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Bible Commentaries
Luke 23

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Verses 1-5

Before Pilate

There is no one who takes the side of the Lord. They all stand up against Him and together they bring Him before Pilate (who was governor of Palestine from 26-35 AD). The Lord allows them to deal with Him without resisting or defending Himself (Isaiah 53:7). No threatening language comes out of His mouth. His surrender into the hands of His enemies is impressive.

When they stand before Pilate, the accusations are released in all their intensity. They must and will show Pilate what a great criminal he has before him. Cunning as they are, before Pilate they do not accuse the Lord of religious transgressions, but of political transgressions.

Every accusation is – how could it be otherwise – a conscious, coarse lie. The leaders of the people act solely for their own sake. People who do so use all possible means to safeguard their own interests. If the truth must killed for that, they will deal with Him Who is the truth.

The Lord Jesus has not misled the people anywhere, but has insisted in every preaching on submission to God. Those who in reality cannot bend under the Roman yoke and from time to time erupt in fierce resistance, are the prosecutors who stand at the forefront here to express their ‘loyalty’ to the Romans.

Also that He would have forbidden to pay taxes to Caesar, is a direct lie. They know better from the spies they sent out not so long ago. The Lord has pressed them to the heart that they will give to the emperor what is of the emperor and no less to God what is of God (Luke 20:20-Lamentations :). That He says of Himself that He is Christ, a King, is true and therefore cannot be called an accusation. This is only small compared to the blindness of the unbelief that denies their own Messiah. By the way, did He not leave them when they wanted to make Him King (John 6:15)?

Pilate goes into the last accusation, because it is the only accusation that is of interest to him. He asks the Lord a question about this. He does not ask if He is a King, but if He is “the King of the Jews”. That is not how the Jews want to call Him, but Pilate does so. The Lord answers his question in the affirmative.

After everything Pilate has heard from both the chief priests and the Lord, he comes to the conclusion that he cannot find guilt in “this man”. The expression ‘man’ for the Lord Jesus emphasizes that it is about Him as the true Man of God. It is the first testimony of the innocence of “this man” of the six testimony’s listed in this chapter (Luke 23:4; Luke 23:14Luke 23:15; Luke 23:22Luke 23:41; Luke 23:47).

He is the Sinless One. He is innocent and so Pilate should have let the Lord go. He doesn’t do that. He knows the feelings of the people and their rebelliousness. That is why he operates carefully, taking care not to do anything they necessarily don’t want to do.

The leaders of the hate campaign have no intention of accepting Pilate’s statement. They bring forward that the Lord by His teachings sets the people against Roman authority. And, they underline, this is not an incident. This dangerous Man has been doing this for a long time and everywhere. He started it in Galilee and continued it in Judea. His influence is great, and so He must be silenced forever.

Verses 6-12

Before Herod

By indicating the area where the Lord taught, the leaders give Pilate a way out. He sees a possibility to get rid of this Prisoner without getting his hands dirty. He asks whether “the Man” is a Galilean. When Pilate hears that He indeed comes from Galilee, the area where Herod is in charge, he sends Him to Herod. The Lord does not have to leave Jerusalem for this, because Herod is in Jerusalem those very days.

For Herod, this is a great opportunity. He sees a long cherished wish come true. He had wanted to see the Lord for so long (Luke 9:9). He had already heard so much about Him. Now he gets the opportunity, without asking for it or searching for it. That makes him very glad. But it is not the kind of gladness with which a sinner comes to the Lord Jesus to be redeemed by Him of his sins (cf. Luke 19:6). It is the gladness of a spoiled child getting a fervently coveted toy to have fun with.

Herod would like to see some sign from the Lord. He wants the Lord to entertain him with some magic. Herod sees no more in Him than a person with extraordinary gifts, things that astonish a person. He is out for thrills. His conscience is completely out of order.

Many people look at the Lord Jesus in the way of Herod. He is a great miracle worker, at least that is what is claimed of Him, but they want to experience that for themselves. They visit manifestations of so-called divine power in the hope that it will bring them something. It can be about the kick and also about solving a mental or physical problem.

Herod does his utmost to get something out of the Lord, but the Lord does not say a word. He doesn’t go into anything. He will have looked at Herod during all his questions, but not with eyes like a flame of fire. The Lord stands before Herod in all the dignity of the perfectly Innocent. He is not in the hands of Herod, but in the hands of God.

Just like before Pilate, the leaders of the people also accuse the Lord vehemently when He stands before Herod. If Herod then gets nothing to see from Him, all that’s left is to have some fun with this silent Prisoner. Herod and his soldiers play a game with Him, showing their contempt for Him. They mock Him. When the game is over, Herod puts on Him a beautiful robe, a mocking robe. He has said that He is a King, hasn’t He? Then he will treat him like this. So Herod sends him back to Pilate.

In their common contempt for Christ, the sworn enemies find each other. The enmity between them melts like snow in the sun and they become friends. Hostility against Christ connects the hearts of people who natural enemies. In the darkness, the powers of darkness unite.

In these two persons who are both representatives of an empire, we recognize the future union between the beast coming up out of the earth, the antichrist, and the beast coming up out of the sea. Herod is a picture of the antichrist, the false king of the mass of apostate Jews (Revelation 13:11-Job :). Pilate is a picture of the beast, which is the dictator of the restored Western Roman Empire (Revelation 13:1-2 Samuel :).

Verses 13-16

Pilate Acknowledges the Innocence of the Lord

Pilate now tries through diplomatic means, through consultation and persuasion, to satisfy the instigators of this for him unfortunate event. He is trying to please everyone. For this consultation he summons the leaders of this squash. He repeats their accusation. They brought “this Man” to him on the accusation that He incites the people to rebellion. He points out that he has fulfilled his obligations by examining Him, even in their presence. It will be clear to them that he, Pilate, cannot be accused of bias or procrastination. But honest is fair, he must conclude that their accusation has no basis.

Thus, after Luke 23:4, he gives a second testimony of the innocence of the Lord. He immediately adds a third testimony of His innocence. He does this to reinforce his conclusion, hoping that the Jews will see the reasonableness of his arguments. Herod also found no guilt in Him, for he sent Him back without mentioning anything worthy of death.

Although Pilate should speak out ‘innocent’ and let go of Christ, he also wants to be for their sake in some way. He proposes to punish Him and then let Him go. It shows what a heartless man this Pilate is. He wants to befriend the emperor and not execute someone who is innocent. He also wants to keep the Jews as friends. They want to see blood. He wants to fulfill their wish by punishing Him. It seems to him that their thirst for blood will be appeased by then.

Verses 17-23

Barabbas Chosen

Luke goes from Pilate’s proposal to punish and to release the Lord immediately on with the statement that Pilate had to release someone at the feast. Pilate sees this as a new opportunity to do justice to his determination of the innocence of the Lord on the one hand, and to satisfy the blood thirst of the Jews on the other. (Releasing someone at the feast can be a habit that the Jews have negotiated as a symbol of their liberation from Egypt by God.)

Pilate believes that by using Barabbas as a comparison with Christ, he has someone they would rather not have seen at large. He is wrong again. Not that the Jews do not want to see blood, but they want to see the blood of Jesus and not only through scourging, but that it is shed in death. They preferred a murderer over the Prince of life. It is a repetition of the garden of Eden where man exchanged the God of life for him who is the murderer of man from the start (John 8:44).

Massively and hysterically they call out, led by the prince of darkness and by the whispers of leaders, their choice. It is clear: “Away with this man.” Without a cause He is hated (Psalms 69:4) and rejected. They are possessed by only one thing: His death. They want to see everyone free, as long as it is not Him.

The Lord’s silence during this whole spectacle is impressive. The silence of God is more terrible than His speech in discipline. God’s silence is as if someone were thrown into a pit (Psalms 28:1). Although the Lord says nothing, His presence reveals the hearts of all who are there. It is for or against Him. There is no one for Him.

The choice is without any doubt for Barabbas because the choice is made against Him. In Barabbas we see both characteristics of satan expressed. We see in his sedition the corruption of satan and we see his violence in the murder he committed. He is the crafty “serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3) and the “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). Barabbas means ‘son of the father’. It is clear that he is a son of the devil and a danger to the people. The fact that they choose him makes it clear how corrupt the condition of the people is.

With raised voice Pilate once again tries to bring the people to reason, because he wants to release Christ. It is all in vain. They have made the judgment and he must execute it, whether he will or not, and whether there is a legal basis or not.

Pilate still doesn’t give up. For the third time, he personally establishes the innocence of the Lord Jesus. He asks again: “What evil has this man done?”. Let them say it. To him the matter is clear. Once again, he makes his distorted proposal to punish the Lord, despite the fact that he has made such an abundant testimony of His innocence, before releasing Him.

The crowd cannot be persuaded. They continue to cry out their demand that He must be crucified. Law and truth have long since stumbled and been trampled underfoot (Isaiah 59:14). Nothing is important in the case of this process when it comes to the question of truth and law. The only thing is the outcome and that is certain: He must be crucified. They shouted over the voice of Pilate who gave in and did what they asked.

Verses 24-25

Delivered to Be Killed

Pilate makes a decision that defies all reasonableness. He would have thought he could not do anything else. The reality is that He chooses against the Lord. He too is a puppet of satan. At the same time, he is fully responsible for this verdict. As the representative of the ruling authority, it is his decision.

If Christ is the stake, all means are deployed to reject Him. That is what is happening here. The fact that it is God’s time to fulfil His counsel does not in any way change or diminish man’s responsibility. Man will never be able to provide a valid excuse for this greatest crime of all time.

Pilate can only continue on the path of injustice. Luke emphasizes what kind of man he releases and that on the basis of their demand. It shows the total blindness of man who chooses against Christ. Whoever rejects Christ chooses the man of violence and blood. Pilate delivers Christ to their will. They can do with Him whatever they want. He wants to be rid of it. He must put an end to this popular uproar. Peace must return.

But what about the peace for his conscience? According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Pilate committed suicide. Be that as it may, one day he will have to answer to the judgment seat of Christ for all his evil deeds. Then he is the accused, and a righteous judgment will be pronounced on him, and carried out on him.

Verses 26-32

On the Way to Golgotha

After this sham trial, with only a cry of distress instead of righteousness and blood-shed instead of justice (Isaiah 5:7), the Lord is “like a lamb that is led to slaughter “ (Isaiah 53:7). He has suffered so much from all the abuse that His strength is weakened in the way (Psalms 102:23). Again it turns out that He is truly Man.

However, the Jews do not want Him to die ahead of time (nor is it God’s will). That’s why they seize a man, a certain Simon of Cyrene. He just comes from the country. He will have looked strong and healthy. They place the cross of Christ on him to carry it behind Him. He is like the angel who has strengthened the Lord in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43).

Simon must not have been aware of the great honor that has fallen to him at the moment. Later he will have understood and appreciated it. What he does is what we as disciples of the Lord should do. The Lord has said that we should take the cross of reproach upon us daily (Luke 9:23). That means that we do not live for this life, but live for heaven, while on earth we have nothing to expect but death and on the way the scorn of the people.

It becomes be an entire parade. A great mass of the people follows the Lord. There are also women. Empathetic as women in general are, they see that He suffers very much and feel sorry for Him. They are mourning and lamenting about Him. Then the Savior stands still. He turns around and addresses Himself to the women.

For the first time after a long time we hear something coming out of His mouth again. What we hear makes it clear that He still thinks of the well-being of those who belong to Jerusalem. It must have been dead quiet for a moment, there in that street of Jerusalem. He is always Lord of the situation, even when He is seemingly the plaything of the feelings of hatred of His people and their leaders.

Then His impressive words sound, words that are meant to bring them to the right insight into the situation in which they find themselves. People who can’t keep their eyes dry because they are emotionally affected by so much suffering are people who don’t have an eye for their own needs. The Savior does not seek such compassion.

He warns the women of the judgment to come. God’s righteous wrath will erupt over this greatest of all injustice ever done on earth. But also hear the Savior’s grace. He seeks tears of sincere remorse about sins, not tears as a result of an emotional touch. He seeks sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), not sorrow that gives the human feeling a certain satisfaction.

He calls on the women to cry about themselves and their children. He wants them to understand the evil crime they are guilty of. The Son of God is about to be murdered, proving man’s supreme wickedness. There is no greater wickedness imaginable than the rejection of the Son of God Who, in love and grace, showed on earth Who God is.

The Lord predicts that there will be days when they will wish to be childless. What will come upon them and their children is terrible. The enemy will come to destroy Jerusalem and their children in them. They will wish they had never given birth to children when they experience how these children die in judgment. That judgment is imminent. The enemy, the Romans, who will destroy Jerusalem in the year 70, will rage fiercely and with unimaginable hardness. The inhabitants of Jerusalem will ask the mountains and hills to fall on them and cover them (Revelation 6:16), so that the enemy can no longer blame them for his cruelty.

The reason for these horrors is what they are doing to the green tree at this moment. The green tree symbolizes the Lord Jesus (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 52:8; cf. Psalms 102:24). In Him is life and His life is one and all fruit for God. They reject Him. If they reject Him, what will happen to the dry tree? The dry tree is a tree without life. It is Judaism without God, without fruit for Him. This dry wood will be burned in the fire of God’s judgment.

With Him, two criminals are led away to be killed just like Him. They are mentioned to indicate how much He is seen as a criminal. Of Him is spoken ill as if He were a criminal (cf. 1 Peter 3:16) and thus He is condemned, while no evil deed of Him can be mentioned (1 Peter 4:15). He is the One Who truly and only did good deeds. This is how He went through the land (Acts 10:38).

Verse 33

The Crucifixion

When they have reached the place called The Skull, that is the place of execution, He is crucified there, together with the criminals, one of whom is crucified on His right and the other on His left. It emphasizes that the Lord Jesus hangs in the middle as if He were the greatest criminal.

Luke describes the fact of the crucifixion in a single word, but what a world of pain is hidden in it. That pain is certainly physical, but above all mental. The Lord Jesus is not insensitive to the fact that His people give Him this place, the people He came to bless.

Verses 34-39

Prayer for His Enemies and Mocked

In the middle of the rejection we see how the Lord turns to His Father and asks Him to forgive His murderers because they don’t know what they are doing. Isn’t that an incomprehensible grace? No word of revenge comes over His lips, but a word out of which His love for this people radiates. The first crossword is one of forgiveness. He addresses Himself in this prayer to His Father.

On the basis of this intercession Peter makes his speech to the Jews after the Holy Spirit has been poured out (Acts 3:17). The conversion of Saul, the hater and persecutor of the Christians, also takes place on the basis of this prayer (1 Timothy 1:13). Would we have said that they did not know what they were doing? The Lord says it and therefore it is so. They did not know it in depth, otherwise they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).

While the Lord prays, the soldiers make a game of dividing up His garments. It was the only thing He left behind. The people are looking on and watch all. Even at the cross His enemies do not leave Him alone. With pleasure the rulers look at the result of their efforts. They managed to get rid of him. They continue to sneer at Him and challenge Him to save Himself. After all, He also saved others, didn’t He? Their remark that He has saved others is true. With this remark they testify of His work of grace among them, but it has done nothing in their hearts.

They mock the fact that He is the Christ of God. Let Him prove it by saving Himself. They say things of which they do not in any way suspect the truth. He is the Chosen One, although everything there speaks against it when He hangs on the cross as the Miserable and is an example of contempt and weakness.

It seems that God does not want to have anything to do with Him and it seems that the religious leaders are right that He is a deceiver. But it is precisely in these moments that He is pre-eminently the Chosen One of God, the Man Who completely answers everything God asks of a man. Because He wants to save others, He cannot save Himself.

The soldiers join in mocking Him. They are approaching and offer him sour wine. We may have to imagine that they bring the sour wine close to His lips, without Him really being able to touch it. This is a tantalus torment for one who is tortured by thirst. We read in Psalms that the Lord was tormented by thirst (Psalms 22:15). Luke does not mention how the Lord responds to this. To him it is about the image of man who, led by satan, turns against the Christ of God in the most horrible way.

While the rulers challenge the Lord to save Himself and thereby show that He is the Christ, the soldiers challenge Him to save Himself and thereby show that He is the King of the Jews. The inscription placed above Him as a mockery is: “This is the King of the Jews.” And so He is. In His shame His glory becomes manifested, despite man’s will to humiliate Him into the deepest depths. Soon He will reveal Himself as King.

For the third time, the mocking challenge of saving oneself sounds. This time it comes from one of the hanged criminals who calls upon Him as the Christ to do it and then at the same time redeem them. This criminal is only thinking of a liberation for the moment. It is not a question of a sincere heart, but a hurling abuse or blasphemy. This man too, so close to the gate of death, joins the blasphemers of the Lord. The hatred of the wicked man is so great, that even in his death agony he blasphemes the Lord.

Verses 40-43

Conversion of the Criminal

Then comes the reaction of the other crucified. He first also blasphemed the Lord Jesus with his colleague (Matthew 27:44). But during the hours on the cross something has changed in him through what he saw in Christ and also heard of him in his words “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). The grace of God has opened his eyes and worked in his conscience. He rebukes his fellow criminal and speaks of the fear of God. The judgment which they receive in the crucifixion is the same as the judgment which the Lord receives; only they have deserved it, He didn’t.

The first expression of his conversion is that he becomes a preacher of righteousness. It is proof that he is in God’s presence. He acknowledges the righteousness of the judgment, for he and the other evildoer have deserved it. He therefore does not ask the Lord for a miracle to free him from the consequences of his sins. From His mouth is heard the fifth testimony of the Lord’s innocence in this chapter. He declares that the Lord has done nothing wrong. It is as if he knows Him for a long time. He defends the Lord’s complete sinlessness against a mocker. Do we do the same when we hear that He is being blasphemed?

After his testimony to the other criminal, he turns to the Lord and asks to think of him when He enters His kingdom. He thinks of nothing but the Lord and his soul. He forgets his pain and the people around the cross. In all the agony of the cross and believing that the Lord Jesus is the Messiah, he does not seek relief from his bodily grief through Him, but asks Him to think of him when He comes in His kingdom. Although in this life he cannot be freed from the consequences of his crimes, he does seize the opportunity to be freed from God’s wrath and eternal punishment for sin.

His question expresses his faith in the resurrection of Christ. That is a greater faith than that of the disciples who did not believe it despite the times He said it. The criminal believes in the future glory of Christ as King. He sees more than the disciples saw at that time. He sees that the Lord Jesus will die, will rise up, will go to heaven, and that He will come back to establish His kingdom.

This is nothing but the work of the Holy Spirit, as it happens in every person who comes to conversion. A criminal who asks a crucified King to remember him, shows confidence in the grace of that King because He is more than a King. He is the Savior.

The Lord answers directly, without setting conditions, and gives him more than he asks for. He not only promises the criminal a place in the future realm, but also that he may already be with him today. If the Savior has taken the place of the sinner, the sinner may by grace share the place of the Savior with Him. It is not a place in the kingdom, but in paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7) to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23). Where He is, there is paradise, the paradise of God. This is a first indication that the spirits of the fallen asleep believers are in the blessed presence of the Savior.

This converted criminal is the first fruit of the Lord’s love in His work on the cross. In this conversion we see that conversion is a work of God’s grace, without any human achievement. He could do nothing but believe. This applies to any conversion. Everything that is needed and necessary to be saved has been accomplished by the Lord Jesus.

Verses 44-46

The Death of the Lord Jesus

At the sixth hour, which is mid-day, when the sun is high in the sky, it becomes completely dark. This is not a natural phenomenon, but a supernatural event, caused by God. The darkness continues for three hours.

The cause of darkness is the stopping of the sun’s shining. The sun withdraws its rays when Christ is made sin. Being made sin cannot go hand in hand with the sun’s rays. The Sun of righteousness is led into darkness. This happens so that the Lord Jesus may lay the foundation for peace between God and men. He is in the Gospel according to Luke the true peace sacrifice.

When the ninth hour has come, the veil of the temple house tears in two. The way to God is open. God, who lived in darkness, comes out to man to invite him to come to Him in the light. This can be done through the work of His Son.

After this glorious result, He can shout out the words with a loud voice: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Psalms 31:6). The work is finished. He can die and rest. The unshakable foundation of the kingdom of God has been laid.

Verses 47-49

Reactions to Dying

What happened makes a big impression on the centurion. He praises God, and from his mouth the sixth testimony of the innocence of the Lord Jesus sounds. The centurion also speaks about “this man”, after the way in which He is presented by Luke.

For the crowd it has been a spectacle, a distraction in the drudgery of everyday life. They go back home after they have seen what happened while beating their breasts. It is the expression of only an emotional affection without a convinced conscience. It is the same as with the lamentation of women in Luke 23:28. Such emotions are for a moment. Back home, they pick up the thread of everyday life. The impressions fade and disappear, without anything lastingly changing in their lives because of what they have seen.

This is how it went with the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, which was a big hit in 2004. In this movie, the Lord’s suffering has been turned into a spectacle, a disgusting show, through which many have been moved to tears and beaten their breasts (see appendix after Luke 24:53). Furthermore, it was just an evening of entertainment and after that they went back to the order of the day.

There are also others who have observed everything. Among them are the women who followed Him from Galilee. These women are of a different kind than the women of Luke 23:28. They are there out of love for the Lord. Yet they are at a distance. The Lord has been absolutely alone in suffering.

By the way, it is a characteristic of Luke that he regularly writes about women and their service. It is also remarkable that we do not read in any of the Gospels of women who have offended the Lord or participated in rebellion against Him.

Verses 50-56

The Burial

Now someone appears on stage who we haven’t heard of before. It is Joseph from the city of Arimathea. He is a member of the Council. Luke says of him that he is a good and righteous man. Luke also mentions that he did not participate in the hate campaign against the Lord. He may even have protested against their plans and their execution.

This man is a believer who, like the one criminal, looks forward to the kingdom of God. Joseph comes out of the hiddenness (John 19:38). He openly takes side for the dead Christ by going to Pilate and asking him for His body. It may take a long time before someone really choses for the Lord, but when there is real new life, the public confession comes.

Joseph takes the body of the Lord from the cross with the greatest caution. Then he wraps it in a piece of linen and places Him – not ‘it’, that is to say the body, but His Person – in a grave “where no one had ever lain“ (cf. Luke 19:30). When the Lord was born, He was wrapped in cloths. Now that He has died, He is wrapped in cloths again. The cloths consist of a piece of linen. This speaks of the perfectly righteous life of the Lord (cf. Revelation 19:8).

Everything is ready before the Sabbath starts. While everyone is busy preparing everything for the Feast of unleavened bread, the Lord is laid in the tomb. He will spend the Sabbath in the tomb. The day of rest thus becomes the symbol of the eternal rest that He has brought to all who believe in Him through His death.

Joseph also has spectators. They are the women who came with the Lord from Galilee. They stood by the cross and are now at the tomb. Their attachment to the Lord is great. They want to be where He is, whether He is on the cross or in the tomb. There is no trace of the disciples here.

In their love for Him, the women prepare spices and perfumes to bring them to Him as soon as possible after the Sabbath to care for His body. As faithful Jews, they first wait until the Sabbath is over, which they spend in rest according to the commandment.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Luke 23". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/luke-23.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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