“Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” John 19:31
Under normal conditions a condemned person could suffer on the cross for days, and it wasn’t just the nails driven through the wrists and feet that brought the suffering. Very quickly the real torture would become the struggle to breathe with all the weight of your body fighting against the effort.
You see, in order for you to be able to get a breath of air your lungs need to be able to expand but when your arms are extended out from your body and then fixed in that position so that your weight is supported by them it makes it very difficult to expand your lungs making it nearly impossible to get anything more than a shallow breath.
The only way to accomplish the task of breathing was for the condemned to push upward with their legs against the nails driven through their feet. This was excruciating but did allow them to catch their breath.
The Jewish leaders, however, didn’t want anyone left on the cross over the Sabbath, since it was the Passover and a high sabbath, so they requested Pilate to order that the legs of the condemned be broken. This would make it impossible for them to breath resulting in a much rapid death by suffocation.
Pilate gave the order but when the soldiers came to Jesus they found that he had already died.
To confirm that he was not merely unconscious one of the soldiers drove a spear into Jesus side and from that wound it’s reported that blood and water flowed out.
The presence of water is evidence for a less common result of crucifixion; death by hypovolemic shock. In hypovolemic shock the heart races causing fluid to build up around the heart eventually causing the heart to stop.
When the soldier pierced Jesus’ side he ruptured the pericardial membrane releasing the accumulated fluid as evidenced by the presence of blood and water. Because Jesus’ death had been confirmed the soldiers didn’t break his legs. John confirms that he witnessed this. and notes that yet another prophetic element of the life and death of Christ had been fulfilled. (See Psalm 34:20)
It may seem trivial to note some of this very small confirmations but friends if even one were to have been left unfulfilled it would nullify Christ’s claim for being the Messiah. He must fulfill all the requirements, no matter how small and unimportant they may seem. And Jesus did fulfill them all. And because he did in the past we know he will in the future. All that scripture says he will do will come to pass.
One day soon this world will see Jesus coming in the clouds. He will call the righteous dead into newness of life and all will be transformed into bodies like his own glorious body. Together we’ll live and reign with Christ. Because he has been faithful to fulfill every detail in the past we know he is able to fulfill all he promised in the future.