John 19:31

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.

Read John 19:31 Using Other Translations

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
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.
It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was the Passover). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.

What does John 19:31 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
John 19:31

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation
That is, either of the passover, as in ( John 19:14 ) which was the Chagigah or grand festival in which they offered their peace offerings and slew their oxen, and feasted together in great mirth and jollity; or of the sabbath, the evening of it, or day before it, as in ( Mark 15:42 )

that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day;
which was now drawing near: according to the Jewish law, ( Deuteronomy 21:22 Deuteronomy 21:23 ) the body of one that was hanged on a tree was not to remain all night, but to be taken down that day and buried; though this was not always observed; see ( 2 Samuel 21:9 2 Samuel 21:10 ) . What was the usage of the Jews at this time is not certain; according to the Roman laws, such bodies hung until they were putrefied, or eaten by birds of prey; wherefore that their land might not be defiled, and especially their sabbath, by their remaining on the cross, they desire to have them taken down:

for that sabbath day was an high day;
it was not only a sabbath, and a sabbath in the passover week, but it was the day in which all the people appeared and presented themselves before the Lord in the temple, and the sheaf of the first fruits was offered up; all which solemnities meeting together made it a very celebrated day: it is in the original text, "it was the great day of the sabbath"; which is the language of the Talmudists, and who say F4,

``(lwdgh tbv arqn) "is called the great sabbath", on account of the miracle or sign of the passover;''

and in the Jewish Liturgy F5 there is a collect for the "great sabbath": hence the Jews pretending a great concern lest that day should be polluted, though they made no conscience of shedding innocent blood,

besought Pilate that their legs might be broken;
which was the manner of the Jews F6, partly to hasten death, since, according to their law, the body was to betaken down before night; and partly that it might be a clear point that the person was rightly executed; for this was not the Roman custom, with whom breaking of the legs, or rather thighs, was a distinct punishment, and was done by laying a man's legs or thighs upon an anvil, and striking them with an hammer F7; which could not be the case here; this seems to have been done by striking the legs of those that were crucified, which were fastened to the cross, with a bar of iron, or some such instrument. Nonnus suggests that their legs were cut off with a saw or sword; but the former seems more reasonable:

and that they might be taken away;
which it seems the Jews had not power to do, but must be done by the Roman soldiers, or by leave at least from the Roman governor; and therefore they make their request to him.


FOOTNOTES:

F4 Piske Tosephot Sabbat, art. 314.
F5 Seder Tephillot, fol. 183. 2. &c. Ed. Basil.
F6 Lactantii Divin. Institut. l. 4. c. 26.
F7 Lipsius de Cruce, l. 2. c. 14. p. 110, 114.
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