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Themes

Nick Tapia
Mr. Sitler
New Testament
May 21, 2004
John 19:31-37 Exegesis
The Gospel according to John is shrouded in mystery. Out of the four
Gospels, John clearly stands out. The text is very symbolic, having
several tiers of meanings. John is also unique; 90% of John appears
nowhere else in the Bible. For example, the piercing of Jesus’ side can
only be found in John 19:31-37. Since the story of the piercing is only
told once, it is worth looking at twice.

To understand the Gospel of John, one must understand the time from
which the text comes from. John is believed to have been written between
90 and 100 CE by the Johannine community. The Johannine community was a
group of people who followed the teachings of John. The Gospel of John was
written to express how they felt towards the Messiah. The Johannine
community lived in a time of unrest and uncertainty. The Romans had
occupied Israel for many decades and many Jews were awaiting the coming of
the great judge who would put things right. After Jesus’ death, some
Jewish-Christians believed Jesus was the Messiah and that he would return
and make dark into light. However, by the time John was written, the
Johannines believed that Jesus never left, that he is everywhere. Since
the Johannine community was not waiting for the second coming, they would
live their lives how Jesus taught.

Not only is the content of John dissimilar from other Biblical text,
the form is likewise. In the synoptic Gospels, the story of Christ is told
through theological reasoning. John explains the theology of Christ
through historical events. Theology is
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obviously John’s focus throughout the Gospel. The Gospel according to John
can be read and appreciated for its literal text, this is true. However,
the author(s) of John intended the reader to not only enjoy the story, but
to consider the multiple meanings. Planted everywhere in John, these
double meanings allow the reader to think for him or herself about what
Jesus was really teaching. The symbolism captivates the reader and assists
in conveying the point of the Gospel. When reading the “passion”
(“passion” because there was no suffering) in John, it is blatantly
apparent that John’s Jesus is the Passover lamb for mankind. John 19:31-37
comes after the death of Jesus on the cross and before the burial. In
every Gospel, there is a soldier to witness the death of Jesus but John’s
account is very different.

The day Jesus died was the day of Preparation. The Jews had to
prepare for the next day, which was Passover. Since a very special Sabbath
was near, the Jewish authorities wanted to follow the law to the letter.

It is written in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “22If a man guilty of a capital
offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23you must not
leave his body on the tree overnight…”. The Jews went to Pilate and
asked if the bodies could be taken down. John never writes how Pilate
responds but instead continues by writing that the soldiers take action.

It is questionable whether all this action took place on Golgotha or not.

It is not written that the Jews go to Pilate or that Pilate sends soldiers
to the hill. The Jews just ask Pilate to break the legs of the three and
the soldiers just break the two on Jesus’ left and right. It is
interesting that the soldiers go to the two on the side first and leave
Jesus for last (Brown 1176). This works for the suspense and drama of the
story, building up to the piercing. When the soldiers finally make it to
Jesus they find him dead. Since he appears to be dead, they do not break
his legs. It makes sense that the soldiers would not want to exert energy
into beating a dead
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horse, but fact that Jesus’ legs are not broken fulfill prophecy. In
Numbers 9:12 it is written about the Passover lamb “They must not leave any
of it till morning or break any of its bones.” Since John’s main symbol is
Jesus as the sacrificial Passover lamb, it is made sure that none of Jesus’
bones are broken. It is also written in Psalms 34:19-20 “19A righteous man
may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; 20he
protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.”
But the soldiers had to make sure he was dead. A soldier decided to
drive a spear into his side to see if a living body would respond. The
piercing of Jesus also fulfills scripture. In Zechariah 12:10 it is
written “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of
Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the
one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an
only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn
son.” Jesus becomes the pierced one that will pour out salvation and his
people will mourn for what they have done.

Seemingly before the soldier can pull the spear out of Jesus’ side, a
sudden flow of blood and water springs from the wound. This is an image
loaded with meaning. One connection can be made to Hellenistic symbolism.

John may have had Jesus release blood and water from his body because
“there was an old Homeric legend that the gods had in their veins a type of
blood mixed with water” (Brown 1179). This probably did not play a large
role in the reasoning of including this verse, but it link to a belief of
the era of the Gospel’s inception. The strongest message is the symbolism
of water and blood. Water is used for cleansing of the spirit such as in
baptism. The water reveals that Jesus’ death will wash away man’s sins and
purify its collective spirit. The blood can be linked to wine. Earlier in
John, Jesus declares that he it the “true vine”. From his wine will come
salvation. One cannot forget that like the Passover lamb, Jesus must also
shed
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his blood. Also, water represents life and blood represents death. With
the combination of the two, one can see that although Jesus died, a new age
has been born.

The next verse is interesting. It is written in John 19:35 “The man
who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that
he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” This
somewhat redundant verse is placed in the text to stress the important
event that precedes it. It is possible that the unnamed man was the
beloved disciple that was with Jesus at his death. At the time John was
written, there was much skepticism concerning the death of Jesus. Some did
not even believe that Jesus died on the cross. This verse seems to thwart
the spread of any doubt about the death of Christ.

The next two verses serve to inform the reader, who may not know
Hebrew scripture, that the unbroken bones and the piercing of his side
fulfill scripture. It strengthens the idea of Jesus being the Passover
lamb, which is very important to the message of John.

John 19:31-37 is a very important part of Jesus’ death in John. And
of course, the death of Jesus is the climax of John, as it is with the
other Gospels. This passage is the first passage after Jesus’ death. It
is integral to the understanding of his death and his teachings. It is the
last comparison of Jesus to the Passover lamb and reveals the through death
comes life. People of today must keep in mind that Jesus did not come to
earth to just die but to bring new life through his death and to save all
people who believe in him.


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Works Cited
Brown, Raymond Edward. The Death of the Messiah. New York: Bantam
Doubleday, 1994.