227. A Seamless Robe (John 19:23-25; Matt. 27:35,36; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34)*
When the grim business of crucifixion had been
concluded—Jesus first, then the two thieves—the quaternion of
soldiers settled down (Gen. 37 :25) to the more congenial ploy of sharing out
their perquisites-the garments of Jesus and the others. From each victim there
would be five items of clothing-head-dress, sandals, robe, girdle and chiton
or shirt. The chiton of Jesus was evidently specially good, so this
was set on one side until, with the ubiquitous dice, they had gambled for the
other four articles.
"Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top
throughout." Josephus (Ant. 3.7.4) uses almost identical phraseology to describe
the linen garment of the high priest. Chiton is the normal word for the
robe of a priest. Was this garment blue or white (Ex. 39:22,27;
"They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but
cast lots for it, whose it shall be." Contrast the decision of the angels of God
regarding the veil of the temple (Mt. 27:51).
It was strange indeed that these soldiers should contemplate
even for a moment the rending of any of the victim's clothing, for what use
could a mere fragment of a garment be?
But again the symbolic mind of the evangelist looked beyond
the mere outward form of events. The double meaning here is underlined with the
otherwise quite superfluous phrase: "These things therefore the soldiers did."
John saw in this trivial incident a happening of far-reaching significance. In
the first place, these Roman soldiers, all unknown to themselves, were
fulfilling an inspired Scripture written hundreds of years earlier about this
very thing. "They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they did
cast lots" (Ps. 22 :18). Down to the very last detail the accuracy of the
prophecy was established.
If that 22nd Psalm had any application to the life and
experience of David-and such application is by no means free from difficulty
—it must belong to the time of Absalom's rebellion. In that case these
words about "parting my garments" were probably used originally in a symbolic
sense for the avid greed with which the rebels settled down 10 apportion among
themselves the various lucrative honours and dignities which hitherto had
belonged to the king himself.
In a similar fashion, John may have seen a symbolic fulfilment
alongside the literal, in the application of the Psalm to Jesus. Men who had
rebelled against the authority of Jesus and had compassed his death did so
because they regarded Jerusalem as "their place" and the Jews as "their nation"
(Jn. 11:48). "This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall
be ours." And Pilate and Herod had connived at this fell work because each had
deemed himself to be "King of the Jews." They all insisted on having for
themselves what was Christ's by right.
But John must surely have seen even more than this. Here in
symbol was the very truth which many a time Jesus had been at pains to enunciate
for the benefit of his disciples: "and there shall be one flock, and
one shepherd;" "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou
hast given me, that they may be one, as we are . . . Neither pray I for
these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that
they also may be one in us" (Jn. 10:16; 17:11,20,21). And it is plain that by
contrast John saw only the opposite kind of experience as possible for those
estranged from Christ: "So there was a division among the people because of
him." "Then said the Pharisees. . . but others . . . And there was a division
among them . . . There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these
sayings" (Jn. 7:43; 9:16; 10:19).
All these things were impressively symbolized in two simple
facts: at the trial of Jesus the high priest rent his garments, but from the
cross Jesus looked down and saw his own priestly garment preserved whole and
free from any tear. There is a sad sad irony about the rending of his robe which
has gone on since that time. Even to the present day he looks down from his work
as priest beside the heavenly throne (Zech. 6 :13) at the blithe indifference
with which his brethren rend that which was intended to be without even a seam.
There is an interesting and perhaps not altogether
unprofitable speculation as to what happened to the clothes of Jesus that day.
No Bible support for this idea is forthcoming, yet it has a certain inherent
probability about it.
The scene is readily imagined: the Roman soldiers sitting
close to the crosses and busy with their dice. Standing nearby (by special
permission doubtless), the group of faithful women, and John with them. Their
thoughts as they saw the garments of their Lord being light-heartedly gambled
for may well be imagined. Probably one of them (his mother? cp. 1 Sam. 2:19) had
made that seamless robe with her own hands. And now it and the rest were to be
sold for the price of a drink in some tavern in the city! In these circumstances
it would be strange indeed if one of the group did not come across to the
soldiers and quickly do a deal for what they had just shared out. (Those who
read the NT in Greek may like to ponder the force of the men . . . de in
Jn. 19:24 end, 25).
Now a further consideration. When Jesus rose from the dead, he
appeared to his disciples as a normal clothed person. Is it an altogether
irrelevant and irreverent question to ask: Where did he get his clothes from? A
possible answer is, of course, that one of the angels brought them from heaven.
But another answer, not impossible, is that those garments acquired from the
soldiers were hurried away for laundering, and at the end of that day of anxiety
and sorrow someone who was present when Jesus was laid in the tomb of Joseph
brought them, now sweet and clean and free from the dust, blood and sweat which
had soiled them, saying: "Lay these by his side. He will surely need them before
But this is only a guess.
Perhaps Zechariah's prophecy about the "filthy garments" of
Joshua-Jesus calls for a literal, as well as a figurative, fulfilment (3:3,