“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 at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.” (John 19:33–35, ESV)
John has something definite in mind as he describes the crucifixion and death of Jesus. He wants to construct his narrative in such a way that the one who reads it, or more likely hears it read, may believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
When he gets to whether or not Jesus was actually dead on the cross–John knows and the reader will soon find out that resurrection is coming–John wants us to understand that Jesus had a literal body and literally died. There can be no other explanation for the gruesome description of one of the four soldiers witnessing the crucifixion plunging his spear into Jesus’ side. Out comes blood and water. Surely Jesus is dead.
John uses two different words here translated as “true” and “the truth.” The first true “Ἀληθινή means not simply truthful, but genuine, perfect: it fulfills the conditions of sufficient evidence.” [Plummer] The second word “the truth” ” ἀληθῆ means things that are true.” [Plummer] Plummer goes on to summarize what this means and it is significant: “Testimony may be sufficient (e.g. of a competent eyewitness) but false: or it may be insufficient (e.g. of half-witted child) but true. S. John declares that his testimony is both sufficient and true.”
Plummer lists four reasons that John was so careful to express the truth of his eyewitness account of Christ’s death:
- The reality of Christ’s humanity against Docetic views. [The Docetic view was that Christ only appeared to have a human body, and his suffering and death on the cross were not real and literal]
- The reality of Christ’s divinity.
- The reality of Christ’s death.
- The clear and unexpected fulfillment of two Messianic prophecies.
John writes all of this and writes it carefully “that you [plural] may believe.” If we go to John 20.31, John expresses this more fully: “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31, ESV)
John is forcing us into a decision point as we finish up his gospel. We have read the story of Jesus. We have seen him raise Lazarus from the dead. We have heard him proclaim that he is the Messiah. Now comes the time to decide. Is he who he says that he was? John certainly believed that he was.
John is forcing you into a decision also, dear reader. Do you believe?