A couple of years ago, I joined many other nervous moviegoers to see a much-anticipated superhero blockbuster. The story had so much potential. Would they tell it in a way that was compelling?
The general consensus after the movie’s release: No.
I don’t know the first thing about making a movie, and I certainly wouldn’t have done better, but I was a little disappointed.
Then, hope. There were rumors of a Director’s Cut. A version that told the story as its creator intended. A version that did justice to the characters, the significance of their sacrifice, and the value of their victories.
Decades after the enormous wake of Good Friday, John reflects on seemingly commonplace details of Jesus’ crucifixion and sees what others couldn’t: the Creator’s explanation of the story.
In John’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion, we get the Director’s Cut of Good Friday.
After Pilate has Jesus’ title – “King of the Jews” – announced in triplicate over His cross, the Jewish authorities start fuming (John 19:19-21). Pilate, relishing the opportunity to assert his fragile authority, proclaims, “I have written what I have written” (22). Pilate thought his word was sovereign.
All the pilgrims spilling into Jerusalem for the Passover saw “the King of the Jews” hung on a cross and saw exactly what Pilate and the Jewish authorities wanted them to see: a loser.
But what does God, the Director of this grand story, have to say about “the King of the Jews” hung on a cross? At least three things:
1. Jesus is the Leader.
So many had hailed Jesus as the Messiah, the “King of Israel,” “who comes in the name of the Lord” to deliver them from their oppressors (John 12:13). But so few had a category for a king who would suffer at the hands of those oppressors.
But why not? After all, King David had serious run-ins with those who wanted him dead. He felt forgotten by God. In Psalm 22 he wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (1a).
While other gospel writers would note Jesus’ quotation of these very words from the cross, John saw the connection between this suffering “King of the Jews” and the persecuted King David in a seemingly random detail: the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ tunic.
John saw Jesus filling up a pattern: “This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’” (John 19:24b; Psalm 22:18). Even Jesus’ simple request for something to drink was recalling David’s pain (John 19:28,29).
Others saw a failed revolutionary’s clothes being handed over to Roman soldiers and his thirst being quenched with their refuse, but John saw God validating that Jesus was, in fact, the King of the Jews, the Messiah, the Leader.
And if Jesus is the Leader, then nobody can enter the Kingdom of God unless they follow Him.
But how can we, when we’re the ones with the nails? John knows.
2. Jesus is the Lamb.
It was normal for Roman executioners to break their victims’ legs when necessary, so that they would die in a timely manner (after suffering for hours), but Jesus didn’t need his legs broken. The fact that He died earlier than the other two men might have been a point of pride for Pilate and his squad. They had already beaten Him within an inch of His life.
But that’s not what John saw. He knew it was Jesus’ decision, even down to the very last moment, to actively give up His life (John 19:30), just as He had said before, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
But why did Jesus lay down His life, and why did His Father charge Him to do so?
Even in this commonplace detail, the lack of a leg-breaking, John saw God’s story unfolding, “For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken’” (19:36).
What Scripture was that? Not a Messianic Psalm, but the institution of the Passover, where the blood of a sacrificial lamb was painted onto the doorway to ensure that God’s Angel of Destruction knew that the household’s sin had been atoned for by a substitute (Exodus 12:46).
This kind of substitution was always God’s plan for the Messiah, who would be “pierced,” and “cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1; John 19:37).
Jesus was, just as John the Baptist had announced, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
And if Jesus is the Lamb, then no one can be clean in God’s sight unless they are washed by His blood.
But there had been thousands of actual Passover lambs? How could one man’s death be different? And David had eventually triumphed over his foes. How could this King of the Jews reign from a cross?
3. Jesus is the Lord.
If the story ended on Friday, then that Friday wasn’t Good, and John would likely not have been writing in the first place. But he flashes forward to Sunday.
Mary Magdalene begins the uproar: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).
Her Lord, a title of respect and honor for someone like a Rabbi, was gone! His body, which needed to be ritually purified, was missing! Who would do such a thing?
But God had already made clear in Scripture “that He must rise from the dead” (9).
Jesus, right there all along, asks Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (15).
Whether Jesus was hard to recognize or Mary was simply too distraught to realize it was Him, she still calls Him “Lord,” but only out of vague politeness: “Sir [or “Lord”], if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (15).
After Jesus tenderly tells Mary that it truly is Her Lord speaking to her, she runs to announce to His other followers, “I have seen the Lord!” (18).
When Jesus shows up at their secret gathering, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (20). But Thomas, who wasn’t present, doubts (quite understandably).
Whatever reputation we’ve given “Doubting Thomas” over the years, he makes up for it. When Thomas finally meets the risen Jesus, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (28).
This is not simply a polite “Sir,” or even an honorific “Master,” but an unqualified, unafraid “Hallelujah! Praise be to Jesus, the God-Man!”
Jesus claimed equality and co-eternality with the Father, and if God raised Him from the dead, then it’s all true.
Jesus is the risen Lord, and that means He can keep shepherding His people throughout the ages as their Leader.
Jesus is the risen Lord, and that means He can fully save His people as their Passover Lamb.
Jesus is the risen Lord, and that means, one day, “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10,11).
Pilate said Jesus’ failure was final. But John saw the Director’s Cut.
And if we “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31), then Jesus has spoken the final word over our slavery to sin and our fear of death:
“It is finished.”