The Arrest, Trials and Execution of Jesus

Despite the illegality of such, Jesus was arrested, tried in a mockery of justice, and executed in accord with the Roman practice of crucifixion.

©1996 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

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 Gospels in Harmony Series

   The time for Jesus' submitting to the physical abuses of religion had come. In complete accord with God's design the Son of God would be acquainted with grief, smitten and afflicted, stricken and chastened, oppressed and judged, scourged for our healing, and pierced through for our transgressions (cf. Isa. 53:3-12), in order to bring life out of death.

(234) The Religionists Arrest Him - Matt. 26:47-56; Mk. 14:43-52; Lk. 22:47-53; Jn. 18:2-12

   The representatives of militant religion arrived in the garden of Gethsemane to overcome their foe. They carried weapons with which to intimidate and kill, as religious representatives have done throughout the centuries of mankind's existence.

   Jesus faced the approaching religionists, went forward to them and asked, "Who are you looking for?" knowing quite well that they were looking for Him. The religious authorities indicated they were looking for "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I AM" (cf. Exod. 3:14), identifying Himself as the individual they were looking for, and also as God. They were bowled over and fell backwards to the ground. Again Jesus asked, "Who are you looking for?" They repeated, "Jesus of Nazareth." "I told you that I AM," Jesus reiterated, and voluntarily surrendered Himself, saying, "if it is Me that you seek, then let My disciples go their way," for such would be the answer to His prayer (Jn. 17:12; Ps. 109:8) to preserve His own.

   Judas and the religious authorities had determined that the cue for identifying Jesus would be that Judas would give Him their customary kiss of friendship greeting. When Judas did so, Jesus asked, "Judas, how can you betray the Son of man with a kiss?", for such is the ultimate of disloyalty and hypocrisy enacted toward the One who he knew to be the personification of divine Truth. Still addressing him as "friend," advised Judas to complete what he had come to do.

   As the religious authorities arrested Jesus, the disciples questioned whether they should react with armed resistance. Simon Peter, the impulsive activist of the group, drew his sword, and being a better fisherman than swordsman cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant, Malchus. Not pleased with Peter's action, Jesus healed the servant's ear, and told Peter to sheath his sword, for such militant aggression was not consistent with the kingdom He came to bring in Himself. Religious militancy brings the destructive consequences of its own actions, Jesus explained (cf. Rev. 13:10). "If I needed to fight or to be defended, I could request twelve legions of angels from My Father," Jesus said, "but rather, it is the Father's intent that I drink the cup of suffering and of death" (Matt. 20:22; 26:39), i.e. take upon Himself the dregs of humanity's sin consequences.

   When the Temple police seized Jesus and bound Him, Jesus chided them for the irony of approaching Him with the overkill of weaponry and force as if He were a dangerous criminal, rather than approaching Him when He was publicly teaching in the temple every day. Such action evidenced that they were operating out of the Satanic power of darkness (Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13), and yet that in accord with God's intent (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27,28).

   The eleven disciples took the opportunity to flee into the dark. Mark alone records that an unidentified young man was also present with a linen cloth wrapped around him. When the religious authorities tried to apprehend him also, he slipped out of the cloth and escaped naked. Many have speculated that this young man was John Mark himself, who alone would have known of his presence and attire in the garden that night.

(235) A Preliminary Hearing Before Annas - Jn. 18:12-14, 19-23

   The religious authorities were accompanied by Roman authorities for they would have been required to have permission and oversight to arrest an antagonist. Religion and government have often become diabolic allies to serve their own purposes.

   During the night Jesus was led to the residence of Annas, the ex officio Jewish high priest, who had served as high priest between 7 and 14 A.D., but had then turned over the responsibilities to his sons, sons-in-law, and grandson. His son-in-law, Caiaphas, was now the acting high priest in Jerusalem, the same one who earlier argued for the expedience of Jesus' death (Jn. 11:49-52). Annas conducted the preliminary hearing, seeking evidence that could be used against Jesus, questioning whether His teaching was subversive or heretical, and whether His disciples were a band of insurgents. Jesus replied that He was not a conspirator, that His teaching was not clandestine or occult, and that He had taught openly and publicly in the accepted venues of the Jewish synagogues and the temple. Questioning their practice of attempting to cause Him to self-incriminate Himself, Jesus suggested they seek witnesses who had heard Him teach. One of the officers of the temple police struck Jesus, suggesting that He had been disrespectful of the high priest in requesting such legalities. Jesus asked him to specify the charges of His wrongdoing, questioning the legitimacy of thus treating prisoners violently.

(236) A Religious Inquisition - Matt. 26:57, 59-68; Mk. 14:53, 55-65; Lk. 22:54, 63-65; Jn. 18:24

   Fairness, justice, and judicial propriety are soon dispensed with when religion is dead-set on allowing the end to justify the means. Still in violation of their own Jewish regulations, the religious authorities took Jesus to the house of Caiaphas, the ruling high priest, in the midst of the night. There Caiaphas had hastily gathered an emergency meeting of the Sanhedrin, and found false witnesses to testify against Jesus. The testimony of these bribed informants did not agree, and they could not find agreement of two witnesses as required by Jewish law (Deut. 19:15) until two witnesses agreed they had heard Jesus say that He would destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days, a misunderstanding of Jesus' words when He cleansed the temple at the beginning of His public ministry (Jn. 2:19-22).

   The evidence was shaky, so Caiaphas decided to try to intimidate the prisoner into self-incriminating statements. "What do you say for yourself? Do you have any rebuttal to these charges?" Caiaphas asked. Jesus remained silent, knowing that His comments would serve no purpose. The high priest then demanded that Jesus answer under oath whether He was "the Messiah, the Son of God." To have remained silent would have been to deny who He was, so Jesus clearly made the affirmation of His identity which He had carefully avoided previously due to the misconceptions of Jewish religious Messianic expectations. Jesus replied, "I AM" (cf. Exod. 3:14), unreservedly identifying Himself with the name of Jehovah God, and in addition He prophesied that the expectations of the Messiah as the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven (Dan. 7:13) and the Messiah sitting exalted at the right hand of God judging His enemies (Ps. 110:1) would be fulfilled by Him. Little did they realize that though they thought they had religious authority to judge Him to death, Jesus was indicating that He and His people would someday judge the unbelief of Judaism and the physical nation of Israel unto everlasting death.

   In affirming that He was the Messiah, Jesus knew that the religious leaders with their presuppositions of a physical Messiah deliverer would never understand the spiritual kingdom He came to bring in Himself. In claiming to be the Son of God, Jesus also was aware that such would be regarded as blasphemy by their religious interpretations (cf. Lev. 24:16). But neither of these accusations would stand as a legitimate treasonous charge on which to ask the Roman government to sentence Him to death. They would have to wait until they could bring such a charge, because the Roman government would not allow the Jewish religionists to administer the death penalty. In the meantime, in defiance of their own religious rules of fair treatment of prisoners, they allowed some to cruelly revile Jesus (cf. I Pet. 2:23) and brutally beat Him, mocking His prophetic power.

(237) Peter's Denials of Jesus - Matt. 26:58, 69-75; Mk. 14:54, 66-72; Lk. 22:54-62; Jn. 18:15-18, 25-27

   Though the disciples of Jesus had been given opportunity to flee into the dark, two of them turned back to follow the arresting party. Apparently John was acquainted with the high priest and was allowed into the courtroom during the religious interrogation of Jesus. Peter, on the other hand, was keeping his distance, lurking outside the door of the courtyard. When John saw Peter outside, he requested of the young lady who was on security duty that she allow Peter inside. Something about Peter's demeanor or accent caused her to question whether Peter was one of Jesus' disciples. Peter denied such with the disclaimer, "I am not."

   The servants of the high priest and the arresting officers of the temple police were warming themselves in the courtyard around a fire. Peter was attempting to meld in with them in order to keep an eye on what was transpiring in the courtroom. A female servant of the high priest thought she recognized that Peter had been with Jesus. Peter disavowed having been associated with Jesus, indicating that he did not know what she was talking about. Then he heard the cock crow for the first time.

   As Peter continued to try to get lost in the shadows, the persistent female servant informed others that Peter was one of Jesus' disciples. Over the course of an hour, several began to suspect that Peter was one of Jesus' Galilean followers, but he kept denying such. Finally, one of the servants who was a relative of Malchus, whose ear Peter had severed with his sword (Matt. 26:51), identified Peter as the one who had been in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter vehemently cursed and swore in his denunciation of any association with Jesus. It was then that he heard the cock crow for the second time. Through the open doorway he saw Jesus glance at him. Peter remembered his proud boast in the upper room just a few hours earlier to defend Jesus unto death (Lk. 22:33), the comment of Jesus that Satan would sift him like wheat in temptation (Lk. 22:31), and the prophecy that before the cock crowed twice he would deny the Lord Jesus three times (Mk. 14:30). His courage had turned to cowardice; his fanaticism had melted into failure; his pride had preceded his downfall (I Cor. 10:12). Peter felt the piercing pangs of conscience, and left the courtyard to weep alone and repent before God.

(238) Formal Charges Before the Sanhedrin - Matt. 27:1; Mk. 15:1; Lk. 22:66-71

   First thing in the morning, the religious leaders of the Jewish Sanhedrin attempted to legitimize the illegalities of their late-night injustices outside of the temple by conducting a formal assembly to ratify their predetermined objective to put Jesus to death. Legalities are irrelevant to religion when it seeks to justify its own actions. Religion attempts to gloss over and cover up its illegalities with a veneer of propriety.

   Using the illegal ploy of Annas, the Sanhedrin asks Jesus to indict Himself by affirming that He claims to be the Messiah. Jesus reveals the injustice of the entire situation by explaining that it does not matter what He says or asks for their minds are already made up to falsely convict Him. As He did before Annas the night before, Jesus amplified His Messianic claim by indicating that they would see the Son of man (cf. Dan. 7:13) sitting on the right hand of the power of God (cf. Ps. 110:1), serving as the Judge over their sin and unbelief. Religion itself was on trial there that morning, even more than Jesus.

   Specifically and directly the religious leaders ask Jesus, "Are you the Son of God? Is that what you are claiming to be?" Jesus seems to say, "You have correctly surmised and articulated such an affirmation; I AM" (cf. Exod. 3:14). Regarding such as blasphemy (Lev. 24:16), they decided they needed no more witnesses to condemn and convict Jesus, even though such a charge would never suffice in the Roman court.

(239) Judas Commits Suicide - Matt. 27:3-10; Acts 1:18,19

   Judas Iscariot had been following the proceedings, and once he realized that Jesus was condemned to die by the religious council his remorse caused him to come to the Sanhedrin and confess that he had sinned in betraying an innocent man, willing to return the thirty pieces of silver they had paid him. Hypocritically the religious leaders sneer that they are not concerned with Judas' protestations, for "the blood is on his hands." Judas threw the thirty shekels of "blood money" at their feet, and went out to commit suicide by hanging himself. Many have sought the refuge of self-imposed death to avoid the guilt of religious indictment, while religion refuses to accept any blame for their actions.

   The religious chief priests of Judaism were faced with the problem of disposing with the thirty pieces of "blood money" scattered at their feet. Determining that it was not proper to put it into the religious treasury, they decided to purchase a potter's field outside of the city walls of Jerusalem with the money, thus benevolently providing a burial plot for any poor Gentiles who might happen to die in their holy city, and assuaging their guilt. The field may have been the very location where Judas killed himself (cf. Acts 1:18,19), and was later referred to as Akeldama, the field of blood. Matthew indicates that the purchase of the field with the thirty pieces of silver was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, but the words that he quotes seem to be taken from the prophecy of Zechariah 11:13, even though there are allusions to the potter in Jeremiah 18:2; 19:2; 32:6-15. The Jewish religionists revealed that they did not value the blood of Jesus in their rejection of Him, and that the price paid would predominantly benefit the Gentiles instead.

(240) Jesus Brought to Pilate - Matt. 27:2, 11-14; Mk. 15:1-5; Lk. 23:1-5; Jn. 18:28-38

   The Sanhedrin collectively escorted Jesus early in the morning hours from the temple to the Praetorium, the palace that Herod the Great had built which served as the residence of the Roman procurator. The Jewish leaders refused to enter the Roman residence so as not to ceremonially defile themselves in the place of a Gentile and disallow themselves from participating in their religious Passover later in the day. Like most religion, they were scrupulous in their ceremonial trivia, yet unscrupulous in their moral turpitude; concerned about ritual purification while conniving to commit murder.

   Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea from 26 - 36 A.D., was a weak-willed and incompetent Roman governor. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had previously upstaged Pilate when they found emblems of Emperor worship in Herod's palace. Pilate refused to remove them, and the religious leaders appealed to Emperor Tiberius, who reprimanded Pilate. Thenceforth the Jewish religionists knew they could manipulate Pilate for their own ends.

   The Sanhedrin, with a gathering retinue of Jewish people, brought Jesus to Pilate wanting an unqualified, carte-blanche ratification of their determination to execute Jesus. Despite the violations of both Jewish and Roman law, they wanted Pilate to sanction their illegal machinations and issue the death warrant.

   Pilate was not so willing to be used as a stooge in this manner, and attempted to require some semblance of Roman jurisprudence by asking what formal charges they were bringing against this man Jesus. Since the religious rulers had only an inadequate allegation of blasphemy (Matt. 26:55; Lk. 22:71), they tried to intimidate Pilate to push this false indictment through without delay or interference, indicating that if their prisoner were not sufficiently evil, they would not have brought him for formal condemnation. Suspecting their sinister motives and balking at this violation of Roman justice, Pilate told the religious leaders to take their prisoner and judge him according to their own law. To this the Jewish lynch mob rightly replied, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death," for the Romans forbade the Jewish leaders to exercise their traditional executions by stoning.

   Quickly calculating their strategy, the religious leaders presented trumped up charges that would be more apt to convey treasonous sedition against Rome. They accused Jesus of perverting their Jewish nation, forbidding the paying of taxes to Rome, and claiming to be the Messiah, a king. These charges were purposefully politicized and imprecise, meant to convey the idea of undermining Roman authority. In actuality, the religious leaders were projecting their own guilt upon Jesus. It was they who had perverted the nation of Israel. It was they who hated paying taxes to Rome, and hated Jesus for saying, "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matt. 22:21). The Jewish leaders wanted a political and militaristic Messiah-King, and Jesus had constantly refused to function as such a king. Their half-truths revealed their own deceitful and desperately wicked hearts (Jere. 17:9).

   Keying off of the third charge of claiming to be a king, Pilate returned into the Praetorium to question Jesus. "Are you the King of the Jews?", he asked. Knowing the varied concepts of kingship among the peoples of the first century, Jesus asked Pilate whether this was a question of personal interest to him, or simply a charge from the Jews. His answer would be contingent on whether the inquiry pertained to the Roman perspective of political kingship, the Jewish perspective of theological kingship, or His own Messianic perspective of spiritual kingship. Pilate snidely remarked that he was not a Jew and did not care about such matters, but noted that the leaders of Jesus' own Jewish nation had delivered Him, and questioned, "What have you done?"

   Jesus explained that His kingdom was not of this world. Contrary to the Roman political view of a world kingdom, Jesus was not a militaristic monarch exercising human authority within a geographical royal realm. Neither did He have anything to do with the kingdom of religion which employs the principles and values of the world system, governed by the "ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:31; 14:30), the "god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4), and permeated by evil. The spiritual kingdom of Jesus invests mankind with the spiritual presence and character of God in order that Christ might reign as Lord in their lives both now here on earth, and forever.

   Hearing Jesus refer to His "kingdom," Pilate injected, "Then you are a king?" Jesus explained that it was correct to state that He was a king. He was incarnated into this physical world to effect the spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of divine truth or reality, wherein mankind would listen to Him in obedience and allow Him to reign as Lord in their lives. "What is truth?", Pilate asked rhetorically, uninterested in knowing the answer to his question.

   Convinced that Jesus was nothing more than a religious enthusiast, Pilate went out to the waiting Jewish crowd and stated his verdict that he found Jesus to be innocent, not guilty. The religious leaders vehemently hurled additional false accusations against Jesus, to which Jesus responded in dignified silence "as a lamb led to slaughter" (Isa. 53:7). Pilate marveled that Jesus was not counter-defensive. When Pilate heard the accusation of the religionists that Jesus had fomented sedition in Galilee, he thought of another loophole that could serve as a convenient pretext to avoid having to deal with the issue of Jesus.

(241) Jesus Before Herod - Lk. 23:6-12

   Questioning whether Jesus was indeed a Galilean, Pilate determined to weasel out of this embarrassing situation by sending Jesus to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Despite the personal animosity between the two Roman rulers, Pilate decided to defer to Herod, under whose jurisdiction such a Galilean would fall.

   Herod was quite pleased that Pilate would recognize his rights and authority, and was desirous of seeing this Jesus whose fame had spread through the land, hoping to see Him perform a miracle on demand. When Herod questioned Jesus, He remained silent (cf. Isa. 53:7), despite the barrage of false accusations from the Jewish authorities. Peeved at what he perceived to be impudent insolence on the part of Jesus, Herod joined His soldiers in mocking Jesus as a King, before sending Him back to Pilate. Herod also found Jesus to be innocent of all charges, and decided it was best not to get involved.

(242) Jesus Returned to Pilate - Matt. 27:15-26; Mk. 15:6-15; Lk. 23:13-25; Jn. 18:39­19:16

   Pilate called the religious authorities together again and reiterated that neither he nor Herod could find Jesus guilty of any charges. As a concession to their concerns though, he agreed to illegally beat Jesus before releasing Him. This was not acceptable to the Jewish leaders, who in their blood-thirsty hatred of Jesus, could not be placated or prevented from achieving their objective of His death.

   It was brought to Pilate's remembrance that there was a custom of the Roman procurator to grant clemency to a prisoner during the Passover. Knowing that in their sentiment of hatred they would not choose to release Jesus, Pilate plotted to play upon their sense of decency, deciding to offer a ridiculous contrast between the most heinous criminal presently incarcerated on death-row in Judea and the innocent man, Jesus, hoping that they would see their folly and release Jesus instead of Barabbas. "Shall I release Barabbas or Jesus, who is called the Messiah?" Pilate asked the crowd. "Should I release the one who claims to be King of the Jews?"

   Meanwhile Pilate's wife sent him a message noting that she had a dream about Jesus, and he should have nothing to do with "that righteous man." The heat was on as advice came from all sides.

   The religious leaders would not be deterred. They incited the growing crowd to seek the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus, desiring the release of the region's most violent criminal rather than the world's most innocent man. When Pilate asked, "Which one shall I release?", the mob yelled, "Barabbas!"

   Seeking still to evade the inevitable, Pilate decided to carry out his previous scheme to whip Jesus with a scourge that would tear open the flesh of His body. He was still hoping for some sympathy and compassion on the part of these religious people. The soldiers were allowed to abuse their prisoner with barbarous acts which included physical pummeling and spitting in His face. With reprehensible mockery they placed a royal robe over His lacerated body, put a crown of thorns on His head, and derided Him as "King of the Jews."

   Pilate then presented Jesus to the Jewish crowd again, a pale, beaten and bleeding man clothed as a mock-king. Seeking their sympathy, Pilate said, "Look at this man! What shall I do with this so-called Messiah?" The religious leaders had already orchestrated the reply of the crowd, "Let Him be crucified!" "Why?" Pilate asked, "What evil has He done?" They continued to scream, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" When whipped up into an emotional frenzy, religion knows no reason and attempts to exterminate its problems, allowing the end to justify the means. The history of religion is a bloody trail of murderous elimination of their dissenters.

   Exasperated, Pilate exclaimed, "Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him." The Jews themselves could not execute anyone by crucifixion, for such would be contrary to their own Law and Roman law. At the instigation of their leaders, the Jews returned to their original charge of blasphemy, and declared that by their Law He should die, because He called Himself the Son of God." Pilate began to question himself: "What if Jesus is the Son of God? What if my wife is correct?" He returned into the Praetorium to question Jesus again, asking, "Where are you from?" Jesus remained silent (cf. Isa. 53:7), effectively demonstrating the unreality and illegality of the whole situation. "Why do you not speak to me?" queried Pilate. "Do you not realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?" Jesus responded, "You would have no power against Me, unless it were given to you by the ultimate power above. Be assured, though, that the chief priest and all those he represents in the Jewish religion are guilty of the greater sin." Jesus, Himself, pinpointed the greater culpability for His death upon the religious leaders. Religion was responsible for Jesus' death. Religion always has and always will seek to destroy Jesus.

   Pilate was still vacillating, but he was rapidly running out of options. He feared that if he did not capitulate to the religious rulers, they would again appeal to Caesar. He was being blackmailed. Pilate tried one last time to release Jesus, but the Jewish crowd played their trump card, saying, "If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar, for when anyone claims to be a king he speaks against Caesar."

   Pressured and coerced, with his back against the wall, Pilate brought Jesus before the crowd of religionists, sat down on the judgment seat, and presented Jesus to them, saying, "Behold, your King!" It was a final appeal to reason and compassion by using the irony of presenting a beaten and bedraggled man as a king. The religious crowd adamantly demanded that Jesus be put away and crucified. "Shall I crucify your King?" Pilate asked. It was then and there that the Sadduccean religious leaders with the silent consent of the Pharisees sealed the doom of their nation, race and religion. They repudiated, forsook and denounced the theocratic kingship of God, declaring, "We have no king, but Caesar!" They were an apostate people, rejecting God as King and Jesus as Messiah.

   Failing to have the courage to stand up for justice and to say "No" to religious pressure and coercion, Pilate is forever linked with the greatest injustice known in human history. The mob continued to call for crucifixion. Pilate feared that the people would riot as increased numbers joined the crowd in the early morning light. Caving in to the crowd, Pilate symbolically washed his hands before them, declaring, "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man," all the while knowing that he was capitulating to the murder of an innocent man.

   The Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jewish nation and the hierarchical leadership of the Jewish religion, along with the crowd of Jewish people then accepted the culpability for Jesus' death. It was a tragic self-indictment and sentencing when the Jewish people said, "His blood be on us, and on our children." They could not imagine the judgment of God that would come upon them in their own generation (cf. Matt. 12:39,45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:34) when the Romans killed thousands and thousands of them in unparalleled bloodshed, many of them crucified in the same manner that they had effected the death of Jesus, or the judgment of God that would come upon them in generations to come. To affirm the culpability of the Jewish nation and Jewish religion for the death of Jesus is not necessarily to assume an anti-Semitic attitude as some have charged throughout subsequent history. Jesus had indicated the culpability of the Jewish leaders and people (Jn. 19:11), and the Jewish people accepted the responsibility for such and the devastating consequences which would ensue. Misguided is the religion that still seeks to emphasize and sympathize with the Jews rather than Jesus, seeking to diminish the culpability of the Jewish people, nation and religion, denying that God's judgment has been pronounced upon them, and continuing to seek to elevate the Jewish people to a favored and privileged status before God.

   Surrendering to the murderous wishes of the religious crowd, Pilate released the notorious criminal, Barabbas. Ordering Jesus to be beaten one more time, Pilate delivered the death warrant that allowed Jesus to be crucified.

(243) Mocked Again - Matt. 27:27-30; Mk. 15:16-19

   When Jesus was led back into the Praetorium, the whole unit of Roman soldiers were allowed to abuse the prisoner again. They played the same perverse "game" of dressing Him up as a king in royal garb with a crown of thorns. They saluted Him, and kneeled down before Him in mock worship, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" It was a travesty of justice as they were allowed to strike Him on the head and spit in His face.

(244) Proceeding to Golgotha - Matt. 27:31-34; Mk. 15:20-23; Lk. 23:26-33; Jn. 19:16,17

   Taking off the apparel of mockery, the Roman officers led Jesus outside of the city to be crucified. The procession was headed toward the location called Golgotha, the "place of the skull," probably so named because of a rock formation that approximated a cranium. It is not likely that there was a field of skulls, as some have suggested, since the Jews had strict laws about dead bodies. Jesus began by carrying the cross, or at least the patibulum cross-beam by Himself, but weakened as He was by several beatings, He was apparently not able to continue. A man named Simon, who was from Cyrene in North Africa where there was a large colony of Jews, was drafted to carry the cross for Jesus.

   There seems to have been a gradual awareness among the Jewish people of their complicity in sentencing an innocent man to death. Some of the spectators, especially women, seem to have been distressed by what they saw. Jesus told the women not to weep for Him but for themselves and their children, having assumed culpability for what was transpiring (Matt. 27:25). An unprecedented and catastrophic judgment of God was coming upon the Jewish people, which was partially fulfilled in 70 A.D. This judgment would be so severe that what was regarded by their religion as a curse of childlessness and barrenness would be considered a blessing (cf. Lk. 21:23). Those denied motherhood would consider themselves fortunate. People would pray that the mountains might fall on them (cf. Hosea 10:8) in order to be spared the torture and the misery. "If the Romans crucify Me," Jesus said, "a green tree" who eschewed all attempts to foster the revolution of zealotism against Rome, then what will they do to "the dry wood" of seasoned zealotism when they revolt against Rome, as they did in 66 A.D. What happened to Jesus in His crucifixion could not begin to compare with the gruesome brutality inflicted upon the Jewish people at large in 70 A.D.

   As Jesus proceeded to Golgotha He was accompanied by two criminals who would also be crucified at the same time, fulfilling the prophecy that He would be "numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12). Prior to His being lifted up on the cross Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall or myrrh (cf. Prov. 31:6; Ps. 69:21), but tasting such He would not drink the narcotic drink, preferring to drink the "cup" of the dregs of human suffering and death fully cognizant of what was happening.

(245) Executioners and Observers - Matt. 27:35-44; Mk. 15:24-32; Lk. 23:33-43; Jn. 19:18-27

   The Romans reserved the use of the cross as an execution instrument for criminal slaves and foreigners, unwilling to employ such cruel and unusual punishment on their own citizens. Without recrimination or retribution Jesus prayed for those engaged in His crucifixion, saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." They were unaware they were serving God's purpose of redemption.

   The distribution of the executed person's personal belongings was one of the perquisites of serving on the Roman execution squad. The four Roman soldiers thus divided whatever belongings Jesus had, but decided to cast lots for the seamless tunic, thus fulfilling Ps. 22:18.

   Oftentimes the crime of the accused was written on a plaque and affixed to their cross, so Pilate had inscribed a plaque which was to be affixed to the cross above Jesus, reading, "King of the Jews." It was written in three languages: Hebrew, the language of the Jews; Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire; and Greek, the common language of communication in the region. Pilate had probably done this to spite the Jewish leaders, who in turn objected to the inscription, but he would capitulate no more to their demands.

   With abominable contempt the Jewish religious leaders incited observers at the cross to sneer and jeer at Jesus, wagging their heads in derision (cf. Ps. 22:7). They taunted Him to save Himself and come down from the cross if He was really the Son of God. One of the crucified criminals joined in the abusive mocking, but the other was sympathetic to the plight of Jesus as an innocent man and rebuked the other criminal. "Remember me when You come into Your kingdom," pled the softened criminal. Jesus assured him that on that very day he would join him in paradise, the place regarded by the Pharisees as the place of the privileged dead prior to the resurrection.

   Four saddened women were standing by the cross in dying devotion that dreary morning: Jesus' mother, Mary; her sister, Salome (possibly James and John's mother who was earlier rebuked; cf. Matt. 20:20); Mary, the wife or widow of Clopas; and Mary Magdalene (cf. Mk. 16:9; Lk. 8:2). To His mother, Jesus spoke with the utmost respect, saying, "Woman, behold your son," indicating that the disciple John would assume responsibility for caring for her. To John, Jesus said, "Behold, your mother." John thereafter took Mary to his own home.

(246) The Victory of His Death - Matt. 27:45-50; Mk. 15:33-37; Lk. 23:44-46; Jn. 19:28-30

   Between noon and three o'clock in the afternoon a darkness settled over the entire scene. A solar eclipse would have been an astronomical impossibility because the Passover was always held at the time of the full moon. Whether the phenomena was natural or supernatural it apparently evidenced the spiritual darkness of the working of Satan.

   At approximately three o'clock Jesus exclaimed, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" an Aramaic rendition of the Psalmist's question, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Ps. 22:1). Though some thought He was calling for Elijah, Jesus was lamenting the withdrawal of God's life from Him. In this separation from God, Jesus was "made to be sin" (II Cor. 5:21) and "became a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13), becoming the personification of all sin as the sin of all mankind was imputed to Him. This experience of spiritual death far surpassed the agony of physical death, though the subsequent physiological focus of religion on the gory details of Jesus' physical death has often superseded any understanding of the spiritual realities effected on that occasion.

   Knowing that He could now incur all of the death consequences of sin that had occurred in Adam, assuming them upon Himself in order to heal and restore God's life to man, Jesus declared, "I thirst." One of the soldiers offered Jesus some cheap vinegar-wine from his flask, and Jesus accepted such and drank, moistening his lips and throat for His declaration of triumph.

   "It is finished!" Jesus declared. This was not a sigh of relief, or a moan of resignation, or a cry of defeat. Rather it was a shout of victory indicating that the mission of God for man was accomplished. Earlier Jesus had expressed His intent to accomplish the work of God (John 4:34) and confidently prayed about such accomplishment (John 17:4). Now Jesus asserts that all that needed done for man has been done. The price of mankind's sin has been "paid in full." Everything needed to accomplish redemption, regeneration and the restoration of man to God's original intent has been set in motion. The religious perversion of Christianity denies this "finished work" of Jesus Christ, insisting and demanding additional activities, performances and "works" which man must do to complete God's pleasure, accomplish God's intent, and satisfy God. Such a denial of the triumphant accomplishment of Jesus and His subsequent grace activity is a denial of the gospel.

   Jesus then died physically by voluntarily surrendering His spirit to God the Father (cf. Ps. 31:5). As James, the Lord's brother later wrote, "the body apart from the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). The Roman executioners had not taken his life from Him, but He laid it down on His own accord (cf. Jn. 10:17), on behalf of all humanity.

   Though the gospel records do not address such, other Scriptural statements (cf. Eph. 4:9; I Pet. 3:19) may allude to Jesus' experiencing of the perpetuity of death consequences in what the Apostle's Creed calls His "descent into hell."

(247) Tearing and Shaking - Matt. 27:51-56; Mk. 15:38-41; Lk. 23:45, 47-49

   When Jesus died on the cross the veil in the Jewish temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was approximately 60 feet long and 30 feet high. The significance of this supernatural rending was to illustrate the termination of all religion. The Jewish religionists, like most involved in religion, thought they had God captured "in the box" of the Holy of Holies. God cannot be contained in such "holy places," for He "does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48; 17:24). The personal presence of God has been opened to all men that they might "enter within the veil" (Heb. 6:19) "into the holy place" (Heb. 10:19) through the activity of Jesus Christ. By the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ the bodies of Christians become the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. 6:19) and collectively we are "the temple of the living God" (II Cor. 6:16) in whom Christ reigns and functions as King and Lord.

   The natural phenomena of an earthquake also occurred at the time of Jesus death with supernatural timing. Jesus' death had enacted a complete shaking up of all physical and spiritual entities. Some of the Jewish people, including the centurion at the cross, when they had witnessed the supernatural actions of God, became very fearful, saying, "Truly this was the Son of God." Many were smiting their breasts in remorse at their tragic mistake.

(248) Attestation of Death - John 19:31-37

   Whereas the Romans often left executed bodies on display to serve as a deterrent to crime among the populace, the Jewish law forbade such a practice of leaving a body hanging overnight (Deut. 21:22,23), much less on a Sabbath day. The religious leaders of the Jews requested Pilate to implement the procedure of crurifragium, the breaking of the dying prisoner's legs with a heavy mallet to facilitate quick suffocation when they could no longer hold themselves up with their legs in order to relieve the pressure. The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two accompanying criminals, but when they came to Jesus they were surprised that He was already dead since crucifixion usually involved a slow, agonizing death. These soldiers on crucifixion detail knew death when they saw it; it was their business. They would not have violated the orders of their superior officer if they were not certain that the requested action was not absolutely futile. The failure to break any of Jesus' bones was a fulfillment of the Psalmist's prophecy (Ps. 34:20), that as the "Passover Lamb" (I Cor. 5:7) Jesus would not have a broken bone (cf. Exod. 12:46; Numb. 9:12).

   To attest to the death of Jesus, the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear and made a gaping wound (cf. Jn. 20:27). This piercing of Jesus' body was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah (Zech. 12:10). The presentation of blood from Jesus' aortic veins and water from His pericardium or thoracic cavity verified His physical death, and would serve as an argument against later docetic teaching.

(249) Preparation for Burial - Matt. 27:57-60; Mk. 15:42-46; Lk. 23:50-54; John 19:38-42

   There were at least two sympathizers of Jesus among the Jewish leaders. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin who was an honest seeker of the kingdom of God and had become a secret follower of Jesus. He asked Pilate if he could assume responsibility for the corpse, and after first ascertaining if Jesus were indeed dead, Pilate granted his request. This made it convenient for Pilate since he did not have to deal with disposal of the body. Nicodemus, who was also a member of the Sanhedrin, was likewise sympathetic to Jesus (cf. Jn. 7:50,51) and had come to Jesus at night to inquire about His teaching (Jn. 3:1-6). Nicodemus brought a large quantity of expensive perfumed spices to prepare the dead body with Joseph of Arimathea. Together they risked religious defilement and wrapped the corpse in a linen cloth, perfuming it with an abundance of spices of myrrh and aloes to keep down the offensive odors of death. The body was placed in an unused tomb that belonged to Joseph located in a nearby garden. This was all completed hurriedly because the Jewish day of Preparation for the Passover was quickly approaching at sunset.

(250) Security Arrangements - Matt. 27:61-66; Mk. 15:47; Lk. 23:55,56

   Just prior to the commencement of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, came and observed the location of the tomb where the corpse was laid, and placed additional perfumed spices and ointments on the body. They returned to their residences to observe the Jewish Sabbath of rest (Exod. 12:16; 20:8-11).

   Meanwhile the religious Pharisees remembered that Jesus had intimated that He would rise from the dead on the third day (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Jn. 2:19,20). They requested of Pilate that he authorize a security detail of Roman soldiers at the tomb to seal the entrance stone and then guard the tomb until three days had passed. In their paranoia they conjectured that Jesus' disciples might steal His corpse and claim He had risen from the dead. Pilate granted their request and sent the guards to the tomb.



 Gospels in Harmony Series