According to the Gospel of John, Jesus died before the other two men crucified next to him (John 19:33). John explains that the Jews did not want Jesus’ body hanging on the cross during the special Sabbath, which was the day following the crucifixion. So Pilate gave special permission for the bodies of the three men to be removed before the Sabbath.
It is important to note the difference between “crucifixion” and “death” here. Crucifixion is being hung on a cross, which more often than not leads to death. One could conceivably survive a crucifixion (some naysayers of the resurrection suggest Jesus survived it). One way the executioners could speed up the death on a cross (and virtually guarantee it) was to break the legs of the crucified. Without good legs, one cannot hold themselves up on the cross to breath whatever good breaths they can get in while hanging there.
And that is exactly what the Roman soldiers did to finish the job of killing the crucified men next to Jesus. But when they got to Jesus to break his legs, they noticed something remarkable – Jesus was already dead. Instead of breaking his legs, they jabbed his side with a spear – resulting in a spilling of blood and water (John 19:34).
I say remarkable because we could imagine Jesus, who worked many impressive miracles (including raising the dead) outliving the two mortals on either side of him. But they actually outlived Jesus on the cross. There is an old saying (not directly Biblical) that Jesus died of a broken heart. One could make an argument that he did – both physically and spiritually. His physical heart would have burst by the sheer trauma of crucifixion. His spiritual heart was bearing the sin of the world, crying out to His Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34).
This weekend, before the glorious Resurrection Day (which is tomorrow), we remember the death of Jesus and what He went through on our behalf. His suffering was so great and violent that he died before men like you and me in the same situation. He emptied Himself. He lowered Himself (Phil 2). That is the extent of His love for us. And He did it all in obedience to and for the glory of the Father.
I think Jesus dying without having his legs broken speaks to His amazing love for us. Instead of trying so hard to live on the cross – he gave Himself up for us. It also fulfills the prophecy (as reported by John) found in the Old Testament about his bones not being broken (Ex 12:46; Num 9:12; 34:20).
Have a Happy Resurrection Day tomorrow! Picture below is The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio (1602-3)