Summary: John 19:31-42 deals with the transition from the cross to the tomb. Two groups are involved here: the Roman soldiers, and two friendly Jewish leaders who have come to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The Burial of Jesus:
Intro: Everything about the arrest, trials, beatings, death, and burial of Jesus was a continuous departure from proper protocols and basic fairness. The only reason this worked is that Jesus permitted all of it to happen to him because he willingly laid down his life as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We’ve already looked at the various Old Testament prophecies Jesus fulfilled from Isaiah 49-53. This reveals the fact that every aspect of Messianic prophecy was in line with the events John describes here in his gospel. And now, as we observe the transition from the cross to the grave, we see more amazing fulfilling of prophecies to prove the point that all of this was predicted in amazing detail.
These 12 verses cover the work of two different groups of people to bring about the transition from cross to tomb. The first group is that of the Roman Soldiers and how they treated the lifeless body of Jesus. The second group includes two Jewish leaders who came forward to take a stand for Jesus in spite of the possible danger to themselves from the Pharisees. These two men asked for and were given the body of Jesus to bury in a nearby empty tomb.
1. The Roman Soldiers:
Since crucifixions often lasted for multiple days, it was not common to crucify anyone on the day before Sabbath, especially before a high holy day such as Passover. For the Jews to demand crucifixion on a day like this was to depart from all proper protocol, but they were in such a frenzied state of mind they broke all their own laws and traditions. These same men who condemned Jesus as a Sabbath breaker were breaking their own laws in a frenzied passion to do away with the Galilean. They forced the hand of Pilate who wanted desperately to release Jesus who he could clearly see was an innocent man.
But now, these same Jewish leaders realized the mistake they had made in demanding crucifixion right before a high feast. So they returned to Pilate to beg him to end the crucifixion event post haste by breaking the legs of the condemned men. This too was a departure from crucifixion protocol. The longer a sufferer stayed on the cross, the more of a deterrent it became for the local people who witnessed such torture. Most crucifixion victims lived for days on their cross. The fact that Jesus was only on the cross for 3 hours before he died was unusual, though possibly a predictable outcome of the severe beating he received before being nailed to the cross. The timing of Jesus death on the cross is another example of fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus was hanging on the cross at the exact time of the slaughter of the Paschal lambs in the temple. In fact, it is possible the bleating of the dying lambs could be heard at Golgotha because of its close proximity to the temple mount.
After the Jewish leaders asked Pilate to hasten the end of the crucifixion, the scene changes to the soldiers standing around the cross. They obeyed their orders and came forward to break the legs of the crucifixion victims. But when they came to Jesus it was obvious to them that Jesus was already dead. Therefore, they did not break his legs to hasten his death. This too was a fulfilling of prophecy as well as the protocol of preparation of Passover lambs who were not to have their bones broken. Exodus 12:46 gave instructions for preparation of Passover lambs including prohibition of breaking bones in the lamb, and the pouring of blood as a sign of grace on the night of the lamb’s death.
Though the soldiers did not break Jesus legs, a soldier pierced Jesus’ side with the tip of a spear. This was also the fulfilling of a prophecy from Zech. 12:10. We’re not clear why this piercing was done, but it might have been a way to make certain that Jesus was indeed dead. Roman soldiers were expert in the art of killing people so they were unlikely to mistakenly allow him to come off the cross alive.
Furthermore, John, who wrote this account was an eyewitness to testify that Jesus was obviously dead. The blood and water coming out of Jesus’ side may have been a miracle, but the fact that it did not gush forth in spurts was a testimony to the fact that the heart was no longer beating. Many years later, some in the second century assumed that Jesus hadn’t really died. In fact, liberals came out with what they called the “Swoon Theory” assuming that Jesus revived in the coolness of the tomb. But this is John’s way of making it clear that Jesus body was physically DEAD!