The Gospel According To John Chapter 19

CHAPTER 19 – Part I

Is not the Cup of Blessing we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ; and is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. 
1 Corinthians 10:16 [New American translation]

We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and Yahweh brought the acts of rebellion of all of us to bear on him. Ill-treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers he never opened his mouth.  Isaiah 53:6-7

+ + +

  dawn Friday Morning                      2. Roman governor   18:28-19:16
                     3. Herod Antipas
Jesus returned to Roman governor
  Lk 23:7-12
  F          c   II. THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE SON OF GOD   19:17-37
  E          o           A.  Jesus’ crucifixion   19:17, 18
  A          n           B.  Pilate’s inscription   19:19-22
  S          t.           C.  The Roman soldiers cast lots   19:23-25
  T           D.  The gift of Mary to the Church   19:25-27
(3 PM-9th hour)
          E.  The Last Cup and His last words   19:28-29
          F.   Christ gives up His Spirit   19:30

Some of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the death of Jesus of Nazareth which are fulfilled in John’s Gospel

Aspects of Jesus’ Death in John’s Gospel Old Testament Reference
  A result of obedience to the Father – 18:11   Psalms 40:8
  Announced by Christ – 18:32 [3:14]   Numbers 21:8-9
  Betrayed by a friend – John 13:18   Psalm 41:9
  Died in place of His people – 18:14   Isaiah 53:4-6
  Died with evildoers – 19:18   Isaiah 53:12
  Was an innocent victim – 18:39; 19:5, 7   Isaiah 53:9
  Was crucified – 19:18   Psalms 22:16
  Garment divided – 19:24   Psalm 22:18
  Side pierced – 19:37   Zechariah 12:10
  No bones broken – 19:33-37   Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20 (21)
  Was buried in a rich man’s tomb – 19:38-42   Isaiah 53:9
  Believers healed by the Christ lifted up on the cross – 3:14-17   Wisdom 16:5-7
(referencing Numbers 21:4-9)
  Michal Hunt copyright 2001

Please note: The entire 8-day festival, which consisted of the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits, were known either as “Passover” or “Unleavened Bread” for the entire week long period of the festival in the first century AD (Matthew 26:2, 17; Mark 14:1; Luke 22:1; Antiquities of the Jews 14.2.1; 17.9.3;The Jewish War 5.3.1).  Modern Jews and the Mishnah (book of Jewish religious practices completed in the early 3rd century AD) usually refer to the entire 8-day period as “The Passover,” just as St. John does in his Gospel account (John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55 [twice]; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14).  St. John never uses the term “Unleavened Bread.”

A review of the events of the night Jesus was arrested:

In John 12:1, St. John set the timetable of events leading up to the Passover sacrifice on Nisan 14th:Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was whom he had raised from the dead.  Six days later (as the ancients count with no 0-place value) is Thursday.  The ancients counted time and days the same way they counted (and we count) objects; for example Jesus was in the tomb three days according to the Gospels from Friday to Sunday, as the ancients count and not as we count today (see Mapping Time, E. G. Richards, Oxford University Press, 1998, reprinted 2005, page 81).  Jesus’ crucifixion took place the next day on Friday, Nisan 15th.  This account agrees with the Synoptic Gospels and with John’s statement in John 19:31 that Jesus’ crucifixion took place on a Friday, the “Day of Preparation” for the Sabbath (Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54).  In the Mishnah, the day prior to the Passover is always called “the eve of the Passover” and not preparation day.

Jesus arranged for a room for the Passover meal, and He sent the Apostles Peter and John to make sure that all the necessary preparations were made (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13).  This is not to suggest that they would be responsible for cooking the lamb.  The Passover lamb or kid would be sacrificed at the Temple between 3 and 5PM on Nisan 14th, and then the body of the victim would be taken to the site of the meal where it would be roasted on a spit of pomegranate wood (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1) for the sacrificial meal, which began at sundown.  There were other necessary preparations that needed to be arranged before the Temple sacrificial ceremony, which began at 12 noon ((Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1).  These arrangements included the preparation of the tables and the couches for reclining, having enough holy water available for the ritual purification, and providing for the wine that was necessary for the four ritual communal cups and additional drinking of wine during the meal; additional consumption of wine was allowed until the 3rd ritual cup (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:7).  In addition, the room must be inspected to make sure that no leaven was to be found on the premises (Mishnah: Pesahim, 11-1:3). Leaven was symbolic of sin, and for the 7 days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, all leaven was to be removed from every house in Jerusalem.  From this point forward in the Gospels and in Acts of Apostles, Peter and John will be paired together.  This pairing helps us to identify the “beloved”, “the unnamed Apostle,” as John Zebedee.

Thursday at noon Jesus and His disciples would have attending the great liturgical ceremony at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Passover sacrifice would proceed immediately after the afternoon Tamid service, which was an hour earlier in order to provide enough time for all the lambs and kids that would be sacrificed.  Philo of Alexandria wrote concerning the Passover liturgy: … of the Passover, which the Hebrews call pascha, on which the whole people offer sacrifice, beginning at noonday and continuing till evening (Special Laws, II, 27 [145]*).  The great Levitical choirs would sing the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (Psalms 113-118), with the congregation repeating the first line of each verse, and then after the sacrifice of the second Tamid Lamb of the daily sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Passover lambs would began, at about 3PM and would continue until 5PM.  The 1stcentury AD, the Jewish priest and historian, Flavius Josephus, wrote: So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour (3PM) till the eleventh (5PM) (The Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3).  *Note: since the day ended at sundown, the Jewish “evening,” or end of the day, was what we would consider the afternoon.

After each Passover lamb or kid was sacrificed, the blood was collected in cups and poured outon God’s holy altar of sacrifice in the courtyard of the priests.  This sacrifice of the Passover victims in the Temple was the last legitimate old covenant animal sacrifice.  The Passover sacrifice in the spring of 30AD signaled the end of the old Sinai Covenant sacrificial system.  The next sacrifice would be the only true and pure sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, and it would take place in concert with the Tamid, the foremost of animal sacrifices for the covenant people, and according to Philo, for all mankind: Accordingly it is commanded that every day the priests should offer up two lambs, one at the dawn of day, and the other in the evening, each of them being a sacrifice of thanksgiving; the one for the kindnesses which have been bestowed during the day, and the other for the mercies which have been vouchsafed in the night, which God is incessantly and uninterruptedly pouring upon the race of men (Special Laws I, 169).  The sacrifice of the Tamid foreshadowed the Passion of the Christ for all the centuries the covenant people were waiting for the Messiah.  It was the only sacrifice that required a single, unblemished male lamb offered with unleavened bread and red wine with the exception of the lamb sacrificed on the Feast of Firstfruits (also offered with unleavened bread and red wine), the feast which fell during the Sunday of the 8-days of Passover/Unleavened Bread.  All other sacrifices, including the Passover victim which could be a lamb or a kid, required either multiple lambs offered at one time, or rams, ewes, or cattle.

Please note if you are using the Navarre Bible Commentary that on page 228 the commentary incorrectly identifies Friday at 12 noon as the sacrifice of the Passover Lambs.  This account does not agree with the Synoptic Gospels which identify the Passover sacrifice as taking place the day beforeJesus’ trial and execution on Friday.  Nor does it agree with St. John’s identification of the day of the Passover sacrifice as the 6th day (as the ancients counted) from the Saturday dinner at Bethany.  The Navarre’s identification of the time of the sacrifice is also in error.  The first century historians Philo and Josephus and the Jewish Mishnah all record that the beginning of the liturgical ceremony at the Temple was noon with the afternoon Tamid (which was sacrificed an hour earlier) and that the sacrifice of the Passover lambs was from the ninth to the eleventh hour (3-5PM).  The exception was if the Passover fell on a Friday, in which case the Tamid was sacrificed even earlier at 12:30 and offered on the altar at 1:30, with the Passover victims sacrificed from about 2-4PM (see the Mishnah: Pesahim 5:1; The Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3).

For more information see the discussion in chapter 18 on the subject of the identification of the day of the Passover sacrifice.  The theory that the Passover lambs and kids were beginning to be sacrificed as Jesus died on the Cross is motivated by the desire to have an Old Covenant sacrifice linked to Christ’s sacrificial death.  These scholars are missing the fact that the most important sacrifice of atonement for the covenant people was taking place at the exact same moment Jesus was suffering and dying on the altar of the Cross, according to the Synoptic Gospels and according to the history of the Jews written by the priest-historian Josephus.  It was the sacrifice of the afternoon Tamid lamb, which the 1st century AD Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria wrote was not only offered for the Jews but for the sins of all mankind:

  • Philo on the daily offering of the Tamid lamb: And since, of the sacrifices to be offered, some are on behalf of the whole nation and indeed, if one should tell the real truth, in behalf of all mankind..  [..]. Accordingly, it is commanded that every day the priests should offer up two lambs, one at the dawn of day, and the other in the evening; each of them being a sacrifice of thanksgiving; the one for the kindnesses which have been bestowed during the day, and the other for the mercies which have been vouchsafed in the night, which God is incessantly and uninterruptedly pouring upon the race of men (Special Laws, I.169). [note: The first lamb is brought out at dawn and sacrificed at 9AM; the second lamb is brought out at noon and sacrificed at 3PM].
  • Josephus: but did still twice each day, in the morning and about the ninth hour, offer their sacrifices on the altar (Antiquities, 4.4.3 [65]).
  • Gospel of Mark: And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?’ [..].  Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink saying, ‘Wait! And see if Elijah will come to take him down.’ But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

The “ninth hour” Jewish time is 3PM our time.  We keep Roman time, beginning our hour count from midnight. The Jews began their daily hour count from dawn with 12 seasonal hours from dawn to sundown, with their “evening,” or end of the day, considered what we call “afternoon.”  It is significant that the morning and afternoon Tamid was the only blood sacrifice, with the exception of the single male lamb offered on the Feast of Firstfruits (which fell on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection), which required a single male lamb offered with unleavened bread and red wine. You will recall that the Passover sacrifice could be a lamb or a kid (Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:2; Ex 12:3: an animal from the flock), and the other sacrifices required male or female animals, rams, goats, cattle or multiple lambs offered at one time.

The theory that the Passover victims were being sacrifice as Jesus died on the Cross is also nullified by the fact that if Passover fell on Friday, Preparation Day for the Sabbath, the Tamid was offered at about 12:30PM and the Passover sacrifice began at 1:30PM (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:1D); however, on the Friday after the Thursday Passover, the Tamid would have been offered at the normally scheduled time, which was recorded by Josephus as 3PM.  The Jewish Mishnah, completed in the year 200 AD, records the Tamid afternoon sacrifice at 2:30 PM with the lamb being placed on the altar at 3:30 PM, but by that time the Jews were motivated not to record the slaying of the afternoon Tamid to match Jesus’ death on the cross (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5.1).

After the Liturgical ceremony at the Temple, each family group took its lamb back to a location in Jerusalem to prepare it for the sacrificial meal that night.  Under the law the meal began at sundown, which for the Jews was the beginning of the next day which was the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (although in the first century the entire 8 day feast could be referred to as Passover, as John identifies the festival, or as Unleavened Bread, as the Synoptic Gospel writers identify the festival).

The Sacrificial Meal of the Passover lamb or kid was structured around 4 cups of sacramental red wine shared communally by the faithful assembled for the meal (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:2-7).  According to the Law, only members of the covenant family could attend and eat this sacrificial meal (Exodus 1247-51), however, membership in the covenant was extended to anyone who submitted himself to circumcision (male) and to ritual immersion and promised fidelity to the covenant commands and prohibitions.

The Celebration of the Ancient Seder

  1. The meal opened with prayers and the drinking of the first cup (mixed with a little water) called the Cup of Sanctification.  This was followed by the first ritual hand washing and the eating of the first dipping of the bitter herbs (Mishnah: Pesahim 10:1-2).
  2. The second cup was the Cup of Forgiveness (mixed with a little water), which is poured out but not passed.  Then came the four ritual questions, the story of the first Passover, and the singing of Palms 113-114 before this cup was blessed, passed, and consumed (Mishnah: Pesahim 10:3-10:6).
  3. After the drinking of the second cup came the second ritual hand washing followed by the eating of the unleavened bread, bitter herb, fruit mixture (charoset), and the lamb.  The lamb or kid was to be completely consumed, with no bones broken, and afterward no more food was to be eaten (Mishnah: Pesahim 7:11). Hands were washed a third time and then the most important cup, the climax of the meal, the Cup of Blessing (also called the Cup of Redemption) was mixed with a little water, poured, blessed and passed communally (Mishnah: Pesahim 10:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16).  This cup represented the blood of the sacrificed victim that was poured out on the altar at the liturgical service and which symbolized the “sign” under which the Israelites were saved on the night of the first Passover.
  4. At the conclusion of the meal the 4th cup was poured out (Mishnah: Pesahim 10:7).  It was the Cup of Acceptance (mixed with a little water), which sealed and united those present to Yahweh through the Passover Sacrifice, continuing the people’s acceptance of the covenant for another year. The assembly sang the remainder of the Hallel Psalms 115-118, the faithful drank the 4th cup and the host announced out: “It is finished [fulfilled]”.

[Christ in the Passover, pages 50-61].

Luke’s Account of the Last Supper Luke 22:14-20
Verse 14: When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them. 
Verse 15: ‘I have ardently long to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’;
Verse 16: ‘because, I tell you, I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
Verse 17: Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you because from now on,
Verse 18: ‘I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 
Verse 19: Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
Verse 20: He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the New Covenant in my blood poured out for you.’

Question:  What connection do you see between what Jesus said about the cup of His blood in verse 20 and the blood of the sacrificed lambs and kids at the Temple that afternoon?

Answer: The connection is between the sacrifice of the Passover victims and the “pouring out” of the cups of the blood of the lambs at the Temple and Jesus’ words concerning His sacrifice and the “pouring out” of His blood for us in the Eucharistic cup of the New Covenant.  The sacrifice of Eucharist is a true, unbloody sacrifice.

Question: In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, how many cups of wine are mentioned?

Answer: Two cups in verses 17 and 20.  Luke is the only Gospel writer to mention two cups.  The first cup Luke mentions is probably the Cup of Forgiveness and the second, the Cup of His precious blood, is the Cup of Blessing: Paul writes in 1 Corinthians: Is not the Cup of Blessing we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ; and is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because the loaf of bread is one, we many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16 [New American translation]).

Question: What statement does Jesus make in verse 18 after the passing of the cup, which most scholars assume is the Cup of Forgiveness, and before the passing of the third cup, the Cup of Blessing?  What is the significance of this statement?

Answer: He declared that He will never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.  It is significant that He makes this statement before He passes the Cup of Blessing.  Luke wants us to understand that the Cup of Blessing is no longer wine but is the very blood of Jesus the Lamb of God.

In the Synoptic Gospels, this statement comes after the passing of His precious blood.  Since St. John does not comment on this difference, as he does not throughout his Gospel when he thinks the other Gospels have adequately related an event, it is likely that Jesus made this declaration twice: before and after passing the Cup of His precious blood.    This statement is significant because it means Jesus could not have taken the 4th Cup, the Cup of Acceptance, which must be drunk in order to close the sacrificial meal.  Each of the Synoptic Gospels record that the Psalms were sung and then the assembly left for the Mount of Olives without officially ending the Passover meal by consuming the 4thCup and without the host closing the meal with the ritual statement “It is finished” [fulfilled or completed].

Question:  Why is it significant that the Passover meal had not ended, and what is the connection to Jesus’ sacrifice?  Hint: what happened when Jesus separated His body from His blood in what appeared to be bread and wine?

Answer:  The separation of the body from its blood is the beginning of death.  Jesus did not close the Passover meal as an end of the Old Covenant sacrificial system because His death would be the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant “in His blood”, which He promised in Luke 22:20.

The question is, “Where does Jesus sacrifice begin and what is the connection between His sacrifice and the Passover?”  If Jesus’ death is the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice then His Passion must begin in the Upper Room when He says “This is My Body and this cup is the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant”.  When body and blood are separated death begins!  Jesus’ Eucharistic Sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb of the New Covenant begins in the Upper Room, but it is not “finished” there!  That is why Jesus would not have uttered the closing words of the Sacrificial Meal: “It is finished!”  The Passover can’t be finished, or completed, until the true sacrifice is fulfilled.

The true sacrifice of this feast is what Jesus promised in John chapter 6 in the Bread of Life Discourse when He said: Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person (John 6:54-56).

Question:  What was the purpose of the sacrifice of animals in the Old Covenant?  Was it primarily the death of the animal or is there something more?  Hint: see Leviticus 17:11 and Psalms 51:16-17.

Answer: In Leviticus 17:11 God states the reason for animal sacrifice: For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you for performing the rite of expiation on the altar for your lives, for blood is what expiates for a life. But in Psalms 51 the Holy Spirit inspired writer says: Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, burnt offering you do not desire.  Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, contrite heart you never scorn.  The blood of the sacrifice as atonement for sin is only the first step.  The desired result of sacrifice is the restoration of communion with God.  It is the covenantal union-the restoration of the family bond, the child of God reunited with God the Father-this is the desired result.  This is the desired result of the Passover sacrifice and sacrificial meal in particular.  The sacrifice was the first step but the desire was the mystical bond with God through the eating of the sacrifice in a sacred meal.  Christ is the Passover victim slain for our sins, fulfilling the Old Covenant Passover. At the first Passover in Egypt the victim was slain, the blood was “poured out” into the threshold, the blood was smeared on the door with a hyssop branch, the blood making a cross from the threshold to the lintel and from doorpost to doorpost.  Then the covenant people went into the house and they ate the sacred meal of the victim of sacrifice!  It was not enough to make the sacrifice-the flesh of the victim had to be consumed (Exodus 12:7-10).  It isn’t enough for Jesus to die a sacrificial death-He must be consumed if He is the true Lamb of the Passover of the New Covenant people!  We must feast on the flesh of Jesus, the Bread of Life, hidden under the form and appearance of unleavened bread, which becomes for us nothing less the Jesus the Christ, the true Lamb of the New Covenant Passover who provides for us, through His sacrificial death, a true union with the Trinity in the mystical bond of the New Covenant family of God.  This is what St Paul meant when he wrote to the Church at Corinth: For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is, Christ; let us keep the feast….(1 Corinthians 5:7). Let us then fulfill our covenant union with God and feast on the flesh and blood of Christ, the Lamb of God!

But what about that 4thCup that Jesus did not take in the Upper Room?  For the Host of the sacrificial meal to not take the last cup and to not make the final pronouncement would be like a priest celebrating Mass and forgetting the closing benediction.  Jewish scholars rightly point out, if there was no 4th cup, it couldn’t have been the Passover meal.  But this 4th cup was a cup Jesus vowed He would not take until “I come into My Kingdom” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; and Luke 22:18).  It is a cup He cannot take until His sacrifice is complete. But there is another cup that Jesus did vow to take.  It was the symbolic cup that He accepted in the Garden of Gethsemane in His “Prayer of Agony” after Jesus and His disciples left the Upper Room of the Last Supper to pray in a garden on the slopes of the Mt. of Olives.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, the second Adam, faced a covenant ordeal just as the first Adam faced a covenant ordeal in the Garden of Eden when sin first entered the world.  In Jesus’ covenant ordeal, His faithfulness to God will result in destroying the separation from God brought about through the disobedience of the first Adam (Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Question:  What prayer does Jesus make three times in the Garden of Gethsemane?  Hint: see Matthew 26: 39, 42, and 44

Answer: In the garden at Gethsemane Jesus prayed three times: My Father, […] if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.  Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.

In the books of the Old Testament Prophets, God’s holy prophets used four reoccurring image clusters to express Yahweh’s relationship, or lack of relationship, with His covenant people.  The drinking of wine is one of these image clusters that express the joy of the drinking of wine as the image of the bond of a faithful covenant relationship.  When the covenant people rebelled against God and misuse His blessings, the prophets expressed this rebellion in images of becoming drunk with wine.  The rebellion imagery is followed by judgment imagery in the drinking of the “Cup of Yahweh’s Wrath”, and finally the image of repentance and restoration which is the covenant people rejoicing in the best “New Wine” of the restored covenant.  The cup that Jesus sorrowed over in the garden is the “Cup of God’s Wrath” which we all should drink, judged dead in our sins, but which Jesus will drink for our justification through His Passion and sacrificial death.

The true Passover sacrifice to redeem God’s people from slavery to sin began in the Upper Room but it will end on the Cross.

As is John’s practice, the “Prayer of Agony” in the garden and Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, covered in the Synoptic Gospels, are not repeated in the 4th Gospel.

Please read John 19:1-11 The Trial of Jesus before Pilate continues:
19:1Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged;2and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head and dressed him in a purple robe.3They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ and slapping him in the face.4Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.’5Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.6Pilate said, ‘Here is the man’.  When they saw him, the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him!  Crucify him!’  Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I find no case against him.’7The Jews replied, ‘We have a Law, and according to that Law he ought to be put to death, because he has claimed to be Son of God.’8When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased.9Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’  But Jesus made no answer.10Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me?  Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’11Jesus replied, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

John 19: 1-3: Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head and dressed him in a purple robe.  They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ and slapping him in the face.

Pilate ordered his soldiers to have Jesus scourged in the apparent hope that this sufficiently terrible punishment would satisfy the Chief priests and Pharisees (Luke 23:16).

The Romans had three forms of bodily punishment.  These are associated with beatings with fists, canes or whips. The first is known as fustigatio or beating with fists, the second as flagellatio or flogging, and the third as verberatio or scourging; all in ascending gradation.  The most fearsome whip was the flagrumthat was used in gladiatorial combats as well as an instrument of punishment.  It was a whip with thongs tipped with dumb-bell shaped metal pellets that ripped and shredded flesh.   Beating was used as a form of corrective punishment in itself but more severe punishment was a part of the sentence for one condemned for a capital offence (Livy, History of Rome, xxxi, 29).  The figure of the man on the Shroud of Turin had been beaten all over his body by a Roman flagrum.

Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, wrote about scourging in his letter to the Church in Smyrna.  He wrote that it was a punishment that was inflicted on those to be executed which produced terrible results: veins were laid bare, and […] the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were opened to exposure (Epistle of the Church in Smyrna)This was the kind of torture our Savior endured before He even reached the cross.

The beating and the crown of thorns were historical acts that had been prophesized by the Old Testament prophets as well as by Jesus Himself.  The prophet Isaiah wrote in his prophecies of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh:

  • I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting  (Isaiah 50:6-the Greek Septuagint translates this passage as: I gave my cheeks to be slapped…)
  • As many people were aghast at him-he was so inhumanly disfigured that he no longer looked like a man… (Isaiah 52:14).
  • He was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, one from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze, despised, for whom he had no regard.  Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished and struck with affliction by God;  whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment reconciling us fell on him, and we have been healed by his bruises (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Jesus prophesized His Passion to His disciples: Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the road he took the Twelve aside by themselves and said to them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised up again’ (Matthew 20:17-19).  Also see Luke 18:32.

The Roman soldiers made a “crown” – a sign of “kingship,” to mock the man who the Jewish crowd, several days earlier (Sunday), had claimed to be “King of the Jews” (John 12:13).

They made it with thorns (Matthew 27:29. The declaration of the soldiers in John 19:3: This, then, is the King of the Jews!  is verbally identical in the Greek with Matthew 27:29.  The soldiers were probably imitating the crown of laurel leaves worn by the Roman Emperor, but thorns in the Old Testament were figuratively used to describe the results of sin.  When man fell from grace God cursed the soil of the land and said: Accursed be the soil because of you! Painfully will you get your food from it as long as you live.  It will yield you brambles [thorns] and thistles (Genesis 3:18), and in Hosea 10:8 the prophet wrote when judgment is visited upon the covenant people for breaking Yahweh’s covenant: thorns and thistles will grow over their altars.  They will say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’  and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!”  Jesus, in His suffering, took upon Himself the curses of the covenant on behalf of His people (for more on the Covenant curses see Deuteronomy 28:15-46).

The Roman soldiers completed this mock coronation with a “purple robe,” another sign of kingship, and they cried out “Ave” (“Hail”) as they would to Caesar, as they slapped Jesus in the face.

Question: John wants to draw our attention to the irony behind these events.  What is it that is so ironic about the treatment Jesus received from the gentile Romans who not only acknowledge the Roman Caesar as their king but also worship him as a god?

Answer: Despite this tragic parody of the Romans, the truth is that only Jesus of Nazareth is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!

John 19:4-5: Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.'”  Jesus came out wearing he crown of thorns and the purple robe.

Pilate had gone into the Praetorium to order that Jesus be taken away to be scourged, and now he came out to the courtyard to make another appeal to the Jews to let the scourging be the end of Jesus’ punishment.  Pilate showed a strange reluctance to condemn Jesus, and for a second time Pilate declared: “I find no case against him.” Some Biblical scholars find this reluctance surprising when considering what contemporary historians wrote about Pilate.  According to the historical record, Pontius Pilate’s contempt for the Jewish community engendered protest, unrest and resentment.  The Jewish historian and theologian Philo of Alexandria described Pilate as a man of inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate (On the Embassy to Gaius, 38.301).  One of his first acts when he became the governor of Judea in 26AD was to order the Roman garrison to enter the city of Jerusalem with their military standards bearing the image of the Emperor Tiberius.  This was an inflammatory act. Previous Roman governors had ordered these images removed to avoid offending the devout Jewish population who viewed such images of the Roman Emperor as pagan idolatry.  Pilate’s act resulted in a vehement protest that reached all the way to the ears of the Roman Emperor, and he eventually was forced to back down and remove the images from the Holy City (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.1).

The Jewish historian Josephus also reported that the excessive force which Pilate used to quell riots often resulted in great loss of life [Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.2].  The Gospel of Luke 13:1 supports Josephus’ claim by mentioning certain Galileans “whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices”.  It was Pilate’s job to keep peace and order.  Eventually his failure to accomplish this task would lead to his removal from office.  Pilate’s brutal dispersion of a crowd of Samaritan pilgrims at Mount Gerizim would finally bring about his downfall when the Samaritan leaders protested to the Roman legate in Syria, Pilate’s superior, who ordered Pilate to return to Rome to answer for his conduct in 36AD [Antiquities of the Jews 18.4.1-2].

Perhaps Pilate’s reluctance was generated by an unwillingness to cooperate with the Jewish authorities, or perhaps it was because Pilate had spoken with his wife who told him of a dream she had about this innocent man, or perhaps it was because the cold heart of a Roman soldier had been moved in the presence of God.

It cannot be overlooked that Pilate’s wife must have had some influence.  St. Matthew recorded: Now as he was seated in the chair of judgment, his wife sent him a message, ‘Have nothing to do with that upright man; I have been extremely upset today by a dream that I had about him’ (Matthew 27:19).  Tradition has given her the name Procula Claudia.  A non-canonical apocryphal Gospel, the Gospel of Nicodemus, describes her as a convert to Judaism.  Greek Orthodox Christians as well as Coptic Christians place Procula Claudia and Pilate in their Catalogue of the Saints.  Perhaps Procula Claudia had been a Jewish convert, like the wife of the previous Roman governor, Saturninus (Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.5). It is also possible that she had not only known of Jesus but had heard Him preach.  In any event, pagan Romans were extremely superstitious and the fact that his wife had a dream about this man could have made Pilate reluctant to condemn Him.

Bishop Eusebius, quoting the 2nd century priest, apologist and Roman lawyer, Tertullian, in his 4thcentury Church History, wrote that both Pilate and his wife became converts to Christianity.  Eusebius recorded that Pilate made a full report of Jesus’ resurrection to the Emperor Tiberius, who referred the matter to the Roman Senate with a recommendation that Jesus of Nazareth be declared a god, but the Senate rejected the proposal.  Modern scholars scoff at this notation in Eusebius’ history; however, the historical record supports that there was no persecution of Christians during the Emperor Tiberius’ reign.  That was not the case under the reign of his successor, and Eusebius reports that the Roman Emperor Caligula forced Pilate to commit suicide because of his Christian faith (Eusebius, History of the Church 2.21-27).

John 19: 6-7:  Pilate said, ‘Here is the man’.  When they saw him, the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him!  Crucify him!’  Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I find no case against him.’  The Jews replied, ‘We have a Law, and according to that Law he ought to be put to death, because he has claimed to be Son of God.’

Pilate called out “Ecce homo” (“Here is the man”), by which he meant, “See the poor fellow!” Scholars identify this statement as a classical Latin expression of pity.

Question: What is Pilate’s motive in exhibiting Jesus in this way before the Jewish authorities?  What is the result?

Answer: He is making an attempt to move the priests and Pharisees to compassion by exhibiting a beaten, disfigured, and disgraced Jesus. Pilate’s statement that he found Jesus to be innocent only enflamed the anger of the crowd.  Instead of moving them to compassion, the Jews called for Jesus’ crucifixion-a form of capital punishment only available in Judea under Roman justice.

Question:  Why did Pilate tell them to Take him yourselves and crucify him when he knew the Sanhedrin did not have that power?  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus reports in Antiquities of the Jews that from the time the Romans took control of Judea, only Rome had the power to execute offenders of the Law.

Answer: Most historians and Biblical scholars believe Pilate, in his frustration, is taunting the Jewish authorities as he did previously in John 18:31, although he now adds “and crucify him”.  Pilate knows that the Sanhedrin cannot legally do this.

Question: How many times has Pilate pronounced Jesus “not guilty”?

Answer: This is the third time Pilate has pronounced that he can find no just cause for a death sentence to be imposed on this man (John 18:38 and 19:4).  St. John, like St. Luke (3:4, 14, & 22) is careful to record that Pilate had confirmed Jesus’ innocence three different times during the trial.

Question: Now the chief priests give an unexpected response to Pilate’s taunt.  For the first time they actually lay out the charge against Jesus.  What do they tell Pilate?

Answer: They tell Pilate that Jesus has blasphemed by claiming to be the Son of God and that according to Jewish law Jesus must be put to death (Mishnah: Sanhedrin 7:4-7:5).  It was the Roman practice to respect the customs and laws of their conquered provinces and the Jewish authorities remind Pilate of this obligation on his part as Rome’s representative.

Question: What is ironic about the call of the priests for strict observation of Jewish law?  Hint: see Leviticus 24:16, Deuteronomy 17:7 and Mark 14:56.

Answer: They are unable to legally convict Jesus according to the Jewish law.  First, the Jewish authorities did not call a legal assembly of the Sanhedrin.  For a capital case, twenty-three judges must be present, and the trial must be open to the people (Numbers 35:24-25; Mishnah: Sanhedrin 6:1; 7:4-7:5).  Next, even though Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God (also see John 8:53 & 10:36), Leviticus 24:16 directs that a blasphemer should be stoned to death (although the Mishnah directed that the offender is to be stoned first and then hung: Mishnah: Sanhedrin 6:4).  However, the chief priests knew this ordinance of the Sinai Covenant could not be enacted in Jesus’ case because two or three witnesses against the accused must agree on the guilt and provide evidence in their testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15).  Only those who bore witness in agreement against the legally condemned person could cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7; Mishnah: Sanhedrin 6:4).  The witnesses brought forward to testify against Jesus did not agree (Mark 14:56), and therefore, there were no witnesses qualified to cast the first stones.  The Sanhedrin, unable to convict Jesus under Jewish law, was content to let that responsibility lie with Pilate.  This article of the Law of the Sinai Covenant explains Jesus’ challenge to the crowd in the case of the adulterous woman in John 8:7-11.  Perhaps it is not so much a case of none of them being guilty of sin as none of them being able offer themselves as witnesses against her because none of them had actually seen her commit an act of adultery.  If that was the case, there was no one present who was qualified to cast the first stones.  The punishment for offering false testimony was excommunication (Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 19:16-21).

John 19:8-11: When Pilate heard them say this, his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’  But Jesus made no answer.  Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me?  Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’  Jesus replied, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

Question: When Pilate heard the Jewish authorities call for Jesus’ crucifixion why was it that his “fears increased”?  What has caused Pilate to be afraid?

Answer: The cause of Pilate’s fear is not clear.

  • It could be his superstitious nature. To a Roman familiar with Greek and Roman culture and religion, the title of “Son of God” would indicate a divine man with supernatural powers.  Certainly Pilate heard of the miracles Jesus had been working the past 3 years, and his wife had already indicated that this man had some power over her dreams.  St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and a Roman citizen of the 4th century, commented on this possibility as the reason for Pilate’s fear in his commentary on this passage: his wife’s dream should have been sufficient to terrify him (Homilies on the Gospel of St John, LXXXV.1).
  • Or, perhaps the root of his fear is political.  The only “Son of god” a Roman could acknowledge was the current Caesar.  If he allowed another to carry a title that rightfully belonged to Caesar, it would be a violation that could be viewed as traitorous, a charge his enemies could report to Rome.
  • It is also possible Pilate feared in refusing to honor the Jewish authority’s request to order the death of a man the Jews found guilty of blasphemy under Jewish Law that Pilate was violating respect for the local religious laws and practices, which were protected under the Roman provincial justice system.
  • And finally, it is possible that, having realized that the chief priests and scribes were determined to obtain Jesus’ death that Pilate had become afraid that now he would not be successful in his plan to prevent the death of Jesus by releasing Barabbas.

Re-entering the Pratertorium for the 3rd time Pilate questioned Jesus a final time.

Question: What did Pilate mean when he asked Jesus where He came from?  Hint: see John 1:11-13

Answer: Some would say Pilate could simply be asking, “Where is your hometown,” but most Biblical scholars indicate that the Greek text suggests Pilate is instead asking “What is the secret of your origin?  Who are you really?”  After all, Pilate knew Jesus came from the Galilee which is why he tried sending Jesus to Herod Antipas for judgment (Luke 23:8-12).  The question of Jesus’ origin has already been asked 6 times in John’s Gospel:

  • The question was first     asked by the members of the wedding party at Cana in 2:9
  • Then by the Samaritan woman     in 4:11
  • Followed the Apostles and     the multitude in 6:5
  • This question was also     asked three different times by the Jewish leaders in 7:27f, in 8:14, and     in 9:29.
  • Now, for the seventh time     in St. John’s Gospel, Pilate asks Jesus about His origin.

Pilate is faced with the mystery of Jesus’ origin, which is the theme of John’s entire Gospel!  John 1:11-13: He came to his own and his own people did not accept him.  But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself.

Question: Jesus’ silence before Pilate and before Herod Antipas in Luke 23:8-12 is the fulfillment of what Old Testament prophecy?

Answer: Isaiah 53:7: …he never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep dumb before its shearers, he never opened his mouth.

Jesus’ demeanor of complete control and presence of mind must have unnerved this Roman governor so used to men acting subservient or cringing in fear in his presence because, as he reminded Jesus, he had the power over life and death.  It has been suggested by some scholars that Jesus simple forgot to take the 4th cup of the Passover meal because He was so unnerved by what He must face, but His actions before Pilate do not indicate anything other than a Jesus who is completely in control of His own destiny.

Question: When Pilate told Jesus that He was completely in his power what was Jesus’ reply?

Answer: Jesus told Pilate he [Pilate] had no real power: Jesus replied, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given you from above...  Jesus’ power came “from above”; the word in the Greek is anothen. It is the same word Jesus used in speaking of re-birth with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  Jesus told Pilate that no one could have power over Him unless it was willed from heaven; any power over Jesus must come from God.  Speaking on this theme, in Acts 4:27-28 St. Peter pointed to Pontius Pilate as a tool of God in the unfolding events of the divine plan: This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate plotted together with the gentile nations and the peoples of Israel, against you holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, to bring abut the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen.

that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

Question: Who was “the one who” bore the “greater guilt?”

Answer:  In speaking of His betrayal Jesus used the present tense, which most scholars suggest indicates that Jesus was not speaking specifically about Judas but about the Jewish authorities who were presently in the act of bringing about His death.  The singular “the one who,” literally “he who” is probably a reference to the High Priest Caiaphas who served as the leader and the chief representative of the Jewish authorities.

Please read John 19: 12-16: Jesus is condemned to be crucified
19:12From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’13Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated him on the chair of judgment at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha.14It was the Day of Preparation, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king,’ said Pilate to the Jews.15But they shouted, Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’  Pilate said, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’  The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’16So at that Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

Pilate exited the Praetorium a third time to return to the courtyard.  Jesus’ words had a profound impact on the Roman administrator, and he was determined to release the man he had already pronounced innocent.  The Greek word expressing Pilate’s desire to release Jesus can be translated as “was anxious,” or “was eager,” or “was striving.”  In Acts of Apostles 3:13, St. Peter comments on Pilate’s intentions when he says to the Jewish crowds that it was …Jesus whom you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after he had given his verdict to release him.

Question: But what threat did the Jewish authorities use to counter Pilate’s desire to free Jesus?

Answer: They threatened Pilate with Caesar’s judgment.  The term “friend of Caesar” was an honorific title bestowed in recognition of service to the Empire, but it is not clear that is the meaning here.  This is probably the year 30AD and as an official title there is little evidence found for use of “friend of Caesar” as an official title before the time of the Roman Emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69-79AD.  There is some evidence of it as an unofficial title designation for those who found favor with the Emperor (see Josephus Antiquities 12.7.3). In any event, the implication is that Pilate will not be counted as a “friend of Caesar” if he released a man who under Roman law of was guilty of claiming Caesar’s titles of King and Son of God.  In the mind of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, he is the King of the Jews, and he is the son of god.  This was no empty threat and Pilate knew it.  He could not afford to have it reported to the Emperor that he had acquitted a man who was accused of claiming the title of King of the Jews, an act of treason against the Empire.

John 19: 13-14a: Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated him on the chair of judgment at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha.  It was the Day of Preparation, about the sixth hour.

Pilate seated Jesus on the judgment seat at the place St. John identified by two names: Lithostrotos, which in Greek means “the pavement” (a name also used in the Septuagint translation in 2 Chronicles 7:3 for the pavement of Solomon’s temple) and the Aramaic name Gabbatha, meaning “mound or high place,” which may not refer to the “pavement” area specifically but in general to the location of the judgment seat on the height of the Antonia fortress which overlooked the Temple area or to an upper hall in Herod’s palace.

It was the Day of Preparation…. The Greek text reads: on de paraskeue tou pascha, meaning “now it was the preparation of the Passover.”   This is the third passage in John’s Gospel that arouses so much controversy.   The first issue is what does John mean by “The Day of Preparation” or “preparation of the Passover”?  Taken out of context, some scholars understand this clause to mean that it was the day Jews prepared for the Passover sacrifice.  Some scholars believe St. John found the other three Synoptic Gospels in error when they identified the Passover sacrifice as occurring the day before Jesus’ arrest and death.  These scholars maintain that John is identifying the day of Jesus’ crucifixion as the “Day of Preparation” for the Sacrifice of the lambs and kids at the Temple on the very day Jesus was tried and crucified.  But since St. John never uses the term “Unleavened Bread” in his Gospel, the reference to “the Passover” could just as easily mean the 7-day festival of Unleavened Bread since different sacrifices were offered each day for 7 days and that first day of the feast required the offering of the Chagigah communion sacrifice that had to be eaten that afternoon in a sacred meal with family and friends (see the discussion in chapter 18 on verse 28).

However, John gives a clear definition of this term paraskeue = “preparation” in verse 31 when he writes: It was the Day of Preparation (paraskeue), and to avoid the bodies remaining on the cross during the Sabbath….   Clearly John is referring to the “Day of Preparation” as the Friday of Passover Week, the day beforethe Saturday Holy Sabbath, when special preparation must be made, and in this case, a special concern for the Jews who desired Jesus’ death because the execution must be completed before the Sabbath begins at sundown.  The Sabbath that fell during the holy feast days was a “day of special solemnity,” according to St. John in 19:31.  In the Jewish Mishnah the day before the Passover sacrifice is always referred to as “the eve of the Passover” (Mishnah: Pesahim 4:5; 10:1).

The Synoptic Gospels also identify Friday, the day of Jesus crucifixion, as “Preparation Day” in Matthew 26:62; Mark 15:42; and Luke 23:54, meaning preparation for the Sabbath.  St. John uses the term “the Day of Preparation” or “Preparation Day” three times in John 19:14, 31, and 42.  In John 19:31 and 42 the Gospel of St. John identifies this day as the day before the Sabbath (Saturday).  Then too, if it was “the day of preparation” for the sacrifice of the Passover victims it would have to be the day before the day of the sacrifice which would mean the lambs would be sacrificed on Saturday!  A “day of preparation” proceeds the special day by 24 hours!  That is why Friday is the “day of preparation” for the Sabbath on Saturday. This interpretation is supported by the fact that in every other occurrence of the word paraskeue in the New Testament (including the two other uses in John), the term unambiguously means the day before the Sabbath.

…about the sixth hour.  The sixth hour in Hebrew time is 12 noon (please see the chart on the Tamid Daily Sacrifice).  If John is identifying Jesus’ time with Pilate as “about the 6th hour” Hebrew time it would be sometime between 12 noon and 1PM.  This time does not agree with the Synoptic Gospels (please see the chart “The Harmony of the Gospels: the Crucifixion” in the resource section).  All three of the Synoptic Gospels are in agreement on the timing of Jesus’ Passion and crucifixion:

  • Mark 15:25: They crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get.  It was the third hour when they crucified him.  The third hour Hebrew time is 9AM, the time of the morning sacrifice.

The Gospel of St. Mark continues:

  • Mark 15:33: When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out…  The 6th hour Hebrew time is 12 noon and the 9th hour is 3PM.  These times correspond to the second lamb of the daily sacrifice being tied to the altar and then sacrificed at 3PM.
  • Matthew 27:45-46: From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.  And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice… 6th hour = 12 noon; 9th hour = 3PM
  • Luke 23:44: It was now about the sixth hour and the sun’s light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Prior to the “6th hour” or 12 noon (Hebrew time), statements in Mark 15:33, Matthew 27:45, and Luke 23:44, record the inscription on the plaque noted, the two malefactors are crucified with Jesus, lots are cast for His garment, and passers-by mock Him, Jesus had a verbal exchange with the one thief on the cross next to Him, and Jesus’ sees His mother (not yet dark). When John mentions the 6th hour none of these events have taken place. John will record some of these events later in chapter 19.

Is John in error, are the Synoptic Gospels in error, or is there a way that all four Gospels can agree?

According to tradition and modern scholarship, the fourth Gospel was written after the Synoptic Gospels, later in the first century.  According to tradition St. John the Apostle wrote his Gospel account when he was the Bishop of the powerful city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  Ephesus was the 3rd most powerful and influential city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, Egypt.  It was a city with a large Roman population.  It was a city dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperor. John’s church at this time was already predominately Gentile.  Why would the Bishop of a mostly Gentile Roman culture city use Hebrew time?  Why wouldn’t he use Roman time?  The Romans began their day at 12 midnight (Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.79.188.  See quotation in “Resources” #9 at the end of this lesson). As a matter of fact, we keep Roman time which started the day from 12 midnight.  If Jesus is with Pilate some time around 6AM Roman time (assuming sunrise is about 5:30/6AM) then John’s account agrees perfectly with the Synoptic Gospels and there is more than enough time for Jesus to walk the “Way of Sorrows” and to reach Golgotha by 9AM, which is the time of crucifixion according to Mark 15:25.

[Actually St. Mark and St. John’s accounts uses the Greek word “proi” for the time that the Sanhedrinists took Jesus to Pilate.  The signal of “cockcrow” is at 3AM and “Proi” is the name of the 4th watch, which is from 3AM to dawn].

There are three more pieces of evidence that may support John’s reference to Roman time:

  1. In John 19: 20-22 the Gospel of St. John records that the plaque Pilate had ordered to be written to identify Jesus as the “King of the Jews” was written in three languages: Hebrew, Latin and Greek [verse 20].  It is significant that it is only John who includes the information that there was a Latin inscription.  It was the familiar INRI that we see above the crucifixes in our churches that would have been the Latin transcription:  Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum.  This information would only be significant to a Latin speaking audience.
  2. In John 1:39 it is recorded that John the Baptist’s two disciples stayed with him [Jesus] that day.  It was about the tenth hour.  If John was using Hebrew time they only stayed with Jesus from 4PM [the 10th hour Hebrew time] until the end of the day at sundown.  At sundown, approximately 6PM, the next day began which means the disciples only stayed with Jesus about 2 hours.  But if John was using Roman time they stayed with Jesus from 10 in the morning all that day until the end of the daylight hours a little before sundown.  10AM Roman time fits the text far better than 4PM Hebrew time.
  3. The third argument supporting Roman time concerns the solar eclipse.  While John does not repeat the Synoptic Gospel’s testimony that an eclipse occurred and the sky was dark from the 6thhour until the ninth hour, which in Hebrew time = 12 noon to 3PM (see Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; and Luke 23:44), the writings of the Church Fathers and Church tradition has always supported this event. Mark even records in his Gospel that When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  If John was using Hebrew time and Jesus is with Pilate and the Jewish crowd at 12 noon and an eclipse suddenly occurred would the superstitious Romans and Jews have continued with His execution or would they have withdrawn in fear?   After all, this man claimed to be the Son of God; wouldn’t such a phenomenon as a total eclipse of the sun at a time of the month when a natural eclipse was unheard of have completely unnerved the entire assembly?  Eclipses only occur at the new moon not during the full moon and since the Jews used the lunar calendar for their festivals as commanded by the Sinai Covenant, there was a full moon at this time. There will be more information on this phenomenon later in the lesson.

The final point is this: if you reject the possibility that John was using Roman time then wouldn’t it be John’s Gospel that is in error by setting the crucifixion at 12 noon instead of Mark and the other the Synoptic Gospels which identify the crucifixion as occurring earlier?  After all, the 3 Synoptic Gospels are all in agreement in stating that Jesus had already been on the cross for some time by 12 noon. Mark’s Gospel records that Jesus was on the cross 3 hours as we count time, but 4 hours as the ancients counted time by 12 noon.  All 3 Synoptic Gospels were written within a decade-and not later than two decades, after Jesus’ Resurrection; but John’s Gospel, at the earliest, was written either sometime just prior to 70 AD (theory of scholars favoring an early date), 40 years after the Resurrection, and not later than 100AD (scholars favoring a later date), which would be70 years after the Resurrection.  It seems more reasonable to assume that the accounts written closed to the historical event would be more accurate. But, if you believe that the Gospels do not contradict each other and that there is no error in Sacred Scripture then that John is using Roman time is the only possibility that unites the testimony of all four Gospel accounts.

There is also another reason John may have mentioned that it is now “about the 6th hour.”  You may recall that St. John’s Gospel set the countdown to the Passover sacrifice by recording in 12:1 that it was 6 days before the Passover.  John may have been drawing our attention to the symbolic nature of the number 6.  When I suggested this theory to a friend he warned me to be careful about “reading too much symbolism into Scripture.”  But we fail to appreciate that these are people who saw symbolism in everything!  All ancient people were much attuned to symbolism in their daily lives-all primitive societies in this century are also very conscious of symbolic phenomena:  an eclipse signals the death of a person of importance-a new star the birth of a king!  This is before the age of the Industrial Revolution –before the age when science provided answers to how the universe worked and gave probable explanations for so many mysteries of life.  Numbers were very important to ancient peoples.  For the Hebrews every number had a symbolic meaning.

Question:  Why might John want us to think about the symbolic nature of the number 6?  Hint: see Genesis 1:27-31

Answer: Six was the number of man.  It was on the 6thday of Creation (as the ancients counted) that man was created.

Question: If in Creation, the 7th day is the Sabbath, which is Saturday, what day was the 6th day and what is the connection to John 19:14?

Answer: The 6th day was Friday and Jesus was prepared to die for the sins of man (symbolized by the number 6) on the 6thday of the week (see the document “The Significance of Numbers in Scripture” in the charts and resources section).

John 19:14b-16: ‘Here is your king,’ said Pilate to the Jews.  But they shouted, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’  Pilate said, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’  The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’  So at that Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

Question: How does Pilate taunt the Jewish leaders one last time?

Answer: By asking, “Shall I crucify your king?”

Question:  What do the Jewish leaders call out to Pilate and what is the horrible implication of their reply?

Answer:  The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ In the Sinai Covenant, Yahweh set Israel aside to be a holy nation who would worship Him as their only God and their true King.  In the Old Testament, Yahweh was Israel’s true King  (see Deuteronomy 33:5; Numbers 23:21; 1Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:5), but when the people of Israel wanted to be like their neighbors and asked the prophet Samuel for a king of their own, God allowed Israel to have a human king who, like David, was anointed to rule as His representative.  Now the Jews shouted out that they had no King, and by inference, no god, except the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar who was acknowledged as the son of a god (Augustus) by the Roman people.Their statement,  We have no king except Caesar, is a major breach of the Covenant! It is a violation of the Ten Commandments!

Question: Specifically, what commandments did the Jewish crowd violate with their claim that they had not king but Caesar?

Answer: They violated the first and third commandments (Exodus 20:3, 5):

  • You shall have no other     gods to rival me. 
  • You shall not bow down to     them or serve them.  For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God…

Those who condemned Jesus rejected the easy “yoke” of Christ (see Matthew 11:30) and sought to bring down the full weight of Rome, in the form of a cross, on to the body of the Messiah. They rejected God Himself in favor of a murderer named Barabbas, a man whose name meant “son of the father.” Instead of choosing the true Son of God the Father, they chose a false “son of the father” and a pagan Roman who claimed to be the son of a false god.

St. John Chrysostom wrote that in this rejection of the Messiah the people who stubbornly refused to come into the New Covenant by choosing Rome over Christ pronounced their own judgment: They themselves submitted to the punishment; therefore, the Lord handed them over.  Thus, because they unanimously rejected God’s government, the Lord let them be brought down through their own condemnation: for, rejecting the dominion of Christ, they brought upon themselves that of Caesar (St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, 83).  In     66AD the Jews revolted against Rome.  In retaliation, four Roman legions ravaged Judea, burned down the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple in 70AD.  Many     of the Jewish survivors were sold into slavery, disbursing them across the Roman Empire.

John 19:16: So at that Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

It is important to remember that the Jews collectively are not responsible for Jesus’ death.  No human agency had power over Jesus.  This was God’s plan.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:  The Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus’ death: The historical complexity of Jesus’ trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts.  The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone.  Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles’ calls to conversion after Pentecost.  Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept ‘the ignorance’ of the Jews of Jerusalem and even their leaders.  Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd’s cry: “His blood be on us and on our children!”  a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.  As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: ‘Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion….  The Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.’  All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion (CCC# 597).



Three Old Covenant Holy Feast Days fell within a one-week period: Passover, Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:5-14).  In the 1st century AD, the entire 8-day period from Nisan 14th -21st was known collectively as both the Passover Feast or the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:1 & John 18:28; Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.2.1; 17.9.3; Jewish War 5.3.1).  The celebrations of these Old Covenant Holy Days were prescribed by the Laws of the Sinai Covenant and are found in Exodus chapter 12, in Leviticus chapter 23 and Numbers 28. (Please see the chart on the Seven Holy Feast Days of the Old Covenant).  Please note that the Jewish day began at sundown.

The Holy Week Preceding the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:

10th of Nisan (also known as the month of Abib/Aviv): fell on a Sunday, what we call Palm or Passion Sunday: The male lambs or kids for the Passover sacrifice were chosen (Exodus 12:3-6) on this day in the first Passover.  This was the day Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem (see Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19:28ff; John 12).  John 12:1 identified the day beforeJesus rode into Jerusalem (Saturday) as 6 days before the Passover.  In the ancient world when one counted a sequence, one counted from the day that started the sequence as #1-the ancients had no concept of a 0-place value. This is why it is said Jesus was in the tomb 3 days from Friday, to Sunday as the ancients counted but this would be only two days as we count today. Therefore, counting as the ancients counted, six days from Saturday Nisan the 9thwould be Thursday, Nisan the 14th and the same day the Synoptic Gospels identified as the day of the Passover Sacrifice.  The lambs and kids chosen for sacrifice by each family had to be visible every day before the Passover Feast in order for everyone to observe the selected lamb’s perfection.  For 5 days Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, preached at the Temple in Jerusalem where everyone could see Him and judge His perfection.

14th of Nisan (Thursday): Jesus sent Peter and John into Jerusalem to see that the room He had selected for the feast was prepared.  Everything was ready.  This was the day the lambs and kids were sacrificed at the Temple (Exodus 12:6).  The Passover victims were sacrificed at the hour of the second daily Tamid was usually sacrifice at the ninth hour, or 3pm (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 14.4.3 [65]); on the day of the Passover sacrifice, the afternoon Tamid was sacrificed an hour earlier (Mishnah: Pesahim 5:1). The Temple ceremony began at noon (Philo, Special Laws II, 145) when the second Tamid lamb of the daily sacrifice was brought out and tied to the altar.  Exodus 12:6 should read “between the twilights” which is 12 noon. (see the chart on the Tamyid daily Sacrifice at .  There was an exception to this rule if the Passover fell on a Friday, then the sacrifice of the Tamid was at 12:30 and placed on the altar at 1:30PM (Mishnah: Pesahim 5:1D).   The sacrifice of the Passover victims immediately followed the Tamid and were slain from 2 to 4 PM, ending a hour earlier so there was enough time to cleanse the Temple and for the priests to prepare for the Sabbath which began at sundown.

The number of lambs or kids sacrificed at a single 1st century AD Passover sacrifice: The 1st century priest/historian Flavius Josephus, along with other priests, was required to count the sacrifices at one Passover sacrifice: So these high priests, upon the coming of their feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices, from the ninth hour till the eleventh, but so that a company not less than ten belong to every sacrifice….and many of us are twenty in a company, found the number of sacrifices was 256,500, which, upon the allowance of no more than ten that feast together, amounts to 2,700,200 persons that were pure and holy (The Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 [423-24]). [Note: the ninth hour Jewish time is 3PM our time; the eleventh hour Jewish time is 5PM our time].

At the end of the ceremony the lambs or kids, each group took the  sacrificed animal to a banquet room in Jerusalem where the bodies were roasted in preparation for the feast that began that night at sundown.  The sacred meal had to be eaten in the “camp” of God (Deuteronomy 12:10-12; 16:16) in groups of not less than ten and not more than twenty.  The sacrificial animal was to be roasted whole, no bones broken.  The next day began at sundown.  At sundown it became the 15th of Nisan and the night of the sacred feast of the Passover victims.

15th of Nisan: At sundown, the beginning of the day (Friday Jewish time but Thursday night our time), Jesus and His disciples gathered at the Upper Room in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.  Everything that took place in the Old Covenant sacrificial meal of the Feast of Unleavened Bread prefigured the Passion of the Christ.  After the meal, very late that night or sometime after midnight, Jesus was arrested while praying on the Mt. of Olives.  At dawn He was condemned by the Jewish court and sent to the Roman governor, Pilate-Jesus was essentially “selected” for sacrifice by the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas just as Caiaphas selected the perfect male lambs for the Tamid (daily) sacrifice.  At dawn the first lamb of the daily sacrifice is tied to the altar. This was the 6th day of the week: the day man was created (Genesis 1:26).

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