“Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37)
Was Jesus actually crucified on a Friday? Interestingly enough, there has been much debate among Christians as to whether or not this is so? I have personally encountered several people who have wanted to vigorously argue about this subject. However, the first words from John 19:31 clearly indicate that whatever we may know about Jesus’ crucifixion, it did occur on a Friday.
The words “day of Preparation” (παρασκευὴ; paraskeue) is literally one word in the Greek language and it clearly means Friday. In the Jewish context, it would be the day before the Sabbath. In today’s text, this term takes on an even greater significance because the “Sabbath was a high day.” This was because the beginning of Sabbath was also the beginning of the Passover Feast.
This gave greater weight to the importance of not having any crucified bodies hanging on that particular Saturday or Sabbath Day. Therefore, the Jews asked that Pilate have the legs of the three crucified men, including Jesus, be broken.
Dr. John MacArthur comments that “Though the Romans had no problem leaving crucified victims hanging on crosses long after they died (allowing their corpses to rot or be eaten by birds), the Jewish leaders insisted that Jesus’ body be taken down. The Mosaic Law stipulated that a person hanged on a tree should not remain there overnight (Deut. 21:22–23). They would have been especially wary of this in light of the Passover celebration. In order to hasten death for certain reasons, soldiers would break the legs of the victim with an iron mallet. Doing so inhibited the dying man’s ability to push up with his legs in order to breathe. Death by asphyxiation soon followed.”
Having no reason to not comply with the Jews’ request, Pilate gave the order for the men’s legs to be broken. The test says, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.” This indicates that both criminals were still alive following Jesus’ death. It also shows that the soldiers had no reticence or restraint in inflicting further pain and suffering upon the condemned.
However, the text goes on to say “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.” The behavior of the soldiers towards Jesus was not born of any compassion they may have had for Him. They were practical men. They saw no reason to break the legs of a man already dead. It was unnecessary. This text proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus did indeed die on the cross, belying or contradicting those who would contend otherwise.
Again, the soldiers were practical men. To ensure that Jesus was indeed dead, they confirmed it by their following behavior. “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” The soldier’s stabbing of Jesus’ side was one of significant penetration. The flow of blood and water was because the spear pierced Jesus’ heart or the chest cavity was pierced at the bottom. Either way, the Apostle John mentioned the outflow of “blood and water” to emphasize that Jesus was unquestionably dead.
As with the many other events leading up and including His crucifixion, even Jesus’ bones not being broken as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. John 19:36-37 says, “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
The Scriptures to which the Apostle John refers are respectively Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12 and Psalm 34:20 regarding the Passover Lamb’s bones are not to be broken when offered before the Lord and Psalm 22:16-17, Zechariah 12:10 and 13:6 which refer to the Messiah’s body being pierced.
Dr. MacArthur explains that, “John quoted from either Ex. 12:46 or Num. 9:12, since both stipulate that the bones of the Passover lamb must not be broken. Since the NT portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29; cf. 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19), these verses have special typologically prophetic significance for him. The quote in John 19:37 comes from Zech. 12:10. The anguish and contrition of the Jews in the Zechariah passage, because of their wounding of God’s Shepherd, is typologically prophetic of the time of the coming of the Son of God, Messiah, when at his return, Israel shall mourn for the rejection and killing of their King (cf. Rev. 1:7).”
Dr. R. C. Sproul concludes today’s devotional by writing, “In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the (Apostle) Paul made an astonishing statement about the importance of the cross to the entirety of the Christian faith: ‘And I brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ Paul was a man who had the equivalent of two Ph.D.’s in theology by the time he was 21 years of age, a man who wrote with great insight on the whole scope of theology. Nevertheless, he said that the focal point of his teaching, preaching, and ministry among the Corinthians was simply Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, may the Lord enable you to do so today.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!