The crucifixion (18:1–19:42) - continue

The crucifixion of Jesus (19:17–27)

The crucifixion of Jesus is the “hour” when God declares that death has given birth to life and that the crucified Christ is the true King (ruler of the world), true Priest (mediator for the world), and true Son (creator of the world).

  1. “Place of the skull” (19:17–18);
  2. The title of the King (19:19–22);
  3. The tunic of the Priest (19:23–24);
  4. The family of the Son (19:25–27).


The details of the crucifixion are sparse. The condemned criminal would normally be forced to carry the crossbeam of the cross to the site of the execution where the soldiers would attached it to the upright stake that was regularly used for executions.

Jesus moves outside the city (Heb 13:12); he went out to a place called “The place of the Skull”. The place was located outside the city wall.


Jesus was not alone (cf. Is 53:12). Mark (Mk 15: 27) and Matthew (Mt 27:38) call the two crucified with Jesus “bandits” the same term John used for Barabbas (18:40). That Jesus was crucified in the middle - gives him the central position - not a place of honour but a place of shame in this case.

The crucifixion was so familiar to the readers of the Gospel that they did not need many details - it was the cruellest of punishments.

The criminal would have his clothing removed and confiscated - thus stripped of both possessions and honour. Then, the criminal would normally be fastened to the cross with either ropes or nails through the wrist (20:25). In Roman crucifixion the feet of the victim were often fastened to the cross as well.

The upright stake would have been no more than 3 meters and it had in the middle a small wooden “seat”.

Once placed in the cross, the body of the criminal was fully accessible to external conditions, with scores of flies attracted to the bodily wounds or animals assaulting the feet of the victim.

The death usually came through difficulty in breathing. If the death was slow in coming, the end was often hastened by means of clubbing, stabbing, or poison.

The normal Roman practice was to leave the body in the cross until it rotted, but Jewish law demanded that the body of a hanging man be buried on the day of execution to prevent the land from being defiled (Deut 21:23).

The execution served as a crude form of public entertainment, with the crowds often ridiculing and mocking the victims.


The Evangelist directs our eyes above the crucified Christ to the title placed at the top of the cross.

John uses the word “title” (τίτλον) which is different from the Synoptics Gospels; the Synoptics refer to it as “an inscription” (Mk 15:26; Luke 23:38) or more simply, “a charge” (Mt 27:37). The term title has more ‘royal’ emphasis.

It was common for the criminal to carry around his neck a plaque on his way to execution, making public the charge against him. In some cases, the notice about the charge was attached to the top of the cross.

The title includes both Jesus’ personal name and professional ‘title’.

The crowd of authorities and soldiers that came to arrest Jesus in the garden were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth” (18:5,7), but the title “the King of the Jews” has been applied to Jesus throughout the trial in order to mock both Jesus and the Jews (18:39).


Hebrew (or Aramaic) was the vernacular of the Palestinian Jews; Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire - particularly the government of Rome; Greek was the common language of culture and conversation, and the language of trade and commerce particularly in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.

That the title was written in these three major languages of the Mediterranean world shows the importance of it. Thus, the moment Jesus mounts cross, it becomes ‘international’.

Ignorantly Pilate, like Caiaphas before him (11:51) served as an OT prophet (Ps 96:10). Psalm 96 is the famous psalm that declares “the Lord reigns” and St. Justin Martyr still quotes it with additional phrase: “the Lord reigns from the wood”.

By this title Pilate announced to the world the judgement of God of those who condemned Jesus and victory of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ, together with the universal offer of salvation to all humanity that remains enslaved to sin.

The crucified One is indeed true King. The “hour” has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (12:23).


The Jews, however, reject the title. They demand that Pilate changes what we has written. Those who demand the change are the high priests - the representative voice of the whole of Judaism. They realise that as it is now written, the title accuses them. They want the charge to be directed at Jesus that it was Jesus’ own claim (cf. 19:7).


Pilate with his answer ends the whole discussion and let the title stand as it is.

The verb “written” echoes the sacred scriptural preface “it is written” (2:17; 6:31, 45; 8:17; 19:34; 12:14; 15:25) and indicates that the title did not come from Pilate but from the true authority of the King on the cross.

Even from the cross Jesus was exacting his rule over all creation and not even the authority of the high priests could change it.


Now, the reader is directed to look below the cross to the garments of Jesus lying on the ground beneath him.

Roman crucifixions were performed with the victim naked (or most of the time naked) to add more shame to the criminal.

It appears that four soldiers were dispatched to crucify Jesus.

The outer garment (τὰ ἱμάτια - clothes in plural) - was probably a traditional cloth (a cloak) draped around the body. It could also include a belt, sandals, and even head covering. This cloth or these articles were divided into four.

The inner garment - (ὁ χιτὼν - tunic) - was normally "worn next to the skin and was essentially a long, tight-fitting shirt made of two pieces of cloth sewn together, often sleeveless, and made of wool, linen, or leather. This tunic was too worthy for division so they decided to cast lots to decide to whom it would belong.

The clothing played a significant role in the resurrection of Lazarus (11:44; cf. 20:6–7), in the washing of the feet of the disciples (13:4), and in the mocking of Jesus by the soldiers (19:2, 5).

The tunic is described as seamless, woven throughout from the top.

There are three interpretations of its symbolism.

  1. It represents the unity of believers.
  2. It highlights the self-giving of the Son - like in 13:1–20, where Jesus laid aside his garments and became humble servant. Here, Jesus fulfils the ultimate act of service he promised in chapter 13, not by removing his own clothes (13:4), but by having them forcefully removed as he offered himself for the life of the world on that cross.
  3. The tunic is intended to evoke the symbolism of the high priest.

First, the adjective “woven” ὑφαντὸς" only occurs in LXX when referring to priestly garments (Ex 28:6, 32; 35:35; 36:10,12,15,29,34; 37:3,5,21) and in Josephus when he refers to priestly garments and the drapes in the sanctuary. In fact, Josephus’ depiction of the tunic of the priest is a strong parallel (Ant. 3.161).

Second, the fact that the tunic was “seamless” ἄραφος" adds to its priestly nature, since the priestly garments were created and preserved with great care.

Finally, the concern not to tear the tunic may also echo the injunction of Leviticus 21:10 against tearing the high priestly robes.

This symbolism seems to fit the entire narrative of the Passion where Jesus is portrayed as the true Priest (18:10,13), as priest and sacrifice (18:1–27 and 19:17–42).

Thus, if 19:19–22 are declaring Jesus to be the true King, then these verses (19:23–24) are declaring Jesus to be the true Priest - the Priest of the Most High (cf. Heb 7).

19:24 - cf. Ps 22:18

The action of the soldiers fulfils Psalm 22:18.

Psalm 22 is quotes or alluded to fourteen times in the Gospels, twice in John (here and 19:30); it is a fitting expression of what he was experiencing on the cross.

The majority of the OT passages quoted in relation to the crucifixion of Jesus come from the Psalms, most of which are “royal lament psalms” used to portray Jesus as the King who was maltreated, pursued, or deserted by his contemporaries. The movement of the psalms from suffering to triumph is in line with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

By using Psalm 22 the narrator presents Jesus as a righteous King vindicated by God against those who falsely accuse and pursue him.

Even as Christ is nailed to the cross, the soldiers below him, gambling on the garments previously belonging to him, do nothing outside the control of God. They are doing what God said long ago would happen.


Finally, the reader is directed to look to the family members standing beside the cross of Jesus. Women were often allowed to be within hearing range of the criminal. It is significant that they are there - they share in the shame and the suffering of their relative.

The first woman mentioned is Jesus’ mother (2:1). The second woman mentioned is “his mother’s sister”. The identity of this woman is uncertain. Based on Mk 15:40–41 and Mt 27:55–56, some conclude that the sister was Salome (mother of the sons of Zebedee).

The third woman mentioned is “Mary the wife of Clopas”. Some commentators refer to her as the sister of Jesus’ mother, but it is unlikely that two sisters would have the same name.

“Μαρία ἡ τοῦ Κλωπᾶ” (cf. Mt 1:6) - the Greek construction with the genitive is used here for the meaning “the wife of”. But who is Clopas?

  1. According to Christian tradition he was the brother of St. Joseph.

  2. According to 2nd century writer Hegesippus, Clopas was the father of Simon (or Symeon) the successor of James, the Lord’s brother, as the head of Jerusalem church. It would indicate the influence of Jesus’ relatives in the leadership of Palestine Jewish Christianity down to the early 2nd century.

The fourth woman mentioned is “Mary Magdalene”. This is the first appearance of this “Mary” in the Gospel (cf. 20:1–2, 11–18). Although not related to Jesus, she is the best known woman disciple of Jesus in the early Church. She serves as “an apostle to the apostles” in 20:1–2, 18 by becoming the first witness of the resurrected Christ.


The Evangelist now indicates that Jesus looked at those relatives and friends standing beside his cross. Jesus says what the reader was not told yet: one male was among those women - the beloved disciple (13:23). Thus he becomes the witness of the final words and the death of Jesus.

“Woman, behold your son”. We have already talked about the significance of the word “woman” in relations to Mary - the second Eve.

Jesus is going to introduce a different concept of “sonship” from the traditional one.

“Your son” connects this disciple intimately to the mother of Jesus and therefore to the family of Jesus.

It is also worth noting that Jesus addresses the ‘needs’ of the son before that of the ‘mother’. Thus, in this beloved disciple we all become children of Jesus’ mother (cf. Rev 12:17).


The possible interpretation of this verse.

  1. The son’s care of the mother.
  2. Symbolism of mother (Church) and son (Christ’s disciples).

The primary symbolism here is their relationship and the nature of the new family established by Jesus.

The phrase “to his own home” is identical with that at the beginning of John 1:11 - “he came to his own home”.

The terms “hour” (2:4), “receive” (1:12) and “his own home” (1:11) - are all rich in deep symbolism.

Home | Previous | Next