John 19:1-42

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Although he knew that Jesus was not guilty of the false charges that had been made against him, Pilate handed Jesus over to Roman soldiers to be flogged. (Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:15; Luke 23:24, 25) This flogging was an extreme form of torture. The whip consisted of a handle with several leather cords to which pieces of bone or metal were attached. A severe flogging could result in death, as the bone or metal ripped into the flesh and caused serious bleeding. (19:1)

The Roman soldiers, when making sport of Jesus, placed a crown of twisted thorns on his head and probably used a worn-out item of dress that mockingly resembled a purple garment as would be worn by royalty or high officials. They themselves wore red cloaks. An old, faded one could have served their purpose. This would fit the words of Matthew 27:28, where the reference is to a scarlet or red cloak. The Greek term for “cloak” chlamýs can, in fact, designate the kind of cloaks Roman soldiers wore. The soldiers also had him hold a reed in his right hand as if he had a royal scepter. With another reed, they may have taken turns hitting him over the head, likely causing the thorns to penetrate his forehead. Besides slapping him in the face and spitting at it, the soldiers kneeled before him, addressing him as “king of the Jews.” (19:2, 3; see also Matthew 27:27-30 and Mark 15:16-19.)

It appears that the Jews who wanted Jesus executed chose to remain outside the praetorium until they were certain that he would not be released. After the soldiers had ended the flogging and mockery, Pilate again came out of the praetorium to address the Jews, telling them that he would bring Jesus out to them so that they would know that he found no guilt in him. It seems likely that soldiers then brought Jesus outside. He still wore the reddish garment and the crown of thorns. Pilate then said, “See! The man.” (19:4, 5)

The context does not reveal how these words should be understood. In view of the abuse to which Jesus had been submitted, his appearance must have been such as would have evoked sympathy in persons who had retained their humanity. So the expression “the man” could have meant the pitiable fellow or a mere man who posed no threat. There is also a possibility that Pilate was impressed by the control Jesus had exercised in not responding to false charges and by the dignity which he had maintained while being abused and mocked. If these aspects prompted Pilate’s words, the expression “the man” would signify a man in the noblest sense. (19:5)

Unmoved by any feelings of sympathy, the chief priests and subordinates (probably temple guards) shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” Having found no guilt in Jesus, Pilate responded, “Take him and crucify him yourselves.” In their reply, those who wanted Jesus crucified now revealed that their previous accusations were false. They now said that, according to their law, he should be put to death because he claimed to be the Son of God. (19:6, 7)

On hearing the words “Son of God,” Pilate gave way to superstitious fear. A contributory factor may have been his wife’s dream. While he was sitting on the judgment seat deliberating, she had sent a message to him, telling him to have nothing to do with the innocent man. This was on account of having suffered much in a dream because of him. (19:8; see Matthew 27:19.)

After entering the praetorium with Jesus, Pilate asked him, “From where are you?” When he did not answer, Pilate continued, “Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and the power to crucify you?” “You would have no power over me,” said Jesus, “unless it had been given to you from above. Therefore, the one who delivered me over to you has greater sin.” (19:9-11)

If it had not been his Father’s will for Jesus to surrender his life, Pilate would have been powerless to do anything to him. What was about to take place would occur according to God’s will, and so, by divine permission, Pilate would be exercising the power to hand Jesus over to be crucified. This would not free him from guilt, for he would be acting unjustly toward one whom he knew to be completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Pilate’s sin would not be as great as that of the one who had been responsible for handing Jesus over to him. The context does not identify this one. Jesus may have meant the betrayer Judas, the high priest Caiaphas, or the chief priests and other members of the Sanhedrin as a corporate body. (19:11)

After the interchange with Jesus, Pilate still wanted to release him and again addressed the Jews who were waiting outside the praetorium. They then forced him into a position where he had to consider the preservation of his own office and even his own life. “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” Thus they insisted that releasing Jesus would be an act of disloyalty to Caesar (Tiberius) — an offense meriting severe punishment. Tiberius acted on very little evidence when seeking to have the death penalty imposed for laesa majestas (injured majesty). An excerpt attributed to Dio Cassius (though the exact source is not positively known) reads, “Tiberius put to death a man of consular rank, accusing him of having carried in his bosom a coin bearing the emperor’s likeness when he retired to a latrine.” The only thing Tiberius said to him was, “With my coin in your bosom you turned aside into foul and noisome places and relieved your bowels.” (This extract is found at the end of Book LVIII of Dio’s Roman History, translated by Earnest Cary.) Pilate must have known how seriously Tiberius took any report suggesting that his majesty had been slighted. Therefore, for word to reach Tiberius that he was no “friend of Caesar” would have put him in a precarious situation. (19:12)

Pilate brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judgment seat located at the place known as the “Stone Pavement” or, “in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” It was about the sixth hour. Possibly based on the reckoning the chief priests used in that particular year, it was the day designated for the preparation of the Passover (Nisan 14). In response to Pilate’s words (“See! Your king!”), the Jews who were there shouted, “Away! Away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate called out. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests replied. It was then that Pilate turned Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. They clothed Jesus with his own garments and led him away. (19:13-16; see also Matthew 27:31 and Mark 15:20.)

In John 19:14, the word hos (about) qualifies the “sixth hour,” identifying it as an approximate time before noon. (Mishnah, Pesahim, 1:4) The context does not make it possible to determine just how long before noon Pilate said to the Jews outside the praetorium, “See! Your king.” Based on specifics included in the other accounts (including the mention of a darkness lasting from the sixth hour until the ninth hour after Jesus had been crucified), the late morning hour could have been between an hour or two before noon. (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44)

In conjunction with the “preparation of the Passover,” all leaven was burned at the start of the sixth hour. This may be why the sixth hour is mentioned in John 19:14, with a possible implied link to Jesus as the sinless king who would die for the people as the “Lamb of God.”

After having been sentenced, Jesus was led away to the location where Roman soldiers would crucify him. Initially, he carried the beam (staurós). Eventually, however, his strength seems to have given out totally. Likely the extreme abuse and torture to which he had been submitted, coupled with much blood loss, had left him in a very weak state. At the time he could no longer carry the beam, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus) happened to be coming from the direction of a field outside the city. Seemingly, upon noticing him, the Roman soldiers impressed him into service, forcing him to carry the beam behind Jesus. (19:16, 17; see also Matthew 27:31, 32; Mark 15:20, 21; Luke 23:26 and the Notes section for additional comments.)

After the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing, they nailed him to the beam and, as he had foretold, lifted him up. Two bandits were also crucified, one on his right and the other one on his left. According to many manuscript readings of Mark 15:28 (but not the oldest extant ones), this development fulfilled the words of scripture (Isaiah 53:12), “And with [among the, LXX] lawless ones he was counted.” (19:18; see also Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33 and the Notes section regarding crucifixion.)

The charge against Jesus (identifying his crime as being that of “King of the Jews”) had been posted above his head. (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38) Pilate had written it in three languages (Latin [the official language of Rome], Greek [the commonly used language in the Greco-Roman world], and Hebrew [the language of the native Jews]). The writing was large enough to be readable from a distance. Many Jews did read the words, for the location was near Jerusalem. After Pilate had written the charge, the chief priests objected, saying, “Do not write ‘the King of the Jews,’ but that “he said, I am King of the Jews.” Pilate, though, had made a legal decision, which he refused to alter. “What I have written,” he said, “I have written.” (19:19-22)

In the accounts, the wording of the charge varies (“This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” [Matthew 27:37], “The King of the Jews” [Mark 15:26], “The King of the Jews this one [is] [Luke 23:38], and “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” [John 19:19]). If the words in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are regarded as abbreviated versions that convey the substance of the charge, the fullest text may be the one found in John 19:19. Another possibility is that the inscription was not identical in the three languages, and so the writers could have chosen a form of one of the three versions. At any rate, all the accounts are in agreement in identifying Jesus as “the King of the Jews.”

After the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his robe (himátion, an outer garment) into four parts, with each soldier taking a part. This reveals that four soldiers were in charge of the crucifixion. They did not want to divide the tunic (chitón, a garment worn next to the skin), for it was a seamless garment, having been woven in one piece. For this reason, they decided to cast lots to determine which of them would get it. Their action corresponded to the words of Psalm 22:18(19) (21:19, LXX), “They divided my garments among themselves, and for my clothes they cast lots.” Because this was indeed what the soldiers did, the words of the psalmist were fulfilled, finding their fullest significance in what happened in the case of God’s Son. Thereafter the soldiers seated themselves and kept watch. (19:23, 24; see also Matthew 27:35, 36; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34.)

Not all who were standing at the site of Golgotha participated the hateful mockery. They looked on with intense grief. The disciple whom Jesus deeply loved, the apostle John, was there and so was Mary. Her pain would have been indescribable. As Simeon had foretold years earlier, her experience proved to be comparable to being pierced with a sword. (Luke 2:35) Other women with Mary included Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas (the mother of James the less [or younger] and Joses [Joseph]), and Salome (the mother of James and John, the wife of Zebedee, and the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary). Additionally, present were many other women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee and had attended to his needs. (19:25; see also Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40, 41; Luke 23:49.)

With her nephew John at her side, Mary approached close enough to Jesus to be able to hear him speak. When he saw his mother and John, the disciple whom he loved and implicitly trusted, he lovingly arranged to have him care for her. Directing his words to Mary, Jesus said, “Woman, see! Your son.” His words to John were, “See! Your mother.” From that “hour” or time onward, John assumed the role of a son to Mary and apparently had her live where he did. It appears that John then led Mary away from the scene of Jesus’ intense suffering. This is suggested by the absence of many details found in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Moreover, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not mentioned among the named women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. These women were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less (the younger) and of Joses (Joseph), and Salome (the mother of Zebedee’s sons). This could be understood to indicate that John, though himself later returning, had kindly conducted Mary away from the scene so that she would not be pained to an extent that would have been difficult for her to bear. (19:26, 27; see also Matthew 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40, 41; Luke 23:48, 49.)

Seemingly, when John returned by himself, he heard Jesus cry out, “I thirst.” Knowing that everything had been accomplished, Jesus said what he did to fulfill “the scripture.” His words, “I thirst,” led to the fulfillment of Psalm 69:21(22), “For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 68:22, LXX) (19:28)

One of those nearby ran to a vessel filled with vinegar (sour wine). After filling a sponge with the vinegar, he placed it on a reed, intending to provide Jesus with a little relief by offering him a drink. (Matthew 27:48, 49; Mark 15:36) Whereas Matthew 27:48 and Mark 15:36 indicate that the sponge was put on a reed, John’s account says it was placed on “hyssop.” There is a measure of uncertainty about the precise plant to which the Greek term hýssopos refers. Possibly, in this case, it designates a plant that would have grown to sufficient height to supply a firm reed. (19:29)

Probably a Roman soldier gave Jesus a drink. It does not appear likely that a mere bystander would have undertaken to do so, for the vessel containing vinegar would have been at the location for the soldiers who carried out the crucifixions and who thereafter remained on guard duty. Possibly the one who extended the small gesture of kindness was the centurion who, based on the developments associated with Jesus’ death, later acknowledged that he must have been a righteous man, God’s Son. (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47)

Besides saying “it is finished” after receiving the vinegar, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” These words paralleled those of the psalmist (Psalm 31:5[6]; 30:6, LXX) and indicated that Jesus was entrusting his life breath to his Father, looking to him to restore him to life. Jesus then bowed his head, and yielded up his life breath. (19:30; see also Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46.)

Not wanting to have the men remain crucified until after the start of the Sabbath at sundown, the prominent Jews requested Pilate to hasten their death. They asked him to direct that their legs be broken and that their dead bodies to be taken away. The account in John refers to that particular Sabbath as being “great,” possibly because the Sabbath, according to the reckoning that year, coincided with the first day of the Festival of Unfermented Bread (Nisan 15). (19:31)

When the soldiers received the order to break the legs of the crucified men, Jesus was already dead. They only broke the legs of the two malefactors, but not those of Jesus. One of the soldiers did pierce his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out. (19:32-34)

John was there to witness these developments. The account includes his solemn declaration, “He who saw [this] has testified, and his testimony is true. And he knows (or there is one who knows [God]) that he is telling the truth, so that you, too, may believe.” The basis for believing is the fulfillment of the scriptures regarding him. “Not a bone of his will be broken.” (Psalm 34:20[21]) “They will look at whom they pierced.” (Zechariah 12:10) The extant Hebrew text of Zechariah 12:10 reads, “They shall look to me whom they have pierced.” If this represents the original text, it could mean that the Almighty regards the piercing of the one for whom there should be mourning as having been done to him. (19:35-37)

According to Matthew 27:57 and Mark 15:42, it was “evening” (opsía) when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus. This would have been late in the afternoon, for it was still the day before the Sabbath, which began at sundown. (Mark 15:42) Joseph, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, had kept his belief in Jesus secret. Although a good and just man who looked forward to the kingdom of God, Joseph appears to have been fearful about openly identifying himself as a believer. He did not, however, give his consent to the Sanhedrin’s decision to condemn Jesus. Fully aware of the grave injustice that had been committed, Joseph overcame his fear and boldly went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body. (19:38; see also Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-52 the Notes section for comments regarding Arimathea.)

It appears that Joseph had discussed his plan with another member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus (likewise a secret disciple). Both men, doubtless with the aid of servants, removed the body and prepared it for burial. Nicodemus had arranged to bring a mixture of myrrh and aloes (possibly the fragrant substance derived from the aloe tree [Aquilaria agallocha]), weighing about a hundred pounds (Roman pounds, with a pound weighing 11.5 ounces [327 grams]). According to customary Jewish practice at that time, Jesus’ body was wrapped in linen bandages along with the fragrant mixture. In Joseph’s own new rock-cut tomb in a garden near Golgotha, the men placed the body and then rolled a large stone over the tomb entrance. (Matthew 27:59, 60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53) An expanded reading of Luke 23:53 in fifth-century Codex Bezae indicates that it would have been difficult for 20 men to roll the stone. The time for preparing Jesus’ body for burial had been very limited, for it was the “day of Preparation” (Luke 23:54) when activities needed to be completed before the Sabbath began at sundown and work restrictions would begin to apply. (19:39-42)


The biblical accounts do not include the hideous details about the crucifixion. They do not even provide a limited description of the implement on which Jesus died nor of the manner in which he was nailed to it. The writers’ reticence is more in keeping with their main purpose, setting forth the reason for Jesus’ suffering and death.

In itself, the Greek word staurós, commonly translated “cross,” can refer to a stake or pole, and the staurós which Jesus and later Simon carried was a beam. A long stake with a transverse beam would have been too heavy for one man to carry or drag. The Latin term crux, from which the English word “cross” is derived, can designate a tree or a wooden implement on which victims were either hanged or impaled.

In the allegorical Epistle of Barnabas (thought to date from the early second century and so from a time when the Romans continued to practice crucifixion), the staurós is linked to the letter tau (T). Moreover, very limited archaeological evidence does indicate that the Romans did make use of upright poles with a transverse beam.

Ancient abbreviated forms of the noun staurós and the verb stauróo (a number of preserved occurrences in P66 [second century] and P75 [though not consistently used in this late second-century or early third-century manuscript]) combine the letters tau (T) and rho (R) in a manner that is visually suggestive of a cross. This tau-rho ligature also appears in pre-Christian and non-Christian texts as an abbreviation for a number of terms, including the word trópos (meaning “way,” “manner,” or “habit”). Possibly Christian copyists adopted this ligature when abbreviating staurós because of associating the implement on which Jesus died with the letter tau (T). The existence of other abbreviated forms for the noun staurós and the verb stauróo in ancient biblical manuscripts which do not use the tau-rho ligature would seem to support the conjecture that early copyists chose this ligature for its visual effect.

The Greek word rendered “crucify” (stauróo) can denote hanging, binding, or nailing a victim on or to a stake, a tree, or an implement with a transverse beam. Doubtless the availability of wood and the number of individuals who were executed determined the shape of the implement used for crucifixion. In a Latin work attributed to Vulcatius Gallicanus, Emperor Avidius Cassius had criminals tied from the top to the bottom of a 180-foot (c. 55-meter) high wooden stake. The manner in which these persons were attached to this stake is referred to as crucifixion (in crucem sustulit, according to the Latin text). Roman soldiers do not appear to have followed any specific method when carrying out crucifixions. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (War, V, xi, 1), the soldiers, out of wrath and hatred for the Jews, nailed those they caught, one in one way, and another in another way.

It is commonly believed that upright stakes were already at Golgotha or that the beams that had been carried to the site were attached to three adjacent trees (or possibly even the same tree) there. The minority view (expressed, for example, in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) is that Jesus was nailed in an upright position to the pole that Simon had carried and that it was not used as a transverse beam.

If correctly identified, Arimathea lay near the northern border of Judea, about 16 miles (c. 26 kilometers east of Joppa and over 20 miles (over 32 kilometers) northwest of Jerusalem. Although originally from Arimathea, Joseph, as a member of the Sanhedrin, must have had a residence in Jerusalem, as suggested by his owning an unused tomb just outside the city. (Matthew 27:60)