Interpretation 19

Home Crucifixion

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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002


    Chapter eighteen of John has theologically explored the arrest and trial of Jesus; chapter nineteen will continue by detailing the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Consider, for example, the Annotated Oxford notes on John: Jesus' being put to death fulfils Scripture, as does the soldiers' behavior at the crucifixion. Jesus fulfils the Passover and the prophecy of Zechariah 12.10.

19.1–5: Though Pilate found (John 18.38b) Jesus innocent of political insurrection, he has him flogged. 7: Leviticus 24.16; Mark 14.61–64; John 5.18; John 10.33. 9: Unable to understand the charge, Pilate is superstitiously afraid (Matthew 27.19).

19.11: God controls evil, without setting aside human responsibility. The high priest, who handed Jesus over to Pilate, bore the greater responsibility. 12: A threat of blackmail. 17: By himself, until relieved by Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27.32; Mark 15.21; Luke 23.26). Skull, a place of skull-like appearance just outside the city walls (John 19.20).

19.19–22: The trilingual caption expressed Pilate’s contempt (John 19.14). 23: A Roman custom. His clothes, namely, head-dress; cloak or outer garment; belt; shoes; tunic or inner garment. Four parts, one of the above, in the order mentioned, leaving the tunic to be won by lot. 24: Providence controlled even the soldiers’ behavior (Psalm 22.18). 26–27: Indicates Jesus’ real humanity and concern for human values.

19.28: I am thirsty, Psalm 69.21. 30: Finished, all that God has sent him to do for the redemption of the world (John 17.4). 31: A day of great solemnity, especially holy since it fell on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 32: Broke the legs, with a heavy mallet, to hasten death. 34: Blood and water indicate the reality of Jesus’ humanity, and perhaps also the new covenant and baptism (Mark 14.24; 1 Corinthians 10.16; John 3.5; 1 John 5.6–8).

19.36: Jesus fulfills the passover (Exodus 12.46; 1 Corinthians 5.7). 37: Zechariah 12.10. 38: Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew 27.57–60; Mark 15.43; Luke 23.50–53. 39: Nicodemus, John 3.1–15; John 7.50–52. Myrrh, a resinous gum, which, when mixed with crushed or pounded aloes, was used for embalming. A hundred (Roman) pounds, about seventy-five pounds, avoirdupois weight.

In fact, Jesus' very utterance,   “For this I was born,” fulfills itself in chapter nineteen of John with the complete obedience and submission of Jesus to the Father’s will. While John alone of the Gospels does not give an account of Jesus’ temptation in preparation for beginning his mission, the reader may recall that Matthew and Luke both place Jesus in the wilderness and with the Devil on the pinnacle of the temple being sorely tested to abandon the spiritual mission for material needs (bread), to compromise the mission by worshipping the Devil, and to test God by fool-heartedly casting himself down from temple’s pinnacle. Though severe the test, Jesus yields not to temptation and, thus, delivers from evil.  Luke 4.13 certainly suggests the Devil’s testing is not finished: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” From the cross, Jesus in John submissively acknowledges, “It is finished,” bows his head and gives up the spirit (30). What is finished is the purpose for which Jesus came.

            Certainly, one begins chapter nineteen with the events leading to the sentencing and death of Jesus, but the author focuses on the cross itself:

28 After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), "I thirst." 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining 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. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; 33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth -- that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken." 37 And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

The new covenant is effected. 36 “ (He who saw this has testified so that you may also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) John links here the events of chapter eighteen to nineteen: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (37).  Spiritually blind Pilate can only respond, “What is truth?” Depending on the translation, what is parenthetical here differs: the Revised Standard states the truth in the following way: “35 He who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth -- that you also may believe.” This is John’s purpose in writing his gospel: “these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20.30).

            Verse thirty-six makes clear that “These things occurred so that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” What are the scriptures? Jesus fulfills the Passover:

12:43110 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the Passover. No foreigner may111 share in eating it.112 12:44 But everyone's servant who is bought for money, after you have circumcised him, may eat it. 12:45 A foreigner and a hired worker must not eat it. 12:46 It must be eaten in one house; you must not carry it around outside from one house to another. And you must not break a bone of it. 12:47 The congregation of Israel must observe it.

12:48 And when a foreigner lives113 with you, and wants to observe the Passover to the LORD, all his males must be circumcised,114 and then he may come near

and observe it, and he will be as one who is born in the land115--for no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 12:49 The same law will apply116 to the person who is native-born and to the foreigner who lives among you.

Moses has given the covenant, and Elijah restored it; in Jesus, the covenant is renewed and perfected. Though tradition speaks of an Old and New Testament, an Old and New Covenant, truth remains: the Old is the New, and the New is the Old.

12:10 "I will pour out upon the kingship13 of David and the population of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication so that they will look to me,14 the one they have pierced. They will lament for him as one laments for an only son, and there will be a bitter cry for him like the bitter cry for a firstborn. (Zechariah)

I Corinthians 5.7, 8 “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

That Jesus is, indeed, the paschal lamb is connotatively suggested in the images of water, blood, and testimony:

98sn (19:34) How is the reference to the blood and water that flowed out from Jesus' side to be understood? This is probably to be connected with the statements in 1 John 5:6-8. In both passages water, blood, and testimony are mentioned. The Spirit is also mentioned in 1 John 5:7 as the source of the testimony, while here the testimony comes from one of the disciples (19:35). The connection between the Spirit and the living water with Jesus' statement of thirst just before he died in the preceding context has already been noted (see 19:28). For the author, the water which flowed out of Jesus' side was a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit who could now be given because Jesus was now glorified (cf. 7:39); Jesus had now departed and returned to that glory which he had with the Father before the creation of the world (cf. 17:5). The mention of blood recalls the motif of the Passover lamb as a sacrificial victim. Later references to sacrificial procedures in the Mishnah appear to support this: m. Pesahim 5:3 and 5:5 state that the blood of the sacrificial animal should not be allowed to congeal but should flow forth freely at the instant of death so that it could be used for sprinkling; m. Tamid 4:2 actually specifies that the priest is to pierce the heart of the sacrificial victim and cause the blood to come forth….

…The "Spirit of grace and of supplication" is poured out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the first part of v. 10. A few verses later in 13:1 Yahweh (typically rendered as "LORD" in the OT) says "In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity." The blood which flowed from Jesus' pierced side may well be what the author saw as the connection here, since as the shedding of the blood of the sacrificial victim it represents cleansing from sin. Although the Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers certainly "looked on the one
whom they have pierced" as he hung on the cross, the author may also have in mind the parousia (second coming) here. The context in Zech 12-14 is certainly the second coming, so that these who crucified Jesus will look upon him in another sense when he returns in judgment. (Net Bible Notes)

Normally, by Roman custom, the crucified body would have been left upon the cross as an example to others; but since it is the day of Preparation for the Sabbath, the body of Jesus and those of the two common thieves are removed from their crosses. Only Jesus’ legs are not broken; this custom hastened death by preventing the one being crucified from pushing up in order to breathe.

The Gospels all give the account of Jesus’ body being prepared for burial. They agree that Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate to take away the body of Jesus; Mark and Luke identify Joseph as a member of the council, while John and Matthew identify him as a disciple. Matthew and Luke describe Joseph as “Looking for the kingdom of God.” Matthew says he is rich; Mark says he is respected, and Luke says he is good and righteous. Mark indicates Joseph takes courage and goes to Pilate and asks for the body; John indicates he goes secretly. In John, Nicodemus is present; in Matthew, Mary and the other Mary are present; in Luke, women are present, and in Mark, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of Joses are present. For these differences, one must read each of the accounts:


38 After this Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him leave. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who had at first come to him by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds' weight. 40 They took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.


42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.

44 And Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead.

45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.


50 Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; 56 then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.


57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre. 62 Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' 64 Therefore order the sepulchre to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." 65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." 66 So they went and made the sepulchre secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

That John alone has Nicodemus present is easily understood, if one remembers John’s theological purpose: that people might believe.  After all, John 3 has Nicodemus, a Pharisee and leader of the Jews, come to Jesus and ask if he is a teacher come from God.  Nicodemus is then instructed that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (5). When Nicodemus is puzzled about being born again, Jesus tells him that he is talking of heavenly things.  The theological thread is present in John 7, where Nicodemus is with the temple police, priests, and Pharisees and reminds them that “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing.”  He is accused of being also from Galilee and reminded  to search the scriptures to determine that no prophet is to arise from Galilee. They have, of course, in their contempt forgotten Jonah, who first flees from his mission to go to Nineveh and cry out against it. Jesus clearly is perfecter of a Covenant extended to humankind: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (3.16).

      John alone recognizes spiritually the true relationship of believers to each other; he has Jesus tell John to behold his mother in Mary and to have John, from that day, take her to his home:

26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!"

11      Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Jesus addresses his mother as “Woman,” recognizing his near physical death and providing an earthly son-mother relationship for her in John. One recalls, though, that Jesus has said in John 14” Ín my Father’s house are many dwelling places” and that he goes to prepare a place for believers. Mary certainly is given a new relationship in which to wonder, to ponder, on the marvel of her son.

     How closely one must read the scripture  as well as  read the synoptics side by side is clearly indicated in John’s account of the women present at the crucifixion; again, I use the Net Bible:

77sn (19:25) Several women are mentioned, but it is not easy to determine how many. It is not clear whether his mother's sister and Mary the wife of Clopas are to be understood as the same individual (in which case only three women are mentioned: Jesus' mother, her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene) or as two different individuals (in which case four women are mentioned: Jesus' mother, her sister, Mary Clopas' wife, and Mary Magdalene). It is impossible to be certain, but when John's account is compared to the synoptics it is easier to reconcile the accounts if four women were present than if there were only three. It also seems that if there were four women present, this would have been seen by the author to be in juxtaposition to the four soldiers present who performed the crucifixion, and this may explain the transition from the one incident in 23-24 to the other in 25-27. Finally, if only three were present, this would mean that both Jesus' mother and her sister were named Mary, and this is highly improbable in a Jewish family of that time. If there were four women present, the name of the second, the sister of Jesus' mother, is not mentioned. It is entirely possible that the sister of Jesus' mother mentioned here is to be identified with the woman named Salome mentioned in Mark 15:40 and also with the woman identified as "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" mentioned in Matt 27:56. If so, and if John the Apostle is to be identified as the beloved disciple, then the reason for the omission of the second woman's name becomes clear; she would have been John's own mother, and he consistently omitted direct reference to himself or his brother James or any other members of his family in the Fourth Gospel.

I tend to agree with the idea that John’s own mother is present.

          Another way of grasping the theology of John 19 involves comparing Pilate's remarks in this chapter to those in the last. First, Pilate has Jesus flogged. The reader should recall Pilate's three questions in eighteen:

  1. Are you the king of the Jews?
  2. What have you done?
  3. What is truth?

The Net Bible note to John nineteen points out that the Romans used three kinds of floggings, varying in severity, the more severe occurring as part of the capital sentence.

Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged. A Roman governor would not carry out such a sentence in person. BAGD 495 s.v. mastigovw 1. states, “Of the beating (Lat. verberatio) given those condemned to death…J 19:1; cf. Mt 20:19; Mk 10:34; Lk 18:33.”
sn This severe flogging was not administered by Pilate himself but his officers, who took Jesus at Pilate’s order and scourged him. The author’s choice of wording here may constitute an allusion to Isa 50:6, “I gave my back to those who scourge me.” Three forms of corporal punishment were employed by the Romans, in increasing degree of severity: (1) fustigatio (beating), (2) flagellatio (flogging), and (3) verberatio (severe flogging, scourging). The first could be on occasion a punishment in itself, but the more severe forms were part of the capital sentence as a prelude to crucifixion. The most severe, verberatio, is what is indicated here by the Greek verb translated flogged severely (mastigovw, mastigow). People died on occasion while being flogged this way; frequently it was severe enough to rip a person’s body open or cut muscle and sinew to the bone. It was carried out with a whip that had fragments of bone or pieces of metal bound into the tips.

Pilate has embraced the claim of Messiahship as rebellion against Rome and delivers Jesus for the appropriate capital sentence:

By delivering Jesus to Pilate (Mark 15.1), the members of the Sanhedrin could expect the sentence "death by crucifixion," for the claim to be the Messiah could be understood as a rebellion against Rome. It is for this reason that Jesus was compared with the revolutionary Barabbas (Mark 15.7). After the people had asked for Barabbas (Mark 15.11), Pilate had no other choice than to crucify Jesus, who was scourged (Mark 15.15), mocked by the legionaries (Mark 15.16–19), and crucified together with two "robbers" (Mark 15.25–27). Oxford Annotated

The soldiers mock him, "Hail, King of the Jews" while Pilate contends, "look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him" (4). At their clamoring, however, Pilate relents, telling them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him" (6). An appeal is next made to the law itself: 'We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God" (7). The reader will note that this claim causes Pilate to be "more afraid." The careful reader of John eighteen will not wonder why Pilate is afraid; he has already rejected truth:

In Pilate's earlier discussion with Jesus, which forms the corresponding section in the first part of the chiasm (see introduction to 18:28--19:16), Jesus had clearly said he was not from this world (18:36-37). This obviously raises the question of where he is from. Now that Pilate knows Jesus claims to be a son of God he investigates more closely, asking Jesus, Where do you come from? (v. 9). From the context this is clearly not an inquiry about what country he is from, "but it is as if he had said, `Are you an earth-born man or some god?'" (Calvin 1959:172). Pilate's question gets at the central issue regarding Jesus--that he is from the Father in heaven. Jesus' origin was a major topic during his ministry (7:27-29; 8:14; 9:29-33), and now it comes to the fore at the end.

Jesus does not speak about his origin to Pilate. According to the Synoptics, Jesus has been silent already during his Passion, both before Pilate, when the chief priests and elders were accusing him (Mt 27:12-14 par. Mk 15:3-5), and before Herod, with the same opponents accusing him (Lk 23:9-10). Now he is also silent before Pilate in private (Jn 19:9). His silence echoes the silence of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (53:7; cf. Acts 8:32; 1 Pet 2:22-23). He is silent, it seems, because Pilate has already revealed that he is not a man of truth and thus would not benefit from an answer to his question (see comment on 12:34-36).

Pilate has been exasperated by the Jewish leaders, and now he finds Jesus exasperating also. No one is cooperating with him! He threatens Jesus by referring to his power, though his threat comes across as a little lame given his obvious lack of power over the Jewish leaders: Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you? (v. 10). In Roman law it was said, "No one who has power to condemn is without power to acquit" (Justinian Digest of Roman Law 50.17.37; cf. Bruce 1983:361-62). Pilate had a clear understanding of his legal power, that is, his authority (exousia). But he is thinking only in terms of this world.

The reader does well to look at Pilate's question as well as Jesus' answer:

10 Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."

The next move is to accuse Pilate himself of not being loyal to the king, thus raising the question of commitment to the "right king":

12 From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."

The Intervarsity Commentary emphasizes the connection between chapter eighteen and nineteen, pointing out that the threat now is to his political position, calling for him to make a choice between Jesus or Tiberius as king; ironically, Pilate has already said he is not a Jew but is humiliated by them. He, in turn, resorts to humiliation by bringing Jesus out and sitting on the judge's seat

This final section of the chiastic account of the trial before Pilate (see introduction to 18:28--19:16) corresponds with the first section (18:29-32), in which Pilate was also outside the praetorium and the opponents called for Jesus' death. Jesus has just borne witness to the truth about himself, his Father, Pilate and the opponents. He has made Pilate even more uncomfortable, so Pilate begins to make further efforts to release him (v. 12; ezetei, NIV tried, is in the imperfect tense, here signifying repeated action). The Jewish leaders counter these efforts with a decisive move--they bring in the issue of Pilate's loyalty to Caesar (v. 12). A later emperor, Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), had a specific group of people whose loyalty and importance were recognized by the title friend of Caesar. It is possible that Tiberius also had such a group and Pilate was a member (Bammel 1952), though this is uncertain. In either case, the threat is to Pilate's position, and this settles the issue. Pilate has already revealed that he is a man of this world, insensitive to the truth of God. A threat to his political position is an attack upon the heart of what he knows and cares about. Such a choice between Jesus and other ultimate concerns in our lives faces each of us, for Jesus really is King and insists on complete loyalty as strongly as Tiberius. Pilate is faced with a choice of kings, and he does not choose wisely.

It is, of course, highly ironic that Pilate's loyalty to Caesar should be threatened by Jews, members of the most disloyal and unruly section of the empire. Pilate is being humiliated by them. He knows he must give in to their wishes, but he is wily enough to humiliate them also in the process. Upon hearing their threat, he brings Jesus out and sits on the judge's seat (bema) to pass judgment. This is the climax of the trial and, indeed, of the ministry of Jesus. 

John underscores the importance of this moment by specifying the place and time, though, unfortunately, the precise meaning of both is uncertain today. The place where the trial before Pilate occurred is uncertain (see comment on 18:28), and the addition of the term Gabbatha does not help. This Aramaic word does not mean Stone Pavement but is a different word for the same place, probably meaning something like "elevated" (McRay 1992). The location would have been well known in the first century because it was the place of judgment.

The mockery and continued turning of tables further implicates the people who have come to Pilate seeking the death sentence for Jesus:

Whatever the solution to these puzzles, John emphasizes this particular moment because Jesus is now presented to his people as king: Here is your king (v. 14). Pilate may be making one last bid to get them to change their minds, but given their threat to him regarding his loyalty to Caesar this is unlikely. Rather, Pilate mocks the Jews by saying this battered, weak man dressed in sham regal trappings is their king. Pilate is perhaps imitating a ceremony formally recognizing a ruler, somewhat similar to what takes place today at the coronation of a British monarch (cf. Bruce 1983:365). Jesus is indeed their king, and here is their one last chance to receive him as such, but they will have nothing of it. Pilate thereby "makes the moment of his decision the moment of decision for the Jews" (Beasley-Murray 1987:342).

The Intervarsity Commentary points out that a trapped Pilate now springs his own trap:

The Jewish opponents have trapped Pilate, and now he springs on them a trap of his own. When they once more reject Jesus as their king and call for his crucifixion, Pilate replies, Shall I crucify your king? (v. 15). What they should have said in return was, "We have no king but God," but in order to force Pilate's hand with their threat regarding his loyalty to Caesar the chief priests instead say, We have no king but Caesar (v. 15). Like Pilate, they are forced to choose which king they will serve, and they also fail to choose wisely. Here are the spiritual leaders of Israel denying the very faith they are claiming to uphold in their rejection of Jesus. God alone was Israel's king (Judg 8:23; 1 Sam 8:4-20). The human king was to be in submission to God as a son is to his father (2 Sam 7:11-16; Ps 2:7). These ancient attitudes found expression in one of the prayers these chief priests prayed every day: "May you be our King, you alone." Every year at this very feast of Passover they sang, "From everlasting to everlasting you are God; beside you we have no king, redeemer, or savior, no liberator, deliverer, provider, none who takes pity in every time of distress and trouble; we have no king but you" (Talbert 1992:241). The hope was for a redeemer to come, the Messiah, who would be a king like David. "But now hundreds of years of waiting had been cast aside: `the Jews' had proclaimed the half-mad exile of Capri to be their king" (Brown 1970:895; cf. Westcott 1908:2:306). These opponents stand self-condemned.

     The inscription on the cross brings together the two identities of Jesus Christ: "Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'" (19)  Furthermore, Jesus as man and Christ as God are also identified, the full revelation of the cross. With John, this is no accident: Jesus is God. Pilate, ironically, is the one to point to truth in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek:

17 So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, "Do not write, `The King of the Jews,' but, `This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written."  

Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus agrees with Westcott that the three languages gather the religious, social, and  intellectual preparation for Christ:

One thing only still remained: to affix to His Cross the so-called 'title' (titulus), on which was inscribed the charge on which He had been condemned. As already stated, it was customary to carry this board before the prisoner, and there is no reason ffor supposing any exception in this respect. Indeed, it seems implied in the circumstance, that the 'title' had evidently been drawn up under the direction of Pilate. It was, as might have been expected, and yet most significantly [3 Professor Westcott beautifully remarks: These three languages gathered up the result of the religious, the social, the intellectual preparation for Christ, and in each witness was given to His office.], trilingual: in Latin, Greek, and Aramaean.

We imagine, that it was written in that order, [4 See next page, note 1.] and that the words were those recorded by the Evangelists (excepting St. Luke, [5 The better reading there is, o.] who seems to give a modification of the orginal, or Aramaean, text). The inscription given by St. Matthew exactly corresponds with that which Eusebius [c H.E. v. 1.] records as the Latin titulus on the cross of one of the early martyrs. We therefore conclude, that it represents the Latin words. Again, it seems only natural, that the fullest, and to the Jews most offensive, description should have been in Aramaean, which all could read. Very significantly this is given by St. John. It follows, that the inscription given by St. Mark must represent that in Greek. Although much less comprehensive, it had the same number of words, and precisely the same number of letters, as that in Aramaean, given by St. John. [1 Probably it would read Jeshu han-Notsri malka dihudaey, or else. Both have four words and, in all, twenty letters.

Book Five, "The Cross and the Crown

Pilate refuses to change what he has written. Verse twenty-two echoes hauntingly, and finally: "What I have written, I have written."  Jesus, Son of God, has been legally identified for all time. The chief priests reject  Yahweh “I Am,”  the Word, God” through whom all.2 things came into being, life, and light (1.2, 3):

Here are some remarkable circumstances of Jesus’ death, more fully related than before. Pilate would not gratify the chief priests by allowing the writing to be altered; which was doubtless owing to a secret power of God upon his heart, that this statement of our Lord’s character and authority might continue. Many things done by the Roman soldiers were fulfilments of the prophecies of the Old Testament. All things therein written shall be fulfilled. Christ tenderly provided for his mother at his death. Sometimes, when God removes one comfort from us, he raises up another for us, where we looked not for it. Christ’s example teaches all men to honour their parents in life and death; to provide for their wants, and to promote their comfort by every means in their power. Especially observe the dying word wherewith Jesus breathed out his soul. It is finished; that is, the counsels of the Father concerning his sufferings were now fulfilled. It is finished; all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, which pointed at the sufferings of the Messiah, were accomplished. It is finished; the ceremonial law is abolished; the substance is now come, and all the shadows are done away. It is finished; an end is made of transgression by bringing in an everlasting righteousness. His sufferings were now finished, both those of his soul, and those of his body. It is finished; the work of man’s redemption and salvation is now completed. His life was not taken from him by force, but freely given up.
Henry, M. E4's Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary (electronic ed.) . , :