Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of John/Chapter 19

Anonymity in John 19 We have mention of Christ, Mary, Mary wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea in John 19. All of these people were, to a lesser or greater degree, supporters and / or followers of Christ. The name-dropping of these supporters is quite rampant in this chapter, but as for those opposed to Christ, we have only the vague titles of "the Jews" and "the chief priests." Caesar is mentioned briefly, but only in an invocation by the chief Jewish priests. Why all this anonymity? I'm not sure of the reason, but I would like to point out that the anonymity is an indicator of political motivations. If the author of John was Gentile and anti-Semitic, it would have been more effective for him/her to name specific Jews to polarize his audience, in addition to the already negative portrayal of the Jews and chief priests. The fact that he/she does not do this suggests one of two things: 1) he/she did not know the names of those priests and officials involved or 2) he / she was less actively anti-Semitic than he / she could have been, which is an encouraging thought. After Jesus' arrest, He appeared in front of multiple Jewish leaders, who eventually passed him off to the Romans because according to Jewish law, they had "no right to execute anyone" (18:31). Pushing the decision on the Romans, the Jews were using the Romans as a means to execute Jesus, while avoiding the penalty of their own law. Even Pilate, a Roman leader, had trouble punishing an innocent man. He looked toward the people and encouraged them to free Jesus on the basis that he found "no basis for a charge against him" (18:38).

Here are the charges:






“This man is a wizard, shaman, warlock, and an insurrectionist. He is stirring up the people telling them not to pay taxes to Caesar, and claiming to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews.”

Pilate said he finds "no basis for a charge against" Jesus. As Pilate hears that Jesus is the Son of God, he is "afraid" (19:8), and tries to set him free (v. 12). Yet he shows his true alliance to the government as the Jews bring the Roman law into focus by basically calling Pilate disloyal. The fact of the matter remains, Caesar himself had warned Pilate twice that another rebellion and bloodletting in the Jewish community would result in his punishment (Smith). Pilate therefore had a very interesting decision to make. Does he execute a man that some consider to be a prophet? This in itself may cause a rebellion. Or does he defy the Jewish law and set him free? Caiphus and the Jewish community at large would surely be outraged. Either way, Pilate felt deep concern regarding this decision. This is probably the main reason he wished to debate with the chief priests on the nature of Jesus' punishment. Even at this point, Pilate is still uncomfortable with punishing an innocent man, especially the Son of God (see 19:35), and the text concludes Pilate's fight to free Jesus by saying that he "Finally handed Him over," thus showing that it wasn't a willing choice, but one made through time and pressure.

Women in Jesus' Family and their Presence at the Cross John 19: 25 states, "Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." While women are present at the crucifixion in all the other Gospels, all have different lists of which women were present (except for Luke, whose Gospel doesn't contain a list at all). It is quite interesting that the narrator of John had Jesus' mother appear only at the beginning of His ministry and at the end. D. Moody Smith says that her appearance at the crucifixion is similar to "her presence in the upper room, with Jesus' brothers, after the Ascension" in Acts 1:14 (Smith 359). There are examples of Jesus' brothers that became disciples and missionaries after the risen Jesus appeared to them (1 Cor 15:7) and 1 Cor 9:5 are two such examples). Since the Gospel of John doesn't contain an infancy narrative, the readers of John don't see Mary "venerated" or become a disciple of Jesus like she is in both Matthew, Luke, and Acts. The narrator of John includes Mary's presence at the crucifixion while showing Jesus wanting to provide for his mother: in John 19: 26-27, Jesus presents "the disciple whom he loved" to his mother saying "here is your son" and presents his mother with the disciple saying "here is your mother." It is possible that narrator of John "knew a tradition that placed the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross, and this fact occasioned his construction of this narrative in which she is linked most closely to the Beloved Disciple, the model disciple and witness who takes her to his home" (Smith 360).

This strange episode in 26-27 is also significant because it seems to show Jesus circumventing the traditional model of the brothers taking care of the mother after the oldest child's death, but instead Jesus is giving care of his mother over to one of his disciples. Many Catholics point to this passage as evidence that Mary may have in fact stayed a perpetual virgin and did not mother the other children of Joseph. Though it is possible to take such an interpretation of this passage, there are other passages in the New Testament that make it difficult. Others have tried to claim that the mother being referred to in the passage is actually Mary Magdalene and that Jesus is talking to his son whom he fathered with Mary. Obviously this view is a rather dramatic departure from the actual content of the chapter. John clearly identifies her as "Jesus' mother" and later that the beloved disciple took her "into his home" which clearly identifies the disciple as a man. People who hold this view though, would say that John deliberates misrepresents the situation because Jesus' life with Mary was somewhat secret and could not be openly expressed. Both of these views seem to be reading into the text things that are not there, but it is true that all translation of ancient text require some degree of interpretation and it is not possible to rule them out as possibilities.

"It is Finished!" In John 19 Jesus' last words seem to express triumph over defeat. In verse 11 Jesus states: "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin."(NAS) Jesus is pointing to Satan as the one who rules the earth and ruled over Pilate. It is important to note, however, that Pilate's actions are not without sin.. Pilate is believed to have come from Scotland, he ruled from 26 to 36 AD. The Jewish Encyclopedia says, “His administration was characterized by corruption, violence, robberies, ill treatment of the people, and continuous executions without even the form of a trial…Pilate looted “funds from the sacred treasury in order to provide for the construction of an aqueduct”…when the citizens protested he sent among the crowds disguised soldiers carrying concealed daggers, who massacred a great number, not only of the rioters, but of casual spectators…Pilate's last deed of cruelty, and the one which brought about his downfall, was the massacre of a number of Samaritans who had assembled on Mount Gerizim to dig for some sacred vessels.”

Jesus mentions that the one who handed him over to Pilate--Caiaphas, not Judas--has the greater sin. This implies that there is certainly a lesser sin, and it has been done by Pilate. This also predicts this overcoming just as the rest of previous chapters in John. However, what is interesting in John is that it has no mention of the veil of the temple being torn after Jesus gives up his spirit. This veil was used to "serve as a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies" mentioned in Exodus 26:33.It was used in Jerusalem and was the center of religious Jewish life where animal sacrifices and worship were performed in order to make anointment for people's sins. In all the synoptic gospels this account was mentioned as well as an earthquake in Matthew. This tearing of the veil was a historic catastrophe to the people at this time, so why did the author of John leave this significant event out? One belief is that the author left this piece of evidence out to emphasize the next verses. In John 19: 31-37 the Jews are said to break the bones of the other men who were crucified, but not Jesus' because He was already dead. (v.31-33) Then in verse 34, Jesus is pierced in the side with a spear and blood and water came out. Many believe the blood is a symbolism of sacrifice and the water is of purification. With that said, in verse 35 it states: "And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe." (NAS)This seems to be a reoccurring theme in John, for the author to educate and almost "evangelize" his readers.  Then, we have again another theme in John that Jesus was not a sacrifice but a ransom and the ransom was paid to Satan. Jesus saved us from the land of Death by presenting himself alive as a sinless man. Satan was smugly confident that he could make Jesus sin by nailing him to a cross and blaming it on the Father making Yah into just another blood thirsty pagan God. This was the last temptation. Jesus could have called down 70,000 angels, but by refusing he went to the point of death without sinning and died a sinless man. Satan had the right to kill every sinner, but he did not have the right to kill a sinless man and when he did he fell under the curse of God. His throne was toppled.  

Chapter 19:31-42:

Jesus' body bears witness to his identity and his fulfillment. When the soldiers find Jesus dead one of them stabs him to be sure he is dead, and out comes a sudden flow of blood and water (v. 34). There is some uncertainty as to where the water and blood came out. Did it flow from beneath His skin or from a deeper source? It is the fact of death, not the cause of death that the author was more concerned about. The significance of this flow is that Jesus is the Passover sacrifice. Furthermore, Jesus used both blood and water as significant symbols in his teaching, and this gives us guidance for their significance. Water symbolizes purification, the Spirit, and salvation. Blood symbolizes Jesus' death, which brings life to the world (6:53-56). From these relations it would seem that in this flow of blood and water "John saw a symbol of the fact that from the Crucified there proceed those living streams by which men are quickened and the church lives" (Dodd 1953:428)

Another important part in these last verses is the fact that none of the soldiers did break his bones coincidently just as scripture had earlier prescribed it to be: " Break none of his bones". Now, the fact being that they knew they were fulfilling scripture or not is a whole other matter, but is unlikely since it said that they only did not break his legs since he was already dead. Still, the fact that things like this happen and fulfill scripture is interesting. Also, the fact that Nicodemus, the one who had originally come in the dark because he did not believe, came back at the end to show his respects to Jesus is a sign of coming full circle in John. It is also a character that is specific to this gospel as well.

These chapters are essential in the Gospel of John because of the death of Jesus which is the central theological theme of this Gospel has been misunderstood by the writers of the other new Testament books who mistake Jesus for the goat of the atonement or the bull. It is important to note that the death is expressed much different than the rest of the New Testament. Most noteworthy is the lack of elaborate account of Jesus' trial before Jewish authorities.

     At Their Second Meeting, Pilate  Angers the Rogues by saying He Plans  to Release Yahshuah                    

When the rogues met the second time with Pilate, Pilate said, “First you brought this man accusing him of trying to overthrow your nation and Caesar. I examined him and found him to be harmless, and I told you it is no crime for a fool to claim to be a king. Then you took him to Antipas, who as near as I can tell, did not find any crimes in him either, but sent him back dressed as a king, to show that he too thinks he is a harmless fool. Under Roman law, being a fool is not a crime. Therefore, here is what I will do. I will have him scourged, and since it is the Passover feast, when I usually release a prisoner, I will release him.” The rogues all cried out at once. “No, execute this Yahshuah and release to us the other Yahshuah, the son of Abba, (Barabbas). Barabbas was a robber and an Israeli extreme patriot who had been arrested for murder and causing a riot in Jerusalem. Pilate said, “But this Yahshuah of the Galil has committed no crime.” They cried, “Impale him. Impale him!” He has blasphemed against our nation claiming he is the son of Adonai.”

Last modified on 4 March 2011, at 17:43