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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

Luke 23

Verses 1-5

Vers. 1-5. Since Judaea had been reduced to a Roman province, on the deposition of Archelaus, in the year 7 of our era, the Jewish authorities had lost the jus gladii, which the Romans always reserved to themselves in the provinces incorporated with the empire. Perhaps, as Langen concludes, with some probability, from John 18:30-43.18.31, previous governors had relaxed the rigour of public right on this point, and Pilate was the first who had confined the Jews within their strict legal competency. There is a tradition, quoted in the Talmud, that “forty years before the destruction of the temple (and so about the year 30 of our era), the right of pronouncing capital sentences was taken from Israel” ( Cant. 24. 2). Thus is explained the procedure of the Jews ( Luk 23:1 ) who bring Jesus before Pilate. The other motives by which it has been sought to explain it, such as the desire to put the entire responsibility of this death on Pilate (Mosheim), or that of getting Jesus put to death by the Roman and specially cruel punishment of the cross (Chrysostom), or finally, that of not violating the quiet of the feast (Augustine), have been refuted by Langen (pp. 246-251).

It cannot be decided with certainty whether Pilate at this time resided in the palace of Herod the Great, on the hill of Sion, or in the citadel Antonia, at the northwest of the temple. Tradition makes the Via Dolorosa begin at this latter spot. The complaint uttered by the Jews, Luke 23:2, was not the actual beginning of this long negotiation. John alone has preserved to us its true commencement ( Luk 18:29-32 ). The Jews began very skilfully by trying to get Pilate to execute the sentence without having submitted it for his confirmation. The latter, more adroit than they, and eagerly profiting by the turn thus given to the case, declared to them that he was well pleased not to interfere in the matter, and that he left Jesus in their hands, that is to say, within the limits of their competency (the execution of purely Jewish penalties excommunication from the synagogue, scourging, etc.). But that did not come up to the reckoning of the Jews, who wished at any price the death of Jesus. They must therefore abandon the exalted position which they had attempted to take, and submit their sentence to be judged by Pilate.

Here begins the second manoeuvre, the political accusation (Luke, Luke 23:2; comp. the three other accounts which are parallel). This charge was a notorious falsehood; for Jesus had resolved in the affirmative the question whether tribute should be paid to Caesar, and had carefully abstained from everything which could excite a rising of the people. The semblance of truth which is required in every accusation, was solely in the last words: He made Himself the Christ, a title which they maliciously explained by that of king. They began by giving to the name Christ a political colour in the mouth of Jesus. Hence they conclude that He was bound to forbid the payment of tribute. If He did not actually do so, He should have done it logically. Therefore it was as if He had done it; the crime may be justly imputed to Him. This translation of the title Christ by that of king before Pilate is especially remarkable, if we compare it with the transformation of the same title into that of Son of God before the Sanhedrim. The object of the one was to establish the accusation of rebellion, as that of the other was to prove the charge of blasphemy. There is a versatility in this hatred.

The four narratives agree in the question which Pilate addresses to Jesus. We know from John that Jesus was in the praetorium, while the Jews took their stand in the open square; Pilate went from them to Him, and from Him to them. The brief answer of Jesus: Thou sayest it, is surprising. But it appears from John that the word is only the summary of a conversation of some length between Jesus and Pilate, a conversation which oral tradition had not preserved. Pilate was intelligent enough to know what to think of the sudden zeal manifested by the Sanhedrim for the Roman dominion in Palestine, and the conversation which he had with Jesus on this first head of accusation ( Joh 18:33-38 ) resulted in convincing him that he had not to do with a rival of Caesar. He therefore declares to the Jews that their accusation is unfounded. But they insist ( Luk 23:5 ), and advance as a proof the sort of popular movement of which Galilee was the starting-point ( ἀρξάμενος ), and which spread quite recently to the very gates of Jerusalem ( ἕως ὧδε ), an allusion to the Palm Days. It is to the mention of this new charge that we may apply Mat 27:12 and Mark 15:3-41.15.4, where there is indicated a repetition of accusations which Jesus answered only by silence. Luke also declares, Luke 23:5, that they were the more fierce. A second expedient then presents itself to Pilate's mind: to consign the whole matter to Herod, the sovereign of Galilee ( Luk 23:6-12 ).

Verses 1-25

2 d. The Civil Judgment: Luke 23:1-42.23.25.

Here we have the description, on the one hand, of the series of manoeuvres used by the Jews to obtain from Pilate the execution of the sentence, and on the other, of the series of Pilate's expedients, or counter-manoeuvres, to get rid of the case which was forced on him. He knew that it was out of envy that the chiefs among the Jews were delivering Jesus over to him (Matthew 27:18; Mar 15:10 ), and he felt repugnance at lending his power to a judicial murder. Besides, he felt a secret fear about Jesus. Comp. John 19:8, where it is said: “ When Pilate therefore heard that saying (‘He made Himself the Son of God’), he was the more afraid; ” and the question, Luke 23:9: Whence art thou? a question which cannot refer to the earthly birthplace of Jesus, that was already known to him ( Luk 23:6 ), and which can only signify in the context: From heaven or from earth? The message of his wife ( Mat 27:19 ) must have contributed to increase the superstitious fears which he felt.

Verses 6-12

Vers. 6-12. Luke alone relates this remarkable circumstance. By this step the clever Roman gained two ends at once. First he got rid of the business which was imposed on him, and then he took the first step toward a reconciliation with Herod ( Luk 23:12 ). The cause of their quarrel had probably been some conflict of jurisdiction. In that case, was not the best means of soldering up the quarrel to concede to him a right of jurisdiction within the very city of Jerusalem? Herod had come to the capital, like Pilate, on account of the feast; ordinarily he lived in the old castle of the Asmonean kings, on the hill of Zion. Jesus was to him what a skilful juggler is to a seated court an object of curiosity. But Jesus did not lend Himself to such a part; He had neither words nor miracles for a man so disposed, in whom, besides, He saw with horror the murderer of John the Baptist. Before this personage, a monstrous mixture of bloody levity and sombre superstition, He maintained a silence which even the accusations of the Sanhedrim ( Luk 23:10 ) could not lead Him to break. Herod, wounded and humiliated, took vengeance on this conduct by contempt. The expression, a gorgeous robe ( Luk 23:11 ), denotes not a purple garment, but a white mantle, like that worn by Jewish kings and Roman grandees on high occasions. We cannot see in this, with Riggenbach, a contemptuous allusion to the white robe of the high priest. It was a parody of the royal claims of Jesus, but at the same time an indirect declaration of His innocence, at least in a political point of view.

The στρατεύματα , soldiers of Herod, can only mean his attendants, his body - guard, who were allowed to accompany him in the capital.

Verses 13-19

Vers. 13-19. Not having succeeded in this way, Pilate finds himself reduced to seek another expedient. Two present themselves to his mind: first, the offer to chastise Jesus, that is to say, to scourge Him; then the proposition to release Him as a pardoned malefactor, according to the custom of the feast. The penalty of scourging strictly formed part of the punishment of crucifixion; it was the imperative preliminary. Jerome says ( in Matt. xxvii.): Sciendum est Pilatum romanis legibus ministrasse, quibus sancitum erat ut qui crucifigeretur, prius flagellis verberetur (Langen, p. 281). This previous punishment was often mortal. In this case Pilate offered it to the Jews in place of crucifixion, not as the first act of that punishment. He hoped that at the sight of this the more moderate would be satisfied, and that the last act would not be demanded of him. But to secure the certainty of this means, he combines it with the other. The time was come for releasing a state prisoner, as was common at the feast. He reckons on the numerous adherents of Jesus who had welcomed Him with acclamations on Palm Day, and whose voices, in spite of the rulers, would make themselves heard in demanding His release.

At Luke 23:15, Tischendorf prefers the Alex. reading: “For he sent him to us,” instead of, “For I sent you to him.” But this reading has arisen from an entire misunderstanding of the following phrase. It was translated, “And, lo! nothing is done unto him (at Herod's court) to show that he has been judged worthy of death;” while the Greek expression signifies, according to a well-known construction, “And, lo! he is found to have done nothing (He, Jesus) which was worthy of death [in Herod's conviction as well as in mine].” The received reading is therefore indisputably the true one.

Pilate declares aloud that the result of this whole series of inquiries has been to establish the innocence of Jesus. But why in this case conclude, as he does ( therefore, Luk 23:16 ), by offering to scourge Him, thereafter to release Him? It was already a denial of justice to send Jesus to Herod after having acknowledged His innocence; it is a more flagrant one still to decree against Him, without any alleged reason, the penalty of scourging. This first concession betrays his weakness, and gives him over beforehand to his adversaries, who are more decided than he.

If Luk 23:17 is authentic, and if it is to be put here (see the critical note), the most natural connection between Luk 23:16-17 is this: “I will release him; for I am even under obligation to release unto you a prisoner.” Pilate affects to have no doubt that, when the liberation of a prisoner is offered to the people, they will claim Jesus. But if this verse is rejected as unauthentic, we must recognise in the ἀπολύσω , I will release, Luke 23:16, a positive allusion to the custom of releasing a prisoner. At Luke 23:18, the Jews, understanding in a moment Pilate's idea, would reply to him by putting themselves at his view-point. But this explanation is somewhat forced, and the omission of Luk 23:17 may have arisen in the Alex. from confounding the two AN...which begin the two Luke 23:17-42.23.18.

In John, Pilate, while reminding the people of this custom, directly offers them the deliverance of Jesus. This was probably the real course of events. In Matthew, he puts the alternative between Jesus and Barabbas, which is less natural. In Mark, it is the people who, interrupting the deliberation relative to Jesus, all at once claim the liberation of a prisoner, which is less natural still.

The origin of the custom here mentioned is not known. It is far from probable that it was introduced by the Romans. Langen justly quotes against this supposition the words of Pilate ( Joh 18:39 ), “ Ye have a custom.” Perhaps it was a memorial of the great national deliverance, of the escape from Egypt, which was celebrated at the feast of Passover. The Romans, who took a pride in respecting the usages of conquered peoples, had fallen in with this custom.

But before Pilate had carried out the scourging, the people had already made their choice. This choice is presented, Luke 23:18, as unanimous and spontaneous ( παμπληθεί ), while Matthew and Mark, more accurate on the point, ascribe it to the pressure exercised by the rulers and their underlings, which harmonizes with John 19:6.

Mark and Luke characterize Barabbas as one who had been guilty of murder in an insurrection; he was therefore a representative of the same revolutionary spirit of which the Sanhedrim were accusing Jesus. To give up Jesus to the cross, and to demand Barabbas, was to do at the same moment two significant acts. It was to repudiate the spirit of submission and faith which had distinguished the whole work of Jesus, and which might have saved the people. It was at the same time to let loose the spirit of revolt which was to carry them to their destruction.

The name Barabbas comes from בַּר and אַבָּא ( son of the father). This name signifies, according to most, son of Abba, of God. Keim understands son of the Rabbin, taken as spiritual father. The name Jesus, which is also given to this man in 4 Mnn. of Matthew, and which was found, according to the Fathers, in a considerable number of MSS., was probably added to the name of Barabbas, with the desire to render the parallelism the more striking.

The liberation of Barabbas was a judicial act; to carry it out, Pilate must ascend his judgment-seat. It was probably at this moment that the message of his wife, of which Matthew speaks (Luke 23:19, “ When he was set down on the judgmentseat ”), was transmitted to him.

Verses 20-25

Vers. 20-25. This manoeuvre having failed, Pilate returns to the expedient on which he reckons most; he will try to satisfy the anger of the most infuriated, and to excite the pity of those who are yet capable of this feeling, by a beginning of punishment. The real contents of the declaration announced by the προσεφώνησε , he spake again to them, Luke 23:20, are not expressed till the end of Luke 23:22: “ I will therefore chastise him, and let him go. ” But Pilate is interrupted before having uttered his whole thought by the cries of the Jews, Luke 23:21; his answer, Luke 23:22, breathes indignation. By the τρίτον , for the third time, allusion is made to his two previous declarations, Luk 23:4 and Luke 23:14-42.23.15. Γάρ bears on the idea of crucifixion, Luke 23:21: “Crucify him? For he has done...what evil?” But this indignation of Pilate is only an example of cowardice. Why scourge Him whom he acknowledges to be innocent? This first weakness is appreciated and immediately turned to account by the Jews. It is here, in Luke's account, that the scourging should be placed. John, who has left the most vivid recital of this scene, places it exactly at this moment. According to Matthew and Mark, the scourging did not take place till after the sentence was pronounced, agreeably to custom, and as the first stage of crucifixion.

Ver. 23 summarizes a whole series of negotiations, the various phases of which John alone has preserved to us ( Luk 19:1-12 ). Jesus, covered with blood, appears before the people. But the rulers and their partisans succeed in extinguishing the voice of pity in the multitude. Pilate, who reckoned on the effect of the spectacle, is shocked at this excess of cruelty. He authorizes them to carry out the crucifixion themselves at their own risk; they decline. They understand that it is he who serves as their executioner. To gain him there remain yet two ways. All at once changing their tactics, they demand the death of Jesus as a blasphemer: “ He made himself the Son of God. ” But on hearing this accusation, Pilate shows himself still less disposed to condemn Jesus, whose person had already inspired him with a mysterious fear. The Jews then determine to employ the weapon which they had kept to the last, probably as the most ignoble in their own eyes, that of personal intimidation. They threaten him with an accusation before the emperor, as having taken a rebel under his protection. Pilate knows how ready Tiberius will be to welcome such a charge. On hearing this threat, he understands at once, that if he wishes to save his place and life, he has no alternative but to yield. It is at this point that the four narratives again unite. Pilate for the second time ascends the judgment-seat, which was set up in a raised place in the open square situated before the praetorium. He washes his hands (Matthew), and again declining all participation in the judicial murder which is about to be committed, he delivers Jesus over to His enemies.

Ver. 25 of Luke is the only passage of this narrative where the feelings of the historian break through the objectivity of the narrative. The details repeated here ( Luk 23:19 ) regarding the character of Barabbas bring into prominence all that is odious in the choice of Israel; and the words, he delivered Him to their will, all the cowardice of the judge who thus declines to act as the protector of innocence. Matthew and Mark here narrate the abuse which Jesus had to suffer from the Roman soldiers; it is the scene related John 19:1-43.19.3, and which should be placed before the scourging. The scene of it, according to Mark, was the inner court of the praetorium, which agrees with John. It was less the mockery of Jesus Himself than of the Jewish Messiah in His person.

3. The Crucifixion of Jesus: Luke 23:26-42.23.46.

John indicates, as the time when Pilate pronounced sentence, the sixth hour; Mark, as the hour at which Jesus was crucified, the third. According to the ordinary mode of reckoning time among the ancients (starting from six o'clock in the morning), it would be mid-day with the first, nine o'clock in the morning with the second. The contradiction seems flagrant: Jesus condemned at noon, according to John, and crucified at nine. according to Mark! Langen brings new arguments to support an attempt at harmony which has often been made that John reckoned the hours as we do, that is to say, starting from midnight. The sixth hour would then be with him six o'clock in the morning, which would harmonize a little better with Mark's date, the interval between six and nine o'clock being employed in preparations for the crucifixion.

But is it probable that John adopted a mode of reckoning different from that which was generally in use, and that without in the least apprizing his readers? We incline rather to hold with Lange, in his Life of Jesus, that Mark dated the beginning of the punishment from the time of the scourging, which legally formed its first act. In this Mark followed an opinion which naturally arose from the connection in which scourging was ordinarily practised. It is John who, by his more exact knowledge of the whole course of the trial, has placed this part of the punishment of Jesus at its true time and in its true light. The scourging, in Pilate's view, was not the beginning of the crucifixion, but rather a means of preventing it. Thus it is that Mark has ante-dated the crucifixion by the whole interval which divided the scene of the Ecce homo from the pronouncing of the sentence and its execution.

It is absolutely impossible to suppose that the whole long and complicated negotiation between the Jews and Pilate took place between the last sitting of the Sanhedrim (which was held as soon as it was day, Luk 22:66 ) and six o'clock in the morning. See my Comment. sur Jean, ii. pp. 606 and 607.

The punishment of crucifixion was in use among several ancient peoples (Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Seythians, Greeks). Among the Romans, it was used only for slaves ( servile supplicium, Horace), and for the greatest criminals (assassins, brigands, rebels). It was abolished by Constantine. The scourging took place either before setting out, or on the way to the cross (Liv. 33:36). According to Plutarch, every criminal carried his own cross. There was borne before him or hung round his neck a white plate, on which his crime was indicated ( titulus, σανίς , αἰτία ). The punishment took place, as a rule, beyond inhabited houses, near a road, that the largest possible number of people might witness it. The Talmud of Jerusalem relates that before crucifixion there was offered to the prisoner a stupifying draught, which compassionate people, generally ladies of Jerusalem, prepared at their own cost. The cross consisted of two pieces, the one perpendicular ( staticulum), the other horizontal ( antenna). Nearly at the middle of the first was fixed a pin of wood or horn ( πῆμα , sedile), on which the prisoner rested as on horseback. Otherwise the weight would have torn the hands, and left the body to fall. They began ordinarily by setting up and fixing the cross (Cic. Verr. 5:66; Jos. Bell. Jude 1:7; Jude 1:7.6. 4); then by means of cords the body was raised to the height of the antenna, and the nails driven into the hands. The condemned person was rarely nailed to the cross while it was yet lying on the ground, to be afterwards raised.

The cross does not seem to have been very high. Langen thinks that it was twice the height of a man; that is the maximum; and it is probable that generally it was not so high. The rod of hyssop on which the sponge was held out to Jesus could not be more than two or three feet in length. As to the feet, Paulus, Lücke, Winer, and others have more or less positively denied that they were nailed. They appeal to John 20:25. But would it not have been singular pedantry on the part of Thomas to speak here of the holes in the feet? He enumerates the wounds, which were immediately within reach of his hand. It is the same when Jesus speaks to Thomas, Luke 23:27. Then they allege the fact that the Empress Helena, after having discovered the true cross, sent to her son the nails which had been fastened in the hands of Christ. But it is not said that she sent to him all that she had found. The contrary rather appears from the tenor of the narrative (see Meyer, ad Mat 27:35 ). Hug, Meyer, Langen have proved beyond doubt, by a series of quotations from Xenophon, Plautus, Lucian, Justin, Tertullian, etc., that the custom was to nail the feet also; and Luke 24:39 (written without the least reference to the prophecy of Psalms 22:0) admits of no doubt that this practice was followed in the case of Jesus. For how could His feet have served as a proof of His identity ( ὅτι αὐτὸς ἐγώ ) otherwise than by the wounds the mark of which they bore?

The small board ( suppedaneum), on which the representations of the crucifixion usually make the feet of our lord rest, is a later invention, rendered in a way necessary by the suppression of the sedile in those pictures. The feet were nailed either the one above the other by means of a single nail, which would explain the epithet τρίσηλος , three-nailed, given to the cross by Nonnus, in his versified paraphrase of John's Gospel (4th century), or the one beside the other, which generally demanded four nails in all, as Plautus seems to say, but might also be executed with three, if we suppose the use of a nail in the form of a horse-shoe having two points. Was the sole of the foot supported on the wood by means of a very full bend of the knee, or was the leg in its whole length laid to the cross, so that the feet preserved their natural position? Such details probably varied at the caprice of the executioner.

The crucified usually lived twelve hours, sometimes even till the second or third day. The fever which soon set in produced a burning thirst. The increasing inflammation of the wounds in the back, hands, and feet; the congestion of the blood in the head, lungs, and heart; the swelling of every vein, an indescribable oppression, racking pains in the head; the stiffness of the limbs, caused by the unnatural position of the body; these all united to make the punishment, in the language of Cicero ( in Verr. 5:64), crudelissimum teterrimumque supplicium.

From the beginning, Jesus had foreseen that such would be the end of His life. He had announced it to Nicodemus ( Joh 3:14 ), to the Jews ( Luk 12:32 ), and once and again to His disciples. It was the foresight of this which had caused His agony in Gethsemane. No kind of death was so fitted to strike the imagination. For this very reason, no other was so well fitted to realize the end which God proposed in the death of Christ. The object was, as St. Paul says (Romans 3:0), to give to the sinful world a complete demonstration ( ἔνδειξις ) of the righteousness of God ( Luk 23:25-26 ). By its cruelty, a death of this sort corresponds to the odiousness of sin; by its duration, it leaves the crucified one time to recognise fully the right of God; lastly, its dramatic character produces an impression, never to be effaced, on the conscience of the spectator.

Of all known punishments, it was the cross which must be that of the Lamb of God.

Verses 26-32

1 st. Luke 23:26-42.23.32. The punishment required to be inflicted outside the city ( Lev 24:14 ); it was the type of exclusion from human society (Hebrews 13:0). Joh 19:17 informs us that Jesus went out of the city bearing His cross Himself, according to custom ( Mat 10:38 ). But we are left in ignorance of the motive which soon led the Roman soldiers charged with the execution to lay hold of Simon of Cyrene for this office. Did Jesus faint under the burden, or did Simon testify his sympathy with Him rather too loudly; or was there here one of those abuses of military power which are readily indulged in the case of a foreigner? We cannot tell. Cyrene, the capital of Libya, had a numerous Jewish population, many of whom came to settle at Jerusalem ( Act 6:9 ). It is natural to conclude from the words, coming out of the country, that he was returning to the city after his work. It was not therefore a holy day. Langen answers, it is true, that he might merely have been taking a walk! Mar 15:21 proves that this event became a bond of union between Simon and the Saviour, and that he soon entered into the Church with his family. He afterwards settled at Rome with his wife and two sons ( Rom 16:13 ).

Vers. 27-32 are peculiar to Luke. In Luk 23:27 we see popular feeling breaking out through the mouth of the women, not, as M. de Pressensé thinks, those who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee, but inhabitants of Jerusalem.

The sayings of Jesus testify to His entire self-forgetfulness; they contain an allusion to Hosea 10:8. The meaning of Luk 23:31 appears to be that indicated by Bleek: the green wood is Jesus led to death as a rebel, notwithstanding His constant submission to the Gentile authorities; the dry wood is the Jewish people, who, by their spirit of revolt, will, with much stronger reason, bring down on themselves the sword of the Romans. The more contrary to nature it is that Jesus should die as a rebel, the more is it in keeping with the nature of things that Israel should perish for rebellion. Thus Jesus makes the people aware of the falsehood which ruled His condemnation, and the way in which God will take vengeance. No doubt, behind the human judgment which visits the nation, there is found, as in all similar sayings (comp. Luke 3:9, etc.), the divine judgment reserved for each individual. This last reference is demanded by the connection of Luke 23:30-42.23.31. The figure of the green wood and the dry is borrowed from Ezekiel 21:3-26.21.8.

The two malefactors were probably companions of Barabbas. This accumulation of infamy on Jesus was owing perhaps to the hatred of the rulers. God brought out of it the glory of His Son.

Verses 26-46

We divide this piece into three parts: the way to the cross ( Luk 23:26-32 ); the crucifixion ( Luk 23:33-38 ); the time passed on the cross (39-46).

Verses 33-38

2 d. Luke 23:33-42.23.38. Is the spot where Jesus was crucified that which is shown for it at the present day in the enclosure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? The question does not seem yet decided. Though this place is now within the city enclosure, it might not have been so then.

The name place of the skull (skull, in Hebrew גֻּלְֹגּלֶת , H1653, in Aramaic גּוּלְגַּלְתָּא , from גָּלַל , H1670, to roll) does not come from the skulls of the condemned which remained lying there; this would require the plural: the place of skulls; besides, unburied bones would not have been left there. The name is rather to be traced to the bare rounded form of the hill.

Matthew and Mark relate here that Jesus refused the stupifying draught which was offered Him. According to Mark, it was aromatic wine; according to Matthew, vinegar mingled with gall.

Of the seven sayings which Jesus uttered on the cross, the first three refer to the persons surrounding Him

His enemies, His companion in punishment, and those whom He loves most tenderly, His mother and His friend; they are, as it were, His will. The three which follow: “ My God, my God,...; I thirst; it is finished,” refer to His sufferings and the work which is being finished; the first two, to the sufferings of His soul and of His body; the third, to the result gained by this complete sacrifice. Finally, the seventh and last: “ Father, into Thy hands...,” is the cry of perfect confidence from His expiring heart in its utmost weakness. Three of those seven sayings, all three words of grace and faith, are related by Luke, and by him only.

The prayer of Luk 23:34 is wanting in some MSS. This omission is probably the result of accident; for the oldest translations, as well as the great majority of MSS., guarantee its authenticity; and the appeal of the thief for the grace of Jesus, a few moments later, cannot be well explained, except by the impression produced on him by the hearing of this filial invocation.

The persons for whom this prayer is offered cannot be the Roman soldiers, who are blindly executing the orders which they have received; it is certainly the Jews, who, by rejecting and slaying their Messiah, are smiting themselves with a mortal blow ( Joh 2:19 ). It is therefore literally true, that in acting thus they know not what they do. The prayer of Jesus was granted in the forty years' respite during which they were permitted, before perishing, to hear the apostolic preaching. The wrath of God might have been discharged upon them at the very moment.

The casting of the lot for the garments of Jesus ( Luk 23:34 ) belongs to the same class of derisivé actions as those related Luk 23:35 et seq. By this act the prisoner became the sport of his executioners. The garment of the cruciarii belonged to them, according to the Roman law. Every cross was kept by a detachment of four soldiers, a τετράδιον ( Act 12:4 ). The plural κλήρους , lots, is taken from the parallels. The lot was twice drawn, first for the division of the four nearly equal parts into which the garments of Jesus were divided (cloak, cap, girdle, sandals), then for His robe or tunic, which was too valuable to be put into one of the four lots.

The word θεωρεῖν , beholding ( Luk 23:35 ), does not seem to indicate a malevolent feeling; it rather forms a contrast with what follows. The words σὺν αὐτοῖς , with them, must be rejected from the text. The meaning of the term, the chosen of God, is, that the Christ is He on whose election rests that of the entire people.

The mockeries of the soldiers apply to Jewish royalty in itself, more than to Jesus personally (John 19:5; Joh 19:14-15 ). It has often been thought that the wine which the soldiers offered to Jesus was that which had been prepared for themselves ( ὄξος , a common wine); but the sponge and the rod of hyssop which are on the spot leave no doubt that it was intended to allay the sufferings of the prisoners. It was perhaps the same draught which had been offered to them at the beginning of the crucifixion. The soldiers pretend to treat Jesus as a king, to whom the festive cup is presented. Thus this derisive homage is connected with the ironical inscription (not in regard to Jesus, but in regard to the people) placed on the cross ( Luk 23:38 ). It is this connection of ideas which is expressed by the ἦν δὲ καί , there also was. By this inscription, so humbling to the Jews, Pilate took vengeance for the degrading constraint to which they had subjected him by forcing him to execute an innocent man. The mention of the three languages is an interpolation taken from John.

Verses 39-46

3 d. Luke 23:39-42.23.46. Matthew and Mark ascribe the same jestings to the two thieves. The partisans of harmony at any price think that they both began with blasphemy, and that one of them afterwards came to himself. In any case, it must be assumed that Matthew and Mark did not know this change of mind; otherwise, why should they not have mentioned it? But is it not more natural to hold that they group in categories, and that they are ignorant of the particular fact related by Luke? How had this thief been touched and convinced? Undoubtedly he had been struck all at once with the contrast between the holiness which shone in Jesus and of his own crimes ( Luk 23:40-41 ). Then the meekness with which Jesus let Himself be led to punishment, and especially His prayer for His executioners, had taken hold of his conscience and heart. The title Father, which Jesus gave to God at the very moment when God was treating Him in so cruel a manner, had revealed in Him a Being who was living in an intimate relation to Jehovah, and led him to feel His divine greatness. His faith in the title King of the Jews, inscribed on His cross, was only the consequence of such impressions. The words οὐδὲ σύ , not even thou ( Luk 23:40 ), which he addresses to his companion, allude to the difference of moral situation which belongs to them both, and the railers with whom he is joining: “Thou who art not merely, like them, a spectator of this punishment, but who art undergoing it thyself.” It is not for him, who is on the eve of appearing before the divine tribunal, to act as the profane. ῞Οτι , because, refers to the idea contained in φοβῇ : “Thou at least oughtest to fear...; for...”

The prayer which he addresses to Jesus ( Luk 23:42 ) is suggested to him by that faith in an unlimited mercy which had been awaked in him by hearing the prayer of Jesus for His executioners. It seems to me probable that the omission of the word Κύριε , Lord, in the Alex., arises from the mistake of the copyist, who was giving the prayer of the thief from memory, and that the transformation of the dative τῷ ᾿Ιησοῦ into the apostrophe ( ᾿Ιησοῦ ) was the effect of this omission. The touching cry, Remember me! finds its explanation in that community of suffering which seems to him henceforth to establish an indissoluble bond between Jesus and him. Jesus cannot forget him who shared His punishment. The expression, coming in His kingdom, ἐν τῆ βασιλείᾳ (not for His kingdom, εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν ), denotes His Messianic return with divine splendour and royal majesty some time after His death. He does not think of the possibility of the body of Jesus being raised.

In our Lord's answer, the word to-day stands foremost, because Jesus wishes to contrast the nearness of the promised happiness with the remote future to which the prayer of the thief refers. To-day, before the setting of the sun which is shining on us. The word paradise seems to come from a Persian word signifying park. It is used in the form of פַּרַדֵּס , H7236 (Ecclesiastes 2:5; Son 4:13 ), to denote a royal garden. In the form παράδεισος , it corresponds in the LXX. to the word פַּרַדֵּס , H7236, garden (Genesis 2:8; Gen 3:1 ). The earthly Eden once lost, this word paradise is applied to that part of Hades where the faithful are assembled; and even in the last writings of the N. T., the Epistles and the Apocalypse, to a yet higher abode, that of the Lord and glorified believers, the third heaven, 2 Cor. xi Luke 1:4; Revelation 2:7. It is paradise as part of Hades which is spoken of here.

The extraordinary signs which accompanied the death of Jesus ( Luk 23:44-45 ) the darkness, the rending of the veil of the temple, and according to Matthew, the earthquake and the opening of several graves, are explained by the profound connection existing, on the one side between Christ and humanity, on the other between humanity and nature. Christ is the soul of humanity, as humanity is the soul of the external world. We need not take the words, over all the earth, in an absolute sense. Comp. Luke 21:23, where the expression ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς , a weaker one it is true, evidently refers to the Holy Land only. The phenomenon in question here may and must have extended to the surrounding countries. The cause of this loss of light cannot have been an eclipse; for this phenomenon is impossible at the time of full moon. It was perhaps connected with the earthquake with which it was accompanied; or it may have resulted from an atmospheric or cosmical cause. This diminution of the external light corresponded to the moral darkness which was felt by the heart of Jesus: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? This moment, to which St. Paul alludes (Galatians 3:13: “ He was made a curse for us ”), was that at which the Paschal lamb was slain in the temple.

It is difficult to decide between the two readings, Luke 23:45: “And the sun was darkened” (T. R.); “And the sun failing.” In any case, it is the cause of the phenomenon related Luke 23:44, mentioned too late. Luke omits the earthquake; he had other sources.

The rending of the veil, mentioned by the three Syn., should probably be connected with this physical commotion. Is the veil referred to that which was at the entrance of the Holy Place, or that which concealed the Holy of Holies? As the second only had a typical sense, and alone bore, strictly speaking, the name καταπέτασμα (Philo calls the other κάλυμμα ), it is more natural to think of the latter. The idea usually found in this symbolic event is this: The way to the throne of grace is henceforth open to all. But did not God rather mean to show thereby, that from that time the temple was no longer His dwelling-place? As the high priest rent his garment in view of any great offence, so God rends the veil which covers the place where He enters into communion with His people; that is to say, the Holy of Holies is no more; and if there is no Holy of Holies, then no Holy Place, and consequently no court, no altar, no valid sacrifices. The temple is profaned, and consequently abolished by God Himself. The efficacy of sacrifice has henceforth passed to another blood, another altar, another priesthood. This is what Jesus had announced to the Jews in this form: Put me to death, and by the very deed ye shall destroy the temple!

Jewish and Christian tradition has preserved the memory of analogous events which must have happened at this period. In the Judeo-Christian Gospel quoted by Jerome ( in Mat 27:51 ), it was related that at the time of the earthquake a large beam lying above the gate of the temple snapped asunder. The Talmud says that forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem the gates of the temple opened of their own accord. Johanan Ben Zacchai ( יוֹחָנָן is חָנַן , H2858, Anna, with the name of Jehovah prefixed) rebuked them, and said: Temple, wherefore dost thou open of thyself? I see thereby that the end is near; for it is written ( Zec 11:1 ), “Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars.”

At the time of the eclipse mentioned above, a great earthquake destroyed part of the city of Nice, in Bithynia. This catastrophe may have been felt even in Palestine.

Those phenomena, which are placed by Luke before the time of our Lord's death, are placed by Matthew and Mark immediately after. Another proof of the difference of their sources.

Here should come the two sayings mentioned by John: I thirst, and: It is finished. Perhaps the words: When He had cried with a loud voice ( Luk 23:46 ), include the saying, It is finished, which immediately preceded the last breath. But the participle φωνήσας has probably no other meaning than the verb εἶπε : “Raising His voice, He said.” The words: When He had cried with a loud voice, in Matthew and Mark, refer rather to the last saying uttered by Jesus according to Luke: Father, into thy hands...The latter expresses what John has described in the form of an act: He gave up His spirit.

The last saying is a quotation from Psalms 31:0. The fut. παραθήσομαι , I shall commit, in the received reading, is probably borrowed from the LXX. The fut. was natural in David's mouth, for death was yet at a distance; he described the way in which he hoped one day to draw his last breath. But the present is alone in keeping with the actual circumstances of Jesus. At the moment when He is about to lose self-consciousness, and when the possession of His spirit escapes from Him, He confides it as a deposit to his Father. The word Father shows that His soul has recovered full serenity. Not long ago He was struggling with the divine sovereignty and holiness ( my God, my God!). Now the darkness is gone; He has recovered His light, His Father's face. It is the first effect of the completion of redemption, the glorious prelude of the resurrection.

Keim does not accept as historical any of the seven sayings which Jesus is said to have uttered on the cross. The prayer for his executioners has no meaning either in regard to the Gentile soldiers, who were merely blind instruments, or in respect of the Jews, to whom He had just announced divine judgment. Besides, silence suits Jesus better than a forced and superhuman heroism. The story of the thief is exploded by the fact, that it was impossible for him to have known the innocence and the future return of Jesus, and that Jesus should have promised him paradise, which is in the hand of the Father. The saying addressed to John and Mary is not historical; for those two were not at the foot of the cross (Syn.), and John never had a house to which to take Mary. The prayer: My God, my God, is only an importation of Psalms 22:0 into the account of the Passion; Jesus was too original to borrow the expression of His feelings from the O. T. The same reason disproves the authenticity of the last saying: Father, into Thy hands, borrowed from Psalms 31:0. The It is finished of John is only the summary expression of the dogmatics already put by the author into the mouth of Jesus in His last discourses. The historic truth is thus reduced to two cries of Jesus: one of pain, which John has translated, not without reason, into I thirst; and a last cry, that of death. This silence of Jesus forms, according to Keim, the real greatness of His death.

The prayer of Jesus and His threatening are not more contradictory than divine justice and human intercession. There is room in history for the effects of both.

The prophetic form in which Jesus clothes the expression of His thoughts takes nothing from their originality. They spring from the depths of His being, and meet with expressions which are familiar to Him, and which He employs instinctively.

John here, as throughout his Gospel, completes the synoptics.

We think we have shown how the prayer of the thief is psychologically possible. It is doing too much honour to the primitive Church to ascribe to her the invention of such sayings. If she had invented, she would not have done so in a style so chaste, so concise, so holy; once more compare the apocryphal accounts.

Verses 47-49

Third Cycle: Close of the Account of the Passion, Luke 23:47-42.23.56 .

Vers. 47-49. These verses describe the immediate effects of our Lord's death, first on the Roman centurion ( Luk 23:47 ), then on the people ( Luk 23:48 ), lastly on the followers of Jesus ( Luk 23:49 ).

Mark says of the centurion: When he saw. These words relate to the last cry of Jesus and to the event of His death. In Matthew and Luke this same expression refers to all the events which had just passed.

Luke gives the saying of this Gentile in the simplest form: This was a righteous man; that is to say: He was no malefactor, as was supposed. But this homage implied something more; for Jesus having given Himself out to be the Son of God, if He was a righteous man, must be more than that. Such is the meaning of the centurion's exclamation in the narratives of Matthew and Mark. Twice on the cross Jesus had called God His Father; the centurion could therefore well express himself thus: He was really, as He alleged, the Son of God!

As the centurion's exclamation is an anticipation of the conversion of the Gentile world, so the consternation which takes possession of the Jews on witnessing the scene ( Luk 23:48 ) anticipates the final penitence and conversion of this people (comp. Zec 12:10-14 ). The word θεωρία , that sight, alludes to the feeling of curiosity which had attracted the multitude.

Among the acquaintance of Jesus spoken of Luk 23:49 there must have been some of His apostles. This is the necessary inference from the word πάντες , all. Μακρόθεν , afar off, discovers the fear which prevailed among them. John and Mary had come nearer the cross ( Joh 19:26-27 ).

Luke does not name till later any of the women present. Matthew and Mark here designate Mary Magdalene, of whom John also speaks; Mary the mother of James and Joses, probably the same whom John calls Mary the wife of Cleopas, and aunt of Jesus; with the mother of the sons of Zebedee, whom Mark calls Salome, and whom John leaves unmentioned, as he does when members of his own family are in question.

The Syn. do not speak of the mother of Jesus. We ought probably to take in its literal sense the words: “ From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” ( Joh 19:27 ). The heart of Mary was broken on hearing the deeply tender words which Jesus had spoken to her, and she withdrew that same hour, so that she was not present at the end of the crucifixion, when the friends of Jesus and the other women came near. Εἰστήκεισαν , they stood, is opposed to ὑπέστρεφον , they returned ( Luk 23:48 ). While the people were leaving the cross, His friends assembled in sight of Jesus. The words: beholding these things, refer not only to the circumstances attending the death of Jesus, but also, and above all, to the departure of the terrified multitude. This minute particular, taken from the immediate impression of the witnesses, betrays a source in close connection with the fact.

Verses 50-54

Vers. 50-54. The Burial of Jesus.

According to John, the Jewish authorities requested Pilate to have the bodies removed before the beginning of the next day, which was a Sabbath of extraordinary solemnity. For though Jesus and His companions in punishment were not yet dead, and though the law Deu 21:22 did not here apply literally, they might have died before the end of the day which was about to begin, and the day be polluted thereby all the more, because, it being a Sabbath, the bodies could not be removed.

The crucifragium, ordered by Pilate, was not meant to put the condemned immediately to death, but only to make it certain, which allowed of their being taken from the cross. Thus is explained the wonder of Pilate, when Joseph of Arimathea informed him that Jesus was already dead ( Mar 15:44 ).

The secret friends of our Lord show themselves at the time of His deepest dishonour. Already the word finds fulfilment ( 2Co 5:14 ): “ The love of Christ constraineth us. ” Each evangelist characterizes Joseph in his own way. Luke: a counsellor good and just; he is the καλὸς κᾀγαθός , the Greek ideal. Mark: an honourable counsellor; the Roman ideal. Matthew: a rich man; is this not the Jewish ideal? Luke, moreover, brings out the fact, that Joseph had not agreed to the sentence ( βουλή ), nor to the odious plan ( πράξει ) by which Pilate's consent had been extorted. ᾿Αριμαθαῖα is the Greek form of the name of the town Ramathaim ( 1Sa 1:1 ), Samuel's birthplace, situated in Mount Ephraim, and consequently beyond the natural limits of Judaea. But since the time spoken of in 1Ma 11:34 , it had been reckoned to this province; hence the expression: a city of the Jews. As to Joseph, he lived at Jerusalem; for he had a sepulchre there.

The received reading ὃς καὶ προσεδέχετο καὶ αὐτός , who also himself waited, is probably the true one; it has been variously modified, because the relation of the also himself to the other friends of Jesus who were previously mentioned ( Luk 23:49 ) was not understood; by the double καί , Luke gives prominence to the believing character of Joseph, even when no one suspected it.

Mark ( Mar 15:46 ) informs us that the shroud in which the body was wrapped was bought at the same time by Joseph. How could such a purchase be made if the day was Sabbatic, if it was the 15th Nisan? Langen answers that Exo 12:16 made a difference, so far as the preparation of food was concerned, between the 15th Nisan and the Sabbath properly so called, and that this difference might have extended to other matters, to purchases for example; that, besides, it was not necessary to pay on the same day. But the Talmud reverses this supposition. It expressly stipulates, that when the 14th Nisan fell on the Sabbath day, it was lawful on that day to make preparation for the morrow, the 15th ( Mischna Pesachim, 3.6 et al.), thus sacrificing the sacredness of the Sabbath to that of the feast day. Could the latter have been less holy! There is no ground for alleging that the authorization of Exodus 12:0 extended beyond the strict limits of the text.

According to the Syn., the circumstance which determined the use of this sepulchre was, that it belonged to Joseph. According to John, it was its nearness to the place of punishment, taken in connection with the approach of the Sabbath. But those two circumstances are so far from being in contradiction, that the one apart from the other would have no value. What influence could the approach of the Sabbath have had in the choice of this rocky sepulchre, if it had not belonged to one of the friends of Jesus? The Syn. do not speak of the part taken by Nicodemus in the burial of Jesus. This particular, omitted by tradition, has been restored by John. It is of no consequence whether we read in Luke 23:54, παρασκευῆς or παρασκευή . The important point is, whether this name, which means preparation, denotes here the eve of the weekly Sabbath ( Friday), or that of the Passover day (the 14th Nisan). Those who allege that Jesus was crucified on the 15th take it in the first sense; those who hold it to have been on the 14th, in the second. The text in itself admits of both views. But in the context, how can it be held, we would ask with Caspari (p. 172), that the holiest day of the feast of the year, the 15th Nisan, was here designated, like any ordinary Friday, the preparation for the Sabbath?

No doubt Mark, in the parall., translates this word by προσάββατον , day before Sabbath ( Mar 15:42 ). But this expression may mean in a general way: the eve of Sabbath or of any Sabbatic day whatever. And in the present case it must have this latter sense, as appears from the ἐπεί , because. Mark means to explain, by the Sabbatic character of the following day, why they made haste to bury the body; it was the pro-Sabbath. What meaning would this reason have had, if the very day on which they were acting had been a Sabbatic day?

Mat 27:62 offers an analogous expression. In speaking of Saturday, the morrow after the death of Jesus, Matthew says: “the next day, that followed the preparation. ” We have already called attention to this expression ( Comment. sur Jean, t. ii. p. 638). “If this Saturday,” says Caspari (p. 77), “had been an ordinary Sabbath, Matthew would not have designated it in so strange a manner. The preparation in question must have had a character quite different from the preparation for the ordinary Sabbath. This preparation day must have been so called as a day of special preparation, as itself a feast day; it must have been the 14th Nisan.”

The term ἐπέφωσκε , was beginning to shine, is figurative. It is taken from the natural day, and applied here to the civil day.

Verses 55-56

Vers. 55, 56. The embalming of Jesus having been done in haste, the women proposed to complete it. This same evening, therefore, they prepared the odoriferous herbs ( ἀρώματα ) and the perfumed oils ( μύρα ) necessary for the purpose; and the hour of the Sabbath being come, they rested.

Once more, what would be the meaning of this conduct if that very day had been Sabbatic, the 15th Nisan? Evidently it was yet the 14th; and the 15th, which was about to begin, was at once the weekly Sabbath and the first Passover day, and so invested with double sacredness, as John remarks ( Luk 19:31 ).

Mark says, somewhat differently ( Luk 16:1 ), that they made their preparations when the Sabbath was past, that is to say, on the morrow in the evening. No doubt they had not been able to finish them completely on the Friday before 6 o'clock afternoon.

The καί of the T. R. before γυναῖκες , Luke 23:55, is evidently a corruption of αἱ .

It has been asked how, if Jesus predicted His resurrection, the women could have prepared to embalm His body. But we have seen the answer in the case of the converted thief: they expected a glorious reappearance of Jesus from heaven after His death, but not the reviving of His body laid in the tomb.

A feeling of pious and humble fidelity is expressed in the conduct of the women, as it is described by Luke in the touching words: “ And they rested according to the commandment. ” It was the last Sabbath of the old covenant. It was scrupulously respected.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on Luke 23". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gsc/luke-23.html.