The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus – “I Am Thirsty”

The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus – “I Am Thirsty”

Last week we studied Matthew 27:45-49. After Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” one of the onlookers ran, “and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.”

John’s account says something more about was prompted the drink of sour wine. John 19:28 says,

Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed his head and gave up His spirit.

“Sour wine,” translates the Greek oxos, meaning vinegar, wine that had gone so far past its goodness that there was nothing left to do with it except mix it with water and give it to soldiers and common laborers (see Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 5, “Vinegar”). Whether the jar at the cross was primarily intended for the soldiers or the criminals is a matter of debate; most commentators view it as an unusual act of kindness (though, the soldiers earlier offered it in mockery, in Luke 23:36). In any case, the oxos is not to be confused with the “wine mixed with gall” offered in Matt. 27:34 and Mark 15:23, which Jesus refused to drink, because it was a pain-killer and sedative.

That the sponge was lifted up on a “branch of hyssop” is interesting. Most get no more out of this than the fact that the plant had stalks two or three feet tall, and thus we can make some guesses as to the height of the cross. I find it meaningful that the blood of the Passover Lamb was to be applied to the doorposts and lintel with a hyssop branch (Exodus 12:22), a plant sometimes associated with purity (Psalm 51:7, Heb. 9:19). Is this another way John links the sacrifice of Christ to the Passover, a link he often focuses on in his gospel?

As intriguing as these details may be, the most fascinating of all is the phrase that Jesus utters when requesting this drink. Only John records Jesus saying, “I am thirsty.” Even this seemingly simple statement requires a deeper look.

First, it is possible that Jesus’ statement indicates nothing more than the fact of dry lips. Intense thirst was one of the consequences of dying upon the cross, as dehydration set in from exposure and blood loss. Most dying men ask for a drink. We see here Jesus’ physical suffering. And this is no small thing. It reminds us that we have a God who not only knows about pain, but fully experienced the worst that the human body can endure. Against the Gnostics, this detail proves the reality of His suffering as a man.

And yet, Jesus hadn’t mentioned His thirst up until this point, and he’d had nothing to drink since the night before. Why wait until now? Perhaps there is something more.

Lenski comments that Jesus mentioned His thirst so that he would have the ability to bring His ministry to a final conclusion. What was left to do? Jesus, as His life was ebbing away, here at the very last few seconds of breath, had to speak the last two phrases that He needed to speak, phrases which we are told he delivered “with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50, Mark 15:37, Luke 23:46). Thus, Lenski asserts “I thirst” was to give Jesus the last bit of voice and faculty needed to complete all that the Scripture said, and to die. If this is the reason, it shows that even at the end Jesus was thinking more of our needs than His own suffering.

A second possibility is even more meaningful. John’s account says these things happened “to fulfill the Scripture.” Unless this phrase refers to the whole mission of Jesus on the cross, it seems that Jesus said “I am thirsty” to fulfill Scripture. Which Scripture? This would not be a fulfillment of Psalm 69:21, which referred to the Matt. 27:34 drink of wine mingled with gall (or to Luke 23:36). Some say Psalm 22:15, a very Messianic psalm, gets close enough with the description of Christ’s suffering, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws.”

But consider Psalm 42:1-2, which says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42 isn’t normally thought of as a Messianic psalm. But could it be that Jesus wasn’t thinking primarily of His dry lips, but of His deep desire to be united with His Father? That, while the people around the cross didn’t grasp it, Jesus thirsted, figuratively speaking, for the refreshing fellowship of His heavenly Father? Jesus did, on other occasions, speak of thirst figuratively (John 4:13-15, 6:35, 7:37-38).

For this reason, I prefer the older translations, which give stronger force to Jesus’ statement, which is just one word in Greek, dipso. “I am thirsty” sounds like nothing more than a complaint. “I thirst” suggests that Jesus might be speaking of a much deeper craving.

~John Guzzetta