The Crucifixion, pt.1

Recently, a televangelist told his audience of thousands (possibly millions across the country and around the world) that Jesus never told His disciples he was going to die on a cross, i.e. by crucifixion. What a monstrous display of biblical illiteracy! And this from a guy who has his own television broadcast seen world wide!! This particular pastor (Fred Price Jr., son of Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, pastors of the Crenshaw Christian Center) even had the audacity to claim he had researched this and would not say this if he had not researched it. My advise to this ignorant pastor: read your Bible.

For if you read your Bible, even just a cursory reading of the gospel accounts will tell you otherwise. On multiple occasions Jesus has pointed His disciples to even to the mode of death, crucifixion (See Matt 16.21, 24; 20.19; Luke 9.22-23; 24.6-7; cf. Mark 8.31, 34; 9.31; 10.33-34; Luke 18.32-33, et al). Further, even if Jesus was silent about the specifics of His death, God was not silent and prophecied centuries before crucifixion was invented in the mind of man as a torturous mode of death and nearly a millenium before Jesus ever walked the earth that Messiah would die by crucifixion (see Psalm 22.16). Again, to all the televangelists: read your Bible.

No, Jesus has been predicting exactly what will happen to Him in Jerusalem by the Jewish and Roman authorities: He would be crucified. Luke records this dreadful deed in 23.26-43. First, in verses 26-31, we run into several people on the way to the crucifixion site.

The Man

We meet a man named Simon of Cyrene, a town in North Africa. This man is a long way from home, no doubt one of the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast. There is precious little we know about this man and what happened to him once he finished carrying the cross to the site. Mark tells us he was father to two sons, “Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15.21). Most scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel, aided by the apostle Peter (an eyewitness) and the Holy Spirit, to or for the church in Rome. Hence, Mark includes this specific detail about Simon of Cyrene being the father of Alexander and Rufus as if to say, “If you have any questions, just ask these men who’s dad was there and actually carried the cross.” It is interesting that in Romans 16.13 Paul greets a man in the Roman church named Rufus and his mother. Is this the same Rufus? It is possible, but any attempts to draw a hard line connecting them is purely speculation. Nevertheless, if nothing else, it would seem that Simon’s sons went on to be leaders in the early church. Were they influenced by their father, himself impacted by what he experienced when he carried the cross of a condemned man named Jesus?

Simon was coming in from the country. It seems that Jerusalem, crowded with Jews from all over the Empire, yet again has no room in the inn for anyone, Simon of Cyrene included. Hence, he forced to lodge outside the city in a nearby village and “commutes” as it were to Jerusalem for the Feast. Perhaps on this occasion he was on his way to the Temple or to the Cyrenian synagogue, which Jerusalem had. Cyrene was an important city with a large number of Jewish residents. So when they had to come from Cyrene to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they had a place to gather.

Simon is “seized” by the Romans and “compelled” to carry the cross of Christ. Jesus has been weakened by the last 24 hours and perhaps especially the scourging He has endured has taken its toll. So the soldiers lay hold of Simon had force him to go “the extra mile” as it were. The cross is laid on him and he follows Jesus as Jesus walks. Scholars reading from historians of antiquity say that the condemned often had a white sign hung about their necks which read their charges and what they had been condemned of. Perhaps Jesus has a similar sign and this is what is affixed later to the cross.

The Maidens

Luke is careful to note that this whole episode was not done in secret where no one could see; in fact, when Jesus is before Pilate there are substantial crowds of people (23.4, 13) present. Here again we see there is “a great multitue of the people” who are following along this deadly processional to Golgotha. But Luke, as he has done throughout this gospel account (1.39-52; 2.36-38; 7.11-15, 37-50; 8.1-3; 10.38-42; 11.27; 13.11-16), highlights some women who are walking along with Jesus. These women are crying out, wailing loudly, beating their breasts or smiting themselves as they go. Perhaps He sees the faces of some of the women He has known during His ministry: Mary and Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. Did He see His mother’s face in the crowd? She was present at the cross (John 19.25-27).

Nevertheless, Jesus sees these women and turns to them, a dramatic gesture in the midst of chaos, and imparts some teaching about what is to come. First, He says stop weeping for Him. What? But Jesus is one His way to death. True, but Jesus knows something even worse is yet to come. Stop weeping for Jesus. Second, start weeping for yourselves and your children. When I was little if I cried over something I wanted but did not get, my dad would tell me to “dry it up or I will give you something to cry about!” Jesus does something similar; He tells them exactly what to cry about. Third, He explains why: There are some bad, terrible, horrible things come down Jerusalem’s way. In fact, it will be a blessing to have been barren and not had children when this time comes. People will be calling for mountains and hills to fall and cover them from the terror and horror of what is coming. “They” in v.29-30 seems to be the people who have called for the death of Jesus – the religious leaders and other various people of Jerusalem, the crowds. And all the judgment coming upon them would spill over onto all of Jerusalem. Hence, these “Daughters of Jerusalem” who belong to Jerusalem proper do have something to weep, lament, and beat their breasts over: the coming destruction of Jerusalem, heaven’s exclamation point on the grand scheme of redemption.

Finally, there is this cryptic word from Jesus in v.31: “For if they do these when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What’s this all about? It seems to be a common proverb used as an explanation of what Jesus has just said. Various interpretations abound. Leon Morris in his commentary on Luke offers several which all seem plausible. Morris writes: “If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will the fate of the guilty Jews? If the Romans treat thus One whom they admit to be innocent, what will they do to the guilty? If the Jews treat like this Jesus who had come to bring salvation, what will be their punishment for destroying him? If the Jews behave like this before their wickedness reaches its consummation, what will they be like when it does? If grief is aroursed by the present events, what will it be when the subsequent disaster strikes?” Farrar adds: “If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false.” Inasmuch as Jesus addressed these Jewish women and it was the Jewish who so vehemently sought his death, this proverb from Jesus seems targeted for the Jews. The “wood” when he spoke this proverb is “green,” that is hard to burn. But its drying. Even as Jesus marches to Golgotha, the wood is drying. And when it is dry, what will happen? We, looking back into history, know exactly what happen when Jerusalem’s time in AD 70.

Jesus on Trial, pt.3

We now approach the final trial Luke records in his gospel, indeed, this is the final trial of Jesus. According to John Lawrence, Jesus has a total of six trials (see The Six Trials of Jesus) and this, then would be the sixth. During this final trial, Jesus stands before Pilate once again; Pilate is the person who has the authority to condemn Jesus to death. In this final scene recorded in Luke 23.13-25, Pilate calls together all of the key players: the chief priests (who have been very instrumental in bringing this to its conclusion), the rulers (the members of the Sanhedrin) and also “the people.” One commentator writes that Pilate includes the people (or crowds, see v.4) in the hopes that Jesus might find some friend, someone who will side with Him and rescue Him.

Pilate’s Declaration

Pilate states the charges brought against Jesus, the very charges the Jewish leaders brought in verse 2: Jesus is misleading the people. That is, Jesus is inciting them to riot and revolt against the Roman government. Of course, this charge is erroneous and so Pilate explains that after careful evaluation of the man Jesus, he finds Jesus “Not guilty.” Not only that, but Herod has come to same conclusion: “Not guilty.” They found “nothing” and in the Greek this is emphatic. Not a single charge has stuck. Jesus has done nothing deserving death or any other punishment for that matter. In spite of all this, Pilate makes a startling declaration: “I will therefore punish and release him” (ESV). What?! Jesus is “Not guilty.” There is absolute nothing to punish Him. Nevertheless, it was often Roman custom to inflict a light beating as a warning to take heed to future conduct. But this punishment is not just a slap on the wrist; elsewhere in the gospel accounts (Matt 27.26; Mark 15.15; John 19.1) we know that this was a Roman scourging. It was brutal, vicious, cruel. While the Jews had the rule of “forty minus one” the Romans had no limit. This was shame heaped upon more shame. Once Jesus has been flogged, then He will be released. Pilate has spoken.

The People’s Demand

But the people collectively, chief priests and rulers no doubt leading the charge, raise their voice and cry out that a murderer and true insurrectionist be released instead of Jesus. The only thing that will do with Jesus is death. So “Away with this man” to death and give us the criminal. He was a robber (John 18.40), a murder and insurrectionist (Luke 23.19; Mark 15.7), and a notorius prisoner (Matt 27.16). This was a bad man who had done very bad things. According to tradition, he had the surname “Jesus.” Interesting, if tradition is true, we have Jesus the “son of his father” (that’s what Barabbas means) and Jesus the Son of the Father standing before the howling mob and they cry out for criminal and condemn the Christ. Everything that Jesus Christ endures, the savage beating, mocking, punishment, and crucifxion were rightly due to Barabbas. Yet he is free to go. Another has taken his place: Jesus of Nazareth. Barabbas, did you get it? I wonder if he ever realized how great a sacrifice was made for him that day not only physcially, but also spiritually. Christ on the cross is not just taking the punishment due a criminal held by Pilate, but Jesus is dying for the sins of the whole world. Christian, do we get it? The punishment rightfully due was place on Him and He took it. He drank the cup of God’s wrath dry so that we would not have to. He was our substitute. A death needed to take place for our sins and Jesus takes our place; we go free, released from our sins.

Pilate seems to want to do the right thing, he wants to release Jesus and he has been trying to do everything he can to do just that. It is incredible that this goes on for so long and one wonders why he didn’t just say, “Enough” and let Jesus walk out free and clear. But then you read this in Mark: “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for Barabbas and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (15.15, italics mine). Pilate was a people pleaser; while on the one hand he wanted to do what was right and release Jesus (Luke 23.20) equally important was making sure the crowds were happy. It is impossible to please everyone and Pilate learns this when he condemns an innocent man to death. The people cry all the louder, “Crucify, Crucify him!” Though he tries desperately to once more to release Jesus after punishing Him, the crowd cries even louder and with more urgency, “Crucify, Crucify him!!” It has reached a frenzied, fever pitch. “And their voices prevailed.” The people have won.

Pilate’s Decision

Pilate sits on his seat of judgment (John 19.13) and renders his final sentence: he turns Jesus over to be crucified. He gives them what they want – an insurrectionist in place of the innocent and they are free to do as they will with Jesus. Luke has had us marching us with Jesus down this path for some time. We might even trace its origin to 9.51 where Jesus set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem. And now comes the final grim chapter in the life of Jesus. The will of the Jewish people, especially the chief priests and rulers, is to crucify Jesus.

Jesus on Trial, pt.2

Herod Antipas was a true scab. He was the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded and was, when Jesus came to see him, living in open incest with Herodias, “his brother’s wife” (Luke 3.19). To this indulgent man is Jesus sent to stand trial. But this resembles Kangaroo Court than anything else. Godet says, “Jesus was to Herod Antipas what a juggler is to a sated court – an object of curiousity.” Luke tells us that Herod was “very glad” to see Jesus because he had been desiring to see the miracle worker for some time (see Luke 9.9). Why did Herod wish to see Jesus? To hear another sermon about righteousness and the coming judgment? To hear the good news of the kingdom? Nay verily. He wanted to see a miracle (Luek 23.8). He had hoped to see some sign…and would continue to hope when Jesus leaves for Jesus does not kowtow to the demands of this indulgent ruler.

Herod asks questions of Jesus. What exactly these questions were would be pure speculation as they are not recorded. No doubt some of them focused on the charges brought by His accusers. Others may have been of a more frivilous nature. Nevertheless, Jesus is silent before Herod. I believe we see fulfillment of prophecy here. Isaiah says, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” speaking of the servant of the Lord (53.7b). Heavily Messianic, Isaiah 53 especially speaks to the suffering of Messiah, but it would seem this verse points to when Jesus is on trial and opens not his mouth, refusing to answer a single word. Indeed, there is no need; the charges are of such a nature and the witness of such a caliber that there is nothing to the charges.

This silence infuriates his accusers, driving them mad with white hot rage. His enemies, with one voice as it were,  continue to hurl accusation, “vehemently accusing” Jesus. The wording used here points to a body that is well-tuned and seems to point to the unity of these enemies of Jesus in their attempts to charge Jesus. Its as if they’ve rehearsed this for some time to make sure their stories and charges are all in harmony. If nothing else, even if their charges conflict and Herod can see through, we know they were united in goal: the death of Jesus.

Herod pours even greater insult over the situation with his soldiers as they treat Jesus “with contempt and mocked him.” When it says they “treated him with contempt” this is the idea of treating someone as if they were nothing, a zero. It really is insulting; they treat him as a know nothing, worthless religious enthusiast not even worth the ground He stands on. Its shameful what Herod does, but how many people do the same today? Certainly we can point to atheist websites and material, skeptical journals and discourses which mocked the Holy One. But how many “Christian Atheists” (to use a term coined by Craig Groeshel) live their lives as if Christ is worthless. They “claim” Him as Lord yet they crown “self” as King. The only time Jesus’ stock rises above zero in their life is one hour Sunday morning, if that. Everytime we decide we are going to what we want to do even when it conflicts with God’s Word and Christ’s Will, we treat the Savior with contempt. He means absolutely nothing to us if He does not mean absolutely everything.

Jesus is also mocked by Herod. That is, He is laughed at, ridiculed, and made fun of. Yet another detestable, dispicable display by a decadent dictator. Surely this goes hand in glove with their arraying of Jesus in “spledid clothing.” Clarke in his commentary believes the word “splendid” or “gorgeous” perhaps points to the brilliance or whiteness of the robe. It was the custom of Jewish dignitaries to wear white robes and Clarke this is what Jesus was clothed with. Herod does not realize that he points this royal robe upon the true King of Kings and the one able to give him a true white robe (Rev 3.4-5). Having thus adorned Jesus, Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate.

Luke adds a sort of epilogue onto this account focusing on Herod. In verse 12, we find out that because of this gesture by Pilate (recognizing the jurisdiction of Herod), Herod and he become bosom buddies. Previously, there was some hostility, history being silent concerning its origin, though some do point to the slaying of Galileans as a possiblity (Luke 13.1, 2). But they unite against God’s anointed and forge a fast friendship. “How often has the strange sad scene been reproduced in the world’s story since! Worldly men apparently irreconcilable meet together in friendship when opportunity offers itself for wounding Christ!” (Pulpit Commentary, Luke, p.236) One writer concludes, “In all this horrible picture, no figure appears so ignominious as Herod.” Indeed, seeing the graphic picture painted by Luke in this account, one would have to agree.

Jesus on Trial, pt.1

I have never been accused of something so that I had to go to court and appear before a judge. I’ve never served on a jury in court. In fact, the closest thing I’ve come is when I was summoned for jury duty near Christmas one year and was not waiting more than 20 minutes when they announced we could go home, have a merry Christmas. As we turn our attention to Luke 23, Jesus, who has been convicted by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, is brought to trial before Pilate (v.1-5). Who is Pilate? He is Pontius Pilate, a Roman kinght and procurator of Judea (one who collects revenue) who held this office from 28-36 AD. In 36 AD he was removed from office in disgrace, the Emperor entirely unhappy with Pilate’s rule.

Jesus was convicted of blasphemy, however, blasphemy is not a charge serious enough to warrant death under Roman law. Hence, the Jews bring Jesus to Pilate with three different charges. They call Jesus “this man,” further pointing to the contempt with which they view Jesus. They claim:

1. Jesus is misleading (or perverting) our (the Jews) nation. In other words, they charge Jesus with leading the whole nation of Israel from the kind of behavior the Romans demand under pax romano. The idea is that Jesus has been inciting the people to riot and rise up against the Roman government.

2. Jesus is forbidding the Jews to give tribute to Caesar. Tribute is taxes. So Pilate, being the revenue collector of Judea, would have heard this charge. However, as Adam Clarke puts it, “These were the falsest slanders that could be invented.” Indeed, just days before in the life of Jesus He had confounded perhaps the same chief priests and scribes when He, looking upon a denarius, had proclaimed “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Luke 20.25).  Since the money had Caesar’s face on it, it must His. Further, in the life of Jesus, as recorded by Matthew a former tax-collector, we see Jesus paying the temple tax (Matt 17.24-27). Albeit, taxes to Caesar may be another thing, the fact stands that Jesus paid His taxes and taught others to do the same both in word and deed.

3. Jesus is calling Himself Christ the king. Couched in this, though tangled a bit, is the blasphemy charge the Sanhedrin has convicted Jesus of in 22.66-71. But they have cunningly worded it so as to make sound as though Jesus is an insurrectionist. While the charge may be true, it is false in the way they meant it. Jesus Himself says elsewhere that He is king of a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18.36). The Sanhedrin, though, wants to and does set Jesus up as a rival of Caesar’s earthly throne. Pilate would understand that is their meaning when they call Christ “king.”

Pilate privately questions Jesus about His kingship. For more on this, you can read John’s account of the lengthy discussion between Jesus and Pilate (John 18.33-38). Luke only records one question Pilate asks Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “You have said so.” Again, as seen in 22.70, this is not Jesus giving what some term “reluctant assent.” Jesus is not saying, “Well, that’s what you say or think” or “Those are your words not mine.” This was a rabbinic way of affirming what someone has spoken. This is not a “reluctant assent” but a “real affirmative.” It is in essence a “Yes” answer. And in John’s extended account, we see exactly what Jesus means in it.

Pilate comes out of this private meeting with Jesus and announces for everyone to hear (“crowds,” v.4), “I find no guilt in this man.” Pilate is not dummy; he can see through the malice and hatred of the Jews that there is no capital charge that would warrant Jesus’ presence before him. Indeed, the word used for “guilt” or “cause” is a word which means the author or one responsible for a particular thing. Pilate knows Jesus is not the cause of this ruckus but the Sanhedrin have orchestrated this whole ordeal.

But the Sanhedrin is relentless and presses the issue, adding strength and vehemence to it. They keep after Pilate about Jesus stirring up the people all over Judea, “from Galilee even.” Galilee seems to strike a note with Pilate and sees a possible way of escape. He asks if Jesus is from Galilee which He is. Therefore, he is under Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction and must be heard by him. Perhaps to get these Jews out of his hair or to pay some kind of tribute to Herod, Pilate dismisses the group to go see Herod, who is in Jerusalem at this time.

Jesus Interrogated

In his commentary on Mark, Burton Coffman suggests that there are six mockings of Jesus: 1) by the High Priest’s servants, 2) by Herod Antipas, 3) by the soldiers of the Roman garrison, 4) by the general public, 5) by the priests and scribes, 6) by the two crucifed thieves (see Coffman’s Commentary on Mark 15.16). There can be no doubt our Savior endure much ridicule and reviling as the our of His death draws near. In Luke 22.63-71, we find one of these times of mocking as well as a beating which Jesus endures at this time by those men who have custody of Him. He is asked three questions during this time.

Question 1: Who is striking you?

The first of these questions in in verse 63-65 where Jesus is mocked “as they beat him.” He is blindfolded and struck presumably about the face, although the text is no specfic. These men who are holding Jesus are probably Jewish, no doubt officers of the temple guard (v.4). Their cruelty knows no bounds and their hatred is on clear display. As the beating continues, with their mocks and blasphemies, their railings, they pose a question: “Who is it that struck you?” This is a sick and twisted game these Jews are playing with Jesus. “Prophesy” they demand. Indeed, He is a prophet, but these men are blinded to this, caught in their devious desires of degrading the Son of God.

Here we see a defining characteristic of Jesus and a quality He exhorted for His disciples to have: meekness. Meekness is not weakness; it is strength and power under control. Most illustrations focus on a wild horse that is broken or a Corvette driving the speed limit. Here is Jesus, the cosmic sovereign Creator of the universe refusing to fight back, refusing to zap these cruel men out of His universe or blast them out of existence. Here is true meekness. See, a broken wild horse will buck when you stick an ice pick in its neck; but the Son of God will take three “ice picks” (probably more like railroad spikes) in His flesh before this is finished.

Question 2: Are you the Christ?

From the cudgelling to the courtroom, Jesus is taken once again before the Jewish authorities. Early daylight is dawning as the assembly of the elders came together. This group is composed of the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes. Collectively, these three comprise the Sanhedrin. Roman rule had striped them of their ability to carry out captial punishment, hence, their bringing Jesus before Pilate (23.1-5). Here, in their secret council meeting, they ask Jesus the second question: “Are you the Christ?” This question has political implications inasmuch as this is a claim to Messianic royalty.

Jesus answers their question with a statement (v.67b-69). “If I tell you, you will no believe.” You who have seen my life, heard my teachings, and seen the works and signs, even if I tell you, you will not believe. “If I ask you, you will not answer.” In essence Jesus is saying they’ve made up their mind and determined that no matter what He answers, affirmative or negative, they will put Him to death. Verse 69, though, is basically an answer in and of itself: this is a direct claim to divine glory. To sit at the right hand of the power of God as the Son of Man is that special claim to be vested with the same absolute dominion as Him who sits on the throne. And these men knew what these words from Jesus meant, there was no mistaking it: Jesus has claimed to be the Messiah.

Question 3: Are you the Son of God?

So there is one final question they have which really builds on what they have been asking. “All” of them ask, insist that Jesus answer this last question: “Are you the Son of God, then?” “Then” because they understood the preceeding verses as a Messianic claim. But this is a good question which every person must ask and answer: Is Jesus the Son of God? When you weigh the evidence, not only the claims Jesus made but eh miracles he performed to back up His word; when you look upon the love, compassion, mercy, and grace of this man; when you consider the brilliant clarity of His teachings and the authority with which He taught; when you examine the purity of His life and conduct while on earth; when you look fully into narrative recorded in the pages of the New Testament, what do you say about Jesus? Is He the Son of God?

Jesus says, “You say that I am.” This is not a sophomoric, smart-aleck response from Jesus; Coffman says the force of this is “Yes, at last you have seen the point of what I am saying!” It was a statement used often by rabbis when the one who is interrogated accepts his own affirmation of the question put to him. It is as plain an assertion of Jesus that He is divine as any in Scripture. Indeed, verse 71 shows that the Sanhedrin understood the import of Jesus’ words: they had sufficient evidence against to make their ruling – death. “We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” In their minds, He is guilty of blasphemy and worthy of death. But again, they have no power to execute men since this has been taken from them by Rome. So if they would put Jesus to death, they must seek a Roman execution. Enter Pontius Pilate.