What is so good about Good Friday? Let’s remember what happened in the hours leading up to Jesus’ death.
Jesus before Pilate
Pilate at first seems convinced of Jesus’ innocence and tries to find ways to release Him. Ultimately, however, the crowd calls for Barabbas, an insurrectionist—not simply a thief, but one who probably was a zealot or terrorist. There was a Passover custom that one prisoner should be released, and Pilate hopes that he can release Jesus following that custom. The Jewish leaders whip up the crowd who call for Barabbas instead.
Ironically, Barabbas in Hebrew means “son of a father.” Jesus, the one who is the true Son of His true heavenly Father, is the one unfortunately who is not released in favor of this other individual. Pilate tries also to get off the hook by sending Jesus to Herod, who happens to be in town for the Passover festival.
This is Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, who is ruling in Galilee in those days, the area of jurisdiction for a Galilean like Jesus. We read of this account in Luke’s gospel, but Herod is not willing to be the person of final judgment either and passes the buck back to Pilate, who eventually gives in to the crowd to crucify Jesus.
Death by Crucifixion
Jesus’ death by crucifixion may well be one of the most agonizing and ignominious forms of torture and execution that humanity has ever devised. It was usually a long and protracted procedure, occupying two to three days. It was not blood loss that eventually led to the death but the victim’s inability to lift his head up far enough from his chest to breathe; and therefore he would die of suffocation.
Jesus actually dies unusually quickly for a crucified victim. Perhaps this is due to the lashes, that scourging or flogging that Pilate had ordered the Roman soldiers to give Jesus previously in hopes that that would satisfy the Jewish leaders. Or perhaps there is a more supernatural or voluntary element to Jesus’ death, since it appears He has the strength to still cry out with a loud voice just before He dies. Perhaps the gospel writers want us to understand that even in the moment of Jesus’ greatest agony He is able to consciously and voluntarily lay down His life.
The theology of the cross, of Jesus’ time on this torture stake, is also profound; and perhaps as good a way to epitomize it as any in a short survey like this is to focus on what has come to be known as Jesus’ seven last words on the cross, actually referring not to individual words but to the seven sayings that the gospel writers, all four of them, in different places, record. The probable sequence of these seven words and their significance may be as follows:
1. The first words that are recorded from Jesus on the cross show that even in this situation of great agony He is prepared to forgive His accusers, His torturers, His enemies, as He cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” We have commented earlier on Jesus’ call to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount to love their enemies, then clearly He exhibits this even under the most extreme and difficult circumstances.
2. Secondly, He turns to one of the thieves or criminals (better translated “rebels” or “insurrectionists”) surrounding Him on the two crosses on either side of Him, who has cried out for remembrance when Jesus comes into His kingdom. Jesus replies, “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.” As soon as they both die, they can enjoy the presence of God the Father in eternal bliss.
3. Thirdly, Jesus turns to his mother and to the beloved disciple, the apostle John, and says, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother”—speaking of both of them in terms of family endearment. Even on the cross He has not forgotten those closest to Him. Many believe that Joseph, Jesus’ adopted father, may well have died by now, and therefore He is calling upon His beloved disciple John to care for Mary, His mother.
4. Fourthly, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Although theologians wrestle with all of the implications of what it means to bear the sins of the world, this one thing is clear: that Jesus felt some awareness of now being separated from His heavenly Father. The consciousness of oneness and intimacy that He had enjoyed throughout His life was broken.
5. Fifthly, He cries out, “I thirst.” And yet He refuses to drink what was either a painkiller or a poison, anything that would relieve His suffering or speed up the process of His death. And so His statement, “I thirst,” is probably not merely a statement of human anguish but also one of spiritual anguish following His acknowledgment of separation from God.
6. Sixthly, He says, “It is finished”—certainly referring to His life, but again perhaps we are meant to see the whole plan of salvation has now been accomplished.
7. Lastly, He cries out, remarkably, with that well known Jewish prayer of children, childlike trust in the Father whom He no longer feels is present: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Part of lesson 1 from the class Acts: Crucifixion, Resurrection and Proclamation by Craig L. Blomberg, PhD
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