Where the world comes to study the Bible

The Rejection of Israel's Messiah - Part IV (Luke 23:26-49)

26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ‘ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: This is the King of the Jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Introduction

Things do not always work out the way we plan them. I remember our first (and last) family camping trip as a boy. My parents took us on a trip to Montana. Glacier National Park was beautiful. The lofty, snow-capped mountains were spectacular, accented with deep ice-blue lakes, sometimes with an island in the center. We reached our camp sight with great optimism and expectation. The day was beautiful. The tent went up nicely. The family stood smiling in front of the tent, with the mountains as the background, all framed in a blue sky, with a few puffs of clouds for contrast. I took the picture. We have come to call that picture, “the lull before the storm.”

It was a glorious conclusion to a wonderful day. In a while, we ate our picnic dinner, and then when it got dark we all climbed into our sleeping bags. Granted, the ground was a little hard, and we had to move about so that a protruding stone was not in the center of our back. No one told us about the mountain storms, however, nor did we think about the direction from which the wind (and the rain) would come, or the slight dip in the ground where we had erected our tent. These factors soon became very important.

It was a little later when the thunder and the lightning began. It was not until the rains began to fall heavily that the real concern began. Somewhere in this time frame, my brother began to sing “Jesus Loves Me” quite loudly. The tent leaked, as I guess all tents do in heavy rains, and this was not helped by the fact that the tent door was facing the wind and the torrent of rain. We still determined to weather the storm, until we discovered that the tent was beginning to fill with water. The little “hollow” that seemed like such a nice spot for a tent filled with the runoff, so that an inch or two of water had filled the tent and swamped our sleeping bags before we determined we had to give it all up.

The storm continued as we tried to break camp. We did not try to do anything in an orderly fashion. We collapsed the tent, wadded up the sleeping bags, and stuffed the entire muddy mess into the trunk of the car. On one of the last trips to the car, which was also parked in a little hollow, my brother slipped in the mud and slid most of the way under the car, and into the puddle beneath it, thoroughly soaking himself. We plucked him from beneath the car, climbed in amidst some of the camping gear, which would not fit in the trunk, and drove on to a very welcomed motel.

Things don’t always work out the way we expect. And so it was with the crucifixion of Jesus. This was not the Jewish way of executing people, but the Romans used it with some degree of regularity. It served to make a public example of those who chose to ignore or to actively resist the laws of Rome. The event had become a social event, at which a crowd would gather to watch. With crucifixions, as with other events, there developed a rather predictable routine. A new-comer to a crucifixion could quickly be “brought up to speed” as to what would happen, in what sequence, and at about what time. Allow me to begin our lesson by attempting to describe the event, somewhat in 20th century Western terms, so that we can identify with the event in a general way. We will then attempt to demonstrate that this execution did not at all go as planned, and the impact which this had on many of those present, and, in particular, on the thief, for whom his execution became the time of his conversion, and the commencement of eternal life.

The Crucifixion,
Twentieth Century Style

Imagine with me that the crucifixion of our Lord were taking place in our day and time. Given the popularity of Jesus, His execution would probably be given national news coverage. I suppose that the crucifixion would be handled something like the launching of the last space shuttle, Discovery. Television coverage of our Lord’s last week in Jerusalem would have been extensive. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, programming would have been interrupted to announce that Jesus had been taken into custody. Reports from the trials of our Lord would have been given as events progressed and as the location of Jesus shifted. Coverage in the early hours of the morning would have included the trial before Pilate and Herod.

Mobile cameras would have captured the agonizing journey from the palace of Pilate to Calvary, the sight of the crucifixion. I can imagine that there would have been an interview with some Roman official, in charge of executions, telling precisely how and when the crucifixion would take place. The execution, he would have said, was scheduled for 9:00 that morning. In light of the religious holiday, the Passover, there would be a special effort to conclude matters by no later than 3:00 P.M. For humanitarian reasons, those scheduled to die would be given a wine, mixed with a pain-dulling drug, making the ordeal less torturous. A medical expert might then be interviewed, who would describe the actual process of death, ending with the necessity of breaking the legs of the felons, so that their deaths might be expedited. By the time the execution was under way, the viewing public would have a mental picture of the sequence of events about to unfold before them. Some details might change, such as the exact time of death, but by and large everyone knows what is going to happen.

During the grueling 6 hour long process, file footage of coverage of Jesus’ life would be played to fill the gaps in time and to keep the audience interested. Interviews with various individuals would be done, some live, and others taped: individuals who had been healed or helped by Jesus, none of the disciples, as they were “unavailable for comment,” one of the arresting officials, the chief priest, a member of the Sanhedrin, members of the family (if available). A few details would be given about the other two criminals, and perhaps brief coverage on Barabbas, maybe even an interview. The whole thing would seem to be routine, under control.

The Sequence of Events at Calvary

The sequence of events is not always clear, and Luke leaves out a number of unusual and significant phenomena,127 so that we cannot tell for certain the exact order of events that actually occurred. Generally speaking, however, the events appear to have happened something like this:

  • The victims were nailed to their crosses, which were raised and fixed in position
  • Either prior to this or shortly after drugged wine was given to deaden the pain
  • The clothing of Jesus was divided among the four soldiers, by lot
  • Railing accusations and mocking occurred throughout the ordeal—the crowd somehow seems to file or pass by the cross
  • Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them … ”
  • The criminals joined in reviling Christ
  • The thief on the cross came to faith in Jesus as his Messiah
  • Darkness falls over the scene, from 6th hour (noon) till 9th hour (3:00).
  • Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew, Mark)
  • Jesus said, “I thirst” (John), drank a sip of vinegar
  • Jesus said, “It is finished” (John)
  • Jesus bowed His head and said, “Father, into your hands, … ” and died
  • Immediately, the curtain of temple torn in two, top to bottom (Luke)
  • Earthquake and the raising of dead saints (Matthew)
  • Legs of other two were broken, but Jesus’ legs not broken, seeing He was already dead (John)
  • Soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear—blood and water gushed out (John)
  • Centurion (and the other soldiers) who witnessed it said, “Surely this was son of God”
  • The crowds left, beating their breasts, while the Galilean followers stay on, watching from distance

A Departure from the Normal

The unusual events seem to begin with the statement of Jesus (recorded only by Luke), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (verse 34). This would have taken many by surprise. God’s name was a very frequent word on the lips of the accused, no doubt. For some, it would have been in the form of profanity. For others, there may even have been a petition for mercy or death. But on the lips of the Savior, it was an expression of His own forgiveness, and a petition for the forgiveness of the Father. Now this was something new.

I can see the television commentators picking up on this, in our twentieth century setting. “What do you suppose he meant by that statement?” the commentator would have queried. “Let’s replay the tape, to make sure we got the words right.” This could have led to a fairly extensive discussion on “forgiveness” in the vocabulary and teaching of Jesus, throughout His public ministry.

The television camera now slides down the cross, zooming in on the soldiers, who are dividing up the garments of the Savior. Did they divide the garments of the other two? Why were Jesus’ garments so desirable? Were they nice enough for a soldier to want them for himself? Were they a souvenir? The incident served to show that prophecy was fulfilled (in the other gospels), but for Luke it was an evidence of the callousness of the soldiers, and their indifference the this man from Galilee. That, too, will change, and soon.

The change is evident in the responses of many of those who observed the death of the Son of God. The soldiers, who had little regard for Jesus (certainly for His suffering) at first, and who later joined in mocking him, had a change of heart (as reported by Matthew 27:54). The centurion, according to Luke, declared the innocence and the righteousness of Jesus (23:47), while in Matthew and Mark His deity is also affirmed (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39). These hardened soldiers had a very distinct and unusual change of heart toward Jesus.

The crowd, too, went away different from the way that they came, and even from the way they had been midway through the crucifixion. While they stood by passively at first (Luke 23:35), they later seemed to get into the reviling themselves (Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). But when the whole event was over, the crowd left, silent, sobered, and deeply disturbed—beating their breasts (Luke 23:48).

The Conversion of
the Thief on the Cross

No change, however, was more dramatic than that of the thief, who hung beside the Savior, who came to faith in Him while both hung dying on their own crosses. I am convinced that no one left the scene of the cross of Jesus the same that day, but no change was so dramatic or so exciting as that which happened to the thief who hung beside the Savior. I wish to focus, as Luke alone does, on his conversion. It is indeed a remarkable event. Let’s read the account again:

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left … 128 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”129 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”130

Luke’s account of the conversion of the thief on the cross is unique, and it is also very significant. It serves as a crucial turning point in the crucifixion of Jesus. There was a period of time, early in the crucifixion, where opposition to Jesus appears to have built up. In verse 34 of Luke’s account, the soldiers are indifferent to Jesus’ suffering. They care only about His clothing. In Matthew 27:36, this writer tells us that the soldiers sat down, keeping watch over Jesus. Jesus’ lack of aggressiveness, of verbal rebuttal, and of forgiveness, may well have struck them as a sign of weakness. The crowd, too, was miffed by Jesus’ inactivity. Some actually expected to see a miracle, or at least thought it possible (cf. Matthew 27:49; Mark 15:36). As time went on, everyone seemed to get more abusive of Jesus. The crowd seemed to get up its courage (cf. Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). The soldiers also joined in (Luke 23:36). The conversion of the thief is a turning point for Luke. From this point on, all railing and mocking stops. The supernatural phenomena immediately commence in Luke’s account, beginning with the 3 hour period of darkness (Luke 23:44), the tearing of the temple veil (23:45), followed later by an earthquake and the raising of the dead (only indirectly referred to by Luke, cf. 23:47-48).

The conversion of the thief cannot be questioned. It was a genuine conversion, indicated by Jesus’ strong words of assurance and hope: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43). It was not, as some might conceive of it, a kind of second-class conversion, allowing for much error or misunderstanding, based upon the shortness of time and the crisis at hand. Notice with me some of the characteristics of this conversion:

Characteristics of the Thief’s Conversion

(1) The thief was thoroughly and genuinely converted. Jesus assured him that on that very day he would be with Him in paradise. The others who witnessed the death of Christ were changed, never the same, but they only came to a point of fear at this point in time, not the faith of this thief.

(2) Initially, the thief joined in with the railing of the others against Jesus.

(3) The thief spoke to Jesus, requesting salvation, before any of the miraculous signs and wonders which were to follow.

(4) The thief believed in Jesus, in the midst of the rejection and railing of others, at a time when no one was showing faith in him. He was moving against the grain of the moment, out of step with the crowd.

(5) It was in response to the scoffing of the other thief that this man’s faith was evidenced. He spoke first to the thief, and then to Jesus.

(6) The second thief rebuked the first for not “fearing God.” This was at least a recognition of Jesus’ innocence, but also appears to be a recognition of the deity of Jesus. He was speaking to God in such an irreverent manner.

(7) To the thief, Jesus was not merely innocent, He was who He claimed to be, the Messiah, and thus the key to entering into the kingdom of God. It is this kingdom into which the thief asked Jesus to enable him to enter into.

(8) The thief recognized, as Jesus had told Pilate, that His kingdom was not of this world. Thus, the thief and Jesus could both die, and yet enter into it.

(9) The thief saw that his own salvation did not require Jesus coming down from the cross, saving Himself, or getting him off of the cross.

(10) This thief recognized his own sin, and that he was deserving of death.

(11) The thief requested Jesus’ mercy on the basis of His grace, offering nothing in return.

(12) This man had some kind of resurrection faith—believed in an afterlife, for he was about to die—a kind of resurrection faith.

The thief seems to have come to a point of seeing what he already believed in a different light, and of acting upon it. I do not think that the thief ever thought of Jesus as a guilty man. Even the reviling of the other thief is expressed in such a way that we are encouraged to think he believed Jesus might be the Messiah. His words, “Aren’t you the Christ?” imply (in the original text) that He was the Messiah. But now, suddenly, the thief looks at what he believed differently.

There are those who have noted and capitalized on the fact that this thief was not baptized, but may I suggest that he fulfilled the essence of even this commandment. The purpose of baptism was to make a public profession of faith, to disassociate with that unbelieving generation (from the standpoint of those Jews living in that generation), and to publicly associate with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. What this man said was surely witnessed by more Jews of his day than of those who would later be baptized as a public profession of faith. Even in this matter, the thief is a model (if there can and should be such a thing) of conversion.

Let us not pass by this conversion without noting several essential ingredients. First, there is the recognition of one’s personal sin, and of his deserving of death, of divine wrath. Second, there is the recognition that Jesus is precisely who He claimed to be, the sinless Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the only way by which men can enter into the kingdom of God. Third, a belief that Christ’s kingdom lies beyond the grave, and that resurrection will enable us to be enter into it. Fourth, a belief in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which prompted Him to die in our place, to provide a salvation for the worst of sinners, which is not merited or earned, but which is achieved in accordance with grace alone. A simple trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life, by virtue of what He has done.

How Did It Happen?

We have given considerable thought to what happened at the conversion of this thief, but how did it happen? What was the trigger? What was it that changed this man from a scoffer to a saint, from a hell-bent heathen to a heaven-bound believer? I have looked long and hard for an explanation in the text, for a key, but I have not found one. I have since concluded that there is no key, there is no process outlined, which we are encouraged to follow. In answer to the question, “What changed this man’s attitude toward Christ?” the answer must be, “Luke didn’t tell us.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit. While the results of the Holy Spirit’s word are evident, the process is not seen by the eye. The final answer to the question, “What changed the heart of the thief?” is simply this, “God did!” We know not how. We need not know how. Indeed, we cannot even tell how it was that our heats were opened. We can only say, as Luke writes of Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to believe … ” (Acts 16:14). So it is for all who believe. Salvation is not only the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, it is His secret work.

The one thing which seems obvious in the conversion of the thief is this: While the thief knew, from the beginning that the Lord Jesus was innocent, and that His death was not deserved, it was at the point of his conversion that he can to understand that Jesus’ death was in order to save such as him. The crowds had not caught the point. All who railed at Jesus had the same basic premise: If Jesus was to save men, He must first save Himself. The thief now understood that in order to save men, Jesus had to sacrifice Himself for their sins. His death was not the destruction of His promises to save men but the means of it. It was this that the Spirit of God somehow made clear to the thief. It was faith in the substitutionary death of Christ which saved him, like it can be for any who believes.

Conclusion

There are a number of lessons to be learned from our text. The first is this: God is sovereign in salvation. It is not men who open their hearts God-ward, it is God who opens the hearts of men. He is the Savior. There is no method, no mechanical system, which can be relied upon to draw men to Christ. All that we can do is to proclaim the gospel and pray that His Spirit will open the hearts of those He has chosen.

Second, while it God who sovereignly opens the hearts of men, to save them, He never turns one who comes to Him in faith away. Some have argued that if it is God who opens men’s hearts, it is futile for any man to seek God. Notice that in our text the Lord Jesus did not “witness” to the thief, and then invite him to come to salvation. The thief turned to Jesus and asked to be saved—and his request was granted. The Scriptures are clear that all who come to Him in faith are received and saved, for He does not turn any away who come in sincere faith (cf. Romans 10:11, 13; John 6:37).

The third lesson is this: God is not selective in the social class of those whom He saves. Of all those gathered around the cross that day, this man would not have been at the top of our list of most likely candidates. But from the very beginning Jesus was drawn to those who were sinners, as they were drawn to Him. Somehow they knew, as this thief knew, that Jesus loved men and that His desire was to save them. No one is too sinful to save. Even this man, who had moments before his conversion, reviled the Son of God, was readily forgiven his sins and assured of eternal life.

May I ask you, very pointedly, my friend. Have you believed in Jesus the way this man did? Have you come to a faith which goes beyond the facts and comes to trust in the Son of God, who died in your place, who was raised from the dead, and who now is in heaven at the side of His Father? May the Holy Spirit of God open your heart, as He did this thief. What a blessed hope! What a Savior! If God can save a sinner, condemned by man, He can and He will save you as well.

There is a final lesson which I would like to underscore from out text. In the paradox of God’s eternal methods and means, life comes to others through the death of those who proclaim it. More than anything else it was the way Christ died that shook those who witnessed this event, and which was instrumental in the conversion of the thief. Christians today often fall into the trap of wanting God to perform according to their expectations, rather than submitting to His sovereign plan and purposes, as clearly laid out in His Word. They want God to convince men of their need to be saved by proving Himself through healings, signs and wonders, and by delivering His saints (and others) from pain and suffering. It was Jesus’ death which men could not grasp. It was Jesus’ death which was God’s means of saving men. One of the most powerful signs of this or any other age is the way in which men and women of faith handle suffering, adversity, and death.

Evangelism is often heavily method-centered, and one of the compromises we have made with the world is to try to sell faith in Christ like Procter and Gamble sells soap, or like Coca Cola sells “coke,” which “adds life.” That is, we want to emphasize the “life” aspect of the gospel, and to avoid the death dimension. This simply does not square with the gospel. As Christ drank His “cup” of death on the cross of Calvary, we have our own “cups” to drink of, and we have our own crosses to take up in order to follow Christ. It is often by the giving up of our lives, figurative or literally, that is instrumental in bringing men and women to faith in Christ, as the Holy Spirit bears witness through us. That is why, I believe, the prisoners in that Philippian jail did not flee, even though their cell doors were all opened (Acts 16). They had witnessed Paul and Silas singing and praising God, just after they had been unjustly and illegally beaten and imprisoned. There is something about watching people die for their faith that carries more weight than prospering as Christians. It is often suffering more than success that God uses as His instrument for bring about His purposes in this world.

As we conclude, let me remind you of some of the texts in which death characterizes Paul’s ministry.

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).

9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. 10 We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:29-32).

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

The use of the imperfect tense in verse 39 implies that this malefactor persisted in his railings.

In the words, “Let Him save Himself (and us)” do we not see a parallel to the mentality of men in all ages? Is this not the same view which the world, and too many Christians take toward suffering? They assume that God would not tolerate or allow suffering, and especially not in the life of His beloved Son. They assume that if God is God, He will prove Himself by delivering the sufferer from his suffering, when the suffering itself is the means God has appointed to achieve His purposes. Here is where the “name it and claim it” version of faith healing flies in the face of Scripture.

The similarity between the taunting of the people and the temptation of Satan does not demonstrate that this is a temptation, but rather that the thinking of the people is reflective of Satan’s values and mindset (cf. Luke chapter 4 and Job 1), rather than of God’s, as described in the prophecies of the Old Testament.


127 What Luke Omits in His Crucifixion Account: He omits the beatings of Matthew 27:27-31 and Mark 15:16-20, in preparation for His execution, and also the mocking, scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the mocking homage paid to him, and the references to His words about destroying the temple (as Stephen was also later to be accused, cf. Acts 6:13-14). The first offering of wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34) or myrrh (Mark 15:23), which Jesus refused. Luke records only the offer of “wine vinegar” (23:37), with no indication of whether or not He took it. The chief priests and teachers said if Christ came down from the cross they would see and believe (Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:32). “He saved others … ” (Matthew 27:42; Mark 15:31). The people (passers by) reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:39-40; Mark 15:29-30). Both thieves reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). “Here is your son … Here is your mother”—John 19:26, 27). “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). “Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him/take him down” (Matthew 27:49; Mark 15:36)—they really wondered if something miraculous might happen. The earthquake and splitting of rocks and the tombs opened—Matthew 27:51-54). Matthew indicates that while the raising of these dead saints occurred at the time of the earthquake, and thus at the time of our Lord’s death, the appearance of these saints in the city was not until three days later (27:54). John says Jesus said, “I am thirsty” after He saw that all prophesy had been fulfilled (John 19:28-29), after which He drank and then gave up the spirit (Matthew 27:50; John 19:30) and died. Jesus’ legs not broken, but His side was pierced, which fulfilled prophecy (John 19:31-37)

128 All four gospels mention that Jesus was in the middle, between the two thieves. Is this to indicate that He was placed in the position of prominence, that He was the center of attention? It seems so. Surely the crowds came because of Jesus, and not the other two.

129 The use of the imperfect tense in verse 39 implies that this malefactor persisted in his railings.

In the words, “Let Him save Himself (and us)” do we not see a parallel to the mentality of men in all ages? Is this not the same view which the world, and too many Christians take toward suffering? They assume that God would not tolerate or allow suffering, and especially not in the life of His beloved Son. They assume that if God is God, He will prove Himself by delivering the sufferer from his suffering, when the suffering itself is the means God has appointed to achieve His purposes. Here is where the “name it and claim it” version of faith healing flies in the face of Scripture.

The similarity between the taunting of the people and the temptation of Satan does not demonstrate that this is a temptation, but rather that the thinking of the people is reflective of Satan’s values and mindset (cf. Luke chapter 4 and Job 1), rather than of God’s, as described in the prophecies of the Old Testament.

130 The term “paradise” is found twice elsewhere in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 12:4; and Revelation 2:7. In both cases, the reference is to heaven.

Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology, Soteriology (Salvation), Crucifixion