Side: Pierced, Bones: Unbroken

While writing a previous article, “All that the prophets had spoken,” I came across one particularly interesting set of cross references for a messianic prophecy that Jesus fulfilled.

In John 19:36, we read, “…these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” In the margin of my Bible (a CSB “Personal Reference” Bible) I found three cross references listed: Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, & Psalm 34:20. I looked them up and was surprised that none of them contained that exact phrase, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Instead, two of them refer to animals and one seems like a proverbial promise for righteous people, in general. However, in thinking about them some more, it seems clear that they are connected and that they, in fact, point to the Messiah, Jesus, in particular. Let’s look at these 3 passages and see if we can make the connection between them and the Christ.

First, let’s look at Exodus:

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner may eat it. But any slave a man has purchased may eat it, after you have circumcised him. A temporary resident or hired worker may not eat the Passover.
It is to be eaten in one house.
You may not take any of the meat outside the house, and you may not break any of its bones.”

Exodus 12:43-46

In the first part of Exodus 12, God gave Moses the instructions for how the Israelites were to keep the Passover. These instructions included choosing a spotless lamb, killing and cooking it, spreading its blood on the doorposts, and eating it in a hurry. Later, the Lord gave the instructions referenced above. This section adds the restriction, “You may not break any of [the Passover lamb’s] bones.”

No explanation is given for why they must not break its bones. Could it be because these Passover lambs would point to another Lamb whose bones would not be broken?

Next, let’s consider the verses in Numbers:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites: When any one of you or your descendants is unclean because of a corpse or is on a distant journey, he may still observe the Passover to the Lord. Such people are to observe it in the second month, on the fourteenth day at twilight.
They are to eat the animal with unleavened bread and bitter herbs; they may not leave any of it until morning or break any of its bones.
They must observe the Passover according to all its statutes.”

Numbers 9:9-12

Numbers 9 chronicles the Israelites’ second Passover celebration. The first had been in Egypt and the second took place in the wilderness while they made their way toward the Promised Land.

It so happened that some of the Israelites had become ceremonially unclean by contact with a dead body (they probably were burying someone). They asked Moses if they could still participate in the Passover, even though God’s law had prohibitions against unclean people engaging in certain activities. Moses inquired of God and God granted these men permission, but included the reminder that those observing the Passover, clean or unclean, “may not… break any of [the Passover lamb’s] bones.”

Again, no explanation is given. But the repetition is significant. God really cared about this. His people were to kill and eat the lamb, but they were not to break it’s bones. Could it be because these Passover lambs would point to another Lamb whose bones would not be broken?

Let’s also consider what the Psalmist said:

“One who is righteous has many adversities,
but the Lord rescues him from them all.
He protects all his bones;
not one of them is broken.”

Psalm 34:19-20

The Psalmist, probably David, wrote a poem about the sufferings of righteous people- and their subsequent deliverance by their righteous God. This passage does not point back to the Passover, nor does it mention lambs. But it does mention that God protects “all the bones” of “One who is righteous.”

While this, as mentioned earlier, seems to be a proverbial promise to all righteous people, it seems like it can be applied more specifically to a particularly righteous person: Jesus.

(To clarify, I use the phrase, “proverbial promise” to indicate that there are certain verses in Scripture, often found in the Proverbs, that sound like promises which should not be interpreted as literal promises for every reader. This particular example seems highly relevant, for, if you can think of a Christian who has had a broken bone, it would not be wise or reasonable to conclude that they are not righteous. So, I call a statement like this a “proverbial promise” to indicate that it is literally true in certain instances, but not every instance.)

Now, let’s see how John links this idea to Jesus’ crucifixion:

“Since it was the preparation day, the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a special day). They requested that Pilate have the men’s legs broken and that their bodies be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man and of the other one who had been crucified with him. When they came to Jesus, they did not break his legs since they saw that he was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth. For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.””

John 19:31-36

When John penned the record of Jesus’ crucifixion, he made sure to include three facts: that Jesus died, that his side was pierced, and that none of his bones were broken. He goes on to show that this last fact proves the fulfillment of an old testament prophecy about the Messiah: that “Not one of his bones will be broken.”

Let me try to tie this all together.

When we see the evidence of the cross references, we discover that John is, likely, showing that Jesus was the Passover Lamb whose shed blood protects his people from death and separation from God. (See 1 Corinthians 5:7.) He is also, likely, showing the reader the righteousness of Jesus that allowed for the literal fulfillment of God’s proverbial promise to not allow any of [a righteous person’s] bones to be broken.

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