The fifth saying of Jesus as He hung on the Cross, living up to His Name, which was to save His people from their sins was a request in which Jesus expressed a need. His saying was ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28). Though cursorily it may seem like an expression of his physical condition, is there more to this than what is evident.
One of the dictionary definitions of the word, ‘thirst’ is an ardent desire, craving or longing. Interestingly, one can go without food for days, but not without water. Thirst is a physical condition that can bring the strongest of the strong to their knees, some even to the point of death. Samson the strong after killing a thousand warriors in battle cried to the Lord when he felt thirsty, questioning, now shall I die of thirst? (Judges 15:18-20). The grumbling Israelite pilgrims questioned Moses, if he had led them out of Egypt to kill them and their children and cattle with thirst (Exodus 17:3). When no water in the desert of Beersheba was found, Hagar, unable to bear the possibility of her son, Ishmael dying of thirst, goes a bow shot length away until God miraculous opens her eyes and she sees a well (Genesis 21:14-16). So thirst can make the strong weak, and the living dead.
And here we hear Jesus saying that He thirsted. Why did Jesus say that he thirsted?
The logical human explanation was that He experienced a human physical condition and that is certainly plausible. Jesus hungered (Matthew 4:2), slept (Mark 4:38), grew (Luke 2:42), groaned (John 11:33), wept (John 11:35) and so in his Humanity also thirsted (John 19:28). Now if this was merely a personal physical need to be satisfied, isn’t it interesting that Jesus only asks for being quenched after he accomplished all the things He knew He had to fulfill (John 19:28). Jesus’ personal needs came only after doing what God wanted Him to do. He satisfied God before He prayed to be satisfied himself. We must have the same attitude as well.
But the scripture gives us evidence that there is more. Jesus said, ‘I thirst’ so that the scripture may be fulfilled (John 19:28). Jesus came to fulfill the scripture and fulfilled it (Psalm 69:21). Jesus, who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and the imputation of our sins on Him made him experience a separation from God the Holy Father as expressed by the prophet Isaiah who said “… your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2) . So Jesus’ relationship with God the Father had been broken because of our sins. This is further substantiated by the fact that Jesus addressed God, in His previous saying as My God, my God (Eloi, Eloi) and not as Father (which is how He addressed God in the first saying from the Cross). Jesus very well could have thirsted for the oneness He had with God the Father (John 10:30). Another explanation as to why Jesus thirsted is that he experienced the thirst of hell. Acts 2:27 and 31 are very explicit that God would not let soul of his Holy One (Jesus) in hell. In Matthew 12:40, we hear Jesus saying that “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly: so shall the Son of man (Jesus) be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. ” Revelation refers to hell as the bottomless pit or abyss (Revelation 9:1-2). Ephesians 4:9 tells us that Jesus ascended into heavens, but that he also first descended into the lower parts (heart) of the earth.
So Jesus descended down to hell on our account, but what is the state of affairs in hell? An overbearing need to be quenched. We see this in the parable that Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man died and was buried and in hell he was tormented by thirst. (Luke 16:19-31). So it is not implausible that when Jesus’ soul descended to hell, he thirsted as well.
But in hell, the thirst that is to be quenched is not physical as the rich man describes but more in the spiritual realms. Jesus spiritually thirsted that his desire to bring many sons unto glory be quenched (Hebrews 2:10); that all are saved and none perish (2 Peter 3:9); that God’s eternal wrath would now be quenched as he accomplishes his task of saving all men and women in totality and that all will drink of Him (Jesus) and receive from Him living water (the Holy Spirit – John 7:38-39) so that they will no longer be thirsty.
Finally, when the curtain falls, we can find ourselves in only one of two states – eternally thirsty or eternally quenched and this depends on whether we agree to drink of (believe) Him, Jesus Christ, who with a craving, a longing and an ardent desire said, ‘I thirst’ [for you].