The significance of the formation of the community that has just taken place is further underscored when John says Jesus knows that all was now completed (v. 28). This is what he came to do—to form a community that can share in his own relation with the Father. With the work completed he can now finalize the completion through his death, so he says, I am thirsty (v. 28). John notes he said this in order to fulfill the Scripture—not that he was consciously thinking of texts and doing things to echo them, but rather that Scripture reveals God's will and Jesus perfectly accomplishes God's will (see comment on v. 24). The text he echoes (Ps 69:21) is another passage featuring King David as the righteous sufferer, and thus bears witness to Jesus' identity.
John shifts from pleroo, the word usually used to speak of the fulfillment of Scripture, to teleioo, the same word in the first part of the verse, there translated completed, and in Jesus' final cry, It is finished (v. 30). Jesus' own life, including his death and resurrection, is the primal pattern that Scripture itself replicates. He is the sun whose rays create shadows both backward and forward in time. Accordingly, he not only fulfills Scripture in the sense of replicating its patterns, he brings Scripture itself to completion by being its central referent.
John does not say who soaked a sponge in some cheap wine and lifted it to Jesus' lips with a stalk of hyssop (v. 29). The Synoptics also leave this indefinite, but they say a kalamos was used (Mt 27:48 par. Mk 15:36), that is, a reed, a staff or a stalk. Perhaps John has referred specifically to a hyssop stalk to interpret what is taking place, since hyssop was used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts just before the Exodus (Ex 12:22) and later was used for other purifying rites (Lev 14:4, 6; Num 19:18; Ps 51:7). John would be drawing out the juxtaposition of Jesus as king and Jesus as lamb, similar to the description in heaven of the Lion of the tribe of Judah who turns out to be "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" (Rev 5:5-6).
There seems to be something particularly significant about Jesus' thirst, since once Jesus receives the wine he says, It is finished, and dies (v. 30). On one level this thirst is the only reference in this Gospel to Jesus' actual physical suffering on the cross. But the idea of thirst may also have spiritual significance. Earlier Jesus had said, "My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish (teleioo) his work" (4:34). And when he was arrested he told Peter to put his sword away, saying, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (18:11). "Hunger and thirst become images for Jesus' desire to fulfill the Father's will to the end" (Schnackenburg 1982:283). Since the cup represents wrath and suffering (see comment on 18:11), Jesus' taking of this drink may suggest the completion of that experience, as the Lamb of God now takes away the sin of the world. The work he has come to do is now complete. The great significance John attaches to the saying I am thirsty would then make sense because it would symbolize both Jesus' commitment to obey God's will and the fulfillment of the suffering of the one who is the righteous sufferer par excellence.
Jesus had said that no one takes his life from him but that he lays it down of his own accord (10:18), and his death is indeed described as a voluntary act: he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (v. 30). The order of Jesus' actions is important (Chrysostom In John 85.3). John does not say that Jesus died and then his head slumped over, but rather that he bowed his head, an attitude of submission, and then gave over (paredoken) his spirit. "At his own free will, he with a word dismissed from him his spirit, anticipating the executioner's work" (Tertullian Apology 21). The very form of his death continues to reveal him as the obedient Son, the key theme regarding his identity throughout his ministry. As the obedient Son, submissive to the Father, he fulfills the type of the true King, confirming the message of the sign over his head.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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