To approach Calvary is to approach the central truth of Christianity; the Lord Jesus Christ died for an ordained purpose. If there was no Cross, no Christ, if no death, no deliverance. If there was no sacrifice, there would be no salvation.
John, in his account of the Crucifixion, strips away many of the details found in the other gospels and adds some they left out. His overriding purpose is Jesus died as God the Father intended, in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. He is the victor of God’s sovereign grace and purpose.
In Leviticus 6:11 and Leviticus 16:27 we are told that the remains of a sin offering sacrifice in the temple was to be taken outside of camp, so it is Jesus, as a sin offering, is taken outside the city (Hebrews 13:11-12).
So these verses focus on three things in fulfilment of prophecy, showing Jesus died in obedience to the Father’s will, God’s perfect means of bringing glory to His name in the salvation of His saints.
- The Saviour numbered with transgressors.
‘There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them’ (John 19:18). Jesus was crucified in the company of two others, one either side. John doesn’t mention their crime. We know, from the other gospel accounts, they were being crucified for being criminals. Here were men who had robbed and murdered and Jesus is numbered among them. This is clearly a fulfilment of Isaiah 53:12. The emphasis is on the unimaginable shame that crucifixion brought. Jesus is identified with the scum of the earth (Deuteronomy 21:23).
Jesus died not only the most painful death imaginable, but also the most shameful death in the most shameful company. He bore the curse for sin. All of this was designed by God the Father and willingly ordained by Jesus. Here is the great condescension of the Lord; He bore the shame and the curse of our sins, in our place. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered the penalty of death as He was my substitute. He was numbered among the transgressors. What a relief it is to the Lord Jesus Christ has paid in full on our behalf. We plead with others ‘repent and be saved.’ As believers we praise the Lord that we will never have to face the shame and punishment of our sin.
- The second prophetic voice that is being fulfilled in these verses is ‘Behold your King.’ (Zechariah 9:9).
‘There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (John 19:18-22).
We see in Zechariah, the coming king is proclaimed, riding on a donkey,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
This prophecy was fulfilled the week before Jesus’ death, in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Since then, the Hosanna crowds had rejected Him and turned into a mob. What has changed in the course of a week? They had welcomed Him as a great king and expected Him to overthrow Roman rule, yet He overturned the tables in the temple. He was a disappointment. They thought deliverance was their Roman oppressors being thrown out, yet He had done nothing. And with stirring up by the chief priests, they are brought to shout ‘Crucify!’ At least Barabbas challenged the Romans. They are rejecting Jesus as king. But what John is reminding us is that despite their rejection, He is still the king. Pilot didn’t realise it, but he proclaimed the truth. Unwittingly, he declared, ‘This indeed is the king.’ In pilot’s refusal to change the inscription on the cross (verses 21-22), just as the Jews were powerless to change what was written, so they were powerless to change Jesus was king.
The sign on the cross was multilingual: the Aramaic inscription was the local language, Latin was the language of the Roman army and the Greek inscription was the language of the common world. It stated for all the world to read that ‘here is the King.’ Jesus was not just the king of the Jews, but King of the Gentiles too (Psalm 22:27-28).
One of the main themes of John’s gospel is the kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death does not deny His claim that Jesus is King. It is the vindication that He is King. What is it that declares Jesus Christ to be the genuine King of Kings, evidence that authenticates Him in this God-appointed role as the King of Kings, Lord of Lords? The holes in His feet and the holes in His hands. We should never doubt that it is the appointed will of God the Father, even His death, to exult Him to be the name above all names. It is a great privilege for those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord to reign with Him one day (Revelation 22:5).
Christ, by His death upon the cross, secures the salvation of many that they may reign with Him. That’s why it’s Good Friday. Behold the King!
- The divided garments
‘When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things (John 19:23-23). The soldiers’ actions fulfil prophecy of Psalm 22:18, ‘they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ The victor of the crucifixion is stripped naked. One of the few perks Roman soldiers enjoyed was taking the clothes of the crucified. Here, it symbolises man’s nakedness in sin. Adam and Eve became conscious of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). It was not just a physical nakedness but also a moral nakedness. Jesus being stripped symbolises our moral nakedness so we could be clothed in His righteousness.
The Son of God plumbs the greatest depths of humiliation as He takes on the responsibility of our sin. Through the Resurrection He will take with Him all who believe in Him as Lord and Saviour. But this is only achieved through His utter humiliation. Our Lord and Saviour was stripped and made naked, utterly humiliated, because He bears your sin and mine. He willingly does so in His love for us. His purpose – that we should never be humiliated as He was, but be presented to the Father spotless, righteous, in His sight. We can never grasp the depth of the Lord’s humiliation.
Oh that we could grasp the greatness of His love for us, that He was willing to experience the humiliation that we might be saved. There is only one response – humbly submit to Him in repentance. If we refuse to bow before Him we declare His death of no significance. Let us remember to be humble. There is no place for pride in your heart. If the King of glory hung Himself so that we might be exalted with Him, we know it’s nothing of us but all of Him. There is nothing for us to boast in, save in the Lord Himself, our Lord and Saviour, who, in fulfilment of prophecy, hung upon the cross. Bearing shame in my place, condemned He stood. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!