The passion of Christ. 19:16b-30


John now recounts the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, his journey to the cross, crucifixion and death. John's account serves to display Jesus as the righteous suffering son who gives his life for the life of the world, and in so doing, is lifted up and enthroned king.

The passage

v16b-20. Taken into custody, Jesus picks up the horizontal member of the cross and proceeds to carry it to the place of execution, the place called "The Skull." By telling us that Jesus carries the cross alone (no mention of Simon), that he is crucified in the middle of two failed freedom fighters ("deliverers") and that he is publicly proclaimed (indicted) as "King of the Jews" by the Roman governor, John paints the scene as a coronation; Jesus' "lifting up" is his glorification.

v21-22. The Jewish authorities naturally react to Pilate's provocative charge which is inscribed on a placard above Jesus, but Pilate has been pushed too far and he has no intention of removing this pointed barb.

v23-24. As was their right, the soldiers get the spoil from the executions. John describes the scene in more detail than the synoptic gospels. In the gambling over Jesus' undergarment, John is again taken by how God's intentions for the messiah, revealed in scripture, are fulfilled in these final moments. "So it's what the soldiers did."

v25. Having described the soldiers dividing the spoil, John now describes the opposite side of the coin, namely, the devotion of Jesus' friends. Although the synoptic gospels have Jesus' friends standing off at a distance, John has them standing close beside the cross. John describes a scene of devotion, whereas the synoptics describe a scene of abandonment, both by his friends and by God, cf., Ps.88:8.

v26-27. Luke agrees with John that there were male friends present with the females and most agree that the "disciple whom he loved" was John the apostle. Jesus performs a kind of "testamentary disposition" where he uses formula-like language to transfer his responsibilities of care for his mother to John. The phrase, "this disciple took her into his home" simply means he accepts this responsibility. Some commentators argue that Jesus entrusted John, and therefore, all disciples and so all believers, to the care of Mary, but this is unlikely.

v28-29. The end draws near and Jesus, faced with death, utters the words of the righteous son who is faced with desolation, Ps.22:11. John notes that this cry fulfills scripture. Jesus obviously understands how his crucifixion fulfills scripture, but his choice words is not uttered simply to play out prophecy. Jesus is then offered some vinegar-wine by a soldier, an interesting touch, which is again part of the testimony concerning the righteous suffering son, Ps.69:22. The use of a sponge on a stick or staff (even possibly a javelin), serves to get the drink to Jesus' mouth (better than lips).

v30. Jesus calls out "it is accomplished" (better than "finished"). Jesus is speaking of his life's work completed rather than just ended, and since it is completed, he hands over his person to the care of the Father (far better than "gave up his life").

The sign of the cross

The gospel of John is a bit of an enigma and it probably wasn't until the English theologian C.H. Dodd published his work "The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel" that we started to get an insight into it. Dodd argued that John's gospel is made up of a collection of signs with associated discourses, which are independently complete gospel presentations. This "book of signs" is rounded up with the final sign, namely The Book of the Passion. The final sign displays to us the Word made flesh, a light shining in the darkness, rejected by his own people, but believed on by some who have found life in him. This suffering-one obediently proceeds under the will of God, a will already revealed in scripture. Continually John reminds us how Jesus' suffering fulfills scripture. So Jesus processes, as if a king to his coronation, processes to the place called "The Scull", and does so under the divine will of God.

The big question is why, why this given up to darkness? John, of course, has told us the "why" already. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." He was "lifted up that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."

So there it is. We have this scene of light shining in darkness. The King of the Jews lifted up within view of the city wall. "Alone" he has carried the top member of the cross to the place of execution, for only he can take this divine path, this way of the cross, of glory in suffering. Beside the cross we see both darkness and light. We see the soldiers dividing the spoil and gambling over his undergarment, but we also see the little band of disciples beside him during his final moments. We see Jesus considering his mother's welfare; we even see a soldier sharing his wine with Jesus - there is human depravity and there is human kindness. In all of it there is the divine will; the fulfilling of intentions revealed long ago.

On this final sign in The Book of the Passion all signs rely, yet as with all the signs in the gospel of John there is but one central message. In the determined purpose of God, Jesus is lifted up to glory through suffering so that through him we too might be lifted up to glory, to eternal life. This kindness of God in Jesus is for all who believe.


1. Is there anything symbolic in Jesus carrying his cross "alone"?

2. Why does John have the friends "near the cross."

3. What is the message of the sign of the cross?

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