Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
This is one of those cases where modern science illuminates a Bible passage. Taking the bodies down from the cross was very uncommon. The Romans liked to leave them up so that they would stink, and the vultures would pick them apart. Remember, it’s all about deterrence through intimidation.
Furthermore, Jesus’s rapid death was unusual. The Romans wanted folks to make a lot of noise for a long time on the cross—again as a deterrent.
So, the piercing with a spear was quite abnormal. The Romans would, on occasion, break the legs to hasten death, but premature death on those occasions would be unexpected.
But then something curious happened. Instead of just blood coming out, it was blood and water. John couldn’t have known this unless he saw it.
As Frederick Zugibe explains, the “water” was pleural effusion from the pericardial sac.
The spear pierced the right atrium of the heart (right upper chamber), which would have been filled with blood because just prior to cardiac arrest, the heart contracts and ejects the blood into circulation for the last time. In response, the right atrium fills up with blood because of the increased pressure through the circulation. A massive pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) that had slowly accumulated in the hours following the brutal scourging (pleural effusion is commonly seen a few hours following beating about the chest) was already present. The sudden thrust of the spear into the chest by one of the soldiers penetrated the pericardium and the right atrium. The quick, jerking motion used to pull out the spear then carried out blood that had adhered to the blade and some of the pleural effusion from the pleural cavity, resulting the phenomenon of “blood and water.” — Zugibe, pp 139–140
Once again, science helps confirm scripture.
Despite their clear guilt, my heart goes out to the two thieves. Imagine the horror of seeing the soldiers approaching with (so the experts say) an iron mallet big enough to break their leg bones.
Note: the thieves quickly bled to death through the large arteries in their legs. Zugibe showed, conclusively, that being hung on a cross does not interfere with breathing.
These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Saturday DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.