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Jesus is accused before Pilate, and sent to Herod; Herod mocketh him. Herod and Pilate are made friends. Barabbas is desired of the people, and is loosed by Pilate, and Jesus is given to be crucified: he telleth of the destruction of Jerusalem to the women that lament him: and prayeth for his enemies. Two evil-doers are crucified with him: his death: his burial.
Anno Domini 33.
Luke 23:1-2. And the whole multitude—arose, &c.— At break of day Christ was brought before Pilate, and charged with three capital crimes,—perverting the nation,—forbidding to give tribute to Caesar,—and saying that he himself was Christ, a king.They did not chargehim with calling himself the Son of God, knowing very well that Pilate would not have concerned himself with such an accusation, which no way affected the state. All the three crimes with which the Jews charge him, were only inferences of theirs from the saying that he was the Son of God; (Ch. Luke 22:70.) They themselves drew imaginary consequences from his doctrine, which he had expresslydenied; nay, and taught the contrary: they who oppose his followers, still use the same method. Pontius Pilate finding this, (for it is most probable that he examined them as to the precise words which Christ had spoken,) their accusation had no weight with him.
Luke 23:7. He sent him to Herod,——Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who had beheaded St. John the Baptist. Pilate probably sent Christ to Herod, with a design to pay him a compliment, and as the means of reconciliation, which it accordingly proved, Luke 23:12. Another reason likewise for Pilate's doing this might be to oblige his wife, who had cautioned him by a message to have nothing to do with that just man. Matthew 27:19. And he might be further induced to it, in order to ease his own conscience, as being convinced of our Saviour's innocence; and at the same time to gratifythe Jews, if Herod had thought fit to comply with their solicitations. The Roman governors indeed were empowered to punish any persons for crimes committed by them within thelimits of their respective provinces, even though they belonged to other states and jurisdictions; but yet there appears no irregularity in this procedure of Pilate, nor any thing but what was customary on some occasions, as we learn from the Roman law.
Luke 23:9. But he answered him nothing.— Herein our Lord followed the rule observed by him as God in the administration of his moral government. He bestows on men means, opportunities, and assistances, particularly his Holy Spirit, such as, if they improve them properly, will lead them to knowledge and happiness; but these beingslighted by men, he, after waiting the due time, frequently for wise reasons shuts up from them all the springs of grace, and leaves them hopeless of that salvation which they have so long despised.
Luke 23:11. And Herod with his men of war set him at nought,— Herod, finding himself disappointed, Luk 23:9 ordered Christ to be clothed with an old robe, in colour like those which kings used to wear, and permitted his attendants to insult him, perhaps with an intention to provoke him to work a miracle, though it should have been of a hurtful kind. Our Lord's being dressed in this manner by Herod's order, shews that the priests had accused him here also of having assumed the titles and honours belonging to the Messiah, the king of the Jews; for the affront put upon him was plainly in derision of that pretension. The other head of accusation,—his having attempted to raise a sedition in Galilee on account of the tribute, they durst not touch upon, because Herod could not fail to know the gross falsehood of it. Herod's usage of our Lord was exceedingly insolent; but perhaps the remorse of conscience which he had felt on account of the murder of John the Baptist, might render him cautious how he joined in any attempt on the life of Jesus, which we do not find that he ever did. The robe in which Herod clothed our Lord, is called εσθητα λαμπραν, that is, either rich or white clothing; for the epithet λαμπραν denotes both the quality of a garment, and its colour, (see James 2:2.) in the original. White robes, as well as purple, were worn by kings and great men, especially among the Jews. Hence David, describing the flight of the Canaanites, compares the field of battle, and the adjacent country, to mountains covered with snow, on account of the many white upper garments which their kings and generals threw from them, to render their flight more expeditious; when the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon. Psalms 68:14. Hence also in the Revelation, white robes are given to the saints, as the most honourable clothing. For the same reason, in the transfiguration, our Lord's garments became whiter than any thing known in nature. So likewise the angels who appeared at his sepulchre in the human form, were clothed in white robes; John 20:12. Probably also it is an allusion to the apparel of the Jewish princes, that God himself is represented as appearing in the clouds, and on his throne, in robes white as snow.
Luke 23:12. For before they were at enmity— The cause of this enmity can only be conjectured; perhaps it might be the slaughter which Pilate had made of some of the Galileans, who had come up to sacrifice at Jerusalem. See Ch. Luke 13:1. M. Saurin observes, "that considering on the one hand the jealousy of the Jews, where any foreign power was concerned, and on the other the oppressive measures generally taken by those who are invested with commissions like this which Pilate bore over conquered countries, and especially the accounts that we have of his own bad characterandconduct;theirreconciliationismuchmorewonderfulthantheirenmity." See his Sermons, vol. 10: p. 246.
Luke 23:14. I, having examined him, &c.— Had there been any the least appearance of truth in theallegations of the Jews, that Jesus had perverted the nation,—forbidden to pay tribute to Caesar,—or drawn the people after him, as their king, Pilate would not so readily have pronounced him innocent; therefore, finding a man of that mean condition and innocent life, no mover of seditions or disturber of the public peace, without a friend or follower, hewould have dismissed him as a harmless innocent man, falsely and maliciously accused by the Jews.
Luke 23:15. Nothing worthy of death, is done unto him.— By him. Blackwall. He has not treated him as one that deserves a capital punishment. Heylin.
Luke 23:16. I will therefore chastise him— Pilate might imagine that Christ was an enthusiast, though not a seditious person; and this punishment might be designed as an admonition to him in future, not to use such expressions as had given so much umbrage; being persuaded, that if he was set at liberty, he neither would nor could give them any further trouble. He might likewise order Jesus to be scourged, hoping that they might be contented with thatlesser punishment, being himself fully satisfied of his innocence. John 19:1. It was the custom of the Romans to scourge criminals condemned to crucifixion, after they had received their sentence. See Livy, lib. 1 Chronicles 26:0. But Christ was scourged by the order of Pilate before sentence was passed on him, for the reasons above mentioned; and therefore it is thought that during the time he underwent that punishment, he was bound to a pillar, and not to his cross, like those criminals who were scourged after their condemnation; as St. Paul afterwards would also have been treated, had he not prevented it by pleading his privilege as a Roman citizen.
Luke 23:18. Away with this man,— Put this man to death! Heylin. The word αιρε properly signifies, to take away; and so to deprive of life, to lift up, or crucify.
Luke 23:20. Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus,— Pilate finding, by this monstrously base and unworthy demand, that their furious outcries against Jesus proceeded from the most bitter malice and envy, was the more desirous to set him at liberty; and expostulated with them again, endeavouring to persuade them to desist from their impetuous clamours, and to be satisfied with his being smartlycorrected by scourging.
Luke 23:22. Why, what evil hath he done?— Why?—What evil hath he done? "Why will ye be so cruel as to insist upon it? What evil hath he done, or can you prove against him?"
Luke 23:28-30. Weep not for me, &c.— "Though my death affects you, and seems to call for all your tears, yet it is rather a reason for joy than sorrow, as it will be a means of reconciling the world to God: rather reserve your tears for a real calamity which threatens you, and your children, which will terminate in the destruction of this city and nation, and which will be most terrible, and call for the bitterest lamentations: for in those days of vengeance, you will vehemently wish that you had not given birth to a generation, whose wickedness has rendered them objects of the divine wrath, to a degree that never was experienced in the world before. The thoughts of those calamities afflict my soul, far more than the feeling ofmy own sufferings." These words sufficiently imply that the days of distress and misery were coming, and would fall on them and their children: but at that time there was not any appearance of such an immediate ruin. The wisest politician could not have inferred it from the present state of affairs; nothing less than the divine prescience could have certainly seen and foretold it. The expression in Luk 23:30 is proverbial, as appears from Hosea 10:8. Isa 2:19 and is generally made use of to imply the pressure of some intolerable calamity.
Luke 23:31. For if they do those things in a green tree, &c.— If these things are done in green wood. Heylin. "If the Romans are permitted by heaven to inflict such heavy punishments upon me who am innocent, how dreadful must the vengeance be which they shall inflict on the nation, whose sins cry aloud to heaven, hastening the pace of the divine judgments, and rendering the perpetrators as fit for punishment, as dry wood is for burning." Comp. Eze 20:47 with Eze 21:3 where God's burning every green and every dry tree, is explained to be his destroying the righteous and the wicked together. See also Psa 1:3 where a good man is compared to a green tree full of leaves: and both our Lord and John the Baptist resemble bad men to dry, dead, and barren trees. It is proverbial among the Jews, that "two dry sticks will burn a green one:" that is, the company of two wicked men may corrupt and bring judgments upon a good man. See Proverbs 11:31.
Luke 23:32. And there were also two other malefactors,— This should either be stopped in the following manner;—And there were also two others, malefactors, led with him, &c. or, translated, And they led along with him two other men, who were malefactors. The distinction, between Jesus and the malefactors is remarkably preserved in the next verse.
Luke 23:34. Father, forgive them;— This is one of the most striking passages in the world. While they were actually crucifying our Lord, he seems to feel the injury which they did to their own souls, more than what they did to him, and to forget his own anguish in a concern for their salvation. Thus did the Lord Jesus Christ, though expiring by the tortures that he felt, give us an example of that benevolence which he has commanded us to practise; and with his last breath, as it were, breathed out at once a prayer and an apology for his executioners. The Roman soldiers, who were the immediateinstruments of his death, had indeed but little knowledge of him; and the Jews, who were the authors of it, through their obstinate prejudices, apprehended not who he was: for if they had known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of life and glory. Instead of, They know not what they do, some read, They know not what they are doing.
Luke 23:37. If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.— As this claim seemed to the soldiers most derogatory to the Roman authority, it is no wonder that they grounded their insults on this, rather than on his professing himself the Son of
Luke 23:38. And a superscription also— There is no transposition necessary here; for St. Luke does not tell us when the superscription was written, so far was he from saying that it was written after Jesus was mocked. He only observes in general that there was a title placed over him; and by mentioning it together with the insults, insinuates, that it was one of them; and perhaps the Greek may with propriety be so rendered, as to introduce this verse, in explanation of that preceding. For a superscription was also written over him, &c. by which, as well as by common report, these soldiers were acquainted with his claim to the kingdom of Israel. St. John has in some measure marked the particular time when the title was written and affixed. See Ch. John 19:19.
Luke 23:39. And one of the malefactors—railed on him,— The word rendered malefactor, κακουργος, does not always denote a thief, or a robber, but was likewise applied to the Jewish soldiers, who were hurried by their zeal to commit some crime in opposition to the Roman authority, See the note on Matth. xxvi
Luke 23:40. Dost not thou fear God?— Have you too no fear of God; that is to say, no more than those others who were insulting Jesus? Heylin.
Luke 23:41. And we indeed justly;— The faith of the penitent thief has something very remarkable in it; for he had conceived just sentiments both of his own conduct, and of Christ's character. It is a strong proof of a sincere repentance to acknowledge our crimes, and to resign ourselves to the punishment of them. But to this the penitent thief adds the virtues of reproving the other malefactor for his faults, and of defending the innocent. He shews his faith in God—in Christ; his fear of God, and his charity; 1 towards God, in restraining the blasphemies offered him and his Christ; and, 2 to his neighbour, whom he so charitably reprehends, so earnestly requests not to proceed in his reproaches, so lovinglyinvites to the fear of God, and so earnestly endeavours to amend and reclaim. It has generally been thought that the grace of repentance was begun in the thief, and raised to perfection all on a sudden, and on the present occasion too, when every circumstance concurred to hinder him from believing; yet it is far from being certain that either his repentance or faith was the fruit of this particular season: he was acquainted with our Lord's character before he came to punishment, as is plain from the testimony he bore of his innocence: this man hath done nothing amiss. He might therefore have often heard our Lord preach in the course of his ministry, and might have seen many of his miracles, and from the consideration of both joined together, have been solidly convinced that he was the Messiah. See the Inferences and Reflections.
Luke 23:42. Lord, remember me— This man seems to have entertained a more spiritual, rational, and exalted notion of the Messiah's kingdom, than the disciples themselves at that time: they expected a secular empire; he gave strong intimations of his having an idea of Christ's spiritual dominion; for at the very time that Jesus was dying on the cross, he begged to be remembered by him, when he came into his kingdom. It may be said, indeed, that he hoped Jesus would exert his miraculous power in delivering himself from the cross, and setting up his kingdom immediately; buteven on this supposition, his faith, though not clearer and more extensive, must be praised as stronger than that of the disciples, who, because their Master was crucified, had almost universally despaired of his being the Messiah. However, the answer which Jesus made to his request, Luk 23:43 and his acquiescence in that answer, must be acknowledged as the strongest presumption in favour of the extensiveness and propriety of his faith. His petition certainly discovers great modesty, humility, and consciousness of his own demerits. He begged only for a remembrance; he knew himself so sinful, that he durst ask no more. He owned Christ publicly; he pitied him; he hoped in him; and confessed his power and authority in the future world. It must be allowed a striking act of faith in this man, to believe, amid such circumstances, that Jesus was the Just one, Christ the Lord, and a king about to enter into his kingdom. Bywhatever marks he discovered this truth, he excelled the high-priest, and Pharisees and doctors of the law, in his idea of the nature of the Messiah's kingdom; nay, and as we have observed, he excelled the apostles themselves, though they had been for some years instructed by Christ himself in the nature of that kingdom. The Jewish priests had condemned Christ as an impostor; but he owns him to be the king of the Jews. They expected a temporal king; but he ratifies what our Lord had said, and intimates that he knew his kingdom was not of this world. Peter had denied him, when before his judge; but this man, though he sees him hanging on the cross, owns him for his Lord. Though he saw him expiring, he addresses him as the Lord of life. Amid his own sufferings, he regards only the sufferings of Christ; and was raised to entertain hopes of the pardon of his sins, and to a belief of the mission of Jesus; and, no doubt, obtained, on the cross, the full pardon that he longed for. It is but justice to this argument, after what we have said on the preceding verse, to insert what is urged on the contrary, which we shall do in the words of Dr. Doddridge; who observes, that some have inferred from the words when thou comest into thy kingdom, that this malefactor had learned something of Christ in prison;—and have urged the possibility of his having exercised perhaps a long and deep repentance there, against the supposition of a sudden change, which has been generally imagined in this case: but Christ's kingdom was now so much the subject of public discourse, that he might, on that day, and indeed in a few minutes, have learned all that was necessary as the foundation of this petition. I cannot therefore but look on this happy man, for such he surely was, amidst all the ignominy and tortures of the cross, as a glorious instance of the power of divine grace; which, as many have observed, perhaps taking the first occasion from the preternatural darkness, wrought so powerfully, as to produce, by a sudden and astonishing growth, in his last moments, all the virtues which could be crowded into so small a space.
Luke 23:43. To-day thou shalt be with me in paradise.— Bos has shewn that this expression, thou shalt be with me, μετ εμου εση — was the language used when inviting guests to an entertainment; and the word paradise originally signifies a garden of pleasure, such as those in which the Eastern monarchs made their magnificent banquets. Here it means the same as Abraham's bosom in the parable of Lazarus; and it was a common expression among the Jews for the mansion of beatified souls in their separate state. Thus the Targum on the 90th Psalm says, "May the pleasures of Paradise, or the garden of Eden, be from the Lord upon us." One of their prayers for a person at the point of death is; "Come ye who keep the treasures of Paradise, open ye the gates of Paradise to him, and salute him with peace." From our Saviour's using this expression of Paradise to him, it appears, that this dying penitent was a Jew. See the Inferences and the Reflections.
Luke 23:45. The veil of the temple was rent— This being so high a day, it was very probable that Caiaphas himself might now be performing the solemn act of burning incense just before the veil; which if he did, it is inexpressibly astonishing that his obdurate heart should not be impressed with so aweful and significant a phaenomenon. There is no room to doubt that many of the other priests who had a hand in Christ's death, saw the rent of the veil, which, considering the texture and other circumstances of it, must as fully convince them of the reality of this extraordinary fact, as if they had been present when it was rent. The veil of the temple was rent, the wall of separation was broken down, that the Gentiles might come in; and the use of the temple, with its typical rites, abolished and superseded by the death and resurrection of Christ. See the note on Matthew 27:51.
Luke 23:46. I commend my spirit:— Παραθησομαι,— I place, as a precious deposit. See on Psa 31:5 and for the next clause, the note on Matthew 27:50. Dr. Heylin has well and nervously described our Lord's passion in the following manner: "The appointed soldiers dig the hole in which the cross is to be erected,—the nails and the hammer are ready,—the cross is placed on the ground, and Jesus laid down upon that bed of sorrows,—they nail him to it,—they erect it,—his nerves crack,—his blood distils,—he hangs upon his wounds, a spectacle to heaven and earth!" It is not unusual for those who speak in public, to profess that their subject surpasses their utmost efforts; and when they have exhausted their abilities in saying all that they possibly can, to break off in interjections, and abrupt exclamations of wonder and astonishment. Whatever may have given occasion to these passionate figures of speech, it is sure that they can never find their place so properly as here. For what tongue of man or angel can suffice to tell the depth and the height,—the profundity of his sufferings, and the sublimity of perfection to which they raised him?—We must here adore in silence what we cannot comprehend. See his Lectures, vol. 1: p. 103 and Sir Richard Steele's Christian Hero.
Luke 23:47. He glorified God,— That is, by a free confession of his persuasion of the innocence of Jesus: Certainly this was a righteous man; δικαιος,— the character given of him before he was condemned, Matthew 27:19. See Ch. Luke 5:26. Jos 7:19 and the note on Mat 27:54 where, as well as Mar 15:39 the centurion testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. "How then is it, say some, that St. Luke declares him only a righteous man?" To which it may be replied, that he made use of both these expressions.
Luke 23:48. And all the people—smote their breasts— The people who came to behold this melancholy spectacle, were wonderfully affected when Jesus gave up the ghost. They had been instant, with loud voices, to have him crucified; but now that they saw the face of the creation darkened with a sullen gloom during his crucifixion, and found his death accompanied with an earthquake, as if nature had been in an agonywhen he died, they rightly interpreted these prodigies to be so many testimonies from God of his innocence; and their passions, which had been inflamed and exasperated against him, became quite calm, or moved them in his behalf. Some could not forgive themselves for neglecting to accept his life, when the governor offered to release him; others were stung with remorse for having had an active hand, both in his death, and in the insults which were offered to him; others felt the deeper grief at the thought of his lot, which was undeservedly severe; and these various passions appeared in their countenances; for they came away from the cruel execution pensive and silent, with downcast eyes, and hearts ready to burst; or, groaning deeply within themselves, they shed tears, smote their breasts, and bewailed greatly. The grief which they now felt for Jesus, was distinguished from that former rage against him, by this remarkable difference, that their rage was produced intirely by the craft of the priests who had wickedly incensed them; whereas their grief was the genuine feeling of their own hearts, greatly affected with the truth and innocence of him who was the object of their commiseration. Wherefore, as in this mourning flattery had no share, the expressions of their sorrow were such as became a real and unfeigned passion. Nor was this the temper only of a few, who may be thought to be Christ's peculiar friends;—it was the general condition of the people, who had come in great numbers to look on. And the conviction, thus produced in them, undoubtedly made way for the conversion of such a multitude by the preaching of the apostles on the descent of the Spirit, which was but seven weeks after, when these things were fresh in their memories. See Acts 2:41.
Luke 23:49. And all his acquaintance, and the women, &c.— Who these acquaintance were, we learn from Matthew 27:55; Mat 27:66 and Mark 15:40. The three evangelists agree in affirming that these women stood afar off; yet this is not inconsistent with Joh 19:25 where our Lord's mother, andher sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene, are said to have stood beside the cross. They were kept at a distance awhile, perhaps by the guards, or they were afraid to approach; but when the greatest part of the soldiers were drawn off, and the eclipse was begun, they gathered courage, and came so near, that Jesus had an opportunity to speak to them a little before he expired.
When we call to mind the perfect innocence of the Lord Jesus, the uncommon love that he bore to mankind, and the many substantial good offices which he did to multitudes groaning under the burden of their afflictions: when we think of the esteem in which the common people held him all along, howcheerfully they followed him to the remotest corners of the country, and with what pleasure they heard his discourses, it cannot but be matter of the greatest surprise to find them, at the conclusion, rushing all on a sudden into the opposite extremes, and every body as it were combined to treat him with the most barbarous cruelty. When Pilate asked the people, if they inclined to have Jesus released, his disciples, though they were very numerous, and might have made a great appearance in his behalf, remained quite silent. The Roman soldiers, notwithstanding their general had declared him an innocent person, most inhumanlyinsulted him; the scribes and Pharisees ridiculed him; the common people, who had received him with hosannahs a few days before, wagged their heads at him, as they passed by, and railed on him as a deceiver; nay, the very thief on the cross reviled him. This sudden revolution in the humours of the nation may seem unaccountable; yet if we could assign a proper reason for the silence of the disciples, the principleswhich influenced the rest might be discovered in their several speeches. Christ's followers had attached themselves to him, too much from an expectation of being raised to great wealth and power in his kingdom; but seeing no appearance at all of what they looked for, they permitted him to be condemned, perhaps because they thought it would have obliged him to break the Roman yoke by miracle. If the reader can trace out a more probable reason for their silence, when Pilate offered thrice to release their Master, and in a manner begged them to ask his life, his pains in such an inquiry will certainly be well bestowed. With respect to the soldiers, they were angry that any one should have pretended to royalty in Judea, where Caesar had established his authority: hence they insulted him with the title of king, and paid him mock honours. As for the common people, they seem to have lost their opinion of him, probably because he had neither convinced the council, nor rescued himself when they condemned him. They began therefore to look upon the story industriously spread abroad of him, viz. his having boasted that he could destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, as a kind of blasphemy, because it required divine power to execute such an undertaking. Accordingly, in derision, they saluted him by the title of The destroyer and builder again of the temple in three days; and with a malicious sneer bade him save himself, and come down from the cross; insinuating that the one was a much easier matter than the other. The priests and scribes were filled with the most implacable and diabolical hatred of him, because he had torn off their masks, and shewed them to the people in their true colours; wherefore they ridiculed his miracles whence he drew his reputation, by pretendingto acknowledge them; but at the same time adding a reflection, which they thought entirely confuted them, He saved others, himself he cannot save. To conclude, the impenitent thief also fancied that he must have delivered both himself and them, if he had been the Messiah. But as no sign of such a deliverance appeared, he upbraided him for making pretensions to that high character, by saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.
Luke 23:50. A good man— Αγαθος . He united in his character the two great principles of morality, justice and benevolence. See Romans 5:7.
Luke 23:55. And how his body was laid.— The word ως, rendered how, signifies no more than that;—and the sentence may be rendered they came to the sepulchre, and saw that the body was placed or buried there. St. Mark has it, Mar 15:47 beheld where he was laid.
Luke 23:56. And they—prepared spices and ointments, and rested, &c.— Some commentators connect this verse with the first of the following chapter, thus;—ointments: and they rested, &c. commandment; But upon the first day, &c. As the women were not present when Joseph and Nicodemus bound up the body with spices; (See John 19:39-40.) as it does not appear that they saw the body after it was bound up; or, if they did, they could not see the spices, which were hid by the linen winding-sheet; as they were without, watching, while the body was preparing; and when it was carried out to be buried, went after, to see where it was laid; they may be supposed to have been ignorant of its having been wound up with spices, and consequently were guilty of no impropriety in preparing ingredients for that purpose themselves. But even allowing that they knew what had been done to the body, they could not but know that all was done in great haste. It cannot be said, that as much had been done by Joseph and Nicodemus as was usual; and that the whole ceremony was already completed; this is more than in the nature of the thing is possible to be true. No nation was more careful of their dead than the Jews: the body was first to be washed all over, and cleaned with much care, and afterwards to be anointed; but in regard to Christ's body, there was not time before the sabbath to perform even thus much of the ceremony. When the body was taken down from the cross, the evening was coming on, and it was not yet dark when it was left in the sepulchre. The funeral ceremony therefore, it is plain, was not, could not, be already completed. Offices of this solemn kind, especially to persons of distinction, were not used to be performed the moment they were dead; nor to be huddled up in so hasty and negligent a manner. Moses informs us, that when Jacob was embalmed, no less than forty days were employed in the operation; and among the Egyptians, from whom the Jews borrowed this ceremony, no less than seventy days were required to complete it. Joseph and Nicodemus intended, no doubt, to inter the body of Christ agreeable to the notion that they had of his dignity and character, no less than one hundred pounds weight of spices and perfumes being provided for this purpose. The funeral ceremonies were probably reserved to be performed after the sabbath, had not the divine power prevented it by a more wonderful event. Indeed, whether the women were acquainted with the little which had already been done to the body or not, is immaterial: they knew where it had been deposited, and came therefore early in the morning to pay their last respects to it, by anointing and perfuming it; a common method of shewing respect to persons of dignity and distinction, both living and dead. See the note on Mark 16:1.
Inferences drawn from the conduct of the two thieves, Luke 23:39-43.—What different effects the judgments of God have upon the minds of men, may be learned from the examples now before us. Here are two thieves crucified with our blessed Saviour. But mark their end: one died reproaching and blaspheming Christ, and breathed out his soul in the agonies of guilt and despair; the other saw, acknowledged, and openly confessed his Redeemer, and expired with the sound of those blessed words in his ears, This day shall thou be with me in paradise. How adorable is the wisdom of God, who has thus instructed us; and by setting the examples of his justice and mercy so near together, has taught us to fear without despair, and to hope without presumption!
Who would not tremble for himself, when he sees the man perish in his sins who died by the Saviour's side, within reach of that Blood which was poured out for his redemption; within reach of that hand which alone is able to save?—Yet he who had all these advantages, enjoyed none of them; but died in his sins, void of hope and comfort.
Must the sinner then despair?—No; cast your eyes to the other side of the cross, and see the mercy of God displayed in the brightest colours. There hangs the penitent, surrounded with all the terrors of approaching death—yet in the midst of all, calm and serene, confessing his sins, glorifying the justice of God in his own punishment, rebuking the blasphemy of his companion, justifying the innocence of his Saviour, and adoring him even in the lowest state of misery; and at last receiving the certain promise of a glorious immortality.
Thus the case stands, with all the allowances made to it, which seem most to favour a death-bed repentance: and yet, as if the scriptures had said nothing of the wretch who died blaspheming Christ, nor given us any cause to fear that a wicked life may end in an obdurate death; the case of the penitent only is drawn into example, and such hopes are built upon it, as are neither consistent with the laws of God, nor the terms of man's salvation.
But allowing the case of the penitent thief to be what it is generally supposed, yet, after we have briefly considered the circumstances which distinguish it from that of the dying Christian, it will seem not very difficult to shew how little hope the present example affords.
Perhaps in all this relation before us, there may be nothing resembling a death-bed repentance. It is no uncommon thing for malefactors to lie in prison a long time before they are brought to trial and execution; and if that be the present case, there is room enough for the conversion of this criminal before he came to suffer. The circumstances incline this way. How came he to be so well acquainted with the innocency of Christ? How came it into his head to address him in the manner that he does; Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom? Luke 23:42. What were the marks of royalty discoverable on the cross? What the signs of dignity and power? What could lead him to think that his Fellow-sufferer had a title to any kingdom? What to imagine that he was Lord of the world to come? These circumstances make it probable, that he had elsewhere learned the character and dignity of Christ, and came persuaded of the truth of his mission:—but what is this to them, who have no desire to lie down Christians upon their death-bed, though they would willingly go off penitents?
Besides, suppose this great work were begun and finished on the cross, yet it cannot be drawn into example by Christian sinners; because the conversion of a Jew or a heathen, is one thing, and the conversion of a Christian is another, in several respects: for the Christian, so called, sins under the full use of all the means which the gospel has provided.
Again, he that sins in hopes of repenting at last, may sin so far as to grow obdurate, and incapable of repentance when the time comes. Look upon the impenitent thief in this view; who, though he had certainly all the outward advantages which the penitent had, yet made no advances towards repentance, but died reproaching Christ, and joining with his crucifiers in that bitter jeer, If thou be the Christ, came down from the cross—if thou be Christ, save thyself and us, Luke 23:39. Now to what can this, and numerous circumstances like this, be attributed, but to the desertion of God's Holy Spirit, which will not always strive with sinners, but at last leaves the obdurate to perish in the hardness of their hearts.
And hence it comes to pass, that when these sinners lie down upon a sick-bed, they often want both the will and the power to ask forgiveness of God; and by an habitual neglect of all parts of religion, become unable to perform any; even that, in which all their hopes centred, and are concluded,—to repent of, and ask pardon for their sins through the blood of the covenant.
Nor is it in the power of any man to sin to what degree he pleases, or to preserve the sense of religion amid the pleasures of iniquity. Habits grow insensibly: there is a kind of mechanism in it; and he that gives himself up to sin, can no more resolve how great a sinner he will be, than he that is born a man can resolve how tall or how short of stature he will be. To the truth of this, experience daily witnesses: happy those who want this fatal experience! upon the whole, there is much more reason to fear that sin, if once indulged, should get the better of, and destroy every resolution of repentance, than that the resolutions to repent should ever conquer and destroy the confirmed powers and habits of sin. I wish those who have not yet put it out of their own power to reason calmly upon these things, would enter into this debate with their own hearts, and consider what danger they are in. A few moments cannot be too much to spend in so weighty an affair; and whenever we retire to these cool thoughts, may the Father of Mercies influence those moments of our life, upon which all ETERNITY depends, under the grace of God.
But could you preserve your resolutions of repentance, yet still it is not in your own power to secure an opportunity to execute them. The penitent thief upon the cross died a violent death by the hands of justice; he had no pretence to defer his repentance in prospect of a future opportunity; nor was his heart to be allured by the soft pleasures of life, when life itself was so near expiring. From the like death God defend us all! And yet without it, which of us can hope for such favourable circumstances for a death-bed repentance? Whenever the sinner thinks of repenting, he will find that he has a work of great sorrow and trouble upon his hands; and this makes him unwilling to set about it. No man is so old, but that he thinks he may last out one year more; and then, why will not tomorrow serve for repentance as well as to-day? The years to come which men rejoice in, serve only to make them negligent and thoughtless of the great concerns of immortality: and whether men are not deluded by these hopes, let any one judge; and hence it comes to pass that such vast numbers who sin with resolutions of repentance, never think of it till confined to a sick-bed: because, as long as they are in health, they have always a ready answer, "It will be time enough hereafter." So that the unfortunate end to which justice brought this penitent on the cross, was, with respect to his conversion, an advantage which few will give themselves: the certainty of his death permitted him no delays, no vain excuses, no flattering hopes of better opportunities hereafter.
But, considering that nominal Christians who propose to themselves the example before us, seldom endeavour to repent till warned by sickness to prepare for death; they will evidently want another advantage which this penitent had. His death not being the effect of any bodily pain or distemper, but of the judge's sentence—he brought with him to the cross, (which, if you please, you may call his death-bed,) a sound body and mind. He had his senses perfect, his reason fresh and undisturbed, and might be capable, through grace, of performing such acts of faith and devotion, as were necessary to his repentance and conversion.
But, how different often is the case of the sick and languishing sinner! Perhaps he labours under such acute pains, as will give him no respite for thought or reflection; or perhaps he doses, and lies stupid, without knowing his friends and relations, or even himself; or perhaps the distemper seizes his head,—and he raves, and is distracted;—loses his reason, and every thing of the man, but the outward shape, before his death!—And are not these hopeful circumstances for repentance?—Is a man likely to know, and find out his Saviour, when he knows not even his own brother who stands by his bed-side?—These are very common circumstances, and such as render repentance impracticable.
But should the sinner escape all these incidents, and go off gently, without being forsaken by his sense or reason; yet still it may happen, and often it does,—that his promised repentance produces nothing but horror and despair! In his lifetime he flattered himself with unreasonable hopes of mercy, and now,—he begins to see how unreasonable they were. Now he can think of nothing, but that he is going to appear before his judge, to receive the just reward of his wickedness. He sees him already, clothed with wrath and majesty; and forms within his own tormented breast the whole progress of the last day. If he sleeps, he dreams of judgment and misery; and when he wakes, believes his dreams forebode his fate. Thus restless and uneasy, thus void of comfort and hope, without confidence to ask pardon, without faith to receive it, does the wretched sinner expire, and has the misfortune to see his hopes die before him! In a word then, put all the favourable circumstances together that you can imagine; bring the sinner by the gentlest decays to his latter end; give him the fairest and longest warning; yet still you give him no security. And whether those who live under the continual calls of grace to faith and holiness, and reject the counsel of God while they have health and strength to serve him, will be likely to have such extraordinary mercy shewn them at the last, as to have then an offer of salvation, let such persons judge themselves from the few instances that we have of death-bed penitents.
Christ came to destroy sin, and the works of the devil; but if men were promised forgiveness upon the account of a few sighs and tears at last, this would effectually establish and confirm the kingdom of Satan. Though God has promised to pardon penitent sinners through the Son of his love, yet his promise must be expounded so, as to be consistent with his designs in sending Christ into the world. In a word, we have the promises of the gospel set before us, we have the mercies of God in Christ offered to us; if we will accept them, happy are we; but if we are for finding our new ways to salvation, if we seek to reconcile the pleasures and profits of sin with the hopes of the gospel, we do but deceive ourselves; for God is not mocked, nor will he regard those who make such perverse use of his mercy.
What then remains, but that all who love their own souls, seek the Lord whilst haply he may be found, and while they have the light; for the night cometh, when no man can work. The night cometh on apace, and brings with it a change, which every mortal must undergo. Then shall we be forsaken of all our pleasures and enjoyments, and deserted by those gay thoughts which now support our foolish hearts against the fears of religion. The time cometh,—and who, O Lord, may abide its coming!—when we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ; when the highest and the lowest shall be placed on the same level, expecting a new distribution of rewards and punishments. In that day, the stoutest heart will tremble, and the countenance of the proudest man will fall, in the presence of his injured Lord. I speak not to you the suggestions of superstition or fear, but the words of soberness, of spiritual joy and comfort here, and of glory and immortality hereafter, to all the faithful, and to them alone!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Though they had condemned our Lord as worthy to die as a blasphemer; yet not having the power of life and death in their hands, and this pretended crime not being of such a nature as the Roman government might deem capital,—in order to execute their bloody purposes, the chief priests are obliged to have recourse to some other charge. Therefore,
1. They accuse him to Pilate, as a fomenter of sedition, setting up himself for king, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar; though he had so expressly enjoined it, when they meant to ensnare him; and, so far from affecting royalty, had opposed the mistaken zeal of his followers, who would have set him up for their king, Joh 6:15 but the purest innocence is no defence against the blackest calumny. Nay, in the present case, they knew themselves in their hearts to be the rebels; they abhorred the Roman government, and, so far from thinking it a crime to oppose it, would gladly have embraced the first favourable occasion to revolt. And, by the just judgment of God, that pretended crime, on account of which they demanded the condemnation of Jesus, shortly after the real crime, as far as man was concerned, for which themselves and the whole Jewish nation were destroyed by the Romans. Note; The poisoned chalice will return to him who mingled it.
2. Christ plainly and directly answers Pilate's interrogatories, and confesses himself indeed King of the Jews: but not in opposition to Caesar, with whose government he never interfered. His kingdom was of a quite different nature, not of this world, but purely spiritual over the hearts of men.
3. Pilate, convinced of the innocence of Jesus, declares that he can find no fault in him: whatever religious doctrines he taught, they came not under his cognizance, and therefore he would have released him: but the chief priests, exasperated even to fury at the thought of his being discharged, insisted upon it that they could prove him guilty of many seditious discourses and attempts to raise insurrections through Galilee, the chief scene of his preaching, and in all Judea.
4. Pilate, on the mention of Galilee, having found that he was of that country, would very gladly have rid himself of this disagreeable affair; and Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee, being then at Jerusalem, to whose jurisdiction he belonged, he referred them to him: and thus was the scripture fulfilled, Psalms 2:2.Acts 4:26-27; Acts 4:26-27.
5. Herod was highly pleased at the sight of Jesus. The fame of his mighty works had long excited a desire to see him; and he hoped that his curiosity would be gratified by seeing some miracle now performed by him. But he was mistaken: as Christ knew the spirit with which he put the several questions to him relative to his miracles, he deigned not to make the least reply. The poorest beggar that came with his diseased body, would have met the kindest words and speediest relief; but he will not prostitute his power to gratify the curiosity of the proudest potentate.
6. While Jesus held his peace, his accusers, with open mouths, belched out their malice, endeavouring to exasperate Herod against him, and to awaken his jealousy by charges of his seditious conduct in Galilee: but Herod thought him an object rather to be despised than feared; and, after treating him as a weak silly wretch, and suffering his soldiers to make sport of him, in derision of the pretences which Jesus was said to form, he decked him in a robe of mock majesty, and sent him back to Pilate, desirous that he should determine concerning him as he thought fit. Note; If we are set at nought, insulted, despised, and treated as fools or madmen, let it not be grievous to us: we are used but like our Lord.
7. Pilate and Herod were on this occasion reconciled. They had been at enmity one with the other; but the mutual civilities which passed on this occasion, healed the breach, and made them friends again.
2nd, Jesus, being brought again from Herod to Pilate,
1. Pilate called the chief priests and rulers, and the people; and, convinced of the innocence of the prisoner, he declares, after the strictest examination, that he can find no shadow of a crime: nor had Herod testified the least mark of his displeasure against Jesus as a criminal, or as one deserving capital punishment. He offers, therefore, to chastise him, as if he were a criminal, to gratify them, and cover their prosecution from the suspicion of malice: and, since he must release one to them at the feast, he proposes Christ as the person; who, though his life was spared, would be thus stigmatized as a malefactor. Thus does this corrupt judge desire to trim between his conscience and the people, unwilling to imbrue his hands in innocent blood, yet solicitous to shew his utmost complaisance to them.
2. The proposal was abortive. The people, instigated by their priests and rulers, rejected the offer, demanding the release of Barabbas, whose notorious crimes of murder and insurrection called for the severest punishment; and cried out for the immediate execution of Jesus. In vain Pilate, again and again, remonstrated against the injustice and cruelty of such a demand: they only grew more outrageous at his opposition; and, not satisfied with the chastisement which he offered to inflict upon Jesus, demanded his crucifixion with such clamour, noise, and violence, as quite terrified Pilate into a compliance. He feared men more than God, and dared not disoblige the rulers and a lawless multitude, though at the expence of innocent blood.
3. Pilate, though reluctantly, at last pronounces the sentence of execution upon the innocent Saviour; and, having released that infamous criminal Barabbas, as preferred before him, delivers Jesus to their will; and the enmity which they had shewn against him plainly foretold, that their tender mercies would be cruelty.
3rdly, Behold the lamb of God led to the slaughter, amid the tears of Jerusalem's daughters.
1. His executioners seized on Simon, a Cyrenian, compelling him to bear the cross under which Christ was ready to expire; and not out of pity, but lest by death he should elude their malice, they released him from it for a moment, that they might shortly bind him faster to it with iron.
2. A multitude followed him, and among them many women bewailing his unhappy fate, and touched with tenderest sympathy at his innocent sufferings. Note; A sight of the cross-bearing Saviour may well excite our deepest grief. For he bore our sins, and carried our sorrows.
3. He addresses the mourners, and kindly bids them direct their tears into another channel; weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children; deep as his agonies were, he freely submitted to them; his sufferings were voluntary, and the issue of them would be glorious; but the judgments coming upon their people and nation, would be embittered with the wrath of God, and end in their utter destruction. Then barrenness would be accounted a blessing: for better were it to be destitute of children, than to see them devoured by famine and the sword. A refuge then under falling rocks and mountains would be welcome, rather than to meet the fearful executioners of God's vengeance; for if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? If these wicked men have inflicted such sufferings on me, who am innocent, what shall be done to them who, by their sins, are as fuel prepared for the devouring flames? and if the Romans, whom they have instigated, are permitted to exercise such cruelty on me who have never given them provocation, what vengeance will they wreak on the Jewish people, when, exasperated to the utmost, they consume them as fire does the dry wood? Note; (1.) Though barrenness is often counted a misery, the days may come, when not to have children may be reckoned among our mercies. (2.) They who will not fly to the arms of Jesus for mercy, will cry in vain to rocks and mountains to shelter them from the frowns of his wrath. (3.) Every view of the sufferings of Jesus should fill us with horror at the dreadful evil and danger of sin; if the wrath of God fell so heavy upon him for sins not his own, with what an intolerable load must the impenitent sinner be overwhelmed, when all the wrath of God due for his own sins shall light down on his devoted head. If Christ's sufferings were so great, what must be the torment of the damned?
4thly, We have,
1. The crucifixion of the Son of God between two malefactors; who, to increase the ignominy of his sufferings, were led with him to Calvary, the place of execution, and crucified on each side of him. There, amid the taunts and insults of his enemies, he was hung up, to expire in torments: and over his head his pretended crime was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. While they are mocking, let us bow down with adoration, and wonder at that love which fastened him to the accursed tree. If, as they challenged him to do, he refused to save himself, it was because he could not then have saved us; it was needful that he should die, that we might not eternally perish under the wrath of God.
2. His prayer for his murderers. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do; they were blinded by prejudice and ignorance; and he became, as Mediator, their advocate with his Father, that they might still have an offer of salvation. Some of those who nailed him to the tree probably experienced, at least after his resurrection, the glorious efficacy of that atoning blood with which their hands were stained. Note; (1.) There are no crimes so great, but the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from them; even murder itself is not unpardonable. (2.) The persecutors of God's people know not what they do; and that should be an argument with us, after our Lord's example, to bear with, forgive, pity, and pray for them.
3. The conversion of the thief upon the cross; wherein we behold a most glorious evidence of the mighty efficacy of the Saviour's grace, even in the lowest step of his humiliation, and a striking display of the great design of his sufferings, to save that which was lost. One indeed continued hardened to the last, railing on him, and challenging him, if he was the Christ, to save himself and them. Thus afflictive providences too often serve only to harden and exasperate, instead of humbling the impenitent. The other, snatched as a brand from the burning, is here held up an illustrious monument of the salvation of Jesus, even to the uttermost; an object which stains the pride of human glory, and renders all mere self-wrought righteousness contemptible; when such a wretch, now penitent, enters the eternal kingdom, from which the most apparently devout, decent, and orderly Pharisee must be for ever excluded. Note; It is enough that the Saviour was pleased to exercise a signal act of favour towards one desperate but returning sinner, as an encouragement to the most miserable still to trust in his mercy. See the Annotations and Inferences.
[1.] The behaviour of this malefactor evinced the blessed influence which a sense of redeeming love instantly wrought on his heart. (1.) He sharply rebukes his companion, Dost not thou fear God? When ready to appear at his tremendous bar, how unsuitable is such reviling in thy lips, seeing thou art in the same condemnation, suffering the same kind of punishment; and therefore humanity dictated mutual compassion? (2.) He reminds him of the justness of their punishment, and takes shame to himself for his crimes. We indeed suffer justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; and that should have covered them both with confusion, and sealed up their lips in silence. Thus every real penitent justifies God in his judgments, and owns all he suffers to be no more than his sins deserve. (3.) He bears testimony to the innocence of Jesus, this man hath done nothing amiss; he was fully convinced that his sufferings were for sins not his own, and his confession seems to intimate that he was well acquainted with the Saviour's character; and what he had seen of Christ's behaviour on the cross, his meekness, patience, and charity towards his murderers, were striking evidences of his innocence. (4.) He addresses himself to the dying Redeemer, as a dying sinner commending himself to his mercy, Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom. His faith staggered not at the ignominious circumstances in which he beheld the Son of God; he pays him the divine honours due to him as the Lord of life and glory; he professes unshaken dependance on his all-sufficiency to save, even at the latest gasp, the vilest of sinners. Humbly he presents his request; one kind remembrance only he asks, unworthy the least regard; but if the Lord will think of him in that glorious kingdom, to which he is now assured he is about to be advanced, then he knows that he himself shall be a member of it. Lord, give me like faith in thy power and love! Thus dying, may I be able to commend my spirit unto thy hands, founding all my hopes on thy rich grace alone!
[2.] Christ is pleased most graciously to answer his requests, and so give him even more than he asks. Verily I say unto thee, and my word is truth, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise; thy soul, as soon as it departs from the body, shall join the assembly of the blessed in that state of happiness and glory, which God hath prepared for his faithful people. Note; (1.) The prayer of faith is sure of an answer of peace; the chief of sinners, if they return to God, and cleave to the Saviour in persevering faith, shall be placed among his saints in glory everlasting. (2.) There is a state of blessedness immediately prepared for the souls of the faithful, where they are in joy and felicity, before the resurrection-day, when in body and soul their happiness will be complete. (3.) Where Christ is, there is heaven; to be with him in glory, is to be eternally blessed.
5thly, We are told,
1. The prodigies which happened, while Jesus hung on the tree. The sun was eclipsed from twelve o'clock at noon till three, and the veil of the temple rent, signifying the state of judicial blindness, to which the Jewish people were abandoned; the abolition of all the typical institutions, the one great Sacrifice being now offered which they represented; and the free access which all, whether Jews or Gentiles, now have to a throne of grace, through this new and living way consecrated through the veil, that is to say, his flesh. Hebrews 10:19-20.
2. The last dying words of Jesus, which he uttered aloud, not as one exhausted, but as having still his full strength, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. He borrows the Psalmist's words, for scripture language is ever most expressive in our addresses to God. He testifies, as the High-priest and Sacrifice, the fullest confidence in the favour of God his Father; he, by the Eternal Spirit, offers himself for the sins of the world; and now, by his death, pays down the ransom in full to divine justice; he commits his human body and soul, which now were to be separated, to his Father's care, and waits in hope until the third day, when they should be re-united, and he should rise again. And thus must the dying saints of God, by faith, cheerfully commend their departing souls to their Father's keeping, until the happy resurrection-morn; when, fashioned like to Christ's glorious body, our sleeping ashes shall be re-animated, and we shall be taken to dwell with him in his eternal kingdom.
3. The centurion's confession. Deeply affected with what he saw and heard, he could not refrain from expressing his fullest conviction of the innocence of Jesus; and, to the glory of God, acknowledges the righteousness of his eternal Son.
4. The spectators, many of them at least, perhaps some also who had cried Crucify him, now full of anguish and remorse, returned smiting on their breasts. The prodigies which they beheld startled their consciences, and terrified them with the apprehension of what would be the consequence of this atrocious deed, at which even the heavens above, and the earth under their feet, testified their indignation.
5. A considerable number of his disciples, and particularly the women who followed Jesus from Galilee, stood at a distance, overwhelmed with grief at what they saw, and under the deepest dejection, as if the cross of Jesus was the death of all their hopes; when, in fact, by these sufferings his victories were to be obtained, and his kingdom established.
6thly, The corpse of Jesus was now in danger of being cast, with those of the malefactors, into a common grave; but when none of his other disciples had courage to appear, or ability to give him an honourable interment, God is pleased to raise up one to discharge this last kind office.
1. His name and character are here given us. He was called Joseph, a man of signal piety and probity; a counsellor, probably one of the great Sanhedrim, who consented not to the counsel and deed of them; either he entered his protest against their proceedings, or, seeing opposition in vain, withdrew. He was of Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who also himself waited for the kingdom of God, expecting, according to the prophesies, that it would shortly appear.
2. He went unto Pilate, and having obtained permission to take down the body from the cross, he wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a new tomb, where never man before lay, in haste to finish the funeral, because the sabbath drew on. The women, the constant attendants of Jesus, followed the corpse to the grave; and, returning, prepared spices and ointments that they might come and embalm him, as soon as the sabbath was past; during which they observed the rest enjoined on that holy day. Note; The Lord's day now, as the sabbath of old, is sacred; all our affairs must be so ordered, as not to break in upon the hours expressly set apart for the immediate service of God.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 23". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29