And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
It is very interesting to note the way in which the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in each of the four Gospels. In the Old Testament ritual there were four bloody offerings that the people of Israel were commanded to bring to God, and each of these presented the work of the cross from a different standpoint. When you turn to the opening chapters of Leviticus you read of the burnt offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering. There is also the meal offering, but the meal offering was not a blood offering. It consisted of the presentation of certain cakes of fine flour and oil before God. It typified the perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, that comes out in all the four Gospels. As you trace the footsteps of the blessed Lord through this scene, as pictured for us by the four different writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you see in Jesus absolute perfection. He was the only Man who ever trod this earth who never had one word to take back, never had one sin to confess. His was a life in which there was nothing to be repented of—the Man Christ Jesus, God’s perfect, spotless Son, of whom He could say, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I have found all My delight.”
The meal offering tells of the character of Jesus, and emphasizes the fact that He had to be who He was in order to do what He did. No other could have taken His place, no other could have made atonement of our sins, but the offerings in which blood was shed pictured the work of the cross in four different aspects. The burnt offering presented the Lord Jesus dying to glorify God in the scene where He had been so terribly dishonored.
In John’s gospel we get this thought in His words as He was going out to die: “But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). He took the way to the cross, and in the cross through His sacrificial death God has received more glory than He ever lost by Adam’s fall and by all the sin that has come into the world since. So that we may say that if not one human soul were ever saved as a result of the death of the Lord Jesus, still God’s character has been vindicated, God’s majesty has been sustained, God has been fully glorified.
But in the other three Gospels we have the offerings that have to do more particularly with man and his sin. The peace offering presents Christ making peace by the blood of His cross. That is the way Christ is shown in Luke’s gospel. The sin offering presents the Lord Jesus Christ as being made sin for us, who died not simply for what we have done but for what we are. Our doings only manifest our true character as sinners. As has been said often, I am not a sinner because I sin, but I sin because I am a sinner. Therefore, the sin offering is not merely for the acts that I have done, but because of an evil, corrupt nature that unfits me for fellowship with God. So, “he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). That is the way the work of the cross is presented in Mark’s gospel. But there is something more.
The Lord Jesus not only died for our sin, but He died for our sins. Our actual guilt had to be atoned for. He had to make up to the divine majesty for the wrong that we have done, and that is the trespass offering. It is that which is set forth in Matthew’s gospel.
So, then, here in the record given us by John it is particularly the burnt offering of our Lord, dying to glorify the Father, that is set forth, and that explains why the three hours of darkness are not mentioned here. God’s Word is written with marvelous precision. In the other Gospels we have those three dark hours in which the soul of the Lord Jesus was made an offering for sin, and we hear His awful cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). The answer to that cry is that He was forsaken that we might not be forsaken. He took my place,
For man—oh, miracle of grace!—
For man the Saviour died.
But that cry of anguish is not recorded in John’s gospel. We simply see the blessed Lord in perfect subjection to the will of His Father yielding Himself without spot to God in His death upon the tree.
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull” (John 19:17). Many think that to be the little skull-shaped hill outside the Damascus Gate. Those of us who have been in Jerusalem and have stood on or beside that hill have found our hearts more deeply moved perhaps than by any other scene, unless it be indeed the Garden tomb on the side of the knoll. It was on that skull-shaped hill that, as many Protestant scholars believe, our Lord Jesus Christ died for us. “The place of a skull,… where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst” (vv. 17-18). It had been written in Isaiah 53:12: “He was numbered with the transgressors,” and so we see Him on that central cross in the midst of transgressors. Two thieves crucified with Him—He in the center, as though of them all He was the worst! That is the chief sinner’s place.
“And Pilate wrote a title,… JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). The charge that the high priests of Jerusalem had made against Him was that He declared Himself to be King of the Jews. Pilate had asked Him, “Art thou the King of the Jews?” (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33). It was necessary that Pilate, as the one who condemned Jesus to die, should make out a placard that should indicate the crime of which the crucified one was guilty. And so he wrote on this placard, “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” He wrote it in Hebrew, the language of religion; in Greek, the language of culture; and in Latin, the language of government. The charge against Jesus was: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” That was meant to say, “He is being crucified as a rebel, as an insurrectionist against the Roman Government.” Pilate did not believe that for one moment, as we saw very clearly in the previous chapter, but on his part it was an ironical, sardonic thing. He wanted to taunt these chief priests and scribes who had hounded him until at last he had condemned an innocent Man to death.
It is remarkable how the cross of Christ brings out all that is in the heart of man, shows men up as they really are. In the light of that cross Pilate comes before us in all his cynicism and his lack of conscience. In the light of that cross the chief priests were manifested in all their hypocrisy and bitterness and hatred of the holy, spotless Son of God. And as we follow the story in the light of that cross, we see the callousness, indifference, greed, and covetousness of the soldiers who were gambling for the clothing of the crucified One at the foot of the cross. But, thank God, we see brought out in beautiful relief the loyalty, the faithfulness, the tender love of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the other women, her companions, who had been blessed through the ministry of Christ, and also the fealty of his devoted follower, the apostle John, the author of this book. Where were the other apostles? They had fulfilled the Word that said, “They all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50). But John was there at the cross. Mary, the mother, was there, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the wife of Cleophas, were there, looking on with loving eyes and breaking hearts as they saw the Savior dying on that tree to glorify the Father and to save a guilty world.
And so Pilate designates Him as King of the Jews, and some day it will be found that the title Pilate put over the cross was more true than he or the world realized. For this One who has gone to His Father’s throne in heaven will return again. When He returns He will be welcomed by some from that very people who rejected Him, for a remnant in Jerusalem will be found whose hearts will be won for Him, the Messiah. We are told that “they shall look upon [him] whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). They will recognize Him when He comes again as the true King of the Jews, “great David’s greater Son,” who will fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies and bring in that righteous kingdom so long predicted.
But when Pilate wrote this title—THE KING OF THE JEWS—it stirred the chief priests to indignation, and they came to him and said, “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews” (John 19:21). But Pilate, looking at them with a hard, sardonic kind of smile, says, “What I have written I have written” (v. 22). As much as to say, “You forced me long enough, I’ll go no further with you. That placard remains just as I have written it.”
So He died, a King crucified,
To save a poor sinner like me.
But notice, though Pilate put over His head the placard that designated His supposed crime—that He made Himself the King of the Jews—actually God saw another placard over that cross. That other placard was unseen by mortal eyes. It is referred to in Colossians 2:13-17: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”
What is the apostle Paul telling us here? Man was guilty before God, violating that holy law that He gave at Sinai, “For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). But there upon that cross Jesus is seen taking the lawbreaker’s place, and God sees, nailed on that cross, those ten ordinances given at Sinai—the law that God gave upon that mount, the law that was just and good, but which man had violated. Because of the transgression of that law Jesus died. But had He violated it? No! That law was against us because we were the lawbreakers, but Jesus upon that cross died under the judgment of that broken law. Because of what He endured when He took my place in judgment, God can now say to me: “You go free,” and through faith in His blessed Son I am justified from all things. And so we who believe are
Free from the law! Oh, happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission,
Curs’d by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
But now we pass on with this most wonderful story that ever was written. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his [tunic]: now the [tunic] was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be” (John 19:23-24). They had no idea when they said this, when they gambled for His clothing, when they determined not to tear the tunic in four places that every one should have a part, that they were actually fulfilling a prophetic utterance made a thousand years before in Psalm 22:18: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” “These things therefore the soldiers did” (John 19:24).
Psalm 22 is a prophecy of the sufferings of our Savior on that cross and of the glories that should follow. When we turn back to it we see it begins with His cry of distress, and it closes with a shout of triumph. It pictures the Savior suspended on that cross—“I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Ps. 22:17-18). And then in that hour of darkness He cries, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; see also Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), for with these words the psalm begins. Then it goes on, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel… But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Ps. 22:3, 6). It tells of the place He took in lowly grace for our redemption.
The figure He uses is a very striking thing! “A worm,” was the tola, a little insect like the cochineal found in Mexico. From the blood of the crushed cochineal we get a beautiful crimson dye. In the same way, from the tola was made a scarlet dye with which the great ones of this world colored their garments. Jesus was practically saying, “I am like the tola. I am to be crushed to death that others may be robed in glory.” So we see Him on that cross, bleeding and dying for our sins. But as we read on in Psalm 22 we come to the last verse where, in our Authorized Version, we get this, “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (v. 31). But in a more literal translation you find it reads, “They shall declare that it is finished.” So the psalm begins with the cry of distress, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and ends with the cry of triumph, “It is finished.”
Continuing in our chapter, we read: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19:25-27). We scarcely know which to admire most— the faithfulness, the devotedness of these dear women, and the beloved young disciple, or the tender, compassionate love of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ and His consideration for the dear mother that bore Him. He recalls the prophecy, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35). He knows that sword is indeed piercing her mother heart as she sees her Son suffering in such awful agony hanging there upon the nails, and He would have her know that He is concerned about her and anxious to relieve her agonies. So He points her to John and says, “Behold thy son!” and to John He says, “Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” During the last of her sojourn here on earth, John became to her as a tender, loving son, and she to him as a loving mother.
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (v. 28). He knew that all things up to that present moment had been accomplished, but there was one Scripture yet to be fulfilled. That was found in Psalm 69:21: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” That Sixty-ninth Psalm also portrays Him as the Sufferer upon the cross, and so that that prophecy might not go unfulfilled, Jesus cried, “I thirst.” “Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth” (John 19:29). That vinegar told out all the malice and hatred of man’s heart, but Jesus took the vinegar at the hand of the soldier and drank it. A little earlier He had refused the wormwood and gall, for that typified the wrath of God, and He would take that only from the hand of His Father. Man had no right to press that cup to His lips.
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (v. 30). “It is finished!”—three words in our English Bible, only one in the Greek Testament. “Tetelestai!”—that was His cry of triumph. He had finished the work the Father gave Him to do. He had glorified God to the full in the place where He had been so terribly dishonored, and now because of that finished work God can “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
And so the message of the gospel that goes out to all men everywhere today is this: “The work that saves is finished! Jesus did it all upon the cross.”
Have you met with God at the foot of that cross where full settlement was made for sin? When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He bowed His head and gave up the ghost. He did not die from exhaustion. He dismissed His spirit. We cannot do that. How many suffering ones have wished that they might. But when Jesus settled the sin question, when He had drunk the cup of judgment, when He had glorified God in the putting away of sin, He cried, “It is finished,” and He dismissed His spirit. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). His spirit went to Paradise. The precious body of the Redeemer hung there upon the cross, soon to be quickened into new life on the day of His glorious resurrection.
Do you know this blessed Savior? Have you trusted Him for yourself? Oh, if you have not trusted Him, I plead with you, bow now at the foot of that cross, confess yourself a sinner, tell Him that you will put your heart’s confidence in Him who died to redeem you, and go forth to own Him henceforth as your Lord and Master as well as your Savior.