Wednesday, October 26

An Examination of the Words of Jesus on the Cross

According to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." While some may contend that there are problems with this, it does not negate the truth that is contained within this statement. Other have said, in some variation, "If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything." Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born to Mary in the city of Bethlehem c.6 BC, grew up in Nazareth in northern Israel. Joseph became the adopted father, if you will, of Jesus, and raised Him as a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Joseph and Mary, contrary to the claims of some, had children, including James, Judas, Simon, Joseph, as well as sisters of Jesus. Having grown up in the first century Palestine under Roman rule, Jesus, at the age of thirty (Luke 3:23) began His earthly ministry. Jesus performed many miracles during His lifetime, some of which are mentioned in ancient sources outside of Scripture. The most important miracle was His resurrection, in which Jesus, who is God, rose from the dead after a brutal death: crucifixion. Jesus stood for something, and certainly died for something. While Jesus was on the cross, He said several things of import. What were these things, and what can we glean from these sayings? (Photo attribution: [a] Cristo crucificado by Diego Velázquez, 1632; [b] an illuminated manuscript, from the Syriac Rabbula Gospels, 586 AD)

Jesus, having claimed to be divine, the Jewish authorities claimed it was blasphemy, and as such "all condemned him as worthy of death" (Mark 14:64). We are told that the "high priest tore his clothes" (v.63). Jesus had claimed to be the "Son of Man," (some manuscripts "Son of God," though Jesus could have claimed both titles when asked) which was understood by the Jews of this time to be a claim to divinity, and a claim to the title of the Messiah. If they believed He was claiming to be a mere man, why would they have found Him worthy to be condemned to death, and why would the high priest have torn his clothes? You see, in the historical context, if you tore your clothes, it was an outward expression of grief or anger. This can be seen in Genesis 37:29, when Reuben found his brother gone, another instance when a Benjamite tore his clothes after running from battle (1st Samuel 4:11-12), along with other occasions.

The tearing of clothes also sometimes signified the rejection of something. If the Jews understood Jesus claim to be the "Son of God" and "Son of Man" as a mere man, why did they believe him worthy of death, and why did the high priest tear his clothes? This makes sense if Jesus had claimed deity. Psalm 80:17, which refers to the "Son of Man" in the highest possible authority (the right hand) and Daniel 7:13-14 also demonstrate that this claim was one of deity. While Ezekiel was called "son of man" in the Old Testament, he was understood to be a mere man. Jesus clarified, saying that He would be "coming with the clouds of heaven" (Daniel 7:13), and was clearly meant to be understood as a claim to deity.

[a] Cristo crucificado by Diego Velázquez, 16
After several back and forth questionings, Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea under Emperor Tiberius Caesar, sentenced Jesus to be flogged and crucified. Sometimes, individuals did not survive flogging. Flogging, however, was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution.[1] Detailed studies of the Greek text of 2nd Peter 2:24, which refers to the wounds Jesus bore for mankind's sin, imply that His scourging was particularly brutal.[2] After experiencing several agonizing hours, expressed elsewhere in spiritual and medical terms and not explored in detail in this article, Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross, and was placed in the middle of two thieves, who also hung on separate crosses. The crucifixion by Pontius Pilate under Emperor Tiberius is a historical fact attested to by Flavius Josephus, first century historian, by Tacitus (another Roman historian), and by Lucian (Greek satirist and traveling lecturer), as well as others. While Jesus was on the cross, He said the following things: (listed in no order of appearance)
  • Matthew 27:46, "About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?')."(TNIV) *Some manuscripts, "Eloi, Eloi...". The HNV reads, "Yeshua cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, 'Eli, lima shavakhtani?'" Other manuscripts say, "About the ninth hour..." The BBE reads, "My God, My God, why are you turned away from me?"
  • Mark 15:34, "And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' (which means 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?')." 
  • Luke 23:34, "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
  • Luke 23:43, "Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
  • Luke 23:46, "Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he has said this, he breathed his last."
  • John 19:25-27, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home."
  • John 20:28-30, "Later, knowing everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' 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. When he has received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
What do these things mean? The next course of action is to examine each passage individually, its implications, and in some cases, its cultural and historical context. In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Almost immediately, there are those who may wonder, "If Jesus claimed to be God, why does he say 'My God?'" This quotation of Christ at Golgotha can be understood in numerous ways. First of all, Jesus is not conveying that He is not God. Jesus claimed divinity on several occasions, and therefore, we rightly conclude that Scripture must interpret Scripture. When we look at this quotation, we recognize that it is actually in and of itself a quotation of a psalm of David, written approximately one thousand years before the birth of Jesus. This is Psalm 22:1, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my words of groaning?" When Jesus quoted this, He cited Psalm 22, with the knowledge that it was in fulfillment of Scripture. "Anyone can quote Scripture," one may protest, "why is this any different?" It is because, when we look at the entirety of Psalm 22, it refers to circumstances surrounding Jesus' crucifixion. It notes, "they pierce my hands and my feet" (v.16), "people stare and gloat over me" (v.17), "They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment" (v.18), the medical condition of Jesus' heart (v.14), among other things.

When Jesus cited Psalm 22, He was citing evidence that we could later go back and check to demonstrate that this quotation was a fulfillment of prophecy, and the very manner of His death was the fulfillment of this. This is not the only reason that Jesus said this, however. At this moment, all of the past, present and future sins of humanity were placed on Jesus, and because the Father cannot be in sin's presence, He turned away from Jesus, cutting off a connection that has existed for eternity, and for the first time in all of eternity, the Son was cut off from the Father, and God the Son cried out. Charles Spurgeon said of this passage, "This anguish of the Savior on your behalf and mine is no more to be measured and weighed than the sin which needed it, or the love which endured it. We will adore where we cannot comprehend... God had forsaken him. Grief of the mind is harder to bear than pain of body. You can pluck up courage and endure the pang of sickness and pain, so long as the spirit is hale and brave; but if the soul itself be touched, and the mind becomes diseased with anguish, then every pain is increased in severity, and there is nothing with which to sustain it. Spiritual sorrows are the worst of miseries."[3]

According to Matthew Henry, "Christ's being forsaken of his Father was the most grievous of his sufferings. Here he laid the most doleful accents. When the Father stood at a distance, he cried out thus".[4] God the Father was absent for the first time. Jesus did not cry out, "Judas, why have you forsaken me," or "Peter, why have you forsaken me" - the Father had forsaken Him because He could not be present where all sin had been placed on Jesus. It was for this purpose that Christ came, and at any moment he could have called down over 72,000 angels at once (Matthew 26:53). The prophecy of old was fulfilled, "he will bear their iniquities" (Isaiah 53:11). He was made a curse for us, for it is written, "his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God)" (Deuteronomy 21:23) and "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole [or tree]'" (Galatians 3:13). Even when his disciples had scattered in the Garden, the Father remained. Now, even if Jesus called, the Father could not answer. Communication had been cut off. The passion of Jesus regarding mankind is clearly seen in the crucifixion. At any given moment, He could have come down from the cross, but He did not. He endured.

The next quotation we will examine is found in Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." It should be noted that some early manuscripts do not contain this sentence, though there are those that do. As Jesus took in what was going on around Him, with the Romans casting lots for his clothing (Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24), the crowd was blaspheming Him (Matthew 27:39), the religious leaders were mocking Him (Matthew 27:41-43), as did the criminals on both sides, though as we will see, one of these criminals ended his reviling. In His mercy, Jesus prayed to the Father, whom He was subject to while on earth, having been "made lower than the angels for a little while" (Hebrews 2:9) and "taking the very nature of a servant" (Philippians 2:7), praying for the forgiveness of these people. The soldiers who had mocked, spat on, beaten, flogged, and crucified Jesus, were now being forgiven. Although these soldiers were simply doing their duty, and as they did not understand He was God the Son, for "None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (2nd Corinthians 2:8). Nevertheless, Jesus still forgave them.

It needs to be understood that neither the Romans, nor the cross, ended the life of Jesus. While these certainly brought Him to the point of death, Jesus gave up His life on His own (Ephesians 2:8-9), as He made clear, "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again" (John 10:18). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, "he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." Jesus was also carrying out His own command to "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44). The first recorded Christian martyr, Stephen, followed Christ's example when he prayed for his enemies. In Acts 7:60 we read, "Then he fell on his knees and cried out, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'" After this, Stephen died. That Christ forgave those who considered themselves to be His enemies while He was at the point of death speaks volumes to us. Jesus was consistent in His message to forgive others, as He spoke about forgiveness on numerous occasions. 

In Luke 23:34, we also read, "And they divided up his clothes by casting lots." This is also referred to in Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:24, as well as John 19:23-24. With this multiple attestation, St. John's text reveals, "When the soldiers crucified Jesus [He was still alive], they took his clothes dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in place from top to bottom. 'Let's not tear it,' they said to one another. 'Let's decide by lot who will get it.' This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, 'They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.' So this is what the soldiers did." The scripture quote comes from Psalm 22, which is also the Psalm Jesus quoted a little beforehand. Historically, we know that there was more than one form of casting lots, but the game called "Nine Men's Morris" was quite popular in the Roman empire at that time, and was probably played by these soldiers to determine who would take the undergarment of Jesus. It is an ancient strategy game which is generally played by two players, but of course the winners between these four soldiers could have played different rounds.

Prior to examining the next quote, it may be best to establish Jesus' sacrifice. For the universe to have been created by a single God, who is outside of space and time, it would then follow that God is infinite. Why did it have to be Jesus who died for our sins? For those who consider Him a mere man yet express faith as a Christian, consider the following. If an individual simply walked up to a street sign and crucified him or herself upon it and said, "I am dying to pay for mankind's sin," their death would not meet the requirement for the redemption of mankind. This is because we are created, finite beings. As finite beings, we cannot die for the sins of other finite beings and expect redemption. If Jesus was a mere man, He would have also been finite, and His death would not have brought redemption. If, however, Jesus was God as He claimed, and as He was called by others, then He would be the infinite being. As an infinite being, He gave up His infinite spirit, whereas His finite body which contained the infinite spirit redeemed mankind. 

The next quotation is found in Dr. Luke's gospel, in Luke 23:43. After a brief conversation with one of the criminals, who had rebuked the other for reviling Jesus, and though he also originally did so, evidently changed his opinion of Jesus, Jesus says to the man, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (cf. 2nd Corinthians 5:8, Philippians 1:23). The Greek word paradeisos is used again in 2nd Corinthians 12:4 when St. Paul is referring to the heaven, where God's abode is, as well as again in Revelation 2:7, where Jesus is also referring to heaven. Given the context, however, we understand that after death Jesus descended to the lower earthly regions (Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:8-10, cf. 1st Samuel 28:13), and before the death and resurrection of Jesus, those who accepted God entered into a heavenly paradise, also called "Abraham's Bosom," where those such as Samuel, Saul, David, Moses, Abraham, and others went after death. Jesus was clear in His teaching that until He rose from the dead, the way to heaven was "closed," if you will. Jesus, much like a key, has now opened the door to heaven and through Him, we are allowed entrance (John 14:6; Romans 10:9).

Also, when we understand that this criminal was previously insulting Jesus (Matthew 27:44), and then came to defend him mere hours later (Luke 23:39-43), since Jesus accepted the man's faith and conveyed that he would be with Him in paradise; this brings us to an important point. There are those who believe in a legalistic form of Christianity where the law must be kept. Understand that none can truly keep the law. Even if an individual follows the Ten Commandments but breaks it a any one point, he or she has broken the entire law (James 2:10). This is not unreasonable, given that, in the court system (U.S. Court), if you break a law, you have, as they say, "broken the law." What is unreasonable is to assume that we can truly keep all of the Commandments, including those delivered by God in the flesh. 

While we need to be certain to try our best to follow these laws, they also serve as a reminder that in our sin, as we cannot keep these for "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), and therefore the law serves its purpose to drive us toward God, seeking redemption and freedom from the law. The point is this: the fact that Jesus told the criminal that he would be with Him in paradise demonstrates that faith alone - not baptism, not good deeds or good works, not following laws, not having others pray for our salvation - is what saves us. This man had no time for baptism, nor did he have time for other such things. Baptism is important for a variety of reasons, but it is not necessary for salvation (see article, "Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?").

The next quotation of Jesus on the cross is found in Luke 23:46, in which we read, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." From this, we understand that Jesus was willingly giving up His eternal soul into God the Father’s hands, implying that He was near death, and that the Father had accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. He had “offered up Himself unblemished to God” (Hebrews 9:14). Clearly, Jesus was obedient and submissive to the Father, a model which we ought to follow. Christ likely then uttered the phrase, "It is finished," as we see that He gave up His spirit and breathed his last not long after. However, it is not the intention of this article to discuss which order these sayings were spoken in, but to examine some of their meaning, and their implications. Interestingly, much like with beforehand, Jesus was again quoting Scripture. Psalm 31:5 says, "Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, LORD, my faithful God." Jesus had quoted the first part of this passage. Also like Psalm 22, this psalm is a psalm of David, and was likely written approximately 1000 BC. Even for those who do not accept this date, around thirty-nine copies of the Psalms were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the three most popular books (the other two most popular was Deuteronomy with thirty-six copies, and Isaiah had twenty-two), which demonstrates that at the least, we have copies from before the birth of Jesus.[5]

Then, though not particularly in order, John 19:25-27 says, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, 'Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." Many contend that this disciple is St. John. As Mary went to live with this disciple, who is usually identified as John, and since Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum and Eusebius of Caesarea, a Roman historian and Christian polemicist, wrote in their histories that St. John later went to Ephesus (located in modern-day Turkey), this may explain why there was an early belief that Mary lived with John in Ephesus. This is likely based on historical memory, though the New Testament does not specify what happened to Mary after the ascension of Jesus, aside from a mention of Mary in Acts 1:14 and 26, though some speculate that she could be the "elect lady" of 2nd John 1:1.

This passage then brings up the question: why did the brothers of Jesus not take in their mother? That James, Judas, Simon and Joseph are the brothers of Jesus and not mere cousins or stepbrothers will be explored in a future article, but with the premise that Jesus had brothers, why did Mary not go to live with them? While we know that St. John very well could have been a cousin of Jesus, the son of Mary's sister Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), why was it His cousin, and not His brothers or sisters? We know that James went on to convert from a skeptic to a believer after a resurrection appearance from His risen brother (1st Corinthians 15:7), and we know that "the Lord's brothers" had taken "a believing wife" (1st Corinthians 9:5), but why did they not take their mother in? Even if the reader disagrees and believes that they were not brothers but actually stepbrothers or cousins, they were still likely close with Mary (see Mark 6:3, for example). After his conversion, James went on to become the leader of the Jerusalem church (Fragment X of Papias, etc.), and was called one of those "esteemed as pillars" of the church by St. Paul (Galatians 2:9). Where was Jesus' brothers?

[b]6th century illuminated manuscript
While we cannot conclusively say, some believe that, as Jesus and James both taught that riches were a dangerous temptation and a trap for everyone (James 2:6, 5:1-5; Matthew 6:19), then perhaps James could not afford to have his mother live with him. This does not account for several factors, however, yet these will be explored elsewhere. Though there are several speculations as to why James, Judas, Simon and Joseph did not bring their mother to live with them, perhaps the most obvious reason is that none of Jesus' brothers are recorded as being present at His crucifixion, while John, who may have been his cousin and was one of the twelve disciples, was present. Since he stayed with Jesus until His death, Jesus imparted the responsibility of taking care of Mary onto John, whom He knew He could trust, and also, as God, knew that John would live well beyond the years of the other disciples. This is another possible reason, as James, according to the Roman historian Flavius Josephus in the 1st century, James, the brother of Jesus Christ, was stoned (Antiquities of the Jews 20.9). Eusebius, Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria and Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5 also mention the death of James, though later traditions. From Josephus' account, we know that James was martyred c.62 AD. Though speculation will continue, we can be sure that Jesus had a reason for putting Mary in the disciple's care.

The final quotations can be found in John 19:28-30,"Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, 'I am thirsty.' A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge on it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." Psalm 69:21 says, "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst," and this is the Scripture which Jesus fulfilled. When Jesus said that He was thirsty, it prompted the Roman soldier to give Jesus vinegar, as was the custom at crucifixion, though he had refused it a few hours earlier, though when it had been offered previously it was wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23). Of all of the sayings on the cross however, the final saying we will examine is "It is finished." Translated from the Greek word tetelestai, an accounting term which means "paid in full," Jesus literally bore the sins of mankind, and at this moment, Jesus had fulfilled what He had come to do, which was to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10) and to provide atonement for the sins of mankind (Romans 3:23-25).

It was finished. The work that the Father had sent Jesus to do, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead to life, curing the blind, fulfilling several hundred prophecies, and ultimately, the sacrifice which would redeem mankind, and through faith in Jesus, man would have salvation, was finished. The work on the cross was finished, and the beginning of a new life for all who had once been “dead in trespasses and sins” but who are now made “alive with Christ” is now possible (Ephesians 2:1, 5). God the Son took on "the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).

The Truth Ministries would like to thank you for taking the time to read this article of "The Truth." Feel free to email us at or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website.  It is the mission of this ministry to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:5). We understand that many will disagree with our position, our claims and our ministry, and we recognize the individual's right to believe what he or she wills, and that some will disagree on our position regarding this particular topic. However, understand that we stand firm upon the Bible as God's Word, which we believe to be historically accurate and reliable, and hold to our conviction that this conclusion was arrived at based on what His Word tells us, and through a Biblical worldview, and hope that if you have not already, will come to faith in Jesus. Take care, and God bless you reader. Troy Hillman, Christian Apologist

[1] Hengel M: Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross Bowden J (trans). Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1977, pp 22-45, 86-90.
[2] Wuest KS: Wuest Word Studies From the Greek New Testament for the English Reader Grand Rapids, Michigan, WB Eerdmans Publisher 1973, vol 1, p 280.
[3] Charles Spurgeon.  Sermon No.2133, March 2, 1890. 
[4] Henry, Matthew. The Matthew Henry Commentary. 18th ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan Publishing House, 1977. 
[5] Shanks, Hershel. The Dead Sea Scrolls - What They Really Say. Biblical Archaeology Society, 2007, pp 18.