John 19:31
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.
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(31) The account of the piercing of the side (John 19:31-37) is peculiar to St. John.

The preparation,. . . . an high day.—Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord, p. 559. The Roman custom was to allow the bodies to remain on the cross. To the Jews this was defilement (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), against which they were the more anxious to take precaution because the approaching Sabbath was “an high day.”

That their legs might be broken.—The breaking of the legs by means of clubs was a Roman punishment, known by the name of crurifragium, which sometimes accompanied crucifixion, and appears also to have been used as a separate punishment. It is not otherwise clear that its purpose was, or that its effect would be, to cause death, but this is the impression we derive from the present context (John 19:33).

John 19:31-37. That the bodies should not remain on the cross — It was customary among the Romans to let the bodies of persons who had been executed continue on the crosses, or stakes, till they were devoured by birds or beasts of prey. But the law of Moses expressly prohibited the Jews from suffering the bodies of those who were hanged to remain all night on the trees, Deuteronomy 21:22; for that reason, as well as because the sabbath was at hand, which would have been profaned by their remaining, especially as that sabbath was a day of peculiar solemnity, being the second day of the feast of unleavened bread, (from whence they reckoned the weeks to pentecost,) and also the day for presenting and offering the sheaf of new corn; therefore, the Jews besought Pilate that the legs of the three crucified persons might be broken, to hasten their death; and Pilate consented, and gave the order they desired. Then came the soldiers

Who guarded the execution; and brake the legs of the first — Malefactor, or of him that hung nearest the place where they had been sitting; and then, passing by Jesus, who hung in the middle, they went and brake the legs of the other, who was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, perceiving that he was dead already — They did not take the trouble of breaking his legs; but one of the soldiers — Had so much boldness and inhumanity that, with a spear, which he had in his hand, he pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water — Real blood and real water; the spear having pierced both the pericardium and heart, the water issuing from the former and the blood from the latter; a wound which must inevitably have killed him, had he been living when it was given, and which consequently put it out of all doubt that he was really dead, before he was taken down from the cross; a point of infinite importance to be ascertained. For the grand evidence of Christ’s mission is his resurrection, which implies the certainty of his death. On that account, crucifixion might have seemed, on a slight view, a less proper execution than some others, such as beheading, burning, and the like; but this wound, which pierced his heart, would effectually exclude all pretences of his having been taken down alive by his friends; and hence, false and malicious as his enemies were, we do not find that they ever had recourse to such an evasion. Accordingly, as it was of such importance to mankind to be ascertained of the truth of Christ’s death, the evangelist here, in speaking of it, attests this circumstance, which demonstrates it, as being a thing which he himself saw; saying, And he that saw it bare record, &c., and he knoweth — By the most certain testimony of his senses; that he saith true — And he makes this declaration that you, whoever you are, into whose hands this history may come, may believe — And may be confirmed in your adherence to that gospel which is established on the death and resurrection of Christ. Of the mystical meaning of the blood and water which issued out of the side of Christ, see the note on 1 John 5:6. For these things were done — Or were permitted to be done, in the course of divine providence, however inconsiderable they may appear, that the scripture should be fulfilled — That is, Jesus’s legs were not broken, that the passage, (Exodus 12:46,) Neither shall ye break a bone thereof, might be fulfilled. “These words were primarily spoken of the paschal lamb, whose bones were not to be broken, that it might be a fit representation of the Messiah, typified by this sacrifice; and who, though he was to suffer a violent death, was to have none of his bones broken, because he was to rise from the dead on the third day. Wherefore, as the scripture which speaks of the type has necessarily a reference to the antitype, the evangelist had good reason to interpret what is there said of the paschal lamb, as prophetical of this circumstance of our Lord’s death. And the rather, as by so doing he makes his readers sensible it was not owing to accident that the soldiers treated Christ’s body otherwise than they treated the bodies of those who were crucified with him. It happened by the direction of God, who had always determined that Christ should rise from the dead, and that his mission should be fully demonstrated by the evidence of miracles and prophecies united. John observes also, that Christ’s side was pierced with a spear, because another scripture (Zechariah 12:10) had said They shall look on him whom they have pierced;” that is, they who have occasioned his sufferings by their sins, (and who has not?) shall either look upon him in this world with penitential sorrow, or with terror when he cometh in the clouds of heaven, Revelation 1:7.

19:31-37 A trial was made whether Jesus was dead. He died in less time than persons crucified commonly did. It showed that he had laid down his life of himself. The spear broke up the very fountains of life; no human body could survive such a wound. But its being so solemnly attested, shows there was something peculiar in it. The blood and water that flowed out, signified those two great benefits which all believers partake of through Christ, justification and sanctification; blood for atonement, water for purification. They both flow from the pierced side of our Redeemer. To Christ crucified we owe merit for our justification, and Spirit and grace for our sanctification. Let this silence the fears of weak Christians, and encourage their hopes; there came both water and blood out of Jesus' pierced side, both to justify and sanctify them. The Scripture was fulfilled, in Pilate's not allowing his legs to be broken, Ps 34:20. There was a type of this in the paschal lamb, Ex 12:46. May we ever look to Him, whom, by our sins, we have ignorantly and heedlessly pierced, nay, sometimes against convictions and mercies; and who shed from his wounded side both water and blood, that we might be justified and sanctified in his name.The preparation - John 19:14.

That the bodies ... - The law required that the bodies of those who were hung should not remain suspended during the night. See Deuteronomy 21:22-23. That law was made when the punishment by crucifixion was unknown, and when those who were suspended would almost immediately expire. In the punishment by crucifixion, life was lengthened out for four, five, or eight days. The Jews therefore requested that their death might be hastened, and that the land might not be polluted by their bodies remaining suspended on the Sabbath day.

Was an high day - It was:

1. The Sabbath.

2. It was the day on which the paschal feast properly commenced.

It was called a high day because that year the feast of the Passover commenced on the Sabbath. Greek: "Great day."

Their legs might be broken - To hasten their death. The effect of this, while they were suspended on the cross, would be to increase their pain by the act of breaking them, and to deprive their body of the support which it received from the feet, and to throw the whole weight on the hands. By this increased torment their lives were soon ended. Lactantius says that this was commonly done by the Romans to persons who were crucified. The common period to which persons crucified would live was several days. To compensate for those lingering agonies, so that the full amount of suffering might be endured, they increased their sufferings by breaking their limbs, and thus hastening their death.

Joh 19:31-42. Burial of Christ.

31-37. the preparation—sabbath eve.

that the bodies should not remain—over night, against the Mosaic law (De 21:22, 23).

on the sabbath day, for that sabbath day was an high day—or "great" day—the first day of unleavened bread, and, as concurring with an ordinary sabbath, the most solemn season of the ecclesiastical year. Hence their peculiar jealousy lest the law should be infringed.

besought Pilate that their legs might be broken—to hasten their death, which was done in such cases with clubs.

It was the preparation; not to the passover, (for that was celebrated the night before), but to the weekly sabbath; and they judged according to the law, Deu 21:23, that the land would be defiled if the persons executed were not buried that day, but their bodies should remain on the tree all night, especially on the sabbath, which began immediately after sunset. And this sabbath was a more than ordinary sabbath, for it was not only the weekly sabbath, but also their second day of unleavened bread; which, and the last day, were both very solemn days, as may be seen, Leviticus 23:1-44. This makes them come and beseech Pilate that the bodies might be taken down, and in order to it,

that their legs might be broken, lest any life remaining in them they should revive and escape.

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation,.... That is, either of the passover, as in John 19:14 which was the Chagigah or grand festival in which they offered their peace offerings and slew their oxen, and feasted together in great mirth and jollity; or of the sabbath, the evening of it, or day before it, as in Mark 15:42

that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day; which was now drawing near: according to the Jewish law, Deuteronomy 21:22 the body of one that was hanged on a tree was not to remain all night, but to be taken down that day and buried; though this was not always observed; see 2 Samuel 21:9. What was the usage of the Jews at this time is not certain; according to the Roman laws, such bodies hung until they were putrefied, or eaten by birds of prey; wherefore that their land might not be defiled, and especially their sabbath, by their remaining on the cross, they desire to have them taken down:

for that sabbath day was an high day; it was not only a sabbath, and a sabbath in the passover week, but it was the day in which all the people appeared and presented themselves before the Lord in the temple, and the sheaf of the first fruits was offered up; all which solemnities meeting together made it a very celebrated day: it is in the original text, "it was the great day of the sabbath"; which is the language of the Talmudists, and who say (d),

"is called the great sabbath", on account of the miracle or sign of the passover;''

and in the Jewish Liturgy (e) there is a collect for the "great sabbath": hence the Jews pretending a great concern lest that day should be polluted, though they made no conscience of shedding innocent blood,

besought Pilate that their legs might be broken; which was the manner of the Jews (f), partly to hasten death, since, according to their law, the body was to betaken down before night; and partly that it might be a clear point that the person was rightly executed; for this was not the Roman custom, with whom breaking of the legs, or rather thighs, was a distinct punishment, and was done by laying a man's legs or thighs upon an anvil, and striking them with an hammer (g); which could not be the case here; this seems to have been done by striking the legs of those that were crucified, which were fastened to the cross, with a bar of iron, or some such instrument. Nonnus suggests that their legs were cut off with a saw or sword; but the former seems more reasonable:

and that they might be taken away; which it seems the Jews had not power to do, but must be done by the Roman soldiers, or by leave at least from the Roman governor; and therefore they make their request to him.

(d) Piske Tosephot Sabbat, art. 314. (e) Seder Tephillot, fol. 183. 2. &c. Ed. Basil. (f) Lactantii Divin. Institut. l. 4. c. 26. (g) Lipsius de Cruce, l. 2. c. 14. p. 110, 114.

{10} 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.

(10) The body of Christ which was dead for a season (because it so pleased him) is wounded, but not the least bone of it is broken: and such is the state of his resurrection body.

John 19:31. Οὖν] Therefore, since Jesus was already dead. Their object was already attained; so now the Sabbath also should still have its rights. “Magnifici honoratores Dei, cum in conscientia mala reposuissent sanguinem justi,” Ruperti.

ἵνα μὴ μείνῃ, κ.τ.λ.] Contrary to the Roman custom, of leaving the corpse to putrefy on the cross (comp. on Matthew 27:58), on the part of the Jews, the injunction has to be applied respecting the removal of the hanged person, Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (comp. Joseph. Bell. iv. 5. 2), especially in the present case where with sunset the Sabbath began, and this a great Sabbath, and therewith a wish was expressed to see the crucified ones removed and interred in the interval before the beginning of the holy day.

παρασκευή] Because it was the day of preparation, namely, τοῦ σαββάτου, for the Sabbath. This reference of παρασκ. necessarily follows from ἐν τῷ σαββάτῳ. But the parenthesis ἦν γὰρ μεγάλη, κ.τ.λ. indicates why they wished not to have the Sabbath, especially on that occasion, desecrated by the bodies remaining on the cross; because great, i.e. pre-eminently holy (comp. John 7:37; Isaiah 1:13), was the day of that Sabbath, because, that is, it was (not merely generally a Sabbath in the Passover feast time, but) at the same time the first day of Passover, the 15th Nisan. It was thus a Sabbath with twofold authority, since the first feast-day also had the character of a Sabbath (Leviticus 23:7-15). With a Quartodeciman usage of speech (Hilgenfeld) the designation of the Sabbath in the present passage has nothing to do. See Steitz in the Jahrb. f. Deutsche Theol. 1861, p. 113 ff. As the second feast-day, however, which is the day that results from the attempts at harmonizing (see on John 18:28), it could only be termed μεγάλη, for the reason that on this day, i.e. the 16th Nisan, the feast of Sheaves took place, Leviticus 23:10 ff. (see especially Wieseler, p. 385 f., 344). But how could John have presupposed, in his readers, without any indication, a reference to this? These could explain to themselves the μεγαλότης of that Sabbath only from John 19:14, from the fact, namely, that the παρασκευὴ τοῦ σαββάτου of which John speaks was at the same time, according to John 19:14, παρασκευὴ τοῦ πάσχα.

ἵνα κατεαγῶσιν κ.τ.λ.] For two were, indeed, still living, and also with respect to Jesus they had at least no certainty that He was actually dead. On the apparent contradiction with Mark 15:44, see on John 19:38. The crushing of the legs with clubs (crucifragium, σκελοκοπία) was to accelerate death (as John also manifestly views it, comp. John 19:33), and that in a barbarous manner, in order to take nothing from the severity of the punishment. See Lactantius, Instit. div. iv. 26; Lipsius, de cruce, ii. 14. It also appears as a punishment by itself, Suetonius, Aug. 67; Seneca, de ira, iii. 32; and see generally Wetstein, also Lipsius, ad Plaut. Asin. ii. 4. 68. The addition of a finishing blow, by which (therefore not by the crucifragium in itself) death was brought about, cannot be shown, least of all, from John 19:34, against Michaelis, Sender, Kuinoel, Hug. On the aorist form with syllabic augment from κατάγνυμι, see Winer, p. 68 [E. T. p. 85].

John 19:31-37. The piercing of Jesus’ side.

31–42. The petition of the Jews and the petition of Joseph

31. As in John 18:28, the Jews shew themselves to be among those ‘who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.’ In the midst of deliberate judicial murder they are scrupulous about ceremonial observances.

The Jews therefore] The ‘therefore,’ as in John 19:23, probably does not refer to what immediately precedes: it looks back to John 19:20-21. The Jews still continue their relentless hostility. They do not know whether any one of the three sufferers is dead or not; their request shews that; so that ‘therefore’ cannot mean in consequence of Jesus’ death. In order to save the Sabbath, and perhaps also to inflict still further suffering, they ask Pilate for this terrible addition to the punishment of crucifixion. Certainly the lesson ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice,’ of which Christ had twice reminded them, and once in connexion with the Sabbath (Matthew 12:7; Matthew 9:13), had taken no hold on them.

the preparation] The eve of the Sabbath; and the Sabbath on this occasion coincided with the 15th Nisan, the first day of the Passover. This first day ranked as a Sabbath (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7); so that the day was doubly holy.

that … high day] Literally, the day of that Sabbath was great (comp. John 7:37).

legs might be broken] The crurifragium, like crucifixion, was a punishment commonly reserved for slaves. The two were sometimes combined, as here. Lactantius (iv. xxvi) says, ‘His executioners did not think it necessary to break His bones, as was their prevailing custom;’ which seems to imply that to Jewish crucifixions this horror was commonly added, perhaps to hasten death. For even without a Sabbath to make matters more urgent, corpses ought to be removed before night-fall (Deuteronomy 21:23); whereas the Roman custom was to leave them to putrefy on the cross, like our obsolete custom of hanging in chains.

John 19:31. Ἐν τῷ Σαββάτῳ, on the Sabbath) This special reason includes that general reason, of which Deuteronomy 21:23 speaks: The criminal’s “body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him on that day (for he that is hanged is accursed of God), that thy land be not defiled.”—γὰρ, for) This assigns the reason why the Preparation (παρασκευή) urged them to make haste.—μεγάλη, a great) inasmuch as the Sabbath and the Feast met together on the same day: add, that the Rest of the Lord in the sepulchre was an accessory circumstance of its greatness [though this was not perceived by the Jews].—ἐκείνου) This is a more appropriate reading than ἐκείνη;[393] for the word σαββάτῳ precedes, and ἐκείνου is to be referred to it.—κατεαγῶσιν, might be broken) Thomas Magister denies that the augment has place here, and reads κατεάγωσιν, like τετύφωσιν [the Middle Perf. Subjunctive], from κατἑχαγα, viz. in the verb καταγῆναι. But even ἀνεῳχθῆναι is used in Luke 3:21, the ε remaining beyond the Indicative even in the case of the Aorist.[394] The breaking of the legs was formerly effected by means of a club, as in our days by the wheel.—ἈΡΘῶΣΙΝ, might be taken away) viz. the bodies.

[393] Nevertheless the margin of Ed. 2 prefers ἐκείνη; whilst the Germ. Version follows the decision of the Gnomon.—Again, the Harm. Ev., pp. 579, 580, gives the preference to ἐκείνη, subjoining moreover this, “John has throughout such readers in his mind as are not Jews, but need instruction on Jewish subjects: ch. John 2:13, John 4:9, John 5:1, John 6:4, John 7:2, John 11:55, John 19:40; John 19:42. It is for this reason that he generally marks the ‘greatness’ of the Sabbath as surpassing all other festivals whatever (Deuteronomy 23:3) [This, though given both in Ern. Bengel’s Ed. of the Gnomon, and in the Germ. Harmony, seems to me a mistake for Leviticus 23:3.—E. and T.]: although that day of the Sabbath had in it something peculiar, because it both entered among the days of unleavened bread, and was the first of the seven Sabbaths which divided the Passover from Pentecost, and, on account of the ‘handful’ or ‘sheaf of the first fruits’ to be waved before the Lord on the following day (Leviticus 23:10), was observed with more than common reverence.”—E. B.

[394] So κατεαγῶσιν here is the 2d Aor. Subjunctive, not the Perfect Subj.—E. and T.

Ἐκείνη is the reading of Vulg. c and the Elzevir Rec. Text. But the weight of authorities is for ἐκείνου, ABLab.—E. ana T.

Verses 31-37. -

(6) The piercing of the side, with its significance - the final close of the life of earth. Verse 31. - The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation; that is, the day before the sabbath (Mark 15:42). This note of time certainly blends both the synoptists and John in the assurance that the crucifixion took place on a Friday. It was also, according to the previous statement, the preparation of the Passover, which, we have seen, is better understood in that literal sense than in the sense of "the Friday of Passover week." Consequently, there was a twofold sanctity about that particular sabbath, seeing that the sabbatic rest of the day following the Paschal meal coincided with the ordinary weekly sabbath; (for great, or high, was the day of that sabbath) (cf. Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7; and notes on John 13:1; 18:28; 19:14). It was a "great" and "high" day in a sense far more profoundly impressive than any that could be derived from the ceremonial enactments of the Hebrew code. The sabbath of his rest came at length. The toil, the agony, are over, the whole world is transformed during its hours into his resting-place. There has been no such sabbath since the creative Word rested from all his work. In order that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the sabbath. This statement, with the events which followed, strongly confirms our interpretation of the day of the Crucifixion. The Jews would scarcely have justified a crucifixion on the first sabbatic day of the feast, if they shrank from the proceeding here described as in danger of taking place on the ordinary sabbath. They follow the law (Deuteronomy 21:22, 23) so far as it would apply, and hasten the dissolution of the crucified, if it had not already occurred. (They) asked Pilate that their legs might be broken (crushed) [κατεαγῶσιν, the same as aorist passive, κατάγνυμι (Winer, Eng. trans., p. 85), ἀρθώσιν, first aorist passive], and that they might be taken away, as polluting corpses. The σκελοκοπία, equivalent to crurifragium, is a Roman custom, as it is clearly established by numerous authorities (Suet., 'Aug.,' 67; Seneca, ' De Ira.,' 3:32; see Wettstein); - a brutal custom, which added to the cruel shame and torment, even though it hastened the end. John 19:31The Jews - Sabbath

The Jews, who had so recently asserted their sole allegiance to Caesar, are now scrupulous about observing the letter of the law.

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