Hi everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to Episode 147 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 146, we looked at a few details from John 19 and Luke 23, specifically the location, time, and place of Jesus’ crucifixion. We saw how the Gospels are all very brief in their telling of the story, simply because crucifixion would have been a well-known, well-understood process in the first century. Today we’re going to look at more of the surrounding details the Gospels give us of those dreadful six hours that Jesus hung on the cross. As I’ve said several times, there has been so much written about the cross of Christ already, and I just want to be faithful to tell the story in these episodes without being so extensive in detail. We left off in the last episode with Jesus hanging on the cross and the Roman soldiers casting lots for His garments, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. Let’s continue reading today from Matthew 27:
"And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour."
(Matthew 27:39–45 ESV)
It’s sometime past 9am on a Friday morning in April of 29AD, and the beleaguered king of Israel is hanging between heaven and earth on a rugged wooden beam. From both Matthew’s account here as well as Luke’s account in Luke 23, we see that several groups mocked Him as He hung there, including the Roman soldiers, the Jewish authorities, the criminals who were crucified with Him, and those who were just passing Him by. Let’s take a look at each of these groups. First, the Roman soldiers. Luke 23 says:
"The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”"
(Luke 23:36–37 ESV)
Luke says they offered Jesus sour wine, or a vinegar-like drink that was sour or dry wine as opposed to sweet wine. The sharp taste was said to quench thirst more effectively than water. The offer is made in jest though, because it came hand in hand with the challenge that Jesus, if He was the king, should save Himself. John’s Gospel gives a bit more detail and seems to indicate that Jesus was offered sour wine a second time, perhaps just a few minutes before He actually dies. We’ll look at that a bit later.
Secondly, Matthew mentions the people who were just passing by. He says they were hurling abuse and blasphemies at Him and shaking their heads in contempt and arrogance, a fulfillment of Psalm 22 verse 7. They even brought up the words Jesus spoke two years earlier at the first Passover of His ministry as He turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple, as recorded in John 2:19. The next group Matthew mentions is the chief priests, scribes, and elders. They specifically said “He is the king of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.” These guys never had any intention whatsoever of believing. I don’t think they even had any intention to go to the site of the crucifixion, specifically because their presence in the city and the Temple would have been expected by everyone as it was the Passover. But how ironic is it that the blood of the true Passover lamb was being shed and they had plans to ignore it altogether and celebrate the feast in the Temple. Now I think the reason why the Jewish authorities did come out to Golgotha was due to the notice that was hung above Jesus on the cross. As we’ve already seen briefly, Pilate had written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Greek, Latin, and Aramaic in an inscription and put it on the cross. John’s Gospel says:
"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 19:19–22 ESV)
So it seems like after the Jewish authorities found out that this was written and posted above Jesus, they went to Pilate seeking to have it altered. And after Pilate’s refusal, they headed back to the crucifixion site to make sure their reputation was upheld and the crowds did not change their opinion.
The final group that Matthew mentions is the “robbers”, however commentators believe this word might be better translated “rebel” or “insurrectionist”. Their crimes were likely more than theft, probably some sort of terrorism or assassination. The picture of two others, one to the left and the other to the right of Jesus, could be likened to the picture of a king with his advisors at his left and right hands. This man hanging in the middle was indeed the final, promised king of Israel, but this was not His enthronement, and the cross was not the throne of David. Before establishing His kingdom, He first had to suffer as the Law and Prophets had declared. Now, Luke’s Gospel gives us more detail of the dialogue between Jesus and the criminals, so let’s read a bit more from Luke 23:
"One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”"
(Luke 23:39–43 ESV)
The contrast between these two rebels is pretty vivid. One of them, clearly in unbelief, mocks Jesus and says “if you’re that guy that we’ve all been waiting for, save yourself and us!” but the other one rebukes him. He knows he is guilty of sin, yet believes that Jesus has done nothing wrong and professes faith in Him when he says “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. He believes Jesus is the promised Christ, that final king that Israel has been longing and waiting for. There is no indication from the Gospels that this Jewish rebel somehow believes Jesus’ kingdom is some spiritual kingdom or that His kingdom had already been established or even that Jesus’ kingdom was somehow “in heaven” and that’s where they were both about to go. Those assumptions are ones we as 21st century Gentiles make when we read the text. Those assumptions unfortunately affect our reading of the next verse as well. Jesus says to the rebel, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Now, we commonly understand that as Jesus saying “you’re going to be with me in heaven today!” But there’s a few important things we have to note here. First, the word “paradise” is “paradeisos” in the Greek, and is the same word used in Genesis 2 and 3 in the Septuagint to refer to the Garden in Eden. It’s also the word that Jesus uses in Revelation 2:7 where He tells the church in Ephesus:
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’"
(Revelation 2:7 ESV)
In this verse, Jesus Himself places the tree of life in “the paradise of God”. We know from Genesis that Eden’s Garden also contained the tree of life. Later on in Revelation 22, we also see the tree of life mentioned in context to the New Jerusalem and the new heavens and new earth. What’s Jesus saying in Revelation 2:7? He’s telling the church in Ephesus that if they overcome the temptation to give up on their faith in the midst of suffering and persecution, they will eat from the tree of life in the Garden. In other words, they’ll be resurrected from death to participate in the restoration of all things - they’ll enjoy this very earth with no death, sorrow, crying, or pain. Now I believe this is what Jesus had in mind for the rebel next to him on the cross. But you might say, “wait, doesn’t it say ‘today’, as in that very day, the guy would be with Jesus in paradise?” Well, the second point to understanding this verse comes when we remember that punctuation was not part of the original Greek manuscripts. English translators insert the punctuation to make it more readable to us. Instead of putting the comma here as most modern English translations do, what would happen if we put it here? It changes the meaning of the sentence to read: “Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” In other words, Jesus is affirming to the rebel that he will indeed be a part of His kingdom when He returns on the Day of the Lord to restore all things and do away with death, sorrow, crying, and pain forever. Does that make sense? The kingdom promised to David was not already established in an ethereal heaven to which both of them would go upon death. Jesus and the rebel had the same understanding of the end as laid out by the Law and the Prophets, and that’s what I believe Jesus is affirming again here.
Well, we’re out of time for today, but there’s still more details of this gruesome scene to look at. 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.