When Christians think of Jesus?Ecrucifixion, we often focus attention on the intense physical suffering that Jesus endured. There is no doubt that He was in anguish. During crucifixion, the victim would have his body torn with nails and his limbs stretched and contorted, as he slowly suffocated. But the text of Scripture pays very little attention to the physical pain of the cross. Luke in particular draws our attention to Jesus?Ewords, the mockery of the Jewish leaders, and the effects of Jesus?Edeath.
?Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus?E(Luke 23:26-56).
JUDGMENT TO COME
As Jesus is lead away to the place of crucifixion, the Romans enlist Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross. This reenacts a scene that has occurred frequently in the gospel: People following behind Jesus. It is a picture of discipleship. Finally, someone does what Jesus has told all His disciples to do. This hitherto unknown man has become a model disciple, one who has ?taken up his cross?Eand ?followed Jesus?E(Luke 9:23).
Women have played a very prominent role in Luke?s gospel. As Jesus goes to the cross, the women are still with Him (cf. 8:1-3), wailing and beating their breasts. In response, Jesus reiterates the prophecy of doom he has been preaching throughout His ministry. He addresses the women as ?Daughters of Jerusalem,?Ea phrase that is reminiscent of the prophets?Edescription of ?Daughter Jerusalem?Eand ?Daughter Zion?E(e.g., Micah 1:13). Daughter Jerusalem will one day have greater reason to mourn, when Roman armies come to destroy the city that destroyed Jesus. In that day, everything will be turned upside down: Barren women, usually considered cursed, will be considered blessed because they don?t have to see their children slaughtered (v. 29). The inhabitants of Jerusalem will long to be buried alive (v. 30; cf. Hosea 10:8; Revelation 6:16). Jesus is a green tree. He is not a revolutionary, and it takes a great deal of doing to start a fire with Him. But the Jews produce lots of tinder, and eventually they will go up in flames.
For the time being, though, Israel?s sin in killing Jesus is forgiven. Jesus asks His Father to forgive them because of their ignorance (Luke 23:34), and the apostles repeat this assessment (Acts 3:17). When the Jews turn against the church, however, their sin is not forgiven; blasphemy against the Son of Man is forgiven, but not blasphemy of the Spirit who inhabits the church.
Luke?s account of the crucifixion highlights the continuing mockery on the part of the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. They mock Him for His inability to save Himself (v. 35). The Romans sneer at Jesus?Eroyal claims. If He is a king, he should be able to save Himself (v. 37). Like servants at a king?s table, they pretend to be cup-bearers, but offer Jesus the sour wine of the poor rather than the sweet wine of kings (v. 36). Pilate puts an inscription over His head, like a royal banner (v. 38). Pilate surely means it as mockery, and perhaps also as a warning to anyone who might want to become king of the Jews in the future. Meanwhile, the people ?stood by, looking on?E(v. 35). Though the Jewish leaders had been able to stir them up to seek Jesus?Edeath (23:13), they are no longer active participants, but only observers.
The division within Israel is neatly symbolized by the response of the two criminals who are crucified with Jesus. One joins in the mockery, repeating the Jewish leaders?Ecomplaint that Jesus has done nothing to save Himself (v. 39). The other, however, recognizes his own guilt and Jesus?Einnocence (v. 41). Jesus promises that this repentant criminal will join Jesus in ?Paradise,?Ea word that normally refers to Eden (cf. Revelation 2:7; Septuagint of Genesis 13:10; Number 24:6) and which could be applied to restored Israel (cf. Septuagint of Isaiah 51:3; Ezekiel 31:8-9). The Jewish leaders who reject Jesus have no place in the restored people of God; but criminals who confess and seek the mercy of Jesus enter the Kingdom.
THE EFFECTS OF JESUS?EDEATH
Jesus had predicted during the last days of His life that there would soon be great signs and disturbances in the heavens (21:25-26). In anticipation of that, an eclipse blocks the sun during three hours of His crucifixion (23:44-45). Already, Israel?s lights are going out. Further, as Jesus dies at the ninth hour (3 PM), the veil of the temple is torn, just at the time of the afternoon/evening sacrifice. The destruction of the temple has already begun, and the temple has been rendered redundant by the final sacrifice.
In quick succession, Luke shows us four vignettes of the effects of Jesus?Edeath. First, the centurion, following Pilate?s lead, declares Jesus ?righteous,?Eand glorifies God (v. 47). Though the Jewish leaders don?t respond in praise for Jesus, Gentiles do. Second, the crowd, having seen the spectacle of Jesus?Edeath, goes home repentant. They ?turn back?Efrom their earlier hostility to Jesus, and ?beat their breasts?Elike the publican in Jesus?Eparable. These same people will later be baptized at Pentecost, so that many in Israel too are saved by the Messiah who did not save Himself. Third, the women who have been following Jesus continue to stay close, and act as witnesses of all that had happened, as well as preparing Jesus for burial. Finally, even a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimethea, shows his devotion to Jesus by offering his tomb.
Catechism for Little Saints
What does Simon of Cyrene teach us?
That Jesus?Edisciples must take up their crosses and follow Jesus.
What did the Jews and Romans do while Jesus died on the cross?
They mocked Him.
What happened when Jesus died?
Many of the people were sorry for their sins, the veil of the temple was torn, and some Gentiles believed in Jesus.
For Further Study
1.When Jesus warns the women of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, he quotes from Hosea 10:8. How does this prophecy of Hosea shed light on the situation of Jerusalem?
2. Read Luke 23:37 and Luke 4:3, 9. Are they similar? What does this tell you?