Question: "Why did Jesus say, "I thirst," from the cross?"
Answer: During the approximately six hours Jesus Christ hung on the cross, our Lord spoke seven final statements. One of those statements is recorded in John 19:28: “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
The apostle John links Jesus’ statement “I thirst” to the fulfillment of Scripture. There were, in fact, at least twenty Old Testament prophecies fulfilled during the twenty-four hours surrounding the Lord’s death. By highlighting how Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled throughout Jesus’ crucifixion, John showed that everything was happening according to God’s plan.
When Jesus said, “I thirst,” from the cross, He was alluding to a prophecy in Psalm 22:15: “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” The apostle John had cited this same psalm earlier regarding the dividing of Jesus’ garments among the Roman soldiers (John 19:23).
In response to Jesus’ request for something to drink, the soldiers offer Him wine vinegar: “A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips” (John 19:29). Wine vinegar was the cheapest and easiest wine for soldiers to acquire. It was probably diluted with water.
Earlier, Jesus refused a drink of vinegar, gall, and myrrh offered to Him to relieve His suffering (Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23). After that, the soldiers mockingly offered Him wine vinegar but did not allow Him to drink (Luke 23:36). But here, several hours later, Jesus states, “I am thirsty,” thus asking for a drink. This time, the soldiers give Him some. This action was a fulfillment of Psalm 69:21: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
Immediately after receiving the drink, Jesus says, “It is finished,” and then bows His head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30). There is another, very practical reason Jesus says, “I thirst,” from the cross. The Lord asks for a drink so that He might clearly and powerfully declare His final statement, “It is finished.”
Hanging on the cross, Jesus suffered bitter agony and darkness while covered in our guilt, sin, and shame. When the act of purchasing our redemption was complete, nothing more was needed. Everything Jesus had come to do on earth was now finished. The Scriptures were fulfilled. Christ’s work was done, the battle was over, the victory was won. All that God had purposed and all the prophets had foretold was complete, and Jesus surrendered Himself to death.
From the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we learn that, as Jesus died, He cried out with a loud voice (Matthew 27:50; see also Mark 15:37). Luke reports, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).
Jesus said, “I thirst,” from the cross because He wanted His lips and throat moistened to utter one final victorious shout before He died. The death of Jesus Christ finished His work of redemption, atonement, and reconciliation. Through Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death on the cross, the Lamb of God paid our debt and took away our sin. Our ransom complete, Jesus, with a resounding voice, wanted all people to hear these words—words that still ring strong today: “It is finished!”