Jesus Brought Before Pilate, 1-5

23:1 Then the whole group of them rose up and brought Jesus before Pilate. 23:2 They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that he himself is Christ, a king.”

Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea from AD26 to 36.  He had a reputation of being cruel and corrupt, and altogether out of sympathy with the Jewish people.

23:3 So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He replied, “You say so.” 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” 23:5 But they persisted in saying, “He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea. It started in Galilee and ended up here!”

This is the nearest Jesus comes, in the Gospels, to giving ’a straight answer to a straight question’. And yet, in context, it is far from straightforward. The question itself, ‘coming from the man who in fact held political authority over the Jews…carries a clearly ironical, even contemptuous, tone’. In the sense in which Pilate intended it, Jesus could readily have disavowed it. In fact, his answer is one of ‘qualified assent’ – “Yes, if you say so; yes, but in a completely different sense than you think.” For ’it expressed a theme of Old Testament prophecy which Jesus had come to fulfil, and had indeed deliberately enacted in Mt 21:1-9′ (France). Cf. Jn 18:33-37.

Undesigned co-incidence.  It seems strange that Pilate, having seemed to have extracted from Jesus a confession that he is ‘guilty as charged’ (i.e. that he is a King) then says, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.”  The explanation is found in Jn 18:33-38 –

18:33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s residence, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 18:34 Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or have others told you about me?” 18:35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and your chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 18:37 Then Pilate said, “So you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world—to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 18:38 Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
When he had said this he went back outside to the Jewish leaders and announced, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.

But it is not only John’s account which helps to explain Luke’s.  Luke’s also explains John’s.  For it is Luke 23:2 which clarifies why Pilate asked Jesus about his kingship in the first place (Jn 18:33).  (See McGrew, Hidden in Plain Sight)

Jesus Brought Before Herod, 6-12

23:6 Now when Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 23:7 When he learned that he was from Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who also happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. 23:8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some miraculous sign. 23:9 So Herod questioned him at considerable length; Jesus gave him no answer.

For a long time he had been wanting to see him – Cf Lk 9:9.

Luke is the only evangelist who records our Lord’s trial before Herod.  F.F. Bruce suggests the reason behind this:

‘Luke appears to have had a special interest in members of the Herod family, and special information about them.  This could be due to his association with Manaen, foster-brother of this particular Herod (Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee from 4 BC to AD 39), who was a prominent teacher in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1).  According to good second-century tradition, Luke himself belonged to Antioch.  He not only narrates our Lord’s “trial” before Herod in Luke 23:7-12, but refers to it also in Acts 4:27.’ (Answers to Questions, p64).
23:10 The chief priests and the experts in the law were there, vehemently accusing him. 23:11 Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, dressing him in elegant clothes, Herod sent him back to Pilate. 23:12 That very day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other, for prior to this they had been enemies.

Jesus Brought Before the Crowd, 13-25

23:13 Then Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, 23:14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused him of doing. 23:15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, he has done nothing deserving death. 23:16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.”
Jesus’ innocence attested

  1. By Judas, Mt 27:3f.
  2. By Pilate’s wife, Mt 27:19.
  3. By Pilate, Mt 27:24.
  4. By Herod, Lk 23:15.
  5. By Pilate, Jn 18:38.
  6. By the thief, Lk 23:41.
  7. By the centurian, Lk 23:47.

(Source unknown)

23:18 But they all shouted out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas for us!” 23:19 (This was a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.) 23:20 Pilate addressed them once again because he wanted to release Jesus. 23:21 But they kept on shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 23:22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I have found him guilty of no crime deserving death. I will therefore flog him and release him.” 23:23 But they were insistent, demanding with loud shouts that he be crucified. And their shouts prevailed. 23:24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 23:25 He released the man they asked for, who had been thrown in prison for insurrection and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.

Luke 23:17

It seems as if the crowd had already selected the prisoner they wanted to be released.

‘“Barabbas” means son of a father in a simple, human sense. Jesus, on the other hand, was the Heavenly Son of his Heavenly Father, though not yet generally so recognized.’ (Blomberg)

Some ancient manuscripts record his name (in Mt 27:16, ) as ‘Jesus Barabbas’. Modern textual critics think it likely that this was his real name, and ‘Jesus’ was suppressed reasons (even though ‘Jesus’ was a common name in those days). As for the reasons for the suppression of his name, Green comments,

‘You couldn’t have a criminal with the same name as Jesus! But you could! That is the point of Jesus’ coming and identifying with sinners…On that Good Friday, the one ended up on the cross intended for the other, and the guilty man walked away free. An amazing picture of what the cross of Christ really means! Jesus took Barabbas’ place. He took ours, too.’

Carson (ECB) comments on the possible identity of the two who were crucified alongside Jesus:

‘It may be that the two who were crucified with Jesus were co-rebels with Barabbas, for Mt 27:38 uses the same word for their offense as for Barabbas. The fact that three crosses had been prepared strongly suggests that Pilate had already ordered that preparations be made for the execution of the three rebels. If so, Jesus the Messiah actually took the place of the rebel Barabbas because the people preferred the political rebel and nationalist hero to the Son of God.’

Fickleness, or misunderstanding?

When preachers compare the response of the crowd on Palm Sunday (“Hosanna!”, Mk 11.9; Mt 21:9) to that of the crowd just a few days’ later (“Crucify him!”, Mk 15:13; Lk 23:21; Jn 19:15) they often explain this in terms of fickleness (“How quickly they changes their minds about Jesus!”).  I’ve done it myself.

But it’s not at all clear that the crowd who acclaimed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the same group of people who called for his execution.  The former were probably mainly pilgrims from Galilee, along with Jesus’ followers.  The latter were mostly from Jerusalem itself.

In any case, the responses of both crowds was based on misunderstandings of Jesus’ mission.  The crowd shouting “Hosanna!” were motivated by nationalistic fervour, whereas the people calling for Jesus’ death had been incited by those who were falsely accusing him of blasphemy.

Their common bond was not fickleness, but misunderstanding.

Based on this article by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor.

How many of those in this crowd had so enthusiastically greeted Jesus just a few days earlier is impossible to say. But there is clearly a sea change in attitude towards him.

‘It is often asked how these masses could so quickly and dramatically turn against someone they acclaimed as Messiah only five days earlier (Mt 21:9–11). But on Palm Sunday primarily Galilean crowds accompanied Jesus. Here native Jerusalemites are more evident. And, to the extent that the crowds did overlap, one must recall their quite different messianic expectations, now almost certainly destroyed by seeing Jesus imprisoned.’ (Blomberg)

‘Multitudes who choose the world, rather than God, for their ruler and portion, thus choose their own delusions.’ (MHC)

‘Though they that cried thus, perhaps, were not the same persons that the other day cried Hosanna, yet see what a change was made upon the mind of the populace in a little time: when he rode in triumph into Jerusalem, so general were the acclamations of praise, that one would have thought he had no enemies; but now when he was led in triumph to Pilate’s judgment-seat, so general were the outcries of enmity, that one would think he had no friends.’ (MHC)

What wrong has he done? – ‘Note, It is much for the honour of the Lord Jesus, that, though he suffered as an evil-doer, yet neither his judge nor his prosecutors could find that he had done any evil. Had he done any evil against God? No, he always did those things that pleased him. Had he done any evil against the civil government? No, as he did himself, so he taught others, to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s. Had he done any evil against the public peace? No, he did not strive or cry, nor did his kingdom come with observation. Had he done any evil to particular persons? Whose ox had he taken, or whom had he defrauded? No, so far from that, that he went about doing good. This repeated assertion of his unspotted innocency, plainly intimates that he died to satisfy for the sins of others; for if it had not been for our transgressions that he was thus wounded, and for our offences that he was delivered up, and that upon his own voluntary undertaking to atone for them, I see not how these extraordinary sufferings of a person that had never thought, said, or done, any thing amiss, could be reconciled with the justice and equity of that providence that governs the world, and at least permitted this to be done in it.’ (MHC)

The Crucifixion, 26-49

23:26 As they led him away, they seized Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country. They placed the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.
Lk 23:33–43 = Mt 27:33–44; Mk 15:22–32; Jn 19:17–24

Simon from Cyrene – He was a passer-by.  Cyrene was a settlement on the coast of North Africa.  The recollection of this man’s name suggests that he may have become a believer as a result of this experience.

‘Whether Simon was from an ethnically African family converted to Judaism or one of the many Jewish families settled in Cyrene is unclear.’ (IVP Commentary)

Many commentators on Romans (including Cranfield, Dunn and Moo) think that the Rufus mentioned in Rom 16:14 may well be the Rufus who was one of the sons of Simon of Cyrene.  Moo notes: ‘Mark identifies Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21), perhaps to connect him with two well-known Christians in Rome, from where Mark is probably written.’

What is clear is that a stranger performs a role that the disciples should have performed.

The cross – That is, the cross-beam.  The vertical stake would already be fastened in the ground at the place of execution.

23:27 A great number of the people followed him, among them women who were mourning and wailing for him. 23:28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 23:29 For this is certain: The days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore children, and the breasts that never nursed!’ 23:30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills,‘Cover us!’ 23:31 For if such things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

This incident is recorded only by Luke.

Edwards notes:

‘There is no instance in any of the four Gospels of a woman being hostile to Jesus. Throughout the infancy narrative and ministry of Jesus, women have played regular and important roles in the Third Gospel, but beginning with this verse they play heightened roles as witnesses of the crucifixion and resurrection (Lk 23:27, 49, 55–56; 24:1–11, 22, 24).’ (Edwards adds, in a footnote, that Herodias had deadly hostility towards John the Baptist, Mark 6:19, 24; Matt 14:8.)

See Zech 12:10.

“Daughters of Jerusalem” – Residents of the Holy City, and not pilgrims to it.

“Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” – How remarkable, that he seeks not his own comfort, but their repentance!  They must look beyond the present sad sight they see before them, and consider, rather, the dire consequences of the nation’s rejection of their Messiah.

“They will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!” – ‘The words Jesus quotes from Hos 10:8 are a plea for protection, not for quick death.’ (EBC)

23:32 Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. 23:33 So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

The Skull – AV ‘Calvary’, which comes from the Latin of the Vulgate, ‘calvaria’, which translates the Gk ‘cranion’, which in turn translates the Aramaic which is transliterated as ‘Golgotha’, meaning ‘a skull’ in Mt 27:33.

‘Three possible reasons for such a name have been propounded: because skulls were found there; because it was a place of execution; or because the site in some way resembled a skull. All we know of the site from Scripture is that it was outside Jerusalem, fairly conspicuous, probably not far from a city gate and a highway, and that a garden containing a tomb lay near by. Two Jerusalem localities are today pointed out as the site of the Lord’s cross and tomb; the one is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the other Gordon’s Calvary, commonly known as the Garden Tomb. Unfortunately it has always proved difficult to debate the question objectively; in some quarters the identification one accepts is almost the touchstone of one’s orthodoxy. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of a temple to Venus which the emperor Constantine removed, understanding that it stood over the sacred site. The tradition thus goes back at least to the 4th century. But in view of the operations and activities of Titus in the 1st century and Hadrian in the 2nd, the identification must still be viewed as precarious. It has at least been clarified by recent excavations that the traditional site lay outside the city walls in the time of Christ. On the other hand, the evidence of the church itself may indicate a tomb of slightly too late a date to be authentic: see Burial and mourning (NT). The Garden Tomb was first pointed out in 1849; a rock formation there resembles a skull; and admittedly the site accords with the biblical data. But there is no tradition nor anything else to support its claim. The more ancient site is much more likely; but any identification must remain conjectural.’ (NBD)

They crucified him – Like the other Evangelists (but unlike some streams of Christian piety), Luke does not dwell on the physical horrors of the crucifixion.

‘Crucifixion was unspeakably painful and degrading. Whether tied or nailed to the cross, the victim endured countless paroxysms as he pulled with his arms and pushed with his legs to keep his chest cavity open for breathing and then collapsed in exhaustion until the demand for oxygen demanded renewed paroxysms. The scourging, the loss of blood, and the shock from the pain all produced agony that could go on for days, ending at last by suffocation, cardiac arrest, or loss of blood. When there was reason to hasten death, the execution squad would smash the victim’s legs. Death followed almost immediately, either from shock or from collapse that cut off breath. Beyond the pain was the shame. In ancient sources crucifixion was universally viewed with horror. In Roman law it was reserved only for the worst criminals and lowest classes. No Roman citizen could be crucified without a direct edict from Caesar.

‘Among Jews the horror of the cross was greater still because of Dt 21:23: “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” In Israelite law this meant the corpse of a judicially executed criminal was hung up for public exposure that branded him as cursed by God. These words were also applied in Jesus’ day to anyone crucified, and therefore the Jews’ demand that Jesus be crucified rather than banished was aimed at arousing maximum public revulsion toward him. But in Christian perspective the curse on Jesus at the cross fulfills all OT sacrifices: it is a curse that removes the curse from believers—the fusion of divine, royal prerogative and Suffering Servant, the heart of the Gospel, the inauguration of a new humanity, the supreme model for Christian ethics, the ratification of the new covenant, and the power of God (1 Cor 1:23–24; Gal 3:13; Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:18–25). The dominant note of this section is the continuing mockery, but mockery that by an awful irony reveals more than the mocker thinks—for Jesus is indeed King of the Jews (v.37), the new meeting place with God (v.40), the Savior of humanity (v.42), the King of Israel (v.42), and the Son of God (v.43).’ (Carson, EBC)

23:34 [But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”]

Some early MSS (including the Codex Sinaiticus) do not have this prayer, although some others do.  Some noted New Testament scholars (Ellis, Marshall, Schweizer, and J.T. Sanders) regard it as original.  On the one hand, it is argued that the words are not genuine, since if they were genuine scribes would have been unlikely to omitted them.  On the other hand, it has been suggested that some copyists may have been inclined to exclude the words, on the grounds that (in their opinion) God had not forgiven the people who crucified Jesus, and that the events of AD70 demonstrated this fact.

Bruce Metzger comments:

‘The absence of these words from such early and diverse witnesses…is most impressive and can scarcely be explained as a deliberate excision by copyists who, considering the fall of Jerusalem to be proof that God had not forgiven the Jews, could not allow it to appear that the prayer of Jesus had remained unanswered. At the same time, the logion, though probably not a part of the original Gospel of Luke, bears self-evident tokens of its dominical origin, and was retained, within double square brackets, in its traditional place where it had been incorporated by unknown copyists relatively early in the transmission of the Third Gospel.’ (Source)

“Father, forgive them” – It is notable that Jesus does not pronounce forgiveness on his own behalf, but asks his Father to do so.

Who are the ‘them’ for who Jesus asks for forgiveness?  It is not clear from the text, although, as Morris suggested, both the Jews and the Romans who were implicated in the crucifixion might be included.

There is an allusion here to Num 15:25-31, in which forgiveness is allowed for those who sin ignorantly.

Is the forgiveness conditional upon the subsequent repentance of those prayed for?  It would appear so, since Peter, on the day of Pentecost, addresses Jews in Jerusalem and refers to ‘this Jesus, whom you crucified’.  Then, when they ask Peter what they should do, he replies that they should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:36-38).

Stephen Kneale writes:

If Jesus was unilaterally forgiving them from the cross, Peter’s comments are moot here. But if Jesus was calling on the Father to bring them to a point of repentance, Acts 2 is the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer from the cross…
‘The concept of unilateral forgiveness for the unrepentant, as far as I can see, simply isn’t in the Bible. It isn’t how God confers forgiveness and there is no example of it happening in scripture. Forgiveness requires repentance. To simply say, ‘I forgive you’ when there has been no repentance does very little indeed other than cheapen the idea of forgiveness itself…
Can we forgive the unrepentant? I don’t think the Bible calls us to do that. But we should always be ready to forgive, when repentance comes, just as God forgave us in Christ. We should still love the unrepentant sinner. We should still hold out the gospel of repentance and forgiveness in Christ to them, modelling that to them in the way we respond. We should not let anger, bitterness of resentment reign in our hearts but should love them, just as Christ loved us even while we were unrepentant sinners too. (Source)

Ryle says that only at the last day will we know how many received divine forgiveness in answer to this prayer.  Those so blessed might begin with the penitent thief, then include the centurion who declared Jesus a ‘righteous man’, and then embrace the three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost.  To the extent that we are all implicated in Jesus death on account of our own sins, believers today may regard themselves as fruits of this prayer.

Stein (NAC) says that ‘Jesus’ prayer clearly makes any attempt to justify anti-Semitism on the basis of his crucifixion impossible.’

Matthew Henry remarks that the sin of which they were guilty might well have been made unpardonable; but the perpetrators of his awful death are instead prayed for.  He further remarks that both Jesus’ words and actions on the cross have a wide intention and significance: Jesus prays for the forgiveness not just of these, but of all who will repent and believe the gospel.

Then they threw dice to divide his clothes.

They divided up his clothes – Cf. Psa 22:18.  ‘Jesus’ cry from the cross in Mt 27:46 no doubt first drew attention to this psalm, and several echoes of it occur in the story.’ (France)

‘Every Jew wore five articles of clothing–his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his inner garment, and his outer cloak. There were thus five articles of clothing and four soldiers. The first four articles were all of equal value; but the outer cloak was more valuable than all the others. It was for Jesus’ outer cloak that the soldiers drew lots, as John tells us (Jn 19:23-24).’ (DSB)

Commentators seem divided over whether the victim would be crucified completely naked, or wearing just a loin-cloth.  If the former, then this would have added to the shame and indignity, especially for Jews.

23:35 The people also stood there watching, but the rulers ridiculed him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, his chosen one!” 23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 23:37 and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!” 23:38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the king of the Jews.”

Above him – suggesting that the cross was shaped as in Christian tradition, rather than like a T.

23:39 One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 23:41 And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 23:42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” 23:43 And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The reactions of the two criminals reminds us that different people can observe and participate in the same event, and yet have completely different reactions and responses: one hurls insults; the other pleads mercy.

“Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” – Is it (a) ‘when you come in your kingdom’ or (b) ‘when you come into [eis] your kingdom’?  The former is supported by NASB, and the latter by AV, NIV, ESV, NRSV.  The meaning implied by (a) is that the man wishes to Jesus to bring him to mind when he returns in his kingly glory.  Against this, however, it must be argued that the man could have know nothing about that return.  The meaning implied by (b) is that the criminal is asking to be remembered in the place to where Jesus is going (heaven, or paradise).  Edwards prefers (b), because it is more consistent with Luke’s theology, and more plausibly comes from the lips of such a man.

“Remember me” is an expression of trust in Jesus’ divine power to save (Edwards).  In the LXX, the exact form of this petition occurs ten times, always with reference to God.  Edwards adds: ‘His plea is grounded neither in good works nor in extraordinary knowledge of Jesus. The time for moral reform is past for him, and the request may exhaust his knowledge of Jesus. Nevertheless, his plea reflects the boldness and absolute trust that Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer (see at Lk 11:1–4). He believes Jesus to be the arbiter of eternal hope and eternal judgment, and he entrusts his fate entirely into his hands.’

Wright paraphrases: ‘when you finally become king.’

There is remarkable faith in this utterance, even though the criminal was probably thinking of some far distant time, and he was only asking to be ‘remembered’ (but with favour, or course).  The name Jesus has kingly connotations: see Lk 1:31ff, and this criminal knows that this dying Jesus has a future glorious kingdom.

Edwards quotes Plummer: ‘Some saw Jesus raise the dead and did not believe. The robber sees him being put to death, and yet believes.’  Edwards adds: ‘for the unrepentant criminal, Jesus must come down from the cross to save (v. 39); for the penitent criminal Jesus must remain on the cross and fulfill his divine duty to save.’

Edwards notes two ‘todays’ – one at the beginning of Jesus public ministry (Lk 4:21 – “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”) and this one at the end.

One event, two perspectives

‘Have you ever listened to two people describe an event from completely different perspectives—a car accident, perhaps, or a political debate? Their descriptions sound so divergent that you may wonder if they are talking about the same thing. Luke recorded something like that in 23:39–41: two criminals, dying the same horrifying death, on opposite sides of the cross of Christ. One saw another failed opportunity to get himself off the hook; the other saw and understood that the way of salvation was opening up for himself and the whole world. The first man (apparently) died in his sins; the second received forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Perspective makes all the difference. Ask God to help you get or maintain proper perspective in your walk with him—that of a forgiven sinner made clean by the grace of God.’

(Life Application Bible Commentary)

While there is life, there is hope

Surely this story tells us above all that it is never too late to turn to Christ. There are other things of which we must say, “The time for that is past. I am grown too old now.” But we can never say that of turning to Jesus Christ. So long as a man’s heart beats, the invitation of Christ still stands. As the poet wrote of the man who was killed as he was thrown from his galloping horse,

  • “Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
  • Mercy I asked, mercy I found.”

It is literally true that while there is life there is hope.

(Barclay, DSB)

This is the third of the Sayings from the Cross.

“Truly” (Gk. amēn) ‘occurs in Jesus’ teachings as an authoritative preface, a conviction of his right to speak on God’s behalf.’ (Edwards)

“Today”– The man’s request had been vague with regard to timing – “When you come into your kingdom”.  Jesus’ promise is much more than this – “Today”.

“With me” – Edwards regards this as the central element of the promise.  What is promised is not so much an eternal state, as an eternal relationship.  ‘Where Jesus is, he will also be (John 17:24)—in paradise.’ (Edwards)

On the word ‘paradise’, Morris comments:

‘This Persian word meaning “garden” is used in the Old Testament of a number of gardens. Specially important is its use for the Garden of Eden. Perhaps from this the term came to be used of the abode of the blessed in the coming world (cf. 2 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 2:7). It is used in this way here. Jesus assures this man of bliss in the immediate future, a bliss closely associated with himself (with me).’


‘When a Persian king wished to do one of his subjects a very special honour he made him a companion of the garden which meant he was chosen to walk in the garden with the king. It was more than immortality that Jesus promised the penitent thief. He promised him the honoured place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven.’


We might speculate as to whether Jesus utters this from omniscience, or from faith.  The latter seems more likely, and in this case it is a very remarkable expression of faith, under the circumstance.  Whatever thoughts may have terrorised his mind about being forsaken by his God, there lies this assurance that he, and the one to whom he now speaks, will that very day be ‘in paradise’.

Stein says that this is a vivid illustration of the saying that ‘the last shall be first’.  The criminal’s vague ‘when’ becomes Jesus’ precise ‘today’.  However, the word ‘today’ is sufficiently flexible that we do not have to conclude that they would both ‘enter paradise’ before the end of that particular 24-hour period.  It has more to do with theological certainty than with chronological precision.  Jesus’ meaning may well be that at this very time he was achieving salvation, and that the criminal would experience it and would accompany Jesus into his kingdom.  Paradise is the resting place of the redeemed before the final resurrection and judgment.  Different language is used for the same teaching in 1 Thess 4:17; and Phil 1:21–23.

France comments that this promise puts into doubt the later tradition of Jesus’ descent into hell.

Wright: ‘Like a king on his way to enthronement, Jesus promises a place of honour and bliss to one who requests it.’

Use this both as a comfort and as a corrective. ‘Let none be so vain as to talk of purgatory:a soul purged by Christ’s blood needs no fire of purgatory, but goes immediately from a deathbed into a glorified state.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘There are many things here we do not and cannot know for certain, but we do know with assurance that at death the souls of believers go immediately to heaven, where they are completely and utterly happy – and yet there is more and better to follow. As someone put it, the moment we take the last breath on earth, we take our first breath in heaven. It was so with the dying thief, for did not our Lord say to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”?’ (J. Oswald Sanders, Heaven – Better By Far, 38)

‘Some are called at the first hour – that is, in their infancy or childhood, as Samuel, Jeremiah (Jer 1:6), and John the Baptist; some in the third hour – that is, in their youth, as Daniel the prophet and John the evangelist; others at the sixth hour – in their middle age, as Peter and Andrew; others at the eleventh hour – in their old age, as Gamaliel and Joseph of Arimathea; and some again, not only in the last hour of the day, but even in the last minute of that hour, as the thief upon the cross’ (John Boys).

‘One thief is saved, and cries, “Lord, remember me;” the other, persisting in his sin, dies on the cross unsaved. How different these two! Both intimate a coming judgement, in which, by his cross, Christ will save some, and condemn others. How different the paths! One ascends to heaven, the other descends to hell. The one is an example to sinners, not to despair, seeing in the very hour of death Paradise is found. The other is a terror to the unbelieving and impenitent, who die in their sins. Yet equally near to both, and equally available for both, was the death of Christ.’ (Hildebert)

‘The Bible, which ranges over a period of four thousand years, records but one instance of a death-bed conversion – one that none may despair, and but one that none may presume’ (William Guthrie).

There are no grounds for presumption in this verse. As someone has said, ‘some expect to repent of their sin at the eleventh hour but die at 1030.’

‘When Jesus makes this promise to the thief, it does more than simply comfort the dying man and promise him the reward of faith. What it does is to announce the completion of salvation. Salvation was completed at the cross. There were no more battles for Jesus to fight. Satan had met his match at the cross. The victor, Jesus, could proceed to heaven and there await the resurrection, when his triumph would be made known to the whole world.’ (HSB)

Justification without sanctification?

It might be supposed that the conversion of this criminal is the supreme illustration that a person may be justified without being sanctified.  After all, he had no time to be sanctified!

But, actually, his sanctification is apparent in a number of ways.  ‘He confessed his own sinfulness; he recognised Jesus’ lordship; his attitude towards him changed from despising him to respecting him; he prayed.  Even more than this, he defended Jesus and rebuked his companion for the vitriol he heaped on his new-found Master.  In the last moments of his life he demonstrated that he was a justified believer who was already in the process of being sanctified and prepared to see the Lord in Paradise.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted to God, p10)

23:44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 23:45 because the sun’s light failed. The temple curtain was torn in two.
Lk 23:44–49 – cf. Mt 27:45–56; Mk 15:33–41; Jn 19:29–30

This darkness is ‘a sign of judgment and/or tragedy (cf. Am 8:9–10). The judgment is therefore a judgment on the land and its people. But it is also a judgment on Jesus; for out of this darkness comes his cry of desolation. The cosmic blackness hints at the deep judgment that was taking place (Lk 20:28; 26:26–29; Gal 3:13).’ (Carson)

This darkness could not have been due to a solar eclipse, for the Passover was held at full moon.  A ‘natural’ phenomenon such as a dust cloud, or thick cloud cover, is possible.  But Matthew clearly wants us to think of it as more than natural.  See Ex 10:22; Amos 8:9.

More than one commentator aptly suggests that along with the earthquake, this phenomenon was a natural event with a supernatural timing.

‘The third-century writer Julius Africanus cites a first-century Greek historian, Thallus, who referred to the darkness that occurred at the time of the crucifixion ‘ (Blomberg, in DJG)

‘The darkness may recall the three-day plague immediately preceding the sacrifice of the first paschal lamb (Ex 10:21-23), as well as end-time judgment imagery (4 Ezra 7:38-42; Ps-Philo 3:10). By expiring at 3:00 p.m., Jesus died about the official time of the evening lamb offering in the temple.’ (IVP Commentary)

‘An extraordinary light gave intelligence of the birth of Christ (Mt 2:2), and therefore it was proper that an extraordinary darkness should notify his death, for he is the Light of the world.’ (MHC)

‘That which was principally intended in this darkness, was, (1.) Christ’s present conflict with the powers of darkness. Now the prince of this world, and his forces, the rulers of the darkness of this world, were to be cast out, to be spoiled and vanquished; and to make his victory the more illustrious, he fights them on their own ground; gives them all the advantage they could have against him by this darkness, lets them take the wind and sun, and yet baffles them, and so becomes more than a conqueror. (2.) His present want of heavenly comforts. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the human soul of our Lord Jesus was now under. God makes his sun to shine upon the just and upon the unjust; but even the light of the sun was withheld from our Saviour, when he was made sin for us…During the three hours that this darkness continued, we do not find that he said one word, but passed this time in a silent retirement into his own soul, which was now in agony, wrestling with the powers of darkness, and taking in the impressions of his Father’s displeasure, not against himself, but the sin of man, which he was now making his soul an offering for. Never were there three such hours since the day that God created man upon the earth, never such a dark and awful scene; the crisis of that great affair of man’s redemption and salvation.’ (MHC)

The Curtain of the temple was torn in two – Symbolic of the new access to God which has been opened up by the death of Jesus.  The temple ritual is now obsolete, Heb 9:1-14.  The tearing of the curtain may also be predictive of the impending destruction of the temple.

‘In this, as in others of Christ’s miracles, there was a mystery. (1.) It was in correspondence with the temple of Christ’s body, which was now in the dissolving. This was the true temple, in which dwelt the fulness of the Godhead; when Christ cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost, and so dissolved that temple, the literal temple did, as it were, echo to that cry, and answer the stroke, by rending its veil. Note, Death is the rending of the veil of flesh which interposes between us and the holy of holies; the death of Christ was so, the death of true Christians is so. (2.) It signified the revealing and unfolding of the mysteries of the Old Testament. The veil of the temple was for concealment, as was that on the face of Moses, therefore it was called the veil of the covering; for it was highly penal for any person to see the furniture of the most holy place, except the High-Priest, and he but once a year, with great ceremony and through a cloud of smoke; all which signified the darkness of that dispensation; 2 Co. 3:13. But now, at the death of Christ, all was laid open, the mysteries were unveiled, so that now he that runs may read the meaning of them. Now we see that the mercy-seat signified Christ the great Propitiation; the pot of manna signified Christ the Break of life. Thus we all with open face behold, as in a glass (which helps the sight, as the veil hindered it), the glory of the Lord. Our eyes see the salvation. (3.) It signified the uniting of Jew and Gentile, by the removing of the partition wall between them, which was the ceremonial law, by which the Jews were distinguished from all other people (as a garden enclosed), were brought near to God, while others were made to keep their distance. Christ, in his death, repealed the ceremonial law, cancelled that hand-writing of ordinances, took it out of the way, nailed it to his cross, and so broke down the middle wall of partition; and by abolishing those institutions abolished the enmity, and made in himself of twain one new man (as two rooms are made one, and that large and lightsome, by taking down the partition), so making peace, Eph. 2:14-16. Christ died, to rend all dividing veils, and to make all his one, Jn. 17:21. (4.) It signified the consecrating and laying open of a new and living way to God. The veil kept people off from drawing near to the most holy place, where the Shechinah was. But the rending of it signified that Christ by his death opened a way to God, [1.] For himself. This was the great day of atonement, when our Lord Jesus, as the great High-Priest, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, entered once for all into the holy place; in token of which the veil was rent, Heb. 9:7, etc. Having offered his sacrifice in the outer court, the blood of it was now to be sprinkled upon the mercy-seat within the veil; wherefore lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; for the King of glory, the Priest of glory, shall come in. Now was he caused to draw near, and made to approach, Jer. 30:21. Though he did not personally ascend into the holy place not made with hands till above forty days after, yet he immediately acquired a right to enter, and had a virtual admission. [2.] For us in him: so the apostle applies it, Heb. 10:19, 20. We have boldness to enter into the holiest, by that new and living way which he has consecrated for us through the veil. He died, to bring us to God, and, in order thereunto, to rend that veil of guilt and wrath which interposed between us and him, to take away the cherubim and flaming sword, and to open the way to the tree of life. We have free access through Christ to the throne of grace, or mercy-seat, now, and to the throne of glory hereafter, Heb. 4:16; 6:20. The rending of the veil signified (as that ancient hymn excellently expresses it), that, when Christ had overcome the sharpness of death, he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Nothing can obstruct or discourage our access to heaven, for the veil is rent; a door is opened in heaven, Rev. 4:1.’ (MHC)

23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And after he said this he breathed his last.

Calling out with a loud voice – Murray Harris (Navigating Tough Texts) explains that the tense of the verb implies an antecedent action; thus, ‘When Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, he said…’ (so AV, RV, JB).  The ‘loud cry’ would then be, ‘It is finished’ (Jn 19:30).

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Here Jesus commends himself to the Father in the words of Psa 31:5, which had become a traditional Jewish evening prayer. The word ‘Father’ is added, but the plea for redemption is omitted. Cf. Acts 7:59.

It is significant that the last words of Jesus before his death were at once a prayer and a quotation from Scripture.

These words show that there was in the Saviour’s mind a calm restfulness and communion with his Father after the hours of darkness and dereliction. There had been a midnight blackness enveloping both body and soul, when the Father averted his face, and laid on him the iniquity of us all. An eternity of suffering was compressed into three dread hours. But now he is in the light again. His cry is not, ‘My God’, but ‘Father’. The communion he had enjoyed throughout eternity is restored, never again to be broken.

‘If the words, “It is finished,” may be taken as our Lord’s farewell to the world he was leaving, these words are surely his greeting to that on whose confines he was standing. It seems as though the Spirit of Christ were poising itself before it departed to the Father, and it saw before no dismal abyss, no gulf of darkness, no footless chaos, but hands, even the hands of the Father – and to these he committed himself.’ (Meyer)

“Father” – a reassuring title in such circumstances. Well might such a Son commit his concerns in the hands of such a Father.

“Into your hands” – Suggestive, not only of trusting himself into his Father’s safe keeping, but also of the power by which the Father would be able to deliver him from death (cf. Ps 89:13; 95:4; Heb 1:10).

“I commit” – ‘I lay down; I deposit’ – an act of faith and resolution. Also suggestive of the voluntary nature of his sacrificial death, Jn 10:17f. Cf Mt 27:50. He could have saved himself, but for our sakes he chose the death of the cross. His soul was committed to his Father, that it might be received, and then re-united with his body on the third day.

“My Spirit” – that it, ‘my soul’. The soul is the most precious of possessions, outweighing, for value, the whole world, Mt 16:26. Jesus’ soul was at the point of separation from his body.

‘”Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”

What is implied here?

1. That the soul outlives the body. The house in which it dwelt falls into ruins, and it seeks a new home with God.

2. That the soul’s true rest is in God. During this earthly pilgrimage, we long to be with God, Psa 73:25.

3. That the soul is of great value. We commit our dead bodies to our friends; let our living souls be kept safe by God.

4. That a great change comes upon us at death. Earthly objects fade from sight; the soul turns from them all, and casts itself upon God.

5. That the atonement is to be utterly rested upon. It is an awesome thing to fall into God’s hands otherwise, Heb 10:31.

6. That faith is excellent and efficacious. Faith is the soul’s pilot, when in utter distress; when it departs the body; until it lands safe upon the the shore of glory. Then faith is turned into sight.

What encouragement have we to commit our souls at death into God’s hands?

1. The God to whom the soul commits itself is its Creator, 1 Pet 4:19. This is no consolation to those still in their sins, Isa 27:11, but grace brings us back into a favourable relationship with our Maker.

2. The gracious soul has been redeemed by God; it has been bought at a great price, 1 Pet 1:18f; cf Psa 31:5.

3. The gracious soul has been renewed by God. It was created once, then it was re-created, Eph 2:10. This was the purpose of the Holy Spirit in coming down from heaven.

4. The gracious soul has been sealed by God. The soul that has been so favoured as to receive the pledge of glory, 2 Cor 1:22, can be sure that it will not be rejected by God at death.

5. The gracious soul is in covenant with God, and rests on the divine promises, Jn 14:4; Heb 13:5.

6. The gracious soul sustains many intimate and loving relations to the God the into whose hands it commits itself at death. It is his spouse, his child, his friend, a member of his body, and as such will not be forsaken.

7. The gracious soul derives confidence from the unchangeableness of God’s love, Jn 13:1.


1. Dying believers are thus encouraged to commit their souls into God’s hands at death. But what of unbelievers? They, too, will fall into God’s hands, but with a very different outcome. They will fall, not into hands of mercy, but hands of justice.

2. God will graciously keep what we commit to him at death; let us keep what God commits to us while we live. Let us keep his truth, that he may keep our souls, Rev 3:10; 2 Tim 2:12. Take care that earthly blessings do not prove a hindrance to spiritual well-being.

3. Believers can commit their souls to God at death; therefore they can commit all lesser things to him also. If we can trust him with our souls, we can trust him for our daily bread.

4. If our privilege is to commit our souls to God at death, then what a precious thing is faith. Our union with Christ, Eph 3:17; our communion with God, Heb 11:6; our reasons for joy, 1 Pet 1:8; our inward renewal, 2 Cor 4:18, are all ours by faith.

5. Since the souls of dying believers commit themselves to God, then let not those who remain sorrow as those who have no hope. A loved one is removed from your embrace; but consider into whose arms he has been commited.

6. See that your souls be such as may be committed in God’s hands at the last hour. God is just and holy: to that your soul is holy, Heb 12:14; 1 Jn 3:3.

(Based on Flavel, The Fountain of Life, 436-448)

“A loud voice” – that all might hear, and that his enemies, thinking he was forsaken of God, might know that he was dear to his Father still, and could commit his soul confidently into his hands.

“He breathed his last” – not the normal expression for saying that someone has died. In fact, none of the Evangelists says, ‘Jesus died’, thus emphasising that there was something most unusual about his death, which made it unlike the death of any mere man. In dying, he met and overcame death.

There is a sense in which our Lord’s words provide an example for all his followers. It was so for Stephen, the first martyr, who adopted both the Saviour’s first word of forgiveness and his last word of committal. We should not be afraid to confront the king of terrors. We should regard death as a vanquished enemy. When our flesh fails our soul will be in safe hands. We learn that we too can confidently commit our souls to God’s fatherly safe-keeping, 2 Tim 1:12; 1 Pet 4:19. It is said that these words of our Lord have been among the dying utterances of Polycarp, Augustine, Bernard, Jerome, Luther, and Melancthon.

John Hus was led out for his treacherous execution with a paper cap on his head, scawled with pictures of mocking demons, and it was to these that the priests mockingly consigned his soul. But Hus lifted up his voice with a cry, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” So he passed through the flames of death with these words of Christ on his lips.

As our Lord closed his eyes in death, his spirit reposed in his Father’s hands as restfully as a baby on its mother’s breast. Nothing more remained to be done, so by a voluntary act he dismissed his spirit. Redemption was complete, and all that remained was the resurrection of the body as God’s seal of final acceptance of the sacrifice of his beloved Son.

Spurgeon notes (a) the doctrine taught here: God is our Father; we may address him as such in our hour of need; in this fact lies our chief comfort and strength; dying is going home to our Father; and when we go to him, he will receive us. (b) The duty to be practiced: resignation, prayer, committal to God by faith; practicing the presence of God. (c) The enjoyment of this privilege: resting in God in all times of danger and pain; brave confidence when near to death; rejoicing in God’s presence.

23:47 Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

The centurion would have been in charge of the execution. Centurion and crowd, Gentile and Jew, like sensed the bitter unjustice of the whole scene, that they had been aiding and abetting an act of vile murder. They left the scene with troubled consciences.

According to Mt 27:54 the centurion joined in a more general exclamation: “Surely he was the Son of God!”

23:48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 23:49 And all those who knew Jesus stood at a distance, and the women who had followed him from Galilee saw these things.

They beat their breasts – ‘expressing perhaps the beginnings of guilt and contrition that prepared the way for the thousands who repented at Pentecost (Acts 2:41)’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary on Mt 27:62-66).

Jesus’ Burial, 50-56

23:50 Now there was a man named Joseph who was a member of the council, a good and righteous man. 23:51 (He had not consented to their plan and action.) He was from the Judean town of Arimathea, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God.
Lk 23:50–56 = Mt 27:57–61; Mk 15:42–47; Jn 19:38–42

Waiting for the kingdom of God – The description of Joseph is similar to those given to Simeon, Lk 2:35, and Anna, Lk 2:38.  In Mt 27:57 he is described as having become a disciple of Jesus.

23:52 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 23:53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a tomb cut out of the rock, where no one had yet been buried. 23:54 It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning. 23:55 The women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 23:56 Then they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

He asked for Jesus’ body – According to Bart Erhman (How Jesus Became God), Pilate would have been unlikely to grant such a request, because he was not a ‘beneficent prefect who kindly listened to the protests of the people he governed’.  However, Pilate’s behaviour at this point is entirely consistent with his mindset at the time, having been weakly sympathetic to Jesus’ plight.  Erhman’s opinion is coloured by his broader scepticism, which makes him think that Jesus was not even buried (let alone resurrected).

He took it down – Wright remarks: ‘Nobody— neither Jesus’s followers, nor his mother, nor Pontius Pilate, nor the mocking crowds— were saying to themselves, as evening drew on and Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross for burial, “So he died for our sins!” Nobody was saying “All this has happened in accordance with the Bible!” Nobody, as far as our evidence goes, had been expecting Israel’s Messiah to die for the sins of the world. Nobody, on the evening of Jesus’s crucifixion, had any idea that a revolutionary event had just taken place.’ (The Day the Revolution Began)