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Bible Commentaries
Luke 23

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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E. The trials of Jesus 22:54-23:25

The following table identifies the aspects of Jesus’ two trials that each evangelist recorded.

Jesus’ Religious Trial
Before AnnasJohn 18:12-14; John 18:19-24
Before CaiaphasMatthew 26:57-68Mark 14:53-65Luke 22:54; Luke 22:63-65
Before the SanhedrinMatthew 27:1Mark 15:1Luke 22:66-71
Jesus’ Civil Trial
Before PilateMatthew 27:2; Matthew 27:11-14Mark 15:1-5Luke 23:1-5John 18:28-38
Before Herod AntipasLuke 23:6-12
Before PilateMatthew 27:15-26Mark 15:6-15Luke 23:13-25John 18:39 to John 19:16

Verses 1-2

The whole body in view is the Sanhedrin. Luke alone recorded their specific charges against Jesus. They accused Him of leading the Jews away from their duty to Rome. This was untrue. Second, they charged Him with teaching the Jews not to pay taxes. This was also untrue (cf. Luke 20:25). Third, they accused Him of claiming to be a king, namely, the Jewish Messiah. This was true (cf. Luke 22:69-70), and it was the only issue about which Pilate showed concern.

Verses 1-7

4. Jesus’ first appearance before Pilate 23:1-7 (cf. Matthew 27:2, 11-14; Mark 15:1b-5; John 18:28-38)

Jesus’ trial now moved from its Jewish phase into its Roman phase. [Note: See R. Larry Overstreet, "Roman Law and the Trial of Christ," Bibliotheca Sacra 135:540 (October-December 1978):323-32.] It did not take long for Pilate to determine that Jesus was innocent of any crime worthy of death. Notwithstanding the record stresses how difficult it was for him to convict an innocent man. Pilate normally resided in the provincial capital at Caesarea. He was in Jerusalem because of the Passover season that drew huge crowds and possible civil unrest to the city.

Verses 3-4

It may seem strange that having secured a confession from Jesus that He was the King of the Jews Pilate would declare Him innocent. The answer is that Luke did not record the conversation that took place between Luke 23:3-4 (cf. John 18:35-38). In this conversation Pilate learned that Jesus did not claim to be a king in the ordinary sense. He concluded that Jesus posed no treat to the political stability of Roman interests in Palestine. Only Luke recorded Pilate’s official verdict that he gave to the Sanhedrin (cf. John 18:38; John 19:4; John 19:6). Perhaps Luke chose not to record what John did because for his readers the claim to be King of the Jews was ludicrous; it would have been obvious to Greeks that Jesus posed no threat to Rome.

In Acts as well as in Luke our writer recorded the innocent verdicts of government officials when passing judgment on Christian leaders (e.g., Acts 18:12-17; Acts 19:35-41; Acts 25:23-27; Acts 26:30-32). He obviously wanted to assure his readers that Christianity was not seeking to overthrow the Roman Empire and was not hostile to Roman civil authority.

Verses 5-7

The continuing protestations of the Sanhedrin members led Pilate to send Jesus to Herod for examination. He probably did this to placate the Jewish leaders and to satisfy himself that he had not overlooked something in Jesus’ case that might merit punishment. Perhaps Herod Antipas had evidence of Jesus’ alleged insurrectionist activity in Galilee. Herod had a longer and more thorough acquaintance with Jewish affairs than Pilate did, and he was Semitic. Herod was evidently in Jerusalem for the same reasons Pilate was. Pilate’s intention was evidently not to pass Jesus off to Herod and so relieve himself of his own responsibility but to secure Herod’s counsel in Jesus’ case (cf. Luke 23:7; Luke 23:11).

Verses 8-9

Luke had previously mentioned Herod’s interest in seeing Jesus (Luke 9:9). He clarified here that his interest in Jesus was only as a miracle worker. He had no interest in talking with Him about spiritual matters. It was evidently about His miracles that Herod questioned Jesus. Jesus did not respond because Herod had rejected the implication of His miracles, namely, that Jesus had come from God with a message for humankind. Herod had made his feelings toward prophets clear by decapitating John the Baptist. Jesus had nothing to say to someone such as this.

"Jesus’ exousia [authority] also manifests itself in the political realm. This is most evident in Luke, which alone of the gospels records two rebuffs of Herod Antipas, Jesus’ political sovereign in Galilee (Luke 13:31-32; Luke 23:6-12)." [Note: James R. Edwards, "The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:2 (June 1994):217-33]

Verses 8-12

5. Jesus’ appearance before Herod 23:8-12

Luke alone recorded this aspect of Jesus’ Roman trial. He probably did so because Herod Antipas found no basis for condemning Jesus either. Thus Luke cited two official witnesses to Jesus’ innocence for his readers’ benefit (cf. Deuteronomy 19:15).

Verses 10-12

The accusations of the Jewish leaders (cf. Luke 22:66) and the insult that Herod must have felt at being rebuffed resulted in more contempt and mocking for Jesus (cf. Isaiah 53:7). This shows Herod’s true attitude toward Jesus.

Herod put an elegant (Gr. lampros, cf. Acts 10:30; James 2:2-3; Revelation 15:6; Revelation 19:8) robe over Jesus that implied His royalty, but he sent Him back to Pilate as a king in bondage to Rome. This may or may not have been the same robe that Pilate’s soldiers later placed over Jesus after beating Him (Matthew 27:28; Mark 15:17; John 19:2). Perhaps it was this touch especially that united Pilate and Herod. They were two rogues who could at least agree to humiliate a pretender to the Jewish throne (cf. Acts 4:25-28). Luke did not record any judicial opinion that Herod may have sent back for Pilate here, but the implication is obvious that he viewed Jesus as a harmless phony. Pilate later announced Herod’s verdict to the people (Luke 23:15).

Verses 13-14

Pilate announced his verdict that he made after receiving Herod’s opinion. Pilate had found Jesus innocent of the charge of insurrection. He used standard legal terminology (cf. Acts 23:9; Acts 26:31-32). He doubtless intended to put the matter to rest.

Luke’s reference to the people (Gr. laos, Luke 23:13) is significant. Throughout his Gospel Luke referred to the people (laos) as distinct from the crowds (ochlos). The former word describes people who did not oppose Jesus as their leaders did (cf. Luke 23:27; Luke 23:35; Luke 24:19; Acts 2:47). Many people from this group believed on Jesus. The crowds, on the other hand, sought Jesus for what they could get out of Him. In these verses the people who were sympathetic or at least neutral toward Jesus heard Pilate’s verdict along with the antagonistic Sanhedrin members. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 1040.]

Verse 15

Pilate also announced that Herod’s verdict agreed with his own. Herod was a recognized authority on Jewish affairs that Pilate’s hearers probably respected more than they did Pilate since Herod was Semitic. Both men agreed that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death.

Verse 16

Pilate evidently punished Jesus because He had caused Pilate trouble and as a concession to the Jewish leaders. This is clearer in the Greek text than in most English versions. "Punish" (Gr. paideusas) is probably a participle that modifies the main verb "release" (Gr. apolyso). Luke presented Pilate as wanting to give Jesus a light reprimand and then release Him. This is one of several indications in Luke’s Gospel that the writer wanted his Gentile readers to view Christianity favorably. This desire comes through at several places in Acts too. The flogging (Gr. phragellosas, Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15) that Jesus received before His crucifixion was much more severe than the scourging (Gr. paideusas) that Pilate referred to here. Pilate had no idea of crucifying Jesus now.

"The suggestion that Jesus should be chastised before being released strikes us as curious. If He was innocent, He should have been released without further ado. But in Roman law a light beating was sometimes given together with a magisterial warning, so that an accused might take greater care for the future." [Note: Morris, p. 322.]

Verse 17

Many ancient manuscripts do not contain Luke 23:17. Probably scribes influenced by Matthew 27:15 and or Mark 15:6 added it to early copies of this Gospel.

Verses 18-19

Luke’s version of the trial has the Jewish leaders and people (Luke 23:13) rejecting what was just and demanding the release of a man who was the antithesis of Jesus. Pilate had justified Jesus of the charge of leading an insurrection, but Barabbas was guilty of that crime. Jesus had gone about healing and restoring people to life, but Barabbas had murdered them. This description shows the great guilt of the Jews in demanding Jesus’ death (cf. Acts 2:22-23; Acts 21:36). The people allowed their leaders to influence them to demand a perversion of justice.

"They would rather be with a well-known sinner than with the One who could forgive their sins." [Note: Martin, p. 262.]

Verses 20-23

Luke noted again (Luke 23:14; Luke 23:16) that Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but his appeal for reason only led to increased demands for Jesus’ punishment (cf. Matthew 27:22; Mark 15:13). The Jews now called for Jesus’ crucifixion, the worst of all possible punishments. A third appeal for reason only led to louder and stronger cries for Jesus’ crucifixion. Finally the loud cries of the crowd made Pilate conclude that he could not convince them. It was the will of the people, not Pilate, that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. At this climax of chaos, what is it that emerges most clearly in the text?

"The innocence of Jesus could not be more firmly underlined." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 861.]

Verses 24-25

Pilate capitulated totally to the will of the people. This was in perfect harmony with God’s will (Acts 2:23), but Luke did not mention that here. Here he wanted his readers to see the human responsibility that resulted in Jesus’ death, particularly the Jews’ responsibility.

"Perhaps we should add that Luke is not being anti-Semitic, much less providing grounds for anti-Semitism in our own day. He is dealing with a specific group of people and maintaining that they brought about Jesus’ death. It was not Pilate nor his Romans that called for Jesus’ execution: it was the Jewish chief priests and their followers. . . . Luke is not indicting a race and neither should his readers." [Note: Morris, p. 324.]

"Pilate was a complex character. He openly said that Jesus was innocent, yet he permitted Him to be beaten and condemned Him to die. He carefully questioned Jesus and even trembled at His answers, but the truth of the Word did not make a difference in his decisions. He wanted to be popular and not right; he was more concerned about reputation than he was character. If Herod had silenced the voice of God, then Pilate smothered the voice of God. He had his opportunity and wasted it." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:274.]

Luke was much kinder to Pilate than the other Gospel writers. He stressed Jesus’ innocence more than Pilate’s guilt. Perhaps he did this so his Greek readers would focus their attention more on Jesus than on Pilate. In Acts also Luke gave as positive a picture of Roman rulers as he could realistically. Evidently he did not want his writings to alienate the Gentiles and their rulers unnecessarily.

"The narrative in Luke 23:13-25 places strong emphasis on the responsibility of both the leaders and the people for Jesus’ death." [Note: Tannehill, The Narrative . . ., 1:164.]

Verse 26

The example of Simon of Cyrene 23:26 (cf. Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21)

Luke probably chose to insert this apparently insignificant incident because it provides such a good example of an ideal disciple (cf. Mark 15:21; Romans 16:13). Jesus had taught His disciples to forsake all, take up their cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27). That is precisely what Simon did. It involved laying aside his personal plans, becoming associated with Jesus publicly in His humiliation, and following in His steps as His servant. However, we wonder where was the other Simon, Simon Peter, who professed such devotion to Jesus?

Cyrene was in North Africa. Normally criminals condemned to crucifixion had to carry the large crosspiece of their own cross to their place of execution. [Note: Creed, p. 285.] Apparently Jesus’ severe beating had made it impossible for Him to carry it the whole way to Calvary.

Verses 26-32

1. Events on the way to Golgotha 23:26-32

Luke omitted reference to the Roman soldiers’ mockery and flogging of Jesus (Matthew 27:27-30; Mark 15:16-19). Perhaps he wanted to connect the Jews’ call for Jesus’ crucifixion and the crucifixion itself as closely as he could. This arrangement of the facts has the effect of heightening the innocence of Jesus and the guilt of those who demanded His execution.

Verses 26-49

F. The crucifixion of Jesus 23:26-49

Luke’s account of the crucifixion includes a prophecy of the fate of Jerusalem (Luke 23:29-31), more emphasis on the men who experienced crucifixion with Jesus (Luke 23:39-43), and less stress on the crowd that mocked Jesus. It climaxes with Jesus’ final prayer of trust in His Father (Luke 23:46) and the reactions of various people to His death (Luke 23:47-49).

"In this version of the story we may see an accent on the way in which Jesus died as a martyr, innocent of the charges against him, trusting to the end in God, and assured of his own place in paradise. The whole scene vindicates the claim that he is the Messiah of God." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 862.]

Verses 27-28

Luke’s interest in Jesus’ concern for women surfaces again. They were mourning His fate and were evidently sympathizers rather than mockers (cf. Luke 7:32; Luke 8:52). Apparently they were residents of Jerusalem rather than women from Galilee who had been ministering to Jesus, since Jesus addressed them as daughters of Jerusalem. This is an Old Testament designation for the residents of Jerusalem that views them as typical Israelites (Micah 4:8; Zephaniah 3:14; et al.). He urged them to mourn their own fate and the fate of their children more than His. They were weeping over the injustice of one man’s death, but He was grieving over the coming destruction of an entire nation.

Verses 27-31

The fate of the guilty predicted 23:27-31

Luke is the only evangelist who recorded this incident. He apparently did so because the fate of Jerusalem was one of his special interests. He had already recorded several warnings that Jesus had given to the people of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 11:49-51; Luke 13:1-5; Luke 13:34-35; Luke 19:41-44; Luke 21:20-24). If though innocent Jesus experienced such a fate as crucifixion, what could the Jews who had rejected their Messiah anticipate?

Verse 29

Jewish women considered barrenness a misfortune and children a blessing (cf. Psalms 127:3). Jesus announced that in the future the opposite would be true. They would see their children suffer and wish they had never been born. The context of Jesus’ quotation from Hosea 10:8 is a passage describing Israel’s idolatry and God’s consequent judgment of her for it. Jesus was predicting God’s judgment here.

Verse 30

Probably the people would call on the mountains and hills to hide them from God’s wrath (cf. Revelation 6:15-16). The Tribulation is in view in the Hosea passage. Probably the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the Tribulation judgments on Jerusalem are in view here. The destruction by the Romans would only be a foretaste of the worse judgment still future.

Verse 31

This was evidently a proverbial saying in Jesus’ day. The green tree stands for good conditions resulting from God’s blessing and the dry tree for bad conditions resulting from divine judgment. If God allowed innocent Jesus to perish in times of His blessing, what would happen to guilty Jerusalem when God judged her?

"If the Romans condemned to death the one they admitted to be innocent, how would they deal in the future with those whom they found guilty?" [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1119.]

Jesus’ words constituted yet another call for repentance. There was still time for individuals and the nation to believe on Him and escape God’s wrath, but barring repentance God’s severe judgment would certainly fall. Luke evidently recorded these words because of his interest in extending the call to salvation to his readers.

Verse 32

The criminals crucified with Jesus 23:32

This verse constitutes a narrative bridge connecting Jesus’ journey to the Cross with His crucifixion. One of its functions seems to be to introduce the two criminals who feature later in the story (Luke 23:33; Luke 23:39-43). More important, it associates Jesus with guilty sinners. [Note: W. Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, p. 1027.] This reference also adds to the humiliation of Jesus that Luke stressed. There are several indications that Luke wanted to point out Jesus’ humiliation in the next section. This notation also indicates a fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Luke 22:37; Isaiah 53:12).

Verse 33

Luke alone called the site of Jesus’ crucifixion "the place called the skull" (Gr. kranion) rather than referring to it by its Aramaic name, Golgotha, and then translating it. This was undoubtedly an accommodation to his Gentile readers. The name of the place was obviously appropriate to the occasion.

"This name was probably taken from the fact that this was the place where people were killed in public execution rather than from the skull-like appearance on the side of the hill on which He was crucified." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 150.]

Jesus’ central position among the three symbolized His centrality in the event and His proximity to all sinners.

Verses 33-38

The mockery of Jesus’ crucifixion 23:33-38 (cf. Matthew 27:33-43; Mark 15:22-32; John 19:18-24)

Verses 33-49

2. Jesus’ death 23:33-49

The parts of this section of Luke’s Gospel that are unique are Jesus’ prayer for His enemies (Luke 23:34), the dialogue with the criminals (Luke 23:39-43), and Jesus’ prayer of self-sacrifice to the Father (Luke 23:46). Thus Luke presented Jesus as the forgiving Savior even in His death.

Verse 34

In contrast to the hate and rejection expressed in crucifixion (cf. Psalms 22:6-8), Jesus manifested love and forgiveness for those who crucified Him. He prayed for them basing His petition for mercy on their ignorance even though at the same time they were stealing His garments in fulfillment of prophecy (Psalms 22:18). Luke’s inclusion of Jesus’ prayer for His executioners harmonizes with his emphasis on Jesus offering grace and forgiveness to sinners (cf. Luke 7:40-43; Luke 19:10). If Jesus had had any sins of His own to confess, this would have been the time to do so. He did not, so He prayed for other sinners instead. Stephen followed Jesus’ good example here when he died at the hands of his persecutors (Acts 7:60). Luke may have wanted his readers to see Jesus’ act as a good model for disciples.

Verse 35

The Jewish people (Gr. laos) stood by looking on in fulfillment of prophecy (Psalms 21:8). Perhaps Luke wrote that even the rulers sneered at Jesus because they of all the people should have been the most compassionate toward someone in Jesus’ position (cf. Psalms 22:6-8). Instead they mocked His apparent impotence. They may have meant "saved" (Gr. esosen) in the sense of physical deliverance, or they may have meant it ironically, meaning that He claimed to save people spiritually. Both meanings could have been in their minds. The title "God’s Chosen One" reflects what Jesus claimed that He was and what the Father had acknowledged Jesus to be at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:35; cf. Isaiah 42:1; 1 Peter 2:4).

"Jesus crucified is the touchstone revealing what the world is: ’The people stood beholding’ in stolid indifference; the rulers, who wanted religion but without a divine Christ crucified for their sins, mocked (Matthew 27:41); the brutal ’railed at him’ (Luke 23:39), i.e. reviled Him; the conscious sinner prayed (Luke 23:42); and the covetous sat down before the cross and played their sordid game (Matthew 27:35-36). The cross is the judgment of this world (John 12:31)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1119.]

Verses 36-38

The Roman soldiers also taunted Jesus. Their offer of sour wine was a mock relief for His sufferings (Psalms 69:21; cf. Matthew 27:34). If they had wanted to relieve Him, they should have given Him something refreshing rather than revolting. Their words also expressed ridicule for His title that they had nailed above His head on Pilate’s order (John 19:19-22).

Verse 39

The first criminal (robber, Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27) joined the mockery of others around the cross by implying Jesus’ inability to save Himself and His fellow sufferers. He was bitterly sarcastic of Jesus. [Note: Morris, p. 328.] His verbal abuse constituted blasphemy (Gr. eblasphemei). Blasphemy is essentially impious irreverence and defamation. Obviously this man did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Luke may have intended this criminal’s action as a warning to his readers not to do the same thing. Refusing to take Jesus’ claims seriously constitutes blasphemy of Him.

"When the two malefactors were hanged beside the Lord, the one was no better than the other. . . . It is only the grace of God in the cross of Christ that can instantly transform a reviling sinner into an attitude of saving faith and confession. The repentant thief began to see (1) the justice of his own punishment (Luke 23:41); (2) the sinless character of Christ (Luke 23:41); (3) the Deity of Christ (Luke 23:42); (4) a living Christ beyond the grave (Luke 23:42); and (5) a kingdom beyond the cross, with Jesus as its coming King (Luke 23:42)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1119.]

Verses 39-43

The salvation of one criminal 23:39-43

This is another incident that only Luke recorded. It reflects his interest in needy people receiving salvation from Jesus. This is such a dominant theme in Luke’s Gospel that one commentator concluded that this incident is the core of Luke’s crucifixion narrative. [Note: Ellis, p. 267.] The attitudes of the two criminals crucified with Jesus represent the two attitudes that lead to condemnation and salvation. The incident is also another testimony to Jesus’ innocence, and it presents Him as the Savior even as He was dying.

Verses 40-41

Matthew and Mark wrote that both criminals railed at Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). Luke focused on the repentance of the second one. This man did believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 23:42). He therefore viewed the blasphemy of his compatriot as worthy of divine judgment on top of human condemnation. He admitted His own guilt (cf. Luke 18:13-14) and did not try to excuse His acts. He went further and even defended Jesus’ innocence.

Verse 42

His request that Jesus remember him was a call for salvation. He claimed nothing deserving of Jesus’ mercy but simply asked for grace in spite of His guilt. It anticipated a distant time when Jesus would return, raise the righteous dead, and establish His kingdom on the earth. The man’s view of Messiah was that He was divine, not just a present political deliverer. Evidently this man had heard Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom.

". . . the second criminal is a perceptive person who contrasts sharply with the imperceptive people who are calling on Jesus to save himself. . . .

"The criminal is the last person who turns to Jesus for help during Jesus’ ministry; he is also the one person who understands and accepts the path which Jesus must follow to fulfill God’s purpose: through death to enthronement at God’s right hand." [Note: Tannehill, The Narrative . . ., 1:126, 127.]

Verse 43

The man received more from Jesus than he expected, as is always true in salvation. Jesus prefaced His solemn promise with a guarantee of its validity. The thief would not have to wait for the kingdom to be with Jesus. He would be with Him in the place of righteous departed spirits that very day when they both died.

Paradise and Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22-26) are the same place. The word "paradise" has come into English from Greek but originally from Persian. It describes a beautiful garden or delightful park such as the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). Symbolically it represents future bliss (cf. Isaiah 51:3; Revelation 2:7). Essentially the paradise that lies ahead of believers is paradisiacal because God is there (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4). Jesus presented fellowship with Himself as the best part of salvation, as it is.

". . . Jesus acts as the Messiah who has the kingly right to open the doors of paradise to those who come into fellowship with him." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 873.]

When Jesus suffered on the cross, He experienced separation from the Father, which is spiritual death. Having died physically His body went into the grave for parts of three days. His spirit went to paradise, namely, into the Father’s presence where the spirits of the righteous dead abide until their reunion with their bodies at their resurrection. When Jesus arose, the Father reunited His spirit with His then immortal body.

The Apostles Creed says that when Jesus died He descended into hell. This idea evidently originated because Jesus said that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth when He died (Matthew 12:40). The ancients viewed Sheol (the Old Testament term) and Hades (the New Testament term) as in the heart of the earth or at least as under the surface of the earth. The formulators of the Apostles Creed apparently confused the temporary destiny of Jesus’ spirit (i.e., His immaterial part) with the temporary destiny of His body (i.e., His material part). There is no clear biblical statement that Jesus’ spirit went to hell after His death. The passages sometimes cited to support this view, in addition to this verse, include Acts 2:27 (cf. Psalms 16:8-11); Ephesians 4:7-10; and 1 Peter 3:18-20, but I do not believe they do support it. On the contrary, Jesus here affirmed that His spirit would go to paradise (i.e., God’s presence) when He died (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4).

Note also that Jesus promised the thief that he would go to paradise simply because of his faith in Jesus. This is one of the clearest examples in Scripture that salvation is not a reward for meritorious works but is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). The thief did not have to do anything more to qualify for heaven. Indeed he could have done nothing more. People who believe that some works are necessary for salvation usually explain this instance of salvation as an exception to the rule. However, it is consistent with the teaching of Scripture elsewhere that salvation comes to a person solely in response to believing faith in Jesus Christ.

"One thief was saved, so that none needs to despair; but only one, so that none may presume." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1119.]

Verses 44-45

Luke arranged these unusual occurrences to show God’s displeasure with humankind for rejecting His Son. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 873-74.] The sixth and ninth hours were noon and 3:00 p.m. respectively. Darkness obscuring the sun represented judgment obscuring the beneficent light of God’s countenance (cf. Isaiah 5:30; Isaiah 60:2; Joel 2:30-31; Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20; Zephaniah 1:14-18; Luke 22:53; Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 2:17; Revelation 6:12-17). Evidently this was a local rather than a universal phenomenon. It could not have been a solar eclipse since Passover occurred at the full moon.

Luke moved the tearing of the temple veil up in his narrative whereas Matthew and Mark placed it after Jesus’ death as a consequence of that event. It symbolizes the opening of the way into God’s presence that Jesus’ death effected in those Gospels. However in Luke the reader sees it as a sign of God’s wrath. Specifically it seems to represent God’s judgment on Judaism for rejecting the Messiah. It was a portent of the judgment coming on Jerusalem that Jesus had predicted.

Verses 44-49

Jesus’ self-sacrifice to God 23:44-49 (cf. Matthew 27:45-56; Mark 15:33-41; John 19:28-30)

Luke included three things in this heart of the death scene. He gave two evidences of God’s displeasure with people for rejecting His Son, he recorded Jesus’ prayer of trust in the Father, and he noted three immediate reactions to Jesus’ death.

Verse 46

Luke next recorded Jesus’ death and, just before it, Jesus’ final prayer to His Father.

Jesus’ Words on the Cross
"Father, forgive them."Luke 23:34
"Today you shall be with me in paradise."Luke 23:43
"Woman, behold your son," and "Behold, your mother."John 19:26-27
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"Matthew 27:46Mark 15:34
"I thirst."John 19:28
"It is finished."John 19:30
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."Matthew 27:50Luke 23:46

In this prayer Jesus offered Himself to God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus voluntarily laid His life down; no one took it from Him (John 10:15-18; cf. John 15:13). His words were similar to those that many Jews used in prayer before they went to sleep at night (cf. Psalms 31:5). [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 1045.] They expressed Jesus’ trust in God as well as His commitment to Him.

"How many thousands have pillowed their heads on them when going to rest! They were the last words of a Polycarp, a Bernard [of Clairvaux], Huss, Luther, and Melanchthon. And to us also they may be the fittest and the softest lullaby." [Note: Edersheim, 2:609-10.]

The strength with which Jesus cried out showed His physical strength but, more important, the significance of His declaration. Jesus sovereignly controlled His circumstances to the end of His life.

As God rested after six days of work on the creation (Genesis 2:1-3), so Jesus rested after six hours of work on the cross in which He made a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:277.]

Verses 47-49

The centurion who was responsible for carrying out the crucifixion added his testimony to the others who recognized Jesus’ innocence. His witness constituted praise of God because it harmonized with God’s assessment of His Son. Praising God is a reaction to God’s power and mercy that Luke often noted in this Gospel (Luke 2:20; et al.). The reaction of the general public (Gr. ochloi, a mixed group) was to smite their breasts with their hands in typical ancient Near Eastern fashion. This symbolized their grief at the tragedy of Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Luke 18:13). Jesus’ acquaintances, including several females, stood at a distance watching. The reference to these women prepares for the following events. The implication is that they, too, marveled at the tragedy but stood aloof (cf. Psalms 38:11).

These reactions confirm that Jesus did indeed die as a real man. He was not a demigod who merely appeared to die. Note also that Luke presented these witnesses in a receding order from the cross (Luke 23:46). The effect is to lead the reader to step back from the cosmic epicenter of history gradually.

Luke stressed Jesus’ innocence in a number of ways that the other Gospel writers did not. He recorded that Pilate declared Him innocent four times (Luke 23:4; Luke 23:14-15; Luke 23:22). He also noted Herod’s testimony to Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:15). He contrasted Jesus’ innocence with Barabbas’ guilt (Luke 23:25). He recorded the thief’s testimony to Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:41). He also included the centurion’s confession of Jesus’ innocence (Luke 23:47). Finally he noted the reaction of the crowd that showed many of them believed He was innocent (Luke 23:48). Obviously Luke wanted to convince his readers that Jesus died as an innocent man, not as a sinner.

Verses 50-52

Luke presented Joseph as a member of the Sanhedrin who was a believer in Jesus. Luke did not stress Joseph’s wealth (Matthew 27:57) but his piety (cf. Luke 2:25-38). Here is another indication that Jesus was innocent. Even one of the Sanhedrin members believed in Him. Evidently Joseph was absent when the Sanhedrin voted to condemn Jesus since their vote was unanimous (Luke 22:70; Mark 14:64). Not all Israel’s leaders opposed Jesus. This notation would have encouraged Luke’s original readers to view Christianity favorably. It would also have helped them realize that it is possible to believe in Jesus and be part of a group that rejects Him. Joseph’s desire for Jesus’ body indicated his intention to give it a decent burial and so honor Jesus.

Verses 50-56

G. The burial of Jesus 23:50-56 (cf. Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; John 19:31-42)

This pericope is primarily transitional bridging the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It confirms the reality of Jesus’ death. However, Luke included more information about Joseph of Arimathea (possibly Ramah, Ramathaim) than the other evangelists revealing his desire to inform his readers that not all the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus.

Verses 53-54

Joseph’s careful and respectful treatment of Jesus’ body reflected how he felt about Him (cf. Isaiah 53:9). Luke dated his action as late Friday afternoon. The preparation (Gr. paraskeue) day was the day before the Sabbath, which began at sundown on Friday. Luke’s explanation is helpful for non-Jewish readers.

Verses 55-56

This reference to the women prepares for the account of Jesus’ resurrection. When they went to the tomb on Sunday morning, they did not go to the wrong one. They had previously been there and had seen Jesus’ corpse in it. They prepared spices for their return visit on Sunday to honor Jesus further. Luke’s reference to the passing of the Sabbath with no disciple activity confirms Jesus’ prediction that He would be in the grave three days (Luke 18:33; cf. Luke 24:7). It also shows that Jesus’ followers observed the Sabbath as obedient Israelites (Exodus 20:10).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 23". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-23.html. 2012.
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