Hi I’m Josh Hawkins, this is Episode 146 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 144 and 145, I worked through the details of Jesus’ journey from the Praetorium to Golgotha, where He would be crucified. I talked about Simon of Cyrene, the man who was compelled by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross because He was physically unable to continue. I also talked about the final proclamation of judgment that John records in John 19, spoken to the company of weeping women as Jesus bore His cross on the road to Golgotha. In the next several episodes, I want to look at what the Gospels record about the actual crucifixion event. I feel like anything I can offer in these coming episodes will be nothing short of completely inadequate. We’re talking about the most severe injustice that has ever happened in human history. We’re talking about the murder of the promised seed from Genesis 3:15. We’re talking about the crucifixion of the long-awaited Jewish king who would sit on David’s throne and rule over the whole earth. We’re talking about the same one who came down on Mount Sinai as it shook and was engulfed in flames. We’re talking about the maker and sustainer of all things, the God of the exodus and the God who keeps covenant, the sinless and matchless one, dangling on a Roman cross, gasping for breath. So as we look at these events today, I want to just be faithful to the text and highlight the details that it gives us. Let’s read from John 19:
"So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’ ” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”"
(John 19:16–22 ESV)
John, as well as the other synoptic Gospels, give us such a brief description of the crucifixion. One of the reasons why is that the readers of the Gospels and those who would have heard about Jesus’ crucifixion from the Apostles would have been all too familiar with the process, simply because of how commonplace it was in the Roman empire at the time of Jesus. It was so frequent, dare I say typical, for those who would stand up to the power of or transgress the laws of Rome. Because of that frequency and familiarity, I don’t believe the authors of the Gospels had any intention of dwelling on the usual and extremely miserable details of the event. Much has been said about the procedure of crucifixion elsewhere, but let me read a quote from Edersheim who gives a brief summary for us:
Avowedly, the punishment was invented to make death as painful and as lingering as the power of human endurance. First, the upright wood was planted in the ground. It was not high, and probably the Feet of the Sufferer were not above one or two feet from the ground. Thus could the communication described in the Gospels take place between Him and others; thus, also, might His Sacred Lips be moistened with the sponge attached to a short stalk of hyssop. Next, the transverse wood (antenna) was placed on the ground, and the Sufferer laid on it, when His Arms were extended, drawn up, and bound to it. Then (this not in Egypt, but in Carthage and in Rome) a strong, sharp nail was driven, first into the Right, then into the Left Hand (the clavi trabales). Next, the Sufferer was drawn up by means of ropes, perhaps ladders; the transverse either bound or nailed to the upright, and a rest or support for the Body (the cornu or sedile) fastened on it. Lastly, the Feet were extended, and either one nail hammered into each, or a larger piece of iron through the two. We have already expressed our belief that the indignity of exposure was not offered at such a Jewish execution. And so might the crucified hang for hours, even days, in the unutterable anguish of suffering, till consciousness at last failed.
Edersheim, A. (1896). The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Vol. 2, p. 589). New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.
Let’s read a little more from Mark 15:
"And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”"
(Mark 15:24–26 ESV)
Mark gives us some details that John doesn’t reiterate in his Gospel. First, he says it was the “third hour” when they crucified Him. Remember that the Jewish day began at what we would call 6am. So it’s the third hour, or 9am according to our modern reckoning. Think about this for a second. In Episode 134, we looked at the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane, which took place late on Thursday evening. Now, we read from Mark that Jesus’ actual crucifixion took place only what seems like maybe 9, 10, or 11 hours later, at 9am on Friday. The proceedings with Pilate had all taken place fairly early in the morning, as we saw that Pilate’s wife was still asleep for much of it. Do you see how much detail the Gospels have given us of these final hours of Jesus’ life? It’s astonishing. Second, Mark tells us that the soldiers divided up his garments and cast lots for them to decide what each should take. John 19 records a bit more about this detail:
"When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene."
(John 19:23–25 ESV)
John was an eyewitness to these events, as we’ll see in a bit. But there’s a few details here that John sees as a direct fulfillment of Scripture and proof that the Messiah first had to suffer. We see a squad of soldiers showing absolutely no concern whatsoever for those dying on the cross. Instead, they’re treating it like a business transaction and figuring out what spoil they’re going to walk away with. Dividing up Jesus’ clothes would have probably consisted of things like his sandals, belt, robe, or maybe a head scarf. John tells us that his tunic is what caught the attention of the soldiers because it was woven in one piece from top to bottom. So instead of ripping it into four pieces, they “cast lots” - essentially they played a game of chance, like rolling dice. John sees this as the fulfillment of Psalm 22. Now as we’ll see later from Matthew and Mark’s accounts, Jesus Himself quotes Psalm 22, at least the first verse and perhaps the entire Psalm. Ancient Jewish writings from rabbis never thought of this psalm as a “messianic” psalm, or something that would be applied to the Messiah. They believed it to be possibly about Israel as a nation, which I think absolutely has merit in light of many of the things the prophets say. Additionally, both John and Jesus clearly apply it to the suffering of the Messiah, who was the head of the nation of Israel. So what is this Psalm about? Well, it’s a psalm of David, where we see a righteous sufferer lamenting yet expressing confidence in Yahweh as he cries out for deliverance. It ends with ten verses of praise to Yahweh and through it all we’re left with the impression that Yahweh is the sufferer’s only source of deliverance. So in quoting this Psalm, John is closely identifying Jesus, the head or king of the nation, with the righteous sufferer of Psalm 22, as proof that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the final king they have been waiting for, and that He did first have to suffer. Now I believe this psalm is not only speaking prophetically of the sufferings of Jesus, but it’s also speaking of the sufferings of the rest of the nation in a time the prophets call “Jacob’s trouble”. I’ll talk more on that later.
Luke adds some more details, so let’s read a bit from Luke 23:
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
(Luke 23:34 ESV)
Luke alone records these words from the lips of Jesus. Now these words are often applied generally, as if they applied to all people for all time. I’ve often heard it said by some, “wow, I crucified Jesus, I mocked Him and scorned Him and I was responsible for His death.” In one way, yes, the sin of man is what sent Jesus to the cross, in order that we all, Jew or Gentile, might be reconciled to God through repentance and enduring faith. But before we make that conceptual leap and assume that’s what Jesus means, we first have to be true to the context. It seems like the Roman soldiers are the ones in view here. Even if Luke’s account of the crucifixion would make it seem more natural that Jesus was talking about the Jews, the ones who were just so blinded by their sin, it seems to me that Jesus is first addressing the Roman soldiers. They were just carrying out their orders, and really had no vested interest in Jesus or the other two criminals that were crucified with Him. Now later on, the first martyr Stephen uses these same words in Acts 7 as a plea to God for his accusers and murderers, who were all Jewish. So I think that these words of Jesus can definitely be extended in that sense, because Jesus Himself taught His disciples to love and forgive and pray for their enemies. But remember, Jesus had spent the last 2 years personally calling the Jewish people to repentance, offering forgiveness of sins for those who would return to the Lord their God. He had also predicted the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the people because of their lack of repentance. And in many ways, I think it could be argued that the Jews knew exactly who it was they were crucifying and what they were doing - Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah and Yahweh Himself, and they still carried out their heinous crime. But, whoever the primary referent is in these words of Jesus, we see His selflessness and mercy yet again as He hung there, about to breathe His last. And at that, we marvel and worship.
Well, we’re out of time for today but in the next episode we’ll continue looking at the Gospels’ record of Jesus’ crucifixion. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, and come back next time.