No execution or death of any man at the hands of cruel Roman soldiers was as fully recorded as that of Jesus Christ. Some of the words He spoke 2000 years ago, along with some of His thoughts, were noted by His followers. The impact His death had on people was part of the record that was kept (Matthew 27:54, Luke 23:48). Jesus knew the day had come when He would become the Passover Lamb for the whole world. He had inspired David to record Psalm 22, which contains detailed information about what He would have to suffer. He faced this day with faith and trust in His Father and courage in spite of the ordeal which He knew would be horrific. This was the plan for the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. At the moment of His greatest mental preparation, His Father did send an angel to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43-44). We can only wonder at what the angels of God and the entire angelic host would be thinking at the scene they were witnessing. There was to be no intervention until the Lamb had been slain except that which ensured the fulfillment of every detail of prophecy. God gave additional, as Savior and Messiah - the earthquake, the period of darkness and the tearing of the temple curtain (Luke 23:44-45, Matthew 27:51). Satan was allowed to complete this incredible deed,all the while giving the true victory to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
Jesus was not the only one crucified that day but probably He was the only one so viciously beaten. He was the only innocent victim of the day and the scene that lasted for more than six hours changed from time to time. Towards the end there was a three hour period of darkness and although a number of people stood gazing at the dying Christ, not everyone heard the last utterances of Jesus. His words were almost in a whisper at times. His mother and John stood very near to His feet at the last and at least some of Christ’s followers stood off at a distance too far away to hear His last words as He died. (Luke 23:9)
Perhaps they did not come all together as one group. Some were more shocked and overcome with sorrow than others. No doubt some were afraid to get close to Jesus in the early hours, but as time passed and the darkness and earthquakes began, some gathered their courage enough to help bury Christ. We note that John and Mary must have been only inches away from Jesus’ feet in order to hear His last words. There may have been more than the seven utterances of Jesus that were recorded on that fateful day, but those that were recorded reflected a profound love for others and also the agony He endured. He did groan and cry out in pain from time to time, but we can learn from the words that were recorded. The words we do have in the gospel accounts, all together help give us a clear picture of what words God did want us to know from that crucifixion day.
Concern for others
Jesus first utterance was: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In this utterance, we can see the mercy of Jesus even at that desperate hour. He was right. At the end of this period of time some of the soldiers and witnesses beat their breasts in remorse (Luke 23:47-48). The attitude Jesus showed reveals the deep love and understanding He had for mankind. He had come to take the penalty of the sins of the world on His shoulders.
About the sixth hour, when the unusual darkness began to descend, one thief who was dying beside Jesus asked Jesus to remember him when He came to His kingdom. We can wonder how that man knew about the kingdom, but since Jesus had the sign stating He was King of the Jews, it is possible that the man knew a little about what Jesus had done. At any rate, in the second recorded utterance, Jesus said: “Assuredly I say unto you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). In the original Greek text, there is no punctuation. The translators, who believed that Jesus went straight to heaven and the thief with Him, placed the comma before the word “today”. That is an error and presumption. Jesus told the thief that day that, sometime in the future, he would be in the Kingdom. Jesus gave hope. There is a big difference in saying: “I say to you, today you….” And “I say to you today, you….”.
The third utterance that was recorded came shortly after that moment when John, His mother, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clophus stood at His feet. Jesus said: “Woman, behold your son” and “Son, behold your mother” (John 19:26-27). In these words, Jesus provided for His mother. They were words of a concerned and loving son. John was the disciple Jesus loved in a special way above the others and perhaps He noted the loving attitude of John and could entrust His mother to him. Mary had other children and it is not clear why Jesus as her firstborn entrusted her care to John, but reasons must have existed.
Obedient to the end
The first three utterances of Jesus expressed concern for others. Now, as the darkness grew deeper and His pain and suffering intensified, Jesus experienced a feeling He had never known. He felt that His Father had moved far from Him. The fourth thing Jesus said was: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Psalm 23:4) It was a cry of sudden loneliness in His greatest hour of need. It was a fulfillment of Psalm 22:1. This was a path that Jesus had to walk alone. Surely the words of Psalm 2 may have come to His mind: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with Me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort Me.” This is hard to understand, because the Father was very close by.
The fifth utterance of Jesus Christ came shortly before He died. It was at or toward the end of the three hour period of darkness. In fulfillment of Psalm 22:15 Jesus said: “I thirst” (John 19:28). A sponge with some vinegar was being pressed to His lips at that moment. Somewhere in this period of time a soldier who was holding a spear (perhaps the one with the sponge may have been moved with compassion) ended Jesus’ life by thrusting his spear into Jesus’ side. The spear thrust was recorded in John 19:34 and no doubt caused the final cry of agony from Jesus Christ.
With His dying breath, Jesus then uttered the sixth set of words: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). These were words of complete reliance on and confidence in His Father. He had now done all He had been sent to do. They were words that showed His understanding of the conclusion of His life in the flesh. The victory was complete and the Father would be glorified.
The last whispered words were: “It is finished” (‘accomplished’ – New English Bible) (John 19:30). These were the words of victory and completion. There was nothing left to do, and His suffering was now over. They were words that would not leave the hearts and minds of all who were there and within earshot. His beloved followers still had not understood the full meaning of the events – but they were about to. In being finished, a new beginning was underway.
It is possible that the order that I have written could be argued and contested – especially those words at the last. It is possible that Jesus said more words that were not recorded. Nobody volunteered to be a secretary on that dreadful day. It was a day of great emotional distress, sorrow, anguish, and fear. People do not think clearly during a heart-wrenching spectacle like this. And yet the record is in just the fashion that God wanted recorded for us. Prophecy had to be fulfilled, and it was – Jesus drank the cup He was given (Matthew 26:42) to the last drop. All that there was left for His followers to do was to get permission to take the body down, wrap it in ointments and linen as best they could, and quickly bury Jesus in the tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea (a council member) (Luke 23:50-53). Jesus was dead.
For more information on the significance of the life and death of Jesus Christ, read the online Bible study aid Jesus Christ: The Real Story.