Luke 23:26–43: The Crucifixion
In the last passage we read about Jesus’ trial before the Romans, and in the passage before that we read about his trial before the Jewish Council. His punishment is now, in this passage, being carried out. (I was very tempted to put the words “trial” and “punishment” in quotes, given the nature of how they were carried out, but I refrained.)
They lead Jesus away from the [second] trial before Pilate, and on the way they commandeer a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross for him. (It’s not stated in the text, but it was common practice for folks on the way to being crucified to carry their own crosses—or at least the cross-bar for the cross—but by this point Jesus has been scourged and is likely very physically weak. So it’s not surprising that he wasn’t able to carry his own cross.)
As they go, a set of mourners follows Jesus, lamenting his death, to whom he responds by quoting the Scriptures:
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (verses 27–31)
But of course they eventually reach their destination—a place called “the Skull” (also called “Golgotha” because of the Aramaic word for “skull”)—where Jesus is crucified, along with a couple of criminals on either side of him. Luke then provides a number of rapid details about what happens:
- Jesus asks the Father to forgive the ones who are crucifying him, because they don’t understand what they’re doing
- The soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing
- Luke doesn’t actually tell us that it’s the soldiers, but other Gospel writers do
- “Casting lots” is essentially a form of gambling for Jesus’ clothes
- Some of the rulers who are watching scoff at Jesus, and sarcastically say that if he’s really the Christ he should save himself from his current circumstances, and then the soldiers join in saying the same thing
- They put a sign over him, saying “This is the King of the Jews,” which is clearly sarcastic
One of the criminals who was crucified alongside Jesus joins in, and mocks him the same way; aren’t you supposed to be the Christ? Why aren’t you saving yourself, Christ—and us! But the other criminal sees things a little more clearly:
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (verses 40–43)
My most prominent thought about this passage is how many times people mock Jesus, saying something along the lines of, “if you’re really the Messiah why don’t you save yourself?!?”
Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross for him is a famous event, but other than it being a historical fact—i.e. it lends credence to Gospel writers’ accounts that details like this are included—I’m not sure if there are moral or religious aspects to pull out of this event. Other than re-emphasizing Jesus’ humanity, I suppose, which is not nothin’.
Mourning and Lamenting
My study Bible notes indicate that when Jesus addresses the mourners and lamenters he’s quoting from Zechariah and Hosea.
Another interesting point the notes point out, that hadn’t occurred to me before, is when Jesus says “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed,” in which he’s actually turning something on its head: barrenness would have been considered a bad thing (perhaps even a curse), but in the end times it will be turned around and become a blessing.
They also explain this part, which I don’t know that I’d understood before: “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Their notes say:
If God did not spare his innocent son (“green” wood), how much worse will it be when he allows the Romans to unleash his wrath on a sinful nation (“dry” wood)?
The Mocking and the Criminals
There ends up being quite a crowd gathered around Jesus who are doing nothing but mocking him—including one of the criminals who’s also being crucified with him! And the refrain is the same in each case:
“He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” … “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” … “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (verses 35, 37, and 39)
“If you’re such a saviour,” they’re all mocking him, “why can’t you save yourself?” Which is a valid question: why didn’t Jesus save himself? And the answer to that rhetorical question is that it was for my sake. And for the sake of every other Christian who’s ever been saved through His sacrifice on that cross.
Once again, though, Luke provides an extra detail: only one of the criminals is actually mocking him. The other one shows great faith: he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. To us, that doesn’t seem like great faith at all; it just seems like a deathbed conversion! “Oh, I’m about to die? Any minute now? Ok, I guess it’s time to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour…” But that’s not what is happening here: this man doesn’t understand what Jesus’ kingdom is going to look like. When he says to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he’s still thinking about an earthly kingdom! He’s thinking, well, Jesus is here on a cross, but I have faith that he’s the Messiah, so… he will somehow still lead his kingdom!
That man is with Jesus today. When I die, I’ll get to meet him. He didn’t understand exactly how things worked, but he had faith in Christ and that was enough. All of the people mocking Jesus were saying that he couldn’t possibly save anyone since he couldn’t even save himself, but what we now know, looking back, is that Jesus has saved (and continues to save) countless people, because He didn’t save Himself in that moment.