Sayings/Jesus on the cross

From the CrossRoads
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Jesus' Seven Sayings upon the Cross[1]

Jesus speaks seven times from the cross but not seven times in any one Gospel. The Gospels relate three very different stories regarding Jesus’ dying words. In one story, Jesus speaks only once; in a second, he speaks three times; and in a third, he speaks another three times. However, there are no parallels between what is said in any one of these three stories and what is said in the other two stories.

(A) Matthew and Mark (B) Luke (C) John
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) (Psalm 31:5)
“Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.” (John 19:26–27)
“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)
“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

What Happens When Jesus Dies?[2]

In each of our four New Testament Gospels, the events that are narrated immediately after Jesus’s death may indicate a primary concern for that particular book.

Events Directly After Jesus' Death
Matthew 27:51–54 Mark 15:38-39 Luke 23:47–48 John 19:31–34
  • darkness came over the whole land (from noon till three in the afternoon) v. 45 (see Amos 8:9)
  • darkness came over the whole land (from noon till three in the afternoon) v. 44 (see Amos 8:9)
  • The curtain in the Jerusalem temple tore in two (at the moment that Jesus cried out his last words, committing his Spirit to the Father)
  • The curtain in the Jerusalem temple tore from top to bottom
  • The curtain in the Jerusalem temple tore in two
  • the centurion proclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"
  • the centurion proclaimed, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
  • the gentile centurion began to praise God, acknowledging Jesus’s innocence "Surely this was a righteous man."
  • An earthquake opened tombs in the cemetery such that the bodies of many saints came back to life and came out of their tombs
  • the multitudes who were present returned home, beating their breasts in repentance
  • Jesus' side was pierced with a spear causing water and blood to gush forth
Interpretation: Matthew, like Mark, believes that Jesus’s death has provided a once-for-all-time sacrifice for sin, but Matthew also wants to stress that Jesus’s death opens the door to life after death. It is in the context of this eternal dimension that he is to be regarded as the Son of God. Interpretation: Mark believes that Jesus’s death has provided a ransom for sin (10:45), making the sacrificial cult of the Jerusalem temple obsolete. Mark also wants to tell his readers that it is only through the cross that one can come to understand fully who Jesus is. Interpretation: Luke is less concerned than Mark and Matthew with reflection on the theological meaning of Jesus’s death (i.e., its redemptive or atoning effect); however, Luke is more concerned than the other Gospels with the proper response of people to what Jesus has done. Luke believes that the word of the cross should lead people to worship and repentance. Interpretation: John’s Gospel is often heavily symbolic and water and blood are almost universal symbols for life. The flow of water and blood from a person’s body is reminiscent of what happens when a woman gives birth. John may be implying that, even as Jesus dies, he gives birth to a new life for all those who believe in him.

Psalm 22 and Its Fulfillment in Jesus Christ[3]

Jesus's cry of dereliction upon the cross is a direct quote from the opening of Psalm 22. This Old Testament prophecy was written a thousand years before Jesus Christ came to earth and yet it contains a remarkably detailed foretelling of Jesus’ unique death on the cross. For instance, death by crucifixion involves the water filling up the lungs and death by severe dehydration and asphyxiation. That is why water poured from His side when pierced with a spear. See verses 14-16 below:

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.

Psalm 22 Fulfillment in Christ
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” (v. 1).  “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). 
“Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered” (vv. 4–5).  “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him” (Matt. 27:43). 
“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (v. 6).  “They spit upon him . . . smote him on the head. . . . They had mocked him” (Matt. 27:30–31). 
“All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head” (v. 7).  “They that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads” (Matt. 27:39; Mark 15:29). 
“He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him” (v. 8).  “And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them deride him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ” (Luke 23:35). 
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels” (v. 14).  “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). 
“My strength is dried upon like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (v. 15).  “Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (John 19:28). 
“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me” (v. 15).  Chief priests, elders, the multitude, soldiers, scribes, thieves took actions against Jesus (Matt. 27:20–44). 
“They pierced my hands and my feet.” (v. 16)  “And they crucified him” (Matt. 27:35).“And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced” (John 19:37, citing Zech. 12:10). 
“All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.” (v. 17).  “But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs” (John 19:33, see also Exodus 12:46). 

John 19:23 (NASB 1995) " Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be”;

“They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (v. 18). “And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (Matt. 27:35).

Did the Father "turn his face away?"

The phrase comes from a popular Worship Song "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" with the lines,

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

These are poetic ways of articulating the gospel of God's saving death upon the cross. The question before us concerns how God the Father related to God the Son upon the cross and if there is biblical/theological precedent to say that The Father turns His face away? There is certainly a spectrum of viewpoints for understanding the 'hows' of the gospel of Christ's atonement that do not affect one's salvation. We all agree that God in Christ makes atonement for sin and that those who come to Him in true faith and repentance will be saved. But the question of how Christ's atonement worked and what was the role of God the Father in it is not as straightforward.

Biblically speaking Christ's sacrificial death in the gospels occurs as part of the Jewish Passover festival (often called the Last Supper in the Gospels). The reference is also made directly by John the Baptist who refers to Christ as "the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)." The original Passover Lamb story is recounted as part of the exodus narrative in Exodus 12:12-14. A central lesson of the Passover lamb is that its shed blood caused the wrath of God to “pass over” those who applied it to their homes. This understanding is given new significance at the last supper where Christ lifts up the cup of passover wine and declares, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" Matthew 26:28 (ESV). The scriptures declare that the death of Christ was performed as our (sinful humanities) substitute. A Jewish precedent for this idea (called atonement) was the story of the Passover lamb in Exodus (festival of Passover) as well as the meditation of the Priests who made various kinds of animal sacrifices that were termed "sin-offerings" that had to be made on a continual basis until the sacrifice of Christ himself.

The Bible goes on to describe Christ in his death upon the cross as both the sacrifice (the Passover lamb or "sin-offering") and the high priest who makes the annual atoning sacrifice (referred to as sin-offerings). This can be seen in verses such as John 1:29, Eph.5:2, 2 Cor-05:21, Hebrews 4:14-16, Hebrews 12:22-24, and Leviticus 16.

We also know that this was all done according to the will and plan of God the Father as seen in Isaiah 53 verses 4-5 and 10:

4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed...
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

In this chapter, Isaiah the prophet warns humanity of a wrong appraisal of the death of the suffering servant messiah. At his trial, Jesus is condemned by His people as a blasphemer for claiming to be God and they considered him to be justly punished by God. Isaiah reveals the nature of Christ's suffering to be substitutional on behalf of a sinful world where all "like sheep, have gone astray" (verse 6). The suffering servant is prophetically declared as the one who will bear our just penalty for sin, through his sacrificial death.

Surely he died in our place and provided a way to "justify many" (verse 11). The question remains, did Jesus become the recipient of the wrath of God the Father? Is it biblical to pin two members of the Trinity against each other? Is it justified to say that "the Father turned his face away?" Is that phrase biblically and theologically accurate?

Perhaps the closest biblical references would be a conglomeration of verses such as Habakkuk 1:13, Isa. 54:7-8, and John 18:11. In John 18:11 Jesus refers to his calling to die for the sins of the world as to "drink the cup that the Father has given me". Many take this phrase to be synonymous with the old testament references to "the cup of God's wrath" used in verses such as Isaiah 51:22, Jeremiah 25:15, and Revelation 14:10 but it is not entirely clear.

On the other hand, we clearly find references to "God-forsakenness" in Psalm 22:1 as quoted by Jesus on the cross,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)

We know from the biblical accounts that He was on all accounts abandoned by His closest disciples in His hour of need but He has a different word to say regarding His Father in John 16:32,

“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."

Jesus spoke these words after the Last Supper where Judas had left prematurely to betray him.

What did Jesus mean when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was this prayer of Christ upon the cross meant to indicate an actual abandonment of God the Father towards the Son or an experiential/apparent abandonment (God-forsakenness)?

Jews of that time often quoted the first line of a Psalm out loud when praying to God individually so there is precedent for Jesus wanting us to read this entire Psalm (22) messianically. Reading further down in verse 24 it states,

24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24 emphasis added)

The idea of God hiding his face in the bible is connected with unanswered prayer (see also Isaiah 59:1-3) which would not apply to Jesus on the cross, who twice addresses petitions to God the Father which were certainly heard (see also Hebrews 5:7):

  1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
  2. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46 quoting Psalm 31:5)

Reading Psalm 31as the final Psalm Quoted by Jesus on the cross is also a cry for deliverance and should be read in context:

4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God...
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love...
22 In my alarm I said,
I am cut off from your sight!
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:4-5, 15-16, 22-24 emphasis added)

Here the author King David also dramatizes the experience of feeling abandoned by God but makes clear a distinction between actual abandonment and apparent abandonment. Through suffering David learned that God would remain faithful through it all. As the scriptures declare in 2 Timothy 2:13, 2 Corinthians 1:9, and Hebrews 5:8.

Another article summarizes as follows:

"2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. It was a wholesale involvement with Christ in the middle. Perhaps putting this statement together with Psalm 22:1 we could suggest that “God was in Christ experiencing God-forsakenness.” An incredible mystery, but one that I think is much more Biblically grounded than the idea of the Father turning His face away from the Son (equally a mystery but also more philosophically problematic with less Biblical grounding – can God even be separated or would that not cause everything to fall apart??)."[2]

It is profound to think that God the Father had prepared the events of the crucifixion even before the creation of the world (see Revelation 13:8). Therefore we can go back to prophecies about the "day of the Lord" and end times judgments in view of the atoning work of Christ. In Amos, we catch a glimpse of how the Father expected true contrition for sin and connected that with the experience of 'mourning for an only son'. These events were fulfilled on Good Friday when the sky turned black from noon till 3 pm when the veil in the temple tore thus bringing an end to the Passover festival.

Amos 8:9-10

9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

But perhaps the best biblical analogy for how God the Father suffered to give up His only Son, Is the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22.

Genesis 22:2

[God] He said (to Abraham), “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

The story culminates in verses 11-12 where the Lord stops Abraham's hand from having to sacrifice his son Isaac.

11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.

It is upon this mountain (Mount Moriah) where Abraham was about to offer up his son Isaac, that would become the very spot where the temple of Solomon and the second temple would be built and the sacrificial system would be carried out until the death of Christ as the Passover lamb when the veil in the temple was torn.

Sources/Read More (Articles):


  1. Baker Publishing Group,
  2. Baker Publishing Group,
  3. Bible Central,