April 10 Sermon Resource

The Crucified Messiah

  • Main Text: John 19:16b-22
  • Accompanying Text: Psalm 24


There is a lot of historical and archaeological information concerning the practice of crucifixion. “Crucifixion was an extremely cruel form of death penalty…the victim was sometimes scourged or flogged beforehand, but not to the extent that he lost consciousness.  The person was crucified naked, thereby enhancing the overall humiliation to him and his family.  There was probably not one consistent form of crucifixion; Josephus reports that people were crucified in different postures and in accordance with the different types of wooden stakes and beams available…

The scarcity of wood around Jerusalem probably meant that vertical posts and crossbeams were frequently reused.  Unsuitable types of wood, such as the knotted olive would also occasionally be used.  Looped ropes and iron nails held the victim’s legs to the stake.  In some cases the victim was roped and nailed to the cross before it was set vertically in position.  Owing to the fact that the victim had no way of supporting his body, death ensued within a matter of hours, accompanied by muscular spasms and asphyxiation.  To prolong agony and the moment of death, the Romans placed the victim on a kind of wooden seat or crotch support (sedile) halfway down the cross, which gave the victim something to lean against but no relief.  A foot support (suppedaneum) was also sometimes provided.  The nailing of feet to the cross inflicted pain and had a function similar to that of the deliberate breaking of legs in that it hastened death…

Quintilian wrote that ‘whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear.  For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect’”. [1]

Thoughts re application today

Throughout his Gospel account John has emphasized the Messianic qualities of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus is the one who fulfils the Messiah prophecies, the Son of God sent to redeem the world. “We have seen how John the author uses many literary devices to help us read his Gospel well. In this story there is another literary structure that was commonly used. In this structure, each subsection of the story starts and finishes with the same statement or a highly related statement. When we see this, it can seem to a Western reader just rather clumsy writing. The author seems to repeat himself. A lot. To the Eastern reader, what this does is signpost that there is a highly developed underlying structure in the story. So it makes the reader stop and think.

It is very noticeable that, in his account, John makes very little mention of the violence and brutality of the crucifixion. He draws a veil across all the physical and verbal violence and abuse. The first section of the story begins and ends simply with the fact of Jesus being crucified:

  • ‘Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified’ (John 19:16)
  • ‘There they crucified him, and with two others — one on each side and Jesus in the middle’ (John 19:18).

The next section of the story begins and ends with Pilate having disputed sign written:

  • ‘Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross’ (John 19:19).
  • Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’ (John 19:22).” [2]

“The Prophet Zechariah sees this moment.  You can read about it in chapter 12 of his book.  He sees that God will come.  He sees that God will defeat all his enemies and save his people.  When that happens, grace will be poured out upon God’s people and they will see God pierced: ‘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’ (Zechariah.12:10).

John the author is taking this prophetic scripture and adding it into the story of Jesus’ death.  Jesus is God’s Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and who has started the new Exodus from slavery to sin.  The Exodus journey led them to Sinai, where the Covenant of Law was made through Moses.  John the author wants us to see that it is in the crucifixion of Jesus that the new Covenant of Grace is established”. [3]

“…the cross has become one of the world’s most recognised symbols.  And millions choose to wear it around their necks every day.  Even Coca-Cola can’t achieve that kind of brand ownership.  However, given that the cross has become a fashion accessory, it’s easy to forget what it symbolises.  Crucifixion on a wood frame was a mechanism for brutal execution and total humiliation.  The Romans deployed it only for seditious criminals who threatened the stability of the Empire (pax Romana).  The terrifying spectacle was intended as a deterrent, a public warning of what happens if you mess with the powers-that-be.  However, despite the shame and repulsion associated with crucifixion, the Gospel writers were not tempted to gloss over what happened: all four accounts go into slow motion for the end of Jesus’ life.  John, for instance, spends ten out of his twenty-one chapters on Jesus’ final week.  For the early Christians, the cross was not a premature end or meaningless tragedy.  Quite the opposite.  It was the climax of the Messiah’s mission and the launch of an agape revolution”. [4]


Some other Scripture Resources

  • Mark 15:16-23
  • Matthew 27:27-42
  • Acts 7:52

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence, published by HarperOne, UK, in 2009:113-116.
  2. Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:284-285.
  3. Ibid: 290
  4. Andrew Ollerton, The Bible: A Story that makes Sense of Life, Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2020, 2021:208-209.
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