, 7), and now thirsty when he was just at his journey’s end. Well might he thirst after all the toil and hurry which he had undergone, and being now in the agonies of death, ready to expire purely by the loss of blood and extremity of pain. The torments of hell are represented by a violent thirst in the complaint of the rich man that begged for a drop of water to cool his tongue. To that everlasting thirst we had been condemned, had not Christ suffered for us.
(2.) But the reason of his complaining of it is somewhat surprising; it is the only word he spoke that looked like complaint of his outward sufferings. When they scourged him, and crowned him with thorns, he did not cry, O my head! or, My back! But now he cried, I thirst. For,
[1.] He would thus express the travail of his soul, Isa. liii. 11. He thirsted after the glorifying of God, and the accomplishment of the work of our redemption, and the happy issue of his undertaking.
[2.] He would thus take care to see the scripture fulfilled. Hitherto, all had been accomplished, and he knew it, for this was the thing he had carefully observed all along; and now he called to mind one thing more, which this was the proper season for the performance of. By this it appears that he was the Messiah, in that not only the scripture was punctually fulfilled in him, but it was strictly eyed by him. By this it appears that God was with him of a truth–that in all he did he went exactly according to the word of God, taking care not to destroy, but to fulfil, the law and the prophets. Now, First, The scripture had foretold his thirst, and therefore he himself related it, because it could not otherwise be known, saying, I thirst; it was foretold that his tongue should cleave to his jaws, Ps. xxii. 15. Samson, an eminent type of Christ, when he was laying the Philistines heaps upon heaps, was himself sore athirst (Judg. xv. 18); so was Christ, when he was upon the cross, spoiling principalities and powers. Secondly, The scripture had foretold that in his thirst he should have vinegar given him to drink, Ps. lxix. 21. They had given him vinegar to drink before they crucified him (Matt. xxvii. 34), but the prophecy was not exactly fulfilled in that, because that was not in his thirst; therefore now he said, I thirst, and called for it again: then he would not drink, but now he received it Christ would rather court an affront than see any prophecy unfulfilled. This should satisfy us under all our trials, that the will of God is done, and the word of God accomplished.
2. See how little respect his persecutors showed to him (v. 29): There was set a vessel full of vinegar, probably according to the custom at all executions of this nature; or, as others think, it was now set designedly for an abuse to Christ, instead of the cup of wine which they used to give to those that were ready to perish; with this they filled a sponge, for they would not allow him a cup, and they put it upon hyssop, a hyssop-stalk, and with this heaved it to his mouth; hyssopo perithentes—they stuck it round with hyssop; so it may be taken; or, as others, they mingled it with hyssop-water, and this they gave him to drink when he was thirsty; a drop of water would have cooled his tongue better than a draught of vinegar: yet this he submitted to for us. We had taken the sour grapes, and thus his teeth were set on edge; we had forfeited all comforts and refreshments, and therefore they were withheld from him. When heaven denied him a beam of light earth denied him a drop of water, and put vinegar in the room of it.
V. The dying word wherewith he breathed out his soul (v. 30): When he had received the vinegar, as much of it as he thought fit, he said, It is finished; and, with that, bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. Observe,
1. What he said, and we may suppose him to say it with triumph and exultation, Tetelestai—It is finished, a comprehensive word, and a comfortable one.
(1.) It is finished, that is, the malice and enmity of his persecutors had now done their worst; when he had received that last indignity in the vinegar they gave him, he said, “This is the last; I am now going out of their reach, where the wicked cease from troubling.”
(2.) It is finished, that is, the counsel and commandment of his Father concerning his sufferings were now fulfilled; it was a determinate counsel, and he took care to see every iota and tittle of it exactly answered, Acts ii. 23. He had said, when he entered upon his sufferings, Father, thy will be done; and now he saith with pleasure, It is done. It was his meat and drink to finish his work (ch. iv. 34), and the meat and drink refreshed him, when they gave him gall and vinegar.
(3.) It is finished, that is, all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished and answered. He speaks as if, now that they had given him the vinegar, he could not bethink himself of any word in the Old Testament that was to be fulfilled between him and his death but it had its accomplishment; such as, his being sold for thirty pieces of silver, his hands and feet being pierced, his garments divided, &c.; and now that this is done. It is finished.
(4.) It is finished, that is, the ceremonial law is abolished, and a period put to the obligation of it. The substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. Just now the veil is rent, the wall of partition is taken down, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, Eph. ii. 14, 15. The Mosaic economy is dissolved, to make way for a better hope.
(5.) It is finished, that is, sin is finished, and an end made of transgression, by the bringing in of an everlasting righteousness. It seems to refer to Dan. ix. 24. The Lamb of God was sacrificed to take away the sin of the world, and it is done, Heb. ix. 26.
(6.) It is finished, that is, his sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul and those of his body. The storm is over, the worst is past; all his pains and agonies are at an end, and he is just going to paradise, entering upon the joy set before him. Let all that suffer for Christ, and with Christ, comfort themselves with this, that yet a little while and they also shall say, It is finished.
(7.) It is finished, that is, his life was now finished, he was just ready to breathe his last, and now he is no more in this world, ch. xvii. 11. This is like that of blessed Paul (2 Tim. iv. 7), I have finished my course, my race is run, my glass is out, mene, mene–numbered and finished. This we must all come to shortly.
(8.) It is finished, that is, the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed, at least the hardest part of the undertaking is over; a full satisfaction is made to the justice of God, a fatal blow given to the power of Satan, a fountain of grace opened that shall ever flow, a foundation of peace and happiness laid that shall never fail. Christ had now gone through with his work, and finished it, ch. xvii. 4. For, as for God, his work is perfect; when I begin, saith he, I will also make an end. And, as in the purchase, so in the application of the redemption, he that has begun a good work will perform it; the mystery of God shall be finished.
2. What he did: He bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. He was voluntary in dying; for he was not only the sacrifice, but the priest and the offerer; and the animus offerentis–the mind of the offerer, was all in all in the sacrifice. Christ showed his will in his sufferings, by which will we are sanctified.
(1.) He gave up the ghost. His life was not forcibly extorted from him, but freely resigned. He had said, Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit, thereby expressing the intention of this act. I give up myself as a ransom for many; and, accordingly, he did give up his spirit, paid down the price of pardon and life at his Father’s hands. Father, glorify thy name.
(2.) He bowed his head. Those that were crucified, in dying stretched up their heads to gasp for breath, and did not drop their heads till they had breathed their last; but Christ, to show himself active in dying, bowed his head first, composing himself, as it were, to fall asleep. God had laid upon him the iniquity of us all, putting it upon the head of this great sacrifice; and some think that by this bowing of his head he would intimate his sense of the weight upon him. See Ps. xxxviii. 4; xl. 12. The bowing of his head shows his submission to his Father’s will, and his obedience to death. He accommodated himself to his dying work, as Jacob, who gathered up his feet into the bed, and then yielded up the ghost.
– Matthew Henry Commentary