The Gospel of John: a commentary & meditation 
"Not a bone of him shall be broken"

Scripture: John 19:31-37

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high  day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that  they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; 33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth -- that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of him shall be broken." 37 And again another scripture says, "They shall look on him whom they have pierced."

Meditation: The Jews showed more mercy than the Romans in their treatment of criminals who suffered the death penalty. It was Roman practice to leave a crucified man on the cross until he died. It was not unusual for a man to hang for days on the cross before he expired. And after he died he was not given a burial, but the body was left exposed for the vultures and dogs to feed upon. The law of Moses, however, treated crucifixion differently:  "And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day" (Deut.21:22-23). On this occasion it was even more important that the bodies be buried before evening since the Sabbath of the Passover was about to begin. The Jewish leaders had the Romans break the legs of crucified Jews at the end of the day to ensure that they could be buried before sundown.  Fortunately for Jesus, he was spared this further indignity since he had already expired by mid-afternoon.

John sees a prophetic fulfillment in the fact that none of Jesus' bones were broken. The law of Moses stated that the lamb sacrificed for the Passover feast must not have any bones broken. "They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute for the passover they shall keep it." (Numbers 9:12).  Jesus is the true Passover Lamb who delivers his people from death and who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Although Jesus' bones were not broken, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance to make doubly sure he was dead.  John sees a prophetic sign in the water and blood that flowed from Jesus' side. ""And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they  look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over  a first-born." (Zechariah 10:12)  What is the significance of the water and blood flowing from Jesus' pierced side?  It is likely that John saw in it a sign of the waters of baptism which cleanses us from sin and the cleansing blood of the Lord's Supper. "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:20)

"The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the prize for our freedom" (Abbot Rupert of Deutz, early 12th century). The Cross of Christ is the safeguard of our faith, the assurance of our hope, and the throne of love.  It is also the sign of God's mercy and the proof of forgiveness.  By his cross Jesus has redeemed our sin and atoned for our punishment.  The way to peace, joy, and righteousness in the kingdom of God and the way to victory over sin, despair, and death is through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Do you willingly follow Jesus in his way of the cross with joy, hope, and confidence?

"Lord Jesus Christ, by your death on the cross you have won pardon for us and freedom from the tyranny of sin and death. May I live in the joy and freedom of your victory over sin and death."

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(c) 2001 Don Schwager