by Rev. Edrick Corban Banks
B.Theol. B.Mus FTCL.
30 So when Jesus had received
the vinegar He said, "It is finished" and He bowed His
head and gave up His spirit. 31Since it was the day of
Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from
remaining on the cross on the Sabbath (for that
Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that
their legs might be broken, and that they might be
taken away. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs
of the first, and of the other that had been crucified
with Him; 33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that
He was already dead, they did not break His legs.
34But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a
spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35
He who saw it has borne witness his testimony is true,
and he knows that he tells the truth that you also may
believe. 36 For these things took place that the
Scripture might be fulfilled, "not a bone of Him shall
be broken." 37 And again another Scripture says "They
shall look on Him whom they have pierced."
record of this incident is found only in John's Gospel.
In the preceding sections Jesus has stood trial, been
scourged, beaten, mocked and left to die on the cross.
Its solitary state in the fourth Gospel and its adamant
attestation that this is indeed historical fact by the
author, leads to the asking of two questions: Why is
there no parallel section in the other three Gospels?
And why is there such a strong emphasis by the author
that this amount is indeed the truth?
believe that this one incident described as it is, was
of vital importance in the early church to establish the
authenticity of its claims that Jesus is both God and
is clear that this record was meant to be taken as
historical fact, but it is also interesting that John's
Gospel has fewer allusions to contemporary history than
the synoptics. The reason for this, as I see it, is that
while this Gospel draws on similar information that was
parallel to the synoptics (the ministry of John the
Baptist [1:19-37,22-36,41] Herod's rebuilding of the
Temple [2:20] and reference to Pontius Pilate [18:28;
19:16,38]) it presents a more developed theology. This
theology either grew with the changing needs of the
early church, or to combat the growing threats of
Docetism and Gnosticism to the Christian church towards
the end of the first century. (Tradition dates the
Gospel at about 85 A.D.). (For full discussion on these
points, see following article "The Logos".)
Furthermore, the wound in the side of Jesus, the
reference to John 1:14 ("The Word
became flesh and made His dwelling among us") and
1 John 4:2 ("By this you know the
spirit of God, every spirit which confesses that Jesus
Christ has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit
which does not confess Jesus is not of God"); all
clearly point to a humanity of Jesus. These references
are also intended to establish the fact that Jesus
actually lived as a man, in a way the Synoptic gospels
do not make so clear.
second point is, once Jesus is unequivocally established
as a man of "flesh and blood," it is of the utmost
importance that his death is verified totally and
completely, which would prevent all objections by the
adversaries of the developing Christian faith, to the
claims of Jesus' death and resurrection.
clarify further the issues raised by our questions
(above), let us look at the verses of Jn. 19:31-37:
Both Mark (15:42) and John agree that Jesus
died on the day preceding the Sabbath.
"the day of Preparation."
According to Jewish law, bodies had to be removed and
buried before the sunset of the Sabbath ( Deut 21:23).
The fact that it was also the first day of unleavened
bread, meant that "the imminence
of a doubly Holy feast day increased the ordinary desire
to have the bodies removed before nightfall (when the
feast day would begin) and offered a motive that the
Romans might respect."1
crucified victims could live for several days, breaking
of the legs, the crucifixion, hastened death. Often a
victim would be able to raise himself to breathe more
fully and ease the tension on his arms and chest
muscles, but with broken legs this would not be possible
and death would follow very quickly by asphyxiation.
Thus, the framework is established on which hangs the
events to establish "beyond reasonable doubt" the fact
of Jesus' death.
The execution squad would have been expert m
their work and they would be very familiar with signs of
death. That they did not break Jesus' legs showed that
they already considered him to be dead. (c.f. Mark
15:44, the account of Pilate questioning the Centurion
about the speed with which Jesus had died.)
The soldier pierced Jesus' side. The fact
that it was such a deep wound, one where a man's fist
could fit in (John 20:25 and 27) would suggest that it
was a wound to make absolutely certain that Jesus was
dead. Opponents of the view that the spear thrust would
have been fatal, suggest that if a mortal wound was
intended, the stab would have been closer to the heart.2
However, we must remember that the Roman soldier was a
highly trained and highly skilled craftsmen in killing,
and a Roman soldier would have been trained to deliver a
fatal thrust with a spear. Delivered by a trained
soldier, a thrust to the side of the body must have been
equally effective as a means of killing, as a thrust to
Once the spear thrust had been made there was an
"immediate" flow of blood and water. Dead bodies do not
ordinarily bleed as the heart has ceased to produce
blood pressure to keep the blood flowing. It has been
suggested that since the body was erect, gravity would
have facilitated the flow of fluids. It has not been
suggested that they came out with any force. That they
were recognizable and reported by John as two distinctly
recognizable fluids is significant. It shows an accuracy
in the eyewitness account of an incident that may not
have normally attracted notice.
Various medical explanations as to the source of the
fluid, from the lungs or the heart, the separation of
the plasma, are not important. The fact that it is
medically possible according to Wilkinson3
and that John laid so much stress on an incident that he
himself had witnessed; shows conclusively that Jesus was
already dead at the time the spear thrust was delivered.
John connects this with O.T. prophecy where
the bones of the Passover Lamb were left unbroken (Exod
12:46) and (Ps 34:20) where the Lord protects the bones
of a "righteous man" that none of them may be broken.
There is also the prophetic significance of Zechariah
12:10 ("they shall look upon Me
Whom they have pierced"), given as the final sign
or manifestation of the Lord to Israel.
symbolism that may be present with the blood and water
is not as important as establishing Jesus' death.
Therefore, what is presented here is an accurate
eyewitness account of the last stages of the death of
Jesus. There is enough factual data to substantiate that
Jesus died as a man on the cross ... a real man of flesh
Roman soldiers, by their actions established that Jesus
was already dead. That they know their Job well enough
to determine that he was already dead, is evidenced by
the fact that they did not break his legs to hasten
death. The insistence that this eyewitness account is
true (v 35) that the reader "also
may believe" and, the flowing of the blood and
water, all contribute conclusively to the evidence that
Jesus was dead.
These irrefutable observations were absolutely essential
to John's presentation of Christ's resurrection which
follows the account of his death. Therefore, what we
have here is effectively a certification of the death of
Jesus. This section tells us therefore, that Jesus was
without doubt a living breathing human being and that
his death was real and verifiable.
resurrection is the cornerstone on which the whole of
Christianity, both for the individual and for the body
of the church, is built. If it is untrue, the whole
structure of our Christian faith collapses: if it is
true, the consequences for us and our world are immense.
The resurrection is the most unique and amazing event in
history. Its challenge is avoided by those who try to
downplay it or deny that it ever happened.
Paul outlines this clearly in 1 Cor 15. Without the
we have nothing to preach
we have nothing to believe
we are lying about God
our faith is a delusion
we are still lost in our sins
our hope is for this world only
we deserve more pity than anyone else in the world
This makes the Resurrection absolutely vital and
essential to the Christian faith. There is nothing in
all of history that matters so much as the Resurrection.
Furthermore, there is certainly no event where it
matters more that we determine whether it actually
happened or not. Christianity is a faith. But it is not
a faith without substance. It is a faith grounded in
historical fact. Christianity is a faith where we are
not expected to shut down our brains. It is a faith that
allows testing and questioning. One of the hallmarks of
cults is that questioning of doctrine and beliefs is not
allowed. This was summed up by a church advertisement
which said: "Religions that have all the answers don't
allow any questions."
us now look at false theories used to deny the
1. It was the wrong tomb
It has been argued that in the dark of the early
morning, Mary Magdalene and the others went to the wrong
tomb. Finding it empty, they reported back to the
disciples that Jesus had indeed risen. But we are told
by Mark and Luke that the women watched Joseph and
Nicodemus take the body and put it in the tomb on
Friday. They knew exactly which tomb it was. Mary also
mistook Jesus for the gardener. Gardeners don't garden
in the dark when they can't see. If it was the wrong
tomb the authorities could have headed to the right tomb
on daylight. This wasn't done and is strong evidence
that the tomb was empty. Then we are told later that the
disciples went to the tomb after the women had arrived
early in the morning. They didn't walk, but ran and
headed straight for the tomb. There was no doubt in
their minds where the tomb was. Imagine this
"Hey Simon, Mary's here and says the tomb's empty".
"Which one's that Pete?"
"You know, Jesus' tomb."
"Yeah right, suppose we'd better go and have a look. Can
you remember how to get there? Wouldn't want to get the
yourself in a situation where you are told something
that puts you into a panic, and you have to move as fast
as you can. What happens? You go into automatic, and you
head straight for the place you know you have to get to
without a second thought. When they did arrive they
found only the grave clothes. It is of the utmost
importance to remember that women were considered to he
unreliable witnesses in Jewish culture. If this story
had been made up, it is highly unlikely that the
testimony of women concerning the empty tomb and the
risen Christ would have featured at all.
2. The swoon theory
This argues that Jesus was not
really dead and later revived in the cool of the tomb.
Let's see if this possible. Mark tells us that Jesus was
scourged before His crucifixion. The scourging was so
brutal, because the whips were leather thongs with
pieces of jagged bone or metal attached, that many died
before they made it to the crucifixion. It was also done
to weaken the victim so that he would die a lot faster
on the cross (Mark IS: 2 1). Jesus had had no sleep the
night before His crucifixion (Mark 14:32-41). Jesus was
so weak He was unable to carry the cross Himself as a
result of this (Mathew 27:32). He had spent six hours on
the cross. Crucifixion was the cruelest and most painful
of deaths. One either died from suffocation or heart
failure in total agony. Jesus' side had been pierced by
a spear thrust.
Then we have Joseph of Arimathea asking for the body.
Pilate was surprised (Mark 15:42) that Jesus had died so
quickly. So he sent for the centurion to verify Jesus'
death. (Mark 15:44-45). Pilate knew that crucifixion
victims would normally linger for days. If Jesus had
still been alive while in the tomb, He would have had to
extricate Himself from the tomb clothes wrapped around
him like bandages, while being weighted down by 70
pounds of spices. Finally after 36 hours in a freezing
cold stone sepulcher without food or water or warmth or
the tending of his wounds from the flogging and the
nails, He got up and with superhuman strength moved the
boulder from in front of the door. If Jesus had survived
this, his appearances would have been more like a
resuscitated corpse than a triumphant Saviour.
3. The disciples stole the body
It is clear that the disciples were of high moral
character and honest men. They were taught to value
honesty by their teachers and Jesus. They would not be
involved in deceit of this sort. There were also twelve
people to hold a story together plus other followers of
Jesus. This sort of duplicity takes careful planning and
collusion. The story would have got out at some stage.
They had also fled for fear of being caught. We only
need to read Matthew's account of the armed guard and
the scaling of the tomb. (Matthew 27:62-65). This guard
would have been severely punished for sleeping on duty
(there is no record that they were disciplined). If the
body was stolen and it was an elaborate hoax, it means
that the disciples, die perpetrators of the hoax,
suffered and died for what they knew to be a lie.
Furthermore, why would they proclaim the message of the
Resurrection, if they knew that it would result in their
persecution and suffering. People die for what they
believe is the truth, not a lie.
4. The Roman or Jewish authorities
took the body
All they needed to do to put a stop to Christianity was
to produce the body as soon as the story started getting
around. They could have killed this troublesome belief
stone dead (no pun intended) simply by producing the
clear evidence of Jesus' body. The early Church would
have collapsed if they had. They did not have the body
in their possession.
Post Resurrection Appearances
us consider the post resurrection appearances. These
were not just witnessed by the disciples and the women,
but by 500 people at one time (1 Cor. 15:6), as well as
by a number of other individuals. The total number of
post resurrection appearances by
Christ to individuals, and groups, in country and town,
in the upper room and by the open lake, constitute
testimony to the veracity of these accounts. But perhaps
these appearances were only hallucinations? This has
been a very popular theory However, only certain people
are given to hallucinating and with such practical
diverse, personalities as fisherman, tax collectors,
rabbis and five hundred people at once, it is highly
unlikely. Indeed it is impossible.
Remember also that the disciples were expecting nothing
at all to happen. Literally the last thing they expected
was to see Jesus alive again. They were. sad, downcast,
in despair and fearing for their lives. Remember Peter's
denial of Jesus and remember how they slunk away as
Jesus faced trial. After the crucifixion they had locked
themselves in an upper room with a locked door
"for fear of the Jews"
(John 20:19-23). They felt beaten, and they were
dispirited and frightened. The last thing on their minds
Suddenly there is this miraculous change. They went out
and preached boldly, facing the possibility of flogging,
prison and all manner of persecution and death. Why the
remarkable change? Nobody would endure what they and
other Christians have endured for either an
hallucination or a lie. The only thing that can account
for the change was that Jesus Christ rose from the dead!
Jesus conquered death and is alive today. If this were
not so, the Christian Church would never have survived
through to the twentieth century. Countless men and
women down through the centuries have claimed to know
Jesus as their risen Lord in their own experience.
They have claimed to know His love and companionship and
to have prayer answered in His name. This includes
people of every age race, educational background and
culture. We only have to look at the most recent revival
in Russia and Africa. The only convincing argument for
all these remarkable events and changed lives, is that
Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, as
recorded accurately by John.
R.E. The Gospel According to John. p 934.
(Doubleday and Co 1970) X11 XX1 p 935.
Return to text
Ibid., p 935.
Return to text
J. "Incident of the Blood and Water in John 19:34"
Theology Vol. 28(2) (1975), pp 149‑172.
Return to text
The Gospel According to John (New York:
Expositor's Greek New Testament ed. W. Robertson
Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), Vol. 1.
Part II, pp 653‑872.
Norman L. The
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1989).
Hodder & Stoughton, 1979).
Must he Joking!
Hodder & Stoughton, 1991).
Who Moved the Stone?
Faber & Faber, 1930).
"The Gospel of John" in The Expositors Bible
Commentary general ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (M:
Zondervan, 198 1) Vol. 9, pp3‑203.
J. "Incident of the Blood and Water in John 19:34",
Scottish Journal of Theology Vol28(2) (1975), pp
©2002 Wellington Christian Apologetics Society
(Inc.) All Rights Reserved.
Previously published in
Apologia (The Journal of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society)
Vol.2, No 3, p.13-17, 1993