John 19:23-42 The King: Laid in the Tomb

John 19:23-42    The King: Laid in the Tomb            WC McCarter

How ironic it is to see the King crucified on a cross and laid in a tomb. God loves to turn the things of this world upside-down. We learn that His ways are far above our ways. As far as the heavens are above the earth are His ways above ours. We learn that the greatest of human wisdom is nothing compared to the foolishness of God. And it is the foolishness of preaching, and not just any preaching but the preaching of the cross, that brings life. Very few doubt that Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross. The question is, How do you interpret that historical event?

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They Took His Garments (23-24)
If you remember back to the footwashing scene in the upper room, you will remember that we were told that Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments. . . .” I interpreted that passage as a foreshadowing of the cross. Here we see Jesus lay aside His clothes one last time in order to serve us. This is the One who said, “The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” He is stripped down to nothing, and His clothes are distributed among the soldiers. The common practice was for the executioner(s) to take the clothes of the executed criminal(s). Not only does the Lord lay aside His clothes in service to mankind, but He lays aside His life in order to pay for our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of the whole world. He has laid aside His glory; He has laid aside His clothes; and He has laid aside His life. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends. Yet, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The soldiers decide to take the Lord’s garments, as if dividing the spoils of war, but think of what Christ would have freely given them if only they would have asked! The One they are abusing and putting to death is the One who can forgive them of their sins. He is the One who can give them living water that would quench their thirst forever. He is the One who gives true love, joy, and peace. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. From Him all blessings flow both in this life and into the next age. Come to Him all you who are weary and heavy laden, and He will give you rest.

Of course, the apostle wants us to know that something more is happening than simply the soldiers taking the Lord’s garments. They are actually fulfilling Scripture. Particularly, they are fulfilling the words of David in Psalm 22, which becomes a central prophecy for the cross.

That Disciple Took Her to His Own Home (25-27)
It is interesting that John shows us that there were four soldiers executing the Lord while four women looked on. There is a contrast. The original language basically says, “On the one hand, the soldiers did these things; on the other hand, there stood near the cross of Jesus [the four women].” Three of the four women were named Mary, but only two of the four are named here. The one that Jesus is concerned with at this point is His earthly mother. Even in His greatest point of suffering, He lovingly thinks of His mother and makes arrangements for her care. You may think that Jesus’ brothers have legal responsibility to take care of Mary, and that may be true, but Jesus is thinking of something else. He wants these two to care for each other, as mother and son, in their darkest hour. Jesus has been at the center of both Mary and John’s lives for years, and now He is being put to death. They are going to need to lean on each other. Christian people need one another. We have to support one another and encourage one another. We must weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In our dark hours we lean on one another, and on our brightest days we celebrate together.

It is Finished (28-30)
Jesus could see that He had come to the point that would complete the divine plan of redemption. His mission was coming to an end. Jesus consciously and willingly fulfills both Scripture and the salvation plan.

Thirst would have been part of the torture of crucifixion, so this is not just some set up in order to fulfill Scripture. The physical and literal reality fulfilled prophecy. It may be that John is referring again to Psalm 22 as the psalmist says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.” He may also be referring to Psa 69:21 which says, “And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” What is clear is that every part of Jesus suffering and crucifixion were part of the divine plan of God.

The phrase, “It is finished” makes us think back to 13:1 where we were told, “When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” The phrase, “To the end” uses the same word as “finished” here. Jesus loved them to the fullest and when He died, He said, “It is fulfilled.” Notice that Jesus willingly gives up His life. He did not fight back or defend Himself when He was arrested in the garden, when He was taken from trial to trial, when He was beaten, or when He was nailed to the cross. He even said clearly in 10:17-18, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Now we hear Him say, “It is finished;” He bowed His head; and He gave up His spirit.

He was Already Dead (31-37)
The Romans would usually leave the bodies of those crucified on the cross until they died, and they would even leave their corpses there for days after. When they had a reason to get the bodies down quicker, they would break their legs so that they could no longer lift themselves up to breathe (not to mention more loss of blood). Because Jesus was crucified on Friday and the Sabbath was the next day, the Jews asked that their legs be broken so they would die sooner and their bodies could be taken down off of the crosses.

The soldiers broke the legs of both of the other men who were crucified on either side of the Lord. They did not need to break the legs of Jesus because they saw that He was already dead. How was it that Jesus died so soon? Well, probably because He had been flogged twice and because He gave up His spirit. Instead of breaking His legs, one of the soldiers puts a spear into His side. What is John emphasizing here? He is emphasizing that Jesus physically and literally died and that He died without a shadow of doubt.

The idea is questionable that John meant a greater symbolism by the detail that blood and water flowed from the Lord’s side. We cannot be sure that he meant anything special by recording this fact. If he did, the symbolism of blood in the Bible always refers to life, sacrifice, and forgiveness while water refers to cleansing and the Spirit. As the hymn says, “Jesus, keep me near the cross: There a precious fountain, free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calv’ry’s mountain” or another, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.”

These things were heard, seen, and recorded by an eyewitness. John wants to make this clear to the reader. He tells us clearly and boldly that the witness is true, and he also gives us the purpose of this report: that we may believe. This is important for us to realize. Based on historical evidence and by faith we believe that what is stated here is true and accurate, and because of what we understand about the cross, we trust Jesus Christ with our lives. This is why a passage like Isaiah 53 is so important. The theology that we learn there interprets Calvary for us. We believe that Jesus died physically and literally, but that much more was actually happening. The Lord was absorbing the sins of the world in His sinless soul. His soul was made an offering for sin.

Two more Scriptures are referred to as being fulfilled by the events of the cross. Several people involved in the events surrounding the Lord’s death were saying and doing things that they did not even know was fulfilling Scripture. They were saying and doing things far beyond their own understanding. So, when the soldiers do not break the Lord’s legs and decide to put a spear in His side instead, they are fulfilling what the Old Testament said about the Messiah.

There They Laid Jesus (38-42)
This Joseph shows up in all four Gospels in connection with the burial of Christ. The other Gospel writers tell us that he belonged to the Sanhedrin, that he was rich, and that he was looking for the kingdom of God. He was known by the other believers to be a disciple of Jesus. Joseph kept his discipleship of Jesus a secret from the Jewish rulers, but he makes a bold and courageous move here to properly honor the body of Christ. Nicodemus was also probably a member of the Sanhedrin. He is the one who came to Jesus at night (John 3) to question the Lord. I think we see Nicodemus move from a seeker to a believer.

Isaiah 53 even speaks of the Lord’s burial in shocking clarity, “For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.”


(1) We believe that Jesus’ death was literal, physical, and historical, but, more than that, we believe that He was paying the penalty for our sins as our substitute. Like the sponge absorbed the sour wine for Jesus to drink, Jesus Christ was absorbing in His sinless soul the sins of the world on the cross. As Isa 53 says, “When You make His soul an offering for sin. . . .”

(2) He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

(3) We leave here today with heavy hearts after reading and discussing the death and burial of our Lord. Can you imagine what the disciples went through? They surely had turmoil of emotion and spirit. They could not understand that Jesus had to die and be buried. They could not understand what was happening on the cross. They simply believed that their Teacher and Lord was dead and gone.