What does John 19:32 mean?
ESV: So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him.
NIV: The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.
NASB: So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other who was crucified with Him;
CSB: So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with him.
NLT: So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus.
KJV: Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
Verse Commentary:
Crucified victims were usually nailed through the wrists and ankles such that pain would be maximized, and blood loss minimized. Infection, exposure, and animals were just as likely to kill the condemned as bleeding to death. The posture of slightly bent knees and outstretched arms meant the chest was naturally pulled open. This made it difficult to exhale. Only by pressing up on the nails, primarily by the feet, could they take a decent breath. Over time, fatigue and shock would make this too difficult, and death by asphyxiation—suffocation—would follow.

To accelerate the process of death, executioners would use a heavy rod to shatter the shin bones. This not only made it impossible to lift one's body. It also added to the shock, blood loss, and general trauma. Even so, this was considered an act of mercy. Without such measures, a victim could take hours, even days, to die.

Since this is a time of religious celebration (John 19:31), the Jewish leaders don't want the city defiled by leaving corpses hanging on the sabbath (Deuteronomy 21:23). The Roman governor isn't going to object to that request, so he approves breaking the legs of these three men (John 19:18). Jesus, however, had been flagellated so badly (John 19:1) that He needed help to carry His cross to the execution site (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). By the time this order to break Jesus' legs is given, He is already dead, and there is no reason to carry it out (John 19:33–34).
Verse Context:
John 19:31–37 graphically confirms Jesus was dead before being taken from the cross. To speed up the execution, allowing the bodies to be buried before the Sabbath, soldiers break the legs of the other condemned men. Jesus, however, is clearly dead already. This is verified when a soldier stabs Jesus through the side with a spear. John notes two Old Testament references which allude to this as part of the Messiah's death. Only John, a direct eyewitness to this part of the crucifixion, includes this detail.
Chapter Summary:
Pilate recognizes Jesus' innocence, but fears the mob assembled by Jewish religious leaders. He attempts to satisfy them by having Jesus viciously whipped and mocked. This only results in more cries for Jesus' death. The governor then shifts to protect his own reputation, ordering Jesus to be crucified on a charge of being "King of the Jews." John is directly present as Jesus is executed. He notes the fulfillment of several prophecies as Jesus dies. Once He is confirmed to be dead, Jesus' body is taken by two friendly members of the ruling council. They hastily bury Him in the borrowed crypt of a rich man.
Chapter Context:
When Jesus was first brought to Pilate, His innocence was obvious (John 18:36–38). However, the mob refuses to be satisfied with anything less than crucifixion. Pilate gives in to these demands. John, who is present for the entire gory spectacle, notes several instances of fulfilled prophecy (Psalm 22:18; Psalm 69:21; Exodus 12:46; Zechariah 12:10). Jesus is then buried in the borrowed tomb of a rich man (Isaiah 53:9) to complete yet another Old Testament prediction. A guard will be posted to ensure no one steals the body (Matthew 27:62–68), which will only serve to confirm that Jesus' eventual resurrection was a true miracle (John 20:1–8).
Book Summary:
The gospel of John was written by the disciple John, decades later than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls “signs”—in order to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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