All the Way to Calvary: The Fifth Cry from the Cross

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth” (Joh 19:28-29).[1]

The fifth saying of Christ at the cross is the shortest. In Greek, it is only one word containing four letters, and the challenge of this article is to write 1000 words about these four letters.

It seems best to connect the actions of verse 29 with what is recorded by Matthew (27:48) and Mark (15:36), meaning that the Savior’s fourth and fifth cries were probably uttered in quick succession.[2] The fourth cry was spoken after the Light of the World hung in darkness. The fifth records the Water of Life exclaiming, “I thirst.”

Jesus’ expression here indicates what was important to Him just before He died – the fulfillment of Scripture, communion with God and identifying with our infirmities.

Fulfillment of Scripture

Don’t miss the word “knowing” in verse 28. Having experienced the many horrors associated with crucifixion, Jesus was not delirious. He was fully cognizant of everything that had happened, was happening and why. Also note that the Lord Jesus didn’t demand a drink but stated a simple fact: “I thirst.”

So why did Jesus say this word? And why now, just on the brink of dismissing His spirit? Some argue that He needed this drink in order to say “It is finished” (v30) loudly and with clarity. But John doesn’t mention the sixth cry being loud, although it seems that Matthew and Mark do.[3] Also, Jesus’ fourth cry was made loudly (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34), expressed without having first received a drink. The real reason Jesus spoke this word is thankfully given for us: “that the scripture might be fulfilled.”

It’s probably best to see Psalm 69:21 finding fulfillment here: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Again, Christ had the Word of God on His mind at the cross and longed for its fulfillment.

Speaking of Scripture being fulfilled, John notes that a sponge connected to a hyssop branch[4] was dipped in the vinegar (or sour wine) and lifted to Jesus’ mouth. John also mentions that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs after He died (v33). I think these Passover connections (see Exo 12:22,46) are intentional. John has already told us, “And it was the preparation of the Passover” (v14). It seems that he wants to stress here that Jesus is indeed “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (1:29), fulfilling the Passover picture.

But is it possible there was an additional reason for Jesus’ fifth cry?

Fellowship With God

Christ had just been forsaken by God, crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Was His thirst more than physical? Might He not also have been thirsting for fellowship with God, a deeper longing than a mere thirst for water? We must not be too dogmatic, but is it possible that the words of yet another psalm may have been on His mind? “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” (Psa 42:1,2). Erwin Lutzer suggests, “Jesus’ thirst expressed His yearning to be back in fellowship with [God] after three hours of horrid separation.”[5]

Feeling Our Infirmities

But we don’t want to overlook an obvious reason for Jesus’ fifth cry. Although He said it to fulfill Scripture, it was still quite true that He was thirsty. The many pains He endured while hanging in the heat would drain fluids from His precious body. Understandably, Jesus would have been physically parched.

It’s important to emphasize the genuine humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was hungry and thirsty. He slept. He felt genuine sorrow and pain. He shed real tears. He can identify with us in every way, sin excepted, because He felt what we feel. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). We can boldly approach the throne of grace for help in times of need because the One upon that throne knows exactly how we feel.

Notice that Jesus did accept the drink offered (Joh 19:30).[6] It was not the same substance offered to Him earlier, which was mixed with gall or myrrh.[7] This wasn’t an opiate, but common sour wine, probably offered from the soldiers’ container. If this slaked His thirst at all, it was only for a moment, for John records that after He received it “he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (v30).

Jesus did not quench His thirst by performing a miracle. The One who refused to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger refused to create a stream of water to fill His parched mouth while hanging on the cross. But streams now flow to thirsty sinners because a thirsty Savior was on that cross to provide the water of life freely to us.

He said: “I thirst,” yet He made the river.
He said: “I thirst,” yet He made the sea.
“I thirst,” said the King of the ages.
In His great thirst He brought water to me.[8]

[1] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV.

[2] If the drink mentioned in Matthew and Mark already occurred before this fifth cry, why would Scripture need to be fulfilled?

[3] Matthew 27:50 and Mark 15:37 indicate that Jesus cried again with a loud voice before He dismissed His spirit, probably references to His sixth (and possibly seventh) cry.

[4] Matthew and Mark use a more general word, kalamos, meaning “reed” or “stick.”

[5] Erwin W. Lutzer, Cries From the Cross (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2002), 108.

[6] Warren Wiersbe insightfully notes four “cups” offered to Christ at Calvary: a cup of charity (the one mixed with myrrh), a cup of mockery (Luk 23:36), a cup of sympathy (Mat 27:48; Mar 15:36; Joh 19:29), and a cup of iniquity (Joh 18:11). See Jesus’ Seven Last Words (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1981), 55.

[7] Mat 27:34; Mar 15:23

[8] Beverly Lowry