TW: pain, torture, descriptions of physical suffering, crucifixion
Victims of crucifixion, left on their own to die, could sometimes live for days, hanging on the cross, dying a slow and painful death. In order to exhale, they would have to push up on their wounded feet and then they could relax down and take another breath in1. This tortuous process would repeat over and over so the person could breathe. Eventually, sheer exhaustion would overtake them, and they wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore, thus ending their lives in asphyxiation2.
In Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Jewish law commanded that a person who was hung on a tree to die should not be left there overnight. Since that day was the Day of Preparation for Passover (a holy day) and it was approaching the Sabbath (a high day) (John 19:14), the Jewish religious leaders were especially anxious to observe this command concerning Jesus and the two thieves. No one wanted to work on the Sabbath.
So when the Jews asked Pilate to break the legs of those hanging on the crosses, they were actually asking to hurry their fate of death. With broken legs, they wouldn't be able to push up anymore to exhale and would then asphyxiate and die. Then their bodies could be taken down so they would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (John 19:31).
The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals that were hung alongside Jesus, but when they came to Jesus, they saw that He was already dead and chose not to break His legs (John 19:32-33). Instead, one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear; at once, blood and water came out (John 19:34). This is an interesting detail is that is only included in the gospel of John.
Over the course of church history, biblical scholars have wondered why John uniquely included this blood and water in his account of the crucifixion. Some have wondered if it truly happened or if it was merely a reference of spiritual significance.
It wasn't until more modern times, with advancements and discoveries in medical and scientific research, that the meaning of John's statement was fully understood as it was intended to be—a statement about the emphatic proof of Jesus' death.
In medical terms, Jesus died of cardiac arrest3, and with today's medical knowledge, we now know that John was observing the results of pleural effusion, a condition where water accumulates in the lungs, which would have happened based on the type of traumatic death Jesus was experiencing4. So when John observed the blood and water flowing out of Jesus' side when He was pierced by the spear, that was exactly what one would expect to see of a person who dies of this nature.
John goes on to state that the fact that Jesus' legs were not broken and His side was pierced was no accident (John 19:37). Although the Roman soldiers didn't realize they were fulfilling biblical prophecy which was given hundreds of years before that day, their actions carried out the prophecy that "not one of his bones will be broken" (Psalm 34:20). Old Testament Scriptures like Exodus 12:46 (about the Passover lamb which was a picture of Christ) and the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, which says "they will look on him whom they have pierced," were also fulfilled that day.
John wrote this testimony about Jesus so that today, over two thousand years later, we may know that Jesus truly died on the cross for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures (John 19:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). Have you believed in Jesus as the Savior from your sin? If not, can we tell you more about salvation?
REFERENCES: 1. Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 265. 2. Strobel p. 265. 3. Strobel p.266. 4. Wallace, J. Warner. Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection. David C. Cook, 2014, p. 23-24.
The account of blood and water flowing out of Jesus' side when pierced by the Roman soldier after His death is only recorded in the gospel of John. Some have wondered why John included this in his account and thought it only held spiritual significance. With today's medical knowledge, we now know that John was observing the real results of pleural effusion, a condition where water accumulates in the lungs, which is what would have happened based on the type of traumatic death Jesus was experiencing. Both blood and water would have flowed from Jesus' side when pierced. John recorded this eyewitness testimony as an emphatic statement that Jesus truly died on the cross for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures (John 19:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Hanna loves spending time with kids and teens. She enjoys being detectives with them to investigate God's Word to discover truths to answer any questions. She is the co-author of a newly published apologetics curriculum for children and teaches one online for highschoolers-adults. To learn more about her ministry you can visit networkerstec.com. For fun, she likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, read historical fiction, and paint.