All the Way to Calvary: The Incarnate Maker Dies

Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost” (Mat 27:50).[1] “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (Joh 19:30).

The Fact of His Death

There was only one thing left to do – die. But how could a sinless Man die? Death had no claim upon the Lord Jesus, but the Gospel records are clear: Jesus did indeed die. Mark uses the word “dead” in relation to Jesus (see 15:44). John adds that the soldiers “saw that he was dead already” (19:33). The Savior didn’t swoon and then “revive” later to claim a fraudulent resurrection. The remaining New Testament books are filled with the glorious theme of Christ’s unmistakable death.

It’s notable that Jesus died before the criminals next to Him did. Could anyone actually have died in the presence of the “Prince of Life”?[2] And so Jesus bowed His head[3] and died. But it was different than any other death in human history.

The Act of His Death

All four Gospels decline to use the usual word for “death” when recording Jesus’ final moments on the cross. Matthew says that He “gave up his spirit” (27:50 NET). Mark (15:37) and Luke (23:46) note that He “breathed his last” (NET). John reports that Jesus “released[4] his spirit” (19:30 ISV). The verbs they use are all in the active voice. The Savior voluntarily ended His life by an act of His own powerful will. In John’s Gospel, this volitional act was forecast by Jesus a number of times (10:11,15,17-18; 15:13), an act that only a divine Person could perform. “This was a display of Jesus’ divinity, and yet it is mystifying – for how could God die? Thus as we deem Jesus’ resurrection to be a miracle, so was his death.”[5] Well did Charles Wesley write, “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? ‘Tis mystery all! The immortal dies; who can explore His strange design?”

The Witness of His Death

It is more than likely that when John wrote these words, Matthew, Mark and Luke had all died. Nor were any of them physically present when Jesus was crucified.[6] But John was there (Joh 19:25-27). He was the only disciple who returned to the cross and remained to witness all that transpired. “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (v35). He heard Jesus’ cry, “It is finished.” He watched Jesus bow His sacred head. He beheld the miracle of Jesus releasing His spirit. He noticed that the soldiers smashed the criminals’ legs, but not His, because He was dead already. John gives us a true and reliable eyewitness account of the most significant death in earth’s history.

The Proof of His Death

But although the breaking of Jesus’ legs wasn’t necessary, one of the soldiers wondered if He could truly be dead already. John documents, “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (v34). Although John doesn’t tell us which side of Jesus was pierced, it is possible that “the spear may have pierced Jesus’ heart, resulting, either directly or via chest and lung, in the flow of blood and water. The flow of blood and water underscores that Jesus died as a fully human being.”[7] John not only wants to prove that Jesus died, but to prove that His humanity was genuine.[8] Even in Jesus’ glorified body, those wounds were present when He showed Himself to His disciples. That pierced side and those precious nail prints will serve as reminders forever that Christ entered into humanity and unequivocally died for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa 53:5).

Crown Him the Lord of love;
Behold His hands and side;
Rich wounds, yet visible above
In beauty glorified;
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For Thou hast died for me:
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Throughout eternity.[9]

The Hope of His Death

Why does John emphasize his testimony? What is his purpose in recording the many details of Jesus’ death? “That ye might believe” (19:35). He wants the readers of his Gospel to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (20:31). Have you believed? Do you have life?

The incarnate Maker died. This was the very reason He went all the way to Calvary. We have indisputable written proof of His journey, His sufferings and His death. And the written record is enough for you to believe it. God hasn’t given us anything more than His Word, nor is anything more needed.

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

[2] I am indebted to A.J. Higgins for this insight.

[3] The “bowing” of His head is the same verb found in Luke 9:58: “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Jesus finally found a place to “lay” His head.

[4] The Greek word here is paradidomi, found in the LXX of Isaiah 53:12, where the Suffering Servant “poured out” his soul unto death.

[5] Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening John’s Gospel and Epistles (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 242.

[6] This obviously does not call into question the reliability of their accounts.

[7] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 552.

[8] John may have been striking a blow at docetism, an early heresy which taught that Christ did not have a real or natural body but only an apparent or phantom one.

[9] Matthew Bridges (1800-1894), revised by Godfrey Thring (1823-1903)