Pilate (chap. 19) gives way to his usual inhumanity. In the account, however, given in this Gospel, the Jews are prominent, as the real authors (as far as man was concerned) of the Lord's death. Jealous for their ceremonial purity, but indifferent to justice, they are not content to judge Him according to their own law; [See Footnote #66] they choose to have Him put to death by the Romans, for the whole counsel of God must needs be accomplished.
It is on the repeated demands of the Jews that Pilate delivers Jesus into their hands-thoroughly guilty in so doing, for he had openly avowed His innocence, and had had his conscience decidedly touched and alarmed by the evident proofs there were that he had some extraordinary person before him. He will not shew that he is touched, but he is so (chap. 19:8). The divine glory that pierced through the humiliation of Christ acts upon him, and gives force to the declaration of the Jews that Jesus had made Himself the Son of God. Pilate had scourged Him and given Him up to the insults of the soldiers; and here he would have stopped. Perhaps he hoped also that the Jews would be satisfied with this, and he presents Jesus to them crowned with thorns. Perhaps he hoped that their jealousy with regard to these national insults would induce them to ask for His deliverance. But, ruthlessly pursuing their malicious purpose, they cry out, "Crucify him, crucify him!" Pilate objects to this for himself, while giving them liberty to do it, saying that he finds no fault in Him. Upon this they plead their Jewish law. They had a law of their own, say they, and by this law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God. Pilate, already struck and exercised in mind, is the more alarmed; and, going back to the judgment hall again, questions Jesus. He makes no reply. The pride of Pilate awakes, and he asks if Jesus does not know that he has power to condemn or to release Him. The Lord maintains, in replying, the full dignity of His Person. Pilate had no power over Him, were it not the will of God-to this He submitted. It heightened the sin of those who had delivered Him up, to suppose that man could do anything against Him, were it not that the will of God was thus to be accomplished. The knowledge of His Person formed the measure of the sin committed against Him. The not perceiving it caused everything to be falsely judged, and, in the case of Judas, shewed the most absolute moral blindness. He knew His Master's power. What was the meaning of delivering Him up to man, if it were not that His hour was come? But, this being the case, what was the betrayer's position?
But Jesus always speaks according to the glory of His Person, and as being thereby entirely above the circumstances through which He was passing in grace, and in obedience to His Father's will. Pilate is thoroughly disturbed by the Lord's reply, yet his feeling is not strong enough to counteract the motive with which the Jews press him, but it has sufficient power to make him throw back upon the Jews all that there was of will in His condemnation, and to make them fully guilty of the Lord's rejection.
Pilate sought to withdraw Him from their fury. At last, fearing to be accused of infidelity to Caesar, he turns with contempt to the Jews, saying, "Behold your King"; acting-although unconsciously-under the hand of God, to bring out that memorable word from their lips, their condemnation, and their calamity even to this day, "We have no king but Caesar." They denied their Messiah. The fatal word, which called down the judgment of God, was now pronounced; and Pilate delivers up Jesus to them.
Jesus, humbled and bearing His cross, takes His place with the transgressors. Nevertheless He who would that all should be fulfilled ordained that a testimony should be rendered to His dignity; and Pilate (perhaps to vex the Jews, certainly to accomplish the purposes of God) affixes to the cross as the Lord's title, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews": the twofold truth-the despised Nazarene is the true Messiah. Here, then, as throughout this Gospel, the Jews take their place as cast off by God.
At the same time the apostle shews-here, as elsewhere-that Jesus was the true Messiah, by quoting the prophecies which speak of that which happened to Him in general, with regard to His rejection and His sufferings, so that He is proved to be the Messiah by the very circumstances in which He was rejected of the people.
After the history of His crucifixion, as the act of man, we have that which characterises it in respect to what Jesus was upon the cross. The blood and water flow from His pierced side.
The devotedness of the women who followed Him, less important perhaps on the side of action, shines out in its own way nevertheless in that perseverance of love which brought them nigh to the cross. The more responsible position of the apostles as men scarcely allowed it to them, circumstanced as they were; but this takes nothing from the privilege which grace attaches to woman when faithful to Jesus. But it was the occasion for Christ to give us fresh instruction, by shewing Himself such as He was, and by setting His work before us, above all mere circumstances, as the effect and the expression of a spiritual energy which consecrated Him, as man, entirely to God, offering Himself also to God by the eternal Spirit. His work was done. He had offered Himself up. He returns, so to speak, into His personal relationships. Nature, in His human feelings, is seen in its perfection; and, at the same time, His divine superiority, personally, to the circumstances through which He passed in grace as the obedient man. The expression of His filial feelings shews, that the consecration to God, which removed Him from all those affections that are alike the necessity and the duty of the man according to nature, was not the want of human feeling, but the power of the Spirit of God. Seeing the women, He speaks to them no longer as Teacher and Saviour, the resurrection and the life; it is Jesus, a man, individually, in His human relationship.
"Woman," He says, "behold thy son!"-committing His mother to the care of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved-and to the disciple, "Behold thy mother!" and thenceforth that disciple took her to his own home. Sweet and precious commission! A confidence which spoke that which he who was thus loved could alone appreciate, as being its immediate object. This shews us also that His love for John had a character of human affection and attachment, according to God, but not essentially divine, although full of divine grace-a grace which gave it all its value, but which clothed itself with the reality of the human heart. It was this, evidently, which bound Peter and John together. Jesus was their only and common object. Of very different characters-and so much the more united on that account-they thought but of one thing. Absolute consecration to Jesus is the strongest bond between human hearts. It strips them of self, and they have but one soul in thought, intent, and settled purpose, because they have only one object. But in Jesus this was perfect, and it was grace. It is not said, "the disciple who loved Jesus"; that would have been quite out of season. It would have been to take Jesus entirely out of His place, and His dignity, His personal glory, and to destroy the value of His love to John. Nevertheless John loved Christ, and consequently appreciated thus his Master's love; and, his heart attached to Him by grace, he devoted himself to the execution of this sweet commission, which he takes pleasure in relating here. It is indeed love that tells it, although it does not speak of itself.
I believe that we again see this feeling (used by the Spirit of God, not evidently as the foundation, but to give its colour to the expression of that which he had seen and known) in the beginning of John's first epistle.
We also see here that this Gospel does not shew us Christ under the weight of His sufferings, but acting in accordance with the glory of His Person as above all things, and fulfilling all things in grace. In perfect calmness He provides for His mother; having done this, He knows that all is finished. He has, according to human language, entire self-possession.
There is yet one prophecy to be fulfilled. He says, "I thirst," and, as God had foretold, they give Him vinegar. He knows that now there is not one detail left of all that was to be accomplished. He bows His head, and Himself gives [See Footnote #67] up His spirit. Thus, when the whole divine work is accomplished the divine man giving up His spirit, that spirit leaves the body which had been its organ and its vessel. The time was come for so doing; and by doing it, He secured the accomplishment of another divine word-"Not one of his bones shall be broken." But everything bore its part in the fulfilment of those words, and the purposes of Him who had pronounced them beforehand.
A soldier pierces His side with a spear. It is from a dead Saviour that flow forth the tokens of an eternal and perfect salvation-the water and the blood; the one to cleanse the sinner, the other to expiate his sins. The evangelist saw it. His love for the Lord makes him like to remember that he saw Him thus unto the end; he tells it in order that we may believe. But if we see in the beloved disciples the vessel that the Holy Ghost uses (and very sweet it is to see it, and according to the will of God), we see plainly who it is that uses it. How many things John witnessed which he did not relate! The cry of grief and of abandonment-the earthquake-the centurion's confession-the history of the thief: all these things took place before his eyes, which were fixed upon his Master; yet he does not mention them. He speaks of that which his Beloved was in the midst of all this. The Holy Ghost causes him to relate that which belonged to the personal glory of Jesus. His affections made him find it a sweet and easy task. The Holy Ghost attached him to it, employing him in that which he was well suited to perform. Through grace the instrument lent itself readily to the work for which the Holy Ghost set it apart. His memory and his heart were under the dominant and exclusive influence of the Spirit of God. That Spirit employed them in His work. One sympathises with the instrument; one believes in that which the Holy Ghost relates by his means, for the words are those of the Holy Ghost.
Nothing can be more touching, more deeply interesting, than divine grace thus expressing itself in human tenderness and taking its form. While possessing the entire reality of human affection, it had all the power and depth of divine grace. It was divine grace that Jesus should have such affections. On the other hand, nothing could be farther from the appreciation of this sovereign source of divine love, flowing through the perfect channel which it made for itself by its own power, than the pretension to express our love as reciprocal; it would be, on the contrary, to fail entirely in that appreciation. True saints among the Moravians have called Jesus "brother," and others have borrowed their hymns or the expression; the word never says so. "He is not ashamed to call us brethren," but it is quite another thing for us to call Him so. The personal dignity of Christ is never lost in the intensity and tenderness of His love.
But the rejected Saviour was to be with the rich and the honourable in His death, however despised He may previously have been; and two, who dared not confess Him while He lived, awakened now by the greatness of the sin of their nation, and by the event itself of His death-which the grace of God, who had reserved them for this work, made them feel-occupy themselves with the attentions due to His dead body. Joseph, himself a counsellor, comes to ask Pilate for the body of Jesus, Nicodemus joining with him to render the last honours to Him whom they had never followed during His life. We can understand this. To follow Jesus constantly under reproach, and compromise oneself for ever on His account, is a very different thing from acting when some great occasion happens in which there is no longer room for the former, and when the extent of the evil compels us to separate from it; and when the good, rejected because it is perfect in testimony, and perfected in its rejection, forced us to take a part, if through grace any moral sense exists in us. God thus fulfilled His words of truth. Joseph and Nicodemus place the Lord's body in a new sepulchre in a garden near the cross; for, on account of it being the Jews' preparation, they could do no more at that moment.
Footnotes for John 19
66: It is said that their Jewish traditions forbade their putting any one to death during the great feasts. It is possible that this may have influenced the Jews; but however that might be, the purposes of God were thus accomplished. At other times the Jews were not so prompt in submitting to the Roman exigencies that deprived them of the right of life and death.
67: This is the force of the expression; which is quite different from the word translated expired. We learn from Luke 23: 46 that He did this when He had said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." But in John, the Holy Ghost is setting forth even His death as the result of a voluntary act, giving up His spirit, and not saying to whom He committed (as man with absolute and perfect faith) His human spirit, His soul, in dying. It is His divine competency that is here shewn, and not His trust in His Father. The word is never used in this way but in this passage as to Christ, in either the New Testament or the LXX.