“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.” (John 19:16-18)
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is so central, so often communicated by Christians and in churches that it seems we do not need to learn anything more than what we already know. At the same time, there are churches and church attendees who are removing the message of the crucifixion of Christ from their buildings, preaching and conversations. This, therefore, makes the circumstances and meaning of the crucifixion of Christ all the more paramount for believers to trust in, commit to, depend upon and worship the God of its inception and fulfillment.
For the next several days, we will examine the subject of crucifixion three areas. Those areas of study include (1) its historical context and origination; (2) its specific application to Jesus Christ’s historical crucifixion; and (3) the theological significance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion to the climatic message of the Gospel.
We have already examined the crucifixion’s historical origin as well as how it pertained to Jesus Christ’s own historical crucifixion. We continue to examine the events of Jesus’ crucifixion as revealed in all Four New Testament Gospels.
Each of the Four Biblical Gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) present a particular point of view of Jesus Christ. Respectively these are that Jesus is (1) King; (2) Servant; (3) Man; (4) God. These perspectives apply not only to Jesus’ identity, but also with respect to the events leading up to and including the crucifixion. The church has understood that the Gospel writers were not only biographers but also theologians. They selected scenes and portrayed them to show the significance of the events for the Christian faith. Certainly this was the case with the four crucifixion narratives. Let’s look at each one of them.
Mark and Matthew closely parallel each other as they depict the horror of the Messiah being put to death by sinners. For example, the first half of Mark’s narrative contrasts the taunts of the crowd with the true significance of Jesus’ death. The twofold statement “save yourself” (Mark 15:29–31) repeats Jesus’ words about rebuilding the temple in three days—prophetically pointing to the resurrection. The second half of Mark’s description stresses the horror of the scene, progressing from a darkness motif to the cry of abandonment to further taunts (Mark 15:33–36).
Matthew’s Gospel adds that Jesus refused the drugged wine to alleviate pain “when he tasted it” (Matthew 27:34), as well as adding “yielded up his spirit” to the death scene (Matthew 27:50). Matthew thus emphasized that Jesus voluntarily faced his death fully conscious and in complete control of himself.
The Tyndale Bible Dictionary (TBD) adds that, “Matthew’s irony and allusion also bring out the disparity between Jesus’ suffering and his vindication. Elements of vindication include the ripping of the temple veil (v 51) and the centurion’s testimony (v 54). In the remarkable supernatural scene of Matthew 27:52–53, Jesus’ death is followed immediately by an earthquake that opened tombs and revived “many bodies of the saints” who had died. For Matthew those events and others inaugurated the last days, the new age of salvation, when the power of death is broken and life is made available for all.”
Luke’s Gospel emphasizes two major points. The reader must keep these in mind when reading Luke’s account of the crucifixion.
First, Jesus is portrayed as the perfect man, the righteous martyr who forgave His enemies and converts some of them. The taunts by the Jewish rulers and Roman soldiers stops when the crowd returns home “beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48) and the centurion cries, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47).
Second, in Luke’s account the entire crucifixion setting has an atmosphere of reverence and worship. Absent are the wine and myrrh, the cry of abandonment, and the Elijah taunt. What is included are (1) Jesus’ prayer that God forgive his executioners, placing it in contrast with the soldiers’ mockery; (2) the promise of salvation in answer to the prayer of the “believing” criminal; and (3) the commitment of Jesus’ spirit to the Father. Luke’s presentation makes the Crucifixion a place of worship. I never thought of it this way.
Finally, the Gospel of John stresses Jesus’ sovereign control of His situation, as the crucifixion becomes a coronation procession. John alone states that the inscription on the cross was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek—the charge that became a worldwide proclamation of Christ’s enthronement.
The TBD explains that “The inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” continues Pilate’s dialogue on kingship beyond Jesus’ trial. John thus adds to Matthew’s emphasis: Jesus has not only become king but has been sovereign all along. The king is pictured as performing the priestly function and himself becoming the sacrifice. John alone mentions the hyssop (which had been used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb at the Passover, Exodus 12:22) and Jesus’ cry, “It is finished” (John 19:29–30). Further, the piercing of Jesus’ side (vv. 31–37), which shows the reality of his death, may also be seen symbolically, along with the “rivers of living water” (7:37–38), as typifying the outpouring of life in the new age.”
As one commentator concludes, “Each Gospel pictures the meaning of Jesus’ death from a different vantage point. To combine their pictures gives new understanding of the significance of the cross. Rather than contradiction, one sees separate parts of a compelling whole.”
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!