And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (Lk. 23:33). Luke records the beginning of the end in the life of Jesus upon the earth and documents the first two sayings of Christ from the cross.
The first three sayings focus on others, while the last four relate to Jesus himself and the Father. The depth and meaning of the last words of Jesus warrant our whole attention.
Rick Bauer wrote:
Last words are powerful words. Perhaps you’ve watched a loved one die, and heard his last words. Words of love, words of farewell, too often words of regret and remorse, all these describe the last words of parting before death. Jesus’ dying words are the most powerful words of parting ever spoken, and reveal his life, his concerns, and the true nature of his character in a way they are shown nowhere else in the scriptures. In these words, we truly find the meaning of the cross. Let us study with reverence the parting words of our Master … the message of the cross, the message of Jesus from Golgotha. We see Jesus for all that he is when we come to the cross, when we stand around it, when we listen to The Sermon on the Hill (Rick Bauer, The Anatomy of Calvary (Joplin: College Press, 1989), 121.
James Stalker likewise opined:
These are like windows through which we can see what was passing in His mind. They are mere fragments, of course; yet they are charged with eternal significance. Words are always photographs, more or less true, of the mind which utters them; these were the truest words ever uttered, and He who uttered them stamped on them the image of Him-self (James Stalker, The Trial and Death of Jesus Christ (New York: A.C. Armstrong, 1894), 187.
Forgiveness. “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments” (Lk. 23:34; Isa. 53:12). Jesus desires and prays for the forgiveness of his enemies, but this would only be possible by men being willing to repent and obey Christ to receive remission of sins.
Jesus calls upon us, His disciples, to extend love and kindness to those against us (Lk. 6:35).
Salvation. “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Lk. 23:43). The two thieves represent two distinct attitudes toward Christ. The context before the verse reads: “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’” (Lk. 23:39-41).
The key to remember is that Jesus gives salvation: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Lk. 5:24).
Responsibility. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’” (Jn. 19:26). John is understood to be the disciple being referred to here (Jn. 2:4; 13:23; 21:7, 20) and he is the only one who records it.
In this saying, we witness the love and care that Jesus exhibited toward his loved ones. He was providing for His mother, even at the time of His death (1 Tim. 5:8).
Loneliness. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt. 27:46). The quotation is from Psalm 22:1. There is much here on which to study, meditate, and pray in order to begin to understand anything about it. It is a statement of loneliness based upon separation.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote:
Alone in the supreme hour in the history of the race, Christ uttered these words, and in them light breaks out, and yet merges, not into darkness, into light so blinding that no eye can bear to gaze. The words are recorded, not to finally reveal, but to reveal so much as it is possible for men to know, and to set a limit at the point where men may never know. The words were uttered that men may know, and that men may know how much there is that may not be known. In that strange cry that broke from the lips of the Master there are at least three things perfectly clear. Let them be named and considered. It is the cry of One Who has reached the final issue of sin. It is the cry of One Who has fathomed the deepest depth of sorrow. It is the cry of One Himself o’erwhelmed in the mystery of silence. Sin, sorrow, silence (G. Campbell Morgan, The Crises of the Christ (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co.), 297.
The Hebrew writer wrote, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb. 5:7). Our Lord was paying the ransom price for the sins of the whole world (Ac. 20:28; Heb. 9:22).
Humanity. “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (Jn. 19:28). This is mentioned in Psalm 69:21.
The humanity of Jesus is shown here. Jesus relates to our physical nature. This is the only recorded statement of a physical need while on the cross.
Victory. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn. 19:30). The goal of Jesus was to finish the task given by the Father (Jn. 4:34). The victory over sin was being accomplished. The fact that “Jesus Saves” comes ringing loud and clear because He came to “seek and save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).
Guy N. Woods wrote:
The words “It is finished,” sum up all that he came to do; the redemption of mankind was now being achieved and the course which had been laid out for him from the beginning, had been completed. His life and work, his suffering and death, the shame and agony of the cross, are all viewed as behind him and in triumph he shouts, It is finished! (Guy N. Woods, The Gospel According to John (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1981), 408.
Commendation. “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” (Lk. 23:46). The final recorded statement of Jesus fulfilled Psalm 31:5.
R.C. Foster wrote:
He died a thousand million deaths on the cross as He died for all of us. We cannot comprehend how great was His suffering for us. If we could multiply the agony of death by as many millions of people as have lived in this world, we might approach the sum-total of His suffering: He bore the sins of all mankind as He died. As His life was absolutely unique, so was His death. His death was actual and real, but His suffering was so much greater than any of us can ever know that we can scarcely comprehend it. Jesus did not say: “I am finished.” This saying (or words to the same effect) is so often heard from mortal man in the hour of death. He has done all he can to fend off the fatal hour, but he cannot fight on any longer and so he cries: “I am finished.” Not so with the Son of God. The voluntary character of Jesus’ death is everywhere seen in the record of these hours on the cross. He says: “It is finished.” His thought is of the supreme work of God which He left heaven to accomplish (R.C. Foster, Studies in the Life of Christ (Joplin: College Press, 1995), 1284-85.
What Jesus said on the cross gives us a window to peer through to see into the greatest sacrifice ever given in the history of mankind.
Steve serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger and is one of the ministers at the Gold Hill Road congregation in Fort Mill, SC.