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LET us observe, for one thing, in this passage, what false accusations were laid to our Lord Jesus Christ’s charge. We are told that the Jews accused Him of "perverting the nation,—forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar,—and stirring up the people." In all this indictment, we know, there was not a word of truth. It was nothing but an ingenious attempt to enlist the feeling of a Roman governor against our Lord.
False witness and slander are two favorite weapons of the devil. He was a liar from the beginning, and is still the father of lies. (John 8:44.) When he finds that he cannot stop God’s work, his next device is to blacken the character of God’s servants, and to destroy the value of their testimony. With this weapon he assaulted David: "False witnesses," he says, "did rise against me: they laid to my charge things that I knew not." With this weapon he assaulted the prophets. Elijah was a "troubler of Israel"! Jeremiah was a man who "sought not the welfare of the people but the hurt"! (Psalms 35:11; 1 Kings 18:17; Jeremiah 38:4.) With this weapon he assaulted the apostles. They were "pestilent fellows," and men who "turned the world upside down." (Acts 24:5; Acts 17:6.) With this weapon he assaulted our Lord all through His ministry. He stirred up his agents to call Him a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a Samaritan and a devil. (Luke 7:34; John 8:48.) And here, in the verses before us, we find him plying his old weapon to the very last. Jesus is arraigned before Pilate upon charges which are utterly untrue.
The servant of Christ must never be surprised if he has to drink of the same cup with his Lord. When He who was holy, harmless, and undefiled, was foully slandered, who can expect to escape? "If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call them of his household?" (Matthew 10:25.) Nothing is too bad to be reported against a saint. Perfect innocence is no fence against enormous lying, calumny, and misrepresentation. The most blameless character will not secure us against false tongues. We must bear the trial patiently. It is part of the cross of Christ. We must sit still, lean back on God’s promises, and believe that in the long run truth will prevail. "Rest in the LORD," says David, "and wait patiently for Him."—"He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday." (Psalms 37:6-7.)
Let us observe, for another thing, in this passage, the strange and mingled motives which influence the hearts of unconverted great men. We are told that when our Lord was sent by Pilate to Herod, king of Galilee, "Herod was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him."
These words are remarkable. Herod was a sensual, worldly man,—the murderer of John the Baptist,—a man living in foul adultery with his brother’s wife. Such a man, we might have supposed, would have had no desire to see Christ. But Herod had an uneasy conscience. The blood of God’s murdered saints, no doubt, rose often before his eyes, and destroyed his peace. The fame of our Lord’s preaching and miracles had penetrated even into his court. It was said that another witness against sin had risen up, who was even more faithful and bold than John the Baptist, and who confirmed his teaching by works which even the power of kings could not perform. These rumors made Herod restless and uncomfortable. No wonder that his curiosity was stirred, and he "desired to see Christ."
It may be feared that there are many great and rich men like Herod in every age of the church, men without God, without faith, and living only for themselves. They generally live in an atmosphere of their own, flattered, fawned upon, and never told the truth about their souls,—haughty, tyrannical, and knowing no will but their own. Yet even these men are sometimes conscience-stricken and afraid. God raises up some bold witness against their sins, whose testimony reaches their ears. At once their curiosity is stirred. They feel "found out," and are ill at ease. They flutter round his ministry, like the moth round the candle, and seem unable to keep away from it, even while they do not obey it. They praise his talents and openly profess their admiration of his power. But they never get any further. Like Herod, their conscience produces within them a morbid curiosity to see and hear God’s witnesses. But, like Herod, their heart is linked to the world by chains of iron. Tossed to and fro by storms of lust or ungovernable passions, they are never at rest while they live, and after all their fitful struggles of conscience, they die at length in their sins.—This is a painful history. But it is the history of many rich men’s souls.
Let us learn from Herod’s case to pity great men. With all their greatness and apparent splendor, they are often thoroughly miserable within. Silks and satins and official robes, often cover hearts which are utter strangers to peace. That man knows not what he is wishing, who wishes to be a rich man.—Let us pray for rich men, as well as pity them. They carry weight in the race for eternal life. If they are saved, it can only be by the greatest miracles of God’s grace. Our Lord’s words are very solemn, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24.)
Let us observe, finally, in this passage, how easily and readily unconverted men can agree in disliking Christ. We are told that when Pilate sent our Lord a prisoner to Herod, "the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together; for before they were at enmity between themselves." We know not the cause of their enmity. It was probably some petty quarrel, such as will arise among great as well as small. But whatever the cause of enmity, it was laid aside when a common object of contempt, fear, or hatred was brought before them. Whatever else they disagreed about, Pilate and Herod could agree to despise and persecute Christ.
The incident before us is a striking emblem of a state of things which may always be seen in the world. Men of the most discordant opinions can unite in opposing truth. Teachers of the most opposite doctrines can make common cause in fighting against the Gospel. In the days of our Lord, the Pharisees and the Sadducees might be seen combining their forces to entrap Jesus of Nazareth and put Him to death. In our own times we sometimes see Romanists and Socinians,—infidels and idolaters,—worldly pleasure-lovers and bigoted ascetics,—the friends of so-called liberal views and the most determined opponents of all changes—all ranked together against evangelical religion. One common hatred binds them together. They hate the cross of Christ. To use the words of the apostles in the Acts: "Against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, are gathered together." (Acts 4:27.) All hate each other very much, but all hate Christ much more.
The true Christian must not count the enmity of the world a strange thing. He must not marvel, if like Paul at Rome, he finds the way of life, a "way everywhere spoken against," and if all around him agree in disliking his religion. (Acts 28:22.) If he expects that by any concession he can win the favor of man, he will be greatly deceived. Let not his heart be troubled. He must wait for the praise of God. The saying of his Master should often come across his mind: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:19.)
v1.—[Unto Pilate.] Pilate was the Roman governor of Judæa. Without him the Jews had no power to put our Lord to death. The mere fact that they were obliged to apply publicly to a foreign ruler for the carrying out their murderous plan, was a striking proof that the "sceptre had departed from Judah," and the time of Messiah had come. (Genesis 49:10.)
v2.—[Perverting...forbidding to give tribute.] The duplicity and dishonesty of this charge are evident. When the enemies of our Lord wanted to bring Him into disfavor with the Jews, they had asked Him "if it was lawful to pay tribute unto Cæsar.’’ (Luke 20:22.) But now when they want to make Him out an offender at the bar of the Roman governor, they charge Him with forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar the Roman emperor. The falseness of the charge is as striking as its dishonesty.
v3.—[Thou sayest it.] This is the remarkable saying which Paul refers to, when he tells Timothy that our Lord "before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession." (1 Timothy 6:13.) But we must remember that Luke only reports a portion of what our Lord said. The Gospel of John contains other particulars which are not reported here. (John 18:28-38.)
v4.—[I find no fault in this man.] It is clear that Pilate said this after the conversation with our Lord, reported by John, and after satisfying himself that He claimed no temporal kingdom, and was not such a King as would interfere with the Roman authority. He had in particular heard our Lord’s words, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36.)
v5.—[They were the more fierce.] The Greek word so translated, means literally, "they grew more strong, more violent, more urgent,—persisted in their accusation."
v7.—[He sent him to Herod.] This Herod was Herod Antipas, the same Herod who put to death John the Baptist. He was son of Herod the Great, who caused all the children under two years of age to be murdered at Bethlehem, and uncle of Herod Agrippa, who slew James the apostle with the sword, and would have slain Peter if he had not been miraculously delivered from prison.
The family of the Herods was Idumæan. They were all descended from Esau, the father of Edom. This circumstance is noteworthy, when we see their unceasing enmity against Christ and His people. The seed of Esau seems to carry on the old enmity against the seed of Jacob.
v8.—[Exceeding glad...desirous to see...heard many things, &c.] The expressions in this verse are very remarkable. They bring before us the fearful history of Herod’s sins, and throw light on the power of conscience. Herod had not forgotten John the Baptist and his testimony. Moreover he had probably heard much about our Lord from his steward Chuza, whose wife Joanna was one of our Lord’s disciples. (Luke 8:3.)
v9.—[He answered him nothing.] It is probable that it would have been useless to answer Herod’s questions. Herod had heard the truth often from John the Baptist’s mouth. What he wanted was not more knowledge, but a heart and a will to act upon what he knew.
v10.—[The chief priests and scribes stood.] It is clear that these bitter enemies of our Lord followed Him from place to place, and from court to court with their accusations. The great additional fatigue which this going backwards and forwards from one ruler to another must have entailed on our Lord, should be remembered in estimating the whole amount of His sufferings.
v11.—[With his men of war.] The Greek word so rendered, means literally, "his armed force," or "guards." Of course we cannot suppose that Herod had a large army with him. The soldiers around him were only his body guard or escort.
[Set him at nought...mocked...gorgeous robe.] It is evident that Herod regarded our Lord as little better than a foolish, fanatical and contemptible person,—a person to be mocked and ridiculed, but not to be feared. The gorgeous or shining robe put on Him, was probably such as candidates for high office used to wear. It was intended to ridicule His supposed claim to be a king, and to show that Herod thought it absurd. Thus was our Lord made a scorn of men, and the outcast of the people. (Psalms 22:6.)
[Sent him again to Pilate.] It is worthy of remark that we are specially told that neither the ruler of Galilee, nor the ruler of Judæa, could find any fault in our Lord. In Galilee most of His miracles had been wrought, and much of His time spent. Yet the ruler of Galilee had nothing to lay to His charge. He was to be crucified as "a lamb without blemish or spot."
v12.—[Pilate and Herod were made friends.] It is doubtless true that neither Pilate nor Herod were afraid of Christ, or were animated by any special feeling of hatred towards Him personally. But it is no less true that they agreed in despising Him, and insulting Him, and were utterly unbelieving as to His claim to faith and respect. Their reconciliation therefore on the occasion of His trial, is a fact that is very significant and instructive.
It is certain that the circumstance struck the apostles very much. They regarded it as a fulfilment of part of the second Psalm. They mentioned in prayer to God the union of Pilate, Herod, and the Jews against their Master. See Acts 4:23-30.
I mention this, because there is a disposition in some quarters, now-a-days, to deny the significance of the reconciliation of Pilate and Herod, and the correctness of the lesson commonly drawn from it. The comment of the Holy Ghost on the transaction outweighs all the reasonings of man.
Theophylact remarks on this verse, that "It is matter of shame to Christians, that while the devil can persuade wicked men to lay aside their enmities, in order to do harm, Christians cannot even keep up friendship in order to do good."
WE should observe, for one thing, in this passage, what striking testimony was borne to our Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect innocence by His judges.
We are told that Pilate said to the Jews, "Ye have brought this man unto me as one that perverteth the people: and behold I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod." The Roman and the Galilæan governors were both of one mind. Both agreed in pronouncing our Lord not guilty of the things laid to His charge.
There was a peculiar fitness in this public declaration of Christ’s innocence. Our Lord, we must remember, was about to be offered up as a sacrifice for our sins. It was meet and right that those who examined Him should formally pronounce Him a guiltless and blameless person. It was meet and right that the Lamb of God should be found by those who slew Him "a Lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19.) The over-ruling hand of God so ordered the events of His trial, that even when His enemies were judges, they could find no fault and prove nothing against Him.
The circumstance before us may seem of trifling moment to a careless Bible reader. It ought however to commend itself to the heart of every well-instructed Christian. We ought to be daily thankful that our great Substitute was in all respects perfect, and that our Surety was a complete and faultless Surety.—What child of man can count the number of his sins? We leave undone things we should do; and do things we ought not to do, every day we live. But this must be our comfort, that Christ the Righteous has undertaken to stand in our place, to pay the debt we all owe, and to fulfill the law we have all broken. He did fulfill that law completely. He satisfied all its demands. He accomplished all its requirements. He was the second Adam, who had "clean hands and a pure heart," and could therefore enter with boldness into God’s holy hill. (Psalms 24:4.) He is the righteousness of all sinners who believe in Him. (Romans 10:4.) In Him all believers are counted perfect fulfillers of the law. The eyes of a holy God behold them in Christ, clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness. For Christ’s sake God can now say of the believer, "I find in him no fault at all."
Let us learn for another thing, in this passage, how thoroughly the Jews took on themselves the whole responsibility of our Lord Jesus Christ’s death. We are told that when Pilate was "willing to release Jesus," the Jews "cried, saying, crucify him, crucify him!" Again, we are told that "they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified."
This fact in the history of our Lord’s passion deserves particular notice. It shows the strict accuracy of the words of the apostles in after times, when speaking of Christ’s death. They speak of it as the act of the Jewish nation, and not of the Romans. "Ye killed the Prince of life," says Peter to the Jews at Jerusalem. "Ye slew and hanged him on a tree." (Acts 3:15; Acts 5:30.) "The Jews have both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets," says Paul to the Thessalonians. (1 Thessalonians 2:15.) So long as the world stands the fact before us is a memorial of man’s natural hatred against God. When the Son of God came down to earth and dwelt among His own chosen people, they despised Him, rejected Him, and slew Him.
The fearful responsibility which the Jews took on themselves in the matter of our Lord’s death was not forgotten by God. The righteous blood which they shed has been crying against them as a people for eighteen hundred years. Scattered all over the earth, wanderers among the nations, without a land, without a government, without a home, the Jews show to this day that their own words have been terribly fulfilled. The blood of their slain Messiah "is upon them and upon their children." They are a standing warning to the world that it is a fearful thing to reject the Lord Christ, and that the nation which speaks stoutly against God, must not be surprised if God deals with it according to its words. Marvelous indeed is the thought that there is mercy in store for Israel, notwithstanding all its sins and unbelief! The nation which pierced and slew Him, shall yet look to Him by faith and be restored to favor. (Zechariah 12:10.)
We should observe, lastly, in this passage, the remarkable circumstances connected with the release of Barabbas. We are told that Pilate "released him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom the Jews had desired; but delivered Jesus to their will." Two persons were before him, and he must needs release one of the two. The one was a sinner against God and man, a malefactor stained with many crimes. The other was the holy, harmless, and undefiled Son of God, in whom there was no fault at all. And yet Pilate condemns the innocent prisoner and acquits the guilty! He orders Barabbas to be set free, and delivers Jesus to be crucified.
The circumstance before us is very instructive. It shows the bitter malice of the Jews against our Lord. To use the words of Peter, "They denied the holy one and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted to them." (Acts 3:14.) It shows the deep humiliation to which our Lord submitted, in order to procure our redemption. He allowed Himself to be reckoned lighter in the balance than a murderer, and to be counted more guilty than the chief of sinners!
But there is a deeper meaning yet beneath the circumstance before us, which we must not fail to observe. The whole transaction is a lively emblem of that wondrous exchange that takes place between Christ and the sinner, when a sinner is justified in the sight of God. Christ has been made "sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21.) Christ the innocent has been reckoned guilty before God, that we the guilty might be reckoned innocent, and be set free from condemnation.
If we are true Christians, let us daily lean our souls on the comfortable thought that Christ has really been our Substitute, and has been punished in our stead. Let us freely confess that, like Barabbas, we deserve death, judgment, and hell. But let us cling firmly to the glorious truth that a sinless Savior has suffered in our stead, and that believing in Him the guilty may go free.
v13.—[He had called together.] This expression seems to denote a general gathering of the leading persons among the Jews, in order that the declaration of our Lord’s innocence might be as public and unmistakeable as possible. It made it impossible for the Jews afterwards to deny that the Roman governor found our Lord "not guilty."
v14.—[Have found no fault.] Burgon remarks here, that we ought to notice, "how many and what various persons bear testimony to the innocence of the Holy One,—Pilate, Herod, Pilate’s wife, Judas Iscariot, the thief on the cross, and the centurion," who superintended the crucifixion. We cannot doubt that this was specially overruled and ordered by the providence of God.
v15.—[Nothing worthy of death is done unto him.] There seems no doubt that these words would have been better rendered, "nothing worthy of death has been done by him." This is the opinion of Scholefield, Major, and Alford. Compare Acts 25:11, Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31.
v16.—[Chastise.] This means "chastise by scourging." Doddridge paraphrases the verse, "When I have chastised Him by scourging, which will be an admonition to Him for the future not to use those wild and enthusiastical expressions, which have given so much umbrage and suspicion, I will let Him go." Pilate appears to have hoped that by this comparatively slight punishment of one whom he regarded as a harmless fanatic, he should satisfy the Jews.
v17.—[Of necessity he must release one.] Major remarks, "By whom or at what time this practice originated, is not determined. The most probable opinion is that it was introduced by the Romans, and perhaps by Pilate, at the beginning of his government, in order to gratify the Jewish people."
v18.—[Barabbas.] I am quite unable to receive the opinion held by some, that the scape-goat in the Jewish law was a type of Barabbas. I believe that the scape-goat was a type of Christ rising again, and not of Christ crucified. Barabbas was a type of the sinner deserving judgment and yet set free.
v20.—[Willing to release Jesus.] Pilate’s desire to acquit our Lord and set Him free, coupled with his great desire to please the Jews and get the praise of man. is a striking picture of the slavery to which a great man without principle may be reduced.
v21.—[Crucify him.] Crucifixion was not only the most painful, but the most ignominious and disgraceful death to which a person could be sentenced. Bishop Pearson remarks, "By the ignominy of this punishment, we are taught how far our Saviour descended for us, that while we were slaves, and in bondage unto sin, He might redeem us by a servile death."
v22.—[The third time.] Pilate’s thrice repeated declaration of our Lord’s innocence is deserving of notice. Bishop Pearson remarks, "It was thought necessary to include the name of Pilate in the creed, as of one who gave a most powerful external testimony to the certainty of our Saviour’s death, and the innocency of his life. He did not only profess, to the condemnation of the Jews, that he found nothing worthy of death in Christ; but left the same written to the Gentiles of the Roman empire. Two ways he is related to have given most ample testimony to the truth, first by an express written to Tiberius and by him presented to the senate, and secondly by records written in tables of all things of moment which were acted in his government." For this last statement Pearson gives the authority of Tertullian, Eusebius, and Justin Martyr.
v23.—[They were instant.] This is the same Greek word that is translated "pressed upon him" in Luke 5:1, and "lay upon us" in Acts 27:20.
v24.—[That it should be as they required.] These words would have been rendered more literally "that their request should be."
v25.—[To their will.] This means "the will of the Jews." Let it be noted here, and throughout Luke’s account of our Lord’s passion, how much less he says of the things done by the Roman soldiers, than either Matthew, Mark, or John. The reason is simple. Luke wrote specially for the use of the Gentile Christians. He desired to keep before their minds prominently, that though our Lord was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the persons most to blame for His death were not Gentiles but Jews.
WE ought to notice, in this passage, our Lord’s words of prophetical warning. We read that He said to the women who followed Him, as He was being led away to Calvary, "Weep not for me, but for yourselves. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck."
These words must have sounded peculiarly terrible to the ears of a Jewish woman. To her it was always a disgrace to be childless. The idea of a time coming when it would be a blessing to have no children, must have been a new and tremendous thought to her mind. And yet within fifty years this prediction of Christ was literally fulfilled! The siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army under Titus, brought down on all the inhabitants of the city the most horrible sufferings from famine and pestilence that can be conceived. Women are reported to have actually eaten their own children during the siege for want of food. Upon none did the last judgments sent upon the Jewish nation fall so heavily as upon the wives, the mothers, and the little children.
Let us beware of supposing that the Lord Jesus holds out to man nothing but mercy, pardon, love, and forgiveness. Beyond all doubt He is plenteous in mercy. There is mercy with Him like a mighty stream. He "delighteth in mercy." But we must never forget that there is justice with Him as well as mercy. There are judgments preparing for the impenitent and the unbelieving. There is wrath revealed in the Gospel for those who harden themselves in wickedness. The same cloud which was bright to Israel was dark to the Egyptians. The same Lord Jesus who invites the laboring and heavy-laden to come to Him and rest, declares most plainly that unless a man repents he will perish, and that he who believeth not shall be damned. (Luke 13:3; Mark 16:16.)
The same Savior who now holds out His hands to the disobedient and gainsaying, will come one day in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those that know not God and obey not the Gospel. (2 Thessalonians 1:8.) Let these things sink down into our hearts. Christ is indeed most gracious. But the day of grace must come to an end at last. An unbelieving world will find at length, as Jerusalem did, that there is judgment with God as well as mercy. No wrath will fall so heavily as that which has been long accumulating and heaping up.
We ought to notice, for another thing, in this passage, our Lord’s words of gracious intercession. We read that when He was crucified, His first words were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." His own racking agony of body did not make Him forget others. The first of His seven sayings on the cross was a prayer for the souls of His murderers. His prophetical office He had just exhibited by a remarkable prediction. His kingly office He was about to exhibit soon by opening the door of paradise to the penitent thief. His priestly office He now exhibited by interceding for those who crucified Him. "Father," He said, "forgive them."
The fruits of this wonderful prayer will never be fully seen until the day when the books are opened, and the secrets of all hearts are revealed. We have probably not the least idea how many of the conversions to God at Jerusalem which took place during the first six months after the crucifixion, were the direct reply to this marvelous prayer. Perhaps this prayer was the first step towards the penitent thief’s repentance. Perhaps it was one means of affecting the centurion, who declared our Lord "a righteous man," and the people who "smote their breasts and returned." Perhaps the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost, foremost, it may be at one time among our Lord’s murderers, owed their conversion to this very prayer.—The day will declare it. There is nothing secret that shall not be revealed. This only we know, that "the Father heareth the Son alway." (John 11:42.) We may be sure that this wondrous prayer was heard.
Let us see in our Lord’s intercession for those who crucified Him, one more proof of Christ’s infinite love to sinners. The Lord Jesus is indeed most pitiful, most compassionate, most gracious. None are too wicked for Him to care for. None are too far gone in sin for his almighty heart to take interest about their souls. He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. He heard the prayer of the dying thief. He stopped under the tree to call the publican Zacchæus. He came down from heaven to turn the heart of the persecutor Saul. He found time to pray for His murderers even on the cross. Love like this is a love that passeth knowledge. The vilest of sinners have no cause to be afraid of applying to a Savior like this. If we want warrant and encouragement to repent and believe, the passage before us surely supplies enough.
Finally, let us see in our Lord’s intercession a striking example of the spirit which should reign in the hearts of all His people. Like Him, let us return good for evil, and blessing for cursing. Like Him, let us pray for those who evil entreat us and persecute us. The pride of our hearts may often rebel against the idea. The fashion of this world may call it mean-spirited to behave in such a way. But let us never be ashamed to imitate our divine Master. The man who prays for his enemies shows the mind that was in Christ, and will have his reward.
v26.—[As they led him away, &c.] Let it be noted, that Luke says nothing about the cruel treatment which our Lord received from the Roman soldiers, after Pilate had condemned Him. His Gospel was specially written for the Gentiles, and he purposely passes over the conduct of the Gentiles at this particular stage of our Lord’s passion.
I cannot admit the justice of Alford’s remark on this verse. He says, "The break between Luke 23:25 and Luke 23:26 is harsh in the extreme, and if Luke had any materials wherewith to fill it up, I have no doubt he would have done so." I deeply regret the tendency of this remark. I believe that Luke was entirely guided by the Holy Ghost, both in the details which he omits and the details which he inserts. And I believe that the omission of any details of Christ’s passion between the condemnation and the going forth to Calvary, was advisedly and wisely ordered, in order to meet the prejudices of Gentile readers.
[They lay hold upon one Simon, &c.] It would appear that our Lord carried the cross Himself until He was exhausted, and that after this Simon was pressed into the service of carrying it by the soldiers.
Nothing certain is known about this Simon, although the mention of his sons, Alexander and Rufus, by Mark, (Mark 15:21), would lead us to suppose that he was a disciple of Christ when the Gospels were written, whatever he was at the time of the crucifixion. Cornelius à Lapide mentions several traditions concerning Simon and his sons, which are not worth repeating.
v27.—[A great company of people and of women.] Who these were we are not told. Some commentators think they were disciples and friends of Christ. Most think that they were persons who were moved to pity by the sight of an innocent person suffering, but had no sense of their own sins, and no faith in Christ. "Melting affections," says Burkitt, "are not infallible marks of grace, even when they proceed from a sense of Christ’s sufferings." This last opinion seems most probable, when we consider the tenor of the next two verses.
Burgon quotes a remark, "that no woman is mentioned as speaking against our Lord in His life, or having a share in His death. On the contrary, He was anointed by a woman for His burial;—women were the last at His grave and the first at His resurrection;—to a woman He first appeared when He rose again;—women ministered to His wants;—women bewailed and lamented Him;—a heathen woman interceded for His life with her husband, Pilate;—and, above all, of a woman He was born."
v28.—[Daughters of Jerusalem.] This expression helps the theory that the people who accompanied our Lord to Calvary were not disciples. We have no account in the Gospels of any women of Jerusalem who believed.
[Yourselves and your children.] Let it be noted, that many of the women to whom our Lord here spoke, might easily have been living forty years after, when Titus took Jerusalem.
v29.—[The days are coming, &c.] These "days" mean the period of the last wars between the Jews and the Romans, and in particular the siege of Jerusalem.
v30.—[To say to the mountains...to the hills, &c.] The expressions of this verse are figurative and parabolical. They signify the intense misery and distress, and the desperate helplessness of all who would be found inside Jerusalem during its siege. See Isaiah 2:19. Hebrews 10:27. Revelation 6:16.
Some have seen a reference in the words to the caverns and excavations in the rocks under Jerusalem, in which many of the Jews took refuge when the city was taken.
v31.—[A green tree...the dry.] The common opinion of all the best commentators is, that our Lord here contrasts Himself and the Jewish nation. "If the Romans practice such cruelties on me, who am a green tree, and the very source of life, what will they do one day to your nation, which is like a barren, withered trunk, dead in trespasses and sins?"
Bengel maintains that the "green tree" here represents the young, strong, and healthy,—and the "dry tree" the old, feeble, and barren. In support of this view he quotes a passage from Josephus, describing how the Romans, after Jerusalem was taken, slew the old and feeble Jews, but shut up in confinement those who were vigorous and serviceable. In this opinion, however, Bengel stands almost alone.
v32.—[Malefactors led with him.] This, let it be noted, was a literal fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that Messiah was to be "numbered with the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12.)
v33.—[The place which is called Calvary.] The reason why this place was so called is not known with certainty, and has given rise to many conjectures.
Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Augustine, Cyril, and others, according to Cornelius à Lapide, hold the absurd opinion that Calvary was the place where Adam was buried.
Jerome, Bede, Jansenius, and others, hold that Calvary was a place where criminals were executed, and sometimes beheaded, and where skulls and bones of dead men were consequently lying about.
Some have thought that Calvary was a bare, rocky hill, not unlike a skull in shape and appearance, and that hence arose its name.
Let it be noted, that at the time when our Lord was crucified, Calvary was outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was meet and right that our Lord, as the great sacrifice for sin, should suffer without the gate. (Hebrews 13:12.) At the present day, the place commonly supposed to have been Calvary is within the walls of Jerusalem.
The common opinion that Calvary was a mount or hill is, at any rate, destitute of any foundation in Scripture. All the four Gospel-writers speak of it as ’’a place." Not one of them calls it a "mount."
v34.—[Father, forgive them.] These words were probably spoken while our Lord was being nailed to the cross, or as soon as the cross was reared up on end. It is worthy of remark that as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow, the Great High Priest began to intercede.
Let it be noted, that during the six hours in which our Lord was on the cross, He showed that He possessed full power as the Son of God, and that though He suffered, His sufferings were voluntarily undertaken. As King and Prophet He opened the gates of life to the penitent thief, and foretold his entrance into Paradise. As Priest, He intercedes, in the words before us, for those who crucified Him.
[They know not what they do.] The principle involved in this saying deserves notice, and requires fencing with two preliminary remarks.
On the one hand, we must beware of supposing that ignorance is not blameworthy, and that ignorant persons deserve to be forgiven their sins. At this rate ignorance would be a desirable thing. All spiritual ignorance is more or less culpable. It is part of man’s sin, that he does not know better than he does. His not knowing God is only part of his guilt.
On the other hand, we cannot fail to observe in Scripture that sins of ignorance are less sinful before God than sins of knowledge, and that, no case is apparently so hopeless as that of the man who sins wilfully against light.
Our lord’s meaning in the words before us appears to be that those who crucified Him did not at the time know the full amount of the wickedness they were committing. They knew that they were crucifying one whom they regarded as an impostor. They did not know that they were actually crucifying their own Messiah, the Son of God.—This is what Peter distinctly asserts, "I wot that through ignorance ye did it." (Acts 3:17.) So also Paul says, "Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Corinthians 2:8.) To use the words of Gill on this place, our Lord "does not mention the ignorance of those He prays for as a plea for pardon, but as a description of their state." As Clarke observes, "If ignorance does not excuse a crime, at least it diminishes the intensity of it."
The question naturally arises, "Who were those for whom our Lord prayed?"—I cannot, as some do, confine His prayer to the Roman soldiers who nailed Him to the cross. I rather regard it as applying also to the great bulk of the Jewish people who were standing by, and aiding and abetting His crucifixion. They were mere tools in the hands of the leading Scribes and Pharisees. They were blindly led by blind teachers. They did not really know what they were doing.
Whether our Lord included the Chief Priests and Scribes, Annas and Caiaphas and their companions, who had heard His declaration that He was the Christ, and yet formally rejected and condemned Him, I think more than doubtful. I believe they were given over to judicial blindness, and most of them probably perished in their sins. We never read of any of them being converted. The priests who were "obedient to the faith," (Acts 6:7,) were probably of a different party from those who condemned Christ.
Let it be noted, that the union of clear head-knowledge of Christ with wilful heart-rejection of Him, is the nearest approach that can be made to a definition of the unpardonable sin. Paul seems to teach this in the sixth chapter of Hebrews. Above all, he seems to point to this when he says of himself, "I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Timothy 1:13.)
[Parted his raiment and cast lots.] Let it be noted here, that our Lord was evidently crucified naked. The shame and unseemliness of such a posture in death, must doubtless have added much to the misery of the punishment of crucifixion.
The literal fulfilment of the twenty-second Psalm in this verse and in the following one, ought to be carefully observed. (Psalms 22:17-18.) The prophecies about Christ’s first advent to suffer were fulfilled and accomplished in every word. In like manner, and by analogy, we are justified in expecting a literal fulfilment of every word in the prophecies of Christ’s second advent to reign in glory.
v35.—[He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ.] The utter blindness of the Jewish nation on the subject of Messiah’s sufferings is a very remarkable fact. To us those sufferings appear most plainly foretold by David, Daniel, and Isaiah (Psalms 22:1-31. Daniel 9:1-27. Isaiah 53:1-12.), and most plainly prefigured and typified by all the sacrifices of the Mosaic law. Yet the Jewish teachers of our Lord’s time could not see them. The idea of Messiah "saving others" by His own death seems never to have entered into their minds. The words before us are a striking proof of the blindness of the rulers. They might have been told most truly, "Because this person before you is Christ, He does not save Himself; and He does not save Himself in order that He may save others."
v37.—[If thou be...King of the Jews...save thyself.] The difference between the mockery of the Jewish rulers and of the soldiers ought to be noticed. The Jews mocked our Lord as a helpless "Christ," or Messiah unable to save Himself, and therefore unfit to be a Saviour of Israel.—The ignorant Gentile soldiers, on the contrary, mocked Him as a helpless "King of the Jews," without a crown, a kingdom, or an army, and therefore only fit to be ridiculed.—The Jew scoffed at His claim to be called the Messiah. The Gentile scoffed at His claim to be regarded as a king. The cross and the apparent weakness, were, as usual, the stumbling stone in both cases.
v38.—[A superscription...Greek...Latin...Hebrew.] All careful readers of the Bible must have observed that the superscription placed over our Lord’s head on the cross is variously given by the Gospel-writers. Each one reports it in a manner slightly different from the other three. This apparent discrepancy has given rise to various explanations.
In order to solve the difficulty, we must remember that the superscription was written in three different languages. Greek was the language best known in the world at the time when our Lord was crucified, and there was a Greek superscription for the benefit of strangers from foreign parts.—Latin was the language of the Romans, and there was a Latin superscription, because the sentence on our Lord was passed by a Latin judge, and executed by Latin soldiers.—Hebrew was the language of the Jews, and there was a superscription in the Hebrew tongue, or in some dialect of the Hebrew, because Jesus was crucified as a Jew, that all Jews might see it. But for anything we know, the superscription in each language may have slightly varied from the superscription in other languages. Matthew may have recorded it as it was in Hebrew,—Mark as it was in Latin,—Luke as it was in Greek,—and John, writing many years after the others, may have given the general substance of the other three.
This solution of the difficulty appears reasonable, and preferable to any other.
[The King of the Jews.] Let it be observed, that our Lord was crucified at last as a King. He came to set up a spiritual kingdom, and as a King He died.
THE verses we have now read deserve to be printed in letters of gold. They have probably been the salvation of myriads of souls. Multitudes will thank God to all eternity that the Bible contains this story of the penitent thief.
We see, firstly, in the history before us, the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. We are told that two malefactors were crucified together with our Lord, one on His right hand and the other on His left. Both were equally near to Christ. Both saw and heard all that happened, during the six hours that He hung on the cross. Both were dying men, and suffering acute pain. Both were alike wicked sinners, and needed forgiveness. Yet one died in his sins, as he had lived, hardened, impenitent, and unbelieving. The other repented, believed, cried to Jesus for mercy, and was saved.
A fact like this should teach us humility. We cannot account for it. We can only say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight." (Matthew 11:26.) How it is that under precisely the same circumstances one man is converted and another remains dead in sins,—why the very same sermon is heard by one man with perfect indifference and sends another home to pray and seek Christ,—why the same Gospel is hid to one and revealed to another, all these are questions which we cannot possibly answer. We only know that it is so, and that it is useless to deny it.
Our own duty is clear and plain. We are to make a diligent use of all the means which God has appointed for the good of souls. There is no necessity that any one should be lost. There is no such a thing as decreed damnation in the Bible. The offers of the Gospel are wide, free and general. "In all our doings," says the 17th Article, "that will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared to us in the word of God." God’s sovereignty was never meant to destroy man’s responsibility. One thief was saved that no sinner might despair, but only one, that no sinner might presume.
We see secondly in this history, the unvarying character of repentance unto salvation. This is a point in the penitent thief’s story which is fearfully overlooked. Thousands look at the broad fact that he was saved in the hour of death, and look no further. They do not look at the distinct and well-defined evidences of repentance which fell from his lips before he died. Those evidences deserve our closest attention.
The first notable step in the thief’s repentance was his concern about his companion’s wickedness in reviling Christ. "Dost thou not fear God," he said, "seeing thou art in the same condemnation?"—The second step was a full acknowledgment of his own sin. "We indeed are justly in condemnation. We receive the due reward of our deeds."—The third step was an open confession of Christ’s innocence. "This man hath done nothing amiss."—The fourth step was faith in Jesus Christ’s power and will to save him. He turned to a crucified sufferer, and called Him "Lord," and declared his belief that He had a kingdom.—The fifth step was prayer. He cried to Jesus when he was hanging on the cross, and asked Him even then to think upon his soul.—The sixth and last step was humility. He begged to be "remembered" by our Lord. He mentions no great thing. Enough for him if he is remembered by Christ. These six points should always be remembered in connection with the penitent thief. His time was very short for giving proof of his conversion. But it was time well used. Few dying people have ever left behind them such good evidences as were left by this man.
Let us beware of a repentance without evidences. Thousands, it may be feared, are every year going out of the world with a lie in their right hand. They fancy they will be saved because the thief was saved in the hour of death. They forget that if they would be saved as he was, they must repent as he repented. The shorter a man’s time is, the better must be the use he makes of it. The nearer he is to death, when he first begins to think, the clearer must be the evidence he leaves behind. Nothing, it may be safely laid down as a general rule, nothing is so thoroughly unsatisfactory as a death-bed repentance.
We see, thirdly, in this history, the amazing power and willingness of Christ to save sinners. It is written that He is "able to save to the uttermost." (Hebrews 7:25.) If we search the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall never find a more striking proof of Christ’s power and mercy than the salvation of the penitent thief.
The time when the thief was saved was the hour of our Lord’s greatest weakness. He was hanging in agony on the cross. Yet even then He heard and granted a sinner’s petition, and opened to him the gate of life. Surely this was "power"!
The man whom our Lord saved was a wicked sinner at the point of death, with nothing in his past life to recommend him, and nothing notable in his present position but a humble prayer. Yet even he was plucked like a brand from the burning. Surely this was "mercy."
Do we want proof that salvation is of grace and not of works? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could do literally nothing for his own soul. Yet even he through Christ’s infinite grace was saved. No one ever received such a strong assurance of his own forgiveness as this man.
Do we want proof that sacraments and ordinances are not absolutely needful to salvation, and that men may be saved without them when they cannot be had? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was never baptized, belonged to no visible church, and never received the Lord’s supper. But he repented and believed, and therefore he was saved.
Let these things sink down into our hearts. Christ never changes. The way of salvation is always one and the same. He lives who saved the penitent thief. There is hope for the vilest sinner, if he will only repent and believe.
We see, lastly, in the history before us, how near a dying believer is to rest and glory. We read that our Lord said to the malefactor in reply to his prayer, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
That word "to-day" contains a body of divinity. It tells us that the very moment a believer dies, his soul is in happiness and in safe keeping. His full redemption is not yet come. His perfect bliss will not begin before the resurrection morning. But there is no mysterious delay, no season of suspense, no purgatory, between his death and a state of reward. In the day that he breathes his last he goes to Paradise. In the hour that he departs he is with Christ. (Philippians 1:23.)
Let us remember these things, when our believing friends fall asleep in Christ. We must not sorrow for them as those who have no hope. While we are sorrowing they are rejoicing. While we are putting on our mourning, and weeping at their funerals, they are safe and happy with their Lord.—Above all, let us remember these things, if we are true Christians, in looking forward to our own deaths. To die is a solemn thing. But if we die in the Lord, we need not doubt that our death will be gain.
v39.—[One of the malefactors...railed...&c.] The question naturally arises, How are we to reconcile Luke’s account of the conduct of the thieves with the account given by Matthew and Mark? They distinctly say that both the thieves railed. Luke says, "one of them."
1. Some think that only one thief railed, and that Matthew and Mark use the plural number, in the general way that people sometimes use it, when describing a transaction. They adduce as instances Psalms 2:2; Hebrews 11:33-34, Hebrews 11:37. This, according to Maldonatus, is the opinion of Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory, and Leo. It is also held by Scott and Doddridge.
2. Some think that both the thieves railed at first, but that one of them afterwards repented, ceased to rail, and began to pray. This is the opinion of Athanasius, Origen, Hilary, Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius. It seems far the most probable opinion.
Let it be noted that the impenitent thief is a striking proof that pain, suffering, and the approach of death, are not sufficient, without grace, to convert a soul. The followers of the impenitent thief are unhappily far more numerous than those of the penitent thief.
v40.—[The other answering, rebuked him.] Who this malefactor was, and what first struck his conscience and moved him to repent, we are not told. Some say, as Bengel, that he was a Gentile; and some as Scott, that he was a Jew.—Some think, as Suarez, that he had heard our Lord preach, and seen Him work miracles at some former period.—Some think, as Euthymius, that he had heard our Lord’s answers to Pilate, and been struck by them and so learned to believe in our Lord’s kingdom.—Some think, as Stier, that he was struck by the title put over our Lord’s head on the cross.—Some think, as Theophylact, that he was pricked to the heart by hearing our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, and by seeing our Lord’s patience under suffering. All these are purely conjectural ideas.
Cornelius à Lapide surpasses all other writers in his remarks on the thief. He mentions with much gravity an opinion of Fererius, that the shadow of Christ on the cross, as the day wore on, fell on the thief, and was the cause of his conversion, as the shadow of Peter healed the sick! He adds another opinion, that Mary stood between the thief and Christ, and obtained grace for him! He also tells us that the name of the thief was Dismas, that his name in the calendar of saints is March the 25th, and that chapels are erected in honor of his name! It is well that people should know how much rubbish can be found in the pages of an accredited Roman Catholic commentator.
As to the nation of the thief, it is probable that he was a Jew. Our Lord’s words to him seem to imply that. He would hardly have spoken of "paradise" to a Gentile. As to the cause of his conversion, it is safest to rest in the belief that it arose from the free, sovereign grace of Christ, and was intended to be a proof of Christ’s power to save even at His time of greatest weakness, and a pattern of Christ’s willingness to save the chief of sinners.
[Dost not thou fear God.] Our English version has hardly given the full sense of the Greek words. Scholefield would render it, "Dost not even thou fear God? Even thou, in thy circumstances of desperate wretchedness,—whatever others may do in the unthinking levity of present security?"
v41.—[This man has done nothing amiss.] The Greek word here translated "amiss," is only found in two other places. (Acts 28:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:2.) In one it is rendered "harm;"—in the other "unreasonable."
The sentence rather favors the idea that the thief had either heard or seen something of our Lord before, though he had not been a disciple. We must either suppose this, or else we must suppose that he knew generally that he was being crucified in company with a man whom Pilate and Herod thought innocent.
v42.—[Lord remember me, &c.] The remarks of Ness on this wonderful prayer are worth reading. "This short prayer contained a very large and long creed, the articles whereof are these. 1. He believed that the soul died not with the body of man;—2. That there is a world to come for rewarding the pious and penitent, and for punishing the impious and impenitent;—3. That Christ, though now under crucifying and killing tortures, yet had right to a kingdom;—4. That this kingdom was in a better world than the present evil world;—5. That Christ would not keep this kingdom all to himself;—6. That He would bestow a part and portion hereof on those that are truly penitent;—7. That the key of this kingdom did hang at Christ’s girdle, though he now hung dying on the cross;—8. That he does roll his whole soul for eternal salvation upon a dying Saviour.
Ness remarks, also, that the two malefactors, one penitent and the other impenitent, one on the right hand and the other on the left, are "a clear emblem of the sheep and goats" in the day of judgment.
[Into thy kingdom.] Scholefield remarks, that these words would have been better translated, "in thy kingdom."
It is observed justly, by Lightfoot, Bengel, and other writers, that not one of the twelve apostles had such a clear and correct view of the real nature of Christ’s "kingdom" as this penitent thief had.
v43.—[Verily I say unto thee.] The use of the word "amen," or "verily" here, shows the authority and power with which our Lord even on the cross could save souls, and the certainty with which the grant of paradise was made to the thief. His great faith received a great reward. No child of Adam ever received such an assurance as this.
[To-day shalt thou be with me.] This sentence deserves close attention.
It is a distinct answer to the Romish doctrine of purgatory. It shows clearly that no purification of any kind after death is needed for the person that dies a penitent believer. If the thief needed no purgatory, the whole doctrine of purgatory falls to the ground.
It is an instructive intimation as to the state of believers after death. The moment they die they are "with Christ." Their condition of course is one we cannot pretend to explain. We cannot comprehend the state of a soul separate from the body. Enough for us to know that a dead believer is immediately with Christ.
It is a clear proof of the separate existence of the soul when the body is dead. We shall live and have a being, even when our earthly tabernacle is mouldering in the grave. The thief’s body was that day to be broken and mangled by Roman soldiers. But the thief himself was to be with Christ.
Maldonatus, the Roman Catholic commentator, struggles in vain to show that the passage before us does not disprove purgatory. He maintains that the thief must have believed in purgatory, from the fact of his praying to be remembered when Christ came in His kingdom, and not before! Such arguing shows the straits to which a man is reduced by an unscriptural theory.
[In paradise.] The word so translated is only found in two other places in the New Testament. (2 Corinthians 12:4, and Revelation 2:7.) Parkhurst says, "This is without controversy an oriental word. The Greeks borrowed it from the Persians, among whom it signified a garden, park, or inclosure, full of all the valuable products of the earth. In this sense the word is found in Herodotus, Xenophon, and Diodorus. In the New Testament the word is applied to the state of faithful souls between death and the resurrection, when, like Adam in Eden, they are admitted to immediate communion with God in Christ, and to a participation of the true tree of life."
Brentius maintains that the passion of Christ opened Paradise, which had been closed since Adam fell, and that these words proclaimed the opening.
It is clear from the whole narrative that the penitent thief died unbaptized. To avoid this difficulty some writers of Romish tendency have actually caught at the idea, suggested by Augustine, that he was baptized with the blood and water which came from our Lord’s side, when it was pierced with a spear! This baseless and gratuitous assertion shows the absurdities into which men may be driven to maintain their theory of baptismal regeneration. It is clear that the thief was born again. It is equally clear that he was never baptized. It follows therefore that a man may be born again without baptism.
The general remarks made by all the best commentators on the case of the penitent thief are very striking. It would be impossible to give them all. Cornelius à Lapide collects many good things from the Fathers, and Gerhard is peculiarly full of good matter in considering the whole narrative.
Heinsius remarks that Christ never wrought a greater or more illustrious miracle than He did in saving the penitent thief.
The Church of England Homily of Good Works quotes Chrysostom, saying, ’’I can show a man that by faith without works lived and came to heaven: but without faith never man had life. The thief, that was hanged when Christ suffered, did believe only, and the most merciful God justified him. And because no man shall say, that he lacked time to do good works, for else he would have done them, truth it is, I will not contend therein; but this I will surely affirm, that faith only saved him."
Luther, quoted by Stier, says, "This is a comfortable symbol and example for all Christians, how that God will never let faith in Christ and a confession of His name go down. If the disciples as a body, and those otherwise related to Christ, confess not and lose their faith, deny Him in fear, are offended and forsake Him, this malefactor and murderer must come forward to confess Him, to preach Him to others, and teach all men who He is and what consolation all may find in Him."
Rollock, on the Passion, says, "I say of this man, to the glory of God, that he shamed all that stood by. He shamed the Apostles and made them cast down their faces. He shamed all men who will not believe, when they see Christ not crucified as he saw, but glorified in the heavens, and sitting at the right hand of Majesty."—"The Lord raised him up on the gallows to be a teacher of faith and repentance, of hope, of patience, of love, and of all graces. Think no shame to learn of him."
Baxter says, "The thief’s example showeth us what election freely doeth in calling one, while another is passed by. Christ would give this present proof of the virtue of His sacrifice to call and justify sinners. True conversion is never too late to the obtaining of mercy and salvation. True repentance and faith, however late, will have its fruits. This man was not saved without good works."
LET us observe in these verses, the miraculous signs which accompanied our Lord’s death on the cross. We are told that there was "a darkness over all the earth" for three hours. "The sun was darkened and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst."
It was meet and right that the attention of all around Jerusalem should be arrested in a marked way, when the great sacrifice for sin was being offered, and the Son of God was dying. There were signs and wonders wrought in the sight of all Israel, when the law was given on Sinai. There were signs and wonders in like manner when the atoning blood of Christ was shed on Calvary. There was a sign for an unbelieving world. The darkness at mid-day was a miracle which would compel men to think.—There was a sign for the professing Church and the ministers of the temple. The rending of the veil which hung between the holy place and the holy of holies, was a miracle which would strike awe into the heart of every priest and Levite in Jewry.
Signs like these, on special occasions, let us remember, are a part of God’s ways in dealing with man. He knows the desperate stupidity and unbelief of human nature. He sees it necessary to arouse our attention by miraculous works, when He brings in a new dispensation. He thus compels men to open their eyes whether they will or no, and to hear His voice for a little season. He has done so frequently in the days that are past. He did so when He gave the law. He did so in the passage before us when He brought in the Gospel. He will do so once more when Christ comes again the second time. He will show a sneering, unbelieving world that He can suspend the laws of nature at His pleasure, and alter the framework of creation as easily as He called the earth into being. He will yet fulfill His words, "Yet once more, shake I not the earth only, but also the heavens." "The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the LORD of hosts shall reign in mount Zion." (Hebrews 12:26; Isaiah 24:23.)
Let us observe, secondly, in these verses, the remarkable words which our Lord spoke when He died. We read that "When he had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost."
There is a depth of meaning, no doubt, in these words which we have no line to fathom. There was something mysterious about our Lord’s death, which made it unlike the death of any mere man. He who spoke the words before us, we must carefully remember, was God as well as man. His divine and human nature were inseparably united. His divine nature of course could not die. He says Himself; "I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." (John 10:17-18.) Christ died, not as we die when our hour is come,—not because He was compelled and could not help dying,—but voluntarily, and of His own free will.
There is a sense, however, in which our Lord’s words supply a lesson to all true Christians. They show us the manner in which death should be met by all God’s children. They afford an example which every believer should strive to follow. Like our Master, we should not be afraid to confront the king of terrors. We should regard him as a vanquished enemy, whose sting has been taken away by Christ’s death. We should think of him as a foe who can hurt the body for a little season, but after that has no more that he can do. We should await his approaches with calmness and patience, and believe that when flesh fails our soul will be in good keeping. This was the mind of dying Stephen; "Lord Jesus," he said, "receive my spirit." This was the mind of Paul the aged, when the time of his departure was at hand. He says, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day." (Acts 7:59; 2 Timothy 1:12.) Happy indeed are those who have a last end like this!
Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, the power of conscience in the case of the centurion and the people who saw Christ die. We are told that the centurion "glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man." We are told that the people who had come together to the sight, "smote their breasts and returned."
We know not exactly the nature of the feelings here described. We know not the extent to which they went, or the after-fruit which they brought forth. One thing, at all events, is clear. The Roman officer felt convinced that he had been superintending an unrighteous action, and crucifying an innocent person. The gazing crowd were pricked to the heart by a sense of having aided, countenanced, and abetted a grievous wrong. Both Jew and Gentile left Calvary that evening heavy-hearted, self-condemned, and ill at ease.
Great indeed is the power of conscience! Mighty is the influence which it is able to exercise on the hearts of men! It can strike terror into the minds of monarchs on their thrones. It can make multitudes tremble and shake before a few bold friends of truth, like a flock of sheep. Blind and mistaken as conscience often is, unable to convert man or lead him to Christ, it is still a most blessed part of man’s constitution, and the best friend in the congregation that the preacher of the Gospel has. No wonder that Paul says, "By manifestation of the truth we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience." (2 Corinthians 4:2.)
He that desires inward peace must beware of quarreling with his conscience. Let him rather use it well, guard it jealously, hear what it has to say, and reckon it his friend. Above all, let him pray daily that his conscience may be enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and cleansed by the blood of Christ. The words of John are very significant: "If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." (1 John 3:21.) That man is doing well who can say, "I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man." (Acts 24:16.)
v44.—[About the sixth hour.] According to the Jewish mode of reckoning, the day began at what we should call six o’clock in the evening. Our Lord was crucified at the third hour, answering to our nine o’clock. The darkness began at the sixth hour, answering to our twelve o’clock in the day. It should be observed, therefore, that the supernatural darkness mentioned here took place precisely at the brightest part of the day, between twelve o’clock and three. Six hours was the whole length of time during which Jesus hung on the cross before He gave up the ghost.
[There was a darkness.] This was a miraculous darkness. It could not have been an eclipse of the sun, because our Lord’s crucifixion took place at the passover, and the passover was always kept at the full moon when an eclipse of the sun is impossible.
[Overall the earth.] The marginal reading of this expression seems preferable,—"over all the land." There seems no necessity for supposing that the darkness extended beyond Palestine. Our Lord’s ministry was specially directed to Israel, and the land of Israel was the land to which all miracles connected with His life and death were confined. See the same expression in Luke 21:23.
It is difficult to imagine any miraculous sign better calculated to arrest the attention of all people, and to strike awe into all minds than this sudden and unexpected darkness. It necessarily stopped all business, and obliged all men to be still, and think what could be its cause.
v45.—[The sun was darkened.] We are not meant to regard this as a sign, or miracle, distinct from the darkness spoken of in the preceding verse. It is simply an amplification of the same fact, and intended to show how deep and intense the darkness was.
[The veil of the temple was rent.] This miracle must have been as striking and terrible to the priests who ministered in the temple, as the darkness was to the inhabitants of Palestine. It signified the opening of the way into the holiest by Christ’s death,—the passing away of the Jewish dispensation,—and the revelation of the Gospel way of salvation to all mankind.
Doddridge remarks, "This being a high day, it is probable that Caiaphas the high priest might now be performing the solemn act of burning incense before the veil, which, if he did, it is astonishing that his obstinate heart should not be impressed with so awful and significant a phenomenon. There is no room to doubt that many of the other priests who had a hand in Christ’s death saw the pieces of the veil, which considering its texture and other circumstances, must as fully have convinced them of this extraordinary fact, as if they had been present."
v46.—[Cried with a loud voice.] This expression, as well as all the verse, deserves particular notice. It shows that there was something peculiar and uncommon about our Lord’s death. A dying man’s voice is generally not "loud," but feeble.
To this circumstance, as well as to the expression "He gave up the ghost," all the best commentators, from Ambrose downwards, very properly direct our attention. It is evident, they tell us, that the Lord Jesus did not die because He was obliged, but because He chose voluntarily and of His own free will to submit to death. His death was "His own act." He "offered Himself without spot to God." (Hebrews 9:14.)
Alford, after Stier, remarks that "none of the evangelists say that Jesus died, although that expression is ever after used of His death, when stated as one great fact." Matthew says that He "yielded up the ghost." Mark, Luke, and John, though in different Greek words, say much the same, "He gave up the ghost."
I add to this remark that in all the five Old Testament passages which our translators have rendered "giving up the ghost," the Septuagint Greek translators have not used the expressions applied in the Gospels to our Lord’s death, nor anything like them. Genesis 49:33; Job 10:18; Job 11:20; Job 14:10; Jeremiah 15:9. I also remark that the Greek expression about Sapphira, which is rendered, "yielded up the ghost," (Acts 5:10,) is totally different from those used about our Lord’s death.
The remarks of Brentius on the whole verse are peculiarly valuable.
v47.—[This was a righteous man.] It may be doubted whether these words exactly convey the literal sense of the Greek expression. Alford would render it, "truly this man was innocent or just."
v48.—[Beholding the things which were done.]—This expression seems to point to the darkness, and the earthquake which immediately followed our Lord’s death. These signs struck awe into the minds of the gazing mob, which had mocked our Lord a few hours before. There was no raillery or mocking after this.
Poole maintains that there is no proof that "the people" took part in mocking our Lord on the cross, but that it was confined to the Scribes and priests. Yet the expression of Matthew and Mark, about "those who passed by railing," besides the priests, seems to make his theory doubtful.
v49.—[The women.] These would appear to be different from the women to whom our Lord spoke as he was carrying the cross. These came from Galilee. Those were "daughters of Jerusalem."
WE see from these verses that Christ has some disciples of whom little is known. We are told of one Joseph, "a good man and a just,"—a man who "had not consented to the counsel" of those who condemned our Lord,—a man who "himself waited for the kingdom of God." This man went boldly to Pilate after the crucifixion, begged the body of Jesus, "took it down" from the cross, and "laid it in a sepulchre."
We know nothing of Joseph excepting what is here told us. In no part of the Acts or Epistles do we find any mention of his name. At no former period of our Lord’s ministry does he ever come forward. His reason for not openly joining the disciples before, we cannot explain. But here, at the eleventh hour, this man is not afraid to show himself one of our Lord’s friends. At the very time when the apostles had forsaken Jesus, Joseph is not ashamed to show his love and respect. Others had confessed Him while He was living and doing miracles. It was reserved for Joseph to confess Him when He was dead.
The history of Joseph is full of instruction and encouragement. It shows us that Christ has friends of whom the Church knows little or nothing, friends who profess less than some do, but friends who in real love and affection are second to none. It shows us, above all, that events may bring out grace in quarters where at present we do not expect it; and that the cause of Christ may prove one day to have many supporters, of whose existence we are at present not aware. These are they whom David calls "hidden ones," and Solomon compares to a "lily among thorns." (Psalms 83:3; Song of Song of Solomon 2:2.)
Let us learn from the case of Joseph of Arimathæa, to be charitable and hopeful in our judgments. All is not barren in this world, when our eyes perhaps see nothing. There may be some latent sparks of light when all appears dark. Little plants of spiritual life may be existing in some remote Romish, or Greek, or Armenian congregations, which the Father Himself has planted. Grains of true faith may be lying hid in some neglected English parish, which have been placed there by God. There were seven thousand true worshipers in Israel of whom Elijah knew nothing. The day of judgment will bring forward men who seemed last, and place them among the first. (1 Kings 19:18.)
We see secondly, from these verses, the reality of Christ’s death. This is a fact which is placed beyond dispute, by the circumstances related about His burial. Those who took His body from the cross and wrapped it in linen, could not have been deceived. Their own senses must have been witnesses to the fact, that He whom they handled was a corpse. Their own hands and eyes must have told them, that He whom they laid in Joseph’s sepulcher was not alive but dead.
The importance of the fact before us is far greater than a careless reader supposes. If Christ did not really die, there would be an end of all the comfort of the Gospel. Nothing short of His death could have paid man’s debt to God. His incarnation, and sermons, and parables, and miracles, and sinless obedience to the law, would have availed nothing, if He had not died. The penalty threatened to the first Adam was death eternal in hell. If the second Adam had not really and actually died in our stead, as well as taught us truth, the original penalty would have continued in full force against Adam and all his children. It was the life-blood of Christ which was to save our souls.
For ever let us bless God that our great Redeemer’s death is a fact beyond all dispute. The centurion who stood by the cross, the friends who took out the nails, and laid the body in the grave, the women who stood by and beheld, the priests who sealed up the grave, the soldiers who guarded the sepulcher, all, all are witnesses that Jesus actually was dead. The great sacrifice was really offered. The life of the Lamb was actually taken away. The penalty due to sin has actually been discharged by our Divine Substitute. Sinners believing in Jesus may hope and not be afraid. In themselves they are guilty. But Christ hath died for the ungodly; and their debt is now completely paid.
We see, lastly, in these verses, the respect paid by Christ’s disciples to the fourth commandment. We are told that the women who had prepared spices and ointment to anoint our Lord’s body, "rested the Sabbath Day, according to the commandment."
This little fact is a strong indirect argument in reply to those who tell us that Christ abolished the fourth commandment. Neither here nor elsewhere do we find anything to warrant any such conclusion. We see our Lord frequently denouncing the man-made traditions of the Jews about Sabbath observance. We see Him purifying the blessed day from superstitious and unscriptural opinions. We see Him maintaining firmly that works of necessity and works of mercy were not breaches of the fourth commandment. But nowhere do we find Him teaching that the Sabbath was not to be kept at all. And here, in the verse before us, we find His disciples as scrupulous as any about the duty of keeping holy a Sabbath Day. Surely they could never have been taught by their Master that the fourth commandment was not intended to be binding on Christians.
Let us cling firmly to the old doctrine that the Sabbath is not a mere Jewish institution, but a day which was meant for man from the beginning, and which was intended to be honored by Christians quite as much as by Jews. Let us not doubt that the Apostles were taught by our Lord to change the day from the last day of the week to the first, although mercifully checked from publicly proclaiming the change, in order to avoid giving offence to Israel. Above all, let us regard the Sabbath as an institution of primary importance to man’s soul, and contend earnestly for its preservation amongst us in all its integrity. It is good for body, mind and soul. It is good for the nation which observes it, and for the church which gives it honor. It is but a few steps from "no Sabbath" to "no God." The man who would make the Sabbath a day for business and pleasure, is an enemy to the best interests of his fellow-creatures. The man who supposes that a believer ought to be so spiritual as not to need the separation of one day in the week from the rest, can know but little of the human heart, or the requirements of our position in an ensnaring and evil world.
v50.—[Joseph, a counsellor.] The meaning of this probably is, that Joseph belonged to the great council or Sanhedrim of the Jewish nation. The beginning of the following verse appears to prove that he was present when it was determined to seize Jesus and put Him to death, and had voted, or protested, against the decision of the majority.
v51.—[Waited for the kingdom of God.] This expression reminds us of the expressions used about Simeon and Anna. Joseph expected the Messiah’s spiritual kingdom to be set up, and believed that Jesus was the Messiah.
v52.—[Begged the body.] This expression deserves notice. It shows that Joseph believed our Lord to be dead. We are also distinctly told by Mark (Mark 15:44,) that Pilate only granted the request of Joseph on the express assurance of the Centurion that Jesus was dead.
v53.—[Took it down...wrapped in linen.] This expression again deserves notice. It is absurd to suppose that the nails’ could have been drawn from our Lord’s hands and feet, and the body prepared for burial by wrapping it in linen, without some signs of life being perceived, if life had remained in Him. To see the vastness of the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, it is essential to be thoroughly persuaded that Christ really died.
[A sepulchre that was hewn in stone.] These sepulchres were generally caves hewn out of the side of a rock, and not graves sunk perpendicularly in the ground. The common pictures of Christ’s resurrection give a most incorrect notion of His sepulchre.
The fact that the sepulchre was hewn out of a rock deserves notice. It shows that there could not possibly have been any clandestine withdrawal of the body by a subterraneous passage dug through earth.
[Wherein never man before was laid.] This circumstance is specially mentioned in order to show that no other body but that of our Lord was in the sepulchre, and that the person who rose was Jesus Christ, and no one else.
v54.—[The preparation.] The day on which our Lord was crucified was the day before the Passover Sabbath, an occasion of peculiar solemnity. Gill says, "It was the preparation both for the Sabbath and for the Chagigah,—a grand festival which they kept on the fifteenth day of the month in a very pompous manner."
[The Sabbath drew on.] This expression is remarkable, and requires explanation. The literal meaning of the Greek would be, "The Sabbath was dawning." But the Jewish Sabbath we know begun in the evening at sunset. How then can we explain Luke’s saying, "The Sabbath was dawning"?
Gill says, "This is so said, though it was evening, on account of the lights which were lighted up in every house at this time."
Lightfoot says, "The Sabbatical candles which were lighted in honor of the Sabbath were now set up." He also gives a quotation from a Rabbinical writer, which says, "By the light of the fourteenth day they made a search for leaven by the light of a candle."
Poole says that some refer the expression to the evening star which was beginning to rise. Cocceius thinks it must mean the next morning.
Campbell says, "In all other nations but the Jewish, it was customary to reckon the morning the first part of the day, and the evening the second. Luke, who according to Eusebius, had lived much among the Gentiles and those who used this style of speaking, would insensibly acquire a habit of using it."
Alford considers that Luke employed "a natural word, used of the conventional day beginning at sunset."
I believe this last explanation to be the right one. "We use several expressions ourselves, such as the sun "rising" and ’’setting," which are not strictly accurate and scientifically correct. But they are the only expressions that the most would understand. If Luke had said, "The Sabbath began to grow dusky or gloomy," no Gentile reader would have understood him.
v55.—[The women who, &c.] This verse is meant to show us, that friends of our Lord who could not possibly be mistaken as to his identity were witnesses to the fact of His burial, and actually saw His body laid in the grave. They saw the linen in which He was wrapped, and could therefore testify two days after, that the very same linen was found wrapped together in the empty tomb.
v56.—[They prepared spices and ointment.] This shows that the women were fully satisfied that our Lord was dead, and had also no expectation that He would rise again.
[Rested the Sabbath Day.] Burgon remarks, "These pious women, eager as they were to perform the last offices of love to their Lord, yet would not transgress the commandment. How blessed was the result! How unblessed would have been the impatient yielding to their own inclination! Had they presented themselves sooner at the grave, they would have been grieved by the presence or molested by the rudeness of the Roman soldiers; while their purpose could not possibly have been effected. By waiting till the Sabbath was past, they found the guard dispersed, and their Lord already risen. They unbound those limbs alive, which they had come to weep over and anoint in death."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 23". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25