His Last Hours

MarApr2013_coverpic_pastHe Endured to the End

2013-Mar/April – Through the Eyes of the Master -Article 10 –

“Who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:22, 23 NASB).

Tom Ruggirello

Jesus was on the cross for six hours. The agony of this experience cannot be fully comprehended. Our English word “excruciating” is derived from the experience of crucifixion to describe the worst type of suffering. It comes from the Latin words, ex, meaning “out of,” and cruciate, meaning cross; “out of,” or “from the cross.” Even our own language recognizes crucifixion as the extreme limit of pain.

The First Mocking

While enduring such agony, Jesus’ mind was not idle. His initial experience was to hear the mocking and taunting from those passing by. The chief priests, along with the scribes and elders of Israel, joined in the ridicule and insults. One marvels that, from supposedly holy men, could come such insensitive cruelty. Jesus gave no verbal response to this abuse. But it may have been a challenge for him as they defied his claim of being the son of God. They said, “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40 NASB).

This challenge brings our minds back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry where in the wilderness of Judea, he was tempted by the adversary with very similar words. The specific temptations were devised from the circumstances of the wilderness, but the basis of the challenges was the same as those being made at the cross. “And the devil said unto him, Ifthou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread” (Luke 4:3). Satan was challenging Jesus’ son-ship.

With the third temptation, Satan used the same accusatory words. “And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence’” (Luke 4:9). This challenge, “if thou be the son of God,” was a common attack strategy of the adversary. This recurring challenge suggested that, in Jesus’ mind, this was an important thing to prove to the people. How would they know that he was the son of God?

Luke makes an interesting observation when describing the three temptations in the wilderness. He says, “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13 NASB). There in the wilderness Satan learned that Jesus was too strong to give in to his enticing offers. He was able to discern the emptiness of Satan’s words by quoting the reality of scripture. The word “opportune” is used elsewhere in scripture to describe a time when fruit is heavy on a branch. We have a similar thought in the phrase, “a time ripe for the picking.” At Golgotha, Satan found a more opportune time. If he could get Jesus to stumble, to make a mistake, or even to say the wrong thing, then he would have pulled out a victory at the last moment. A victory over Jesus would have meant a victory over God. How he must have relished that thought, with all its implications.

Memories on the Cross

While hanging from the cross, Jesus was dealing with far more than hunger and the cold Judean wilderness. As he hung from a Roman cross, every fiber of his being was tested and stretched beyond its limit. As the people and leaders mocked Jesus’ claim of being the son of God, we can imagine his thoughts turning to memories of his heavenly Father. It has been said that as people near the end of their lives they sometimes have flashbacks to happier days and precious memories. At some point, when his very son-ship was so vehemently challenged, memories of the time when he worked with his father in forming the beauties of creation may have come to mind. The beautiful memories would have been such a contrast to the ugliness all around him. There were memories of their joyful fellowship as they worked together to form perfect man, a creation that brought delight to Jesus’ heart. There were precious memories of the time he was privileged to be the craftsman at God’s side (Proverbs 8:30, Net Bible). Memories may have filled his mind of the glory of his beautiful Father, a father who was so tender and kind, so loving and fair.

Acted Out of Ignorance

When Jesus was mocked, and his son-ship challenged, how could he answer them? The only answer that they might understand was the miracle that they demanded to see, that he come down from the cross. But Jesus knew that, for their own good, he could not do that. If he did, all would be lost. And so, silence was the only answer. He was silent as a lamb to the slaughter, as Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 53:7).

Sometime later, addressing Jews in the temple at Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter made a telling statement, “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also” (Acts 3:17 NASB). As Jesus gazed at those who hated him he understood the power of ignorance. Though he was the light of the world, that light could not penetrate a heart that was deceived and misled. Satan has proven to be a master in the art of deception. The mocking crowd was an evidence of that power.

His Kingdom Hope

When Jesus heard the hateful words of his accusers, he may have thought forward to the time when all ignorance and deception would be done away, when the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Then his ransom sacrifice would be known and appreciated by all, hearts would repent and people would change.

The hope of his kingdom made it possible to look at those deceived hearts and see a better day. He looked at them for what they could be under the right circumstances and conditions. In fact, after his death and resurrection he would begin the work of reconciliation, first with the church, and later, with the ignorant and the deceived. These would all be cared for in God’s plan. And so, his knowledge of future blessings, and the hope it created in Jesus, helped him to look on these evildoers and not harbor ill will or malice.

This is a lesson for us to remember. Our knowledge of the Kingdom, and the changes that it will bring, can help us to look on our enemies through the same eyes. We can visualize what the Lord will someday make of them. Thus, when we experience an injustice, or if we are mocked for what we believe, we should know that these things are part of our sin-offering experience. These will be an opportunity to let our love grow and deepen in a way that only the Lord can direct. If we can love others under those circumstances, we are following in our master’s footsteps.

The Second Mocking

The Jews were not the only ones who mocked Jesus. “The soldiers also mocked him, coming up to him, offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! Now there was also an inscription above him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Luke 23:36-38 NASB).

Mocking Jesus as the son of God had no meaning to Roman soldiers. They took their cue from the sign that they had just nailed above Jesus’ head. They had stripped Jesus naked and divided his garments amongst themselves. They cast lots to see which lucky soldier would get his seamless robe. This was no king, only a deluded Jew whose throne was a cross, stationed between two thieves.

The Matthew account provides a little detail that may soften their cruelty somewhat. “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink” (Matthew 27:34). Some commentaries suggest that offering this drink to the crucified men was actually an act of kindness. “It was a common custom to administer a stupefying potion compounded of sour wine, which is the same as vinegar … frankincense, and myrrh, to condemned persons, to help to alleviate their sufferings, or so disturb their intellect that they might not be sensible of them” (Adam Clarke).

When offered this vinegar that may have made the cross a little less painful, Jesus refused it. Why would he refuse something that would have eased the tremendous pain he was enduring? The above comment suggests the answer that the wine would disturb the intellect. Jesus could not allow this potion to affect his thought process. He needed to have his mind clear, knowing that he was still under the adversary’s intense attack. He needed to concentrate on the principles of God. In these last hours he could not let his guard down. He could not sin in a moment of weakness or clouded thinking. To keep his mind as clear as possible, he refused the mind numbing drink.

The Third Mocking

Up to this point the mocking came from two sources. The Jews mocked his son-ship, and the Roman soldiers mocked his kingship. But there was another source of mocking Jesus had to endure. The two thieves, one on either side of Jesus, mocked his Messiah-ship. Everything he claimed to be was being challenged to the very last moments of his life.

“The robbers who had been crucified with him were also insulting him with the same words” (Matthew 27:44 NASB). Notice that the word “robbers” is plural. Both robbers mocked and insulted Jesus. The Luke account, however, states it differently. “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he was saying, Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom! And he said to him, Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43 NASB).

There seems to be a conflict between the Matthew and the Luke accounts. Was it both thieves who mocked Jesus, as suggested in Matthew? Or was it only one thief, as suggested by Luke? The Mark account supports the thought that both thieves mocked Jesus (Mark 15:32).

Barnes commentary offers an explanation. “The account in Luke may, however, easily be reconciled with that in Matthew by supposing that at first both of them reviled the savior, and that it is of this fact that Matthew speaks. Afterward one of them relented and became penitent perhaps from witnessing the patient sufferings of Christ. It is of this one particularly that Luke speaks. Or it may be that what is true of one of the criminals is by Matthew attributed to both.”

This reasonable explanation harmonizes the Gospel accounts. If one of the thieves changed his mind and rebuked the other, the natural question is “What was it that changed his mind?” It appears that the thief who defended Jesus was familiar with his teachings because he asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. The scriptures do not mention any statements made by Jesus, while on the cross, concerning his kingdom. Perhaps this thief had, at some previous time, stood in a crowd of people and heard Jesus teach about the kingdom.

As suggested by Barnes, this man’s change of heart may have resulted from witnessing the conduct of Jesus while on the cross. He saw his lack of response to the hatred that was heaped on him. He knew exactly what Jesus was suffering and the humiliation he was enduring. He was feeling it himself. Who could better understand that Jesus had every reason to hate these people? But it was apparent that Jesus did not hate them.

Comforted By a Thief

Years later, the Apostle Peter described how Jesus responded to his revilers. “And while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23 NASB). Those who were at Golgotha that day saw one last witness by Jesus. His teachings of love were not just words. They were principles ingrained in him, part of who he was. His silence to his revilers was a demonstration of the purity that was in his heart.

If one thief had, at first, joined in the reviling, he now knew it was a mistake. But he also had the privilege of offering the last comforting words that Jesus would hear as a man.

Jesus clearly heard the thief ’s words, “This man has done nothing wrong.” After all the injustices that Jesus had endured in the last 24 hours, finally, here was a man willing to tell the truth. Jesus was innocent!

Then, looking at Jesus he said with newfound respect, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The man believed that Jesus was the rightful king of a future kingdom. Maybe he did not believe it before, but now, seeing how this king conducted himself, he knew that it had to be true.

How could the thief have believed that this dying man could be a king in a future kingdom? The only reasonable answer is that he also believed in the resurrection. Through this lowly thief comes a powerful lesson. Faith can be exercised anywhere, under any circumstances, under any trial, even while being crucified. What a blessing his few words have brought to us. And what a comfort they must have been to Jesus.

Three Unjust Crucifixions

After stating that Jesus had done nothingwrong, the thief said, “We are suffering justly.” Was that true? Was crucifixion a just penalty for being a thief? The answer is, No! The Mosaic Law set the correct, moral standard for such crimes. “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” (Exodus 22:1). Here God provided a just penalty. It was so different than the penalty inflicted by Roman law. In these cases justice was not the Roman objective, punishment was. As a result, three unjust crucifixions were carried out.

After seeing this man’s faith, Jesus was prompted to speak. “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43 NASB).This passage has been misapplied because of a comma in the wrong place. Since there is no punctuation in the oldest Biblical manuscripts, the placement of a comma is open to interpretation. How could Jesus say, “today you shall be with me in paradise?” Jesus was to lie in the tomb for three days before his own resurrection. He could not have been in paradise on that day. Because this interpretation is simply not possible, the comma is moved to a more appropriate place. “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

Paradise

There is no record that Jesus ever used the word “paradise” before. Why use it now? Why tell this man that he would be in “paradise”? Smith’s Bible Dictionary paints a vivid picture. “This is a word of Persian origin, and is used in the Septuagint as the translation of Eden. It means ‘an orchard of pleasure and fruits,’ a ‘garden’ or ‘pleasure ground,’ something like an English park.” Jesus told this man that he would someday be in a garden of pleasure, a renewed Garden of Eden where there would never again be such pain as they were experiencing at that moment. The ugliness of Golgotha would be replaced by the beauty of an exquisite orchard garden. In his kingdom there would be no place on earth where a Golgotha could exist.

This one word “paradise” promised a place where there would be fullness of bread and men would never thirst again. It was the perfect word to comfort a crucified man. It watered the hope that germinated in his heart.

This was a brief discussion between two dying men. More importantly, it was a wonderful interchange between the savior and one of the saved. In the midst of the humiliating taunts of the crowd and the excruciating pain of the cross, Jesus once again responded to someone’s faith. He gathered his strength to tell a common thief about the uncommon blessings of his paradise kingdom. Clearly, this kingdom was for everyone. The men crucified next to Jesus could die in peace, knowing that it was for them too and that there was a better future ahead.

Forsaken by God

Jesus’ statement to the thief reveals what he was thinking about his own situation. The Father had, sometime before, begun to withdraw his face from Jesus. In Gethsemane his fear was manifested in loud crying and tears (Hebrews 5:7). Had he failed in some respect? In due course, an angel came to the garden, strengthening Jesus (Luke 22:43). The Greek word translated “strengthening” means “to invigorate.”

Nothing would have invigorated Jesus more than an assurance that he had been faithful in everything that he had done. However, it is clear from Jesus’ statement from the cross that the angel did not explain why the Father was withdrawing himself from Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Though Jesus now knew that he had been faithful, there was still this break of communion that Jesus was experiencing. But in telling the thief that he would be with him in Paradise, Jesus expressed confidence that he too would be resurrected and reign over a paradise kingdom. It was the conviction born out of the comforting words of God’s angel. And so, the thief was assured of future blessings and Jesus gave his last witness about the kingdom of God.

His Last Testimony

Jesus gave one more testimony before he died. As he looked down from the cross he saw his mother standing with the Apostle John. His words to them were few and direct. “When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son! Then he said to the disciple, Behold, your mother! From that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26,27 NASB). When most men would have been thinking only of themselves, Jesus thought of his mother’s welfare. How thoughtful. How loving. How characteristic of Jesus. This was his final testimony. He loved until the end. What a rich blessing it is to realize that his death was the beginning of a new phase of God’s plan. Jesus’ resurrection would provide for him the opportunity of someday completing the work that love began.

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