Monday, June 5th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 23". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ luke-23.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 23". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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‘And the whole company of them rose up, and brought him before Pilate.’
The Sanhedrin as a whole then brought Him to Pilate. ‘Whole company’ is probably not to be taken literally. It may not have included dissenters, and Pilate would certainly not have been happy to see them all at once. Luke’s point is rather to involve ‘the whole Sanhedrin’ as a group (although in Luke 23:51 he mentions at least one member who did not agree with the verdict. There may well have been others). All were responsible for Him being brought to Pilate.
The chief priests remembered how He had hit at the Temple revenues by casting the traders from it, were angry at what they had heard of His suggestions that the Temple would be destroyed, and possibly feared that He might disturb the equilibrium with the Romans which was so much to their advantage (John 11:48-50). The Scribes and Pharisees were bitter because He showed up their teaching and refused to side with them and accept their complete authority on religious matters. The rich laymen were probably concerned lest anything be done that might disturb the maintenance of the status quo, securing their wealth and position. They would not feel that they could get involved in religious matters when the recognised religious experts, the ‘scholars’, were all seemingly against Jesus. Thus all for their own reasons were agreed that it was a good idea that He should be got rid of.
Jesus Is Brought before Pilate (23:1-7).
Having convinced themselves of His blasphemy the majority of the court now acted and brought Him to Pilate. But once again their perfidy is revealed. For they did not bring against Him the charge of blasphemy, or of claiming to be the Son of God, rather they twisted what He had said and turned it into a political charge. And in doing this they also twisted other evidence. They probably hoped that Pilate would give in to their request without taking too much trouble over it. After all, they were the recognised Jewish authorities, and Pilate had no reason for doubting their word. But for some reason Pilate was not compliant. One reason was probably because he was not on the best of terms with these Jewish leaders, and rather despised them, and was delighted to have the opportunity to annoy them. And secondly he appears to have sensed that there was something that was not quite right about the whole affair. For we do have to take into account the impression that Jesus would make on him.
Pilate would not seem a very good candidate to act as one who would defend Jesus. Philo describes him as unbending and callous in nature and speaks of him as, ‘a man of inflexible disposition, harsh and obdurate’. He makes clear that in his view he totally failed in the fulfilment of his official duties. But even such men occasionally come face to face with something that for a moment pierces their hard shell, and that was what, unknown to him, was about to happen to Pilate.
a And the whole company of them rose up, and brought Him before Pilate (Luke 23:1).
b And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ (the Messiah) a king (Luke 23:2).
c And Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3 a).
d And He answered him and said, “You say so” (Luke 23:3).
c And Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4).
b But they were the more urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judaea, and beginning from Galilee even to this place” (Luke 23:5).
a But when Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man were a Galilean. And when he knew that He was of Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem in these days (Luke 23:6-7).
Note that in ‘a’ He is brought before Pilate, and in the parallel He is brought to Herod. In ‘b’ an accusation is made against Him, and in the parallel a further accusation is made against Him. In ‘c’ Pilate questions Jesus and in the parallel says that he finds no fault in Him. While centrally in ‘d’ Jesus agrees that He is the King of the Jews.
Jesus Is Crucified And Rises Again (22:1-24:53).
We now come to the final Section of Luke which is also in the form of a chiasmus (see analysis below). Central in this final chiasmus is the crucifixion of Jesus. This brings out how central the crucifixion is in the thinking of Luke. As the Servant of the Lord He is to be numbered among the transgressors for their sakes (Luke 22:37). This is indeed what the Gospel has been leading up to, something that is further demonstrated by the space given to Jesus’ final hours. He has come to give His life in order to redeem men (Luke 21:28; Luke 22:20; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 20:28; Mark 10:45), after which He will rise again, with the result that His disciples are to receive power from on high (Luke 24:49) ready for their future work of spreading the word, so that through His death repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47). Note especially how closely the forgiveness of sins is connected with His suffering, death and resurrection. This belies the argument that Luke does not teach atonement, for without atonement there can be no forgiveness, and why else is it so closely connected with His suffering and death?
But another emphasis raises its head here. Right from the commencement of Jesus’ ministry Satan, the hidden but powerful cosmic adversary, had sought to destroy His ministry (Luke 4:1-13), and having failed in that he will now seek to destroy both Jesus Himself, and the band of twelve whom He has gathered around Him. Luke wants us to see that there are more than earthly considerations in view. To him this is a cosmic battle.
This final section may be analysed as follows:
a Satan enters into Jesus’ betrayer who plots His betrayal in return for silver (Luke 22:1-6).
b Jesus feasts with His disciples (Luke 22:7-22).
c They discuss who is the greatest, but learn that they are rather to be servants, for which reason they will sit at His table with responsibility for His people (Luke 22:23-28).
d Jesus comes to the Garden of Gethsemane where He shuns what He has to face but submits to His Father’s will. In contrast Peter is revealed to be empty and as lacking the power that will later come in fulfilment of Christ’ words (Luke 22:29-62).
e Jesus is exposed to the mockery of the soldiers and the verdicts of the chief priests and then of Pilate and Herod (Luke 22:63 to Luke 23:25).
f Jesus is crucified (as the King of the Jews, the Messiah) and judgement is forecast on Jerusalem (Luke 23:26-33).
e Jesus is exposed to the mockery of the chief priests (the rulers) and to the verdicts of the two thieves and the Roman centurion ( Luke 23:34-49).
d Jesus is brought to the Garden where He is buried, but defeats death, the tomb when opened proving to be empty in fulfilment of Christ’s words (Luke 23:50 to Luke 24:10).
c The risen Jesus sits at table with two of His disciples a prelude to their future (Luke 24:11-35).
b The risen Jesus feasts with His disciples (Luke 24:36-47).
a God’s Power will enter into His faithful disciples and they are to be His witnesses to His glory and triumph (in contrast with Satan entering His betrayer who sought His downfall) (Luke 24:48-53).
· ‘And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple, blessing God’ (Luke 24:53).
Note how in ‘a’ Satan enters into Judas to empower him to betray Jesus, and in the parallel the Holy Spirit will enter the other Apostles to empower them to be witnesses to Jesus. Judas is His betrayer, the others are His witness. In ‘b’ Jesus feasts with His disciples before He dies and shows them the bread and the wine, in the parallel He feasts with His disciples after the resurrection and shows them His hands and His feet. In ‘c’ they are to sit at His table, and in the parable two of His disciples sit with Him at table, symbolic of their future. In ‘d’ Jesus enters a Garden which will lead to His death, in the parallel He is brought into a Garden which will lead to His resurrection. In ‘e’ Jesus is exposed to the verdicts of the chief priests and rulers, and in the parallel He is exposed to the mockery of the chief priests and the thieves. But central to all in ‘f’ is His crucifixion as King of the Jews and Messiah.
The drama is in three stages:
· The time of preparation of His disciples for the future before His trial and crucifixion.
· The trial and crucifixion itself.
· The resurrection and preparation for the sending forth of His disciples to all nations.
This will be followed in Acts by a description of this outreach until it reached Rome itself. We would surely therefore expect that in this first part His words will include words of preparation for that future. That should be kept in mind in all our interpretation.
‘And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ (the Messiah) a king.’
The charge, based on what has gone before, is a travesty of misrepresentation. It was they who had said that He was Messiah the King, as He had pointed out to them. He had certainly not misled the nation, nor had they been able to prove so. And we actually know the basis on which He was being accused of forbidding the giving of tribute to Caesar, and that that charge was therefore totally false (Luke 20:21-25). Jesus neither sought to arouse an insurrection, nor did He forbid the payment of taxes.
But the charge was clever. All three counts were of a kind that would disturb Pilate. They probably thought that when challenged about the giving of tribute to Caesar Pilate might not like His theological reply. Pilate would not appreciate any suggestion of reluctance in the matter of taxes. That might thus count as a point against Him. The thought that He was stirring up trouble among the people would certainly be enough to disturb Pilate, and he might well think, why should they say such a thing if it did not have some truth in it? And claiming kingship was a charge that Pilate dare not be seen to treat lightly. They were in many ways astute men and were playing on his fears.
‘This man.’ We can almost hear the contempt in their voices.
‘Perverting our nation.’ From their point of view this was true, for He had only too successfully rebutted their teaching, but it was certainly not politically true. What they nevertheless wanted Pilate to think was that He was constantly stirring up trouble among the masses.
‘Christ (Messiah) a king.’ The last words are added for Pilate’s sake lest he fail to realise the political implications of a claim to Messiahship.
‘And Pilate asked him, saying, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him and said, “You say so.” ’
‘You?’ The word is emphasised. Pilate had expected them to haul in a glaring insurrectionist, the type that he knew exactly how to deal with. And now here was someone who was calm and fearless, who spoke to him quietly as man to man, who argued philosophy and who had a quality about Him that could not pass unnoticed. This was not at all what he had expected.
“Are you the King of the Jews?” This is very much an abbreviation of all that was said, but deals with the essential point. What Pilate overall wanted to know was what claims He did make, and whether it was true that He was claiming to be a King in opposition to Caesar and his appointee. Jesus replied by pointing out that it was all something that had arisen from people’s own ideas. The claim, in the way in which the court meant it, had not come from Him, it had come from Pilate himself, via the Sanhedrin. While then there was a sense in which He was a King, it was not in the way that everyone was saying. Whatever else was said (see John 18:33-38) it convinced Pilate, who was very experienced and no fool, that the charge was baseless. This man may be a clever arguer. He might even be more. But He was no revolutionary.
‘And Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no fault in this man.” ’
So Pilate went out to the chief priests and the crowds (for they would not enter his residence as it would have been seen as defiling at Passover time) and declared that as far as he could see the charges were baseless, and Jesus was innocent.
‘The chief priests.’ They were the ones who were now representing the whole Sanhedrin. The High Priest himself was a government appointee, with recognised, if limited, authority, and his relatives, those who ran the Temple which was of such importance to Jews everywhere, would be accepted by Pilate (however much he disliked them) as men of political importance. They had therefore been made the chief spokesmen.
‘The crowds.’ It should be emphasised that these ‘crowds’ were not composed of the people who had listened to Jesus in the Temple, or of Galileans. Those were still in their camps or lodgings, unaware of what was going on. These were probably local Jerusalemites who had gathered after the news got around of an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin, suggesting that an interesting case was in process, and very probably included supporters of the insurrectionists who were in custody and awaiting execution, who had come hoping to take advantage of Pilate’s regular release at Passover time of one ‘popular’ criminal in order to please the people.
‘But they were the more urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judaea, and beginning from Galilee even to this place.”
Fearful that Jesus might be released without charge, ‘they’ (the chief priests) tried to put pressure on Pilate. Their protests ‘grew stronger’. Did he not realise that this man was stirring up the whole country? And indeed had also previously done it in Galilee, which was as usual the source of all the trouble. With their contempt for Galilee they thought that this in itself should be enough to prove their case. Galilee was a hotbed of troublemakers and heretics.
‘But when Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man were a Galilean. And when he knew that he was of Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem in these days.’
At the mention of Galilee Pilate pricked up his ears. If the man was a Galilean then perhaps Herod would know what He was talking about. For he himself certainly did not. (Compare how Festus consulted with Agrippa - Acts 25:0). So he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem for the Passover, not so that Herod could try Him, but in order that he might investigate the matter and give his views on the matter.
‘Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was very, very glad, for he had for a long time been desirous to see him, because he had heard about him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by him.’
Instead of seriously going about the business of ascertaining the truth, Herod is revealed as more interested in seeing a show. The charges against Jesus meant little to him, but he had heard much about Him and had for a long time wanted to see Him for himself. After all He had something of a reputation in Galilee and Peraea over which Herod ruled. So his hope now was to see Jesus ‘perform’ and relieve the monotony of the hour.
The Hearing Before Herod (23:8-12).
In a few rapid strokes Luke brilliantly brings out what the hearing before Herod involved. Rather than being concerned about the rights and wrongs of the matter Herod is depicted as being more interested in getting Jesus to perform some wonders before him, than in arriving at a conclusion. Thus his questioning was apparently on a superficial scale, rather than a genuine attempt to arrive at the truth. Jesus in return knew exactly what was going on and treated him with contemptuous silence, and said nothing. He was not there to provide a spectacle, nor to perform wonders at Herod’s whim. (Had Luke just invented this hearing for the reasons suggested by some he would have made it very different)
The mention of the Scribes is significant. They had been irrelevant to Pilate, but they hoped to have greater influence on Herod. He was after all a half-Jew. He would be more likely, they hoped, to listen if they were present. But they did not really know their man.
a Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was very, very glad, for he had for a long time been desirous to see Him, because he had heard things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him (Luke 23:8).
b And he questioned Him in many words, but He answered him nothing (Luke 23:9).
c And the chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him (Luke 23:10).
b And Herod with his soldiers set him at nought, and mocked him, and arraying him in gorgeous apparel sent him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11).
a And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before they were at enmity between themselves (Luke 23:12).
Note that in ‘a’ Herod was delighted to see Jesus because he hoped that He would perform a miracle in front of him, and in the parallel a ‘miracle’ was performed because Pilate and Herod became friendly. In ‘b’ Jesus treated Herod and His accusers with disdain, and in the parallel He is in turn treated with disdain. Centrally in ‘c’ are the chief priests and scribes trying desperately to have Him accused. Here Luke is bringing out who is really to blame for all this.
‘And he questioned him in many words, but he answered him nothing.’
But all his attempts to make Jesus respond, and they were apparently considerable, failed. As a sheep that before His shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7, compare Acts 8:32). He had stated His case to Pilate, and had convinced him of His innocence. It was clear to Him what Herod’s view of the situation was and He saw no point in responding to attempts to bully or cajole Him into putting on a show. So He maintained a dignified silence. He was now resigned to the fact that justice was not available to Him whatever He did. He had them all summed up in His own mind, and knew them exactly for what they were.
‘And the chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him.’
Meanwhile, probably infuriated by Herod’s attitude, the chief priests and Scribes pressed home their case with as much force as they could muster, probably aware all the time that Herod was treating them with contempt. In fact he had no doubt had Jesus closely observed while He was preaching in Galilee and knew perfectly well that all the charges were false. Thus he was dismissing the claims as irrelevant, and making it obvious that he was doing so. The centrality of this verse in the chiasmus brings out the emphasis on who were the main perpetrators of the crime against Jesus, although it was only made possible because those mainly responsible for justice failed. Pilate was a shifting sand who had to constantly watch his back in case he was reported to Caesar, and in the end sought only expediency. Herod was a bored and irreligious ethnarch who wanted only to relieve the monotony of the occasion. Neither wanted to sentence Jesus. The ones who finally achieved this end, but tried to keep clear of the blame for it, were the chief priests and Scribes.
We see in this the fulfilment of one of Luke’s objectives, and that was to convince his readers that the high authorities appointed by Rome in both Judea and Galilee found no fault with Jesus politically. He had rather been crucified because of the hatred and jealousy of religious minded countrymen.
‘And Herod with his soldiers set him at nought, and mocked him, and arraying him in gorgeous apparel sent him back to Pilate.’
Having exhausted his attempts to get something out of Jesus Herod was no doubt convinced that He was after all a fraud, and so proceeded to make fun of Him. He is the only one of all those who were ‘trying’ Jesus who actually himself participated in this kind of treatment. The others had not interfered with it, but had not participated themselves (Matthew 26:67-68 probably has in mind the guards). It bring out Herod’s unfitness to rule. But his behaviour might well have hidden a sense of awe of Jesus, similar to the sense of awe he had had of John the Baptiser. This was probably his way of indicating that Jesus had no power over him, especially to Pilate, while at the same time confirming His innocence.
So he and his soldiers made a mockery of Jesus and humiliated Him, and then mockingly arraying His bleeding figure in royal robes as though He were a king, sent Him back to Pilate. But this act was significant. It was Herod’s callous way of indicating what his view was. Pilate could accept that his view was that the accusers were wrong and that in some kind of way, not to be taken too seriously, Jesus was a Messiah of sorts, but nothing to make a fuss about.
‘And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before they were at enmity between themselves.’
The interesting consequence of all this was that the enmity which had existed between Pilate and Herod was now broken down. Herod probably saw Pilate’s gesture as a recognition of his status (and we all like people who recognise out status) and Pilate was probably grateful that Herod had tried to help him out of a hole and had supported him against the accusers of Jesus.
But Luke’s mention of this had a twofold reason. Firstly it indicated that while Jesus might not have been willing to perform wonders before Herod, He had achieved what was truly a wonder, the reconciliation of two such opposite characters as Pilate and Herod, and secondly it emphasised why Jesus was here among men. He was present as the Prince of Peace.
‘And Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said unto them, “You brought to me this man, as one who perverts the people, and behold, I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this man touching those things of which you accuse him, no, nor yet Herod. For he sent him back to us, and behold, nothing worthy of death has been done by him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him.” ’
Jesus having been returned to him by Herod, Pilate again made his appeal to the chief priests (who would also have returned), the lay rulers and gathered crowds. He pointed out that Jesus had been thoroughly examined, both by himself and Herod, and had been found innocent on all charges. There were in fact no grounds for putting Him to death. His verdict therefore was that Jesus be lashed as a matter of course, a reminder that He should behave whether guilty of not, and then set free. Acts 23:9; Acts 26:31 ff may point to the fact that legal language is being used here.
He in fact probably based more faith in their willingness to take notice of Herod than was justified. To him Herod was a Jewish king. To the chief priests and Scribes he was an outsider thrusting himself on the Jews.
The lashing of a prisoner after trial, even when found innocent, was a regular occurrence. It was intended to make him think twice about being brought before the court again, and a warning to avoid the attention of the authorities.
‘And the people.’ The continuing reference to the people is intending to bring out the guilt of the whole unbelieving Jewish people with regard to Jesus’ death. Judaism had rejected Jesus. It was, of course, here only a small section of the people, and not at all representative, certainly excluding the many who believed on Him. But in Acts the division between those who believed and those who did not will be made clear, and in Luke’s eyes this crowd represented those who finally refused to believe, a position exemplified in Acts 12:0.
‘I, having examined him before you, found no fault in this man.’ Compare Luke 23:4; Luke 23:22 ’ Joh 18:38 ; John 19:4; John 19:6. The continual repetition of Jesus’ faultlessness suggests that Luke wants us to see a comparison with the Servant in Isaiah 53:9. It would also indicate to his readers that although He had been crucified, it was not because of any crime that He had committed.
Pilate’s Second Attempt To Clear Jesus And His Final Abject Surrender (23:13-25).
Having received the prisoner back with the confirmation from Herod that he found no fault in Jesus (Herod was not about to admit that the prisoner had refused to speak to him) Pilate made a further attempt to argue his way out of his position. He should, of course, have simply declared Jesus innocent and let Him go, and his very prevarication would thus have encourage Jesus’ accusers. They knew now that if they continued in what they were doing they would get their way, for Pilate had revealed that he was not willing to simply put their accusations to one side. Thus they pressed on to achieve the verdict that they required.
a Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said unto them, “You brought to me this man, as one who perverts the people, and behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things of which you accuse Him, no, nor yet Herod. For he sent Him back to us, and behold, nothing worthy of death has been done by Him. I will therefore severely beat Him, and release Him” (Luke 23:13-17).
b But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas (one who for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison) (Luke 23:18-19). Luke 23:20
c And Pilate spoke to them again, desiring to release Jesus (Luke 23:20).
d But they shouted, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him” (Luke 23:21).
e And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found no cause of death in Him. I will therefore flog Him and release Him” (Luke 23:22).
d But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that He might be crucified. And their voices prevailed (Luke 23:23).
c And Pilate gave sentence that what they asked for should be done (Luke 23:24).
b And he released him who for insurrection and murder had been cast into prison, whom they asked for (Luke 23:25 a).
a But Jesus he delivered up to their will (Luke 23:25 b).
Note that in ‘a’ Pilate declares Jesus doubly cleared, and yet in the parallel he hands Him over to His accusers. In ‘b’ they call for one guilty of insurrection and murder to be released, and in the parallel the one guilty of insurrection and murder is released. In ‘c’ Pilate desires to release Jesus (because he is innocent) and in the parallel he gives sentence that what the Jewish leaders asked for should be done. (Note how, as in ‘a’, the blame is laid squarely on the Jewish leaders). In ‘d’ the call comes for Him to be crucified, and in the parallel the call is repeated. And centrally in ‘e’ Pilate declares Jesus innocent. This can be compared with the central point in the previous analysis.
‘But they cried out all together, saying, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas (one who for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison).’
The chief priests’ men had been at work among the crowds who, knowing that a prisoner was due to be released according to Jewish custom (John 18:39), now called out as one that Barabbas be released to them and that Jesus should be sent to His fate. Barabbas was an insurrectionist awaiting execution for murder.
A first century Egyptian papyrus mentions a similar releasing of a prisoner by a Roman prefect as a result of popular demand. It is ironic that the name Barabbas can mean ‘son of the father’ (and that his name may also have been Jesus - Matthew 27:16-17 in B Theta f1 Origen). They had had to choose between the false and the true.
‘And Pilate spoke to them again, desiring to release Jesus.’
But Pilate, desirous of releasing Jesus because he was convinced of His innocence, made a further plea for his release. The ludicrous nature of the situation is revealed. The judge was pleading with the prosecutors. And this was so unlike Pilate, who had a reputation for acting abruptly and brutally, that it probably arose because of the fear that Pilate had of a complaint going to Caesar that he had failed in his duty of protecting Judea from a self-proclaimed king. It was now no longer a case of guilt or innocence and everyone knew it. It had become a political seesaw. The question was whether Pilate would do the right thing or would give in to political blackmail.
For Pilate’s problem was that in the past he had tried to brutally enforce his will on the Jews in a number of ways and, after revealing his cruelty, had had to back down, something which was no doubt already known to the emperor (or at least so he would suppose). Thus he was well aware that a complaint against him might mean the end of his career. And it was something that he dared not risk. Thus he did not want to provide them with any cause for complaint. Yet at the same time it was clear that his conscience also was at work. This man had made an impression on him, and he did not want to have to condemn Him. And on top of that he also did not want to give the Jewish leaders their way.
‘But they shouted, saying, “Crucify, crucify him.” ’
But by now the leaders, and the crowd who were present, scented blood and fanatically took up the cry, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him’. They knew now that Pilate had no way back. He had committed himself too far by his prevarication.
‘And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found no cause of death in him. I will therefore flog him and release him.” ’
But Pilate again made his plea. He was unwilling to yield Jesus to them. So he asked why they were doing this. What evil had the man done? And he emphasised again that he found no reason why He should be put to death, and again suggested His release after flogging, a flogging which he then carried out (John 19:10) probably hoping by that means to win the people’s pity for Jesus. It would tear Jesus’ back to shreds, and He would come out of it a pitiful and bloodied mess.
Such overall behaviour was undoubtedly unusual for Pilate, But from the other Gospels we obtain some idea of why this was. Not only had he been impressed by Jesus, Whose words and manner had probably stirred something decent within him, in Whom he probably saw the man that he himself would like to have been, and Whom he recognised to be in every way his superior (compare John 19:8-9), but his wife had also reinforced this idea by advising him that she had had a dream warning against him having anything to do with the man (Matthew 27:19). In a superstitious age that would not be something taken lightly. So unusually for him Pilate’s conscience was stirred, and he was unhappy about what was happening. There are times in the lives of even the most evil of men when such things happen. And it had happened to Pilate. He was filled with a kind of superstitious dread which was disturbing his conscience. This man had awakened him to a sense of his judicial responsibilities. And this is supported by the fact that he took the unusual step for a judge of seeking to remove from himself the blame for what had been done by a public washing of his hands by which he tried to shame his opponents (Matthew 27:24). Psychologically it all fits together. But his capitulation prevented this new sense of decency from taking root. he had his opportunity and failed to take it. And later he would suffer the very fate that he had tried to avoid. (We can compare him with Felix in Acts 24:25-27 who was brought to a similar situation and failed to take his opportunity).
These words of Pilate are central in the chiasmus. Luke wanted it made clear to all that the verdict of the authority who spoke on behalf of Rome was unequivocal. Jesus was free of all blame and should never have been crucified. And he wanted it known that He was without blemish and without spot.
‘But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that he might be crucified. And their voices prevailed.’
But the crowds had now been worked up to fever pitch, and they cried with strong voices that Jesus be crucified. So on both sides of the declarations of innocence (in Luke 23:22) comes the baying of the crowds for crucifixion (here and in Luke 23:21) There could be no doubt in the minds of Luke’s readers who really were to blame for what was about to happen. It was now apparent that the Jews would not take no for an answer, and Pilate’s weakness was again revealed. His momentary lapse into comparative decency was put behind him. ‘Their voices prevailed’.
‘And Pilate gave sentence that what they asked for should be done.’
And weakly and helplessly Pilate gave way and gave sentence that the crowd’s will might be done. His desire to release Jesus (Luke 23:20) had now collapsed before their pressure. He had given way to mob rule.
‘But Jesus he delivered up to their will.’
What words can be found to comment on this statement? It is almost incomprehensible. The flower of humanity, the light of the world, the Son of God, was delivered by Pilate, the representative of worldly power, to the will of an evil crowd. He was handed over to the wolves. And no one sought to stop it. We may accept that Joseph of Arimathea, and even possibly Rabban Gamaliel, were not happy with the decision, but they must have known of it and yet made no open protest against it before Pilate. So there was no one there to speak up for Him. Luke wants us to know that the responsibility lay with the whole of Jerusalem It was Jerusalem as a whole that slew Him.
These words parallel the act of Pilate in washing his hands before them in order to indicate to them and to the gods that it was all through no fault of his (Matthew 27:24). The washing of hands was probably a religious act to clear himself in the eyes of the gods bringing out the superstitious dread that he has felt about this man all the way through, something finally confirmed to him by his wife’s warning dream (Matthew 27:19). He had begun to feel that here he was dealing with something outside his usual sphere, and sought to avert the consequences in the only way he knew how. Luke makes clear the same idea here a little less vividly, but just as emphatically. Pilate is in complete disagreement with what they are doing and hands Him over to them, washing his hands of the matter. He wants nothing more to do with it. But it was not quite that easy. For he could not evade the fact that his was the final choice, and joins the gallery of infamy (Acts 4:27).
It is also quite probable that Luke intends us to see here in the release of Barabbas and the handing over of Jesus the idea of substitution. The one who deserved to die was released, and the innocent One took his place. For He was the One Who gave His life a ransom in the place of many (Mark 10:45) being numbered with the transgressors (Luke 22:37), so that a transgressor might go free.
‘And when they led him away, they sequestrated one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to bear it after Jesus.’
These few words cover a multitude of suffering. Luke omits mention of how the soldiers also engaged in horseplay towards Him (Mark 15:16-20). And then in His bloodied and broken state He would be taken from Pilate’s presence and stood in the midst of four soldiers with His crosspiece over His shoulder and the procession would then move forwards as fast as the prisoner’s condition would allow. Ahead would march a soldier bearing the accusation, ‘This is the King of the Jews’. He would then be led throughout the many streets of Jerusalem as an example from which all should take warning, while the passing crowds looked on, some in pity, others in contempt. But gradually the leaden weight, reacting on His physical weakness and pain, would be too much for Him, and He would sink to His knees. Dragged up again and forced to continue He would seek to do so, until at length it was clear even to the hardened soldiers that He could carry it no more. Outwardly He was a broken man. He seemingly had nothing left to give.
Then the soldiers would glance around, and using the powers granted to them by Rome, would select a passer-by or spectator to bear the cross for Jesus. It just happened that they chose a man from Cyrene in Africa, who probably looked burly and strong, whose name was Simon. And to him they delegated the cross. There is good reason to believe that the man was never the same again, for the mention of the names of his two sons by Mark suggests that he became a Christian (Mark 15:21). And ‘he bore it after Jesus’. We can hardly doubt that Luke had in mind Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27. Now all would know what was involved in taking up the cross as never before.
‘Coming from the country’ may suggest that he was a poor man who had come to the Passover and was camped outside Jerusalem, although within the permitted area. Or it may signify that he had arrived late for the Passover because he had been delayed.
But note that Luke expresses this all in a few simple words. There is no thought of drawing attention to Jesus’ sufferings. His concern is with their significance. The Lamb of God is going forward to die (John 1:29).
The Crucifixion of Jesus (23:26-33).
The moment that this last part of the Gospel has been building up to has now come. Jesus had spoken of His trials and temptations (Luke 22:28), and of the suffering that lay ahead (Luke 22:15), and He had prayed in the Garden that if it was possible within the will of God He might be spared it (Luke 22:42), and now His final trials had begun in earnest. The Jesus of the Upper Room was no more. Instead there was a bloodied and broken physical wreck, and there was more to come. But He was no different underneath. He moved on undaunted, His spirit strong though His flesh was weak. He would not be able to carry His crosspiece for long (Luke 23:26), but He was able to carry the sins of the world, and even as He staggered along He sought to warn and comfort the weeping women, whose tears reminded Him of the terrible judgment soon to come on Jerusalem for what it had done (Luke 23:27-31).
To Luke in what He was doing He was offering up the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20). He was being reckoned among the transgressors (Luke 22:37). He was suffering so that men might be altered in heart and mind and receive remission of sins (Luke 24:46-47). He was purchasing His people with His own blood (Acts 20:28). Luke is in no doubt about the significance of His act. And all the way through this narrative we are aware of something far beyond martyrdom. No martyr ever faced death with the weight on his shoulders that Jesus is revealed to have had. Here is depicted One who was facing in death something that was unique and applicable only to Him.
a When they led him away, they sequestrated one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the crosspiece, to bear it after Jesus (Luke 23:26).
b And there followed Him a great crowd of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented Him (Luke 23:27).
c But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28).
d “For behold, the days are coming, in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck’ ” (Luke 23:29).
c “Then will they begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’, and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:30-31).
b And there were also two others, evildoers, led with Him to be put to death (Luke 23:32).
a And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the evildoers, one on the right hand and the other on the left (Luke 23:33).
Note how in ‘a’ a stranger is called on to keep Jesus company and to bear His crosspiece, and in the parallel Jesus is crucified on the cross and two evildoers keep Him company. In ‘b’ the great crowd, and especially the women, wept over Him, and in the parallel two evildoers were led along with Him. (Note in both ‘a’ and ‘b’ the concern of the common decent people contrasted with the evil of His companions). In ‘c’ He tells the women to weep for themselves and for their children, and in the parallel He explains why they need to do so. And centrally He warns that the Jews will as a result bewail the fact that children are born to them (a direct reversal of the usual attitude. Things will have been turned upside down).
‘And there followed him a great crowd of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him.’
Inevitably as the procession moved along (the two insurrectionists were also in the procession bearing their own crosses - Luke 23:32) people gathered, and many would recognise in Him the prophet Whose teaching they had found so moving. We can only imagine their feelings towards Rome when they saw what Pilate had done to Him. At this stage they would never dream that it was the result of the activity of their own admired Rabbis. Others would feel sorrow for Him as they would feel sorrow for any Jew who had to suffer in this way. They had probably known about the executions that were due to take place, and would realise that this was one of them. Many women wailed and lamented. They would do this for any Jew who was in the same plight, including the two insurrectionists, but undoubtedly some would have recognised Him and be even more grieved.
Such executions as this were not rare, and would always be accompanied by weeping women, whose hearts went out to the sons of Israel who were suffering. It would be considered an act of merit, and some would be bearing wine which they would give to the men once hey had been crucified.
‘But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.”
And Jesus, bloodied and broken, hardly able to keep moving without support, saw their weeping and His heart was moved. For it brought home to Him a day that was coming, a day of which He had previously warned, when they would be weeping not for Him but for themselves. And His tender heart went out to them. He thought not of Himself but of them. And through His cracked lips He warned them not to weep for Him, but to weep for themselves and for their children. He wanted them to know what was coming on them so that they might be at least partly prepared for it, and even take the opportunity to escape it (Luke 21:21).
Note that He is speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem. He is aware that the festive crowds have not yet gathered. Compare here Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1.
“For behold, the days are coming, in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs which never bore, and the breasts that never suckled.’ ”
And He pointed out to them in the grief of His heart that days were coming when it would be better for those who had never borne children, because of the suffering that their children would have to endure. In a complete reversal of what men saw as good, those would be called blessed who were barren. Such would be the total upheaval.
“Then will they begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’, and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?”
And they will then call on the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them, in order to save themselves from the anguish that is coming on them (compare Hosea 10:8, which emphasises that this will be because of their sinfulness). And this will come on them because of what, through their representatives they are doing, and because of what they are doing in their own lives. They will have brought it on themselves.
The saying may have in mind a plea for an earthquake to take them out of their misery, or it may simply be strong symbolism indicating the desperation they are in to find a hiding place. The latter thought is similar to His earlier, ‘let those who are in Jerusalem flee to the mountains’ (Luke 21:21).
“For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?” Then He gives the reason parabolically for them all to mull over and consider. In Ezekiel 17:24 the green tree and the dry tree represent a nation that is flourishing and a nation that is dried up. Taking this as a precedent we may see Him as here referring to Israel as at present a green tree, but later becoming a dry tree. Thus He may have in mind His own ministry and that of John prophesying within Judaism, revealing that there was still life in Israel, and be comparing it to when the voice of prophecy in Jerusalem has been cut off by His own death and by the departing from it of the Apostles, so that the very centre of Judaism has lost its proffered life, resulting in the behaviour that will end in its forecast destruction (compare the cursing of the fig tree in Matthew and Mark). Or the ‘green tree’ here may refer to Jesus Himself so that He may be saying, ‘if they do this while I am alive, what do you think that they will they do when I am dead?’ Or He may be referring to Himself as the green tree being cut down by Rome, in comparison with the dry tree of Jerusalem which will also one day be cut down by Rome. Or He may be saying, ‘if they (the Romans, or the Jewish leadership) find it possible to consume live wood like this, think how easy they will find it to consume (or bring about the consumption of) wood that has become dry’ (Ezekiel 20:47; Isaiah 10:16-19; ). Or He may be referring to the people of Jerusalem and Judea as being at present still open to the message that He has brought, still a green tree and having an openness that will later cease as they harden their hearts against it and thus become like the withered fig tree (compare Mark 11:13; Mark 11:20). This last could be seen as illustrated by the cursed fig tree and by the first part of Acts when His word goes out until saturation point is reached and Jerusalem’s heart is finally closed to Him and His word (as expressed symbolically in Acts 12:0, especially Luke 23:17; Luke 21:30). But the overall idea is the same in all cases. They are refusing the truth to be found in Him, while life is available to them, and one day it will no longer be available to them, and they will perish at the hands of the Romans because by their hardness of heart they will have become dead (compare Daniel 9:25-26).
Comparison may be made with the words of a Rabbi being led to crucifixion who cried out, ‘If this happens to those who do His will, what of those who offend Him?’ But is unlikely that ‘they’ here means God, and Jesus’ words almost certainly go deeper than that, for in His final days what is to happen to Jerusalem has been constantly on His mind (Luke 19:41-44; Luke 20:16; Luke 21:20-24).
‘And there were also two others, evildoers (criminals), led with him to be put to death.’
It would seem that along with Jesus were being led in a similar way two insurrectionists who were also due to die. But here they are called ‘evildoers’. His grave was being made with the wicked (Isaiah 53:9. Possibly Luke also wants us all to identify ourselves with them). These men were sharing in His fate, and by many He was no doubt directly linked with them. Luke is the only one who mentions them at this point, no doubt because they illustrate for him Jesus’ words in Luke 22:37. Those confirm that Isaiah 53:0 is very much in mind here (compare also Luke 24:25-26; Luke 24:46-47). So He was reckoned with them for another reason, because through His death He could offer hope to at least one of them, and in the end to ‘many’.
Some have tried to suggest that Luke is short on the atonement, but like many early writers he makes his statements and then leaves people to interpret his inferences. No one who knew the teaching of the early church (Acts 3:14-15 with 19; Luke 3:26; Luke 4:10 with 12; Luke 4:27; Luke 5:30 with 31; Luke 8:32-35, note especially the continuing connection with the Servant of the Lord) could be unaware of the implications lying behind these inferences. Yet at the same time he probably wanted the fascination of Jesus to seize the hearts of Gentiles without deterring them by too open a reference to Jewish sacrificial ideas. So it was a delicate balance. (We could add, ‘let him who reads understand’). However, as we have seen above, he really leaves us in no doubt of what he is inferring, and that is that Jesus was offering up through His own death the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20), that like the Servant in Isaiah He was being reckoned among the transgressors (Luke 22:37), that He was suffering so that men might be altered in heart and mind and receive remission of sins (Luke 24:46-47), that He was purchasing His people with His own blood (Acts 20:28). What further witness do we need?
‘And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the evildoers, one on the right hand and the other on the left.’
And finally they reached a place, aptly named The Skull, where the soldiers placed the crosspiece on the ground nailed Jesus to it by His hands and feet (John 20:25; Colossians 2:14, and see Luke 24:40) and then attached the crosspiece crosswise over a longer beam and nailed them together. After that they lifted up the whole and dropped it with a thud into a hole in the ground, regardless of the consequences for the victim, or for the effects on His hands and feet. The same process would also be carried out on behalf of the two insurrectionists. The description stresses His reckoning with the transgressors. Then they would be left to a slow, lingering death, a spectacle for all to see, bearing the shame of being accursed by hanging on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Galatians 3:13). For the Jew it was the most dreadful of deaths both physically, and even moreso spiritually.
‘Called The Skull’. Matthew and Mark cite the Hebrew name, Golgotha. The Skull was probably the Greek name, possibly based on the shape of a hill or a mound in the vicinity. In a multi-lingual society different names would be given to places in a number of languages.
So Luke has traced the story of Jesus through from the moment of the announcing of the birth of John the Baptiser to the final crucifixion of Jesus, and it has now reached its lowest ebb. And in most life stories that would be the end. But for Jesus in His representative Manhood it was only the beginning. For Luke now closes off his Gospel with a message of hope, springing from the cross, expressed in the form of a final chiasmus, a chiasmus which leads from death to life, and which will result in the glorious triumphs of Acts. In the words of Jesus Himself, ‘Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides by itself alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit’ (John 12:24).
‘And parting his garments among them, they cast lots.’
Underlining the blindness of men and the need for such forgiveness is this act of the Roman soldiers. Before His very eyes, almost at the foot of His cross, they divided up His clothing, which was the right by Roman custom of the execution squad, and cast lots for what could not be divided. He was stripped there of all that He possessed, and hung naked before God. He Who had previously had nowhere to lay His head, now had nothing with which to cover Himself. In His death the world would allow Him nothing but ignominy. This underlines the callousness of mankind, and its willingness to rob God. It also fulfilled the Scriptures describing the lot of the Davidic king (Psalms 22:18). The Scripture demonstrated that it was the destiny of the Davidic king to be stripped naked by his enemies. But this is no manufactured scene to accord with the Psalm. That it happened is undeniable. For it always happened at a crucifixion. But what the Psalm makes clear is that it happened within the purposes of God.
Another significance also lies behind this action. By doing this they left Him naked, so that naked He hung on the cross. The moment the first man and woman sinned they ‘knew that they were naked’ (Genesis 3:7). Nakedness was ever therefore the symbol of man in his sin. By the Jews to be naked was ever considered to be shameful. It was also therefore necessary for the One Who died for them to be stripped naked so that He might hang there on display in their place. He was stripped naked that we might not be stripped naked before God. He was there as the son of Adam as well as being there as the Son of God (Luke 3:38), naked in our place, so that if we believe in Him we ourselves may not be found naked (2 Corinthians 5:3).
The King of the Jews Is Declared, And The First Beneficiary of the Cross Is Revealed (23:34-42).
If we accept Luke 23:34 as part of the text this passage opens and closes with an emphasis on the forgiveness now being made available. Forgiveness is seen as central to the cross (compare Luke 24:46-47; Acts 5:30-31).
(Note how the chiasmus is evidence for its inclusion. We can well understand why later copyists, aware of the destruction of Jerusalem, which they may have seen as indicating that the prayer no longer applied, and aware of fierce persecutions continually brought on their fellow Christians by Jewish informers, may have excised this verse (understandably but quite wrongly) precisely because they saw it as no longer applying, and possibly because it provided a basis for unbelievers to argue that Jesus’ prayer had failed, or because they were unable to be quite so forgiving as Jesus, arguing that the Jews now did know what they were doing. Something of the bitterness of unbelieving Jews against Christians, which existed from the beginning and went on for centuries, comes out in Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:6; Acts 21:27; Acts 23:12).
The evidence for the inclusion or otherwise of the verse is remarkably equally divided, but with the evidence of early writers supporting its inclusion. Thus it is included in Aleph (Sinaiticus); A (Alexandrinus); D corrector; f1; f13; 565; 700; old latin and some syriac versions; Marcion; Irenaeus; Clement of Alexandria; Origen. It is, however, excluded in p75; Aleph corrector; B; D; W; Theta; 0124; 1241; 579 and some syriac; etc. and later by Cyril, admittedly a powerful combination.
Either way it has to be argued that it was included (or excluded) very early on, and if Luke did at some stage issue a revised edition that may well explain the situation. Significantly the language suggests that it is Lucan. And its place in the chiasmus argues for its inclusion from the beginning. We will therefore interpret the text on that basis.
a Jesus said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34 a).
b “For they do not know what they are doing.” And parting His garments among them, they cast lots (Luke 23:34 b).
c And the people stood watching, and the rulers also scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others, let Him save Himself, if this is the Christ (Messiah) of God, His chosen.” And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:35-37).
d And there was also a superscription over Him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS (Luke 23:38).
c And one of the evildoers who were hanged, railed on Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ (Messiah)? Save yourself and us” (Luke 23:39).
b But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41).
a And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingly Rule.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who are doing this to Him, and in the parallel He assures the repentant evildoer of forgiveness. In ‘b’ the Jewish leaders (and possibly also the people) do not know what they are doing, and in the parallel the railing evildoer is informed that he does not know what he is doing. In ‘c’ the rulers and the soldiers scoff at Him, and in the parallel one evildoer scoffs at Him. And centrally in ‘d’ is the verdict of Rome, ‘This is the King of the Jews’.
‘And the people stood watching, and the rulers also scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others, let him save himself, if this is the Christ (Messiah) of God, his chosen.” ’
Meanwhile the people, and the rulers, combined in gazing at the spectacle before them (compare Luke 23:13-23 where they had united in condemning Him). The use of ‘watched’ may reflect Psalms 22:7 (in LXX Luke 21:8). And the rulers scoffed at Him. This mirrors Psalms 22:7-8 where the description of the treatment of ‘David’ is remarkably apposite. Here was the greater David was suffering it to an even greater extent, another case of prophecy being ‘filled full’. This idea of the attitude of the rulers will later be taken up in Acts and compared with the action of the rulers in Psalms 2:0 towards the Davidic house (Acts 4:25-28). But here all concentration is on their act. And they jeered at Jesus and congratulated themselves on the fact that in spite of His bold words at His trials He was unable to do anything to help Himself. They clearly felt that it vindicated them. He had ‘saved others’. Even they had at this time had to admit to the reality of His healings and exorcisms. But He could not save Himself. Surely if He really were the Messiah of God He would now be able to save Himself? Why then did He not do so? Peter could have given them the answer, ‘He suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Paul could have informed them, ‘He was made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Luke could have told them, ‘He was reckoned among the transgressors’ (Luke 22:37). He was buying His people with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He was sealing the new covenant with His blood (Luke 22:20).
The suggestion here is probably not that the people did not scoff, but that they scoffed in their hearts while their representatives did it vocally for them. They were there supporting what their leaders did. Others who were simply passers-by also scoffed (Mark 15:29), but Luke is concentrating on those who were there more permanently. ‘The people’ here represents the unbelieving mass of Judaism. It is the vox populi. It does not have in mind those who have believed. Note the direct connection between ‘the Messiah’ and ‘His chosen’. The latter expression reflects Isaiah 42:1 and the voice at Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:35). The One Whom God has sent, and has revealed in glory on the mountain before His own people as represented there by the three Apostles (Luke 9:28-36), is now mocked on the cross, before a rejecting people. The believer therefore has seen what the rulers cannot see. He has seen the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). That is the difference between the believer and the unbeliever.
‘And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” ’
The people and rulers mocked Him, and now the soldiers also mocked Him. Shortly it would be one of the evildoers who would mock Him (Luke 23:39). The threefold mocking is intended to indicate that the whole world mocked, Jews, Gentiles and the riffraff of society. In the case of the soldiers it was emphasised by their giving to him of their coarse wine (which was their own drink), as though to a king. By this they sought unknowingly to make Him Who had promised that He would drink no more of the fruit of the vine, do so in contravention of His purpose. They knew not what they did. And as they did so they jeered saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” They did not, of course believe it for a moment. They were merely aping what others had said. It just seemed to them too good jest for them not to be involved.
‘Offering him sour wine.’ In Psalms 69:21 and in the Dead Sea Scrolls such an act is seen as hostile, but here it was probably rough humour.
‘And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
And then in stark contrast to all that they were doing we are told of the proclamation above His cross. Written on a placard above His head were the words THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ But this was not in jest. We learn elsewhere that Pilate had done it deliberately in order to annoy the Jewish leaders, and when they objected had declared, ‘what I have written I have written’ (John 19:19-22). While he did not acknowledge Jesus, he at least acknowledged why He was there. The placing of such an accusation above the head of a condemned man was a regular practise, but never was one more important or more revealing than this.
Note how this verse is central in the chiasmus amidst all the mockery which is gathered on both sides, leading on finally to His recognition by the second evildoer. To Luke these words meant even more than they did to Pilate. Here was the truth for the world to see. This One Who hung here was the promised King Who would yet be set to rule over all creation and all who are in it. He was the One Whom the magi had sought, the world ruler of the last days (Matthew 2:2).
‘And one of the evildoers who were hanged, railed on him, saying, “Are you not the Christ (Messiah)? Save yourself and us.” ’
The mockery and anger continued. Now it was one of the evildoers who had been crucified alongside Him, who turned his pain-wracked attention to him, and muttered at Him through His parched lips. His words were no doubt spoken in the bitter irony of despair, for he clearly did not really believe what he said. The Messiah was what he had been waiting for. And he had never come. So if this fellow claimed to be the Messiah why did he not get down from the cross and save him too? But it was said in bitter irony and misery. He had no expectation that He would, nor that He could, do him any good. He was just expressing the bitterness in his soul. And the sad thing was that had he but said it in another frame of mind and from another outlook he would have been saved. His words are in deliberate contrast to those of his compatriot that follow. He said almost the same thing, he saw what the other saw, but how different was his intent. For there was nothing within this first evildoer that responded to what Jesus was.
‘But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” ’
Meanwhile something had been happening in the heart of the other evildoer. He too had railed at Jesus to begin with (Matthew 27:44). But then something about Jesus had come home to him (as to a certain extent it had to Pilate). We cannot fully know what it was. What does speak to a man at a time like this? But we can surmise, for we know that Jesus was like no other. Humanly speaking it was probably because there was something about this unusual man who prayed for His enemies , and who bore His death so calmly, that struck a chord in his heart, so that he could not bear to hear Him run down. Probably he had recognised that He was the prophet Who had stirred the people, and he may even have heard Him preach. And he knew an innocent man when he saw one, and yet One who bore His fate without recrimination. So turning to the other evildoer, whom he no doubt knew from better days of being a comrade in insurrection, he rebuked him and suggested that this was no time for mockery when soon they would meet the Judge of all men.
Did he really want to meet his Maker with bitter words on his lips about this man who was clearly so superior to them both? For here was a man who, if anyone was, was clearly innocent. It shone from His face and His eyes. It was clear from the accusations being yelled out by those arrogant Sadducees. It was apparent from His responses. They really had nothing against Him at all. And it is almost certain that this evildoer had recognised Jesus as the prophet Who had gathered such crowds, and Who had done such good, from the words that he later addressed to Him. And he realised that He at least was only here for being too good for those hypocritical religious Jewish leaders to stomach.
‘And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingly Rule.” And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise.” ’
And then he turned to Jesus. To his memory probably came back words that he had heard Him preach about the coming of the Kingly Rule of God, stirred by the mockery of the rulers. And something told him that here was One for Whom at least this was not the end. So wistfully, and probably almost hopelessly, he humbled himself and sought only that this Man would remember him when He entered in on that Kingly Rule that He had spoken about. Similar requests to be remembered are found on contemporary gravestones, a wistful hope rather than a confident pleas. It was a plea to be remembered, sinful though he was. He probably did not even himself understand fully what he was asking. Rather it was an expression of some inward faith caused by the presence of Jesus. And he probably little dreamed that he would receive a reply far above his expectations. But what he asked was enough, for it came from a true heart and was addressed to the right Person.
For Jesus turned His head towards him, and said those immortal words, “Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It was the last ‘truly’ that Jesus would say on earth, but it saved a human soul.
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Behind these remarkable words, spoken in such dread circumstances, lie a host of significant truths. The first is the utter certainty of Jesus. He had no doubt that within a short while He would be enjoying the presence of God. There was not a single doubt in His mind in spite of what He had gone through and what He would still have to go through. The second is His certainty on behalf of this repentant evildoer. He knew without any shadow of doubt that this man would join Him there, because He had determined it. In this He expressed quite clearly His right to grant the forgiveness that brought eternal life, the power to bring this broken, sinful man into an eternal relationship with God. He did not say to him, ‘Look to God and you will be forgiven’. He did not say, ‘Pray, for you still have hope.’ In that hour of outward darkness and despair He said, ‘I say to you’. Even while He was seemingly powerless in the hands of man, He was controlling a human destiny, with a certainty that clearly revealed who He was. These words alone demonstrate His supreme deity. No Messiah who accorded with the belief of the Jews could have spoken with such certainty. How could a man desiring to be remembered by another man have his forgiveness confirmed to him in this way? No godly man would have dared to be so presumptious. Only Jesus could have done it, because of Who He was.
What Jesus said was sufficient to bring rest to the man’s soul. For He spoke in terms that the man could understand. There was no time here for an expansion of His words, no time for explanation, no time for subtle theology. He had to ask Himself, ‘How can I convey My thought in one sentence in words that will speak to this man as he is, so that he will understand? And He found the answer in the idea of ‘Paradise’, which originally referred to the walled gardens of kings, was used in LXX to refer to the Garden of Eden, and which had come to mean the intermediate level of bliss for the righteous. And so He promised him Paradise. We must not try to build up theories from this reply, or seek explanations from it about life beyond the grave, fitting it into some complicated scheme. It was not a part of His schematic teaching. It was a word spoken to convey the idea of comfort and salvation to a dying man in terms that he would at that moment understand. Basically it promised him that in that very day he would be enjoying joy in the presence of God. It promised him all that his heart could desire.
But if we take His words literally then it indicated that that very day both of them would be consciously in the presence of God awaiting the resurrection (compare Philippians 1:21-23), a resurrection which He anticipated for Himself within a short while, and anticipated for the ex-evildoer at the general resurrection. So when Jesus ‘descended into Hades’ we must see Him as ‘descending’ into Paradise (descending because the body descended into the tomb). The descent merely speaks of His body going into the grave without reference to what happened to His spirit.
Here then was the firstfruit of the cross, a man who most would have considered a hopeless case, but who was now brought within the folds of His saving power. For he had met and submitted to the One Who had the power to give life to whom He willed (John 5:21), and he had passed from death to life (John 5:24).
An interesting parallel is found a hundred years later referring to Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion. When he was being burned to death as a martyr c 135 AD his executioner supposedly asked him if he would bring him to the life of the world to come if he stopped tormenting him. The Rabbi is said to have agreed with the consequence that the executioner joined him in the fire. Then a heavenly voice came which said, ‘Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion and the executioner are destined for life in the world to come’. But it should be noted in this case that the authoritative statement about his deliverance comes from Heaven and not from the Rabbi, confirming what we have said above. The Rabbi could express the pious hope, but it required the voice from Heaven to give certainty. It is also noteworthy that the executioner is seen to have earned his deliverance by his willingness to cease his torments and be a martyr. It was thus a very different case from the dying evildoer who received his deliverance totally undeservedly simply because he looked to Jesus, and it was probably rather intended to be a pious tale with a moral than to be taken literally.
‘And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing.’
How remarkable it is that these three last hours of Jesus’ final agony are passed over in total silence in all the Gospels. Was there nothing that could have been said? It is as though they recognise that no one on earth could comment on these moments so that every comment had to be left to God. A veil of darkness is drawn over His last hours. But all make clear that God did comment. ‘A darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing.’ (No eclipse could take place at the time of the full moon, but it may well have been caused by a sirocco wind sweeping the sand in from the desert, or by the arrival of unusual cloud formations, or even by some phenomenon in space. Unusual darkenings of the sun have been witnessed to in the past). That was God’s comment, and all the evangelists clearly felt that they could not add to it, except to express His final words. Such thoughts were rather left to the hymnwriters to express. ‘But none of the ransomed ever knew, how deep were the waters crossed, or how dark was the night which the Lord passed through, e’er He found the sheep that was lost.’
And no wonder that they could not understand, for as another hymnwriter declares, ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies, who can explore His strange design? In vain the firstborn seraph tries, to sound the depths of grace divine. Tis mystery all, immense and free, but, O my God, it found out me.’
‘A darkness came over the whole land -- the sun’s light failing.’ The significance of such an experience is described in Jeremiah 15:9, ‘her sun went down while it was yet day’. And what did it indicate? It indicated that anguish and terror had fallen on her. It indicated that she was shamed and disgraced. And so did Jesus enter into the terror and anguish of sin and death, and bear shame and disgrace for us. ‘He Who knew no sin, was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).’ The significance of darkness is made clear in Luke in three ways:
· The One Who was coming, was said to be coming to those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:79), to those sat in helplessness and hopelessness, and here therefore He may be seen as entering into that darkness and death on their behalf so that He might deliver them from that helplessness and hopelessness that gripped them.
· To be in darkness was the result of being out of the light (Luke 11:34-35), and thus we may see here that Jesus had for a while chosen to forfeit the light of God and had willingly taken on Himself the darkness that resulted, with the result that for a while the light of God had ceased to shine into His heart. This so that He might not only be reckoned among the transgressors, but might take our experience on Himself, in order to save us from it.
· Those who came to arrest Him had been said to be operating in ‘the power of darkness’ (Luke 22:53). Thus here we may see Jesus as experiencing that ‘power of darkness’ in Himself. Compare how in Acts 26:18 being turned from darkness to light parallels being turned from the power of Satan to God. But here the opposite was the case. Jesus was being turned from light to darkness in order that He might face up to Satan and deliver ‘many’ from his darkness, and bring them to the light.
So this was a darkness that indicated a state of death and hopelessness. It was a darkness that indicated that He was for a while forsaken by the light of God for our sakes. It was a darkness that indicated His being brought into the sphere of the tyranny of Satan, from which in the end He would emerge victorious having triumphed over him in the cross (Colossians 2:15). It is the darkness that is in mind in Isaiah 53:11 LXX (and in the same verse in a Hebrew text at Qumran which otherwise on the whole parallels MT) where it is said, ‘from the travail of His soul He will see light and will be satisfied’. And that was what He was undergoing, for us. He was enduring the travail and darkness of sin, and death, and Satan, in order that He might achieve light for all Who are His. No wonder it drew from Him that terrible cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?’ He was forsaken that we might never be forsaken.
‘The sun’s light failing.’ In Luke 21:25 the sign in the sun was to be the indication of terrible judgments coming on the world. Here then were those same terrible judgments being met on Jesus Christ. It was an indication that He was suffering in Himself the eschatological judgments of the world. All mankind’s sin and suffering, past, present and future, was meeting on Him. It would be foolish of us to seek to add more. The expression of such things can only be left to God.
The Final Hours (23:44-49).
It was now half way through the day, and for Jesus the worst was yet to come. For now He entered into such an experience as was to tear at His very soul. But Luke passes it over in silence and we have to go to Matthew and Mark to learn briefly and dimly of what He experienced (Mark 15:34), although even then it is only revealed by a cry. All are dumb in the face of something that none can understand.
Indeed we should note how the Gospels limit their descriptions so as to remove all excessive emotion. They describe what happened almost matter-of-factedly. For their concentration is not on His sufferings, but on the fact that He was there in the purposes of God, and was fulfilling the will of God, so that every step was in accordance with the Scriptures . He was not seen as a martyr. He was seen as God acting in the world in a way which no one could fully understand, in a way partly explained by what He had done at the Last Supper, once it was more full understood. It was summed up in the words linking Him with the Servant of the Lord Who had died for the sins of His people, ‘He was reckoned with the transgressors’ (Luke 22:37; Mark 15:28; Isaiah 53:12).
a It was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun’s light failing. And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst (Luke 23:44-45).
b And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46 a).
c And having said this, He yielded up the spirit’ (Luke 23:46).
b And when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47).
a And all the crowds who came together to this sight, when they beheld the things that were done, returned smiting their breasts, and all his acquaintance, and the women who followed with Him from Galilee, stood afar off, seeing these things (Luke 23:48-49).
Note that in ‘a’ darkness came on the earth and the veil of the Temple was rent , and in the parallel the crowds were in darkness of soul and beat their breasts. The reference to Galilee might suggest that Luke had in mind ‘the people (of Galilee) that sat in darkness’ (who will see a great light) (Isaiah 9:2). In ‘b’ Jesus commends His spirit into His Father’s hands, and in the parallel the centurion declares Him to be a righteous man. And centrally in ‘c’ Jesus yields up His spirit.
‘And the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.’
And as a result of that time, the veil of the Temple was torn in two. There is a difference of opinion as to which veil is meant, the veil which separated the Holy Place in the Temple from the Holy of Holies, or the veil that guarded the way into the Holy Place. Both were only symbolic for they had been replaced by doors, but the veils were hung over the doors so as to preserve the old features of the Tabernacle. The tearing of the veil was almost certainly intended by the evangelists to indicate that the way into the presence of God was being laid open (compare Hebrews 10:19-20). Although the alternative was that it indicated that God had deserted the Holy of Holies (compare Ezekiel 11:22-23). Or that it represented the equivalent of His ‘rending His garment’.
In favour of the outer veil being torn is the fact that it would then be a sight visible to all, and if a sirocco was the cause of the sudden darkness, that could also have caused the splitting of the veil. In favour of the inner veil is its deeper symbolism, and even though it would not be seen by all, such a happening would not be able to be hidden. Too many priests would become aware of it, to say nothing of those who had to replace the veil.
The Jewish Talmud (the Gemara - Rabbinic comments on the Mishnah which latter was the written record of the oral Law) states that forty years before the destruction of temple, thus around this time, something happened which made the massive doors of the temple open of their own accord (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 39b).
And that strange things happened in the temple some time prior to its destruction at the fall of Jerusalem is recorded also by Josephus (Jewish Wars 6:5.2 - although not referring to this particular event). Among other things Josephus describes how the eastern gate of the inner court, which was of brass and very heavy, which took twenty men to shut and rested on a base strengthened with iron, and had bolts fastened very deeply into the firm floor which was made of one solid stone, opened of its own accord. It would seem that the temple mount was subject to earth movements which caused strange things to happen. It may well therefore also have happened forty years before.
Note that in the chiasmus this descent of darkness and splitting of the veil parallels the distress and beating of the breasts of the onlookers (Luke 23:48). God’s distress at what was happening is seen to have communicated itself to men.
‘And having said this, he yielded up the spirit.’
By these words Luke makes clear that His words had not been just a pious prayer, but a deliberate committing of His spirit to God. He really was in control. His work being done He handed Himself over to the care of the Father, and we are to see that all was finally well. The speed of His death confirmed the severity of the flogging that He had received, a fact further evidenced by His being unable to bear His cross all the way. And yet all His thought had been for others. The weeping women on the road to the cross, the guilty men who stood before Him lying under the wrath of God, the evildoer dying beside Him. His scope had been wide. It was only at the end that He allowed a thought for Himself.
‘And when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous man.” ’
The centurion in charge of the execution squad was deeply impressed. The previous signs had filled him with awe. They had drawn from him the cry, ‘Truly this was the son of God’. But this more specific commitment of Himself to God indicated to him Jesus’ uniqueness among men. Possibly he even felt a little ashamed of his earlier cry. So he covered himself by declaring, well at least He was a righteous man. The idea behind his statement is that only a righteous man could have such a relationship with the divine, or could receive such favour. The words also indicated to Luke’s readers that even His executioner had found Him to be without fault.
Luke lays great stress on the innocence of Jesus He emphasised that Pilate declared Him innocent three times (Luke 23:4; Luke 23:14; Luke 23:22). He noted Herod's testimony to Jesus' innocence (Luke 23:15). He contrasted Jesus' innocence with the guilt of Barabbas (Luke 23:25). He recorded the thief's testimony to Jesus' innocence (Luke 23:41). And he finally here emphasises the centurion’s declaration of His innocence. Thus we have a sevenfold declaration of His innocence.
‘And all the crowds who came together to this sight, when they beheld the things that were done, returned smiting their breasts.’
The things that had happened moved the crowds. They had long sought signs from Jesus, and they had had signs today. And as they went away they beat their breasts as they thought of what had happened. They were moved and stirred. But we are given no cause to think that it went further. They had ‘beheld these things’, but by the morning it would all be just a memory.
‘And all his acquaintance, and the women who followed with him from Galilee, stood afar off, seeing these things.’
In what contrast were the crowds with His disciples and the women who followed Him. They too had stood afar off seeing these things. They were probably afraid to come too close in case they were arrested. But the way this is expressed suggests that they would continue to remember it. They saw these things. The cutting short of the sentence without an explanatory final clause such as we find in Luke 23:48 indicates that with them the effect continued. They would not easily forget.
‘And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a councillor, a good and righteous man,’
Here Joseph is describe in language reminiscent of Luke 2:25; Luke 2:36-37. Both at the beginning and the end of His life Jesus is borne witness to by the righteous in Israel. It is a shining reminder that within the corrupted nation were those whose lives were still lived before God. He ‘was a councillor’. He had his place on the Sanhedrin. And yet he was also good and righteous. God had His representatives in high places, as well as low.
A Man Called Joseph (23:50-53).
But there was one man who acted positively. He had been present when the Sanhedrin met, but he had not agreed with their verdict, and had given his vote against them. Perhaps he now felt that he should have done more. But he would not have realised then how easily Pilate could be made to cave in. He was a good and righteous man, looking for the Kingly Rule of God, and while he had been unable to prevent this terrible deed at least he now felt that he could ensure that Jesus had a decent and worthy burial. And bravely, for association with a condemned criminal would certainly be frowned on, he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, a request that Pilate granted. And wrapping it in a linen cloth he laid it in a new tomb that had never been used before.
The importance of this incident is that it prepares for the later description of the empty tomb and emphasises its significance. Jesus’ body was not just put anywhere. It was reverently laid in a tomb that could at the time be clearly identified. Thus when it was gone, and no one (apart from the angels) was able to say where, there was no doubt of what it indicated. He truly had risen.
a And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a councillor, a good and righteous man (Luke 23:50).
b He had not consented to their counsel and deed (Luke 23:51 a).
c A man of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who was looking for the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 23:51 b).
b This man went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus (Luke 23:52).
a And he took it down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was hewn in stone, where never man had yet lain (Luke 23:53).
Note that in ‘a’ Joseph is a good and righteous man suitable to see to the burial of Jesus, and in the parallel He buries Him in an unused tomb, fit to receive what has been offered to God and is holy. God ensures that all is pure in the burial of Jesus. In ‘b’ he was a man who was free from any part in the death of Jesus, but in the parallel rather seeks to show that he is for Him and will care for Him in His death. And centrally in ‘c’ he is a Jew who is seeking the Kingly Rule of God. Jesus is in safe hands.
‘A man of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who was looking for the Kingly Rule of God.’
But primarily, while he came from a city of the Jews, he was a man who was ‘looking for the Kingly Rule of God’ (compare Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38). He was a true believer, seeking first the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness (Luke 12:31; Luke 18:29; Matthew 6:33). His hear was thus set rightly towards God.
Arimathea was probably twenty miles north west of Jerusalem at Ramathaim-zophim (1 Samuel 1:1), now known as Rentis. The explanatory ‘a city of the Jews’ was for Luke’s Gentile readers.
‘This man went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.’
Concerned that at least Jesus might have a decent burial he approached Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He had not been able to save Him from ignominy in life. He would do so now that He was dead. It was quite normal for families to ask for the return of the bodies of condemned relatives. But by his act Joseph, who was not a relative, was identifying himself with Jesus. Possibly he wanted Pilate to know that not all the Sanhedrin had agreed with the treatment meted out to Jesus.
‘And he took it down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was hewn in stone, where never man had yet lain.’
The request being granted he arranged for the body to be taken down from the cross, had it wrapped in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb, hewn into stone, where no man had ever been laid. It is possible that he actually took part himself in order to honour Jesus now that He was dead, or the main task may have been left to his servants under his supervision. But either way it was undoubtedly his tomb, cut out in preparation for his own burial. That His body was first anointed in accordance with the usual practise comes out in John 19:39-40.
‘Where never man had yet lain.’ This is a clear indication that in Luke’s eyes Jesus’ death was seen as a kind of offering. The use of what was totally unused, which is emphasised here, indicated something that was for the use in connection with what was supremely holy to God. We can compare the colt that took Jesus up towards the Temple (Luke 19:30). See also 1 Samuel 6:7; 2Sa 6:3 ; 1 Chronicles 13:7.
‘And it was the day of the Preparation, and the sabbath drew on (or ‘shone forth’).’
‘The day of the Preparation.’ This would normally be seen as indicating the Friday of Passover week (or more strictly Thursday sunset to Friday sunset), which was always called ‘preparation day’ (in modern Greek paraskeue refers to Friday). (An alternative would be for it to refer to the day of preparation (paraskeue) for the special sabbath which opened the week of Unleavened Bread). However, what the women wanted to do would not be seen as the ‘necessary’ tasks that had to be done in order to bury the dead, for the dead was already buried, and thus the sabbath had to be fully observed.
‘And the sabbath shone forth.’ Some see this ‘shining forth’ as referring to the lighting of the lamps after sunset, or the shining forth of the evening star. Others relate it to sunrise on the following morning. Either way it had to be observed by no activity other than that required for the feast, as seen in Exodus 20:10. And the women probably did not feel like feasting.
A Day Of Waiting (23:54-56).
The approaching Sabbath, commencing at sunset on the day of the crucifixion, necessarily prevented any further activity, so that the women followers of Jesus, who had watched and had seen where His body was laid, had to wait for the Sabbath to be over. Meanwhile they began to prepare spices and ointments so that they too could pay their last respects to their beloved Master. It was as though the whole of creation was waiting for what would happen next.
This dedicated activity, first of Joseph, and then of the women, draws attention to the fact that all were now agreed that the wonderful time was over. From now on Jesus would be a glorious memory. But that He was dead was unquestionable. All that remained was for them to pay their last respects before they returned home. They had believed that it would be He Who was to redeem Israel. But events had proved them wrong. He had died bravely, even mysteriously, certainly unfairly. But that only laid all the more emphasis on the fact that He was dead, and that they knew where His body lay. And in the lives of most men that would be all that needed to be said, with possibly a postscript to say how His life had resulted in certain after effects. But as we shall see in this last chapter and the book of Acts, for Jesus it was only the beginning. And His story is still going on.
a And it was the day of the Preparation, and the sabbath drew on (Luke 23:54).
b And the women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and beheld the tomb, and how his body was laid, and they returned, and prepared spices and ointments (Luke 23:55-56 a).
a And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the Sabbath draws near, and in the parallel they rest according to custom. And centrally in ‘b’ they prepare to anoint the body of Jesus.
‘And the women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and beheld the tomb, and how his body was laid, and they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.’
Instead they used the last moments before the Sabbath in order to observe what happened to His body, watching as His corpse was carried into the tomb. Then in order to prepare spices and ointments with which they would show their love for their dead Master, they returned to where they were staying. The idea of the spices and ointment was that for a while they would counteract the approach of decay while the spirit might still be in the body, and keep the corpse from smelling too pungently. It was all that they could do.
The impression we get from the narrative is that they prepared the spices and ointments prior to the Sabbath, but may not necessarily be so. Representing things chronologically was not the fetish then that it is today. They were more interested in what was done than in when it was done. This is something that comes out constantly in the Old Testament where statements are made, and then the narrative goes back to fill in the detail. Certainly we may see that they made certain preparations before the Sabbath, but equally certainly they would want their offering to be fresh when it was offered, and that suggests that they would expect to leave the main preparations until after the Sabbath (any woman would know that). Indeed Mark makes clear that they had to buy more because they did not have sufficient, which was in fact extremely likely. This was not after all something that they had come from Galilee prepared for. So Luke’s statement must be seen as applying to all their preparations, both before and after the Sabbath.
‘And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.’
Having done what they could of initial preparation and making ready for what they had to do, (what they would have to do as soon as the Sabbath was over would be the final preparing of the spices so that they would be fresh and subsequent anointing of the body of Jesus), they then obeyed God’s commandment and rested on the Sabbath Day. Nothing further could be done until the Sabbath was over. We are intended to recognise that all these labours were in fact unnecessary. For while in ignorance they were lovingly preparing their last tribute, God was busy rendering it unnecessary. This was one body which would not suffer corruption, as they would soon discover.
Jesus Rises From The Dead (Luke 24:1 --52 ).
As we come to the final chapter of Luke’s Gospel it is interesting to note the presumably deliberate parallels with the opening chapters. The Gospel opens in the Temple (Luke 1:9), and it closes in the Temple (Luke 24:52). It opens with one who is hindered from blessing the people because of unbelief, but who later blesses God (Luke 1:68), and with Simeon who blesses God (Luke 2:28), and it closes with Jesus blessing His disciples (stressed twice) and His disciples blessing God (Luke 24:50-52). There is no hindrance now, for they believe. It opens with the appearances of angels (Luke 1:11; Luke 1:26; Luke 2:9-11), and closes with the appearances of angels (Luke 24:4) and of the risen Jesus (Luke 24:36). It opens with the frightening appearance of one who comes from God (Luke 1:11-12), and closes with the frightening appearance of One Who comes from God (Luke 24:36-37). It opens with two witnesses to Jesus’ coming as the Deliverer (Luke 2:25-38), and closes with two witnesses to His resurrection as the One Who will deliver (Luke 24:13). It opens with a question as to why Jesus’ parents could not understand His need to be in His Father’s house (Luke 2:49), and closes with a question as to why the women are so lacking in understanding that they seek the living among the dead and could not understand that He could not possibly be in the tomb, but must be in His Father’s house (Luke 24:5) for God is the God of the living (Luke 20:38). It opens with a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins offered because the Coming One is coming (Luke 3:3). It closes with a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins because the Coming One has died and has risen again (Luke 24:47). It opens with reference to ‘the power of the Most High’ (dunamis ‘upsistou) coming on Mary (Luke 1:35), and closes with a reference to ‘power from on high’ (ex ‘upsous dunamin) coming on the Apostles (Luke 24:49). It opens with the expectancy of redemption (Luke 1:68-69; Luke 2:30; Luke 2:38), and closes with the expectancy of redemption (Luke 24:21, all Luke’s readers knew that the expectations had been fulfilled). Yet there is no artificiality about the parallels, which arise naturally from what happened and are not forced. The point is being made that the opening activity of God has come to its fulfilment. What He has begun He will finish.
But the chapter not only looks back, it also looks forward to Acts. Here in chapter 24 are revealed the ‘many infallible proofs’ of the resurrection spoken of in Acts 1:3. Here they were commanded to wait for power from on high, which is described in Acts 1:4 in terms of the Holy Spirit. Here our appetites are wetted concerning the Scriptures that tell us of the Messiah and His work (Luke 23:26-27; Luke 23:44-45), and this will be expanded on in the speeches in the first few chapters of Acts. Here we learn that they are to be His witnesses (Luke 23:48), and this is confirmed in Acts 1:8, and is the main theme of Acts (see Luke 1:8 and note that it is followed by the completing of the twelve so that there can be twelve witnesses to the life of Jesus and the resurrection, covering the twelve tribes of Israel.
This connection between the two books comes out especially in the chiasmus that binds the two books together:
a ‘And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and those who were with them’ (Luke 24:33).
b ‘And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47).
c ‘And, behold, I send the promise of my Father on you, but tarry you in the city (of Jerusalem), until you be endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).
d ‘And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God’ (Luke 24:52).
c ‘And, being assembled together with them, He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, says He, you have heard of me’ (Acts 1:4).
b ‘But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
a ‘Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey’ (Acts 1:12).
Note how in ‘a’ they returned to Jerusalem and in the parallel they did the same. In ‘b’ repentance and remission of sins was to be preached throughout all nations beginning at Jerusalem, and in the parallel they were to be His witnesses to the whole world, beginning at Jerusalem. In ‘c’ they were to wait for the promise of the Father, and in the parallel they were to wait for the promise of the Father. And centrally in ‘d’ they returned to Jerusalem and spent their time of waiting filled with joy and praising and blessing God. It was the time of blessing and spiritual preparation before the storm.
A further theme of this chapter is the certainty of the empty tomb, and the unbelief and uncertainty of the people involved concerning it. The women bring spices to the tomb. They do not believe that Jesus has risen, and are astonished at finding the tomb open and empty (Luke 23:4). But at the words of the angels (Luke 23:6) they go and tell the disciples what the angels have told them. The disciples, however, simply think that they are talking rubbish, and dismiss their words as untrue. They do not believe them (Luke 23:11). The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are seen to be in great doubt about the question, even after the women’s testimony about the empty tomb and the words of the angels. They dismiss what the women have seen as ‘a vision of angels’, although it had been enough to sow doubts in their minds (Luke 23:23). Peter is left wondering after what he sees at the empty tomb (Luke 23:12), but it does not bring conviction until the Lord Himself appears to him (Luke 23:34). And even when Jesus appears to them the disciples can hardly believe it (Luke 23:41), even though they had been prepared for it by the evidence of Peter (Luke 23:34). So it is made quite clear that there was no expectancy on anyone’s part that they would ever see Jesus again on earth. None are revealed as people of expectant faith.
Such a situation confirms the accuracy of the narrative, for in terms of what was later the accepted norm for belief their attitude was paltry. They demeaned the women, and revealed an attitude of obstinate unbelief that was positively unsatisfactory. No one would even have hinted at such attitudes in the great Apostles if they had not been an accurate picture.
The chapter begins with the puzzle of the empty tomb, leads on to a full explanation of the periods of doubt and the appearances of Jesus in response, before He is finally taken up into Heaven, and ends with the enigmatic promise of ‘power from on high. But for what that resulted in we have to wait until Acts.