The seven last sayings of Christ discussed in the new edition of the Christadelphian

The Christadelphian magazine reflects the teachings, beliefs and activities of the Christadelphians – groups of believers living in most countries in the world.

In the issue of July 2015 brother Paul Cresswell looks at the last sayings of Jeshua.

John Woodall presents: Scattered in Israel 2 – Levi

and Roger Long looks at Israel and their Land The border with Syria

James Andrews looks at the The Gezer calendar in Archaeology in focus 

The seven last sayings of Christ (1)

Whilst the seven last sayings make a fascinating study in themselves, the real purpose behind our study is to get into “the mind of Christ”. To know Christ is so important. His is the way of spiritual thinking that we are all trying to develop.

Order of the sayings Old Testament origin
1 “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) “[He] made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)
2 “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) “He shall see his seed … he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” (Isaiah 53:10,11)
3 “Woman, behold, thy son! … Behold thy mother.” (John 19:27) “Honour thy father and thy mother.” (Exodus 20:12; Mark 7:10-13)
4 “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46) Quotation from Psalm 22:1.
5 “I thirst.” (John 19:28) “In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 69:21)
6 “It is finished.” (John 19:30) “They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” (Hebrew, asah – to accomplish or finish) (Psalm 22:31)
7 “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) “Into thine hand I commit my spirit.” (Psalm 31:5)

The order of the sayings in the table above can be confirmed by putting together the four Gospel records. We notice that the first and last saying is addressed to the Lord’s “Father”. The middle saying is addressed to “God” in Aramaic but was probably spoken in Hebrew.

Where they were spoken

The first three sayings were given soon after the Lord’s crucifixion at 9 am, darkness came over the scene at 12 noon, and the last four sayings were spoken (the fourth and sixth were given in a loud voice) at about 3 pm when the Lord gave up his life (Mark 15:25,33).

Analysis of the sayings
His care for others A prayer for his enemies Luke 23:34
A promise to a repentant thief Luke 23:43
Care for his mother John 19:27
His suffering His mental suffering Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34
His physical suffering John 19:28
His victory His victory over sin completed John 19:30
His victory over the grave secure Luke 23:46

Last words tend to be highly significant:

  • Joshua said, “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth … choose you this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14,15).
  • David, “the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said … He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (see 2 Samuel 23:1-4).
  • Moses, “the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death” (Deuteronomy 33).
  • John concluded his words, and the whole of the Bible, by writing, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:20,21).
  • From the cross we hear the last words of the Perfect Man, the Son of God.
Česky: Kříže - symbol utrpení Ježíše Krista a ...
symbol of the cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We might first ask, ‘Was the Lord crucified on a cross or an upright stake or post?’ In the Gospels the Greek word stauros is used, meaning a stake; outside the Gospels the Greek term xulon is used. Xulon implies a wooden post. Vine in his Expository Dictionary says that the cross symbol did not appear until the third century. Therefore it seems most likely that a stake was used by the Romans for crucifixion at that time.

The three hours of darkness was obviously not an eclipse because that would be impossible at Passover when the moon is full and opposite to the sun. And no eclipse ever took three hours!

The best explanation is given by David:

“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God … He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet [for three hours, Luke 23:44]. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind [Hebrew, ruach, spirit]. He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” (Psalm 18:6-11)

The cloudy darkness hid the divine presence. The Lord had risen up in pain and drew near in anger – hence Jesus’ repeated cry (see note, Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible), “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.

How did the Gospel writers know what Jesus said during his crucifixion? Although all forsook him and fled at his arrest, John recovered – and so did Peter until challenged by a maid, when he went out and wept bitterly. Peter, in loyalty, would follow his Lord to Golgotha, while John certainly was at the front with Mary and Salome. Probably several disciples watched the crucifixion from a distance and were able to give a report later. Mark almost certainly got his information from Peter.

The first saying

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

On reading Luke’s record in chapter 23:33-37 three things stand out immediately:

  • The Lord did not curse but prayed for them. Remarkable!
  • In asking his Father to forgive them, Jesus showed that he had already done so.
  • Who did Jesus ask to be forgiven? Was it the soldiers? Perhaps the priests or the people? Or is it all mankind?

In referring back to the source of this first saying in Isaiah 53 verses 10-12, and considering that these words seemed to be spoken immediately upon his crucifixion, his prayer to his Father must have been firstly for the soldiers who were even then preparing to “part his raiment, and cast lots.” Forgiveness was also for all those there who “knew not what they do”, but later repented and believed. Forgiveness was not for those leaders of the priests and nation who did know what they were doing. To them the Lord had said:

“Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28)

We can be so thankful that, in him, we are forgiven.

By this prayer our Lord fulfils his own teaching when he said:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven … Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)

When instructing his disciples in how to pray, he commented:

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (see 6:12-15)

To a man sick of the palsy he said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee”. When the scribes accused him of blasphemy for so saying, he added:

“But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.” (see 9:1-6)

From this we learn that the Son of Man can forgive sins, but his crucifixion is one sin which the Father alone can truly forgive.

We can forgive injuries and insults against us, but only God forgives sins.

There is only one sin specified that cannot be forgiven, and that is blasphemy against the holy spirit. Even sins against the Lord Jesus Christ can be forgiven (12:31,32). We must realise, however, that there can be no forgiveness for us if we are without compassion ourselves. The Lord is moved by compassion and so must we be. As it is written:

“Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had compassion on thee?” (see 18:32-35)

And again, forgiveness is for those who love much. The Lord said to Simon the Pharisee concerning two debtors who owed significantly different amounts:

“Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.”

Our Lord responded, concerning a woman who was a sinner who had washed his feet with her tears:

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (see Luke 7:42-49)

Therefore we must try to love as Jesus loved.

We learn in Luke 17 that sins cannot be forgiven without repentance and confession. There our Lord speaks of unforgivable offences where “it were better … that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea.” Judas is a case in point. These offences are contrasted with trespasses which are repented of and therefore, “thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:1-5).

After all, our Lord did not come to condemn but to save. To a woman taken in adultery he said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). In this case Jesus neither forgave nor condemned, but left that dependent upon her repentance and future behaviour. It is not our place to condemn. Judgement will be by the one who judges righteously. Therefore, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).

Peter speaks of Jesus’ perfect character when he says:

“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:22,23)

Were Jesus’ crucifiers forgiven?

Not at once, but opportunity was given for repentance for those who acted in ignorance, as Peter explained when he said to the rulers:

“And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers … Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” (see Acts 3:14-19,26)

Sadly, so many continued in the same cruel course by persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ until they could not be saved, “filling up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”–in AD 66-70 (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

There are some things that cannot be forgiven, principally unbelief, for “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16,17).

What is forgiveness?

  • It is not approval of the sin by saying it doesn’t matter. It does matter!
  • It is not denial, excusing or covering the sin.
  • We must not justify the wrong – e.g., saying of the victim, ‘It serves him right’, or, ‘He had it coming to him’.
  • It is not a pardon, which is a legal term releasing from penalty. A criminal must pay his debt to society / the ecclesia. Society, and the ecclesia, must be protected.
  • It is not necessarily reconciliation: that may never happen because some sins can mean that meeting the offender again can be very traumatic.
  • It is not blind to what happened. There is no pretending it didn’t happen.
  • Conversely, love “thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5). We don’t brood over wrongs, but love isn’t blind to them either.
  • Forgetting is quite unrealistic. The consequences of some offences continue for years. And we learn by experience.
  • We forgive when we see what we are forgiving; how serious the offence is, and still forgive as God does.
  • Forgiveness is not pretending that we are not hurt – we are!

Forgiveness is a refusal to punish, to deny revenge. We leave it to Him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”, if He decides any action is necessary (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is to seek the offender’s good; it is absence from bitterness. Forgiveness “from the heart” is so difficult at times that we need to ask God’s help to do it.

When stoned to death Stephen said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge”. From our Lord’s first saying, “Father forgive them”, he had got “to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). The disciples had come a long way since the time when John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans and the Lord answered, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of”.

Our Lord’s control during his crucifixion was amazing. If ever there was a miscarriage of justice! And yet Jesus kept saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”. Here is victory indeed: a victory over self; a victory over sin.

The soldiers took no notice; they had seen it all before. But the centurion “kept all these sayings, and pondered them in his heart”.

Paul Cresswell

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