John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 19:30-31, Casting Lots for Jesus’ Clothes

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ”Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did.

//New Testament writers had a penchant for searching the scriptures for an explanation for what happened to Jesus. Here, John reports that the soldiers crucifying Jesus cast lots for his clothes. This, they did, so that “scripture would be fulfilled.”

So let’s look at the scripture being fulfilled. It comes from Psalm 22:18: They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. 

What is happening in this psalm? A man feels abandoned by God because a gang of evil men has surrounded him. They have bound his hands and feet and left him lying on the ground, where he appears to be attacked by a pack of dogs. The villains divide his stolen clothes by casting lots, and the man prays to God for help, promising that if God will come to his aid, he will praise God to all his brethren. The text isn’t clear, but it appears God rescues the man and the rest of the psalm is a song of praise.

This type of “fulfillment” (which actuality bears little resemblance to the circumstances of Jesus) is quite common in New Testament writing. I don’t mean to ridicule the prophecies, but I do want to point out that they aren’t prophecies! The Old Testament authors had no clue their writings would be used in such a way … or did they?

Yes, I think they did. The psalmists speak to the human experience. Psalm 22 (a favorite among the Gospel writers) was “fulfilled” in Jesus, and by thousands of others, thousands of times over.

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