Something struck me as I was reading the Crucifixion/Resurrection accounts this weekend.
It came after reading John 19:34-35—“Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.”
John often refers to himself in an anonymous fashion or third person, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” or “the other disciple” so many interpreters and commentaries suggest this is John talking about what he saw since he was there (see 19:25-27). That’s how I’ve always thought of it, but this time, reading it to my family, it struck me as a different person.
Even the NIV text note suggests “either John himself or someone he regarded as reliable.”
But who would be such a close and reliable witness who could see the detailed separation of blood and plasma/fluid? It would take someone close to the action with a knowledge of what happens at death to pick up on that point.
John lets us know the person’s motive for testifying about this moment—the one that verifies that Jesus was actually dead and not just fainted—“he testifies so that you ALSO may believe.”
One thing we can say for sure is that this person was a believer in Jesus and told his story for other people to believe as well.
What if it is the character in the story that John just introduced; the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side. He would have known exactly what came out of Jesus, he knew to test those being crucified in this way and would have seen it before.
The Synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark & Luke all record a soldier, a centurion commenting on the extraordinary events of the crucifixion saying something to the effect of—“Surely this man was the Son of God” or “a righteous man.”
This centurion would have been the one overseeing the execution, the one responsible for making sure the order was carried out. It makes sense to me that he would be the one to use the spear to verify Jesus’ death. His own life would be at stake if he reported those he executed as dead when they really were not. If the centurion did not thrust the spear himself he would have been close giving the order and watching carefully. He would be the one reporting what happened when they came to verify Jesus’ death.
What happened to this soldier/centurion after these events? Could he have become a believer? Of course he could have! History records that the Gospel spread well in the Roman legions. The testimony of a soldier there that day would be a powerful witness.
So while this statement may be referring to what John himself saw, there are reasons to suggest that the testimony referred to in 19:34-35 is from the soldier that pierced Jesus or the centurion that over saw the execution.
After becoming a believer himself, he wanted everyone to know that Jesus actually did die on the cross and thus only by the power of God could Jesus be brought back from that condition. No fainting or swooning is possible. The Romans were too good at executing and very familiar with death.
His statement, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” could be his first step in a journey of faith that at least became known to the Disciples who preserved his testimony.
Just thought I would share a new (for me) thought on the life/death/life of Jesus.
In the battle of Life and Death—Death Loses!