A Prophecy Impossible to Fulfill


During the course of crucifixion, on rare occasions, it was necessary to break the shin bones of the condemned person hanging on the cross—in order to hasten his death. For the crucified, breathing was a nearly impossible task, accomplished only by pressing down with both feet, onto the wooden platform that was secured to the cross. By attempting to stand and relieve the pressure exerted on the lungs—due to the outstretched arms that were nailed to the upper cross member, the nail that was driven through the flesh and bones of both feet, would cause the tissue to be torn and bleed profusely. The act of raising the body up to accomplish a breath was further complicated by the raw tissue of the back, which had been torn to ribbons during scourging. Upon every breath of air, as the back would slide up the splintered wood of the cross, excruciating pain would shoot through the body.

The pain that was necessary to complete the simple process of breathing became a continuing self torture. The condemned would have to choose between the intense pain of raising himself up to breath, or dying from a lack of oxygen.

When a crucifixion took place on the day before the Sabbath or a special feast day, Jewish law required that the body of the condemned must not be left hanging on cross (tree) overnight.

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day…”

When the Roman soldiers came to break the legs of Jesus in order to hasten His death, they found that He was already dead. These men unknowingly became instruments in fulfilling the three prophecies of the Old Testament which specifically state that the bones of the Passover Lamb could not be broken.

It seems that this specific aspect of the Messiah’s death is of particular importance to the Lord, as it is reported in three different prophecies. Upon examination of the circumstances surrounding this event, we can see why.

The purpose of these many Old Testament predictions is to validate the identity of the one who is the true Messiah. The source who revealed to us that that the legs of the Messiah would not be broken would have to know in advance that there would be two other men who were also being crucified on the same day. He would need to know that the crucifixion of the Messiah was going to happen on Passover, the day before the Sabbath. As a result of the specific day in which this would take place, the bodies of these men could not remain on their crosses past 6 p.m., on the day of their execution. The only way to make certain that the condemned could be removed before the beginning of the Sabbath at 6 p.m., was to accelerate their death by breaking the lower portion of their legs at the shin bone, so that lifting themselves to breath would be impossible.

The fact that both criminals would have their legs broken, while those of the Messiah would be left intact, is a remarkable piece of information, considering that in about 90 percent of all crucifixions, the executioners did not break the legs of those on the cross.[1] The author of this prophecy knew in advance that this crucifixion would occur just before the start of the Jewish Sabbath which would require the legs of the crucified to be broken, yet leave the bones of the Messiah unbroken. These specific facts were in direct fulfillment of Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalms 34:20.

Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.”[2]

This specific detail allows us to understand that the fulfillment of this prophecy was extremely difficult. The fact that every event did occur perfectly as Moses and David wrote, calls for our consideration. When Jesus fulfilled the words of these three prophecies precisely, this reality leaves us with no other conclusion except—He is the person these prophecies were written for.

Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12 were written 1,500 years before Jesus was born. Psalm 34:20 was written 1,000 years before Jesus was born.

In order for any person to be the true Messiah, He would have to fulfill the requirements of the Passover Lamb. When God told Moses what the specific details for the sacrifice were, He had in mind the time when His Son would come to earth 1,500 years later and be our Passover Lamb. God included the details of this procedure in His instructions to Moses in both Exodus and Numbers—in anticipation of the time when Jesus would arrive. The fact that the legs of the Messiah would not be broken, while those of the two men would, is an extraordinary revelation. To fulfill this requirement Jesus knew that He would have to die before the Roman soldiers came to break the legs of the two other men. In order to accomplish this, Jesus would need to have power over life and death, so that He could command His spirit to depart His body, before the soldiers came to break His legs.

Jesus had to know every detail in advance

How is it possible to write in describing these explicit details unless the author had actually seen the events take place before they happened? This is truly an incredible prediction when we consider the extreme difficulty in causing the many specific details required to bring about this prophetic fulfillment.

Jesus was not a helpless condemned man dying on a cross with no control over anything that happened to Him. He not only told Moses to write this prediction, 1,500 years before these events took place, He controlled the specific way in which He died to insure the precise outcome. Jesus exhibits stunning control over all these circumstances—so that His bones would not be broken, in fulfillment of these three prophecies.

Let us imagine for just a moment that the timing of any one of the events concerning the crucifixion had been altered in the slightest. Let us say that the beating that Jesus received by scourging was just slightly more severe. The pressure from the strikes against His body just a little harder. What if the soldier beating Jesus with the scourge had hit a vital organ with the metal pieces of the scourge, causing it’s failure? Jesus may have died before He even made it to the cross. What if Jesus did not have the ability to control the precise moment that His Spirit departed His body? He would still be alive when the soldiers came to break the legs of the other men, and His legs would have also been broken. These simple changes in the entire process would have invalidated Jesus claim to be the Messiah— for the prophecies specifically state that the legs of the Messiah cannot be broken.

One of the stunning calling cards that undeniably identifies Jesus as the promised Savior, is the fact that the Roman soldiers did not break His legs to hasten His death. Jesus was in complete control of the precise moment that He died. He said in advance that He had the power to lay His life down when He wanted to, and He had the power to take it back again in resurrection three days later.

“No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down when I chose. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it back again. This command I have received from My Father.”[3]

In this 36th Old Testament Prophecy, Moses commanded that the Passover Lamb could not have any of his bones broken while in the course of his preparation and death. It was Jesus’ intent to fulfill the purpose of the Old Testament Passover Lamb, as He became The Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, with no bone broken.

[1] Koskenniemi, Erkki; Kirsi Nisula and Jorma Toppari (2005). “Wine Mixed with Myrrh (Mark 15.23) and Crurifragium (John 19.31-32): Two Details of the Passion Narratives”. Journal for the Study of the New Testament (SAGE Publications) 27 (4): 379–391. doi:10.1177/0142064X05055745. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
[2] John 19:33-34
[3] John 10:17-18, Author’s translation.

Categories: The Crucifixion of Jesus

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