John 19:28 says, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”
Thirst is a maddening sensation. Think of the sailor in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, becalmed at sea, “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” “And every tongue,” he says, “through utter drought, / Was withered at the root…. There passed a weary time. Each throat / Was parched, and glazed each eye. / A weary time! a weary time!”
The hours Jesus hung upon the cross were a weary time, a weary time—His body wracked with the fiercest torture Roman justice could deploy; His spirit wracked with the soul-agony of the wrath of God against His people’s sin. And as this careening torment neared the terminus of death, one more searing ray of anguish exacerbated all the others: the parched dryness of utter thirst.
Thirst is an important Old Testament image for the desperate spiritual craving of the soul. Think of Israel in the wilderness and the water from the rock. Think of David and his reflections on his wilderness experience in Psalm 63: “O God, … my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). In Jeremiah, the Lord laments that “my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
That Jesus should thirst on the cross is profound because in His ministry He identified Himself as the giver of the very living waters Jeremiah spoke of. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” he told the woman at the well, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” How could it be that the source of living water could come to thirst so desperately on the cross?
Jesus thirsted so that you might drink. Christ is the rock in the wilderness from which the waters flow (1 Corinthians 10:4), but only because that rock was struck (Exodus 17:6) so that you might be spared.
Grace-Based Action Point
In Revelation 21:6, the risen Jesus promises, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” For those who endure the “great tribulation” of this life, Christ promises a future where “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore…. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water” (Revelation 7:16-17).
The next time you feel the relief and satisfaction of a long draft of pure, cool water, consider: what are you soul-thirsty for? What are you counting on to slake that thirst? Are you hewing out broken cisterns for yourself that can hold no water? Or are you thirsty for Christ, who thirsted on the cross so that He might give you the fountain of living waters welling up in your heart to eternal life?
Yours in Christ,