Jesus—His Life and Message: The Death of Jesus (Part 3)
April 26, 2022
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Death of Jesus (Part 3)
While each of the four Gospels give the same account of Jesus’ death on the cross, they each also include some unique details. The Gospel of Matthew is the account used here, and portions of the other three Gospels will be included as well.
The Gospel of Mark tells us it was the third hour when they crucified him.1 The third hour would be about 9 a.m. The Gospel of John says, It was about the sixth hour,2 which would have been noon. There are a variety of explanations given by commentators regarding the difference in the time stated, with the general consensus being that Jesus was crucified sometime between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.3
All four Gospels say that there were two others crucified at the same time as Jesus.4 He was in the middle, with one man on either side of Him. The Gospel of Luke says: Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.5 It seems likely that these two criminals carried their cross beams to Golgotha along with Jesus.
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him.6
Jesus and the two robbers were crucified at a site that was easily accessible to the people of Jerusalem, possibly beside a road leading into the city, where many people passed by. Some of those people derided Him; other Bible translations say they were yelling insults at Him7 and hurling abuse at Him.8 Some were wagging their heads. The significance of the people shaking their heads isn’t explained, but in the Old Testament it is mentioned a few times as a negative action. In the book of Job, we read:
I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you.9
The book of Lamentations says:
All who pass by clap their hands at you; They hiss and shake their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem.10
When the chief priests and the scribes and elders mocked Jesus, they said:
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”11
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were the three main groups which made up the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish ruling body in Israel. Their rejection of Jesus reflects the rejection of the majority of the Jewish establishment.12
It was probably not common for prominent people like the chief priests, scribes, and elders to attend a crucifixion, so their presence gives some insight into their animosity and vengefulness toward Jesus. While the general public directed their comments at Jesus (You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross), the aristocratic ones rather addressed their words to each other, but likely said them loud enough that Jesus could hear them (He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him). One author pointed out that while they claimed that if Jesus came down from the cross they would believe in Him, they most likely would not have, as seen by the fact that when He rose from the dead, they still didn’t believe.13
Even as these Jewish leaders were mocking Jesus, in the same breath they admitted that He trusted in God. Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus’ trust in His Father was visible to all. However, in spite of admitting that Jesus trusted in God, they didn’t understand that God was working out His purpose of salvation through the sufferer on the cross.14
In the Gospel of Mark, we’re told that Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.15 The Gospel of Matthew says the same: the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.16 The Gospel of Luke differs from these two accounts in that it describes one of the criminals who was crucified as favorable toward Jesus.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”17
There are a number of possible explanations for why two of the Gospels describe both criminals railing at Jesus and one Gospel only describes one. One likely explanation follows:
At the start both criminals revile Jesus, but the second criminal is later impressed with Jesus and changes his mind. This old explanation goes back to Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome.18
Using the text from the Gospel of Luke, one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”19 Other Bible translations state that the criminals began to yell insults at Him (CSB), were hurling abuse at Him (NAS), and blasphemed Him (NKJV). These taunts are similar to those made earlier when He was mocked by the Jewish leadership and the soldiers.
The rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”20
The soldiers also mocked him … saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”21
The first criminal’s question, “Are you not the Christ?,” isn’t a statement of his belief, but rather a sarcastic challenge, something like, “If you really are the Christ like you say you are, then prove it by saving yourself and also saving the two of us from crucifixion.”
The second criminal rebuked the first. He saw their crucifixion as just judgment on them, and therefore felt that railing at Jesus was hypocritical. He asks the first criminal what right he has to taunt Jesus, who is innocent, when they are guilty and therefore rightfully deserve to die for their crimes as the due reward of our deeds. In making this statement, the second criminal both recognizes his sin and repents. He also testifies that Jesus has done nothing wrong. He is the third person who states that Jesus was innocent, after Pilate and Herod.22
The second criminal then asked Jesus to remember him. One author comments:
His manner of address, “Jesus,” is stunning in its intimacy, for nowhere else in any Gospel does anyone address Jesus simply by his name without a specifying or reverential qualification.23
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as Jesus, Son of the Most High God (Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28); Jesus, Son of David (Mark 10:47, Luke 18:38); and Jesus, Master (Luke 17:13). This same author adds:
The first person with the confidence to be so familiar is a convicted criminal who is also the last person on earth to speak to Jesus before Jesus dies.24
While the second criminal was requesting that he would attain life at the parousia (Jesus’ second coming, when He comes to judge the living and the dead), Jesus stated that today you will be with me in Paradise.
One author explains:
Jesus promises this criminal that today he will be with him and live among the righteous. Jesus’ reply also suggests that the criminal will be in some conscious, intermediate state until the resurrection, though this conclusion is implied, rather than explicit. Death is a mere transition for this man. He too will experience victory and deliverance through the King he confesses, and that deliverance is immediate … A call to Jesus yields immediate results.25
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Mark 15:25.
2 John 19:14.
3 Matthew 27:38.
4 Mark 15:27, Luke 23:32, John 19:32.
5 Luke 23:32.
6 Matthew 27:39–41.
7 CSB (Christian Standard Bible).
8 NAS (New American Standard Bible).
9 Job 16:4.
10 Lamentations 2:15 NKJV.
11 Matthew 27:42–43.
12 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 717.
13 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 718.
14 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 719.
15 Mark 15:32.
16 Matthew 27:44.
17 Luke 23:39–43.
18 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Luke, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1896).
19 Luke 23:39.
20 Luke 23:35.
21 Luke 23:36–37.
22 Luke 23:4, 14–15, 22.
23 Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Volume 2, 1005.
24 Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Volume 2, 1005.
25 Bock, Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53, 1858.