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What do the last words of Christ mean?

Crucifixion is a death penalty by torture. Those crucified undergo heavy pains, emotion and great exhaustion; a death struggle. Slowly suffocation sets in, but by constantly pulling oneself up it is possible to keep breathing. Strong people were able to endure it for hours. Sometimes even days went by before they eventually died or the crucifixion was ended prematurely. It is understandable the a person crucified was not able to think straight and would say other things than normal. The Lord Jesus also underwent crucifixion, but He knew beforehand that it would happen. He spoke some words on the cross. What did He say, what does these words mean and what do they reveal?

By Marco van Putten

The Lord Jesus was not only crucified, but He also underwent hard hours before that. After His arrest, He was bound and in a brutal way dragged to several High priestly authorities in Jerusalem (Jh 18:13, 24). Finally, this was concluded with a ‘judgment’ by the religious High Council (Hebr. Sanhedrin), at which He was mocked and beaten (Mt 26:67-68). His own countrymen condemned Him to undergo the death penalty, because He supposedly had blasphemed God (Mt 26:65; 27:1). However, it was decided to let the Romans execute their sentence. Thus, He was dragged through the streets of Jerusalem to the commander of the Romans in Judea; Pontius Pilate (Mt 27:2). After that Pilate interrogated Him he sent Him to the palace of Herod Antipas, a king of the Jews, located in the western part of the city (Lc 23:7). Herod humiliated Him (Lc 23:11). After that He was brought back to Pilate who had Him tortured and humiliated (Lc 23:16), but afterwards wanted to let Him go. Ultimately he decide to condemn Him to the death penalty all the same like the Jewish authorities wanted (Lc 23:24). Then the long road to the place of execution outside the northern walls of the city followed, at which the Lord Jesus was forced to carry the heavy beam for the crucifixion (Jh 19:17). Reaching that place He must have been exhausted. But then the final torture started; the crucifixion. After that He was hanging there heavily wounded, weary and full of emotion. Still, He spoke some words which were later called His crucifixion words.

[‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’] (Lc 23:34)
There are strong clue’s that suggest that these words were added and thus probable never were spoken by the Lord Jesus. They are lacking in some important manuscripts.
The question is whom are meant with the words ‘them’ in the main sentence. It could be the Romans. But it is clear that they didn’t understand what was at stake. The concept of a Messiah and also Judaism for them was a form of local paganism. Therefore it seems more logical that the word ‘them’ is about the Jewish religious authorities. Then the meaning of the words carries deeper. For some Christians this meaning, combined with the second part of these words, is a reason to suppose that those authorities were unaware that the Lord Jesus was sent by God. However, who reads the Bible carefully knows that they were very much aware what was at stake. The Lord Jesus, however, did not meet their criteria and thus they condemned Him as being a false Prophet-Messiah. For they were corrupt, worldly and blind for God’s will (Jh 9:41). They thus sinned against God and His Son in condemning Him to death. The fact that the Lord Jesus forgives them proves that He had not committed any crime against them. Still, these words seem ‘unnecessary’. Hence, history proves that by killing the Lord Jesus both the Romans and the Jews underwent God’s wrath. Thus, God clearly hasn’t answered this prayer, but it is inconceivable that God would not answer a prayer of His Son. This confirms the position that these crucifixion words were never spoken.

‘Verily, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise’ (Lc 23:43)
The ones who were also crucified with Him got into a quarrel about the Lord Jesus and one of them asked Him whether He could remember him once He had reached His Kingdom (Lc 23:42). The Lord Jesus responded by stating that they would be together in ‘paradise’ on that same day. Its remarkable that He did not say anything about His Kingdom. Despite His great pains, fatigue and emotion of the situation He remained Teacher in Israel. The Kingdom of the Messiah was something in the far future. The Lord Jesus only spoke about what was to happen to them that particular day (Mt 6:34); entering the realm of the dead. He not only promised him that he would enter the ‘paradise side’ of it, but also that they would be Together there. That is much more then only remembering him.

Paradise cannot be heaven, although most Christians think so. However, in the realm of the dead believers undergo a pre-separation from the non-believing dead. Those other dead live there in utter darkness, loneliness and in a torturing flame (Lc 16:23-26). Deceased believers will go to another ‘compartment’ of the realm of the dead, namely to the place reserved for believers and where their deceased ancestors are. That is why the Lord Jesus rightly calls that ‘paradise’. Although the stay there is timeless, the living know that quite some has passed since their deaths. The day of the Lord is in the (far) future. Still, there will be an end to this ‘paradise’ and that after the end to the current heaven. ‘Paradise’ is, contrary to what many people think, not the final station. A resurrection will follow.

‘Woman, behold, your son!’ / ‘Behold, your mother’ (Jh 19:26-27)
The worst thing that can happen to parents is when they witness the death of their own offspring. This happened to Mary, the ‘mother’ of the Lord Jesus, beneath the cross. To ease this suffering somewhat He commanded one of His disciples would adopt His mother. This again proves that the Lord Jesus did notice who was present at the crucifixion and that He thought about life after His death.

‘Elie, Elie, lammah sabachtanie?’ (Aram: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?) (Mt 27:46)
At 3 o’ clock in the afternoon the Lord Jesus called with a loud voice. The bystanders didn’t understand Him and used it to mock Him (Mt 27:47, 49). What they didn’t realize was that this was a call of a believer and not of an unbeliever (Ps 22:1 (2)). The death struggle came close to an end. Some scholars give all sorts of meanings to it, like the full weight of the wrongdoings of mankind and God’s wrath that came down on the Lord Jesus. How beautiful and perhaps thru this might be, these kind of theological interpretations come close to mockery. This crossword shows that the Lord Jesus was wholly Human. He bagged for redemption. It shows Him also as a Patriarch of Israel, since these words express the state in which Israel at that moment was. A state in which He brought a change. Many Jews in Israel’s banishment, that followed afterwards, will have cried these words also. This crossword therefore shall have to be understood prophetically for Israel. By rejecting the Lord Jesus, Israel came to stand outside of God’s grace and blessing.

‘I thirst!’ (Jh 19:28)
Close to the end of the suffering the Lord Jesus asks for some relief. The Romans gave Him sour, bitter wine to drink (Ps 69:21 (22)). There is no comfort in that, but only disappointment. A further torturing by which it reaches its climax.

‘It is finished!’ (Jh 19:30)
Many Christians think that these words are prove that calling and mission of the Lord Jesus were fulfilled at that moment. That He completed God’s will fully (Jh 4:34). These words are the basis of the theory that the Lord Jesus has restored everything. That His Kingdom was established. This is also understood from what was written on His cross in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: Jesjoea’ hanNatsrie, Melech hajJehoediem; Iesous ho Nadzooraios ho Basileus toon Ioudaioon; Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeaorum (INRI). Jesus, the Nazarene, King of the Jews (Jh 19:19).
However, these are wrong conclusions. The real meaning of this crossword is quite limited. They proclaim the completion of His mission as martyr-prophet. Even more so, they are about His calling to serve as offering and by this He initiated the New Covenant. But this is just only the ending of the old and beginning of the new. There remains a looking forward to the completion of much greater things that God will do. The New Covenant represents the redemption and forgiveness of being a sinner and the reconciliation with God in a way no previous covenant of God gave.

But the Lord Jesus was no King, because otherwise the whole of Israel would have been restored. God is eternal King en will crown the Lord Jesus, in the (far) future, King of human kings to rule over the earth (Mt 6:10). The words the Romans put on His cross prove, however, that they have condemned Him wrongly (Jh 19:21). They did not understand what was at stake. They just followed the Jewish authorities (Jh 18:35), but the latter condemned Him because He claimed to be awaited Messiah, the successor of Moses, the New Covenant mediator and Patriarch of Israel.

‘Father, into Your Hands I commit My spirit’ (Lc 23:46)
When the Lord Jesus knew that He could release the death struggle, He wanted to dedicate His Life to God, the Father. It is remarkable that the Lord Jesus despite the pain, the suffering, the fatigue and the emotion was not overwhelmed by it. Even at the end of His Life He gives the final command to His Spirit. He therefore died much earlier than normal. Within something like 3 hours. The others who were crucified with Him received the grace to be released from their torture before Sjabbat (Jh 19:31-32).

This crossword proves that He knew that God had not really forsaken Him, but that He was assured of His redemption in God and in this way He accepted the end of His life (Ps 31:5 (6)). These prophetic words show that He foresaw that God would accept His offering and that the New Covenant was initiated by it. This was necessary for the next phase of God’s redemption plan.


M. van Putten

01-01-2018 06:11
Dear Jan,

You ask whether the Lord Jesus resurrected from 'paradise' or from 'hell'. Why this question? What is a difference important?


31-12-2017 07:38
graag uitleg omtrent het volgende: we geloven dat Jezus na zijn lichamelijke dood na drie dagen uit de dood opstond. was dat uit het paradijs (Lk23:43)? of, zoals o.m. geloofsbelijdenissen zeggen, de hel waar Hij de dood versloeg? Hoe dit te begrijpen.