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(1-5) And the whole multitude of them arose.—See Notes on Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5.
(2) Perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute . . .—St. Luke’s report of the accusation is more definite than that in the other Gospels. The question asked in Luke 20:20-26, was obviously intended to lead up to this; and though then baffled by our Lord’s answer, the priests now brought, backed by false witnesses, the charge for which they had hoped to find evidence in His own words. It seems probable that these facts came to the writer’s knowledge in the same way as those that immediately follow. (See Note on Luke 23:6.) It may be noted that the charge in the Greek is slightly enlarged. The question had referred, as reported by St. Matthew and St. Mark, to one form of tribute—the census, or poll-tax. The charge speaks of “taxes” in the plural, and uses the most general words. In Luke 20:22 the same word is used as in this verse, but in the singular. St. Paul, in a passage which may well have been based upon St. Luke’s report of our Lord’s words, uses the same term as St. Luke (Romans 13:6-7), first generically in the plural, and then in the singular as contrasted with customs duties.
(3) Thou sayest it.—Here, as in Luke 22:70 and Matthew 26:64, the formula is one of confession. The fuller narrative of St. John should be compared throughout.
(4) I find no fault in this man.—The Greek term for “fault” is somewhat more technical than the. English, and is almost equivalent to what we call the “count” of an indictment. It may be noted that, as far as the New Testament is concerned, it is peculiar to St. Luke, in this chapter and in Luke 20:40.
(5) Teaching throughout all Jewry.—This is one of the few passages in which the old English equivalent for Judæa retains its place in the Authorised version (Daniel 5:13); in the Prayer Book version of the Psalms, from the Great Bible (see Introduction), we find it in Psalms 76:1. Traces of the general use of the word remain in Shakespeare’s way of speaking of “Herod of Jewry,” and in the Old Jewry as the name of the Jews’ quarter in ancient London. The charge of “beginning from Galilee” probably rested upon the crowds that had followed Him on His last journey to Jerusalem.
(6) When Pilate heard of Galilee.—The incident that follows is peculiar to St. Luke, and may have been obtained by him from Manaen or other persons connected with the Herodian household with whom he appears to have come in contact. (See Introduction.) It is obvious that Pilate catches at the word in the hope of shifting on another the responsibility of con demning One whom he believed to be innocent and had learnt to respect, while yet he had not the courage to acquit Him.
(7) Unto Herod’s jurisdiction.—The word is the same as that commonly translated “authority,” but the English exactly expresses its meaning here.
Who himself also was at Jerusalem.—It was, of course, no strange thing that the Tetrarch of Galilee, professing Judaism, should come up to keep the Passover in the Holy City. And it is clear that he kept a kind of court there, had his so-called Herodian Rabbis with him (see Notes on Mark 3:6; Mark 12:13), and was attended by his troops (Luke 23:11). Up to this time he had remained in sullen seclusion, and no visits of courtesy had been exchanged between him and Pilate.
(8) He was desirous to see him of a long season.—The vague feeling of wonder had begun soon after the death of the Baptist. (See Notes on Matthew 14:2; Mark 6:14.) It had its beginning in hearing of wonders; it ended in a desire to see one. It was mingled, possibly, with a feeling of bitter enmity which no miracle could remove. (See Note on Luke 13:31.)
(9) He answered him nothing.—We can hardly help asking ourselves what were likely to have been among Herod’s questions. Did the Prisoner who stood before him really claim to be a King? Did He proclaim Himself as the Christ? Was He John the Baptist, risen from the dead? If not, who and what were his earthly parents? The unbroken silence of the Accused must have been strangely impressive at the time, and is singularly suggestive when we remember how He had answered Caiaphas when He had been adjured in the name of the living God. He had spoken to Pilate in the tones of a sad gentleness (John 19:33-37). To Herod alone, the incestuous adulterer, the murderer of the Forerunner, He does not vouchsafe, from first to last, to utter a single syllable.
(10) The chief priests and scribes.—The accusers seem to have accompanied the Accused. There was nothing strange in the presence of the Sadducean members of the higher priestly order, always courting the favour of the powerful, at the court of the Tetrarch. Among the scribes may have been some of the Herodian section (see Notes on Matthew 22:16), who were likely to gain a hearing there, and had probably come up with their prince from Galilee.
(11) Herod with his men of war.—Better, perhaps, troops, or soldiers. The word is the same as that translated “armies” in Matthew 22:7, Acts 23:27; “soldiers” in Acts 23:10.
Arrayed him in a gorgeous robe.—Literally, bright. The word is used of the angel’s garment, in Acts 10:30; of fine linen, in Revelation 15:6; Revelation 18:4; of crystal, in Revelation 22:1; of a star, in Revelation 22:16. It may have been such as Josephus describes Herod Agrippa as wearing, in the incident which he records (Ant. xix. 8, § 4) in common with Acts 12:21—a robe of white tissue of some kind richly embroidered with silver. We may, perhaps, venture to trace in the outrage, a vindictive retaliation for the words which the Prophet had once spoken of those who were “gorgeously apparelled.” (See Notes on Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:25.)
(12) Before they were at enmity between themselves.—The special cause of enmity is not known. Possibly the massacre of the Galileans, mentioned in Luke 13:1, may have had somewhat to do with it. The union of the two in their enmity against Jesus, though not mentioned in the Gospels, is referred to in the first recorded hymn of the Church of Christ (Acts 4:27). Herod, however, it will be noted, passes no formal sentence. He is satisfied with Pilate’s mark of respect for his jurisdiction.
(13-23) And Pilate, when he had called together . . .-See Notes on Matthew 27:15-23; Mark 15:6-14. The first summons to the members of the Council, and the reference to Herod’s examination of the Prisoner are, as the sequel of the previous incident, peculiar to St. Luke.
(15) I sent you to him.—The better MSS. give, “he sent him back to us.”
Nothing worthy of death is done unto him.—Better, is done by Him. The translators appear to have mistaken the construction, and to have taken the words as meaning “nothing worthy of death has been done to—i.e., against—Herod.” The error is common to all the English versions.
(16) I will therefore chastise him.—The primary meaning of the word was to correct as children are corrected, thence to use the rod, as in Proverbs 19:18; Proverbs 29:17. As used here it implied the Roman punishment of scourging. Pilate was here, as throughout, halting between two opinions, convinced of the innocence of the Accused, yet afraid to oppose the people. Would it not be enough, he thought, that they should see Him treated as guilty of a minor offence? Would they not accept His release as part of the ceremonial of the day?
(17) For of necessity he must release one unto them.—Literally, he had a necessity. The better MSS. are singularly divided as to this verse. Most omit it altogether. One, followed by some of the versions, has it after Luke 23:19. It would seem probable from these facts that the narrative was originally written without it, that it was then felt that the release of Barabbas required an explanation, and that a note was first added in the margin, either by a transcriber or by the writer himself in a duplicate copy, and then found its way into the text. The precise form of the phrase, to “have a necessity,” is not found in the other Gospels, but is common to St. Luke (Luke 11:18 and here), and St. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:37). It is found also in Hebrews 7:27; Jude Luke 23:3. On the practice thus described, see Note on Matthew 27:15.
(19) Who for a certain sedition.—St. Luke’s and St. Mark’s accounts agree more closely than the others. St. John alone speaks of Barabbas as a “robber;” St. Matthew merely calls him a “notable prisoner.”
(23) They were instant.—Literally, they pressed upon Him. As the adjective is almost passing into the list of obsolescent words, it may be well to remind the reader that it has the force of “urgent.” So we have “instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
And of the chief priests.—The words are omitted in many of the best MSS.
(24-28) And Pilate gave sentence.—See Notes on Matthew 27:24-30; Mark 15:15-19. St. Luke’s account is here the briefest of the four, St. John’s by far the fullest. Here we read nothing of the outrages of Pilate’s troops, the purple robe, and the crown of thorns. The omissions are significant, in conjunction with that which is peculiar to him, as pointing to the sources of his information. Those who were present at Herod’s court were not likely to know fully what was passing in the Prætorium.
(25) Whom they had desired.—Better, whom they were asking for. The tense is imperfect, not pluperfect, and implies that the cries were still continuing.
(27) A great company of people, and of women.—Here, again, we come across a characteristic incident peculiar to St. Luke, and obviously derived from the devout women to whom we have traced so many facts which he alone records. (See Introduction.) “Daughters of Jerusalem” were there, as our Lord’s words show—perhaps one of the sisterhoods which were formed in that city for mitigating the sufferings of condemned criminals by narcotic drinks (Deutsch. Remains, p. 38)—and among these may have been Mary and Martha, but Luke 23:49 implies the presence of women from Galilee also. The wailing was loud and bitter, for they, we may believe, had cherished, even more fondly than the disciples, the thought that “the kingdom of God should immediately appear” (Luke 19:11).
(28) Daughters of Jerusalem.—It is characteristic of the tenderness of our Lord’s sympathy that these were the first words recorded as coming from His lips after He left the presence of Pilate. The mocking, the scourging, the spitting, had all been borne in silence. Now He speaks, and His thoughts are of the far-off sufferings of others, rather than of those that were then falling upon Himself.
(29) Blessed are the barren.—We must enter into all the passionate desire of Israelite women for offspring, as we see it, e.g., in Rachel (Genesis 30:1) and in Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-11), in order to estimate the strangeness of such a beatitude. With some of those who heard it, its force may have been emphasised by its contrast between it and the blessing which had been once uttered by a woman who may, perhaps, have been one of them (Luke 11:27).
(30) Then shall they begin to say to the mountains.—The imagery was natural in a limestone country such as Judæa, subject to earthquakes. Commonly, such catastrophes were dreaded, and men prayed against them. The time was coming when the dens and caves which usually offered a place of refuge from invading armies (Isaiah 2:19) would prove insufficient, and men would cry, as they had done of old (comp. Hosea 10:8, from which the words are quoted), to the mountains to fall on them.
(31) If they do these things in a green tree.—The word for “tree” primarily meant “wood” or “timber,” the tree cut down. In later Greek, however, as, e.g., in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19, it was used for “tree.” The “green tree” is, therefore, that which is yet living, capable of bearing fruit; the “dry,” that which is barren, fruitless, withered, fit only for the axe (Matthew 3:10; Luke 13:7). The words have so much the character of a proverb that the verb may almost be treated as practically impersonal. So far as any persons are implied, we must think of our Lord as speaking of the representatives of Roman power. If Pilate could thus sentence to death One in whom he acknowledged that he could find no fault, what might be expected from his successors when they had to deal with a people rebellious and in arms? In 1 Peter 4:17 we have the same thought in a more general and less figurative form.
(33) The place, which is called Calvary.—On the place and name, see Note on Matthew 27:33. As a matter of translation, it would clearly have been better either to give the Greek form (Cranion), or its meaning (= “skull”) in English. The Vulgate, however, had given Calvarium, and that word had taken so strong a hold on men’s minds, that it was apparently thought better, as in all the English versions, to retain it here. It is not without interest to note that the name which more than any other is associated with Protestant hymns and meditations on the atonement, should come to us from the Vulgate of the Latin Church.
(34) Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.—Again, the silence is broken, not by the cry of anguish or sigh of passionate complaint, but by words of tenderest pity and intercession. It is well, however, that we should remember who were the primary direct objects of that prayer. Not Pilate, for he knew that he had condemned the innocent; not the chief priests and scribes, for their sin, too, was against light and knowledge. Those for whom our Lord then prayed were clearly the soldiers who nailed Him to the cross, to whom the work was but that which they were, as they deemed, bound to do as part of their duty. It is, however, legitimate to think of His intercession as including, in its ultimate extension, all who in any measure sin against God as not knowing what they do, who speak or act against the Son of Man without being guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost. (See Note on Acts 3:17.)
(35) And the rulers also with them derided him.—St. Luke uses the generic term for the members of the Sanhedrin, whom St. Matthew particularises as “chief priests, scribes, and elders.” The verb is the same as in 16:14, and implies the curled lip and distended nostril of scorn.
He saved others.—The words were, like those of Caiaphas (John 11:50), an unconscious prophecy, in part also an admission of the work that He had done, as in the case of Lazarus, in rescuing others from the power of death.
If he be Christ, the chosen of God.—It may be noted that this is the only passage in the New Testament in which the adjective “chosen,” or “elect,” is directly applied to Christ. The participle of the verb, is, however, found in the better MSS. of Luke 9:35, and the adjective is used of Him as the “stone, elect and precious,” in 1 Peter 2:6.
(36) Offering him vinegar.—Not even the prayer for their forgiveness had touched the hearts of the soldiers. But still, they knew not what they did, and did but follow, after their nature, in the path in which others led the way. Possibly too, rude as their natures were, there was a touch of rough kindliness mingling in their mockery, as shown in the offer of the vinegar, or sour wine, which they had brought for their own use (see Note on Matthew 27:48)—unless, indeed, we suppose the refinement of cruelty which held it before the eyes of the Sufferer, but did not, as afterwards, convey it to His lips.
(38) And a superscription.—See Note on Matthew 27:38.
(39) And one of the malefactors.—The incident that follows is singularly characteristic of St. Luke. If we ask how he came to know what the other Gospels pass over, we may, I think, find his probable informants once more in the devout women who followed Jesus to the place of Crucifixion, and who stood near enough to the cross to hear what was then spoken. The word for “hanged” is used by St. Luke (Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39) and St. Paul (Galatians 3:13) as applied to crucifixion.
Railed on him.—Literally, was blaspheming, but in the sense in which that word signifies the “reviling” of which man, and not God, may be the object. He, too, catches up the taunt of the rulers and the soldiers.
(40) But the other answering rebuked him.—On the legends connected with the penitent thief, see Notes on Matthew 27:44. Dysmas, or Titus, as they name him, had once before looked on the face of the Christ. He had been one of a band of robbers that attacked the holy travellers in their flight from Bethlehem, and had then pleaded for their lives. The Virgin Mother had blessed him. The child Christ had foretold his suffering and his repentance. Now, as he gazed on the face of the divine Sufferer, he recognised the features of the infant Jesus (Gosp. of Infancy, viii. 1-8; Gosp. of Nicodemus, i. 10). Confining ourselves to what St. Luke records, we may think of him as impressed by the holiness and patience of Him he looked on. What such a One claimed to be, that He must have a right to claim, and so the very words uttered in mockery, “Christ, the King of Israel,” became an element in his conversion. This, of course, implies that he cherished Messianic hopes of some kind, if only of the vague nature then common among his people. Yet deeper in the ground-work of his character there must have been the fear of God, the reverence and awe rising out of a sense of sin, the absence of which he noted in his companion. He accepted his punishment as just, and in so doing made it reformatory and not simply penal.
(41) This man hath done nothing amiss.—The confident assertion may have rested on previous knowledge of our Lord’s life and character, or on some report that had reached him on his way to Golgotha, or on Pilate’s confession that he found no fault in Him.
(42) Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.—More accurately, in Thy kingdom. There is something singularly touching in the trust implied in the form of the appeal. He asks for no special boon, no place on the right hand or on the left; no room in the King’s palace. He is content not to be forgotten, certain that if the King remember him at all, it will be with thoughts of tenderness and pity.
(43) To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.—We have first to consider the word, then the thought expressed by it. The former first appears as a Persian word applied to land enclosed as a park or garden for a king or satrap. As such it meets us often in Xenophon’s Anabasis (i. 2, § 7; 4, § 9, et al.). Finding it so used, the LXX. translators used it in Song of Solomon 4:13; Ecclesiastes 2:5; Nehemiah 2:8, and, above all, in Genesis 2:15, taking what we treat as a proper name as a description, and giving “the Paradise of Delight” for “the Garden of Eden.” In the figurative language in which the current Jewish belief clothed its thoughts of the unseen world, the Garden of Eden took its place side by side with “Abraham’s bosom,” as a synonym for the eternal blessedness of the righteous, presenting a vivid contrast to the foul horrors of Gehenna. It is remarkable, however, that this is the one occasion on which the word appears as part of our Lord’s teaching. In the mystical language of the Apocalypse, “the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God,” is one of the promises to “him that overcometh” (Revelation 2:7). St. Paul speaks of himself as having been caught up in ecstasy and vision into “paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:4). In this instance we may trace in our Lord’s use of the word a subtle tenderness of sympathy. What He said in answer to the penitent’s prayer was, in part, a contrast to it, in part, its most complete fulfilment. Not in the far-off “Coming,” but that very day; not “remembered “only, but in closest companionship; not in the tumult and battle which his thoughts had connected with the Kingdom, but in the fair garden, with its green lawns and still waters, its trees of Knowledge and of Life. No picture could meet the cravings of the tortured robber more completely than that; none, probably, could be more different from his expectations. Yet the “paradise” of Eastern lands was essentially the kingly garden, that of which the palace was the centre. The promise implied that the penitent should enter at once into the highest joy of the Kingdom. Are we right in thinking that there was no fulfilment of the words till death had released the spirit from its thraldom? May there not even then have been an ineffable joy, such as made the flames of the fiery furnace to be as a “moist whistling wind” (Song of Three Childr. Luke 23:27, in the Apocrypha), such as martyrs have in a thousand cases known, acting almost as a physical anæsthetic acts? The penitent thief is naturally prominent in the Apocryphal legends of our Lord’s descent into Hades, seen by His side as He enters Paradise (Gosp. of Nicodemus, ii. 10).
(44-46) And it was about the sixth hour.—See Notes on Matthew 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37. We can only conjecturally account for the omission of the “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI,” so prominent in the other two reports; but it is at least conceivable, assuming the same sources of information as before, that the women who stood by the cross may have shrunk from repeating words so terrible, and have loved to dwell rather on those which seemed to them to speak, not of abandonment, but of an absolute and unshaken trust. It is remarkable that this, like the cry of apparent despair, is a quotation from the Psalms (Psalms 31:6).
(46) And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said. . . .—Better. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and said . . . The English text emphasises too strongly the distinctness of the act, possibly with the implied suggestion that the cry might have consisted of the words which St. Luke does not report. On the other hand, the other Gospels make the “great cry” immediately precede death.
He gave up the ghost.—Better, He expired, or breathed out His spirit, the verb containing the root from which the Greek for “spirit” is derived. The Greek of St. John, which appears in English as though it were the same as St. Luke’s, corresponds more closely to the final utterance, “He delivered up His spirit.”
(47-49) Now when the centurion saw what was done . . .—See Notes on Matthew 27:54-55; Mark 15:40-41. The phrase “glorified God” is, as has been noticed already (Luke 5:25), specially characteristic of St. Luke. The substitution of “this was a righteous man,” for “this was the Son of God,” may, perhaps, have originated in a wish to express the exact measure, and not more, of the sense in which the centurion had used the seemingly higher words.
(48) To that sight.—The word is used by St. Luke-only in the New Testament, and exactly expresses the purpose of those who had come as to gaze on a “spectacle.” These had probably taken little or no part in the insults and taunts of the priests, and now they went away awed, partly by the darkness, partly by the solemn majesty of that awful death.
Smote their breasts, and returned.—Better, returned, smiting their breasts. Both the verb and participle imply continuous action.
(49) All his acquaintance.—This is the only passage in which the word is used. St. Luke apparently employs it as intermediate between the spectators and the avowed disciples. Such may have been Simon, or Lazarus, of Bethany, or the rulers who believed yet did hot confess, or the owners of the ass and of the colt, or the proprietor of the house in which the Passover had been eaten.
The women that had followed him from Galilee.—St. Luke does not name them as St. Matthew and St. Mark do, probably because in Luke 8:2-3, he had already given the names of the most prominent among them.
(50-56) Behold, there was a man named Joseph.—See Notes on Matthew 27:57-61; Mark 15:42-47. St. Luke agrees with St. Mark in calling him a “counsellor,” but the epithets, “good man and just,” are peculiar to him. The adjective for good is not often applied to persons in the New Testament. In Acts 11:24 it is used of Barnabas; in Romans 5:7 it represents a higher excellence than that of the man who is simply just.
(51) The counsel and deed of them.—The first word includes all the earlier stages of the action of the Sanhedrin, from the counsel given by Caiaphas (John 11:49) to the final condemnation; the second, the unofficial acts, such as the compact with Judas, and the delivery to Pilate.
Who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.—The description agrees in form with St. Mark, but not with St. Matthew or St. John. Nicodemus, who acted with him, is mentioned in the fourth Gospel only.
(53) A sepulchre that was hewn in stone.—The descriptive word differs from that used by St. Matthew and St. Mark, as being slightly more technical, and implying a higher degree of finish.
(54) That day was the preparation.—See Note on Matthew 27:52.
The sabbath drew on.—Literally, the Sabbath was dawning. It is a question whether the word is used here of the actual beginning of the Sabbath—which was, of course, at sunset after the Crucifixion—or, as St. Matthew appears to use it (28:1), for the actual dawn. The later Rabbis appear to have spoken of the day “dawning” in the sense of its beginning at sunset, and so far support the former interpretation. It was possible, however, under the emergencies of the case, that the entombment began before the sunset, and may have been finished during the night, or that, in common speech and usage, the Sabbath, though theoretically beginning on Friday evening at sunset, was not practically recognised till Saturday at sunrise.
(55) And the women also.—Here again we come upon traces of St. Luke’s informants. The other Gospels speak of one or two by name. He knows that others belonging to the company of women who came with Jesus from Galilee (note the recurrence of the same description as in Luke 23:49) had taken part in the work. They had stood within view of the cross. They saw the body taken down. They followed (it was not far) to the garden owned by Nicodemus.
(56) They returned, and prepared spices and ointments.—This seems at first inconsistent with their “buying” spices after the Sabbath was over (Luke 24:1). Possibly, we have two groups of women—the two Maries and “Joanna and the others” (Luke 24:10)—taking part in the same work; possibly, what they did on the Friday afternoon or evening was not enough, and it was necessary to buy more spices as soon as shops were open on Saturday evening.
Rested the sabbath day.—It is noticeable that this is the only record in the Gospels of that memorable Sabbath. Can we picture to ourselves how it was spent by those who had taken part in the great drama of the previous day;—Caiaphas and the priests officiating in the Temple services of that day, after their hurried Passover, just in time to fulfil the bare letter of the law, on the previous afternoon; the crowds that had mocked and scoffed on Golgotha crowding the courts of the Temple, or attending in the synagogues of Hebrew or Hellenistic Jews; scribes and Pharisees preaching sermons on the history and meaning of the Passover, and connecting it with the hope of a fresh deliverance for Israel? And the disciples, where were they? scattered each to his own lodging, or meeting in the guest-chamber where they had eaten their Paschal supper, or, as that was apparently a new room to them (Luke 22:8-9), in some other inn or lodging in the city, or its suburbs? On that Sabbath, John and Peter must have met, and the penitent must have found in his friend’s love the pledge and earnest of his Lord’s forgiveness; and the Twelve and the Seventy must, in groups of twos or threes, have mourned over the failure of their hopes; and the women have comforted themselves with the thought that they could at least show their reverence for the Lord they loved as they had never shown it before; and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa have rested with satisfaction in the thought that they could honour a dead prophet without the danger that had attached to honouring a living one, or have reproached themselves for the cowardice which had kept them from any open confession till it was too late, and mourned over the irrevocable past. The records are silent, but the imagination which turns the dead chronicles of history into a living drama has here, within due limits, legitimate scope for action. May we go a step yet further, and think of what was then being accomplished behind the veil, of the descent into Hades and the triumph over Death, the soul of the robber in the rest of Paradise, and the good news proclaimed to “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19)? If we dare not fill up the gap with the legends of the Apocryphal Gospel that bears the name of Nicodemus, we may, at least, venture to dwell reverently on the hints that Scripture actually gives.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Luke 23". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29