“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.”
“They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”
The great Patriarch and Captain of our confession is about to die in the strength of His father Jacob! Of this we are reminded when we consider the above Scriptures. Of those patriarchs such as Jacob, we read: They gathered up their feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost. Death for them was more than a last breath, and a separation of soul and body. It was a conscious ending of life’s course when the act of dying was deliberate—when the dying bids farewell to the world and goes to meet his God.
True, it is difficult to compare the cross with a bed. Yet, in a very real sense the Lord arranges His feet and dispatches His business well. He gathers strength to utter a parting greeting that re-ethos to all His spiritual progenitors—”It is finished.” And then yields up the ghost, after commending His Spirit to the Father.
Indeed, He dies in the strength and after the pattern of father Jacob!
“After this.” And the question follows: After what?
Apparently the apostle refers to the third word of the cross which immediately precedes our text; the word, namely, to Mary and John as they stood before the cross, and which was spoken before the three hours of darkness that then descended upon the scene at Calvary. But we know from the other gospels that there was another word intervening. After Jesus had cut all earthly ties of flesh and blood relations, He entered the darkest moment of His suffering on the cross. And at the end or very close to the end of the three-hour period of darkness,—while He had descended into the very depth of His suffering under the wrath of God, He exclaimed with a loud voice: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Can it be then that John was not present when the fourth crossword was uttered? Apparently this was the case. After Jesus had commended His mother to John’s care, he must have left his position in front of the cross; undoubtedly taking Mary to a more remote place or even to his own house. Hence, it is possible, seeing John records only what he saw and heard, that he would omit to say anything of the fourth word Jesus uttered on the cross. So that the words “after this” refer immediately to the third cross-word. Yet we believe they have a deeper significance. They refer to all the work of Jesus accomplished on the cross, including also His descent into hell. This is substantiated we believe by the rest of the text, which declares: “Jesus knew that already all things were fulfilled or accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” It appears that only a minute or two elapsed between the fourth and the fifth words of the cross.
All things were indeed accomplished!
That is, the bringing of the sacrifice of body and soul in perfect and loving obedience, and the paying of the price, set by God Himself, necessary for atonement, which necessitated the dying of the Son of God in the flesh. In one word, He had made satisfaction in harmony with God’s justice. It was God’s righteousness that must be satisfied. Sin and guilt had repudiated that righteousness, and because God remains God His justice required that this satisfaction be made.
Accomplished in the Sufferer on the cross!
Only a moment ago He had realized the awfulness of that justice of God. He had been in the darkness of the judgment hour. O, to be sure, it was as He said the judgment hour of the world, when the world stands face to face with, the awful reality of God’s righteousness and is condemned. But let us never forget it, it was also at the same time the hour of judgment over against the sin and guilt of Christ’s sheep—the hour when He in their stead hung under the vials of God’s holy wrath.
Into the depths of that darkness He was plunged! Silently He abode in it until He became aware of the severity and horror of being forsaken of God. This consciousness He expressed in that piercing cry: My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me? Not as the wicked who passively suffer the wrath of God in hell did He suffer. But as God’s covenant Friend-servant and as the Saviour of His people. He lovingly and obediently is serving His God while He bears the burden of the wrath that was due to us. Out of the abyss of hell He still recognizes His God Who for an eternal moment allowed Him to taste what it means to be forsaken of God, emphasizing at the same time the immensity of His suffering under that wrath. Having endured that suffering which He knew could bring an atonement and make satisfaction of God’s justice, He also knew that all was now completed.
As we pointed out in our previous meditations, the Saviour was always conscious of His calling. Always He followed the lines drawn out for Him, not only in the counsel of God, but also in the Scriptures. As the suffering Servant He was therefore always about His Father’s business. His office unto which He was anointed He would fulfill. And especially at the end of that calling as it took Him to the cross, He was very conscious of this. He had reminded His disciples of the approaching hour, and when that hour struck He never wavered, but entered willingly into it.
But now all was finished!
And conscious of having performed a perfect work, I He could now begin to think of His own need—His own physical grief. While He sank into the depths of His suffering all He could think of was His God and His people. He had forgotten His own suffering.
O, how wonderful is this obedient Servant of God!
His God was the object of His affection. Not one moment would He decline from consciously performing His will. The love of God was the center of all His life. He was not like our first father who through disobedience took us down into death. He must ever have His God before Him, and even when the vials of God’s wrath are poured out and emptied over Him His thoughts are Theo-centric. At the same time His thoughts were with those whom the Father had given unto Him. Having loved His own, He loved them even unto the end. Especially in the darkest hour He was conscious, not of His own sin, for He had none; but of the sin of His people for which He must bring an atonement.
When that was accomplished, He might think of Himself. At the very beginning of His suffering on the cross they had offered Him wine mingled with myrrh. It was intended as an anesthetic to relieve His pain. But He had refused it. He realized that not for a moment might He become insensitive to His calling. But now it was different. He had completed His work!
The Scriptures were accomplished!
He may turn to His own need!
Hence: “I thirst!”
The suffering of the cross was both in body and soul! The more terrible aspect of soul-suffering was past. But the closely related affliction in body He now felt. It wracked His body with pain. The nails tore mercilessly at the swelling wounds in His hands and His feet. His blood pounds through His fast emptying veins. His skin is dried to His bones. Lacerated, bleeding, He hangs on the accursed tree. All the six hours had given Him not a moment of physical relief. Most likely high fevers which attended such executions brought cold sweat to His brow.
O, for a small sip of liquid refreshment!
Not spiritually, as some would interpret, but physically must this thirst be understood. His lips were parched and dry. He would revive as it were to be strong to the end. He wills not to have death overtake Him, but to give Himself over into death. For this he must be strong and not spent.
That the Scripture might be fulfilled!
Several questions may be asked here. What Scripture does the text refer to? Does John mean to say that Jesus said: “I thirst” in order to fulfill the Scripture? Or does John inform us here that Jesus knew that all things had already been accomplished in which the Scriptures had been fulfilled; and therefore could think of His own need, and so cried: “I thirst?”
Without entering into the several different interpretations given to explain our text, we would simply point out, in the first place, that you look in vain for a literal prophecy as being fulfilled in the words: “I thirst.” The nearest we come to this is in the text quoted above and found in Psalm 69:21 where David said: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” But the giving of gall and of vinegar in the context of Psalm 69 can only be interpreted derisively, that is, as acts of derision against the Psalmist. But is that why the Lord now said: “I thirst?” Was He at this point attempting to evoke derision on the part of His adversaries in order then to fulfill Psalm 69? We think not. Fact of the matter is that this derisive act was accomplished already at the beginning of the crucifixion, according to Matthew 27:34. At that time He would not drink. But now when they offer Him vinegar He drinks greedily. (John 19:30). We understand the text to mean therefore that Jesus, the Suffering Prophet, knew that He had already fulfilled all that the Scripture had prophesied to this point in His suffering, and could therefore afford to take time out to slake His thirst.
O, it is true that all that Scripture had said of Him was not yet fulfilled. He must yet die, and He must also be buried, and He must rise again from the dead. He must also ascend into heaven to God’s right hand, and come again in the last day to judgment. But the word “already” in the text, which is important here, clearly shows that the Lord knew that to this point in His suffering on the cross He had faithfully fulfilled all that was written concerning Him. He had followed in detail God’s prescription for suffering.
And in order that He may also fulfill the Scripture that prescribed His death, and that He may not be overtaken by death, but willingly lay down His life in the fullest consciousness that He is the obedient Servant of Jehovah, He must be refreshed also in body by a drink.
As God’s appointed Priest-Prophet He must bring the sacrifice of His body as well as His soul. That He had completely sacrificed the latter is clearly indicated in the fourth word of the cross. That He may now also lay His body on the altar in death, He must be alert and physically alive. Hence: “I thirst.”
But what unspeakable suffering He had endured! Only once in all this last blast of suffering and humiliation did the Saviour find succor and relief. That was when He was in the garden and an angel from heaven ministered unto Him. Otherwise He had nothing to drink since the Passover celebration in the upper room. All through the trial which was accompanied with buffeting and mal-treatment; and through the crucifixion which was accompanied with burning fever and intense pain, He had nothing to drink.
There can be no doubt that also with the offer of vinegar in response to His cry of thirst, there was an element of devilish mockery He had to endure. Surely we cannot explain the offer of vinegar as a common grace kindness on the part of the wicked at the cross to alleviate His suffering. According to Matthew 27:47, 48, the giving of the vinegar was in response to the fourth word of the cross when Jesus cried, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. When one gave Him to drink, the rest said, “Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.” Indeed, also here the tender mercies of the wicked were cruel.
However, as the Captain of our salvation, He wills not to be overcome by the power of death, but to overcome it triumphantly by laying as our Priest-Prophet His body on the altar as the atoning sacrifice. He must be refreshed with a drink to enter in a moment victoriously into death.
Herein lies the ground of our salvation!