Before He ascended to heaven, the Lord Jesus reminded His disciples, “These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me”, Luke 24. 44. In chapter 19 of John’s Gospel the apostle demonstrated that this was certainly true of the circumstances attending the Lord’s death. He drew attention to a series of events which corresponded with those things foretold or foreshadowed in the psalms, w. 24, 28, the law of Moses, v. 36, and the prophets, v. 37.
There are two references to the fulfilment of verses from the Davidic psalms. The two fulfilments were, however, very different,
It should be noted that the Lord’s words, “It is finished”, v. 30, translate a word which is closely related to that rendered “fulfilled”, v. 28. The Lord’s concern was to bring to completion both the Scriptures and His work. The soldiers were altogether unaware of the significance of what they did. The Lord Jesus, however, was determined at all times to secure the fulfilment of all that had been written of Him; see Matt. 26. 54.
The soldiers did not need to break the Lord’s legs to hasten death, for He “was dead already”, John 19. 31-33. He had earlier claimed that no one would take His life from Him, but that He would lay it down of Himself, 10. 18. He had the necessary authority to do this—and He did it! With dignity He had “bowed” His head, v. 30; compare the use of the same Greek word, translated “to lay”, to describe rest and repose, Matt. 8. 20. In a sovereign and voluntary act He “delivered up his spirit”, v. 30 lit. In the fact that the Lord’s legs remained unbroken, John detected another fulfilment of Scripture. The law of Moses had said of the paschal lamb, “neither shall ye break a bone thereof”, Exod. 12. 46; Num. 9. 12. This was consistent with the general requirement that no mutilated animal was to be offered to God, Lev. 22. 21-22. Accordingly, when “Christ our passover” was sacrificed for us, 1 Cor. 5. 7, God saw to it that none of His bones were broken. His bones may have been “out of joint” (lit. separated), Psa. 22. 14, they may have been exposed to view, v. 17, but they were not broken! This fact should have registered with the Jews who had called for the breaking of the legs of the three crucified men and who witnessed the sequel. Apart from suggesting a reference to the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world, John 1. 29, the way in which the Lord’s bones remained unbroken bore eloquent testimony of His righteousness. David had long before said, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. He (the Lord, that is) keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken”, Psa. 34. 19-20. God was willing for the soldiers to break the legs of the other two men, but He “kept” the bones of the Righteous Man. In the Gospel of Luke it is the Roman centurion who heralded the fact of the Lord’s righteousness at the cross, Luke 23. 47; in the Gospel of John it is the fact that His legs remained unbroken!
John referred to one final scripture, “They shall look on him whom they pierced”, v. 37. The way in which he introduced his quotation from Zechariah 12. 10 is striking. He did not say this time that it was “fulfilled” (either pleroo or teleioo); merely that another scripture “saith”. Why is this? The reason is simple; the relevant prophecy did not receive its complete fulfilment at the cross. The context of Zechariah 12 portrays the Lord as seeking to destroy the nations which “come against” and besiege Jerusalem, vv. 1, 9, a clear reference to the second advent of Christ, Rev. 19. 15. Then shall every eye see Him “and they also which pierced him”, 1. 7. For this reason John is careful not to claim the fulfilment of Zechariah 12. 10 when the Lord died.
The apostle John lends full support therefore to Paul when the latter insists that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”, 1 Cor. 15. 3. It is interesting to compare the previous occasions where John refers to the accomplishment of the O.T. Scriptures in the fife and death of the Lord Jesus, 2. 17; 12. 15, 38, 40; 13. 18; 15. 25; 17. 12.
The closing section of John 19 (verses 38-42) records the incident of the Lord’s burial. This incident also represented, without it actually being said, the fulfilment of both O.T. prophecy and O.T. type. Matthew describes Joseph of Arimathea as “a rich man”, Matt. 27. 57. This description highlights the fulfilment of the first half of Isaiah 53. 9. The prophet foretold that Messiah’s grave would be made with the wicked (plural in Heb.), a clear reference to the intention of the Jewish leaders to have the Lord’s body cast into a burying place for criminals. And yet, Isaiah claimed, Messiah would be with the rich (singular in Heb.) in His death. In the events which led up to the Lord’s death, God permitted base men to proceed as far as their evil hearts contrived. But He intervened in the circumstances attending the burial of His Son’s body, using Joseph to thwart the plans of His enemies. A poor woman named Mary had wrapped the body of the babe Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid it in a manger. A rich man named Joseph wrapped the Saviour’s dead body in a linen cloth and laid it in a new sepulchre.
Luke describes Joseph as “a just” (i.e. righteous) man, Luke 23. 50. This detail accords with the typical teaching of the O.T. concerning the handling of the ashes of the burnt offering, Lev. 6. 10. The law of the burnt offering provided that the responsible priest should “put on his linen garment, and his linen breeches”. It may well have seemed strange to some of Israel’s priests that they were required to dress themselves in clean linen when removing the ashes from the altar. The ashes, however, spoke of the glorious Person whose unique sacrifice would have been completed. The “fine linen”, Exod. 39. 27-28, was suggestive of personal righteousness, Rev. 19. 8. In type, therefore, God was indicating that it would be only a righteous man who would be allowed to touch the body of the Lord Jesus after his death. In his preaching, Peter maintained that it was “wicked hands” which had crucified and slain Him, Acts 2. 23. But it was into the Father’s hands that our Lord committed His spirit, Luke 23. 46, and it was into the hands of a righteous man that the Father committed His Son’s body when He had died. Leviticus 6 further required that the ashes be then carried to “a clean place’, v. 11. John emphasises that Christ was buried in a new tomb, where no one had ever been laid before, John 19. 41. That is, the tomb had not been contaminated previously by any form of corruption. It was clean - a suitable temporary resting place for Him whose flesh, according to the scriptures, would see no corruption, Acts 2. 25-31, and who, according to the scriptures, rose again the third day, 1 Cor. 15. 4.
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