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The Finished Work of Christ on the Cross -- a study of John 19:17-30

No one took Jesus' life from Him.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for John 19:17-30

In this week's truly astounding passage, John shows us how everything -- not just everything in Scripture but everything in history -- has been pointing to this moment, the moment Jesus Christ accomplishes salvation for humanity. Every detail of this brutal event proves to us that God had been planning for this since before time began and Jesus finished it.

19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.”

Author's Disclaimer

This week's passage is about the crucifixion -- which is not only something we have studied, but our pastor also just preached a sermon series on the "7 sayings of Jesus". Here are some resources from our church that might answer questions you have about this week's passage:

David's Sermons:

  1. Words from the Cross part 1 (forgiveness, future, family)

  2. Words from the Cross part 2 (forsaken, frail)

  3. Words from the Cross part 3 (father, finished)

Previous Bible Study Posts:

That Luke lesson is pretty thorough. John, of course, has his own emphases, and I will highlight those as we get to them.

Getting Started: Things to Think About

When Someone Sacrificed for You

In the Luke post, I offered "heroic self-sacrifices" as an opening topic for discussion (because there are so many options). It focused on men who women who gave their lives for someone else. And by all means, go with that if you want to! We cannot talk enough about the bravery and selflessness of front-line soldiers, firefighters, police, and all the rest!

But there are plenty of other levels of sacrifice that are still very meaningful. For example, I finally picked up the Hunger Games books (which my daughter asked me to read many years ago). I think it's safe to say that the entire saga hinges on one simple sacrifice -- a young Peeta giving some loaves of bread to a young Katniss knowing it would get him in huge trouble with his father.

This opens the door to all kinds of "everyday sacrifices" that mark a lot of lives. I still love Kevin Durant's "Mom, you're the real MVP" speech (and you can find those kinds of stories in every sport at every level).

When did someone make a sacrifice for you? (It doesn't have to be "big" -- part of where I'm going with this week's passage is the conclusion that Jesus wants us to live a life of self-sacrifice as a faint but tangible reflection of what He did for us.) Was it your parents? A sibling? A friend? What did they do? How did it make you feel?

And then the lead into the lesson -- did their sacrifice leave a lasting impact on you? Have you been inspired to do the same for someone else?

Confronting Death

This would be a somber topic, so it may not work based on the mood in your group. We have all lost someone close to us -- family, friend, coworker. Inevitably, we will think about the tangible void that is left -- the job that they did, the people that they cared for, the roles that they filled. In this week's passage, we read how Jesus wanted to make sure that His mom would be cared for (and in a couple of weeks, we will focus on how He prepared Peter to "be in charge" after His ascension).

Which people have left the biggest impression on you in how they prepared family and friends for their impending death? I'm thinking of the person who made a bunch of little videos on the tasks they did at work, the person who wrote a letter to everyone in their family asking for forgiveness for the wrongs they did and imploring them to be gracious with one another, the person who put together a plan to care for their special needs children. Stuff like that.

The transition would be something like "What have you done to ensure that your family/friends/coworkers would be okay if you were to die?" (I know, I'm sounding like a life insurance commercial.) (But in seriousness, this would be a good time to plug the importance of a legal will.)

I know -- this is several "not so fun" Bible studies in a row, but we are studying the death of Jesus. Life come out of this, but to appreciate that life, I believe we need to comprehend the sacrifice.


Where We Are in John

The transition from trial to execution is startlingly abrupt. John the author mentions that after the crowd called for Barabbas instead of Jesus, Pilate hemmed and hawed for a little bit longer. He had Jesus flogged, and then he had the soldiers mock Him with a crown and robe. Most of the paintings of this scene do not come close to the butchery Jesus would have already endured (in the painters' defense, who would want to buy an accurate painting of this?).

John the author gives us a little more that builds on what we talked about last week:

6 When the chief priests and the temple servants saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” Pilate responded, “Take him and crucify him yourselves, since I find no grounds for charging him.” 7 “We have a law,” the Jews replied to him, “and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid than ever.
9 He went back into the headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?” 11 “You would have no authority over me at all,” Jesus answered him, “if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.”
12 From that moment Pilate kept trying to release him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!”

This is wishy-washy self-preservationism at its most pathetic. Pilate is willing to let the Jews crucify Jesus just to get himself out of his mess. But Pilate hears something in the Jews' accusation that chills him -- the Jews aren't simply jealous of Jesus. Pilate had read things wrongly. Jesus Has claimed to be more than just a man.

As a Roman, Pilate was polytheist and probably superstitious. When he heard something like "Son of God", his mind probably went to characters like Hercules or Heracles (or even the Roman emperor!), but he didn't dismiss it out of hand. It frightened him.

When Pilate asks Jesus where He's from, he's asking if Jesus is divine. Jesus' unwillingness to answer should be taken as divine condemnation. Pilate had an opportunity to serve justice and failed, and thus he was unworthy to know exactly who he was dealing with. When Jesus did finally speak to Pilate, it was the ultimate dismissal. At this point, all Pilate could do would be to try to survive this mess. But how do you survive when you call for God's Son to be executed?

There is no appeals process for non-Roman citizens. Pilate hands down the sentence (this is in formal Roman practice -- "the Stone Pavement" is the place of decision) and it is immediately carried out.


This Week's Big Idea: The Importance of the Crucifixion

We've talked about the crucifixion a bunch in our Bible studies -- as we should. It is the very heart of the Christian system of faith. But you probably would not be surprised to know how few (even among those who claim to be Christian) really understand or believe this.

A couple of years ago, The Gospel Coalition reported a survey in which more than half of the Americans who identified as Christian believed they had to earn salvation. A BBC survey found that a quarter of Britons who claim to be Christian don't believe that Christ rose from the dead. (?!) The New York NBC affiliate ran an explanation of Good Friday and gave this quote about the importance of the crucifixion: “It gave us peace with God and made us at one with God.”

Understanding the crucifixion cuts to the heart of each of those disparate topics, and maybe this week we should focus on that. What is the crucifixion and why does it matter?

Let's start with the basics. Christ died so we could be reconciled with God. Christ's death was necessary. You want your group to come away from this discussion with a grasp of the answer to these two questions: Why did Jesus have to die? What did Jesus' death accomplish?

Here are some classic passages to help you get your bearings:

1 Cor 15: 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Rom 3: 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be just and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.
2 Cor 5: 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! 18 Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us.

But when you read Paul, you see that the method of Christ's death is also critical -- crucifixion, death on a cross. We talk regularly about the death of Christ when we explain the gospel, but we don't talk regularly about the fact that Christ's death was by crucifixion. The unique spin on this discussion for this week would be something like Why did God choose crucifixion as the means for Christ's death? What sets apart crucifixion from other deaths, and what does that mean for our salvation?

These passages should help get you started:

Phil 2: 5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. 7 Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
1 Cor 2: 1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. 2 I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Col 2: 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.
1 Cor 1: 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God,

But there's still one more step to this -- Jesus believes that the method of His execution also means something to us in our daily lives. That would have been the most scandalous thing to His followers but also the most meaningful (which is why the writers of the New Testament come back to it time and again). When Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily, what is He saying to us? There are two primary aspects to this, identified in these passages:

Matt 10: 38 And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.
Gal 2: 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

By the way -- the leader guide is absolutely right to say that when most people say something like "This is the cross that I must bear", they don't get it. What does the Bible really mean by this phrase?

So there you go! Some passages to get your brain working on not just why Jesus had to die, but why He had to die by crucifixion.

If you have further questions about Jesus' death

I told you time was tight this week, so...

If you have historical questions, I refer you to

If you want to know more about the theology of this (i.e., the atonement), I refer you to

Or, just watch this great Bible Project video


Part 1: Raised on a Cross (John 19:17-22)

17 Carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had a sign made and put on the cross. It said: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the king of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.”

So Pilate finally grows a spine. Bit late.

The first question you'll have is about Simon --

Matt 27: 32 As they were going out, they found a Cyrenian man named Simon. They forced him to carry his cross.

Jesus started out carrying His own cross. By this John means the crossbeam. Not the entire cross, as many pieces of art suggest. The upright stake/beam would have been on site, prepared to slide into a hole dug especially for it. (And let's get practical -- we have a "cross" we carry from our church to the Methodist church on Good Friday. It is not as big/thick/heavy as the cross they would have used, and it takes a goodly number of people for us to make it from here to there.)

Back from that detour. Jesus started out carrying His own cross, but He didn't make it all the way to Golgotha. He would have lost a lot of blood from the flogging (which we didn't go into detail -- you can thank me later). So, when we collapsed under the weight of the crossbeam, this spectator was conscripted to help Him.

I included this map last week. Remember that I said the trial likely took place in the large square attached to Herod's Palace. That made for a short walk to the traditional site of the crucifixion.

The Aramaic name for this site was Golgotha; the Latin translation is Calvary; both are related to their word for skull.

Y'all, DO NOT get sucked into an argument about the location of Golgotha. There are no fewer than 3 trillion articles (give or take) on the internet utterly convinced that they know for certain the exact site of Christ's crucifixion. We DO NOT KNOW for certain, and that's okay! The hillsides surrounding Jerusalem have enough pockmarks that you can see "skulls" without trying too hard.

Romans crucified their victims along main roads so as to inflict maximum psychological damage. They wanted everyone to know what happened to those who opposed them. Crucifixion was uniquely designed to be the most painful, the most grueling, the most drawn-out, and the most visceral death possible. The Romans perfected it. They knew exactly how to draw it out to its worst possible experience. (This is why Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus died so quickly.)

When John the author uses "crucified" as a verb, he refers to the act of fastening the victim to the cross (by rope, spike, or a combination) and then setting the cross upright. And then the victim would be left to die, fully exposed to the elements and in full view of everyone who passed by. This famous painting by Jan Styka has some extraordinary detail (enabled because it's apparently 200 feet wide!).

There are so many paintings of the crucifixion! If you wanted to use this, you could print a bunch of them, show them to your group, and ask a question like Which details do the different artists seem to focus on? Or Which are the most common details you see across the different paintings?

Remember that painters aren't infallible! Just because it's in the painting doesn't mean the Bible mentions it.

Most paintings include the sign. Most of the time, a criminal would wear a plaque with the charges against him. When the plaque was posted to the cross, that was to give special emphasis to the circumstances -- in this case, it was Pilate exerting whatever influence against the Jewish leaders (who didn't like the sign at all). The sign clearly means more than Pilate intended -- what do you think is the significance of this sign?

Many paintings also include the other two criminals. I have always liked the "three crosses" -- the one in the middle represents Jesus, and the two on the sides represent rejecting Jesus and coming to Jesus. But John doesn't say anything about that (like the other Gospels do) -- John's entire focus is on Jesus.

Many paintings also include the followers weeping at the foot of the cross (especially Mary and John), but we will talk about them in a moment.

Your speculative question would be something like "What did the people passing by think about this?" Remember that some of them would have opposed Him, some would have supported Him, some would have been merely curious about Him, and some would have no idea what was going on.

I am not going to go into detail about the physiological process of crucifixion. The two posts I linked at the very top have plenty of that.

Here's a quick summary of John the author's "painter's" approach to the crucifixion:

  • Jesus crucified in in the center of his view

  • The sign above Jesus identifies Him as King

  • The clothes below Jesus identify Him as Priest

  • The followers in front of Jesus identify Him as Son


In Fulfillment of Scripture (John 19:23-24)

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, a part for each soldier. They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it, to see who gets it.” This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled that says: They divided my clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. This is what the soldiers did.

Without John's explanation, we might have missed the significance of this action. It was common for soldiers (who didn't get paid very much) to claim the remaining possessions of an executed criminal. But John really focused on this tunic. The tunic was the inner garment worn beneath the rough cloak. But John points out that it was seamless (unusual and valuable) and woven from the top. These are the same words used to describe the priestly garments in Exodus 36 and 37. By behaving in this way, the soldiers fulfilled scripture, specifically Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 is a big deal to the Gospel authors; it's cited 14 times (twice by John). Please read it in its entirety. It's surreal.

I really like John's "This is what the soldiers did" add-on. It's not a throwaway sentence. This is John's way of helping us see that the free actions of people conformed with what God had long beforehand said they would do.

The discussion here would reinforce what has already been talked about. It's not just that these things had to happen to Jesus, but that God said they would happen to Him hundreds of years before they did.

There's still a lot to cover.


Part 3: Not Yet Finished (John 19:25-27)

25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

This is one of my favorite "asides" in the entire Bible. Jesus is paying the price for the sins of humanity. But right before He says "It is finished", He has one last thing to do -- and it's connected with His mom.

But before we get there, let's see some symbolism. John pointed out four soldiers standing around Jesus' cross. But counterbalancing them are four women (two named, and two identified by their relationship to Jesus; yes, Mary was a common name). John the author never gives us Jesus' mother's name probably because his emphasis is on Jesus as "the Son". Jesus' aunt is not "Mary the wife of Clopas" (that's not how the grammar works). According to tradition, Clopas's son Simon succeeded James as the leader of the church in Jerusalem (which is why John identified him by name). But that tradition also says that Clopas was Joseph's brother. My Klink commentary figured out how to put this into words: "Mary the wife of Clopas was Jesus' mother's husband's brother's wife". Mary Magdalene is famously the first witness of the resurrection and needed no further identification.

Now -- back to the narrative. People make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is just now committing Mary to John's care. No, the Man who carefully planned out all of the other events of Holy Week didn't just now realize that He should probably do something to help out His mom! Notice that He first addresses Mary. If He were mostly worried about John taking care of her, He would have started with John. Instead, we should look at this through the same lens as the first time John the author introduces Mary:

John 2: 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’s mother told him, “They don’t have any wine.” 4 “What has this concern of yours to do with me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”

I think that this all ties back to what Simeon said to Mary in Luke 2:

34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts[p] of many hearts may be revealed.”

I believe that Jesus had a very loving relationship with His mother. But I also believe that Mary must have had a hard time seeing Jesus not as her son but as God's Son. There at the cross, Jesus didn't want His mother seeing Him as "her little boy" but as the Son of God doing the Father's will. She would now have a new "son" (not identified but is clearly John the author, making him by Jesus' own words a part of Jesus' family). But as only Jesus can, this incredibly deep theological teaching also comes with the practical outcome of meeting the needs of His mom.

And here is that incredibly deep theological teaching: at the cross, family has a new meaning. At the cross, family is not marked by blood. And thus we finally have closure on the statement that many readers have had a problem with:

Matt 12: 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to the one who was speaking to him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 49 Stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

What a beautiful picture of the family God provides for us! Your discussion would be something along the lines of Do you view your fellow church members as family? What does that idea mean to you? What would it take to make that more real to you?

Tie-in: Mother's Day

I don't know when you'll be reading this, but we originally studied this passage on Mother's Day. The Mother's Day tie-in had better be obvious to you -- Jesus loved His mother. :)


Part 4: Now Finished (John 19:28-30)

28 After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, “I’m thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth.
30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.

These are arguably the most important words in the Bible. I hope I have said enough in the run-up to make their importance clear!

Based on everything we have read to this point, what exactly was "finished"? You'll have to unpack this with your group, but I think it's right to say that "atonement" was finished, and that the atoning work of Christ was the purpose of scripture (and by this, Jesus refers to the Old Testament). The entire Old Testament points us to Jesus and the work of salvation He accomplished on the cross.

But what about the "I'm thirsty"? We should all realize by now that Jesus never made idle statements. Think about the times Jesus talked about "thirst" and "drink" in John --

  • John 4: 13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

  • John 7: 37 On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”

  • 11 At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?”

This could mean a couple things --

  1. In paying the price for our sins, Jesus was desperately thirsty for the living water He told others about but no longer had for Himself.

  2. Jesus was in the process of "drinking the cup" of God's wrath and had no other way to express that.

I wonder if it means both. Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath so we could drink the cup of living water.

Of course, the soldiers had something else in mind. Soldiers and laborers had a cheap wine vinegar to cool them off during the day. It wasn't poison, but it wasn't pleasant. A person who was covered with cuts and low on blood would have found this a horrible drink. We can assume (and see Ps 69:21) that the soldiers did this to mock Jesus.

And wouldn't you know, the soldiers had a hyssop plant nearby. Their stalks can get pretty long. What's important to us is the realization that this is the same plant God told the Israelites to "paint" their doorposts with the blood of the Passover lamb (Ex 12:22). Just another mind-blowing bit of symbolism. The soldiers had no idea about it.

I don't know about you, but when I say "I'm finished" vs. "I'm done", I usually mean something different by the two phrases. Jesus wasn't "done". He hadn't run out of energy or time. He completed His task. He was declaring victory. We know this because John doesn't say that Jesus died -- he says that Jesus gave over His spirit. No one took Jesus' life from Him.

And this is where we get into Trinitarian theology that we really aren't equipped to understand. "The Spirit of Jesus" is actually "The Holy Spirit", right? (Gal 4:6, Phil 1:19, 2 Cor 3:17) So, is this also foreshadowing the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost?

In summary, make sure your group is comfortable explaining what exactly Jesus accomplished on the cross and why it had to be on the cross.

It's end of year for everybody (which is why I'm a day late with this post) -- be in prayer for all teacher and students (and parents)! as we all transition into a summer schedule.


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