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Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings


Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25
Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
John 18:1-19:42

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

According to ancient tradition, the Sacraments, except for Penance and Anointing of the Sick, are not celebrated on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday.  The liturgy of Good Friday calls for us to meditate on the Passion and death of Jesus Christ, and during today's service we show our reverence for the Cross of the crucifixion that is the sign of our redemption.  The priest and deacon wear red vestments in honor of Christ's sacrifice, and after a solemn procession, they approach the altar where they make a reverence by prostrating themselves (or they may kneel) as they pray silently.  Then the priest goes to his chair with the ministers.  He faces the congregation and, with hands joined, sings or says the opening prayer that begins the service.  Today's worship service is divided into three parts:

  1. The Liturgy of the Word and the General Intersessions
  2. Veneration of the Cross
  3. Holy Communion.

The Theme of the Readings: Jesus Christ is God's Suffering Servant for the Sins of the World and He is Our Holy High Priest
Today's First and Second Readings offer us the theology of St. John's Passion narrative.  Jesus' suffering for us is both vicarious (on our behalf) and redemptive (for our eternal salvation) as He gave His life for us on the altar of the Cross (Jn 15:13).  In the Second Reading, the inspired writer elaborates on the theme by comparing Jesus with the Old Covenant high priest.  The Jewish high priest had to offer liturgical sacrifices daily for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people at the Jerusalem Temple in his role as God's chief mediator between God and His covenant people.  Jesus is our mediator and high priest of the new and eternal covenant.   Unlike the Jewish high priest of the Old Covenant who had to constantly offer blood sacrifice for the people, Jesus has offered one perfect sacrifice on the alar of the Cross.  But it is a sacrifice that is on-going as He continually offers Himself before the heavenly altar of God the Father (Heb 8:3; Rev 5:6).  We also have a share in Jesus' priesthood as we participate in His self-surrender in obedience when we take part in the sacrifice of the Cross made present in the sign of bread and wine transformed into His Body and Blood for the sake of our eternal salvation and a sign of promise for the salvation of the whole world (Jn 6:51-56).

The First Reading Isaiah 52:13-53:12 ~ God's Suffering Servant
13 See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.  14 Even as many were amazed at him, so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man; 15 so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless.  For those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.  53:1 Who would believe what we have heard?  To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  2 He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.  3 He was spurned and avoided by people.  A man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.  4 Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.  5 But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.  6 We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.  7 Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.  8 Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, and who would have thought any more of his destiny?  When he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people, 9 a grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.  10 But the LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity.  If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.  11 Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.  12 Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.

This passage is Isaiah's Fourth Servant's Song in which the prophet again takes up the theme of suffering and the persecutions which God's "Servant" (52:13) will endure (53:7).  People will be scandalized by His sufferings (Is 52:14-15; 53:2-3, 7-9), but His sufferings are, in fact, an intercession and expiation for the sins of the people (53:4, 6, 8, 10-12).  The mission of the Suffering Servant is God's divine plan for the redemption His estranged covenant people and the mission of God's Suffering Servant is fulfilled in the Passion of Jesus Christ:

Isaiah chapter 52:13-53:12 Other Old Testament references/
New Testament fulfillments
52:13b he shall be raised high and greatly exalted He was raised high on the Cross; the sign He foretold in John 3:14-16.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard?  Quoted in John 12:38; Romans 10:16
53:3 He was spurned and avoided by people Quote from Psalm 22:6 [Jesus will quote this Psalm from the cross: "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Ps.22:1).
53:3 A man of suffering The Passion in all the Gospels
53: 4 Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. Matthew 8:17
while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted Hebrews 2:10
53:5 But he was pierced for our offenses John 19:34; 2 Corinthians 5:21
crushed for our sins Romans 4:25
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole Galatians 3:13
by his stripes we were healed. 1 Peter 2:24
53:6 We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way Ezekiel 34; 1 Peter 2:25
but the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. 2 Corinthians 5:21
53:7 Though he was harshly treated, he submitted Matthew 26:63
and opened not his mouth Mark 14:61; Luke 23:8-9; 1 Peter 2:23
like a lamb led to the slaughter Jeremiah 11:19; Matthew 27:14
or a sheep before the shearers John 1:29
he was silent and opened not his mouth. Acts 8:32-33
53:8 Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away ... When he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people Matthew 27:20-26; Mark 15:8-15;
Luke 23:20-25; John 19:12-15
9 a grave was assigned him among the wicked, He Matthew 27:38; Luke 22:37
and a burial place with evildoers [the rich] Matthew 27:60; Mark 15:42-46;
Luke 23:50-5; John 19:38-42
though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood 1 Peter 2:22
53:10 But the LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. If he gives his life as an offering for sin Passion in all Gospels; Romans 6:7;
Hebrews 9:26; 1 John 1:7
he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him. Matthew 28:5-8; Mark 16:1-8;
Luke 24:1-10; John 20:1
53:11 Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.  Romans 3:26; 1 Peter 3:18
12 Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses. Jesus took upon Himself the task of universal redemption which Isaiah assigned to the Suffering Servant (see Mt 26:28; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20; Jn 6:51-56).  Just as at Sinai when the blood of the sacrifice sealed the covenant of Yahweh with His people (Ex 24:4-8), on the Cross the blood of Jesus the perfect victim sealed the "New Covenant" promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2006

Responsorial Psalm 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25
The response is: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46).
2 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.  In your justice rescue me.
6 Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
12 For all my foes I am an object of reproach, a laughingstock to my neighbors, and a dread to my friends; they who see me abroad flee from me.  13 I am forgotten like the unremembered dead; I am like a dish that is broken.
15 But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, "You are my God.  16 In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors."
17 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness. 
25 Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the LORD.

This is another of the psalms that is attributed to King David.  In his last words, just prior to his death, David spoke of the three great accomplishments of his life.  The third accomplishment he listed was the songs he wrote for the Lord by which God spoke through him (2 Sam 23:1-2).  These "songs" of David are included among the psalms with the title "a psalm of David."  St. Peter, in his homily at Pentecost, called David a prophet who had foreknowledge of the Christ (Acts 2:29-31).  In our passage, David expresses his trust in God to rescue him in his hour of distress (verse 2).  Despite what he has suffered, the he trusts God's divine plan for his life and puts his destiny and his salvation entirely into God's hands (verses 6 and 16).  Jesus will allude to verse 6 from the Cross as He says what is our communal response in this psalm (Lk 23:46).

In verses 12-13 the psalmist laments that he has been abandoned by his friends and is persecuted by his enemies.  Again the psalmist professed his trust in God and his confidence that he can call upon God for help because of his personal relationship with the Lord (verses 15-17).  At the end of the psalm, he advises others who have experienced the same kind of sufferings he has endured to be strong, to take courage, and not to waver in faith but to have hope because Yahweh will not abandon the faithful.

Jesus was referring to this psalm when He partially quoted from verse 6, making the reference more personal by referring to God as "Father."  Any reference to an Old Testament verse is intended to cause the reader to reflect upon the whole of the passage.  In His suffering on the Cross, Jesus knew that God the Father would not abandon Him, and like His ancestor David, His faith, hope, and trust was entirely in the faithfulness and mercy of God.

The Second Reading Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
14 Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.  16 So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  [...]  5:7 In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 9 and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

These verses provide a transition to the next section while connecting the audience to the theme introduced in 2:16-3:1: Jesus the merciful and faithful high priest who passed through the heavens and is now before the throne of God, expiating the sins of the covenant people.  This is the first mention of heaven as the place where Jesus administers His priestly function and where His sacrifice takes on an eternal and timeless value.

Once again with the phrase let us hold fast to our confession [profession of faith] (see 3:1 and again in 10:23), the inspired writer urges his listeners to be vigilant in their faith, avoiding sin and trusting God's plan in their lives.    

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. 
The Greek word peirazein [pi-rad'-zin] can mean both "test" and "tempt," as in temptation to sin.  Jesus was tempted and tested by Satan after St. John's baptism as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels (Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-13), but He was also tested throughout His public ministry by the religious authorities and by the people (Mt 4:7; 19:3; Mk 8:11; Lk 10:25; 22:28; Jn 6:6), and tested in His willingness to fulfill God's plan as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:39, 42; Mk 14:34-36; 22:42-44; Heb 5:7-8).  Although Jesus was tempted, He was never enticed to sin because He was free from the temptation to sin: For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21; also see CCC# 603; 2119).

Hebrews 4:16 urges Christians to have no fear and to confidently approach God's throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  The faithful have no fear of sin, death and judgment.  Although Jesus was without sin, He witnessed sin and experienced the temptations of sin, and therefore, He is able to sympathize with our struggle to resist sin.  It is His promise to us that He will intercede for us with the Father and will help us overcome the challenges we face as we journey in this world toward our Promised Land in heaven.  The Catechism gives us assurance of Christ's intervention on our behalf: "All Christ's riches 'are for every individual and are everybody's property.'  Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation 'for us men and for our salvation' to his death 'for our sins' and Resurrection 'for our justification.'  He is still 'our advocate with the Father,' who 'always lives to make intercession' for us.  He remains ever 'in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us'" (CCC# 519 quoting 1 Cor 15:3; Rom 4:25; 1 Jn 2:1; Heb 7:25 and 9:24).  Jesus' promise to us in Matthew 28:20 should give us the courage we need to seek both God's mercy and grace: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Hebrews 5:7-10 contains a concise summary of Jesus' life on earth.  St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote that Jesus offered "... his life as a model of saintly existence to be used by earthly beings, he took on the weaknesses of humanity, and what was his purpose in doing this?  That we might truly believe that he became man, although he remained what he was, namely God" (Letter to Euopitus, Anathema 10).

Jesus came in the flesh to redeem mankind, and in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane "he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death."  Verse 7 says God heard His prayer, but why didn't God answer His prayer by sparing His Son an agonizing death; how was Jesus "made perfect" and how did he "learn obedience" from what He suffered?  God did answer Jesus' prayer.  The answer was "submit in obedience" and the Son's response was "not my will Father but Yours!"  Jesus was "heard" because He did not disobey!  In this response the Son was "made perfect."  In His obedient response Jesus, the new Adam, overcame the sin of the first Adam whose disobedience had brought sin and death into the world (1 Cor 15:45-49; CCC# 411; 504). 

Jesus, in being made "perfect", became the source of our salvation for all who obey Him.  In His "perfect" obedience the Son submitted Himself to death on the Cross for the salvation of man.  St. Ephraim writes concerning this passage, "He became the source of our eternal salvation" by replacing Adam, who had been the source of our death through his disobedience.  But as Adam's death did not reign in those who did not sin, so life reigns in those who do not need to be absolved.  Even though he is a liberal giver of life, life is given to those who obey, not to those of fall away from him (Ephraim, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews). 

It is not that through this submission Jesus "learned" obedience but "experienced" obedience.  It is easy to be "obedient" to one's superior or to one's parent when what is required is pleasant, but it is something else entirely when obedience is submission to something that one does not want to experience.  St. John Chrysostom advised the faithful: "If he, though the Son, gains obedience from his sufferings, how much more shall we?  Do you see how many things Paul says about obedience in order to persuade them to obedience?  [...].  'Though what he suffered' he continually 'learned' to obey God, and he was 'made perfect' through sufferings.  This, then, is perfection, and this means we must arrive at perfection.  For not only was he himself saved; be also became an abundant supply of salvation to others" (The Epistle to the Hebrews, 8.3).

St. Paul wrote about Jesus' perfect obedience in his letter to the Philippians: Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name (Phil 2:8-9).  In our liturgy today, this is our verse before the Gospel reading.

The Gospel of John 18:1-19:42 ~ Jesus is arrested and condemned to crucifixion
John 18:1-11~ Jesus is arrested
1 Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.  2 Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.  3 So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.  4 Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?"  5 They answered him, "Jesus the Nazorean."  He said to them, "I AM."  Judas his betrayer was also with them.  6 When he said to them, "I AM," they turned away and fell to the ground.  7 So he again asked them, "Whom are you looking for?"  They said, "Jesus the Nazorean."  8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I AM.  So if you are looking for me, let these men go."  9 This was to fulfill what he had said, "I have not lost any of those you gave me."  10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear.  The slave's name was Malchus.  11 Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its scabbard.  Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?" 

Jesus identified Himself saying "I AM" a significant three times in verses 5, 6, and 8.  In the Greek text, only the words "ego ami" (I AM) are recorded.  Jesus' "I AM" statement is a three times reference to the divine name of the Triune God.  Jesus and His disciples crossed the Kidron Valley to reach the Mt. of Olives.  We know from Luke's Gospel that the Mt. of Olives, where the town of Bethany was located, was where Jesus and the disciples were staying each night during their last week in Jerusalem (Lk 21:37), and St. Mark adds that He also stayed in the village of Bethany located on the Mt. of Olives (Mk 11:11).

The Kidron, nahal qidron, in Hebrew, is a deep ravine (wadi in Aramaic) to the east of the city of Jerusalem that separates the city from the Mt. of Olives.  The valley begins north of the city, just west of Mt. Scopus, and continues past the old city walls to the south where the ravine joins with the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem.  The Kidron then angels southeast crossing into the Judean wilderness and empties into the Dead Sea.  With the accumulation of debris over the centuries, the elevation of the Kidron valley is 10-50 feet higher than it was in Jesus' time. It was a dry ravine during most of the year except in the rainy season when it was full of swiftly flowing water in the winter and the very early spring during the time of the Passover sacrifices when the blood of the sacrificial animals that was poured out on the Temple sacrificial altar drained into the Kidron and made it a river of blood (Anchor Bible Dictionary, volume 4, pages 37-38; Dictionary of the Bible, page 473). 

...where there was a garden:  John is the only Gospel writer to mention "a garden."  The other three accounts mention crossing over to the Mount of Olives and Matthew and Mark testify that the site they came to was called Gethsemane. The word "Gethsemane" means "oil press" or "oil valley."  Since the 4th century AD a site at the foot of the Mount of Olives facing Jerusalem has been identified as the location of Jesus' arrest.  At this place are ancient olive trees (some are 3,000 years old), and there is also a cave nearby which archaeologists have identified as an ancient olive oil manufacturing site.  It is possible that during the last week Jesus and His disciples slept at the homes of friends in Bethany or in the open near, or in, this cave.  The city was so burdened with pilgrims that it was deemed acceptable by the priests for the faithful to camp outside the city walls as well as on the Mount of Olives, so long as the sacred meal of the Passover victim was consumed within the walls of the holy city. 

There is a theological reason why St. John might have had to use the word kepos = garden.  The word in Greek refers to "a plot of land where vegetables or flowers are planted, and sometimes trees as well" (Raymond Brown, The Anchor Bible: Gospel of John vol.  II, page 806)St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that John is drawing our attention to the parallel that exists in the struggle between Satan and the Adam in the Garden of Eden, and now the struggle between the traitor Judas, the tool of Satan, and Jesus the new Adam, in the garden of the olive press.  The fall of man began in a garden with Adam's disobedience and now Jesus, the new Adam, will begin His defeat of Satan in the garden where, in obedience, He yields Himself to the will of God the Father and accepts the cup that the Father has given Him (John 18:11).

Notice that in St. John's account of the events in the garden of Gethsemane, as is his usual practice, he does not re-tell Jesus' prayer of agony in the garden that is recorded in Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:41-46

2 Judas his betrayer also knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.  3 So Judas got a band of soldiers and guards from the chief priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. 
The literal translation here and in verse 5 is: the one who was handing him over.  In all the Gospel accounts whenever Judas is mentioned, he is always identified as the betrayer or traitor ( Mt 10:4; 26:14-16, 25, 47-48; 27:3; Mk 3:19; 14:10-11, 43-44; Lk 6:16; 22:3, 47-48; Jn 6:71; 12:4; 13:2; 21-30; 18:2-5).

This was the moment Satan has been waiting for since Jesus defeated him in Satan's attempt to tempt the new Adam: Having exhausted every way of putting him to the test, the devil left him, until the opportune moment (Lk 4:19).  Satan's opportune moment had come.  It is what St. Luke called "the hour of darkness" (Lk 22:53).

Judas brought with him the Jewish Temple guards (Levites of the Temple) and a "cohort" of Gentile Roman soldiers under the command of a Roman officer.  Only John mentions that Roman soldiers were involved in Jesus' arrest.  A cohort is a unit of 600 men, but this is probably the maniple of 200 soldiers [1/3 of a cohort].  Although it is also possible that John may not mean to imply that such a large number of soldiers were involved but that just some soldiers from the Roman cohort were put at the disposal of the chief priests and were sent to accompany the Temple guards, perhaps in case the Temple guards refused to do their duty.  It was, you may recall, the Temple Guards who refused to arrest Jesus when sent by the chief priests in John 7:45-47.  This time the chief priests were not taking any chances.

John adds another detail.  The soldiers and guards brought lanterns.  It was the time of the Pascal full moon and the moon would have been bright that night, but under the spreading branches of the olive trees the garden would have had many dark places.  This is another detail that indicates an eyewitness account of the events, and an eyewitness who paid attention to details.  The irony associated with these men carrying lanterns and torches to provide light is that these men, who have come into the garden to arrest Jesus, like all men, have been seeking God, and sadly, they do not understand that they have found Him.  They came bearing lanterns and torches to cut through the darkness, and yet the "Light of the world" stood in front of them, but because of the darkness of their souls, they could not see the "Light" (Jn 1:9; 8:12; 3:19).

4 Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen to him, went out and said to them, "Whom are you looking for?"  5 They answered him, "Jesus the Nazorean."  He said to them, "I AM."  Judas his betrayer was also with them.  6 When he said to them, "I AM," they turned away and fell to the ground.
The statement in verse 4, "knowing everything" emphasizes Jesus' foreknowledge is an indication of His divinity, a reoccurring theme in John's Gospel.  That Jesus "came forward" also shows that He is in full control of the unfolding events.

When Jesus speaks the Divine Name, I AM, the men who have come to arrest Him fall to the ground.  Some Biblical scholars think that the Jews, upon hearing the Divine Name, prostrated themselves.  But what about the Romans, they certainly would not have fallen to the ground in reverence to the Divine Name?  Other scholars suggest that, in another demonstration of His divinity, when Jesus pronounced the Divine Name that a flash of His divine power was revealed that pushed those present back and knocked them to the ground.  There are several Old Testament passages that may be prophetically linked to this incident:  Isaiah 28:13b [in the Greek Septuagint translation] ...that they may go and fall back and be crushed and be in danger and be destroyed (also see Is 28:16; Ps 27:2 and 35:4).

St. Peter may have been alluding to this incident when he quoted Psalms 118:22 and compared Jesus to the "cornerstone" causing unbelievers to "stumble" in 1 Peter 2:6-8 ~ As scripture says: Now I am laying a stone in Zion, a chosen, precious cornerstone and no one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace.  To you believers it brings honor.  But for unbelievers, it is rather a stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone, a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up.  They stumble over it because they do not believe in the Word; it was the fate in store for them.  And in Acts 4:11, during his homily before the Sanhedrin, Peter identified the chief priests and Pharisees as the "builders" who rejected Christ when he also quoted the passage from Psalm 118:22.

If this was a demonstration of Jesus' divine power, this incident reveals once again that Jesus is fully in charge of the events and that, although He had the power to resist His adversaries, He freely allowed them to take Him prisoner.  This is what Jesus told the disciples in John 10:17-18: The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as I have power to lay it down, so I have power to take it up again; and this is the command I have received from my Father.

In the Synoptic narratives, Judas came forward and identified Jesus with a kiss, which was probably a kiss on the hand, the recognized greeting from a disciple to His Rabbi, and not the kiss on the cheek that has been depicted in Western art.  John, as is his usual practice, does not repeat the detail of the treacherous kiss recorded in the Gospels; he expects his readers to be familiar with those accounts (Mt 26:47-56; Mk 14:43-46; Lk 22:47-53).

7 So he again asked them, "Whom are you looking for?"  They said, "Jesus the Nazorean."  8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I AM.  So if you are looking for me, let these men go."  9 This was to fulfill what he had said, "I have not lost any of those you gave me."
Jesus uses the Divine Name for Himself three times in verses 5, 6, and 8.  He is the I AM who revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:13-14.  He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity (see CCC# 205-207).

Jesus commands them to let the others go.  In John 17:12 Jesus promised: When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  Notice the implication in John 17:12 that Judas the betrayer, who is lost, was not really given to Jesus by the Father.  Instead he was included to fulfill the Scriptural prophecy of Psalm 41:10/9 and to remind every generation of believers that there will be wolves among the sheep of Jesus' flock.  He was a "seed of the serpent" who along with the other "children of Satan" who stand in opposition to God's divine plan has chosen to do violence against the "seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15).  The literal Hebrew is "lift his heel against" in Genesis 3:15 repeated in Psalm 41:10/9 and in the Greek text by Jesus in speaking of His betrayer in John 13:18b.

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear.  The slave's name was Malchus.  11 Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its scabbard.  Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?" 
Departing from his usual practice, John has recorded an incident that is in the Synoptic Gospels (see Mt 26:51; Mk 14:46-47; Lk 22:50-51), but only John includes the information that it was Simon-Peter who struck the man with his sword to defend Jesus, and only John includes the name of the high priest's servant.  However, he does not include that the wounded man was healed by Jesus; only Luke records the healing (see Lk 22:51).

There are two reasons why Jesus heals this man: to correct the wrong made by Peter, and as evidence of His true identity as the Son of God.  Then in verse 11 Jesus makes a significant statement when He says to Peter "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?"  In each of the Synoptic Gospels, in His prayer of agony, Jesus prays for the Father to take away "this cup."  Mark 14:36: "Abba, Father!" He said, "For you everything is possible. Take this cup away from me.   But let it be as you, not I, would have it."  In Scripture there is the symbolism of suffering associated with drinking "the cup of God's wrath" in the Old Testament passages like Isaiah 51:17 and 22 (see the section on "drinking wine" in the chart "The Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets". Also the comment Jesus made about sharing in drinking "His cup" to John and James Zebedee in Matthew 20:22-23 and in Mark 10:38.  Also see CCC # 607.  In verse 11 Jesus was referring to His cup of suffering that He will drink on the cross according to the Father's plan, freeing mankind from God's "cup of wrath" which the nation of Judea deserved for covenant disobedience and mankind in general deserved for living lives of sin in rejection of the one, true God (Rom 1:18; 2:5-10).  In Jesus' exchange with John and James Zebedee they both swore that they could "drink of His cup," not understanding the full extent of their statement.  They were thinking only of God's cup of salvation and glory (Ps 166:13).  It must have been with great love that Jesus prophesized that they would indeed "drink of His cup" of suffering for sake of the Kingdom of God!  James Zebedee was the first Apostle to be martyred (42AD) and John suffered beatings, imprisonment in a Roman penal colony, and other severe hardships.  Ironically, it was because they were willing to drink from Jesus' cup of suffering that they did indeed drink from His cup of salvation and glory in the heavenly Kingdom. Notice that in fulfillment of John 17:10 and Jesus' command in 18:8-9 that even Peter, who has attacked and wounded a servant of the High Priest, is allowed to go free!

John 18:12-18 ~ Jesus is brought to the former high priest Annas
12 So the band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus, bound him, 13 and brought him to Annas first.  He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.  14 It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.  15 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.  Now the other disciple was known to the high priest, and he entered the courtyard of the high priest with Jesus.  16 But Peter stood at the gate outside.  So the other disciple, the acquaintance of the high priest, went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter in.  17 Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, "You are not one of this man's disciples, are you?"  He said, "I am not."  18 Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves.  Peter was also standing there keeping warm. 

John is the only one of the Gospel writers to include the information that Jesus was first taken to Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas and the former high priest.  Annas had held the position of high priest from AD 6-AD 15 before he was then deposed by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus; the Romans no longer allowed the Jewish high priest to serve for his lifetime (Lk 3:2; Acts 4:6).  In including the information that Jesus was first taken to Annas, John seems to be making the suggestion that the real power was still with Annas.  Taking Jesus to Annas first also allowed enough time for Caiaphas to assemble the members of the Sanhedrin and the false witnesses who would testify against Jesus.  The reigning high priest served as the President of the Sanhedrin, but Caiaphas will also take on the role of the chief prosecutor in Jesus' trial.

Notice that in John's Gospel the phrase Caiaphas, who was high priest that year is associated with Jesus' death three times (see Jn 11:49, 51, and 18:13).  "That year" is a reference to that fateful year that Caiaphas, in his role as the High Priest, unknowingly chose Jesus, the Lamb of God, as the sin sacrifice for the covenant people. St. John records that Caiaphas condemned Jesus to death three times in 11:50, 51, and 18:14.  As the reigning High Priest, Caiaphas chose Jesus as the sacrifice for the sake of the people.

In verses 15-16 Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus to the palace of the high priest.
Who is the unnamed "other disciple" and why is it that he was known to Annas and his household staff?  Some scholars have suggested the unnamed disciple is Matthew who was a Levite and therefore a member of the lesser order of the ministerial priesthood.  That this disciple is unnamed is the key.  John usually names the disciples when he writes about them but he never names himself.  Most scholars and the Fathers of the Church have identified this unnamed disciple as St. John, who identifies himself five times in 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7 & 20 as the disciple Jesus loved.  The inspired writer of the fourth Gospel also identifies himself as "this disciple" who is an eyewitness to these events in John 21:24.

The difficulty is how could the son of a Galilean fisherman have a strong enough connection to the high priest to be recognized and admitted to his palace by his household staff?  One tradition repeated by Bishop Eusebius in his 4th century Church History is that St. John the Apostle was from a priestly family.  Eusebius is basing his assumption on the fact that Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus in the 2nd century AD, and the early Church historian Hegesippus, both reported that as the Bishop of Ephesus John wore a golden sacerdotal plate similar to that worn by a Jewish high priest (see Ex 39:30-31).  This golden plate is called in Hebrew the ziz.  It was also recorded by early Church historians that both John Mark, when he became Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, and James Bishop of Jerusalem wore such a device to indicate their high office.  While there is evidence to support that James and Mark did indeed wear a version of the sacerdotal plate to distinguish themselves as Apostolic bishops of the New Covenant Church, we have no evidence that either James, the kinsman of Jesus, or Mark, the son of a Roman soldier and a Jewish mother, were from a priestly Jewish family, although Jesus' disciple Joseph Barnabas, a kinsman of John-Mark and his mother Mary, was a Levite (Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22f; Col 4:10; Philem 1:24; 1Cor 9:6).  James, kinsman of Jesus, Mark the author of the second Gospel, and John Zebedee, all born and raised in the Old Covenant faith and traditions, obviously saw themselves as the replacement of the hereditary priesthood and may have adopted a devise similar to the ziz to illustrate their spiritual appointment and authority over the Church. 

The important point is that it is obvious that John had information that the other Gospel writers did not have:

  1. Knowing the name of the high priest's servant in 18:10
  2. Knowing the servant in charge of keeping the gate to the high priest's palace in 18:16
  3. Knowing the family member of the servant who had his ear cut off who challenged Peter in 18:26

The suggestion that John was admitted because he sold fish to these servants and therefore came to know Annas' household seems a bit flimsy.  However, it was the practice to take especially bright young students from the outer districts of Judah, the Galilee and beyond in the Diaspora, and train them in Jerusalem to fill the scribal positions.  St. Paul was one such lucky student who came from a Jewish community in Asia Minor.  Is it possible that John was also studying in Jerusalem when he began to follow John the Baptist and later Jesus?  Is it possible that he had been studying under the tutorage of Annas himself and was therefore known and trusted by the household staff? 

It is impossible to know the connection between John and this priestly house, but it is clear that from the time of Jesus' arrest only "the other," "the beloved disciple," continues to follow Jesus to the cross and to the tomb.  It is also important to note that the unnamed disciple is clearly distinguished from, but associated with, Peter in John's Gospel chapters 18-21.  The close association between Peter and this unnamed disciple also mirrors the close association recorded in Luke 22:8; Acts 3:1; and 8:14 between Peter and John the Apostle.

17 Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, "You are not one of this man's disciples, are you?"  He said, "I am not."  18 Now the slaves and the guards were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made, because it was cold, and were warming themselves.  Peter was also standing there keeping warm. 
John includes the detail that it was cold.  Jerusalem is more than 2,400 feet above sea level and can be very chilly in early springtime.  Some scholars see a fulfillment of Zechariah 14:6 in this detail: That Day, there will be no light, but only cold and frost.  St. John's Gospel will end with the Apostles seated around a charcoal fire (Jn 21:9-25).  Verse 17 is Peter's first denial of the Christ.

John 18:19-24 ~ Jesus is questioned by Annas
19 The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine.  20 Jesus answered him, "I have spoken publicly to the world.  I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather and in secret I have said nothing.  21 Why ask me?  Ask those who heard me what I said to them.  They know what I said."  22 When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, "Is this the way you answer the high priest?"  23 Jesus answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"  24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 

An informal examination of Jesus begins.  Annas is clearly the real political power.  John identifies Annas as the high priest in 18:19 and the guard calls Annas the high priest when he slaps Jesus in 18:22.  Annas has probably had Jesus brought to his house in order to give Caiaphas the time to assembly the Sanhedrin court at this late (or very early) hour.  Jesus' response to Annas recalls the words of the prophesized future Messiah in Isaiah 48:16 ~ Come near and listen to this; from the first, I never spoke obscurely; when it happened, I was there, and now Lord Yahweh has sent me with his spirit.

Jesus ignores the question about His disciples, but He tells his interrogator that He has spoken openly in both the Synagogue and the Temple.  In the local Synagogue (located in every village with approximately 350 in the holy city of Jerusalem), the faithful study the word of God; in the Jerusalem Temple, sacrifice and atonement for sin is offered to reestablish communion with Yahweh.  Our New Covenant liturgy of the Mass contains both elements: the Liturgy of the Word studies the Word of God while the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the sacrifice and communion restored.

It was one of the Temple guards (mentioned in verses 3 and 12) who slapped Jesus.  Conduct of this kind would not have been permitted at a formal judicial sitting of the Sanhedrin.  This is all that John will record of Jesus' trial.  He does not repeat the Synoptic accounts of Jesus' shameful trial before the illegally convened Sanhedrin, the Jewish Law Court. 

John 18:25-27 ~ Peter denies Jesus again
25 Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.  And they said to him, "You are not one of his disciples, are you?"  He denied it and said, "I am not."  26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the one whose ear Peter had cut off, said, "Didn't I see you in the garden with him?"  27 Again Peter denied it.  And immediately the cock crowed. 

Like the Synoptic Gospels, St. John includes Jesus' prediction of Peter's three denials as well as the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of Peter's failure (see Jn 13:36-38; Mt 26:33-35; Mk 14:29-31; Lk 22:31-34 and Jn 18:17-27; Mt 26:69-75; Mk 14:66-72; Lk 22:55-62; Jn 18:16-18, 25-27).  The "cockcrow" was the trumpet signal that announced the end of the Third Watch of the night and the beginning of the Fourth Watch.  Jesus named the four night watches in Mark 13:35 ~ Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning [dawn].  The Fathers of the Church and Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem in the fourth century AD testify to the trumpet signal of the "cockcrow" at 3 AM.

The 4 Roman watches of the night:
Watch Time
#1: Evening watch Sundown to 9PM
#2: Midnight watch 9PM to Midnight
#3: Cockcrow watch Midnight to 3AM
#4: Dawn watch 3AM to Dawn

The end of each watch, and the beginning of the next was signaled by a trumpet blast. The Third Watch was from Midnight to 3 AM.  At the close of the Third Watch a signal was given by the Roman guards at the Antonia fortress and the Levitical guards at the Temple.  A trumpet was blown to signal the end of the Watch and the change of the guard.  This trumpet blast at the end of the Third Watch was called in Latin the "gallicinium" or "the cockcrow."  If Jesus was identifying the time of Peter's last denial as just before "a the cock crows," it could not a specific time since roosters are notoriously unpredictable in their crowing, and there was a rabbinic ordinance against keeping chickens within the walls of the Holy City because it was feared that their scratching would produce "unclean things," thereby violating the purity laws (J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, page 47, note 44).   However, if Jesus was referring to the gallicinium, "the hour of the cockcrow" this was a precise military signal (Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 828).  St. Mark's Gospel includes an additional detail.  In Mark 14:30 Jesus says: In truth I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.  And then records the fulfillment of Jesus prophecy in Mark in 14:71-72: But he started cursing and swearing, 'I do not know the man you speak of.'  And at once the cock crowed for the second time...  The Jewish Mishnah, the record of the oral traditions and Temple service, identify the "cockcrow" as a signal.  In the Jerusalem Temple, it was at the signal of the cockcrow that the priest who was the superintendent for the morning service alerted the priests who were serving in the morning liturgical service to ritually bathe and dress in their liturgical garments (Mishnah: Tamid 1:2).

John's Gospel includes the information that after He was interviewed by Annas that Jesus was taken to the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas and then to the Roman governor Pontus Pilate (Jn 18:28), but he will not, as is his custom, repeat the events of Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin that is dramatically covered in all the Synoptic accounts (see Mt 26:57-68; Mk 14:53-65; Lk 22:66-71).  Caiaphas hastily convened a session of the Jewish Law Court, known as the Sanhedrin.  The regulations for the court of justice are found in Deuteronomy 17:2-13.  A violation of the covenant constituted judgment; blasphemy was a crime punishable by death (Lev 24:10-14; Dt 17:2).  If it was a difficult case, the accused person was to be taken to Jerusalem ("to the place chosen by Yahweh") and tried by the high court (Dt 17:8-13). A death sentence could only be passed on the word of at least two or three witnesses who must be the first to strike a blow when the person was condemned (Dt 17:6; 19:15-21).  The condemned person was to be executed outside the gates of the city (Dt 17:5; 21:22-23).

John 18:28-40 ~ Jesus trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate
28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium.  It was morning.  And they themselves did not enter the Praetorium in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover.  29 So Pilate came out to them and said, "What charge do you bring against this man?"  30 They answered and said to him, "If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you."  31 At this Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law."  The Jews answered him, "We do not have the right to execute anyone," 32 in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die.  33 So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?"  34 Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?"  35 Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I?"  Your own nation and chief priests handed you over to me.  What have you done?"  36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom does not belong to this world.  If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not here."  37 So Pilate said to him, "Then you are a king?"  Jesus answered, "You say I am a king.  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."  38 Pilate said to him, "What is truth?"  When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, "I find no guilt in him.  39 But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover.  Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"  40 They cried out again, "Not this one but Barabbas!"  Now Barabbas was a revolutionary. 

In the 1st century AD it was common to refer to the entire eight days as one feast: as either Passover or Unleavened Bread (see Mk 14:12), but in St. John's Gospel, like the Jewish Mishnah (completed in c. 200 AD), and Jews today, the feast is only called Passover.  In verse 28 the priests are referring to the Sacred Assembly that every man of the covenant was required to attend at the Temple that morning in communal sacrifices were offered in addition to individual festival communion sacrifices (hagigah) that were eaten by the community that day in the city (Lev 23:5-8; Num 28:17-25).  They cannot be referring to the Passover sacred meal that took place after sundown when ritual purity could have been restored (Lev 22:6-7).  All the Synoptic Gospels agree that the Passover sacrifice and sacred meal occurred the day before Jesus was arrested and crucified (Jn 12:1; Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13).

In Roman provinces the people were allowed to govern under their own civil and religious laws but only the Romans had the power over life and death.  This is the reason they have brought Jesus to the Roman governor.  They want Jesus to be condemned as a common criminal and to be crucified to discredit Jesus with the common people.  According to the Law, any man who is "hung on a tree" is accursed by God; therefore, if Jesus is crucified by being "hung on a tree" He couldn't possibly be the Messiah (see Dt 21:22-23).

In the Gospels, Barabbas is described as a robber, a revolutionary or insurrectionist, and a murderer (Mk 15:7; Lk 23:19).  It is ironic that his name is a surname meaning "son [bar] of the father [abba]".  The irony is that these people are so blind in their sins that they cannot tell the murdering false "son of the father" from the innocent, true Son of God the Father, Jesus the Messiah.

Matthew 27:18 records that Pilate understood the motivation for the Jewish authorities to hand Jesus over for execution was jealousy. It was the same sin that led Cain to murder his innocent brother Abel.  Jesus' "brothers" (kinsmen) want to murder the innocent Jesus for the same reason. The sin of envy can defy both justice and reason.  Was the sin of spiritual envy, which was what motivated the Old Covenant priesthood and hierarchy to condemn Jesus of Nazareth to death, prophesized in the Old Testament?  Read the Old Testament Book of Wisdom 2:12-24 for a description of the malice that led to the condemnation of the Messiah and to the persecution of other righteous men and women who take up their crosses to follow Him down through the centuries.

John 19:1-16 ~ Jesus is scourged and Pilate attempts to release Jesus but the Jews call for His crucifixion
1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.  2 And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, 3 and they came to him and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  And they struck him repeatedly.  4 Once more Pilate went out and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him."  5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak.  And he said to them, "Behold, the man!" 6 When the chief priests and the guards saw him they cried out, "Crucify him, crucify him!"  Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him.  I find no guilt in him."  7 The Jews answered, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."  8 Now when Pilate heard this statement, he became even more afraid, 9 and went back into the Praetorium and said to Jesus, "Where are you from?"  Jesus did not answer him.  10 So Pilate said to him, "do you not speak to me?  Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?"  11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above.  For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin."  12 Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, "If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.  Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar."  13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge's bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.  14 It was preparation day for the Passover, and it was about noon [the 6th hour]*.  And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your king!"  15 They cried out, "Take him away, take him away!  Crucify him!"  Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?"  The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."  16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
*the 6th hour Roman time is between 6-7AM.  We keep Roman time.  This time agrees with the Synoptic Gospels that all state Jesus was first taken to Pilate at dawn, the seasonal hour of 6 AM.

Pilate has Jesus scoured in the hope that His suffering will satisfy the crowd and he will be able to free Jesus. There are five elements of irony in the chief priests bringing Jesus to the Romans to be condemned: 

  1. It is ironic that these men, so concerned with ritual purification, have lost their moral compass in that they are willing to pollute their souls by lying in order to achieve their goal of sending an innocent man to a horrible death.
  2. It is ironic that even though they do not wish to contaminate themselves by entering a Gentile residence, they do not hesitate to use the Gentiles to destroy their adversary.
  3. It is ironic that they fear a ritual impurity that might prevent them from attending the Temple services that day or eating the festival sacrificial offerings which gives them a mystical bond with God, and yet unknowingly they are offering up the sacrifice of Him who is the true Lamb of God and the only means of true union with God the Father.
  4. It is ironic that the Jewish authorities have planned that Jesus is not to die according to Jewish Law (they convicted Him of blasphemy which requires death by stoning in Lev 24:16), but it is their intention that Jesus is to die a particular Roman form of capital punishment.  He is to die on a cross as a common criminal.  It is the religious authority's intention to disgrace Jesus in the eyes of the people as one who is cursed (Dt 21:22-23).  However, they do not realize that Jesus is the master over his own destiny (Jn 10:17-18) and that it is God's plan for Him to die on a cross.  This is the form of death He himself has prophesized in John 12:32-33; Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-33
  5. Ironically they are fulfilling His mission by lifting Him up on the cross so that He can draw all men to Himself: And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself (Jn 12:32).  He offered Himself as a sacrifice for the covenant curses the covenant people deserve for their violations of the covenant with Yahweh and to atone for the sins of all mankind.

12 Consequently, Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, "If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar.  Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar."  13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge's bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.  14 It was preparation day for the Passover, and it was about noon [the 6th hour]*.  And he said to the Jews, "Behold, your king!"  15 They cried out, "Take him away, take him away!  Crucify him!"  Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?"  The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."  16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.
The Jews have charged Jesus with blasphemy is claiming to be equal to God but this is not an offense that would bring a Roman conviction of crucifixion; so they threaten Pilate that if he releases Jesus he is releasing someone who has committed treason against Caesar by claiming to be the King of the Jews and the Son of God when Tiberius Caesar is the rightful king and the step-son of the deified Augustus Caesar.  Failure to punish someone who made these claims could have cost Pilate his position and his life.  In 19:15 the chief priests even declare "We have no king but Caesar!"  It is the final break with the covenant formed with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai when Yahweh became the Israelite's great King.  Now they have renounced the Son of God and rightful Davidic king in favor of a Roman king who is the step-son of a false god.  It is the "6th hour" Roman time, between 6-7 AM.  John cannot be referring to Jewish time in which the 6th hour is noon since Mark records Jesus was crucified at the third hour (9 AM) in Mark 15:35.  In addition, all the Synoptic Gospels record that there was a total eclipse of the sun from the 6th to the ninth hours (noon to 3 PM Jewish time) after Jesus had been crucified (Mt 27:35, 45; Mk 15:33-41; Lk 23:33, 44-49).

Notice that it is the High Priest Caiaphas who has chosen Jesus for sacrifice like the unblemished Tamid lamb of the morning and afternoon liturgical worship service, but it is the Roman Gentile who pronounces Jesus "without fault", the pronouncement that must be made over the unblemished Tamid lamb prior to sacrifice.  Three times Pilate will declared he finds Jesus literally in the Greek translation "without fault" (Jn 18:38; 19:4 and 6).  As in all cases, even with the Roman governor who has the power of life and death, Jesus is the one who is in charge of His own destiny.

John 19:17-22 ~ The crucifixion
17 So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.  18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.  19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross.  It read, "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews."  20 Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.  21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that he said, 'I am the King of the Jews'."  22 Pilate answered, What I have written, I have written." 
According to the Gospel of Mark Jesus was crucified at the third hour Jewish time, or 9 AM.  It was the time the Temple doors opened for the morning liturgical worship service just as the first Tamid lamb was crucified.  It was common for a criminal's crime for which he was being executed was placed on his cross.  It is ironic that what Pilate, who had asked Jesus "What is true," had written the truth.  Jesus is the King of the Jews.

St. John does not revisit what he feels has been adequately recounted in the other three Holy Spirit inspired Gospels.  He expects that we are familiar with the information contained in the Synoptic Gospels and that what he adds will expand and clarify our knowledge and understanding.  John does include information from the Crucifixion not found in the Synoptic Gospels, and true to St. John's focus on a spiritually oriented Gospel, the Crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah is built around 7 symbolic events that are unique to the fourth Gospel:

1.  The Multi-language titulus
2.  The seamless garment
3. Mary, "the Woman" of Genesis 3:15 and the mother of the New Israel
4.  The hyssop and the wine
5.  His death and the gift of His Spirit
6.  His bones unbroken
7. The water and the blood

John 19:23-24 ~ Lots are cast for Jesus' garment according to prophecy
23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier.  They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.  24 So they said to one another, "Let's not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be," in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says: "They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots." This is what the soldiers did. 
The act of the Roman soldiers dividing Jesus' garments was a fulfillment of prophecy from Psalms 22 that is a description of a crucifixion centuries before the Persians invented it (Ps 22:19).  Jesus' seamless garment was also theologically symbolic of the seamless tunics only worn by the priests serving God in the Temple.  As such, the garment is a symbol of Jesus' high priesthood when, after His Ascension to the Father, Jesus took His place as High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary (Heb 8:1-2).  The fact that Jesus wore the seamless garment during the Last Supper and at the crucifixion elevates those events to liturgical sacrifices, since the seamless tunic was to only be worn when offering service to Yahweh (Ezekiel 42:124).  The High Priest dressed in his priestly robes was the symbol of man fully restored in God's image.  Jesus is not only our King but also as our High Priest, offering the pure and holy sacrifice of Himself to God the Father.  Both Exodus 28:4 and Leviticus 16:4 in describing the high priestly garment use chiton in the Greek translation (Hebrew = ketonet) in reference to the priestly tunic and describe it as "a woven piece".  The word seamless (Hebrew = arraphos) is not found in the Greek (Septuagint) translation but the 1st century AD Jewish priest/historian, Flavius Josephus, describes the ankle-length tunic of the high priest as one seamless woven cloth: "Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck ... it was also parted where the hands were to come out" (Antiquities of the Jews 3.7.4).

St John wants the reader to understand that Jesus is not only our King but He is also our eternal and perfect High Priest, offering the pure and spotless sacrifice of Himself.  This is the vision of Christ in the heavenly court that St. John will see in Revelation 1:13 ~ And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands and, in the middle of them, one like a Son of Man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a belt of gold.  St. Augustine and other Church fathers have also seen the dividing of the garments as symbolic of the spread of the Catholic (meaning "universal") Church throughout the world, and in the undivided seamless tunic a symbol of the unity of the Church.

John 19:25-27 ~ Jesus gives His mother to the Church
25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.  26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, "woman, behold, your son."  27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother."  And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.  This is the third of Jesus' seven last statements from the cross. He placed the care of His mother into the hands of the only Apostle who was close to the cross, and in doing so gave His mother to His Church.  Mary is our inheritance from the cross.  The gift of His mother is the first of the three gifts Jesus gave the New Covenant Church from the cross. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.  From "that hour" of His Passion and death, Mary is united forever to her Son physically and spiritual.  From the hour of His death forward in the time she will fulfill her destiny in God's plan of salvation by bringing forth Christian children in the image of her son as the Mother of the Church.  This daughter of the old Israel becomes the mother of the New Israel, the universal Church, and new Eve, the mother of all who are alive in Christ Jesus (CCC# 411).

the new Eve
Mother of all New Covenant Believers = Mother of the Church
the New Israel
The vehicle of salvation: the salvation kingdom of Christ the King

This is also the third of John's symbolic elements during the crucifixion.  It is after this that the Synoptic Gospels record a total eclipse from noon to the ninth hour Jewish time, or 3 PM.  At noon the second lamb of the Tamid sacrifice was brought out to the altar at the Temple and was sacrificed at 3 PM.  One sacrifice of two lambs and one sacrifice of the Son of God who was both human and divine.

John 19:28-30 ~ Jesus completes His mission
28 After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I thirst."  29 There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  30 When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished."  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. 
In this moment, Jesus presents Himself as the spotless Lamb of sacrifice, offered in atonement for the sins of the world so that mankind can be restored and welcomed back into fellowship with God.  In the Temple liturgy the second lamb of the Tamid was given one final drink before it was sacrificed, in atonement for the sins of the covenant people and restoration of their fellowship with God.

Jesus has fulfilled the promise of the restoration of the children of God prophesized in Sacred Scripture beginning with Genesis 3:15.  As a woman brings forth children, so shall the New Covenant Church bring forth offspring, born from above "in the image and likeness" of God.  These spiritual children will form a relationship of loving care that will bind these New Covenant children to their "mother" the Church, as symbolized by Mary.  Fr. Brown in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John writes: "The revelatory formula 'Here is [your mother]...', on which we have commented, is truly appropriate in this scene, since Jesus' mother and the Beloved Disciple are being established in a new relationship representative of that which will bind the Church and the Christian."  Fr. Brown goes on the say that at the wedding at Cana, Mary was Jesus' physical mother but now she is elevated to her intended role: "His mother, the symbol of the New Israel, was denied a role at Cana because his hour had not yet come.  Now that his hour has come, she is given a role as the mother of the Beloved Disciple, i.e., of the Christian" (Anchor Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John, page 913).

In speaking of the "completion" or "fulfillment" of Scripture Jesus uses the verb teleioun, instead of the more commonly used verb in this context, pleroun.  Teleioun is a verb, which Fr. Brown in his book on the Gospel of John points out, is not otherwise used in the New Testament in reference to Scripture being fulfilled.  Fr. Brown does not suggest any explanation but perhaps the use of this particular verb is to draw our attention to Jesus' last statement from the cross, which will use this same Greek verb form (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon; Brown, 908, 927). 

He said, 'I THIRST.'  Only John mentions Jesus making this statement.  He didn't take the wine mixed with a narcotic just prior to His crucifixion (Mt 27:34-35; Mk 15:23-24; Lk 23:33-34) because He must show that He accepted in obedience all the suffering of God's "Cup of Wrath" and because He made an oath during the Last Supper that He would not drink wine again until He came into His kingdom (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18-19).  Now He accepts the drink of wine because it is time!

29 There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  30 When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, "It is finished [teltelestai]."  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. 

His spirit is the second gift to the Church from the altar of the cross; the first gift was the Virgin Mary as our mother.  Only John includes the information that the "vinegar" was cheap, red wine.  Only John includes the information that it was a hyssop stick that was used to give Jesus the wine.  This is symbolic element #4.

Jesus' Passion began in the Upper Room when He held His body, separated from His blood, in His own hands and offered to His disciples what He had promised in John chapter 6: "His flesh and His blood" to eat and drink to eternal life.  The cup of His Precious Blood was the 3rd of the four ritual cups of the Passover meal (the Feast of Unleavened Bread), the Cup of Blessing (1 Cor 10:16).  During the Last Supper two of the four cups are mentions in Luke 22:17 and the cup of His Blood in verse 20.  In the prescribed ritual of the sacred meal of the Passover victim, there was a 4th ritual cup that closed the meal and sealed the covenant for another year.  This cup was called the Cup of Acceptance.  It was after consuming this final communal cup that the host of the Passover supper would cry out: 'Teltelestai" "It is fulfilled [finished]".  Since Jesus made an oath that He would not drink wine until He came into His kingdom (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:17), He could not have taken the 4th cup at the Last Supper.  Therefore, He could not have officially, according to custom, closed the Passover sacrificial meal in the Upper Room.

The hyssop branch that the Roman guard used to give Jesus the drink of sour wine is an important symbolic element (see Exodus 12:22; Numbers 19:18; Psalm 51:7; Hebrews 9:18-20).

The Symbolic Importance of Hyssop

1. When the first Passover Lamb that had been sacrificed and its blood poured out in the threshold of the houses in Egypt, it was a hyssop branch that was used to smear the blood of the first Passover Lamb on the lintel and door posts.  It was under this sign that those firstborn sons inside the house eating the roasted lamb were saved.  The smeared blood extending from the threshold (Exodus 12:22) to the lintel and to each doorpost made the sign of the cross.

2. In the ratification of the Sinai Covenant, Moses, the mediator between God and the people, symbolically united them by using a hyssop branch to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the altar, which represented Yahweh, and then on the people, creating one family united in the "blood" of the covenant (Hebrews 9:18-20).  Jesus used the same words, "blood of the covenant," in the ratification of the New Covenant at the Last Supper when He offered those assembled His Precious Blood (Matthew 26:28Mark 14:24; and Luke 22:20).

3. The passage in Numbers 19:18 recorded the use of hyssop in ritual purification for those who were contaminated by a dead body.  Such ritual contamination left the covenant member literally "dead" to their community until they could be purified on the third and seventh days (a double resurrection) with hyssop and holy water.  The blood of Jesus has purified us and saved us from spiritual death and has given physical death no power over us.  In the Sacrament of Christian baptism we experience our first resurrection through re-birth in water and the Spirit, and at the end of time we look forward to our second resurrection when body and spirit are rejoined.  We have been saved from the curse of the double-death in Genesis 2:17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die, die.  In the literal Hebrew the word "die" is repeated to emphasize the seriousness of the covenant prohibition, but the violation of the command not to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree literally condemned Adam and all his descendants to a double death.  In disobeying God and abusing His blessings man became "disgraced" and the absence of grace brought not only physical death, but the curse of spiritual death, referred to in Scripture as the "second death" (Revelation 2:11; 20:6; 21:8).  Jesus' Precious Blood is the cleansing agent, which the hyssop and holy water of the Old Covenant symbolized.  It is His Precious Blood that purifies us from all sins:  Purify me with hyssop till I am clean, wash me whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).

Just as the hyssop was used in the ratification of the Old Covenant in the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrificial victim on the altar and the people to form one covenant family, in the climax of Jesus' crucifixion the hyssop branch was symbolically used in the ratification of the New Covenant in the blood sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.  It is His Precious Blood that transforms and unites the New Covenant people into God's Holy Covenant family that is the Universal Church! 

Only John mentions the drinking of the wine from the cross that should have been the last words of Christ which are the same last words as those of the host of the Passover meal when the 4th Cup, the Cup of Acceptance, has been consumed.  The wine Jesus drank from the hyssop branch was also the 4th Cup of the Passover.  In the offering up of His perfect sacrifice, Jesus came into His Kingdom; all was fulfilled, as He announced in John 19:28, and therefore He took the Cup of Acceptance and called out His sixth statement from the altar of the Cross: "It is fulfilled or finished."  In this statement: "Teltelestai" in John 19:30 Jesus used the same verb that He used when He spoke of Scripture being fulfilled in John 19:28.  In Greek Teltelestai was also an accounting term that was written across the record of a debt that was paid in full.

Jesus' Last Seven Statements from the Cross Scripture
1. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Lk 23:34
2. "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Lk 23:42
3. "Woman, behold, your son"... "Behold, your mother." Jn 19:26-27
4. "Eli, Eli lema/lama sabachthani," "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ~ Hebrew Mt 27:46 (*Ps 22:1a quoted in Hebrew)
"Eloi, Eloi, lema/lama sabachthani," "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" ~ Aramaic* Mk 15:34 (Jesus quoted from Ps 22:1/2a in Aramaic)
5. "I thirst." Jn 19:28
6. "It is fulfilled." Jn 19:30
7. "Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit." Lk 23:46 (Ps 31:5/6 quoted)
Michal E. Hunt © copyright 2012

*Jesus has alluded to Psalm 22 in Mt 27:35, 39 and 43

What is the IT that has been fulfilled or finished?  Many Christians would answer that justification and redemption are fulfilled in His sacrificial death, but in Romans 4:25 St. Paul wrote: ...our faith, too, will be reckoned because we believe in him who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.   In his fourteen letters, St. Paul never writes of the death of Jesus as separate from His resurrection.  "Justification" is the entering into the life of the risen Savior (CCC# 1987-95).  In Romans 6:4-5 St. Paul wrote: So by our baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life.  If we have been joined to him by dying a death like his, so we shall be by resurrection like his; realizing that our former self was crucified with him... (also see Rom 8:10).   The point is that sacrifice is only the first step.  The desired result is the restoration of communion with God and that restoration was completed upon His glorious Resurrection. Therefore, it isn't Christ's work of justification and redemption that has been completed. 

Then what is the "IT" that has been finished?  See Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 1:29; Hebrews 10:4-10, and CCC 1964.  When John first saw Jesus he said "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."  The Old Covenant was imperfect because no animal offered for sacrifice would be perfect enough to completely remove sin (CCC 1962-64). Every imperfect Old Covenant animal of sacrifice only foreshadowed the true Lamb who would be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin.  This is the New Covenant that God promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34 when God said:  I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.  What is it that must be finished or fulfilled that Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:17-18?  The 4th Cup has been consumed.  It was the 4th cup, the Cup of Acceptance, that closed and ratified the Sinai Covenant for another year at the end of the sacred meal of the Passover victim.  But Jesus and those assembled did not drink the 4th cup—it was the drink Jesus took from the altar of the Cross and the "cup of God's wrath" He prayed about in His agony at Gethsemane. 

The Old Passover liturgy, which began on Thursday in the Temple with the last imperfect Old Covenant communal lamb of sacrifice of the liturgy of worship in the daily Tamid lamb, which continued in the imperfect sacrifice of the thousands of Passover lambs and goat kids that was celebrated by Jesus and His disciples in the sacrificial meal of the Passover victim in the Upper Room, has ended and the perfected New Passover in Christ and the perfected sacrifice of the Eucharistic meal has begun!  In the first Passover God redeemed His people from slavery to a foreign power.  Now God has brought about the New Passover in which Christ our Passover Lamb has delivered the people from slavery to sin and death.  On Resurrection Sunday, man was no longer a slave to sin and death, because sin and death no longer have power over men and women who embraced the Risen Lord as the promised Redeemer-Messiah.  It is the Old Covenant that is fulfilled in the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb: Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to complete [fulfill] them (Matthew 5:17). It is now 3 PM and Jesus has suffered on the cross 7 hours on the Cross as the ancients counted from the third to the ninth hours Jewish time (9 AM to 3 PM = Mark 15:25 and Matthew 27:46, 50); one hour for each of the seven days of the old Creation event and for each of the seven Old Testament covenants that He fulfilled on the sixth day of the week on which man was created (Gen 1:26, 31)!  See the chart on Yahweh's Eight Covenants.  Resurrection Sunday will be the beginning of a New Creation (Rev 21:5-7).

And in that fulfillment we celebrate that precious Body that hung upon the altar of the Cross as St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7~ For our Passover had been sacrificed, that is, Christ; let us keep the feast...  Jesus must be consumed if He is the Passover Lamb of the New Covenant.  We must feast on Jesus who is the Living Bread from heaven and the better wine of the New Covenant wedding feast, hidden under the form and appearance of unleavened bread and red wine, which becomes for us nothing less than the Resurrected Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity!

On the cross when Jesus drank the wine and said the last words of the Passover meal, He took the 4th Cup of Acceptance.  It was a cup of suffering that He accepted in obedience to the Father, and He drank the last drop of that suffering as He willingly gave up His spirit. All New Covenant believers, past, present, and future take the 4th Cup of Acceptance when, in obedience to the will of God, we follow His commandment to take up our own crosses and follow the Savior: "The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross.  There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle" (CCC # 2015; also see Mt 10:3; 8; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23 and 14:27).

It is what Jesus said to James and John Zebedee in Matthew 20:20-23 when He asked them: Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?  When they replied that they could Jesus' response, which must have been given with much tenderness, was: "My cup you will indeed drink..."  The brothers did indeed "drink the cup" in faith and obedience.  James was martyred in about the year 42 AD and John valiantly "carried his cross" for Christ until his death when he was a very old man.

St. Polycarp, disciple of the beloved St. John, and Bishop of Smyrna spoke of this same "cup" when facing martyrdom in his 86th year prayed: "O Lord God almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before You, I give you thanks that You have counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should be counted in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life..."  (Jurgens, The Fathers of the Church, vol. I, page 73).

...and bowing his head, he handed over his spirit.  The last breath Jesus took was the first moment of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit!  This was His second gift to the Church from the altar of the cross.  The inspired writers of the Synoptic Gospels recorded that it was about the ninth hour, or 3 PM (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Lk 23:44).

In the Temple, the second Tamid Lamb had been sacrificed to Yahweh at 3 PM.  The Jewish priest-historian, Flavius Josephus wrote about the afternoon sacrifice of the Tamid lamb"...the priests ... twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour [3 PM], offer their sacrifices on the altar" (Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.3)Then the blood of the lamb was poured out at the base of the altar, and its body was laid on the altar fire in the courtyard.  As this was taking place in the courtyard, inside the Sanctuary the High Priest or his representative burned the sacred incense on the Golden Altar of Incense that stood in front of the curtain that covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies—the sacred space that represented the presence of God among His people.

 It was at this moment that Jesus breathed out His Spirit.  He was the true Passover sacrifice of and the true single sacrifice of the two lambs of the Tamid sacrifice.  For centuries the Jews had been commanded, since the time of the Sinai Covenant, to sacrifice perpetually two perfect male lambs.  The first lamb sacrificed at 9 AM and the second at 3 PM.  The Passover victim did not have to be a lamb; it could be a kid or a lamb (Ex 12:5).  The Tamid was the only communal sacrifice that had to be a single, perfect male lamb: one offered in the morning and the second in the afternoon.  Now Jesus, perfect in two ways, perfect in His humanity and perfect in His divinity took His rightful place as the true Standing [as in perpetual] Sacrifice.  In the late 1st century AD this is the way St. John saw Christ in the heavenly court presenting Himself before the throne of God in Revelation 5:5-6 ...but one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep.  Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed, and so he will open the scroll and its seven seals.'  Then I saw, in the middle of the throne with its four living creatures and the circle of elders, a Lamb standing that seemed to have been sacrificed... (NJB).  A sacrificed lamb doesn't "stand" but Jesus stands continually before the throne of God as the true perpetual [tamid means "standing" as in continual or perpetual] sacrifice; the on-going application of His full and complete sacrifice on the altar of the cross, offering Himself perpetually until the end of time as we known it, at the altar of the Heavenly Sanctuary for the sins of man.

John 19:31-37 ~ Blood and Water
31 Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the Sabbath, for the Sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and that they be taken down.  32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus.  33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, 34 but one soldier thrust his lance into his side and immediately blood and water flowed out.  35 An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.  36 For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: "Not a bone of it will be broken."  And again another passage says: "They will look upon him whom they have pierced."
Notice how John has clarified the term "Day of Preparation" to mean the day before the Sabbath (Saturday).  This statement should eliminate the confusion about the designation of that term in John 19:14.  St. John has also identified the day of Jesus' crucifixion as Friday, the 6th day of the week.  On the day of the week in Creation when man was created (Gen 1:26-31), Jesus suffered on the cross and died for the sins of man (Mt 27:62; Mk 15:42; Lk 23:54-56). 

In the afternoon, the Jewish "evening" since the day ended at sundown, Jesus was taken down from the cross before sundown which became the Jewish Sabbath, since that Sabbath was a solemn one...  The Sabbath of Passover week was, in Jesus' time, declared to be a Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath.  "Preparation day" refers to the day being the sixth day of the week and the day to prepare for the Sabbath that will begin at sundown (Mt 15:42; Lk 23:54; Jn 19:14 where it is often misunderstood as meaning preparation for the Passover sacrifice which had already taken place a day earlier).

33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, 34 but one soldier thrust his lance into his side
According to Jewish Law bodies had to be buried before sundown and there was a law specifically pertaining to someone "hung on a tree" (Dt 21:22-23).  The Romans complied with this Jewish law and it was a Roman custom to hasten death of a crucifixion victim by breaking of the victim's legs so that taking a breath by pushing against the foot support was no longer possible, causing shock followed by suffocation and death.  It was for this reason that crucifixion was also known to the Romans as "broken legs" [Cicero, Philippicae XIII.12 (27)]. 

and immediately blood and water flowed out.  35 An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe.  36 For this happened so that the Scripture passage might be fulfilled: "Not a bone of it will be broken."  And again another passage says: "They will look upon him whom they have pierced."
This passage confirms #1: that Jesus was truly flesh and blood; #2:  that He truly died; #3: that the inspired writer was an eyewitness to these recorded events.

That the Romans did not break Jesus' legs fulfills the prophecy in Psalm 34:19-20 ~ Though hardships without number beset the upright, Yahweh brings rescue from them all.  Yahweh takes care of all their bones, not one of them will be broken (NJB).  That Jesus' bones were not broken is the 6th symbolic element of John's account.  That prophecy was fulfilled and the requirements concerning the Passover victim were kept in that Jesus' legs were not broken: Yahweh said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ritual for the Passover:...  It must be eaten in one house alone; you will not take any of the meat out of the house; nor may you break any of its bones" (Ex 12:43-46 NJB).  This is another symbolic connection between the flesh of the Passover victim that had to be eaten and the flesh of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb whose flesh must be eaten in order to "celebrate the feast" (see 1 Cor 5:7).

But there is a second Old Testament passage that St. John quotes: They will look to the one whom they have pierced.  This is a passage from the prophet Zechariah 12:10-22; 13:1, writing in approximately 480 BC: But over the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem I shall pour out a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look to me.  They will mourn for the one whom they have pierced as though for an only child, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child.  When that day comes, the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad Rimmon in the Plain of Megiddo (Zec 12:10-11 NJB).   Zechariah, writing over 400 years before the birth of Jesus, prophesied that the death of a messiah-like figure would open a fountain of salvation: When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to wash sin and impurity away (Zec 13:1 NJB)This prophecy was fulfilled in the sacrificial death of Jesus of Nazareth when the piercing of Jesus, a descendant of the great King David, was the opening of the fountain of Divine Mercy!  This prophecy is related to John's 7th symbolic element: the outpouring of the blood and the water from the side of Jesus:...and immediately blood and water flowed out (Jn 19:34b).

Jesus' first gift from the cross was His mother; the second was His last breath, which was the first moment of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  His third gift was the water and blood—the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist through which the Church is born and also nourished.  It is the fulfillment of Jesus' statement at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:38 when He cried out to the worshipers in the Temple: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!  Let anyone who believes in me come and drink.  The breaking open of His heart and the outpouring of water and blood symbolize the revelation of the Old Testament in the light of the Gospel of salvation in the New Covenant.  The Old Covenant offered temporary salvation through the blood of animal sacrifice, but the New Covenant gave rebirth through water and the Spirit that is the way to salvation in the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God (see Lk 24:25-27 and 44-48).

The symbolic significance of this last gift and its connection to Old Testament symbolism is found in Genesis 2:21-23; Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-11:

  1. The Fathers of the Church interpreted the flow of the water and the blood as the birth of the Bride of Christ from the side of Jesus who was in a sleep of death, just as God took the bride from Adam's side as he was in a death-like sleep (Genesis 2:21-23).  The first Adam failed to sacrifice his life for his bride when she was tempted by Satan, but Jesus, the new Adam, sacrificed His life on the cross so that His Covenant Bride, the Church, would live.  It is in the water and the blood that Christ's Bride is united with Him: in the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist (Ephesians 5:23-32).  St. Augustine eloquently wrote about the significant of this moment in salvation history: "Here was opened wide the door of life, from which the sacraments of the Church have flowed out, without which there is no entering in unto life which is true life. [...] Here the second Adam with bowed head slept upon the cross, that thence a wife might be formed of him, flowing from his side while he slept.  O death, by which the dead come back to life! Is there anything purer than this blood, any wound more healing!" (The Gospel of John, 120.2).
  2. St. Paul connects the water supernaturally flowing from the Rock, which nurtured the Children of Israel in their wilderness journey, with the spiritual drink that flows from Christ in the Eucharist as Jesus promised in John 7:38 and as the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah prophesized in Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Zechariah 14:8.  The Old Testament event is recounted in Exodus 17:1-7 and a separate episode of supernatural water flowing from the Rock in Numbers 20:11.  St. Paul identified "the Rock" of Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 as Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5.  The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible offers the information that in the Aramaic translation of the Numbers passage that both blood and water gushed forth from the Rock (see the Ignatius Study Bible: The Gospel of St John, page 54 quoting the Palestinian Targum on Numbers 20:11).  The "Rock" that gave physical life to the Children of Israel now gives supernatural life to the New Israel, the Universal Church (also see Deuteronomy 32 the Song of Moses or the Son of Witness in the New Jerusalem translation in which Yahweh is given the title Rock 5 times).
  3. Church Fathers and theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas also saw the breaking open of Jesus' heart and the resulting flow of blood and water as a symbol of the breaking open of the word of God in Sacred Scripture.  The prophecies of the Old Testament and the rites of animal blood sacrifice are fulfilled in Christ.  Jesus' sacrifice opens the way open for believers to come to Him through the Gospel of salvation and to experience rebirth into the New Covenant through baptism by water and the Spirit.

All of these interpretations are in accord and reflect the fullness of Christ's perfect sacrifice.  In this descriptive passage St. John wants the readers and hearers of his Gospel to understand that the blood, a symbol of the sacrifice, shows that the Lamb of God has truly been sacrificed for the salvation of the world, and he wants the faithful to understand that the water, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, shows that the sacrifice is a rich source of grace.  It is what Jesus promised at the Feast of Tabernacles, about six months before His crucifixion, when He cried out: "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me!  Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!  As scripture says, 'from his heart shall flow streams of living water'" (Jn 7:37-38).  

John identified three elements coming from the dead body of the Savior in 19:30 and 34: His Spirit, water, and blood.  St. John writes about these three elements that came from Jesus' dead body as three witnesses in 1 John 5:7: So there are three witnesses, the Spirit, water and blood; and the three of them coincide.   These three testimonies converge: blood and water join with the Spirit to bear witness to the origin, the mission, and the sacrifice of the Son who gives life!

John 19:38-45 ~ Jesus taken down from the Cross and is buried
38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus.  And Pilate permitted it.  So he came and took his body.  39 Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.  40 They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.  41 Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. 42 So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.
After Jesus' death, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus (John 3:1, 4, 9, 7:50), both members of the Sanhedrin, bravely came forward to ask Pilate for the Master's body.  St. Mark records that Pilate was astonished when he heard that Jesus had died so soon, and he even questioned the centurion in charge of the execution (Mk 15:44).  Nicodemus, a wealthy man, provided an extremely expensive mixture of herbs and spices, an equivalent of about 75 pounds.  They would not have washed His body since according to Jewish customs the blood must accompany the body in burial.  They also had to prepare Jesus' body hastily because at sundown the Sabbath began and according to the Sabbath law of rest they could not continue until after the Sabbath.  It is interesting that the blood-splattered image of the crucified man on the linen shroud known as the "Shroud of Turin" had not been bathed but had been covered with herbs, resins, and spices in preparation for burial (myrrh is a resin).

Some scholars dispute the historical accuracy of this episode.  They contend that Pilate would not have released the body of a criminal, and Jesus' body would have been thrown into a common grave.  However, Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the 3rd century wrote: "The bodies of those who are capitally punished cannot be denied to their relatives.  At this day, however, the bodies of those who are executed are buried only in case permission is asked and granted; and sometimes permission is not given, especially in the cases of those who are punished for high treason.  The bodies of the executed are to be given for burial to anyone who asks for them" (Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, page 289).  Given Pilate's reluctance to execute Jesus, it is perfectly understandable that he would be inclined to release Jesus' body since it was within his power to do so, according to custom.

The plural "linen wrappings" indicates a burial shroud as well as a soudarion or napkin used to cover the face of a dead person.  The Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be the burial cloth of Christ, is about 14 feet long and less than 4 feet wide.  A soudarion, which is believed to be the napkin placed over Jesus' face when He was removed from the cross, is in the possession of the Vatican.  The blood type on the Shroud of Turin and the Soudarion are both AB+. 

Only St. John's Gospel notes that the tomb where Jesus' body was placed was in a garden.  The garden is identified as being very near the site of execution which agrees with the location of the sites of Calvary and the tomb, both within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Church fathers have written movingly of the mystical connection between the Son of God's burial in a garden after having victoriously redeemed mankind from that first sin which was committed in a garden (Gen 2:8).  Jesus' disciples will have to wait until the Sabbath has ended when they can return on the first day of the week, on the Jewish Feast of Firstfruits, to finish preparing Jesus' body for burial.

Catechism references:

52:13 - 53:12 (CCC 713); 53:1 (CCC 591); 53:4-6 (CCC 1505); 53:4 (CCC 517, 1505); 53:7-8 (CCC 601); 53:7 (CCC 608); 53:8 (CCC 627); 53:10-12 (CCC 440, 615); 53:10 (CCC 623); 53:11-12 (CCC 601); 53:11 (CCC 64, 579, 601, 623, 1502); 53:12 (CCC 536, 608)
4:14-15 (CCC 1137); 4:15 (CCC 467, 540, 609, 612, 2602); 4:16 (CCC 2778); 5:7-9 (CCC 609, 2606); 5:7-8 (CCC 612, 1009); 5:7 (CCC 2741); 5:8 (CCC 2825); 5:9 (CCC 617)

18:4-6 (CCC 609); 18:11 (CCC 607); 18:12 (CCC 575); 18:20 (CCC 586); 18:31 (CCC 596); 18:36 (CCC 549, 600); 18:37 (CCC 217, 559, 2471); 19:11 (CCC 600); 19:12-15 (CCC 596); 19:19-22 (CCC 440); 19:21 (CCC 596); 19:25-27 (CCC 726, 2618); 19:25 (CCC 495); 19:26-27 (CCC 501, 964, 2605); 19:27 (CCC2677, 2679); 19:28 (CCC 544, 607, 2561, 2605); 19:30 (CCC 607, 624, 730, 2605); 19:31 (CCC 641); 19:34 (CCC 478, 694, 1225); 19:36 (CCC 608); 19:37 (CCC 1432); 19:38-39 (CCC 595); 19:38 (CCC 575); 19:42 (CCC 624, 641)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016