It is very easy for modern readers of the gospel of John to assume that he sometimes falls into the role of a chatty tour guide, telling us the meaning of certain words in two languages, and that he does so for purposes of amusing us along the way. “And on your left, you may see . . .”
He does this a number of times, but the point is not amusement. When John does this, he is pointing to something that he wants us to see. And he wants us to see it in such a way as to do good to our souls.
“When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha” (John 19:13).
This pavement of stones is possibly the room Gazith in the Temple. Half this room was sanctified, and half was common. There was a door to enter each section. The Sanhedrin used to meet in the common half, and it was lawful for a Gentile to go there—in other words, Pilate could have been there. This room was paved with smooth stones, square and hewn. The Greek word for this is lithostrotos, and, as John makes a point of telling us, the Hebrew is Gabbatha. The Hebrew word Gabbatha is used once in the Old Testament, referring to the time when King Ahaz removed the great laver in the Temple from its resting place on the backs of the bronze oxen, and placed it on the pavement (2 Kings 16:17). The Septuagint uses the same Greek word that John used in 2 Chron. 7:3. In each instance, we are talking about a pavement of stones in the Temple.
And Jesus is a Temple (John 2:19). Jesus is a stone (Matt. 21:42). Jesus, the stone that the builders rejected, was standing on a pavement of stones before the judgment seat, in order to become the rejected stone. Make special note of this, John says. Jesus was standing on a pavement of stone when this happened.
Another instance of this in the same chapter—given to strengthen our faith on this good Friday—is this one:
“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: where they crucified him . . .” (John 19:17-18a).
Jesus died on Calvary, and when He died, He destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14). What is this place of a skull? The first gospel promise in the Bible is the promise that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, God uses women to strike the heads of His enemies. A nameless woman throws a mill stone off a tower, strikes Abimelech on the head, and he is fatally wounded (Judg. 9:53). Jael kills Sisera with a spike through the head (Judg. 5:26). God strikes the hairy scalps of His adversaries (Ps. 68:21). And Golgotha fits within this typology too. It is a head—a skull. Moreover, it is a head of death—a skull. What did God do in the death of Jesus? God, like Jael, the wife of Heber, drove a spike, a cross, into the head of His ancient foe.
The stake was set up, diligently placed by Roman soldiers, and then, when Jesus died, the divine hammer fell.
Special thanks to my student Steven Opp, who suggested the first part of this line of thought to me.