Harmony of the Gospels


(39) Piercing of the Savior’s Side

John 19:31-37

Tom Lowe



 This passage about the piercing of Christ’s side is recorded only by the apostle John.

(John 19:31) The Jews therefore, because it was the [1]preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,)  [2] besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

Again we see how careful these religious Jews were about details when they were committing cold-blooded murder. They “strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel.” They thought it would not be proper to allow the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (Saturday), especially since there would be a religious feast in the city. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the three broken to accelerate death.

The Jews Held the approaching Passover Sabbath in high esteem, because it was one of the days of unleavened bread, and (some reckon) the day of the offering of the first-fruits. They knew that to permit a body to remain on the cross until the next day was a violation of Jewish law ([3]Deuteronomy 21:22–23). Normal Roman practice was to leave crucified men and women on the Cross until they died (and that could take many days) and then leave their rotting bodies hanging there to be devoured by vultures.

Legs might be broken. The victim would press with his legs to lift his chest enough to breathe, but if the legs were broken (usually by an iron mallet), this would accelerate death, because the victim would be in shock, there would be loss of blood, and he would not be able to breathe (the chest cavity would bear the pressure of the bodies weight after the legs were broken). Without this procedure a person could live for many hours or even days.

That the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) The pretended holiness of hypocrites is awful, but it is present in every age. These Jews wanted to be thought to have a great regard for the Sabbath, and yet they had no regard for justice and righteousness; they had no principles against sending an innocent and excellent person to the cross, and yet their scruples would not let the dead body of Jesus hang upon the cross. They did not realize that their rejection of Jesus was far worse than leaving his body on the Cross on the Sabbath. They had already committed the greatest crime anyone could commit. In the sight of God there is nothing worse than rejecting his Son.

(John 19:32) Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.

The Scripture does not describe how the legs of the two thieves were broken. However, they must have been broken in many different places, since a single break would not bring on death.

Pilate was still gratifying the Jews, and gave orders to do what they desired. The soldiers were hardened against having pity for those they crucified; therefore they had no qualms about breaking the legs of the two criminals. The pain would have been excruciating and draw out from them hideous outcries, as they felt themselves die. One of these thieves was repentant, and had received from Christ an assurance that He would shortly be with him in paradise, and yet he died in the same pain and misery that the other thief did. Many go to heaven that have suffered in death, and die with bitterness due to their condition. The extent of dying agonies is nothing compared to the living comforts that wait for holy souls on the other side of death. Christ died, and went to paradise; this is the order of going to heaven—Christ, the first-fruits and forerunner, afterwards those that are Christ’s.

(John 19:33) But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:

These soldiers were well experienced in such matters. They knew that Jesus ... was already dead. There was no possibility that He had only fainted. They did not break His legs, and that was unexpected and different.
There are three things that stand-out at this point:
1. Jesus died in less time than persons crucified ordinarily did. The structure of his body may have been extraordinarily fine and tender, and was broken by pain; or, rather, He chose to die early-on, to show that he laid down his life of himself, and could die when he pleased, even though his hands were nailed to a cross. Though he yielded to death, he was not conquered.
2. His enemies were satisfied he was really dead. The Jews, who stood by to watch the execution, would not have omitted this piece of cruelty, if they had not been sure he Jesus was already dead.
3. Whatever plans are in men’s hearts, the plans of the Lord will stand. It was fully designed to break his legs, but, God’s plans being otherwise, man’s plans were prevented.

(John 19:34) But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and  [4]forthwith came there out blood and water.

We are not told why one of the soldiers pierced His side. Perhaps it was a final outburst of the wickedness that was within his heart. This act shows the deep-seated hatred in man’s heart toward God and His Christ.” There are many opinions on the significance of the blood and water. Some take it as an indication that Jesus died of a ruptured heart—but we have already read that His death was a voluntary act. Others think it speaks of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but this seems farfetched. Blood speaks of cleansing from the guilt of sin; whereas water typifies cleansing from the defilement of sin through the Word. This is expressed in the verse:

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
—Augustus Toplady

The belief held by most preachers and Bible scholars is none of the above; instead, they believe that the soldier pierced the Savior’s side to make sure that He was dead. Our Lord would not undergo the fate of the other two; His legs were not broken. Tradition says that this soldier’s name was Longinus, and that, having some distemper (not the viral disease that affects various animals, especially dogs and cats.) in his eyes; he was immediately cured of it, by some drops of blood that flowed out of Christ’s side falling on them. This would be very significant, if we had any good authority for the story. However, there are definitely several things that can be said to be significant:
1. The Blood and water are evidence of the truth of his death, which would be necessary in order to prove His resurrection. If he was only in a trance His resurrection was a fraud; but, by this single act of a Roman soldier, there is proof that Jesus was certainly dead, since a human body could not survive such a wound as this.
2. The Blood and water hints that there was something miraculous in Jesus’ death; that the blood and water came out distinct and separate from the same wound.
3. The blood and water that flowed out of the Savior’s side was significant, because they signified the two great benefits which all believers have through Christ-justification and sanctification; blood for remission, water for regeneration; blood for atonement, water for purification. Blood and water were used a great deal under the law, because God said, “Without the blood there is no remission.” The blood of Jesus cleanses us judicially; that is, it frees us from every charge that could ever be brought against us. Millions of animals were sacrificed under the Law, but Jesus’ death did away with animal sacrifices and provided direct access to God. Now, if you are a Christian, you are sanctified and you are justified ([5]1 Corinthians 6:11). Christ has joined them together, and we must not think they exist individually.  They both flowed from the pierced side of our Redeemer. To Christ crucified we owe both our justification, and our sanctification; and we have as much need of the latter as of the former, ([6]1 Corinthians 1:30).

(John 19:35) And he that saw it [7]bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.

Verse 35 may refer to the fact that Jesus’ legs were not broken, the piercing of Jesus’ side, or to the entire crucifixion scene. “He that saw it” undoubtedly refers to John, who was the only disciple who accompanied Jesus to the Cross; his is the only account we have of the crucifixion of our Lord. He mentions, in 1 John 1:1-2, that he was an eyewitness to what he wrote: “Christ was alive when the world began, yet I myself have seen him with my own eyes and listened to him speak. I have touched him with my own hands. He is God’s message of life. This one who is life from God has been shown to us, and we guarantee that we have seen him; I am speaking of Christ, who is eternal Life. He was with the Father and then was shown to us.” His record is undoubtedly true; because he wrote not only from his own personal knowledge and observation, but from the dictates of the Holy Spirit. He saw His heart’s blood, His life’s blood, flow out of Christ’s side; and also the benefits of that flow to us from His death. You may ask, “How can we be sure that what John wrote is true?”  You may be sure, because “he that saw it bore record.” Years afterwards, when John himself was an old man, the memory of that scene was before him. He wrote, “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6).

(John 19:36) For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.

This verse obviously looks back to verse 33 as a fulfillment of [8]Exodus 12:46: “you shall not break any of its bones.”  That verse refers to the Passover lamb. God’s decree was that the bones were to be maintained unbroken to depict Christ’s death. Christ is the true Passover Lamb. He is “the Lamb of God” ([9]John1:29).
The importance of the piercing, and the fact that they did not break Jesus’ legs, is that they fulfilled prophecy:
• “Even these wicked soldiers in their duties were completing the plan of God.” (Psalm 34:20).
• “Then I will pour out the spirit of grace and prayer on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on him they pierced, and mourn for him as for an only son, and grieve bitterly for him as for an oldest child who died” (Zechariah 12:10).

(John 19:37) And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

Verse 37 looks back to verse 34. Although the soldier did not realize it, his action was another wonderful fulfillment of Scripture (Zechariah 12:10). “Man has his wickedness, but God has His way.” Zechariah’s prophecy refers to a future day when believing Jews will see the Lord coming back to the earth. “They will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son.” It is promised that when the Spirit is poured out they will look on him and mourn. This was partially fulfilled when many of those that were his betrayers and murderers were pierced to the heart, and brought to believe in Him; it will be further fulfilled, in mercy, when all Israel shall be saved; and, in wrath, when those who refused to believe He was the Messiah, shall see him whom they have pierced, and weep because of him, ([10]Revelation 1:7).  But it is applicable to all of us. We have all been guilty of piercing the Lord Jesus, and all desire to look on him.



The very spear that pierced the side of the Son of God drew forth the blood that saved, but not only blood, there was also the water.

Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.


________________Scripture Reference_________________

  [1] the day on which the Jews made necessary preparation to celebrate a Sabbath or a feast—the day before a Sabbath or feast.
  [2] to request, entreat, beg, beseech
  [3] “If a man has committed a crime worthy of death, and is executed and then hanged on a tree {or Cross}, his body shall not remain on the tree overnight. You must bury him the same day, for anyone hanging on a tree is cursed of God. Don’t defile the land the Lord your God has given you.”
  [4]immediately, straightway.
  [5] “There was a time when some of you were just like that but now your sins are washed away, and you are set apart for God; and he has accepted you because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you.” The Christian is washed and sanctified and justified. They have been washed from their sin and impurity through the precious blood of Christ, and they were being continually washed from defilement through the word of God. They were sanctified by the operation of the Spirit of God, being set apart to God from the world. They had been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God; that is, they had been reckoned righteous before God; it is from God alone that you have your life through Christ Jesus. He showed us God’s plan of salvation; he was the one who made us acceptable to God; he made us pure and holy and gave himself to purchase our salvation.
  [6] For it is from God alone that you have your life through Christ Jesus. He showed us God’s plan of salvation; he was the one who made us acceptable to God; he made us pure and holy and gave himself to purchase our salvation.
  [7]to give (not to keep back) testimony
  [8]You shall, all of you who eat each lamb, eat it together in one house, and not carry it outside; and you shall not break any of its bones.
  [9]The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 
  [10]Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

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 The moon is approximately 240,000 miles from earth (238,852 miles). The sun is about 93 million miles from earth (92,956,000 miles). Scientists have concluded that if either one of these astronomical bodies was 100 miles closer or further away from the earth, life on this planet would not be possible. Likewise, the earth spins at 1,000 mph while orbiting the sun at 60,700 mph. Just a 2 mph difference would prevent life on earth. The amazing handiwork of God is not only perfect, but perfectly balanced.

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