The crucifixion of Jesus stood as a bloody victory for the bureaucratic powers around Jerusalem. They wanted Him to shut up. But Jesus would squeak out a few more phrases, and as we might expect, His last words before His death on the cross resound as some of the more profound statements in human history.
1) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (v. 34)
To clear up any confusion, “they” is referring to the combination of Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers leading Jesus off to the cross, not the criminals accompanying Him. Context is very important. Jesus makes this statement just as they begin crucifying Him, according to Luke, so Jesus is still in contact with the Father – He has not been “forsaken”, so He can still make requests on behalf of God. Jesus is bloodied, shamed, and now on His death bed, yet He insists on dispensing grace – at least, He requests it.
Luke describes the scene with a few details after this statement is recorded: the onlookers seem reluctant that He is indeed God (v. 35), the Roman soldiers mock Him (v. 36-37), the tongue-in-cheek sign posted above Jesus’ head reads, “This is the King of the Jews”(v. 38), and a brief dialogue occurs between the other criminals and Jesus on the cross thereafter, leading to Jesus’ next statement:
2) “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (v. 43)
What is it about the latter criminal’s remark that gives him an advantage over the former’s? They are both correct: Jesus is indeed the king, and He has the capability of saving Himself as well as the criminals. They are also all under the same death penalty, and they’re getting what they deserve, with the exception of Jesus.
It has to do with intention of heart. The first criminal wants to preserve his life, suggesting Jesus not only save Himself, an innocent man, but the criminal’s life as well, a condemned man. The second criminal shows that he fears God, which gets Jesus’ attention and earns himself a free pass to eternal life.
3) (not included in Luke) “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46)
This statement briefly illustrates the distance between the Father and Jesus at this desperate hour. I’m probably echoing 8275834 Bible scholars, but the Father has forsaken Jesus because it is at this point that Jesus is bearing the sins of the world, and the holiness of God wants nothing to do with the filth. The scenario is both tragic and beautiful – a broken, humble man taking on the whole weight of humanity’s error.
4) “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. / It is finished.” (v. 46 / John 19:30)
Who is in control here? Here, Jesus solidifies the close relationship between Himself and the Father right before giving up His life. It’s not as cryptic as it seems. Notice that Jesus is actually forcing Himself into death, while the Father is the recipient of Jesus’ spirit. Both the Father and the Son have control over life and death at the same time. The submission of Jesus’ spirit signifies the completion of His work as the sacrifice for all people.
In these final words of Jesus, we see that:
– Jesus demonstrates grace, even in a tight spot.
– Humility always beats selfish behavior.
– Jesus is the sacrifice – you shouldn’t try to make up for it with something else
– Jesus is the only way to make it to heaven. No substitutes.
Thank you, come again.