Have you ever wondered about the deeper meaning behind vinegar in the Bible? Beyond being a practical condiment, vinegar takes on some powerful symbolic meanings in Scripture that unlock the mysteries of Christ’s sacrifice.
Vinegar as Mockery and Rejection
Let’s rewind back to Jesus’ crucifixion. As He hung dying on the cross, the soldiers mocked Him by offering Him vinegar to drink. Specifically, they offered Him posca – a cheap vinegar wine that Roman soldiers commonly drank to quench their thirst. But this drink offered to Jesus wasn’t just a random beverage choice – it carried a deeper meaning of scorn and ridicule.
“The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself’” (Luke 23:36-37).
This echoes an earlier moment recorded in Matthew 27:34, when Jesus was offered wine vinegar mixed with gall upon being crucified. Gall refers to a bitter substance that would have amplified the drink’s acidic sourness. Jesus tasted this bitter vinegar mixture but refused to drink it, wanting to remain fully conscious and clear-minded as He endured the cross.
What’s going on here? Why offer Jesus soured wine not once, but twice?
These back-to-back vinegar offers symbolized humanity’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Though Jesus was the perfect Son of God who only loved, the world met Him with bitter mockery, scorn, and hatred. Offering vinegar to quench the thirst of a dying man was a deliberate act to prolong His suffering. The bitterness and sourness of vinegar perfectly encapsulated mankind’s cruelty toward the loving Christ.
This rejection had long been foretold by the prophets. Psalm 69:21, written by David over 1000 years before Jesus’ birth, eerily describes the Messiah being offered gall and vinegar while in mortal anguish:
“They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”
Though Jesus was wholly innocent, He bore the guilt and sins of the world. And humanity – you and me included – met Him with revulsion instead of repentance. The Gospels record vinegar being offered to Jesus twice, suggesting that we’ve rejected Him over and over without end.
Have you grasped the depth of your own sin? Do you realize the love that Jesus demonstrated by willingly receiving such contempt, agony and death on your behalf? As you read on, ask God to cultivate a spirit of humble repentance within you.
Vinegar Representing Jesus’ Suffering and Humanity
Now back to the crucifixion scene once more. After tasting the bitter gall mixture early on, Jesus later accepts a drink of vinegar wine near His death. Let’s pick up the story in John 19:28-30:
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
Wow – what a turning point! Why did Jesus accept vinegar now after refusing it earlier?
By calling out “I thirst” and receiving the sour wine, Jesus demonstrates His true humanity amidst immense suffering. The excruciating pain of crucifixion wracked His body to the point of desperate thirst. By tasting the vinegar wine, Jesus relates to our own human frailty in powerful ways.
This scene also fulfilled David’s ancient prophecy about the Messiah drinking vinegar while in anguish (Psalm 69:21). Imagine David’s awe if he had witnessed his words coming true word-for-word 1000 years later! This astounding fulfillment proves Jesus’ credentials as the long-awaited Messiah.
As Jesus consumed the sour wine, He cried out “It is finished!” signifying the completion of His earthly mission. The vinegar wine enabled Jesus to utter His final victorious words before giving up His spirit in death. Even this drink of suffering echoed with symbolic purpose in Christ’s final climatic act of obedience.
And take note of what the soldiers used to lift the vinegar to Jesus’ mouth – a branch of hyssop. For Israelites, hyssop held deep spiritual meaning dating back to the first Passover in Egypt. Moses had instructed the enslaved Israelites to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial lamb onto their doorposts using branches of hyssop (Exodus 12:22). This blood caused the death angel to “pass over” their homes, saving them from losing their firstborn sons. The Passover lamb was slaughtered instead, foreshadowing Jesus’ future sacrifice.
So by dipping the vinegar-soaked sponge in hyssop, the Gospel writers invoked a vivid symbol of sacrificial bloodshed and redemption. Jesus is the final perfect Passover Lamb, who by His blood saves us from the bonds of sin and hell. Even the tool used to lift the vinegar carries weighty significance in Scripture!
Vinegar as a Symbol of Jesus’ Sacrifice
Building on the Passover imagery, vinegar also represents Christ’s bitter cup of sacrificial suffering poured out on humanity’s behalf.
While praying in Gethsemane shortly before His death, Jesus begged His Father for the “cup” of suffering to pass from Him. But out of supreme love for us, He chose to fully drink the bitter anguish of the cross:
“Jesus went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’…Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, ‘Sit here while I go and pray over there.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me’” (Matthew 26:39, 36-38).
This cup metaphorically points to the vinegar drink that would intensify Christ’s thirst on the cross. Though wincingly bitter and repulsive to swallow, Jesus fully accepted this destined cup prepared for Him. He consumed the rancid drink to secure our redemption.
Even His dying words resonated with this imagery – “It is finished!” Jesus completely drank the cup of God’s wrath, fully absorbing sin’s virulent poisoning into Himself as the ultimate Passover sacrifice. Because Jesus fully drank this cup to the very last drop, you and I can now be spared from drinking it ourselves in hell forever.
How Does the Symbolism of Vinegar in the Bible Relate to Spiritual Growth and Falling Spiritually?
Vinegar Imagery in Jesus’ Return
Astoundingly, Scripture even gives vinegar symbolic power in foretelling Jesus’ second coming. The prophet Zechariah described a future day when those who pierced and rejected Christ will finally look upon Him with grief and repentance:
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son…In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness…’Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’; then I will turn My hand against the little ones.” (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1, 13:7).
Now get this – directly after those piercing the Shepherd (Jesus) look upon Him and mourn, Zechariah says:
On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem…half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea.” (Zechariah 14:8).
Recall how seawater becomes undrinkable the saltier it gets. Similarly, those who persistently rejected “the fountain of living waters” in Jesus (Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10) willfully drank the bitter waters leading to death. But Zechariah prophesies that Jesus’ Second Coming will open an abundant fountain for “sin and uncleanness” in Himself, with living water streaming out to symbols of bitterness and death – the Dead Sea and Mediterranean Sea.
This suggests a glorious future day when those who once gave Jesus bitter vinegar to drink will finally be cleansed by the sweet living water found in Christ alone!
As we’ve explored, vinegar in Scripture symbolizes humanity’s bitter mockery and rejection of Jesus, the sweet Savior. Yet wondrously, Jesus fully accepted this bitterness by absorbing all God’s wrath on our behalf, demonstrating His incredible love and humility in the process.
Vinegar also represents Christ’s immense physical suffering as He hung dying on the cross. By thirstily drinking bitter wine in His final moments, Jesus powerfully relates to our own human frailty and limitations.
Most beautifully, vinegar functions as a metaphor for Jesus’ complete sacrificial death on our behalf. Just as the Passover lamb’s blood saved Israelites in Egypt, Jesus’ blood redeems us from the slavery of sin. And this redemption fully pays for all bitterness, uncleanness and rejection once marked against us.
The next time you read about vinegar interacting with Jesus, remember the deeply symbolic meanings found in its bitterness. Let vinegar remind you of Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice to reconcile you back to God, now and for all eternity.