“I Thirst!” The Cry of a Dying Man
Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross
Literal translation of John 19:28, “For the purpose to complete scripture, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’”
Thirst is truly a human condition. Water, which accounts for over half of our body weight, plays an essential role in sustaining life within us. Depending on one’s surrounding circumstances, a person can die within a matter of hours or just a few days without water replenishment. Water is that necessary to live.
Crucifixion is painful, brutal and dehumanizing, but it is also a long, slow process of deadly dehydration. Dehydration begins with a dry mouth, then progresses to thickened saliva until eventually one is unable to swallow at all. If unabated, the skin wrinkles and becomes less elastic, the head pounds, and muscles cramp. And dehydration knows no mercy for as it continues it only intensifies the pain: the tongue swells, hands and feet grow cold, and all muscles groups convulse violently. The thirst of Jesus Christ on the cross was the thirst of a dying man.
Why is this important? Why did the Apostle John, using Jesus’ words “I thirst,” go to the trouble of pointing out that this phrase completes/fulfills Scripture? One, because Scripture specifically prophesied this to happen. 1000 years before Jesus came to this earth, the psalmist, King David, wrote (Psalm 22:15 NLT), “My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.” Psalm 22 is an astoundingly accurate portrayal of our suffering Savior on the cross. It’s as if David was recording what he witnessed with his own eyes, but incredibly he was only inscribing what God the Father had ordained for His Son – in order to save us.
Two, Jesus’ thirst was proof that Jesus – the Son of God – was indeed a human. Secular people have a hard time believing that Jesus was truly divine, but conversely too many Christians have a hard time believing that God truly became a man. C.S. Lewis said, “The central miracle asserted by the early Christians is the incarnation.” [Incarnation means ‘God became flesh – flesh like you and me]. Satan could not believe it and said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down off the temple and see if His angels will save you.” (see Matt. 4:6). The Jews were infuriated even at the hint of the incarnation – “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because ... he was calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God” (John 5:18).
But to the early Christians, the Son of God being a man like them, flesh with physical weaknesses like you and me, was the sweetest teaching about their Savior. Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”
We get hungry and thirsty, so did Jesus. We get tempted by things of this world, so did Jesus – and His was against Satan himself. We get sad because of the death of a beloved friend, so did Jesus as he wept alongside Mary. This is the sweetness of God’s grace – “He understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive mercy, and will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Heb. 4:15-16).
One final thought: Jesus, the Son of God, HAD to become a human to ransom us unto God. Psalm 49 reveals the hopeless plight of mankind. “Truly no mere man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live forever and never see the pit” (Ps. 49:7-9). An ordinary human could not pay the price or cover the debt of the sin we owe – only the majestic perfection of the Son of God could be a worthy sacrifice for our salvation – and Jesus, our very God, emptied himself and left glory and lowered himself into the likeness of men. Philippians 2:6-11 is thought to be one of the earliest ‘confession of faith’ of the New Testament church and it states, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (vs 8). The ancient hope of all the Old Testament fathers and prophets was this: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me.” Ps. 49:15).
The thirst of Jesus Christ on the cross was the thirst of a dying man, but he was not just an ordinary person – he was Immanuel [which means ‘with us is God’]. Our holy creator God and eternal Lord of everlasting Light journeyed an infinite distance to become our crucified dried up with thirst. He cried out, “I thirst,” so that He could pour out infinite glory into us and ransom us unto Himself. Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as Scriptures has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him” (John 7:37-38).