Hey everyone, I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to episode 149 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the past 3 episodes we’ve been looking at the record the Gospels give us of Jesus’ crucifixion. We looked at some of the details like the inscription posted above Him by Pilate, the casting of lots for His clothing, the mocking by several different groups, and His quote of Psalm 22 and even the larger significance of that Psalm in general. There are so many ways that the rest of the New Testament portrays the beauty and the horror of the cross especially in terms of Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death for sin, but one of the lesser talked about but massively important points that I hope you’ve come away with is how the story of Jesus’ humiliation and forsakenness is a telling of the story of Israel’s last days humiliation and forsakenness. As we’ve seen throughout this series, Jesus’ mission was not merely to come as a man and just stroll around Israel doing some miracles before He died for the sins of the world. Recall all the way back to Episode 36, 37, 38, and 39 where we talked about the message of John the Baptist. Jesus’ coming to His chosen people Israel was to call forth their repentance and obedience to the covenant He made with them at Sinai. The story that began in the Old Testament was not coming to its conclusion at Jesus’ first coming, nor was that story being redefined or reimagined through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. I hope you see this, and I hope that as you understand it, it enriches your love for the God of Israel, His words, and His story, and that enrichment burdens you with the same cry as Paul in Romans 10:1: “brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”
Well, in today’s episode I want to look at the record of the last few minutes of Jesus’ life from the Gospels. Recall from the last episode that it was about the 9th hour, or 3pm on a Friday afternoon. Darkness had covered the land for the last three hours, a clear Old Testament sign of God’s immanent judgment and displeasure. The Gospels record several statements of Jesus around this time, all presumably within the last moments of His life. We can’t be precise, but the impression the authors give us is that they all came fairly close to one another. Let’s read a few of them from John 19 and Matthew 27:
"After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth."
(John 19:28–29 ESV)
and Matthew 27:
"And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”"
(Matthew 27:48–49 ESV)
In these passages we see Jesus being offered vinegar, or sour wine, once again. We saw back in Luke 23 where the Roman soldiers offered Jesus sour wine earlier, and this seems like a separate instance right here as John and Matthew are describing an event later in the day, just moments before His death. As I mentioned back in Episode 147, sour or dry wine was believed to lessen the pain and quench the thirst more than water. But John’s Gospel clarifies that the primary reason why Jesus said “I thirst” was to fulfill the Scripture, again, from two Psalms: Psalm 42:2 and Psalm 63:1. Both of those psalms express deep lament and desire for God’s deliverance - one from the sons of Korah and the other from King David. Now remember back in the Garden when Jesus was about to be arrested, He told Peter that He had to drink the cup that God had given Him. He even prayed that if it was possible, that the cup should pass from Him. I think this cup is the cup of God’s wrath, as passages like Jeremiah 25 and others speak about. Check this out:
"Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them…. Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’ “And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink!"
(Jeremiah 25:15-16,27–28 ESV)
So Jesus is physically drinking the sour wine as a sign to fulfill the scriptures. He did not refuse to accept the cup of God’s wrath. As Paul says in Romans 3, Jesus became the propitiation for the sins of those who have faith in Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death turned away or appeased God’s wrath. And also according to Paul later in Romans, specifically chapter 11, one day all Israel will be saved - they will come to faith in Jesus and rely on what God put forward as a propitiation for their sins. Ah, what a terribly beautiful moment. The nation too will endure a final time of trouble and tribulation for their covenant breaking, after which they will repent and be saved. There’s so much more we could talk about, but again, I just want to tell the story clearly. So, let’s look at a few more of Jesus’ last sayings from the Gospels. First, a famous one found in John 19:
"When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
(John 19:30 ESV)
Also, Mark 15:
"And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last."
(Mark 15:37 ESV)
And Luke 23:
"Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last."
(Luke 23:46 ESV)
Now here it is, the final moment where Jesus cries out loudly from the pain and agony and breathes His last. He entrusts Himself completely to the Father and says the famous phrase “it is finished”. Now this phrase is actually a translation of one single word in the Greek, tetelestai, which means “to finish”. This specific form of the verb is only found twice in the New Testament, both times in John 19, and in fact within 3 verses of each other. It’s in verse 28 and verse 30:
"After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished [tetelestai], said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”… When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
(John 19:28,30 ESV)
These two uses back to back make the meaning of this well-known phrase perfectly clear. He’s essentially saying “mission accomplished!” He came on a very specific, focused mission as I’ve talked about throughout this series, and that mission was now complete. Jesus is not saying that God is not going to be angry or wrathful anymore or that the Temple won’t actually be destroyed or that everyone is now automatically forgiven and accepted by God. New Testament scholar D. A. Carson writes:
The verb teleō from which this form derives denotes the carrying out of a task, and in religious contexts bears the overtone of fulfilling one's religious obligations. Accordingly, in the light of the impending cross, Jesus could earlier cry, 'I have brought you glory on earth by completing (teleiōsas; i.e. by accomplishing) the work you gave me to do' (17:4). 'Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them eis telos — not only 'to the end' but to the full extent mandated by his mission. And so, on the brink of death, Jesus cries out, It is accomplished!
The Gospels record a few more significant events after Jesus dies, so let’s read a bit more from Matthew 27:
"And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”"
(Matthew 27:51–54 ESV)
The parallel passages to this are in Luke 23 and Mark 15, but Matthew adds a few details that are not in Mark or Luke’s account. First, he says that the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Now in the Temple at the time were actually two curtains, according to the historian Josephus. One was much more visible and public and was a colorful work of Babylonian tapestry, about sixty cubits high. The other is an inner curtain which separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. We’re not sure which curtain Matthew and Mark refer to. The traditional interpretation is the inner curtain, based on Hebrews chapter 10 verses 19 and 20 where the writer tells us that Jesus has made a new and living way through the curtain of His flesh. However, we’re not sure if the Gospel writers shared that perspective, and I think there’s ample evidence especially with the larger story of the Gospels in view that this could possibly have been the outer curtain, as kind of a “divine vandalism”, as one commentator has put it, as a reminder that the Temple and the entire system that the Jewish authorities were benefitting from was going to be destroyed because of their lack of repentance. I don’t think this understanding diminishes the truth of Jesus’ death being the means by which humanity has access to God again. I think it actually enhances the potent story going on in the Gospels even more.
Secondly, Matthew says that there was an earthquake, and the rocks were split. This is very “apocalyptic” in nature and has huge overtones from the Old Testament, just like the darkness we saw come over all the land in the last episode. Passages about earthquakes and God’s judgment would include Isaiah 2, Amos 8, and Zechariah 14. We also see earthquakes often in the book of Revelation.
Third, Matthew tells us something so interesting - he says that tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had died were raised and came out of their tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into Jerusalem and appeared to many. Note that these bodies of the saints were raised and came out of their tombs after Jesus’ resurrection. That’s theologically significant because it maintains the truth that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection or the firstborn from the dead. Now the text doesn’t tell us if these saints were actually resurrected to never die again, or if they just came to life like Lazarus did, then to simply die again later. What I do think is interesting, though, is how Matthew refers to the Jews and Jerusalem as “holy” in verse 52 and 53, even after Jesus has condemned the leadership and the majority of the nation for their lack of repentance. I think this is another clear sign that a righteous remnant will be preserved and God will be faithful to do everything He’s promised to the nation.
Finally, Matthew tells us that the Roman soldiers and the others keeping watch over Jesus stood in awe and proclaimed that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Clearly the events had convinced the soldiers and onlookers that Jesus was who He said He was. What an indictment of the Jewish authorities - even the Roman soldiers believe and tremble.
Well in the next episode we’ll look at the details the Gospels give us of Jesus’ burial. I can’t believe we’re coming to the end of the story of Jesus’ life… 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.