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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 23

 

 

Verses 1-56

DELIVERED TO PONTIUS PILATE

(vs.1-5)

It was still early morning when the Lord Jesus was brought to the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor (John 18:28), for the Jews were determined to quickly force through their vicious purpose so as to allow no time for any appeal to sober justice. From the beginning of that mock trial the absence of orderly court procedure was most apparent. They laid no charge as to anything He had done, nor did they even lay the charge that He said He was the Son of God, for Roman law would never condemn a man for such a thing, but they made the indefinite accusation that they found Him perverting the people. This was no charge for a court of law, so they added a false charge that He forbad paying tribute to Caesar. They had cunningly sought to make Him commit Himself to object to tribute to Caesar, but He had plainly told them otherwise (Luke 20:21-25). They added to their charge that He had said He was the Christ, a King, for this might make Pilate think He was challenging the authority of Caesar.

It was not difficult for Pilate to see through their subtlety. He knew perfectly well that they would have no objection to the refusal of tribute to Caesar, so their charges were only subterfuge. But he asked Christ if He were King of the Jews, and the answer was in the affirmative. While the fact of His being King was true, yet everyone knew that He had not in any way sought to overthrow the Roman government.

Pilate saw that it was transparently evident that under Roman law no charge whatever could be sustained against the Lord Jesus, and Pilate publicly declared that he found no fault in Him. This being the case, justice demanded that He be immediately released. But the fierce opposition of the Jews, though they had no specific charge of wrongdoing against Him, was such as to influence Pilate to forget justice, and he began a course of vacillation that ended in the grossest miscarriage of justice that history has ever known.

SENT BY PILATE TO HEROD

(vs.6-12)

The Jewish leaders were concerned only that the Lord's teaching might tend to undermine their authority over the people. They mentioned His preaching from Galilee to Jerusalem, and Pilate grasped at a possibility of shifting responsibility for judgment to Herod, tetrarch of Galilee, who was at the time at Jerusalem, so he sent Him to Herod.

Herod did not have the slightest interest in the question of justice being done in this case. Yet he was exceedingly glad to see the Lord, not because he had any interest in Him personally, but because he had heard many things as to His miraculous powers, so his idle curiosity was aroused in hope of seeing the Lord perform a miracle. How pathetically childish for a man in a high place of authority! The Lord remained totally silent in spite of the many questions that Herod asked Him. What a sight! The questioning monarch probably shifted his questions in every direction in hope of getting some answer. The chief priests and scribes were full of vicious, vehement accusation against Him, yet He remained calmly silent in such a way that they knew and felt Him to be master of the entire situation.

Yet rather than convicting them, this only galled Herod and his men of war. They resorted to the cowardly resource of contempt and mockery, clothing Him in a gorgeous robe in mockery of His being King of Israel, before returning Him to Pilate. Herod's contempt added to the official enmity of Galilee against Him, so the Jews, Galileans and Romans were all represented in the rejection of the Son of God. How sad, yet how instructive is the fact of the common contempt of Herod and Pilate toward the Lord Jesus being the means of making them friends! (v.12). Nor is such a thing uncommon today. Herod seemed to have gotten rid of his gnawing fear that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead (Matthew 14:2). His conscience was evidently dulled and hardened by sin, so he appeared as cold as a stone.

BARABBAS CHOSEN IN PREFERENCE TO CHRIST.

(vs.13-25)

Pilate's conscience strongly warned him against issuing the death penalty, for there was no concrete accusation of the Jews that could be sustained. Their charge that Lord Jesus was perverting the people was purely one of envy, as Pilate knew well (Matthew 27:18). In speaking to the chief priests and rulers he plainly declared that he found no fault in Him. To this also he added that Herod could find no occasion to condemn Him. This was the second time Pilate spoke so plainly in this regard (cf.v.4). The issue therefore was transparently clear: justice must release Him. Yet Pilate tried a compromise with the unjust suggestion that he would chastise (lash) Him before releasing Him. He thought this lesser judgment might satisfy the Jews. By this dishonorable means he was himself weaving the net in which the Jews snared him. Then He involved another unjust principle in the trial. For it was the Roman custom to release one prisoner at the Passover, the Jews being allowed to choose which one (John 18:39). This practice assumed the prisoner to be guilty, so the custom should have had no application whatever to the Lord Jesus. But Pilate unjustly allowed the Jews to chose between Jesus and Barabbas, the latter being an insurrectionist and murderer. In the blindness of their unreasonable folly the Jews demanded Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified.

It seems Pilate had not expected such a choice, so he attempted to reason with the people again, but only to hear the unreasoning, vicious demand that Jesus be crucified. For the third time Pilate insisted that he had found no cause in Him for the death penalty, yet as before, Pilate said he would chastise Him. In fact, John tells us that Pilate did scourge Him (John 19:1) even before his final efforts to release Him, so that Pilate actually added more injustice than the Jews had demanded. Finally, Pilate gave in to the clamoring voices of the multitude. This unhappy representative of the Roman government (which so prided itself on its justice) was guilty of the most glaring and outrageous injustice that history has ever known.

The man proven guilty of sedition against the government and of murder was released, while He whom the judge declared three times to be without fault was condemned to crucifixion! It seems inevitable that Pilate would be left for the rest of his life with a torturing, burning conscience.

THE LORD OF GLORY CRUCIFIED!

(vs.26-38)

While we are told elsewhere that Jesus went forth bearing His cross (John 19:17), yet Luke does not mention this, but speaks of Simon a Cyrenian being enlisted to carry the cross (v.26). The Lord first bore it, then it was transferred to Simon. But Scripture does not support the assumption of many that Jesus collapsed because of the weight of the cross. Let us not dare to go beyond the Word of God with such inferences. But this occurrence does teach us that there is a sense in which the disciple of the Lord Jesus might bear the cross after Him, as one identified with Him in His rejection by the world. Not everyone was consenting to His death. A great company (and women particularly mentioned) followed Him in mourning and lamentation. His words to them are striking. Rather than to weep for Him, He told them to weep for themselves and for their children, for the rejection of their Messiah would mean unspeakable sorrow and trouble for Israel. Rather than the normal blessedness of childbearing (Psalms 127:3-5), the day was coming when those would be counted happy who had no children to suffer the anguish that Israel had invited upon herself in the cry, "His blood be upon us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). History has seen such days on many occasions for Israel since that time, but the worst is not yet. When He says they will cry to the mountains and hills to fall on them and cover them, this is a prophecy that reminds us of Revelation 6:15-17, though in Revelation it is not only Israel involved, but the nations also.

This prophecy of the Lord Jesus looks on to the time of the end, as verse 31 indicates. The Lord Himself was the green tree with promise of good fruit, which Israel rejected. The dry tree is the state of Israel in the time of the end, desolate and withered as a result of their long years of determined refusal of the grace of God in Christ. If people would so act in defiance of the opportunity of greatest blessing, what will take place when Israel comes to a place where there appears to be no prospect of blessing whatever?

Two robbers were also taken to be crucified, though the murderer was set free. At Calvary, the place of a skull, the Lord was crucified with a robber on either side. The wickedness of man finds its dreadful culmination in crucifying the Lord of glory!

But how full of matchless grace and beauty were His words, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Well did He know that blind unbelief had left the people in ignorance of the awful significance of their act. In contrast to their hatred, the pure love of His heart had deep, genuine desire for their forgiveness. Later Stephen, when stoned to death, prayed similarly, but could not say that the Jews did not know what they did, but simply said, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). For Stephen had faced the Jews with the fact that this same Jesus whom they had crucified was now raised by the power of God, the proof of God's approval of Him, but the Jews callously rejected Him though risen from the dead.

The soldiers divided His garments, casting lots as to what each should have. We may question how they could be so callous as to even accept His clothing, but men's hearts by nature are hard and selfish. They stood watching, as though this was a sight to entertain them. The rulers added the abuse of derision, yet admitting the wonderful fact that He had saved others. How sad is the ignorance of their assertion, "Let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God." Indeed, He would willingly remain on the cross in order that He might save others eternally. Because He is the Christ, He would not save Himself from the agony and death of the cross.

Over His cross the superscription was written in the languages of the intellectual world (Greek), the political world (Latin), and the religious world (Hebrew): "This is the King of the Jews," for all had united in rejecting Him who remained King of the Jews through death itself. God sovereignly ordered this clear, decided witness.

TWO ROBBERS: ONE HARDENED. THE OTHER SAVED

(vs.39-43)

Matthew 27:44 tells us that both robbers cast the same derision as the Jews in the Lord's teeth. One of them in mockery demanded, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us." Blindly, the robber thought only of being saved from the just sentence of his guilt. His hardened heart evidently had no concern for the solemnity of his eternal end, and no regard for the grace of the Lord Jesus who had prayed for the forgiveness of His enemies. He callously refused his last opportunity of forgiveness.

But the great grace of the Lord Jesus produced in the other robber a sudden and wonderful change. He spoke soberly and wisely, rebuking the first robber with a penetrating question, asking whether the fear of God was not sufficient in him to think seriously when he too was facing the death of crucifixion? But more: the second robber proved the reality of new birth in his soul by acknowledging that the two of them were suffering justly, receiving what they deserved, and affirming positively that Christ had done nothing wrong. His first words indicated honest repentance, and the last phrase showed a genuine faith in the Lord Jesus.

The repentant robber then directly addressed the Lord Jesus, asking that He remember him when He comes in His kingdom. He knew well that death is not the end, either for the Lord or for himself. Christ will yet reign in His glorious kingdom: the man believed it and asked for blessing at that future time.

But the Lord Jesus promised Him much more than he asked, with the positive declaration that, not in the distant future, but on that very day he would be with Christ in paradise. This is decisive! Though their bodies were buried, yet their spirits and souls were that day in paradise. Paradise is the third heaven, as 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 declares and Revelation 2:7 confirms; that is, the very presence of God. Some have been confused by the wording of the King James Version of Scripture in its quoting Christ as saying, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption" (Acts 2:27). The word "hell" in that verse is not "Gehenna," the lake of fire, but "hades" (or in Hebrew "sheol") which does not indicate a place, but a state. It is the unseen state of the soul and spirit as separated from the body. His spirit and soul were therefore in the unseen condition called "hades," but in the place called "paradise," the third heaven. In resurrection His soul would not be left in this unseen condition, nor His body allowed to see corruption: both would be reunited.

Now about the sixth hour, which was noon -- normally the brightest time of day -- darkness enveloped all the land for three hours, the darkest hours of all earth's history, when the blessed Son of Man bore the unspeakable agony of the unmitigated judgment of God against sin and against our many sins. But only Matthew and Mark mention His heart-rending cry of abandonment at the end of this three hours, for the trespass and sin-offfering aspects of His sacrifice are seen in those Gospels. Yet it is briefly said here that the sun was darkened and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst, showing a marked intervention of God, the latter being typical of the rending of the flesh of the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 10:20) so that believers today may have title to enter into the holiest of all, the very presence of God, as worshipers. The darkened sun intimates the light of God withdrawn from the Lord Jesus in the solitary agony of His sufferings. His cry of abandonment was with a loud voice (Matthew 27:46), for all creation must pay attention to this. Again He cried with a loud voice, though Luke does not record His words, as John does, "It is finished" (John 19:30), a word of ringing victory intended for all the universe. Then with calm, lovely submission He prayed, "Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit." In perfect knowledge that the time had come, He expired. He dismissed His own spirit. He had authority to lay down His life. None could take it from Him (John 10:17-18). Wondrous, awesome, amazing sight!

How could not all this but impress souls to their depths? Even the centurion in charge of the execution was persuaded that "certainly this was a righteous Man" (v.47). Matthew mentions that the centurion and others with him, also declared Him to be the Son of God, but Luke emphasizes His manhood and so leaves that statement out. On the part of the common people too, how different was their attitude than when clamoring for His crucifixion! Returning from that sight, they beat their breasts, their thoughts deeply solemnized in realizing they had seen what they had never expected, nor could ever forget.

It is added that all His acquaintances, and specifically the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood far off watching what was done. There is no need to mention how deeply their hearts were affected, but the element of fear had probably kept them from coming near. Compare John 19:25. But the sight of the cross and all that transpired there could not but leave an eternal impression on those who witnessed it. Might not many have been brought to God at the time?

BURIAL BY JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA

(vs.50-56)

The great work of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus being finished, no unholy hands were allowed to touch Him again. God had a man prepared for taking the burial in hand. Joseph was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrim, the council guilty of having plotted the death of the Lord. But Joseph's character was honorable, and he had not consented to the evil purpose of his fellow council members. But the cross brought him out clearly, not only as being not against the Lord, but fully on the side of the One who had been murdered by his own people. Joseph waited for the kingdom of God. It is evident that this expectation was not hindered because of the death of the Lord Jesus: rather, one would say, his faith in a God of resurrection was brought into vital exercise.

Receiving permission from Pilate, he took the body of Jesus from the cross, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a new tomb hewn out of the rock. John adds that Nicodemus joined him (John 19:39), but Joseph took the initiative. So Isaiah 53:9 was -- fulfilled: He was with the rich in His death.

Verse 54 is clear that this day was Friday, called "the preparation," and the Sabbath drew near. Some have imagined that there was more than one sabbath in the week, and that the crucifixion took place Wednesday or Thursday; but the Greek article is decisive, "the Sabbath." In verse 56 the women rested only "the Sabbath day," not "days." The women came to observe His burial, then returned home to prepare spices and ointments in hope of anointing His body after the Sabbath, on which day they rested.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Luke 23:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/luke-23.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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