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Let’s read that account in John 19:31-33, “The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.”

It was an agonizing six hours that the Lord Jesus suffered on the cross for our sins.  We read in Mark 15:25, “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.”  The Jewish day started at 6:00 AM, so that means the Lord was crucified at 9:00 in the morning.  After hanging on the cross for three hours, an incredible event took place.  Mark 15:33 says, “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”  For the next three hours on the cross, darkness overtook the land while the Lord suffered the wrath of God on the cross.  Why did God punish the Lord Jesus?  Romans 4:25 tells us that Christ, “…was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”  He went to the cross because of our sins, and God punished Him on our behalf.  In other words, the Lord Jesus endured the wrath of God, so that through faith in Him, we might be spared from the wrath of God.  As we read in John 3:36, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

There were also two other men who were crucified that day.  We read of their crimes in Mark 15:27 which says, “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.”  One of these men would be saved that day.  Luke 23:39-43 says, “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  How wonderful to see that the grace of God is still available to a hardened criminal even as he was dying.

So, why did the Jews want to break the legs of those being crucified that day?  In one word, I would say it was because of hypocrisy.  These people, being led by the chief priests, had rejected the Lord of Glory.  We read of the Lord Jesus in John 1:11, which says “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”  This was foretold in Psalms 69:4.  That says “They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.”  Although these people hated and rejected the Lord, they were still careful to carry out the points of the law.  Let’s read John 18:28, “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.”  They rejected the true Passover, who is Christ Himself according to 1 Corinthians 5:7, but were so careful not to do anything that would prevent them from eating the Passover feast.

Crucifixion was a very sadistic and brutal means of punishment.  With the hands and feet nailed in an outstretched position on the cross, it became difficult to breathe.  One would have to push himself to a very upright position to take in a deep breath.  Each breath depended on pushing against the nails in their feet, causing great pain.  It would take several days for someone to die from crucifixion.  They would eventually die from exposure while they slowly bled from their wounds. By breaking the legs of the two thieves, they would no longer be able to push themselves into an upright position, and they would quickly suffocate.   As we read in John 19:31, the Jewish people were very concerned about getting these men off the cross before the Sabbath day.  Again, even as they rejected the Lord, they were very careful to fulfill a point of the law.  Deuteronomy 21:22-23 says, “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day…”

We read in John 19:33, “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs.”  As one more proof as to who He really was, the Lord Jesus had already dismissed His spirit as we read in Luke 23:46, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” This truly shows that He was, and is, God.  The Lord Jesus had said earlier in John 10:14-18, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”  How wonderful that we can say of the Lord Jesus as we read in Galatians 2:20 that, “…the Son of God…loved me, and gave himself for me.”