Bible Study Notes – The 5th saying from the cross

Main passages: John 19 v 25-30 & Matthew 27 v 45-50

What is the thirstiest you have ever been? I remember when I was young playing football in the street for hours and coming in and drinking several glasses of water straight off because I was so thirsty. Then there was the time in 1982 when we were in the Holy Land and on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho in the searing heat of the midday sun when we had real thirst and drank a tumbler full of freshly squeezed orange juice – what bliss!

Let me give you 3 Biblical examples;

1) The Children of Israel in the wilderness in Exodus 17 v1 – no water to drink and contended with Moses. God provided water from the rock at Horeb and that points forward to Christ.

2) David in the wilderness of Judah under pressure from his enemies in Psalm 63. Look at verse 1 – he is really thirsty physically but also spiritually. He thirsted for God.

3) The poor of the nation of God’s people in Isaiah 41 v 17 & 18 – their tongues fail for thirst as there is no water but God will provide for them in the worst of situations – desolate heights, valleys, wilderness and dry land – God will supply.

In looking at this saying I will deal with it under 3 headings;

1) Real Thirst

In John 19 we have an amazing insight into the physical condition of the Lord Jesus. He says “I thirst”. It was a very real thirst and an extreme thirst. He did not say it just to fulfil scripture ( which it did ) but He said what He was feeling at that time in His human body. Here is His humanity fully exposed to us in His sufferings which He endured for us. This short exclamation is only recorded by John who was there at the cross with the women v26 . Matthew’s account records the 4th saying ( Eli, Eli lama sabachthani ) and then one of them ( no doubt a Roman soldier) taking a sponge, filling it with sour wine ( vinegar) , putting it on a reed and offering it to Him to drink. That is also recorded here in John’s gospel where hyssop is mentioned rather than a reed. John gives us the added detail that Jesus received the sour wine. It would be just a little from the sponge to quench the thirst. The hyssop plant in those days refers to the caper plant which has a stem some 3 to 4 feet in length ( like a reed ) and would be useful to reach those crucified who were raised up above the ground and out of arms reach. The hyssop plant was used for cleansing in the Old Testament and of course was used to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite houses in the Passover.

We need to delve a bit deeper to get the true context for Christ saying “ I thirst ”. Jesus had been on the cross for 6 hours. Mark records in chapter 15 v25 “Now it was the third hour and they crucified Him”. We know it was dark from the sixth to the ninth hour. Jesus had been in the baking sun from 9am until noon before the darkness came. Crucifixion is painful and prolonged. Blood gradually drains from the body causing dehydration and increasing thirst. We know Jesus was scourged by Pilate, had his hands and feet nailed to the cross and a crown of thorns pressed down upon His head – there were many wounds and therefore much blood loss. The last time that the Lord had a drink is likely to have been at the last Supper on the Thursday evening with the disciples in the Upper Room. It is now 3pm on Friday. In between He has endured the agonies of Gethsemane where He sweat great drops of blood in prayer as He faces the horrors of the cross, He had been arrested by a mob and taken to the house of Annas then Caiaphas for His trial where he had been struck, blindfolded, mocked and spat upon. Then early on the Friday morning He had been taken to Pilate and then Herod and finally back to Pilate where He had been scourged ( Matthew 27 v 26 ) before being released to the crowd. The whip which carried out the scourging had bone and metal knotted to leather straps which would have caused severe damage and wounds to His back. The crown of thorns was placed on His head, He was stripped, struck and spat upon and then dressed as a king. He carried His cross through Jerusalem until He was unable to do so because of His weakness when Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry it the rest of the way outside the city to the place of crucifixion. There the Lord was nailed to the cross through His hands and feet and His clothes taken from Him where the soldiers gambled for them. Then He endured the wrath of God upon Him for our sins. Truly Jesus had been to Hell and back!

All of these things had happened to Him without anything to drink. He had tasted but refused to drink the wine mixed with gall ( myrrh ) offered to those being crucified to dull the pain and provide some relief ( Matthew 27 v 34 ). He faced the onslaught of physical and spiritual agony in full measure with no relief.

As the Lord’s work is nearing completion He is aware of His own sufferings – the burning thirst and no doubt the severe headache caused by being dehydrated ( so often a cause of migraine ). The true humanity of Jesus is revealed to us – a real man on the cross, real pain, real thirst. He went through it all for you and for me. He is therefore fully able to sympathise / empathise with us in our pain and suffering and thirst.

2) That the Scripture might be fulfilled

There are two scriptures referred to here; Psalm 22 v 15 “ My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death.” A potsherd is a broken pottery fragment, weathered and baked dry by the hot sun. Written by David this points forward to Christ on the cross and how he was feeling as well as describing David’s own experience at the time of writing.

Psalm 69 v 21 “ They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar ( sour wine) to drink ” How accurate this is of Christ’s experience at Calvary even though it was written by David hundreds of years before. Both verses together point forward to the Messiah and His suffering and find fulfilment at the cross.

3) He thirsted so that we do not have to

Such was the total work at the cross that whilst Jesus thirsted He paid the complete price and is able to satisfy our souls at the deepest level – we do not ever need to thirst again in a spiritual sense ( even if we get thirsty physically) – He can meet our need.

The apostle John follows this theme in his gospel. Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, “whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst…it will become to him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” ( verse 13 ). The Lord gives living water which satisfies our souls. No wonder the woman responds “ Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst ” ( verse 15 ). In John 6 v 35 Jesus says “he who believes in Me shall never thirst” and in John 7 v 37 Jesus says “if anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink”.

Jesus is the source of living water which quenches our thirst for God to know Him and have a relationship with Him. A thirst for forgiveness and righteousness. This can only be satisfied through Christ and then His Spirit – the Spirit of Christ who resides in those who believe in Him – see John 7 v 39. This theme in John echoes an earlier theme found in the book of Isaiah ( the wells of salvation) eg Isaiah 49 v 8 and v 10 “ in the day of salvation I have helped you…They shall neither hunger nor thirst…Even by the springs of water He will guide them”. Then of course we have that tremendous chapter detailing the sufferings of Christ on the cross in Isaiah 53 before we come to Isaiah 55 v 1 “ Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters ” He thirsted so we do not have to stay estranged and unreconciled to God where there is living water in the wells of salvation. What an invitation to us! It is not just for now either. It is eternally true – for ever for the believer. Look finally at Revelation 7 v 16 & 17. What glorious verses to finish with. “ They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore….for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. ” Here is a picture of Glory – Heaven. We will want for nothing there – because He is with us leading us and satisfying and refreshing us fully.

“ I thirst” – just two words but rich in meaning, revealing the depth of Christ’s humanity and His extreme suffering for us, the fulfilment of Scripture written long ago and the wonder of Christ’s work in us by His Spirit now and in the resurrection / judgment to come the glorious prospects which lie ahead for the believer.

Martin Sellens
18th March 2020