John 19:28-42, Jesus’ Death and Victory

[April 10, 2011] This portion of the gospel begins, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had now been finished …” “After this” refers to His words to His mother and the “disciple whom He loved.” Using those words He inferred the union that would be accomplished as a result of His death for those in Him.

The Gospel according to John speaks of the crucifixion in quite a different way from the other gospels. In the other gospels the description of the scene is far more horrible, for the meaning is carried on the visible surface. As Jesus asks His Father to forgive those who crucify Him (in Luke), the chief priests and even those crucified with Him mock Him. In Luke’s account, one of those crucified with Him rebukes the other and asks Jesus to remember him and Jesus assures the man that he will be with Jesus in Paradise. Then in all three gospels, darkness covers the earth at noon. In Matthew and Mark Jesus utters that awful cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and in all three gospels the veil of the Temple was torn in two. In Matthew and Mark in particular, this abandonment by God is the focus of meaning. The judgment having been accomplished, Luke reports Jesus committing His spirit to the Father for safe-keeping while Matthew records the earth quaking, the rocks splitting and the graves opening. All three record the Gentile centurion’s witnessing of Jesus’ death and his response.

How different John’s account is! Rather than telling of our Lord’s suffering at the hands of men and His much greater internal suffering by the awful judgment of God that fell upon Him, in John’s gospel Jesus remains a king upon the cross, consciously laying hold of the victory in His way and the glorification that awaits Him. Of course these accounts do not contradict each other, but neither do they mutually correspond. The contrast is too great. For John, Jesus is indeed the Lamb of God, especially the Passover Lamb whose blood is shed, but this Lamb is not only the Victim but the warrior Lamb in the Book of the Revelation who takes the throne of God because He has overcome and is proven worthy. This Lamb is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” the royal tribe. The focus in the Gospel according to John is on our Lord’s glorification which He accomplished on the cross.

The gospel of Matthew is most concerned with Jesus’ bearing our judgment and taking away our sins. Luke emphasizes Jesus as the Savior who has come. In Mark He is the One who suffers at the hands of men and yet is faithful to God even as He suffers the judgment of God on the cross. In these the emphasis is essentially on the negative aspect of our salvation. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus comes as Eternal Life, and through the process of His dying breaks open the shell of His humanity so that that Life can be released through the gift of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who believe into Christ participate in the mutual indwelling (the coinherence) of the Trinity. In other words, the emphasis is on the positive aspect of our salvation—the gift of the divine Life and our regeneration. The glorification of Jesus is His multiplication in us, and the accomplishment of it is His own death as such, the laying down of His soul in death, rather than His bearing our judgment.

These two aspects are not mutually exclusive, of course, but marvelously are accomplished together. Neither are they the same. It seems that different gospel accounts are required—the Gospel needs to be told from different perspectives—for the entire scope of our Lord’s death to be conveyed.

I Thirst” (John 19:28-29)

Jesus, having looked upon His mother and the disciple whom He loved, longed for the fruit of the accomplishment of His death. Knowing that all things had now been finished so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He said, “I thirst.” By preceding our Lord’s cry with these words, John does not allow us to merely interpret this word literally, that is, as referring only to physical thirst.

We are, in fact, drawn back to the woman at the well in Samaria chapter 4 and our Lord’s thirst on that occasion. His thirst was for her to drink His living water. At that time His “food” was to reap and gather fruit “unto eternal life. His thirst on the cross was the same. It was for the release and multiplication of His Life in others, indeed, throughout the entire creation.

We also recall “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11; see Matthew 20:22).

He longs for that glorification of the Son that the Son may glorify the Father (John 17:1; see 12:23-24, 27-28). It is through this glorification that He will exercise the authority He has been given over all flesh “to give eternal life to all whom You [Father] have given Him” (John 17:2). For it is through His death that He accomplishes the “judgment of this world,” for “now shall the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [flesh/things] to Myself” (John 12:31-32).

In an ironic contrast to the true satisfaction of His thirst, the soldiers give Him vinegar—sour wine—to drink. We recall that Jesus turned ordinary water into festive nuptial wine in chapter 2, the juice of the Vine with which He identified Himself in chapter 15. (In Isaiah 5:1-4, the vineyard of Israel only produced a disappointing crop of wild grapes; in Jeremiah 2:21 the faithful seed produced the degenerate shoots of a foreign vine. He becomes the true Vine for them.) Now, as He thirsts for Living Water, He is given for the last time the sour wine of the world. We recall Psalm 69:21, “For My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink.” Hyssop in Exodus 12:22, Leviticus 14 and Numbers 19 speaks of that which is small and lowly. Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again” (John 4:13). The world cannot satisfy our Savior’s thirst. Ironically, it is His coming death that will.

It is Finished” (19:30)

Nevertheless, the vinegar wets His throat enough that He can cry out, “It is finished!” This also is connected to his “knowing that all things had now been finished so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” What was finished was not merely the life of His soul and body, but the accomplishment of the Father’s will, that for which His Father sent Him. There was nothing left for Him to do. He had laid down His soul and overcome the ruler of the world through the obedience of His love (Revelation 5:5).

Far from being a cry of defeat, this was a cry of utter satisfaction, expressing the satisfaction that God had at the end of the sixth day of creation: “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good … Thus the heavens and the earth and all their host were finished. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 1:31—2:2). Now Jesus too could rest having “finished His work which He had done.” He bowed His head and delivered up His spirit back to God.

When God breathes into our flesh, we become a living soul. This breath is our spirit, that which gives life to our bodies and that animates the soul. Every living thing “breathes” with this breath and thus has spirit, though in varying degrees. “That which has come into being in Him [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of human beings,” and it is this light that “shines in the darkness” of the world and of the human soul (John 1:3-5). When anyone—or anything—dies, the spirit returns to God. It never was our “possession”; it was ever and always on loan to us. It returns to its Owner. The divine Son of God takes back the human spirit of Jesus as Jesus’ humanity passes through death.

In resurrection, this spirit will return to Jesus’ transformed and divinized humanity, still a human spirit but now interpenetrated with all the perfections of divinity, without kenosis (the willed self-emptying of Philippians 2:7). For example, it will participate in eternity and omnipresence, along with His resurrected soul and body. Moreover, what will participate is not simply the post-resurrected Jesus, but all that Jesus ever was before His resurrection.

Let us move on.

Blood and Water (19:31-37)

In the following verses, 31-37, Jesus’ bones are preserved as were those of the Passover Lamb (John 19:36; Exodus 12:46), perhaps signifying that which is indestructible in Him—namely His divinity, for His humanity is indeed broken on the cross.

Instead, a soldier pierces His side with a spear (a phallic image), and immediately there came out blood and water. The following verse tells us that this fact is very significant. As an eye-witness He assures us of it “that we may believe.” Literally, the beloved disciple is assuring us that Jesus actually died (the release of water proving that the heart itself was pierced). This could have been denied, people claiming His resurrection merely resuscitation. Others who denied His humanity—as the Docetists did—denied that He could have died. The disciple John assures us that He did.

However, the “blood and water” coming from the “side” of Jesus also has a much deeper significance. Earlier we spoke of the cosmic centrality of Jesus stretched out on the four arms of the cross in the middle between two others, surrounded by four soldiers and four women. In the center of this is His pierced heart from which flow blood and water. In an unspoken way, we are given to see the source of Christian baptism and the “blood of the covenant” in the cup which we share at the Lord’s Supper. They issue from His death and the glorification which it accomplished.

Water has been a persistent symbol throughout the gospel, and His blood was emphasized in chapter 6. The blood represents the soul of an animal (Leviticus 17:11), and the shedding of blood represents its death. To drink Jesus’ blood is to “drink in” His death. Water—as in the waters of the flood or of the Red Sea—speak of God’s judgment and thus is a boundary that separates us from the world.

Water is more often used as a symbol of life. Abundant water flowed from the struck rock (which Rock is Christ according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:4) to satisfy the thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 20:11. Water also flowed from the altar of the Temple in the prophecy of Ezekiel (47:1). In John 2:21 Jesus speaks of the Temple of His body. The altar in Ezekiel’s vision certainly points to our Lord’s death (the Temple destroyed in John 2:19). Jesus’ body on the cross is both the sacrifice on the altar, the altar and the Temple. In John the association of water and wine (blood) at the wedding in Cana is in close proximity to the destruction of the Temple (John 2:1-11 with 2:19). This association of water with Life, water that becomes the wine of joy, is strong in John, we seeing it again in the language of living water both in John 4 and in chapter 7:37 in association with the Feast of Tabernacles.

Our Lord’s pierced side brings to mind the piercing of the adam’s side while he slept (Genesis 2:21-22). From his side came forth Eve, which God “built” from his substance. The bridegroom becomes “mother” of his bride. Likewise Christ, through the sleep of His death, gives birth to the church, as mother to His bride. His pierced heart becomes the opening of His womb. The name Eve, related to the word for living, refers to her being the mother of all things living (Genesis 3:20). Christ’s dying was the labor pains of His death—which is a giving birth. This woman who comes forth is not only the church but the birthing of Lady Wisdom into the world, which is the Holy Spirit—who coming to dwell in believers brings into being the church. Like the Word, Wisdom was always with God (Proverbs 8:22-27; Wisdom 7:25; Sirach 24:3), being Herself God, Father, Word and Wisdom sharing the same divine essence. But as John 7:39 and 20:22, She—Lady Wisdom being the Holy Spirit—comes into the world through the death of Jesus in His resurrection. It is through the crucified humanity of Jesus that the Holy Spirit, in whom the Son fully coinheres, is able to abide or dwell in us (so we can participate in the divine coinherence). The feminine associations with the cup that Jesus drank become increasingly meaningful.

The meaning deepens as we connect this coinherence of Jesus and the Spirit in the Word of the Gospel and the water of baptism and the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper.

The witness of John is joined by that of the four women, as if John was at the center of a cruciform. They witness this “birthing” and in their sorrow (see John 16:21) share in the labor. Indeed, as with the Virgin Mary herself who gave birth to the Messiah, these four, inclusive of her, and the disciple John, represent the culmination of the history of Israel in its faithfulness to God, the remnant that never leaves Him and that carries Israel’s destiny and purpose. Jesus Himself on the cross is, in this sense, as the Suffering Servant, Israel itself, to become a Light to the Gentiles.

Yet they are also given birth to by that to which they give birth. Indeed, it is by the prevenient grace of Christ working in Israel that they are able to give Him birth as the Firstborn of the whole creation, of its new creation in Him.

His Royal Burial (19:38-40)

Jesus is not only buried by the wealthy, but, as a King who has become Victor, He is given a royal burial by the rich. Mary anointed Him for kingship—using exceedingly expensive oil—before His entry into the City as King, foreshadowing His anointing for burial, and now Joseph provides Him a tomb and Nicodemus brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes of about a hundred pounds—sufficient for a royal burial. Joseph and Nicodemus now lovingly take the holy body of our Lord and bind it in linen clothes with these spices before they lay it in a new tomb in which no one had ever yet been laid.

There is so much fragrance here (see 12:3), and this aspect is not insignicant either. For His death is still fragrant in the church through the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

A Garden (19:41-42)

The fragrance is related the garden, which is also full of significant associations. “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden.” Even in death not only the fragrance but the flowering and blooming of His resurrection is hinted at, as if seeping through the impossibility which is death.

The association of the garden with the spices of myrhh and aloes recalls to our mind that nuptial Song of Solomon, especially 4:12-15: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with choicest fruit; henna with spikenard; calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices. A fountain in gardens, a well of living water, and streams from Lebanon.” The obvious reference of this passage is the aroused genitalia of the bride after the wedding, whose fluids have been excited by the presence of her groom, the supremely masculine Solomon himself, who himself is aroused by their aroma. The deeper mystical meaning is also unmistakable. Solomon is the resurrected Christ who finds pleasure in His bride, the bride being both the church and the individual believer. The garden is the human soul that is being saved through death. The fountain and well and streams refer to the spirit that now begins to wet and saturate the garden of the soul with the Holy Spirit.

The image of Solomon is the one who inherits David’s victories, who takes Lady Wisdom as his bride, and who builds the Lord’s House, the Temple. This looks forward to Christ in resurrection. The imagery from the Song of Solomon also looks back to Eden. The garden of the tomb is related to the Garden of Eden. Christ is the preexistent Source of the wealth that in the course of salvation (in time) gradually comes into actuality in the new (deified) creation. He is thus that from which all things come and to which all things are moving, to be “headed up” in fullness in Him at the endless end of time, as creation meets eternity. Indeed, “knowing” Christ in time becomes the intersection—or sublation—of time with eternity.

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