John 19 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of John 19)
2. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,

[Platted a crown of thorns, &c.] A most unquestionable token this, that Christ's kingdom was not of this world, when he was crowned only with thorns and briers, which were the curse of this earth, Genesis 3:18. Herod had put upon him a purple robe, Luke 23:11; and the soldiers added this crown. It is likewise said, that they also clothed him with this robe, that is, after he had been stripped, in order to be scourged.

13. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabatha.

[In a place that is called the Pavement.] What is it could be objected against it, should we say, that the evangelist, by this title of the Pavement, should mean the room Gazith, where the Sanhedrim sat? and that, when the Jews would not go into Pilate's judgment hall, he would himself go into theirs?

Aristeas tells us concerning the Temple, "that it looked towards the east, the back parts of it towards the west; but the floor was all paved with stone." To this the Talmudists all witness; and to the Pavement especially Josephus by a memorable story: "One Julian, a centurion in Titus' army, pursuing and killing the Jews with infinite hardness and strength, in the very court of the Temple, having many and very sharp nails fastened to the bottom of his shoes, as every other soldier had, and running along upon the pavement, his heels tripped up, and he fell backward," &c.

But had not the room Gazith a pavement laid in a more than ordinary manner? Whence else had it its name? "It is called the room Gazith (saith Aruch), because it was paved with smooth square stone." Were not all the other places so too?

They distinguish between bricks, half bricks, squared hewn stones, and rough or unhewn. Now, therefore, when there were so many apartments about the courts, were those all paved with rough stone or bricks, and this only of square and hewn stone? Without doubt the whole building was much more uniform. And then we shall hardly find out any more probable reason why this place was particularly and above all other rooms called Gazith, but that it was laid with a more noble and rich pavement than all the rest. And, therefore, what should forbid that the Pavement, should not in this place be meant of the room Gazith?

Obj. But Gazith was in the holy place; and it was not lawful for Pilate, being a Gentile, to enter there.

Sol. I. If he would do it 'per fas et nefas' who could hinder him?

II. It is a question whether he could not sit in that room, and yet be within the bounds of the Court of the Gentiles, into which it was lawful for a Gentile to enter. Half of that room, indeed, was within the court of Israel; but there the fathers of the council themselves did not sit, because it was lawful for none to sit in that court but the king only. The other half part in which they sat was in Chel, and extended itself, as it should seem, into the Court of the Gentiles. For if Chel was but ten cubits' breadth within the walls, it would be much too narrow a room for seventy men to sit in, if the Gazith did not extend itself a little within the Court of the Gentiles.

[But in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.] The Syriac renders it by a mound or fence: which may fall in with what we have said: for Chel, which was part of this room, was the fence to all the courts, excepting the Court of the Gentiles.

That Gab, amongst other things, signifies a surface, doth not stand in need of much proof: and so the pavement and surface of the floor are convertible...What if that in Jerusalem Sanhedrim [fol. 18. 3.] should be rendered, the elders that sit in the upper 'Gab' in the Mount of the Temple. But we will not contend.

14. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!

[And it was, &c.] The preparation of the Passover; that is, of the Chagigah, as we have already noted at chapter 18:28; and more largely at Mark 14:12; where also we took notice of the following passage, About the sixth hour.

20. 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.

[In the Hebrew.] That is, in the Chaldee tongue, or the language of those Jews on the other side Euphrates [lingua Trans-euphratensium], as before at chapter 5.

22. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

[What I have written I have written.] this was a common way of speaking amongst the Rabbins. "A widow if she take" [or occupy] "the moveables" of her husband deceased for her own maintenance, What she takes she takes; i.e. that which she hath done stands good, and the moveables go to her.

"If any one shall say, I bind myself to offer an oblation out of the frying pan, and offers indeed something from a gridiron, and so on the contrary; that which he hath offered he hath offered." That is (and indeed it is frequently used amongst them), that which is done is done, and cannot be recalled.

"If the putting off the shoe of the husband's brother be before the spitting in his face, or the spitting in his face before the putting off the shoe, that which is done is done," and it stands good.

Pilate doth almost act the prophet as well as Caiaphas. What I have written [Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews] I have written, and it shall stand and obtain; nor shall they have any other king Messiah than this for ever.

23. 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 took his garments--and coat, &c.] By the word garments, we are to understand all his clothes, excepting his coat, or upper garment; for which, because it was without seam, they cast lots.

Targumist upon Psalm 22:18. They cast lots upon my sindon, or linen. Proverbs 31:24: that is, sindon, as it is the same with talith, the upper coat.

Matthew 5:40: "If any man will take away thy coat," or outward garment, "let him have thy inward garment also."

25. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

[There stood by the cross, &c.] He stood under the cross [or the gallows] and wept. It is told of R. Eliezer Ben R. Simeon, who, being very angry, had commanded a fuller to be hanged; but his wrath abating, and he coming to himself, went after him to have freed him, but could not; for they had hanged the man before he came. He therefore repeated that passage, "He that keepeth his lips and his tongue keepeth his soul from trouble. He stood under the gallows and wept," &c.

[Mary of Cleophas.] That is, 'Mary the wife of Cleophas,' or Alpheus. For,

I. Consult Mark 15:40: "There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses." Now it is well enough known that Alpheus was the father of James the less and of Joses, Matthew 10:3.

II. We very oftentimes meet with the name amongst the Talmudists, which, in the reading, may be turned either into Alphai or Cleophi.

26. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

[Woman, behold thy son!] I. "The widow is maintained by the goods of the heirs" [of him that is deceased] "so long as she remain a widow, till she receive her dower."

II. Joseph being deceased, and Jesus now dying, there were no heirs, and probably no goods or estate, for the support and maintenance of his mother Mary. This, Christ at his last breath takes particular care of; and probably had made provision before; for it is hardly conceivable that this was the first overture he had with St. John in this affair, but that he had obtained a promise from him, in his mother's behalf, some time before this. And hence perhaps that peculiar love he bore to him beyond all the rest. So that those words, Woman, behold thy son! and on the other side to him, Behold thy mother! seem no other than as if he had said, "This man, from the time that thou art now deprived of thy son, shall be in the stead of a son to thee, and shall cherish and provide for thee": and so, vice versa, to his disciple John.

29. 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.

[There was set a vessel full of vinegar.] but was not this an unusual and uncustomary thing, that there should be a vessel filled with vinegar? Should it not have been rather with myrrhate wine, or wine mingled with myrrh? as it is Mark 15:23.

It seems evident, from the other evangelists, that our Saviour had the proffer of something to drink at two several times.

I. Before he was nailed to the cross, Matthew 27:33,34, "When they were come unto a place called Golgotha, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall," verse 35, "and they crucified him." It was the custom towards those that were condemned by the Sanhedrim to allow them a cup, but it was of wine mingled with myrrh or frankincense; that by drinking that their brains might intoxicate, and themselves become the more insensible of their torments, and less apprehensive of their death.

When any one was leading out to execution, they gave them to drink a little frankincense in a cup of wine. And they gave it for this reason, as it immediately follows, that their understanding might be disordered. It was a narcotic draught, on purpose to disguise and stupefy the senses.

"Wine mingled with myrrh," saith Mark;--"vinegar mingled with gall," saith Matthew. Perhaps both these were administered; for it follows, in the place above quoted, The women of quality in Jerusalem were wont to bring them this cup of their own accord. And no doubt there were women in Jerusalem enough that would not be wanting in this good office towards Jesus: but he, saith St. Mark, would not receive it. After this, it is probable, the soldiers, or some of the Jews, might, in scorn and derision, offer him a draught of vinegar and gall, of which he also refused to drink. But be it so, that there was but one cup given him, and that of vinegar mingled with gall, yet we have observed, in our notes upon Matthew 27:34, how easily these two evangelists may be reconciled.

II. As to those that were condemned by the Sanhedrim, there was no need that they should have any other drink than the intoxicating wine; for they were quickly dead, and felt no thirst. But the cross kept the wretch a long time in exquisite torment, and those torments provoked a mighty thirst. So that perhaps there might be a vessel, full either of water or something else that was drinkable, placed near the cross, by which he that was crucified might allay his thirst, as need should require. Whether this vinegar might be according to the custom of the Romans, or whether only offered at this time in sport and mockery, I will make no inquiry at present. Christ knew beforehand that vinegar would be given him when he should say, "I thirst"; and therefore did he on purpose say, "I thirst," that vinegar might be given him, and the prophecy fulfilled.

[And they filled a sponge with vinegar.] The sponge which sucks up the drink. "The sponge that drinks up any moisture that is unclean, though it be dry on the outside, yet if it fall into a furnace it defileth it."

[And put it upon hyssop.] Matthew 27:48; put it on a reed. So also St. Mark.

I. If hyssop, as the nearness of sound might persuade us it doth, then there are several kinds of it. Whatever hyssop hath an adjunct [or an epithet] is not fit; that is, to sprinkle the unclean. For there was, as it follows afterward, Grecian hyssop: fucous hyssop, perhaps of the colour of blacklead: Roman hyssop, and wild hyssop.

II. Now, that there was a sort of hyssop that grew into stalks, like canes or reeds, is evident from that which immediately follows in the next halach, where it is thus distinguished; He gathers hyssop for food, and he gathered it for wood. Partly also from Succah, where, amongst the mention that is made of canes and reeds and twigs, wherewith they were wont to cover the booths they made at the feast of Tabernacles, this hyssop is reckoned up for one.

31. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day), besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

[That sabbath day was an high day] Because, 1. It was the sabbath. 2. It was the day when all the people presented themselves in the Temple, according to that command in Exodus 23:17. 3. That was the day when the sheaf of the first fruits was offered according to that command, Leviticus 23:10,11.

I. On the fifteenth day of the month was a holy day, the first day of the feast, wherein they made ready their Chagigah, with which they feasted together for joy of the feast. That is worth our noting; "Every day they swept the ashes of the altar at the time of cockcrowing: only on the day of Expiation they did it at midnight; and on the three feasts they did it after the first watch." A little after: "In the three feasts, when infinite numbers of Israelites assembled, and numberless sacrifices were offered, they swept the ashes off the altar just after the first watch. For before cockcrowing, the court was crowded with Israelites." I do not scruple here the rendering of cockcrowing; although in the very place alleged, it is under the controversy, whether it signify cockcrowing, or the proclamation of the sagan, or ruler of the Temple; viz. that proclamation mentioned, "The sagan saith unto them, 'Go and see whether the time for slaying the sacrifices be at hand.' If it were time, then he that was sent out to see returned with this answer, 'The day begins to break,'" &c.

If the phrase the cockcrowing be to be taken in this sense, then however we see that the people were assembled together before morning light: and yet I do not doubt but it ought to be rendered the cockcrowing, which might be made clear by many good proofs, if there were place or leisure for it. Now the people's assembling in the court thus soon in the morning on these feast days was upon this account; because on the first day of the feast, innumerable peace offerings were to be made, which were the Chagigah; and on the second day, as many burnt offerings for the appearance of the people before the Lord.

It is true indeed the victims were not slain before the morning light; but we may very well suppose that before they could be slain they must be searched and examined by the Mumcheh, or any that were deputed to that office, to see whether the beasts allotted for sacrifice were without blemish, and fit for the altar, yea or no. And upon this account they assembled, and the sacrifices were brought into the court so early in the morning. And now let us call a little to mind Annas the sagan, or ruler of the Temple. Might not he also be in the Temple very early in the morning? Did not his charge require it, to see that all things might be provided and put into a readiness for the service of that day? Let us consider what hath been newly quoted; "The sagan or ruler saith, 'Go and see if the time for killing the sacrifice be come'"; i.e. whether daylight appear or no. And from hence, it may be, we may gather the reason why Annas was not amongst the rest in Caiaphas' palace; and why they brought our Saviour before him first; viz. because his affairs in the Temple would not permit him to sit at that time with the Sanhedrim; and yet they had a mind Christ should be carried before him, before he himself should be called away into the Temple for the necessary discharge of his office there.

At the due time the sacrifices appointed for the Chagigah were slain: those parts of them that pertained to the altar or to the priest were given to them; the rest of the beast was shared amongst the owners that had offered it; and from thence proceeded their feastings together, and their great mirth and rejoicings, according to the manner of that festival.

This was the preparation of the Passover, verse 14, and that was the Passover to which the elders of the council reserving themselves would by no means enter into the judgment hall, chapter 18:28.

II. That day drawing towards night, those that were deputed by the Sanhedrim to reap the sheaf of the first fruits went out: "Those that were deputed by the Sanhedrim to reap went forth in the evening of the feast day" [the first day of the feast], "and bound their corn in sheafs pretty near the ground, that the reaping might be the easier. All the neighbouring towns about gathered together, that it might be done with the greater pomp. When it grew duskish, he that was about to reap said, 'The sun is set'; and they answered, 'Well.' 'The sun is set'; and they answered, 'Well.' 'With this sickle'; 'Well.' 'With this sickle'; 'Well.' 'In this basket'; 'Well.' 'In this basket'; 'Well.' And if it happened to be on the sabbath day he said, 'On this sabbath'; and they answered, 'Well.' 'On this sabbath'; Well.' 'I will reap,' and they said, 'Reap.' 'I will reap'; 'Reap.' And so as he said these things thrice over, they answered thrice to every one of them, 'Well, Well, Well.' And all this upon the account of the Baithuseans, who said, 'The sheaf of the first fruits ought not to be reaped on the close of the feast day.'"

About that hour of the day wherein our Saviour was buried, they went forth to this reaping; and when the sabbath was now come, they began the work; for the sabbath itself did not hinder this work.

"R. Ananias, the sagan of the priests, saith, 'On the sabbath day they reaped the sheaf only to the measure of one seah, with one sickle, in one basket': but upon a common day they reaped three seahs, with three sickles, in three baskets. But the wise men say, 'The sabbath days and other days as to this matter are alike.'"

III. This night they were to lodge in Jerusalem, or in booths about, so near the city that they might not exceed the bounds of a sabbath day's journey.

In the morning, again, they met very early in the court, as the day before, and the sacrifices are brought for the people's appearing before the Lord: the sheaf of first fruits is offered in its turn: the rites and usages of which offering are described in the place above quoted. So that upon this 'high day' there happened to be three great solemnities in one, viz. the sabbath, the sheaf offering, and the appearing of the people in the court before the Lord, according to the command, Exodus 23:17.

34. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

[With a spear pierced his side.] The Arabic version of the Erpenian edition adds the word, he pierced his right side; afraid (as it should seem) lest the miracle should not be great enough, if the blood and water should have been supposed to have issued from his left side because of the water that is said to be contained in the pericardium: which being pierced, it is conceived blood and water could not but upon natural reasons flow out of it. But this issue of blood and water had something of mystery in it beyond nature: if nothing preternatural had been in it, I hardly imagine the evangelist would have used that threefold asseveration concerning the truth of the thing as we see he doth; "And he that saw it bare record," &c.

[Came there out blood and water.] It is commonly said that the two sacraments of the new testament, water and blood, flowed out of this wound: but I would rather say that the antitype of the old testament might be here seen.

I. The apostle teacheth us that the ratification of the old covenant was by blood and water, Hebrews 9:19; "Moses took the blood of calves and of goats, with water," &c. I confess, indeed, that Moses makes no mention of water, Exodus 24: but the apostle, writing to the Hebrews, does not write without such authority as they could not tell how to gainsay. And if my memory do not fail me, I think I have read somewhere among some of the Jewish authors (but the place itself has unhappily slipped from me), that when there was some pause to be made betwixt the slaying of the sacrifice and the sprinkling of the blood upon the altar (such a kind of pause as Moses made when he read to the people the articles of their covenant), they mingled water with the blood, lest it should congeal and coagulate. However, the authority is sufficient that the apostle tells us that the first testament was dedicated by blood and water. The antitype of which is clearly exhibited in this ratification of the new testament: and hence it is that the evangelist, by so vehement asseverations, confirms the truth of this passage, because it so plainly answers the type, and gives such assurance of the fulfilling of it.

II. It must not by any means let pass that in Shemoth Rabba; "'He smote the rock, and the waters gushed out,' Psalm 78:20, but the word yod-zayin-vav-bet- yod signifies nothing else but blood; as it is said, 'The woman that hath an issue of blood upon her,' Leviticus 15:20. Moses therefore smote the rock twice, and first it gushed out blood, then water."

"That rock was Christ," 1 Corinthians 10:4. Compare these two together: Moses smote the rock, and blood and water, saith the Jew, flowed out thence: the soldier pierced our Saviour's side with a spear, and water and blood, saith the evangelist, flowed thence.

St. John concludes this asseveration of his, that ye might believe. It is not without moment what is commonly said, viz. that by this flowing out of water and blood, it is evident his pericardium was pierced; and so there was an undoubted assurance given of his death: but I hardly believe the evangelist in this clause had any direct eye towards it; for would he be so vehement in asserting, "He that saw bare record: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe" that Jesus was indeed dead? Surely there was no need of such mighty asseverations for that. Questionless, therefore, he would intimate something else, viz. that you may believe that this is the true blood of the new covenant, which so directly answers the type in the confirmation of the old. Nor do I think that the water itself, which issued from his side, was that only which was contained in the pericardium, but that something supernatural was in this matter.

36. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.

[A bone of him shall not be broken.] These words may have some reference to that of Psalm 34:20: but they are more commonly referred by expositors to that law about the Paschal lamb, Exodus 12:46: for "Christ is our Passover," 1 Corinthians 5:7.

"If any one break a bone of the Passover, let him receive forty stripes." "The bones, the sinews, and what remains of the flesh, must all be burned on the sixteenth day. If the sixteenth day should happen on the sabbath" [and so indeed it did happen in this year wherein Christ was crucified], "then let them be burned on the seventeenth: for they drive away neither the sabbath nor any holy day."

37. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

[They shall look on him whom they pierced.] It is observed by all expositors, how the Greek version in that place of Zechariah [12:10], from whence this passage is taken, doth vary: for they have it, they shall look towards me, because they have insulted. So the Roman edition, and so some others. Hence,

It is questioned whether those interpreters did so render the words; or whether this were not an interpolation. To pass by the testimonies of the ancients that ascribe it to the Seventy, let us observe these two things:

I. It is no unusual thing for the Greek interpreters in their renderings sometimes to favour the Jewish traditions, and sometimes the common interpretation of the nation. There want not instances of both kinds: it is the latter we have to do with at this time; wherein take one or two examples, instead of many that might be reckoned up.

What reason can be given that they should render Caphtorim, Cappadocians, and Caphtor, Cappadocia, Deuteronomy 2:23, but only because the Pelusiotes and Pelusium were commonly so termed by the Jews? Who could have imagined any reason why they say of Eli, that he judged Israel 'twenty' years, when in the original it is forty, 1 Samuel 4:18, but that they favoured the common figment of that nation, that the Philistines had such a dread of Samson, that for twenty years after his death they stood in as much awe of him as if he was then alive and judged Israel? Of this nature is their rendering son by instruction, (Psa 2:12)...

II. The Chaldee paraphrast thus renders the words They shall ask after me, because they are carried away. Which R. Solomon thus interprets: "They shall look back to mourn, because the Gentiles have pierced some of them and killed them in their captivity." Which agrees so well with the sense of the Greek version, "They shall look on me [mourning], because the Gentiles have insulted over my people in their captivity," that I cannot suspect any interpolation in the Greek copies...

Think you that figment about Messiah Ben Joseph (to which the Talmudists apply these words of Zechariah, as also doth Aben Ezra upon the place) was invented when the Greek version was first framed? If not, which is my opinion, then it is probable that the Chaldee paraphrast gave the sense that most obtained in the nation at that time, with which that of the Greek accords well enough...