John 19:17-37 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What notice does Pilate fasten to Jesus’ cross (see John 19:19-20 printed below?) By so doing, what is Pilate proclaiming to the world?

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. (20) Many of the Jews read this notice, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near to the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. (John 19:19-20)

It was the common practice of the Roman authorities to post the name of the criminal together with his crime. So it was that Pilate inscribed on a placard the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” and then fastened the placard to the cross. Pilate had this inscription written in the three common languages of the day: Hebrew, Latin and Greek—thus he was proclaiming to the whole world the fact that Jesus is the King of Israel.

2. What request do the chief priests make of Pilate (see John 19:21 printed below?) What are they seeking to do?

Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, Do not write, “The King of the Jews;” but that he said, “I am King of the Jews.” (John 19:21)

When the chief priests saw what Pilate had written, and that it was being read by everyone who passed by, they protested to Pilate, demanding that he alter the words to read: “He says, ‘I am a king of the Jews.’” Their effort was an attempt to transfer the title, “King of the Jews,” from the realm of fact (This is the King of the Jews) to the realm of opinion (He is not necessarily the King of the Jews, that is only what He says, that is only His view). Furthermore, there was the effort to tone down the claim from that of absolute lordship (the King of the Jews) to one of lesser authority (a King of the Jews). The whole effort of the chief priests was to distance themselves from Christ’s rightful lordship over their lives.

3. What did the soldiers do as Jesus hung upon the cross (see John 19:23-24 printed below?) What does this tell us about their attitude towards Jesus?

When the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, one for each soldier. They also took his undergarment. Now this garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. (24) Therefore they said to one another, Let us not tear it; rather, let us cast lots for it, to determine whose it shall be. This happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says, “They parted my clothing among them, and they cast lots for my garment.” (John 19:23-24)

As was the common practice at the time of a crucifixion, the soldiers were dividing among themselves the victims’ garments and personal belongings, apparently ripping the garments up into equal shares. But when they came to Jesus’ undershirt, finding it to be a seamless garment and of some value, they determined not to rip it up, but rather to cast lots for it. So here sit the soldiers at the foot of the cross, oblivious as to the true identity of Christ, callously insensitive to His suffering, interested only in the garments they have stripped from His body. The soldiers only saw value in Christ’s garment, Christ Himself they treated with the utmost contempt and blasphemy.

4. What do the Jews request Pilate to do to Jesus’ dead body and why do they make this request (see John 19:31 and also Deuteronomy 21:22-23 printed below)

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. So, because the Jews did not want the bodies to remain upon the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. (John 19:31)

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, (23) you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land Jehovah your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

John records the Jews’ request that the bodies be removed from their crosses. It was contrary to Old Testament law to allow the dead bodies of executed criminals to hang exposed upon a tree after sunset (note Deuteronomy 21:22-23). All the more imperative was it to remove the bodies because this was the day of preparation for the Sabbath.

5. As John witnesses the Roman soldiers carrying out Pilate’s orders, what does he realize is happening (see John 19:32-37 printed below?)

The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then the legs of the other man. (33) But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (34) However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately there poured out blood and water. (35) The man who saw this has given his testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he is speaking the truth, and he gives his testimony so that you also may believe. (36) These things happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not one of his bones shall be broken.” (37) And again another Scripture says, “They shall look at the one whom they pierced.” (John 19:32-37)

In beholding the crucified Christ, John sees the Scriptures of the Old Testament being fulfilled before his very eyes. At the command of Pilate who was acting in response to the request of the Jews, the soldiers proceed to break the legs of the two criminals executed on either side of the Lord Jesus (verse 32). But when they come to Jesus, they find that He is already dead, and therefore they refrain from breaking His legs (verses 33). Perhaps as a means of insuring the fact of His death, one of the soldiers takes his spear and thrusts it into Jesus’ side (verse 34). In solemn astonishment, John see the Old Testament Scriptures being fulfilled before his very eyes, and he records his testimony in verses 35-37. John is now fully aware that he is standing in the presence of the promised Savior.