Watching Jesus on the Cross

It used to be a common practice to go and watch public executions. Some crowds were so brutal that they only came out of bloodlust. There was no sympathy or even a desire for justice. Had you been alive at the time of Jesus’ execution and were in Jerusalem, would you have gone to watch?

Unlike hanging or the guillotine, crucifixion typically took a long time–sometimes days. It was not meant to be a humane form of execution. It was meant to be a public deterrent. Jesus’ whole trial and execution was driven by more than law or human bloodlust. Satan is driving a part of the process. God is another.

Both Jesus and the Father are using this intended elimination of a threat as a means to atone for the sins of everyone. It is a convoluted thing. Jewish leadership wants Jesus dead because Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah and the Son of God is heretical to them. Jesus is also a threat to the leadership’s power. The Romans want Jesus dead just to control the crowd and minimize complaints to the Emperor. Satan is in a tough spot. If he understands what is going on, and I think he does, Satan does not want Jesus to die. He wants Jesus to quit. He wants Jesus to disobey God.

Oddly, both Jesus and the Father want the execution to proceed. Jesus could have easily had the process stop both legally or supernaturally. He doesn’t. He remains silent. Jesus has already ticked some important boxes: He was born without a sinful nature via a virgin birth, He has lived 35 years without committing a sin, He has accepted being the representative of sinful mankind. Now He is stepping up to take the legal consequence of sin: physical death and being forsaken by the Father (spiritual death). The Father is on board as well. We cannot imagine to mutual impact to the persons of the Trinity by having the Father forsake (separate and forget) the Son, but the Father is going to do it. By doing this to Jesus, He doesn’t have to do it to all who belong to Jesus. Praise God! It is rough.

Satan attempts to make things as miserable as possible. Mocking, spitting, and a whipping that probably was the cause of death is likely Satan’s additions. Jesus would not quit.

The crucifixion was most likely not on Friday. The Gospel of John noted that the next day was a special Sabbath. It was a day of no work that was associated with the Feast of Unleavened Bread. On that year it must have been on Friday. Jesus is executed on Thursday and spends Thursday, Friday and Saturday night in the tomb (at least bodily). He spends Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday in the tomb for three days and three nights.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Matthew 12:40 (ESV)

The Gospel of Mark notes that Jesus’ crucifixion began at the third hour (9am). Both the Jewish and Roman trial were very early. Jesus does speak from the cross seven times. No Gospel records them all. John, Matthew and Mark or Peter had the chance to be there and hear. Luke is more like a journalist report. It relies on people’s collective memory. It is not unimaginable that these men all had to walk away at times.

Only Luke records the discourse between Jesus and the other criminals. This might be from Mary’s observation. Satan would have had no trouble provoking the one criminal to exhort Jesus to save Himself and them. The other man is having a profound conversion on the cross.

40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Luke 23:40-43 (ESV)

This promise on the cross has raised a couple of questions. First, the criminal can’t be baptized. What is necessary is what God does with baptism. He connects us to Jesus somehow. We are part of the body of Christ, so we receive the righteousness of Christ and are incorporated into the death of Christ. God can do this without baptism. Baptism is what we are told to do to any qualifying person (A believer or their children – Acts 2:38-39), and God promises to do His part.

The next question is what “paradise”? Jesus is on the verge of completing the penalty of sin. Not His sins, He doesn’t have any–humanity’s sins. The Old Testament righteous, who died before Jesus, did not go to Heaven. They couldn’t because the actual atonement for their sins had not happened yet. No expectation of Heaven is ever expressed in the Old Testament. They know that they are going to Sheol and someday will experience a resurrection. (If you are unfamiliar with Sheol and Jesus’ descent to Sheol, see my other blog here: , (use the search box to find more). Jesus states:

13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

John 3:13 (ESV)

This man could have met Jesus that day in Heaven. He may also have been with Jesus as He went to the “good neighborhood of Sheol” sometimes referred to as the “Bosom of Abraham” or “The Limbo of the Fathers”. I expect this man cut the line and met Jesus in Heaven. Jesus’ out-of-body itinerary was probably extensive in those three days.

A final question is the timing of the criminal’s confession. Can you really repent at the end like that? Clearly, the answer is yes. God is not deceivable. He knows sincere repentance from false. Repentance is not arrived at without the help of God anyway.

The most important piece of Jesus’ experience comes most likely from noon to three or maybe 3:30pm. An unnatural darkness covers the land. It is not a rainstorm. It is not an eclipse. What is most likely happening is that the Father is forsaking the Son. It would have got cold fast. It would have been terrifying for all observers. But what it did to Jesus is unfathomable. At least, I don’t want to experience it. Though Jesus knew the plan and knew this was coming, the experience is so devastating that He cries out at some point:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.46 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?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

Matthew 27:45-47 (ESV)

Jesus was probably very weak at this point, so while it is loud it may not have been clear. “Eli” sounded enough like “Eli -yah” for people to make the mistake. I said possibly 3:30 because 3 and 1/2 comes out as a number of significance throughout Scripture. Jesus’ ministry is 3 and 1/2 years. He lives 35 years, three and 1/2 decades (2BC to 33AD by this calculation) He may have been forsaken for 3 and 1/2 hours. This in exchange for an eternity of being forsaken for everyone who is saved.

Finally, Jesus reaches the end. “It is finished”. Probably mostly said about the forsakeness. He is also spent. Fluid has accumulated inside the space around his heart and lungs. He knows it. “Into your hands I commit my spirit”, and He dies.

Surprised that Jesus is already dead (being flogged demonically and forsaken alive will do it), the soldiers make sure by piercing him with a spear. No bones are broken like the other two. Jesus is just like the Passover lamb with no broken bones.

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