​The Savior's Spoken Agony!

By Joseph Ametepe

We Proclaim Jesus.

Yesuli International Ministries

While suffering on the cross for our sins on Golgotha, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, spoke seven short, simple but significant sentences. These sayings reveal a great deal about the heart of the Lord Jesus. No one Gospel writer recorded them all. The Holy Spirit certainly was sovereign in this. He chose to give the four Gospel Writers the privilege of recording what He deemed best for their gospel material. Mark and Matthew were given the privilege of recording only one of the seven sayings, while the remaining six sayings were shared equally between Luke and John. Each records three in their Gospel accounts.

These so-called seven sayings from the cross by our Savior, have been cherished by the Church  primarily because they have opened to us a window into our Lord's heart and mind while suffering for our sins on the Roman cruel cross. The amazing thing about each saying is that they were spoken not in anger, resentment, bitterness, or with a complaining or vindictive spirit. In fact, each is a vivid expression either of His great care, concern, compassion and His great love for us, or of His dreadful but divine work of bearing our sin, or His final conquest and victory over sin and Satan.

The season of celebrating  the death and resurrection of Christ is certainly an appropriate time to pause and ponder each of these sayings. I believe doing so will enhance and energize our spirits to worship Christ with a new sense of purpose and passion. Of course, meditating on these sayings should not be limited to Easter celebrations. It should be practiced all year long because Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins is key to our daily living and eternal future. 

My purpose is to present each saying in an article in the order in which they were spoken by our Suffering Savior. I have entitled the fifth saying: "The Savior's Spoken Agony."

John is the only Gospel writer who records our Savior's Spoken Agony. "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I am thirsty'" (John 19:28).  I would like to emphasis two essential truths about our Savior's Spoken Agony.  First, His admission of need  (John 19:28). Second, His assumption of our human nature.

Admission of Need "I am thirsty," (John 19:28).

When they brought the Lord Jesus to Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull,  Matthew and Mark reported that He was given wine to drink mingled with gall. Mark says "mixed with myrrh," a narcotic. Gall simply refers to something bitter. However, after tasting it, He refused to drink it (Matthew 27: 33-34; Mark 15:22-23). This event happened just before Jesus was crucified. Why did our Lord refuse to drink the wine mixed with gall or myrrh? Well, the Gospel writers did not give us a specific or stated reason why Jesus did not receive this drink. However, from the rest of Scripture a probable reason can deduced. Proverbs 31:6 says, "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to whose life is bitter." Based on this scripture, the Jews developed a custom of administering a pain-deadening medication mixed with wine to condemned criminals or victims of crucifixion. This served to lessen physical pain for the condemned criminals. No doubt, Jesus was treated as a condemned criminal and given such a pain-deadening drink. The most plausible reason for His refusal of this drink at the time of His crucifixion is that Jesus was determined to bear the full load of mankind's sins with no impairment of His senses. He would not dull His senses before His finishing His work. He wanted to be in full possession of His sense while suffering for the sin of the world on the cross. Also Jesus needed to be mental alert for the hours yet to come. It was necessary for Him to be fully conscious, for example,  to pray for the forgiveness of His executions (Luke 23:34), to minister to repent robber (Luke 23:42-43), to make provision for His mother by handing the responsibility for her care to John, the disciple whom He loved (John 19:26-27). I shudder to think of how much we would have lost had Jesus received the pain-deadening drink  Probably, there would have been no "Seven Sayings of the Savior" on the cross. 

At the time of our Lord's crucifixion, He refused to drink the pain-deadening drink offered to Him. But now, hours after His refusal, and emerging from the godforsaken darkness, fully aware that the end was at hand, Jesus made His fifth statement from the cross, "I am thirsty." Literally this saying reads "I thirst." It comes from a single word in the original, dipho, from the main verb, diphao. It also means "be thirsty," or "suffer from thirst." Jesus is simply saying He is suffering from thirst. In fact, this is the only saying from the cross in which our Lord expressed physical pain.

The context of our Lord's fifth saying makes it very clear that John, the inspired Gospel writer, is affirming that Jesus was fully conscious of all that was happening. In fact, He was well aware that "all things" (Greek: panta) God the Father had required of Him had already been accomplished, completed, brought to perfection, or carried out (from Greek: teleo). Completely conscious of all that was taking place, Jesus admitted His need of thirst. Earlier, He had been focused on the needs of others. Knowing that His executioners needed forgiveness, He prayed for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34). When the repentant robber pleaded and confessed faith in Him to remember him when He comes in His kingdom, Jesus readily offered him salvation and the promise of being with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:42-43). When He saw His grieving and distraught mother at the cross, Jesus made provision for her by committing her into the care of John, the disciple whom He loved (John 19:26-27). He had taken no thought of Himself or of His needs. Having just cried out to the Father for being forsaken (Matthew 27:46; cf. Mark 15:34), Jesus, for the first time admitted need in His own life. Suffering from thirst on the cross, He simply says, "I thirst." 

Please I want you to note that our Lord's cry, "I thirst" is a real, physical thirst, which was intensified by crucifixion. Burning fever and excruciating thirst were the accompaniments of crucifixion. But here, Jesus simply states His need of being thirsty. He didn't ask anyone to bring Him drink to quench His thirst. His desire in His state of consciousness of everything that was happening was to fulfill the Scripture. That is why John is led to preface Jesus' admission of being thirsty with a purpose clause: "Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished,  in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, 'I am thirsty'" (John 19:28b).

Bible Teacher J. Carl Laney shares more on this thought:

  • "More than simply knowing what was taking place, Jesus was consciously in control of the circumstances. This is reflected in the words He spoke "so that the Scripture would be fulfilled." Intense thirst was one of the greatest agonies of crucifixion. It is not unusual that Jesus experienced thirst. But in speaking the words "I am thirsty" Jesus consciously intended to fulfill Scripture, specifically messianic prophecy. This is shown by the purpose clause with hina [Greek word translated in order that or so that] and the subjunctive of teleioo, "to finish" or "accomplish." The Scripture to which John refers is most likely Psalm 69:21: 'They...gave me vinegar for my thirst.'"- J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel Commentary, John, p.349.

Now an important question remains to be answered. Is our Lord's thirst to be limited to only a literal physical thirst? Does a real, physical thirst completely draw out the importance of our Lord's fifth saying from the cross? John Stott shares a poignant insight on this question: He writes:

  • "It would be a mistake to suppose, however, that a literal physical thirst exhausts the significance of Jesus's fifth cry from the cross. His thirst, like the darkness, was also surely figurative. If the darkness of the symbolized the darkness in which our sins enveloped Jesus, and if the death of his body was to symbolize spiritual death, then his thirst symbolized the torment of separation from God. Darkness, death, and thirst. What are these but what the Bible calls hell-outer darkness, the second death, and the lake of fire-all expressing the horror of exclusion from God? This is what our Savior suffered for us on the cross. Thirst is an especially poignant symbol, because Jesus had earlier said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). But he who slakes our thirst himself now experiences on the cross a ghastly thirst. He longs, like the rich man in the parable, that Lazarus will dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue. Thus Jesus thirsted on the cross that we might never thirst again (Rev. 7:16)." - John Stott, Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, p. 260.

Assumption of our Human Nature.

A second teaching from Jesus' fifth saying from the cross is that it reveals His humanity. The Bible gives us ample evidence that Jesus was fully human. Jesus had a fully human body. He was born  (Luke 2:7). He didn't descend from heaven and suddenly appear upon our planet. He was conceived and born (Matthew 1:20; 2:1). He experienced physically growth (Luke 2:52). He experienced the same physical limitations as other human beings. For example, Jesus experienced hunger after fasting forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). On His last visit to Jerusalem, Jesus became hungry again  and approached a lone fig tree by the road, and found nothing on it except leaves only (Matthew 21:18). He experienced fatigue when He traveled (John 4:6). He slept (Matthew 8:24). He wept (John 11:35). He ate and drank, something His opponents used against Him (Matthew 11:19). He experienced thirst (John 19:28). You see, Jesus was every bit one of us and could therefore truly offer a sacrifice on our behalf. In other words, it was not an outsider to the human race who died on the cross. Jesus was one of us, but sinless, separated from sinners, and spotless (Hebrews 7:26; 9:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5). The Bible says, "since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same" (Hebrews 2:14a). Jesus was truly one of us. And He was "tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

The point here is that, Jesus, though divine, assumed our human nature at His birth in order that the penalty due the human race would be borne by a human who never sinned. The agony of Jesus' thirst demonstrates the reality of His physical suffering on behalf of wayward, wicked, and wretched sinners like us. That the Son of God should become man is a mystery beyond human comprehension. But thank God it's true. That our guilt and sin can be laid on Him is a mystery. But we believe and are saved.

Do you believe that the Jesus who died on the cross is fully divine and fully human? Do you believe He suffered physically in a human body and died for your sins?