Unbroken Bones and a Pierced Side
“These things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’ ” (vv. 36–37).- John 19:31–37
As the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, Jesus did not have His life taken from Him against His will (John 10:11–18). He proved this by declaring, “It is finished,” and surrendering His spirit, choosing to die only after He had accomplished His mission (19:30). Yet Christ’s work for our salvation went beyond His death, since Jesus was “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). We could not be declared righteous before God if Jesus did not rise from the dead. How, then, could Jesus say, “It is finished,” before His resurrection? John Calvin says the resurrection was included in our Lord’s dying words. He comments that “Christ had not yet died: and had not yet risen again; but he saw that nothing now remained to hinder him from going forward to death and resurrection.” The perfect obedience of Jesus made His resurrection certain, so before He rose from the dead, He could proclaim His finished work (see Acts 2:24).
Crucifixion usually took several days to kill a person, and if death had to be hastened, the Romans would break the person’s legs. This would make it much harder for him to raise himself up to take a breath and would bring on asphyxiation more rapidly. This explains why the Jewish authorities asked Pilate to have Jesus’ legs broken (John 19:31). They wanted Him to die quickly in order to get Him off the cross before the Sabbath started, for a body hanging on a tree overnight ceremonially defiled the land (Deut. 21:22–23). Truly, they followed the letter of the law at the expense of its spirit. The religious leaders had the good intention to keep the ceremonial regulations, but they did not care that they had killed an innocent man.
Jesus was already dead when the Roman soldiers went to break His legs, and they stabbed Him to ensure that He had expired (John 19:32–34). John says that Christ’s unbroken bones and the piercing of His side fulfilled messianic prophecy (vv. 36–37). Jesus’ unbroken bones fulfill Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12; and Psalm 34:20, which speak of the unbroken Passover lamb and God’s care for Israel’s righteous king. Jesus is the final Passover Lamb who died so that God’s wrath would pass over His people, not falling on us, and God finally preserved Jesus’ life, raising Him from the dead (1 Cor. 5:7; 15:20). The piercing fulfills Zechariah 12:10–14, wherein the world mourns over God’s pierced Servant. All people will look upon Jesus and mourn, some in repentance for their sins and some at the judgment they receive for remaining impenitent.
At several points in John’s account of our Lord’s crucifixion, we read that the death of Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecy. In Christ’s sacrifice, God did exactly what He had promised. This should give us confidence to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and has atoned for the sins of all who believe in Him. Let us hold fast to this truth today, and if you have never trusted Christ alone for salvation, today is the day to do so.
Passages for Further Study