Luke 23:26–43 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Christ Jesus' Crucifixion
Down through history, wicked men have done some terrible things: slaughtered innocent women and children, tortured people for pleasure, and resorted to cannibalism and other evils too hideous to mention. But never has the human race stooped so low as when it crucified the Lord of glory and mocked him while he was innocently hanging on the cross.
But if a man tortures and murders a little child, we recoil in horror because the child had done nothing to deserve such terrible treatment. While children are relatively innocent, Jesus alone is truly innocent and undefiled (Hebrews 7:26): He was never tainted by sin in thought, word, or deed; he gave up the glory of heaven and came to this earth, not for himself, but to lay down his life for sinners; he went about doing good to all; his teaching and his miracles proved him to be God's anointed one, the Messiah. For men to disregard his many life-changing miracles, to make sport of torturing him, and then to jeer him as he hung on the cross with his life slowly expiring, is the most heinous crime imaginable!
Luke paints vividly this crucifixion scene to show us not only the sin of those who crucified the Savior, but to get us to examine our own hearts. While we may not be as guilty as the religious leaders, we're all guilty: "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Allow the spectacle of the cross to overwhelm you with the awfulness of your own sin!
Sometimes the darkest, most depressing scenes are illuminated by a bright light. This is true of our passage today. As it begins (23:26–27), it's not a pretty picture, it's a horrifying one. But we'll hopefully see how Lord Jesus brought his light into our world.
Simon Carries the Cross; Many Follow (vv. 26–31)
In Jesus' day it was customary for a criminal under the sentence of death to carry his cross out to the place of execution. Typically, the cross consisted of two parts: the cross-beam or horizontal member on which the one's would be stretched out and attached, and, the vertical post or stake that would be sunk in and remain in the earth at the execution site. And so Jesus begins to carry or drag the cross-beam from the Roman praetorium where he'd been flogged, along the Via Dolorosa, to his execution site, Golgotha (or "The Skull"), outside the walls. He had to carry the heavy cross-beam on shoulders, lacerated by the Roman scourge, and he was weak from blood loss. So Simon of Cyrene was seized from the crowd of onlookers and forced to carry the beam; soldiers grabbed him and laid Jesus' cross on him, making him carry it for the condemned man, who staggered, yet forced himself to go on as Simon followed him.
A passage recorded only in Luke's gospel (vv. 27–31) starts with "A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him." Jesus' enemies condemned him but he still had a large popular following who could only weep as they saw him surrounded by ruthless Roman soldiers who'd crush any attempts to rescue him. Luke's text says "Jesus turned" and spoke to them. The Greek verb strepho means, "turn around, turn toward," as if the soldiers had allowed Jesus to pause for a moment and turn around to the wailing women crowding the streets. There was a hush that permitted the women to hear his weak voice speak the words in vv. 27–31. Jesus spoke sorrowfully about the terrible destruction that would befall Jerusalem when it was to be besieged for six months in 70 AD.
Jesus' final saying isn't a familiar one: "For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" The comparison between green wood that's difficult to burn, and dry wood that will support a blazing fire suggests that if God didn't spare innocent Jesus, how much more severe would the fate of guilty Jerusalem be?
The Place Called the Skull (vv. 32–33)
The destination of this mournful procession was outside Jerusalem. Luke doesn't use the Aramaic term Golgotha, "skull," as do the other Gospel writers. The term evokes the haunting specter of death. For the Romans, the cross was widely used as a terrifying method of quelling slave rebellions. The usual pattern of crucifixion was this: On the ground the condemned person was bound with outstretched arms to the cross-beam by ropes and/or nails. Then the beam was raised with the body and fastened to the upright post.
Death by crucifixion came very slowly to most of the crucified, usually after several days. Jesus' hands and feet were nailed to the cross but nails didn't usually kill the person. Their wounds bled little; most blood loss would be from the scourging administered before the crucifixion. That Jesus died on the cross within six hours is a testimony to the severity of the scourging administered by Pilate's soldiers before he was sent to Golgotha.
Death resulted either from shock or a painful process of asphyxiation, as those muscles used in breathing suffered increased fatigue. To take a breath, one had to raise his chest by pulling it upward with the arms. Eventually and usually very slowly, a condemned man became too weak to lift his chest to breathe. Add to this the fact that Jesus was crucified alongside common criminals. He'd suffered the final shame, doing it for us.
On and Around His Cross (v. 34)
From the cross, Jesus, albeit surprisingly, asked his Father to forgive his killers, "for they do not know what they are doing." Likely, he asked forgiveness for the soldiers, Pilate, Herod, the religious leaders, and the Jews Gentiles who totally missed the point of God's plan. Jesus' prayer of forgiveness of his enemies stands as a brilliant light, capable of illuminating the darkness of that day.
The application to us disciples is very clear: If Jesus forgives those who are guilty of gross wickedness, how can we withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged us? Assuming that each of us is a hearty disciple, i.e., a student and learner of the Spirit of Jesus, then we must learn this! We followers of Jesus must follow him along the path of forgiving our enemies and persecutors and those who intend evil against us (6:27–31). Among those whom Jesus forgave, none had asked for forgiveness. At his feet sat soldiers on that day's crucifixion detail. Above them hung Jesus' bloody body. Below him they cast lots for his bloody raiment; it was their right and perquisite to claim the clothing of the condemned. (This is what had been prophesied in Psalm 22:16–18.) The evil soldiers presumed that the bloodstains on his clothing would wash away.
Was Jesus naked on the cross? Men were ordinarily crucified naked [ref. Bauer's Lexicon, pp. 125–126]. The very purpose of crucifixion was utter humiliation for the condemned. Among the Jews, nakedness, particularly nakedness in public, was considered exceedingly shameful. Nevertheless, nowhere are we told that Jesus was naked on the cross.
Two Groups Mocked Jesus on the Cross (vv. 35–38)
The rulers and soldiers mocked Jesus. First we learn: "The rulers even sneered at him." The Greek ekmukterizo for "sneered" in v. 35 is literally "to turn up the nose" at someone. Then we read: "The soldiers also came up and mocked him." In v. 36, the verb translated "mocked" is the Greek empaizo, meaning to "ridicule, make fun of (in word and deed)." But consider whom the rulers and soldiers mocked: an innocent man, the Son of God, their only hope for eternal life.
In Jesus' case, an inscription (in three languages) was affixed to the cross for all to see. The placard is ironic: "This is the king of the Jews." Pilate no doubt wrote it as a jab at the Jewish leaders whom he despised, and to whom he'd yielded, allowing Jesus to be crucified. Pilate might have been weak, but he'd have the last word. The leaders complained, but Pilate persisted: "What I have written, I have written" (John 19:22).
Two Thieves on Their Own Cross (vv. 39–43)
This brief passage relates one of the most amazing prayers and promises in the entire Bible. Hanging on crosses at Jesus' right and left were two criminals. One of them dying on his cross took up the cat-calling the soldiers at started: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" The thief was making fun of Jesus' inability to do anything, despite having been exalted as "Messiah."
The thief's taunts made the other criminal very uncomfortable. The second thief hadn't lost his faith, for he asked the first thief, "Don't you fear God?" To stand by (as it were) and participate in such an unrighteous act, i.e., to execute an innocent man, is impious and sinful. So the second thief refused to desert his sense of right and wrong by appealing personally to Jesus by saying, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
By any measure, that "Remember me" statement is astounding! Jesus' disciples had fled or lingered, disillusioned in the edges of the crowd. But, nailed on his own cross, a fellow condemned man with life ebbing out of him, looked across and saw the Messiah himself. Somehow, he understood that Jesus wasn't an impostor and that he'd receive the very Kingdom that belonged to the Messiah. How could that quality of faith exist at such a dark time? Had he confessed his sins? [Read v. 41.]
Promise of promises What a wonderful promise Jesus had given to the believing thief: presence with Christ in paradise! Jesus had promised him that he'd be with Jesus in heaven "today."
- Q. 1 Seeing that Simon had been ordered to "carry the cross" for Jesus, how well are you carrying your cross for him?
- Q. 2 What are we disciples supposed to learn from this extra-special exchange on the crosses?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 23.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Jesus Carries His Cross."
† You can also watch this passage-specific video clip titled "Jesus Is Crucified."
† Here's the next video clip titled "Soldiers Gamble for Jesus' Clothes."
† And here's this follow-up passage-specific video clip titled "Sign on the Cross."
† Finally, here's this compelling video clip titled "Crucified Convicts."
The Crucifixion of Jesus
26As the soldiers 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. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30Then
"'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"'
31For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is God's Messiah, the Chosen One."
36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."
38There was a written notice above him, which read: "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."