The Bible

 

Luke 23

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1 And the whole company of them rose up, and brought him before Pilate.

2 And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.

3 And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest.

4 And Pilate said unto the chief priests and the multitudes, I find no fault in this man.

5 But they were the more urgent, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Judaea, and beginning from Galilee even unto this place.

6 But when Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.

7 And when he knew that he was of Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him unto Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem in these days.

8 Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was of a long time desirous to see him, because he had heard concerning him; and he hoped to see some miracle done by him.

9 And he questioned him in many words; but he answered him nothing.

10 And the chief priests and the scribes stood, vehemently accusing him.

11 And Herod with his soldiers set him at nought, and mocked him, and arraying him in gorgeous apparel sent him back to Pilate.

12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day: for before they were at enmity between themselves.

13 And Pilate called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,

14 and said unto them, Ye brought unto me this man, as one that perverteth the people: and behold, I having examined him before you, found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:

15 no, nor yet Herod: for he sent him back unto us; and behold, nothing worthy of death hath been done by him.

16 I will therefore chastise him, and release him.

17 [Now he must needs release unto them at the feast one prisoner.]

18 But they cried out all together, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas: --

19 one who for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.

20 And Pilate spake unto them again, desiring to release Jesus;

21 but they shouted, saying, Crucify, crucify him.

22 And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath this man done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him and release him.

23 But they were urgent with loud voices, asking that he might be crucified. And their voices prevailed.

24 And Pilate gave sentence that what they asked for should be done.

25 And he released him that for insurrection and murder had been cast into prison, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

26 And when they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, and laid on him the cross, to bear it after Jesus.

27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him.

28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.

29 For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the breasts that never gave suck.

30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

31 For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

32 And there were also two others, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.

33 And when they came unto the place which is called The skull, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left.

34 And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And parting his garments among them, they cast lots.

35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also scoffed at him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen.

36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, offering him vinegar,

37 and saying, If thou art the King of the Jews, save thyself.

38 And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? save thyself and us.

40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

42 And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom.

43 And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.

44 And it was now about the sixth hour, and a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,

45 the sun's light failing: and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.

46 And Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost.

47 And when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.

48 And all the multitudes that came together to this sight, when they beheld the things that were done, returned smiting their breasts.

49 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed with him from Galilee, stood afar off, seeing these things.

50 And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a councillor, a good and righteous man

51 (he had not consented to their counsel and deed), [a man] of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews, who was looking for the kingdom of God:

52 this man went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.

53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb that was hewn in stone, where never man had yet lain.

54 And it was the day of the Preparation, and the sabbath drew on.

55 And the women, who had come with him out of Galilee, followed after, and beheld the tomb, and how his body was laid.

56 And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

  

Commentary

 

Exploring the Meaning of Luke 23

   

By Ray and Star Silverman

Low Angle Photography of Cross on Top of Mountain

The Crucifixion

1. And all the multitude of them stood up and led Him to Pilate.

2. And they began to accuse Him, saying, We found this [Man] perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ a King.

3. But Pilate asked Him, saying, Art Thou the King of the Jews? And He answering him declared, Thou sayest.

4. And Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, I find no guilt in this man.

5. But they were urgent, saying, He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee even to here.

6. And when Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the Man were a Galilean.

7. And when he knew that He was from Herod’s authority, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem in those days.

8. And Herod, seeing Jesus, rejoiced exceedingly, because for a considerable [time] he was desiring to see Him, since he had heard many things about Him, and hoped to see some sign done by Him.

9. And he asked Him with a considerable [number of] words; but He answered him nothing.

10. And the chief priests and scribes stood vehemently accusing Him.

11. And Herod, making Him as nothing with his armies, and mocking, arrayed Him in a splendid cloak, [and] sent Him again to Pilate.

12. And in the same day Pilate and Herod became friends with one another, for before they were at enmity between themselves.

At the end of the previous episode, Jesus was under interrogation by the council of chief priests and elders. Their intent was to get a confession from Jesus, something that would enable them to convict Him of blasphemy. So, they asked Jesus, “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus’ reply was simply, “You say that I am.” This was enough for them to go forward with their conviction. According to the Hebrew scriptures, the punishment for blasphemy was death (Leviticus 24:16).

At that time, however, all decisions about capital punishment were in the hands of the Roman government. Therefore, the religious leaders, who were subject to Roman law, did not have the authority to kill Jesus. They would need to take Jesus to Pilate, the chief Roman official at that time. Pilate’s job is to maintain civil order, not resolve religious disputes. Therefore, instead of accusing Jesus of blasphemy, which is a religious offense, the religious leaders accuse Jesus of inciting a rebellion against the Roman government, which is a political crime worthy of the death penalty.

This is where this next episode begins. As it is written, “the whole multitude of them arose and led Jesus to Pilate” (Luke 23:1). Not only does Pilate have the authority to collect taxes, but he also has the power to punish criminals, even, if necessary, by death. In this regard, Pilate can determine whether or not a particular person is an enemy of the state, and if so, that person can be crucified for treason. It is for this reason that when the religious leaders bring Jesus to Pilate, they say nothing about the claim that He is the Son of God. Instead, they say, “We found this man perverting the nation, and forbidding us to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2).

We know, of course, that this allegation is simply not true. Jesus never said that they should not pay taxes to Caesar, nor did He ever declare that His kingdom would replace Caesar’s. What He did say was, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25), and also, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But the allegation is effective. After all, it’s Pilate’s job to preserve order in the kingdom, and not allow for rebellion. If Jesus is in fact a rebel, challenging civil authority, Pilate will have to deal with Him severely. Therefore, Pilate turns to Jesus and asks, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3). Once again, Jesus responds with the ambiguous statement, “You say” (Luke 23:3). This is almost the same wording that Jesus used when the high priest asked Jesus if He were the Son of God. Jesus said, “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70).

Pilate is not upset by Jesus’ response, nor does He interpret it as a confession. He simply says to the chief priests and to the crowd, “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4). Jesus’ accusers, however, are not willing to be put off. They are adamant about having Jesus condemned, and their words become fierce as they accuse Him of being a rabble rouser: “He stirs up the people,” they say, “teaching throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place” (Luke 23:5).

The mention of Galilee catches Pilate’s attention because that area is not under Pilate’s jurisdiction. That district belongs to Herod Antipas. Therefore, Pilate asks if Jesus is a Galilean. When Pilate discovers that Jesus is indeed from Galilee, he sends Jesus to Herod, who happens to be in Jerusalem at that time. Interestingly, we read that when Herod sees Jesus, “He rejoiced exceedingly, because for a considerable [time] Herod was desiring to see Jesus, since he had heard many things about Him, and hoped to see some miracle done by Him” (Luke 23:8).

Curious about the signs and miracles that have been attributed to Jesus, Herod questions Him at great length. Jesus, however, remains silent, and gives no answer, fulfilling the prophecy, “Like a lamb led to the slaughter … He did not open his mouth” (Luke 23:9; Isaiah 53:7).

Jesus’s silence enrages the religious leaders who are standing nearby. As it is written, “the religious leaders began to vehemently accuse Him” (Luke 23:10). As Jesus stands there, saying nothing, the religious leaders together with Herod and his soldiers heap scorn and ridicule upon Jesus. As it is written, “Then Herod, with his soldiers, treated Jesus with contempt, mocked Him, put a gorgeous robe on Him and sent Him back to Pilate” (Luke 23:11).

Following this contemptuous mockery of Jesus, it is written that “Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before that they had been enemies” (Luke 23:12). This is a powerful picture of an unholy alliance of evil and falsity. Even robbers can appear to be friends when temporarily united in a common effort to steal and destroy. In this regard, the temporary friendship between Herod and Pilate represents the way evil desires and false thinking can make common cause in ridiculing truth and destroying goodness. 1

A practical application

Although Jesus has been mocked and ridiculed, neither Pilate nor Herod is eager to have Him executed. Whether Jesus is crucified or set free, there will be consequences—someone will be upset. That’s why Pilate and Herod find it most expedient to pass Jesus back and forth between them. Similarly, there is a tendency in each of us to avoid making the tough decisions that conscience demands. Instead of living by what we know to be true, we can succumb to the inclination to drift with the crowd and yield to popular opinion. As a spiritual practice, notice Herod and Pilate teaming up in you, getting you to avoid tough decisions—especially those decisions that might make you unpopular. The need to be accepted by others is a powerful one, but it should never replace the deliberate decision to live by the teachings of the Lord’s Word, spiritually understood, and taken to heart. 2

Pilate’s Decision

13. And Pilate, having called together the chief priests, and the rulers, and the people,

14. Said to them, you have brought to me this Man as one that turns away the people, and behold, I, having examined [Him] before you, have found no guilt in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him.

15. But neither [did] Herod, for I sent you to him, and behold, nothing worthy of death has been committed by Him.

16. Therefore, having chastised Him, I will release [Him].

17. And of necessity he must release one to them at [the] festival.

18. But they cried out all at once, saying, Take this [Man] away, and release unto us Barabbas;

19. Who for a certain insurrection which was made in the city, and [for] murder, had been cast into prison.

20. Again, therefore, Pilate summoned [them], willing to release Jesus.

21. But they cried out, saying, Crucify, crucify Him!

22. And he said to them a third [time], Why? What evil has He done? I have found no guilt of death in Him; therefore, having chastised Him, I will release [Him].

23. But they pressed upon [him] with loud voices, asking that He might be crucified; and the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed;

24. And Pilate assented that it should be as they required.

25. And he released to them him who for insurrection and murder had been cast into prison, whom they had asked; but he delivered up Jesus to their will.

As we have seen, Pilate has been unwilling to convict Jesus, saying rather, “I find no fault in Him” (Luke 23:4). The truth of the matter is that Jesus has done nothing wrong. He has come to teach and to heal; He has come to offer a new way to understand God and a new way to serve the neighbor. Everything He does has been motivated by the deepest love. At this point, Pilate finds no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4). Therefore, Pilate calls together the religious leaders and the people, and presents his case to them, saying, “You have brought this man to me as one who has been inciting a rebellion. However, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this man regarding the charges you have made against Him” (Luke 23:14). Pilate then says that both he and Herod have found that Jesus “has done nothing deserving of death” (Luke 23:15). To this he adds that he will “punish Jesus and release Him” (Luke 23:16).

The crowd, however, does not agree. “Away with this man,” they cry out, “and release to us Barabbas” (Luke 23:18). Barabbas is a well-known criminal who has been imprisoned for insurrection and murder (Luke 23:19). As the chief Roman official in that jurisdiction, Pilate is surely aware of Barabbas’ criminal record, and would therefore be reluctant to release him. Therefore, he calls out to the crowd a second time, suggesting that Jesus be set free. But the crowd becomes even more insistent, shouting, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21).

The relentless crowd, in this case, represents the relentless demands of our lower nature. This is a picture of how our unregenerate will can overwhelm our understanding. Again and again, we might offer up our reasons for doing the right thing, but if our corrupt will is adamant, reason and understanding will be overpowered. This clash between an insistent lower nature, represented by the crowd, and our understanding, represented by Pilate, is a continual one. Therefore, we read that Pilate says to the crowd a third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore punish Him and let Him go” (Luke 23:22).

There is a part of us that has no desire to harm what is true and good. It could be called “reason” or “common sense.” But if reason is not well-developed and led by truth from the Word of God, it will crumble when challenged by an assertive and aggressive lower nature. If we drop our guard, just a little, the desires of our lower nature will inundate, overwhelm, and shout down our understanding. As it is written, “But the crowd was insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And the voices of these men and the chief priests prevailed” (Luke 23:23). 3

As a result, Pilate relented and gave in to the insistent demands of the crowd. Not only did he agree to crucify Jesus, but he also agreed to release the known criminal, Barabbas (Luke 23:24). As it is written, “So Pilate released to them the one who for rebellion and murder had been thrown into prison, and he delivered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:25).

A practical application

Barabbas, who was imprisoned for rebellion and murder, represents those parts of ourselves that are determined to rebel against divine order and destroy what is good and true. Whenever we succumb to the promptings of our lower nature, we “release Barabbas” and “crucify Jesus.” Instead of doing God’s will, we do whatever our lower nature demands. And so, this episode concludes with the chilling words that describe Pilate’s final decision: “He delivered Jesus to their will” (Luke 23:25). With this in mind, refuse to be bullied by the unregenerate will of your lower nature, even when it cries with a loud voice, “Release Barabbas.” When the inner crowd makes this demand, remain steadfast in higher truth, keeping Barabbas locked up. Instead, “Release Jesus.”

Taking Up The Cross

26. And as they led Him away, taking [hold] on one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the field, they laid the cross on him to bring [it] after Jesus.

27. And there followed Him a multitude of many people and of women, who also bewailed and lamented Him.

28. But Jesus turning to them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over Me, but weep over yourselves and over your children.

29. For behold, the days are coming, in which they shall say, Happy [are] the barren, and the wombs which have not given birth, and the breasts which have not nursed.

30. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

31. For if they do these things in the moist tree, what shall be done in the withered?

Jesus has been very clear about the significance of the cross. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). And, again, shortly after telling the parable of the great supper, Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27). Jesus is saying that we will each have many trials and temptations, signified by “the cross.” During these times of spiritual combat, we must “follow Him,” meaning that we must remain steadfast, following the truth that He teaches. This is the only way to overcome in temptation. 4

As we have mentioned, Jesus has been undergoing spiritual combats during the course of His entire life. As the final and most grievous temptation approaches, Jesus is physically depleted. After being arrested on the Mount of Olives, He was taken to the high priest’s house where He was blindfolded, mocked, and beaten throughout the night. When morning came, He was interrogated by the council of chief priests and elders who delivered Him to Pilate for further questioning. Pilate then passed Jesus on to Herod where He was treated contemptuously by Herod’s soldiers, and then sent back to Pilate. At this point, Jesus is weary, so weary that He cannot physically carry His own cross. This is perhaps why the soldiers took hold of a certain man who was coming in from the country, and laid the cross on him (Luke 23:26). 5

The man who carries Jesus’ cross is named “Simon.” His name comes from the Hebrew word Shim'on [ שִׁמְעוֹן ] which means “to hear.” Little is known about this man except that he is a Cyrenian and is “from the country.” His role in the divine narrative suggests that he represents those people who have a simple, uncomplicated faith in Jesus. Although they are “from the country,” they have heard Jesus’ message, and have been drawn to Him. Through them—the Simons of the world—the message of the cross, and the truth it represents, will be carried on.

At a deeper level, however, Jesus is still carrying His cross. He is still bearing the suffering, feeling the agony, and fighting off despair as He undergoes the severest temptations. For Jesus, as for each of us, times of temptation reveal our essential character. During these times, our true nature is revealed in how we respond, what we say, and what we do. This is how each of us bears our cross.

As Jesus continues to make His way to the place of crucifixion, a multitude of people, including many women, are following Him. The women are deeply grieving what is happening to Jesus. (Luke 23:27). Turning to the women, Jesus tells them not to weep for Him. He knows that this crucifixion is not just about Him, but, more deeply, it is about the denial and rejection of the truth He came to teach. Without that truth to lead and guide humanity, there will be nothing to control or subdue the unregenerate human will. Instead, it will reign supreme, unleashing greed, hatred, revenge, cruelty, and chaos. Therefore, Jesus says to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28).

This is a low point for Jesus. In His weakened state, His vulnerable, infirm humanity feels the deepest despair, not for Himself, but for the future of the human race. In a world without truth to guide and protect it, hell would most certainly flood the land with fury, producing limitless suffering for people. 6

A new spiritual era

Nevertheless, even as Jesus approaches His crucifixion, fully aware of the devastation that will follow, He also foresees the birth of a new spiritual era based on the truth He has been teaching. It will be a time when people who are good at heart but without spiritual guidance will eagerly receive the genuine truths of religion. In sacred scripture, these good people who are without truth, yet yearn for it, are called the “barren.” When the long-awaited truth comes to them, and especially when they live their lives according to that truth, they will give birth to works of love and charity. They will be blessed. Therefore, Jesus says, “Indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore, and the breasts which never nursed’” (Luke 23:29). 7

These “new births” of love and charity are spiritual offspring. They refer to what can be produced through us when a new understanding based on the inner meaning of the Lord’s Word, and a new will based on a life according to those truths, are united in us. The result, so to speak, is a “new church” or a “new temple”—that is, the union of goodness and truth in an individual. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “I will make this new temple more glorious than the first” (Haggai 2:9). 8

People in whom this new church or new temple exists will feel the Lord’s power working through them. Evil desires and false beliefs that had held them captive for so long will run for cover. Tormented and tortured by the light of truth, those evil desires and false thoughts will seek refuge in the lowest places they can find. As Jesus puts it, “Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’” (Luke 23:30). This is a physical description of how far evil and falsity will be flee from us and run for cover when we live in the powerful and protective light of divine truth. 9

A world without truth

After Jesus prophesies the coming of a new religious era when the truth He teaches will be received and lived, He describes the opposite—a world without His presence and without the truth He came to teach. As Jesus puts it, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31). In other words, if they do these things to Him while He is still alive and present with them, what horrors will take place when Jesus is no longer there, that is, when the truth is rejected? 10

To understand the deeper meaning of Jesus’ words, we need to reflect on the meaning of a well-watered green wood as opposed to a dry one. In sacred scripture, water corresponds to truth. Just as water cleanses, refreshes, and nourishes the body, truth does the same for the soul. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, in regard to those who remain rooted in the nourishing truths of the Lord’s Word, “They shall be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It is not anxious in a time of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8). 11

As long as Jesus was with His people, teaching truth, their inner lives could remain fresh, green, and well-watered through the truth they were willing to receive. But not all were willing to receive. As Jesus has told His disciples, “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes” (Luke 9:22). Also, “the Son of Man must first suffer many things and be rejected by this generation ” (Luke 17:25). In this regard, the crucifixion of Jesus represents the way truth is falsified and rejected.

They Know Not What They Do

32. And there were also others, two malefactors, led with Him to be slain.

33. And when they had come to a place called Skull, there they crucified Him and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left.

34. And Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And dividing His garments, they cast lots.

35. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers with them also derided, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ, the chosen of God.

36. And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him vinegar,

37. And saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.

38. And an inscription was also written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew: This is the King of the Jews.

39. And one of the malefactors who were hanging [beside Him] blasphemed Him, saying, If Thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us.

40. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, because thou art in the same judgment?

41. And we indeed justly, for we receive the [things] [of which we are] worthy for what we have committed, but this [Man] has committed nothing amiss.

42. And he said to Jesus, Remember me, Lord, when Thou comest in Thy kingdom.

43. And Jesus said to him, Amen I say to thee, today thou shalt be with Me in paradise.

As Jesus is led to the place of crucifixion, two criminals are led along with Him. (Luke 23:32). As it is written, “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him and the criminals there, one at His right hand, the other at his left” (Luke 23:33). It is at this point, as Jesus is being nailed to the cross, that He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In both the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark, Jesus’ last words are, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). But in Luke, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” These are very different statements. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ sense of being separate from His inner divinity is extreme. His anguished expression, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” is comparable to those states of despair in us when we feel abandoned by God.

But in Luke, we find a very different response. Jesus does not call out to “God,” but rather to His “Father”—a more intimate term. Moreover, there is no indication of abandonment or separation, but rather a close relationship similar to that which takes place between a father and a son. In addition, Jesus’ plea for forgiveness contains one of the major themes of the Gospel According to Luke: it is the importance of a developed understanding. We need knowledge, we need instruction, we need to know what we are doing. Therefore, Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” 12

Meanwhile, at the foot of the cross, the soldiers are gambling for Jesus’ clothing, paying little attention to His suffering. This callous attitude represents a place within each of us that is primarily concerned with the demands of our lower nature and the acquisition of material goods. As it is written, “And they threw dice, dividing up His garments among themselves” (Luke 23:34). Their insensitivity is especially poignant in the light of the fact that Jesus has just cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Leaders, soldiers, and criminals at the cross

As Jesus hangs on the cross, slowly dying the painful death of crucifixion, three groups of people revile Him. The first group of people are the leaders who sneer at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35). These leaders have already judged and condemned Jesus for claiming to be the Son of God. Now, even as Jesus hangs on the cross, they continue to challenge Him. Their taunting words and cruel sneers represent the part of us that demands that God come down to our level and do our will; it is not interested in humbly learning the truth so that we might do God’s will.

The next group of people are the soldiers. Following the example of the leaders who have begun the taunting, they also mock Jesus, offer Him sour wine, and say, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself’” (Luke 23:37). These soldiers represent the tendency to turn religion into a joke and make a mockery of what is true. This is the tendency to take pleasure in ridiculing, deriding, and making fun of both people and the sacred. This is evidenced by the scornful, sarcastic inscription the soldiers place over Jesus’ head as He hangs on the cross: “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38). 13

The third and final group is the one represented by the two criminals who are crucified on the left and right side of Jesus. The first criminal taunts Jesus as did the first two groups, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself,” and then he adds, “and us” (Luke 23:39). He represents the part of ourselves which is willing to believe, but only if we can get something out of it. This is the tendency to promote our own self-interest rather than to use truth as a means through which goodness can be expressed. 14

The second criminal, however, has a different response. Turning towards the first criminal, he rebukes him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?” (Luke 23:40). This second criminal believes not only that he is guilty and deserves to die, but also that Jesus is innocent and deserves to live. As He puts it, “We receive the due reward for our deeds. But this Man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Then, humbly turning to Jesus, he says, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

It is significant that this second criminal is the only individual who does not ask Jesus to come down from the cross, or to prove that He is the Christ. Instead, he first of all acknowledges his own guilt, and then turns to Jesus. While Jesus has not responded to the taunts of the leaders, the soldiers, or the first criminal, He does respond to the request of the man who acknowledges his guilt and asks to be remembered. Jesus says to him, “Assuredly, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

A practical application

The second criminal represents that aspect of ourselves which is willing to do the work of self-examination, including acknowledging our sins. This is the aspect of ourselves that sincerely turns to God for help and support, asking Him to be mindful of our needs. Here, in the simple story of a humble criminal who acknowledges his guilt, we see a practical application for our lives: we must first humbly acknowledge our guilt, take responsibility for what we have done, and then, turn to God so that we might start a new life in His kingdom—a life that can begin today.

The Final Agony

44. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

It should not be forgotten that the mocking of the leaders, the bitter ridicule of the soldiers, the blasphemous taunts of the first criminal, and the repentant request of the second criminal all took place while Jesus hung on the cross. While little is said about Jesus’ physical agony, which must have been extreme, we are given prophetic glimpses of it in the psalms. As it is written, “I am poured out like water, and all of My bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax. It has melted within Me. My strength has dried up like baked clay…. They pierce My hands and My feet” (Psalm 22:17-18). This physical agony is representative of the deeper torments that Jesus is experiencing during His final temptation.

Of all the temptations going through Jesus’ mind, one of the most severe must have been the temptation to abandon His mission, save Himself, and come down from the cross. In this regard, consider the way Jesus was taunted by each group. The first group said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself.” The second group said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” And the first criminal said, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself, and us.”

These taunts bring to mind the struggle that Jesus had gone through on the Mount of Olives. At that time, He entertained a moment of doubt about His divine mission, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me.” Then, He added, “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Through the pain, through the grief, through the doubt, through it all, Jesus remains steadfast, entering ever more deeply into the divine love within Him. 15

The sixth hour

As Jesus enters the final agony, it is the sixth hour, and there is darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour” (Luke 23:44). The “sixth” hour in biblical times is noon, and the “ninth hour” is three PM. These words fulfill the prophecy given in the Hebrew scriptures: “‘It shall come to pass in that day,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight’” (Amos 8:9).

The darkening of the earth at mid-day represents the darkness and depravity into which humanity had fallen, even while the light of truth was with them. People had sunk so low that they were willing to crucify the very One who had come to save them. The utter darkness that filled the land, even when it should have been broad daylight, represents the ignorance, disbelief, and false teachings that had prevented people from understanding the truth that Jesus taught. 16

The Triumph

45. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was ripped in the midst.

46. And calling [out] with a great voice, Jesus said, Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit. And having said these things, He let out the spirit.

Despite the appearance that all is lost and that His mission has failed, despite the most diabolical onslaughts of hell urging Him to abandon His mission and come down from the cross, Jesus remains steadfast. Beyond the feelings of despair that are attacking Him and the false messages that are assailing Him, Jesus summons the love that has been within Him from the Father, and from that love He chooses to forgive those who know not what they are doing. This decision is not the parting words of a defeated victim. Rather, it is the beginning of Jesus’ final triumph. Every onslaught, every pain, every torment is driving Him deeper within, helping Him to become united with the divinity that is His own soul.

As we have already seen, three groups of people taunted Jesus to come down from the cross. “Come down,” they said, again and again. But each time Jesus refuses because coming down is the very opposite of Jesus’ mission. His mission is to use every temptation and every onslaught of hell as an opportunity to ascend to a higher place—to move closer to the divine within Him. In the same proportion that devils of hell endeavor to pour their wrath upon Him, Jesus draws from the Father within Him the power to conquer and subjugate these diabolical forces. These are the same forces that have been destroying humanity, possessing people’s minds with destructive thoughts, and controlling their wills with selfish desires. If Jesus can overcome in these temptations, there is hope for humanity.

Even as the darkness deepens, every word that Jesus utters from the cross gives hope. “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” He says as He calls upon His Father. “Assuredly, today you will be with Me in paradise,” He says to the criminal on the cross. Even in the darkness, Jesus refuses to give in to temptation. He will not come down. Instead, He continues to rise higher, even until the ninth hour.

The veil of the temple

It was at this moment that “the veil of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:45). In the tabernacle, the veil hung between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place. It divided the Most Holy place, where the Ten Commandments were kept, from the Holy Place, which was the place of prayer. It was sixty feet high, thirty feet wide, and four inches thick. When this veil was suddenly and miraculously torn in two, there was no longer any separation between the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place. On the spiritual level, this means that there would no longer be any separation between the life of prayer (the Holy Place) and the life of service (the Most Holy Place). Also, there would no longer be any separation between knowing the truth and living according to it.

More deeply, there would no longer be any separation between the Son and the Father. Our idea of God would no longer be that of a distant, angry deity who thundered from the mountaintop. Rather, God could now be seen as an approachable, loving Father, who is among us as one who serves (Luke 22:27). 17

Through His struggles to overcome every temptation, Jesus had triumphed. Again and again, He drew power from His infinite soul, casting out every demon and every selfish passion as He became united with the divinity that was within Him. It was at this point that He cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46). This was the fulfillment of the prophecy given through David a thousand years earlier, “In You, O Lord, I put My trust…. You are My strength. Into Your hand I commit My spirit; You have redeemed Me, O Lord God of truth” (Psalm 31:1, 5).

It was only then that the struggle was over. As it is written, “And having said this, He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46).

A practical application

When hardships, temptations and adversity arise, people tend to respond in a variety of ways. They might fight back in anger, run away in fear, become frustrated, get anxious, or sink into despair. Jesus, however, demonstrates that there is another way. He uses temptation to draw closer to His inner divinity. We can do something similar. We can call upon God in prayer, allowing Him to bring truth to our remembrance. Then we can respond to the situation from love guided by truth. If we do this during the lesser temptations, it will strengthen us for the greater ones. This is how we build “spiritual muscle.” Therefore, whenever irritation, anxiety, defensiveness, or discouragement arises, use it as a signal to go higher. Choose to draw closer to God. Say to yourself, “This is an opportunity for me to become a finer person.” Like Jesus, refuse to come down. Rise higher.

Caring for Jesus’ Body

47. But when the centurion saw what came to pass, he glorified God, saying, Truly this was a just Man.

48. And all the crowds who came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, striking their chests, returned.

49. And all His acquaintances, and the women who followed with Him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.

50. And behold, [there was] a man named Joseph, a counselor, being a good and just man,

51. Who had not consented to the counsel and deed of them; [he was] of Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who also himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.

52. This [man], going to Pilate, asked for the body of Jesus;

53. And taking it down, he wrapped it in a cloth, and placed it in a sepulcher that was hewn in stone, where no one had yet been laid.

54. And that day was the Preparation, and a Sabbath began to dawn.

55. And the women also, who came together [with] Him from Galilee, followed after and observed the sepulcher, and how His body was laid.

56. And returning, they prepared spices and ointments. And indeed they were quiet for the Sabbath according to the commandment.

The people who witnessed the crucifixion saw an innocent Man who was able to rise above the taunts and jeers of the crowd, forgive His accusers, promise eternal life to a repentant criminal, and express His complete trust in God. Many were deeply moved. One of the Roman soldiers who stood guard at the foot of the cross exclaimed, “Certainly this was a righteous Man” (Luke 23:47). The crowds who had witnessed the crucifixion beat their breasts in sorrow. Others stood by in silence, stunned by what had just happened. As it is written, some “beat their breasts” while others “stood afar, beholding these things” (Luke 23:48-49).

While some beat their breasts and others stand afar, a man named Joseph of Arimathea is moved to act. After Jesus “breathed His last,” Joseph goes to Pilate, seeking permission to take Jesus’ body from the cross. Although this incident appears in every gospel, only in Luke is Joseph described as a “good and just man” (Luke 23:50). Moreover, only in Luke do we discover that although Joseph was a member of the council of chief priests and elders who convicted Jesus, “he had not consented” to the decision of the council to convict Jesus of blasphemy (Luke 23:51).

In dissenting from the decision of the majority, Joseph of Arimathea represents the use of reason and understanding to rise above the demands of the selfish will. While the selfish will demands that it should be served, Jesus teaches unselfish service and sacrifice. While the selfish will demands anger and revenge, Jesus teaches love and forgiveness. The process of reformation begins when the understanding of higher truth is used to subordinate the demands of the selfish will. 18

Joseph of Arimathea, then, in refusing to concur with the scornful, self-serving demands of the council, represents this higher understanding. In doing so, he becomes a living example of what is taught in the Hebrew scriptures: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the council of the ungodly, nor sets foot on the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1). Also, “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

When Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, he was demonstrating his loyalty to Jesus. At the same time, He was obeying Mosaic law which specified that dead bodies were not allowed to remain on the cross overnight. The crucified person must be buried the same day (See Deuteronomy 21:22-23). And so, after obtaining permission to take Jesus’ body, Joseph “took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth, and placed it in a new tomb cut out of a rock, where no one had ever lain” (Luke 23:53). Joseph of Arimathea, this good and just man, the one who dissented from the council and had been waiting for the kingdom of God, gave Jesus an honorable burial.

In addition, it is written that “the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed after, and observed the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23:55). It was late in the day, sunset was approaching, and the Sabbath was drawing near. These women, who represent the tender affection for truth in each of us, could only observe Joseph’s actions and how Jesus was laid in the tomb. For the moment, there is no time to anoint Jesus’ body with fragrant spices and oils, representing the respect and love they have for Jesus’ life and teaching. But they would return, after the Sabbath, to do so (Luke 23:56). 19

It had been a difficult time. Jesus had been crucified, placed in a tomb, and laid to rest. He had defeated the enemy, subjugated hell, and glorified His humanity. It was time, at least for the moment, to rest. Therefore, this episode closes with the words, “And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). 20

Footnotes:

1AC 1322: “Evil spirits are joined together by their having similar delusions and evil desires. In this way, they act together in persecuting truths and goods. Thus, there is a certain common interest by which they are held together.”

2NJHD 131: “Conscience is formed through the truths of faith from the Word, or from doctrine derived from the Word, according to a person’s reception in the heart. For when people know the truths of faith and grasp them in their own manner, and so come to will and do them, then they develop a conscience…. They also have their mind undivided, for they act in accordance with what they understand and believe to be true and good.”

3SE 4165: “Concerning the inundation arising from evil spirits. I have often experienced that I was withheld, and, as it were, elevated, that is, towards interior things, thus into the societies of the good, and in this manner kept from evil spirits. I have also perceived and felt that if I had been let down but a little, the evil spirits would have inundated me with their persuasions and false and evil principles; I also perceived that in proportion as I was let down, they did inundate me.” See also AC 8194:2: “Since a person’s own will is nothing but evil a person undergoes regeneration of the understanding part of the mind. It is there, in the understanding, that the new will is formed.”

4AC 10490: “Spiritual combats are temptations to be undergone by those who are to be regenerated. These combats are the contentions arising in people between the evils and falsities which are with them from hell, and the goods and truths which are with them from the Lord…. By the ‘cross’ is meant the state of a person when in temptations.” See also 2343:2: “When people persevere and overcome in temptation, the Lord stays with them, confirms them in good, brings them to Himself into His kingdom, and dwells together with them, and there purifies and perfects them.”

5AC 1414: “The Lord was like other men, except that He was conceived of Jehovah, but still was born of a virgin mother, and by birth derived infirmities from the virgin mother like those of people in general. These infirmities are corporeal, and it is said that He should recede from them, in order that celestial and spiritual things might appear. There are two hereditary natures connate in people, one from the father, the other from the mother. The Lord’s heredity from the Father was the Divine, but His heredity from the mother was the infirm human.”

6AC 3340: “Those who are in hell breath out nothing else but all kinds of hatred, revenge, and murder, and they do so with such vehemence that they wish to destroy everybody throughout the universe. Consequently, if the Lord was not constantly driving back that rage the entire human race would perish.” See also AC 1787: “The Lord, who endured the most dire and cruel temptations of all, could not but be driven into states of despair…. From this we may see the nature of the Lord’s temptations —that they were the most terrible of all.”

7AC 710: “The words ‘the barren,’ and ‘the wombs that have not borne,’ signify those who have not received genuine truths, that is, truths from the good of love, and ‘the breasts that have not given suck’ signify those who have not received genuine truths from the good of charity.” See also AC 9325:7: “By ‘the barren’ are also signified those who are not in good because not in truths, and yet long for truths that they may be in good; as is the case with upright nations outside the church.”

8TCR 599: “After the act of redemption, the Lord established a new church. Likewise, too, He establishes in a person those things that make the church [good and truth]. Thus, He makes the person a [new] church at the level of the individual.” See also AC 40: In Ezekiel, the {w219} describes the new temple, or new church in general the person who has been regenerated. This is because every regenerate person is a temple of the {w219}.” 9AE 411: “The state of the wicked is such that they cannot endure the light of heaven. Because they are tormented and tortured by it, they cast themselves from the mountains and rocks, into hells which are deep according to the quality of their evil and falsity; some into gaps and caves, and some into holes and under rocks…. When they are in the caves and under the rocks, the anguish and torment which they suffered from the influx of the light of heaven, then cease; for they have rest in their evils and in the falsities thence, because these were their delights.”

10AC 9127: “They had been doing violence to the truths of the Word, to such an extent that they were unwilling to accept any inner, heavenly truth at all. Therefore, they did not accept the Lord either. The shedding of His blood by them was a sign of their total rejection of God’s truth; for the Lord was divine truth itself.”

11AE 481:2: “The tree planted by the waters signifies the person in whom there are truths from the Lord. This is because water signifies truth…. Their leaf shall be green, signifies living from truth…. The year of drought signifies a state in which there are loss and deprivation of truth.”

12AC 1690: “The whole of the Lord's life in the world, from His earliest childhood, was continual temptation and continual victory. The last was when He prayed on the cross for His enemies, and thus for all in the whole world.” See also AC 1820: “{W877}’s love was the salvation of the whole human race was most ardent. {w174}equently, it was the whole sum of the affection of good affection of truth in the highest degree. Against these, with the most malignant wiles venom, all the hells waged the combat; but still the {w219} conquered them all by His own power.” 13TCR 38: “The pleasure of falsity is like the light that finds its way into a wine-skin in which are worms swimming about in sour wine.”

14AC 9776: “What is good and true should be done for the sake of goodness and truth, not for selfish and worldly reasons.” See also AC 4247:2: “Good flows constantly into truth, and truth receives good, since truths are the vessels for good.”

15AC 1820: “Anyone who is undergoing temptation experiences doubt as regards the end in view. That end is the love against which evil spirits fight and in so doing place the end in doubt. And the greater one’s love is, the more they place it in doubt. Unless the end in view which a person loves is placed in doubt, and even in despair, there would be no temptation…. Evil spirits never contend against any other things than those which a person loves, and the more intensely a person loves them the more fiercely do those spirits contend…. This explains the nature of the Lord’s temptations which were the most dreadful of all, for as is the intensity of the love so is the dreadfulness of the temptations. The Lord’s love—a most ardent love—was the salvation of the whole human race.”

16AE 401:15: “That ‘darkness came over all the land’ signifies that there remained mere falsity, and no truth whatever…. And because there were falsities and evils with them, from the Lord’s having been denied, therefore it is said, ‘and darkness came, and the sun was darkened.’ The ‘sun’ that was darkened refers to the Lord, who is said to be ‘obscured’ when false beliefs so prevail that He is not acknowledged, and evils so prevail that He is crucified.”

17AC 2576:4: “‘The veil shall divide unto you between the Holy and the Holy of Holies’ (Exodus 26:31-34; 36:35-36)…. The veil of the temple being torn in two signifies that the Lord entered into the Divine Itself by dispersing all appearances; and that He at the same time opened the way to His Divine Itself through His Human made Divine.”

18AE 140: “The possibility of having the understanding enlightened has been granted to all people for the sake of reformation. For in the will dwells every kind of evil, both that into which people are born, and that into which they come by themselves. The will cannot be amended unless people know, and by the understanding acknowledge, truths and goods, and also evils and falsities. Otherwise, they cannot turn away from the latter and love the former.”

19AC 3974: “In the Word, ‘females’ or ‘women’ signify the affections of truth.”

20DP 247: “The suffering of the cross was the last temptation or trial, or final combat, by which the Lord fully overcame the hells and fully glorified His humanity.” See also AR 150: “When He was in the world, the Lord acquired for Himself all power over the hells, by virtue of His Divinity that He had in Him. See also HD 295: “When the Lord fully glorified His humanity, then He put off the humanity He inherited from His mother, and put on the humanity He inherited from the Father, which is the Divine humanity. He was therefore then no longer the son of Mary.”