John (Part 69): From Cross to Grave (ch 19)
After receiving the drink, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” The statement again echoes Psalm 22. John’s crucifixion scene, in fact, seems to follow the two-fold theme of the psalm—shame and triumph in purpose. The psalm speaks of descendants serving Christ, telling a people yet to be born that it is accomplished—salvation is accomplished—it is finished!
The evening was approaching, and that particular evening began the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread—a high day or Sabbath. The Jews did not want to touch a dead body after sundown because it would make them ceremonially unclean, disallowing them from eating the Passover (Nu 19:11). Therefore, they asked Pilate to have the men’s legs broken, which would hasten death. (Breathing while hanging on a cross was accomplished by pushing up with your legs to allow your chest to expand to take in air.) The soldiers broke the legs of the two men on either side of Jesus, but when they came to Jesus, they found him already dead. To make sure, one soldier stabbed him in the side with his spear. Blood and water gushed out. John mentions that these events took place because of the biblical prophecy that none of his bones would be broken (Ps 34:20) and that he would be pierced (Zech 12:10). But John also takes the time to insist to his readers that this spear-stabbing and blood/water release actually took place. It sounds as if John expected his readers to find this hard to believe. John’s insistence, I think, has to do with the fact that he recognized both blood and water coming out—almost as if there were two streams. A mixture of the two would present itself simply as blood. But John sees and mentions the water as well. The picture is what occurred earlier at the Feast of Tabernacles. At that feast, the priests pour wine and water from separate pitchers on separate corners of the altar, representing the Spirit providing for them and bringing them safely to the Promised Land. And that is the picture here at the cross. Through Jesus, we have been brought safely to God.
Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who was a disciple of Jesus, asked Pilate for the body, which was granted to him. Joseph represents the rich in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9: “They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man at His death.” Although “rich” is singular in the Hebrew, it doesn’t actually have the word “man.” The symbolism is the same as we saw in Psalm 22 and in John’s crucifixion scene: there is shame but yet the purpose for his death was the riches of the inheritance that he would provide.
Nicodemus (the Pharisee mentioned in chapter 3) works with Joseph in the burial. They prepare Jesus’s body with 75 pounds of spices—about four times as much as normal and twice as much as even an honored rabbi would be given.
The text tells us that a garden is there. A garden is not necessarily a plot of land to grow vegetables. Gethsemane’s orchard was called a garden. Any area that was tended was a garden. Here by Golgotha (the Place of the Skull—so called probably because it was a graveyard) appears to be a tended area. Later, Mary Magdalene would mistake Jesus for a gardener—the caretaker of this area.
The tomb here is fairly elaborate. It is basically a cave that is chiseled as needed to allow not only the placement of a single body, but allowing entrance with the possibility of more than one body. A family tomb housed several, each on its own rock ledge. Thus, while they could look into the tomb from the entrance, there was room to also step inside. Jesus was placed here as a temporary measure—until the holy day of the Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath would be complete. The plan may have been to take him back to Nazareth later. And yet it may have been that Joseph was intending that Jesus would stay there in his tomb for the normal first year while the flesh decomposed. When only the bones were left, they would be placed in an ossuary—a smaller burial box, normally labeled as we would label gravestones.
And so it is in this tomb that Jesus is placed with a stone carved as a wheel to be rolled in front of the entrance securing the tomb.