Pr. P. T. Thomas
“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said: ‘I thirst’ ” John. 19:28.
How far did Jesus identify Himself with sinful humanity has ever been a point of debate among theologians from even the apostolic days. The prevalence of different views on this topic is echoed in the writings of Apostle John. The Apostle highlights the deity of the Lord and His perfect manifestation in flesh with equal fervor. Except in the matter of sin, Jesus’ identification with us is total. He knew no sin and there is no sin in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21;1 John 3:6) But He identified Himself with the sinful humanity in that He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. (Rom.8:3) He came not in sinful flesh; but in the likeness of sinful flesh. That is; He willingly took upon Himself all the ill-effects sin has caused in human life.
In Hebrews 2:17 we read that this identification was needed for the propitiation of our sins. However we should not take it as a legal requirement that Jesus was compelled to concede to. More than that, it stands as the mark of God’s inordinate love for us. The climax of this identifying love is manifested in Jesus offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice on the cross. Jesus was not resigning to the inevitable. There was no trace of resentment in Him. Jesus rather tasted death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:7) That bitter loaf was seasoned with the honey of love. This divine love is vocally echoed in the seven sayings from the cross. Perhaps, it is the sixth saying that expresses this craving love the most- “ I THIRST. “
‘Thirst’ In Jesus’ Diction
Jesus used familiar concrete images to describe unfamiliar abstract ideas. Secular and worldly images were used to impart spiritual lessons. Being “born again” is an example (John 3:3) ‘A hen gathering her chicks under her wings’ is another example.(Matt.23:37) Jesus’ language is vivid and picturesque. His words are simple, but revealing and lucid. His expressions and images are evincing and enlightening. Words and expressions assumed a new sense in His divine mouth. The common word ‘thirst’ conveying a physical need has donned the sense of the highest degree of yearning compulsion when Jesus said:”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”.( Matt.5:6) ‘To hunger’ and ‘to thirst’ is the most poignant way to express a craving desire. Of these two, ‘to thirst’ is more powerful than ‘to hunger.’ In Jesus’ vocabulary ‘to thirst’ is much more than the physical need; it is the craving need one cannot go without.
Jesus, Thirsty at Jacob’s Well
While talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus used the same imagery, though not the same word. Jesus was sitting there tired from the journey. He was hungry too, as is evident from the fact that His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. As the woman approached to draw water, Jesus asked her:” Will you give me a drink?” The response of the woman makes it clear that Jesus did not look very thirsty. Jesus too does not appear to have badly needed a cup of water to quench His thirst. He meant it possibly as an opening word for a talk. It was customary for a man to open the conversation with a lady, if the two were unacquainted earlier. Opening up with a reference to material water, Jesus immediately moved on to the ‘living water’ which is the gift of God.(John 4:7-10) The subject of material water right away receded from their mind and the living water ‘welling up to eternal life’ took centre stage. Shortly, the woman left her water jar, ran to the town. The need of physical water is no more important to her. Nor did Jesus have any drink, though He had asked for it. His thirst is quenched without water.
When His disciples urged Him to eat, Jesus said:”I have food to eat you know nothing about” (John 4:32) His food is to do the will of the Father who sent Him. Then, what for was Jesus thirsty at the well in Samaria? He was hungry and thirsty to do the will of the Father; i.e., ’to seek and to save that which is lost’. He was thirsting for the salvation of the Samaritan woman entangled in the chains of sin.
The Giver of the Living Water
The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles lasted seven days. The eighth day marked the climax of the event with a sacred assembly of the people. On this day it was customary for a priest to go in a procession to the pool of Siloam and draw water in a golden vessel and bring it to the altar in the temple. It would then be mixed with wine and poured on the altar. All the while the people would be singing joyfully.
While this ceremony was in progress, Jesus stood in the temple courts and cried out saying:”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”(John 7:37-38) Earlier, to the Samaritan woman, Jesus had said: “… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst”. The world has no water to quench the inner thirst of man. Only the living water from our Lord can fully satisfy the spiritual thirst. A deep felt sense of insecurity and uncertainty haunts man. He thirsts for a solution to this. He tries the various cups the world offers – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. The more he drinks from these cups, the more thirsty he gets. But the living water from the Lord, welling up to eternal life, satisfies his inner thirst and liberates him from the feeling of futility in life. He feels secure in the Lord; eternal bliss dawns in his heart. A fountain of joy and eternal hope springs up in his inner being; it wells up and flows to the thirsty world around him. Jesus is the sole giver of this spirit-satisfying, living water. For this He had to suffer hunger and thirst. His thirst is to quench our thirst.
To Fulfill the Scriptures
Jesus’ whole life and ministry on earth was in fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies. This process of fulfillment of the prophecies should not be taken as something that happened accidentally. During the early days of His ministry, Jesus had declared that He had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt.5:17). Jesus was very careful to fulfill every detail of the Law and every prophecy concerning Him. The fulfilling was not just accidental, but a deliberate course of action willfully done by the Lord. Others who contributed their share in fulfilling some prophecies sometimes acted just by impulse or as directed by the Lord, without realizing what they were doing (see John 12:12-16) But Jesus did nothing impulsively. He willfully did things so as to fulfill the prophecies. He has said: “…I do nothing on my own, but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John8:28).
So Jesus’ saying from the cross: “I thirst” too was said deliberately. That is, Jesus said it, not so much as a call for a drink as much as to fulfill the Scriptures. The Scriptures were more on His mind than His thirst. Doing the will of the Father and finishing His work was His meat and drink. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was not thirsty or that He did not really need a drink. He naturally was thirsty in deed; but it was more to fulfill the Scriptures rather than to quench His thirst that Jesus spoke out. Here Jesus’ Messianic mission and His physical need converge. His deity and humanity meet in this saying. His thirst was to fulfill the prophecies and finish His work. In fulfilling the Scriptures, His physical thirst was also slaked. This should be the guiding principle of our life too. Even in meeting our physical needs the will and pleasure of our heavenly Father and the Scriptures should be our guide. We should hunger and thirst to do the will of the Lord revealed in the Scriptures. This is what Paul meant when he said: ’For me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21)
That even the last drop of Jesus’ holy blood was offered up as the perfect sacrifice is proved beyond doubt in that when a soldier pierced His side with a spear, water and blood gushed forth. It was immediately after Jesus died. Starting in Gethsemane, there was much blood- letting all along. Jesus was bleeding from head to toes. Nevertheless, Jesus did not bleed to death. He was fully conscious to the last. Willfully did He offer up His spirit into the hands of the Father (Luke 23:46) Even at that crucial time, Jesus remembered the prophecy in Psalms: ”They… gave me vinegar for my thirst” (69:21) It shows how clear headed and sober He was to the last. Just before nailing Jesus to the cross, the Roman soldiers gave Him wine mixed with gall. It was meant to cause intoxication to alleviate the horrible pain. Jesus tasted it, but did not drink it. Thus He suffered the full pain of crucifixion in sobriety and full consciousness. Now immediately before giving up His spirit, Jesus willfully asked for a drink to fulfill the Scriptures. It reveals His physical and mental state before death. He suffered the cross with equanimity. It proves His inordinate love for us. The yearning love Jesus cherished for the lost mankind is expressed in His thirst. At Jacob’s well in Samaria, Jesus’ thirst was for the lost sinner woman. Here again, on the cross He is thirsty- thirsty for the lost millions. The sour wine, soaked into a sponge could wet His parched lips; but it could not quench His inner thirst for the lost. It can be slaked only by the saved souls. Let us do our utmost to mitigate His thirst by our witnessing.