In Summary: John 19 continues through the trials of Jesus and concludes with His burial at the hands of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The chapter ranges through the final mockeries by the soldiers through the flowing of blood and water from His side.
We see an important part of the Gospel of John in John 19:35 where the account of the crucifixion is attached to an eyewitness statement. This we typically apply to the entirety of John, and use to locate the author. How? We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus commends the care of Mary to the “Beloved Disciple,” and traditionally we affix that title to John. He’s the only disciple still around, based on the narrative.
This chapter gives us the sign over the Cross from which artwork takes its INRI for the label. These are the initial Latin letters for what was written there: King of the Jews, with the addition of the name of Jesus of Nazareth at the beginning. (Remember, there’s no “J” in Latin. Well, that’s obvious, but it’s also true of the language. So, Jesus is “Iesus.”
I think there is something significant to the way John records the Jewish leadership complaint about this sign. They wanted written “This man said ‘I am King of the Jews.’” That’s often taken as national pride, not wanting someone crucified as the king of the Jews.
I think John sees something more. He sees this: the Jewish leadership knew the “I am” statements of Jesus were claims of Divinity. And they wanted Him crucified for those claims. They wanted Him crucified for “I am.” They would have followed Him for simply “King of the Jews.”
In Focus: That they would have followed Jesus for “King of the Jews” is what makes John 19:15 stand out so much. Throughout the Roman period in Israel, the Jews, and their leaders especially, did not much care for the Romans. Even though Rome had come in with the invitation of some leaders, the nation as a whole had never really liked all the Romans.
Since they did not like the Romans, there were always movements to get rid of them. There were certain factions, like the Sadducees that were supportive of the Romans. Typically, though, this came from their own benefit. Based on most of the sources I have, the general feeling wavered between apathy and anger.
The truth is that politics makes strange bedfellows. In this case the alliance of the Jewish leadership with the Romans is incredibly strange. Why do they get together?
To oppose Jesus. The effort to remove Jesus required two sides to stop warring with each other and focus on a common enemy. Jesus was a threat to the religious and social power of the established cultural leaders in Israel. In the long run, He was a threat to the political dominance of Rome—and His teachings would be problematic. As Sir Humphrey Appleby once said, the Sermon on the Mount is not good for the Defence Budget.
In Practice: This resulted in a common effort, and that recurs to this day. The teachings of Jesus are a threat to the ways of the world.
Materialism cannot stand in the face of Biblical Christianity. Selfishness cannot stand. Political systems break down in the face of the Lordship of Christ. The focus on sex falls. Individualistic demands fall apart in the face of God.
This makes something that is challenging for those who would follow Christ. The challenges and travails of life will double down on the effort to derail us.
This is why there feels like so many odd factors oppose the Gospel—they do. This is also why that opposition is not worth losing sleep over. It will lose out, over time, just as Israel is not ruled by Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Roman Empire is the subject of history, not current events.
Focus on the obedience to the One who said “I am.” Because He still is.
The world’s crown may be made of thorns, but the Lord’s Crown is filled with His Glory forever.
In Nerdiness: Want to have some fun? Chase the rumors and historical maybes about where Joseph of Arimathea ended up. Legends put him getting to England. One or two crazies will get him to America…but that’s not really strong in my opinion.
Further, we see Joseph and Nicodemus crop into the stories here. The more sustainable history ideas follow the Apostles and James, because these really became the leaders of the Early Church. It is uncertain what truly became of the wealthier followers who show up at the burial of Jesus. There’s not a lot to track.
The stories that push them, especially Joseph, to the fringe of the Roman world just sound neat. And they are fun to read.