The 7 Last Words of Christ on the Cross

The 7 Last Words of Christ on the Cross

The 7 Last Words of Christ on the Cross.

Remember back in the mid-1960’s when certain philosophers and scholars authoritatively declared that God was dead? Now, if they were looking at Jesus on the Cross when they said that, they wouldn’t be far from the truth. God did die on the brutal tree of Roman execution, but of course that’s not the end of the story. “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The last words of the Son of God when dying on the Cross are profound and powerful and indicative of Christ’s character and mission. His last words before death were all in Aramaic, because Aramaic was the language of the common people in Israel during that time.

Christian tradition holds that much of what Jesus said while desperately dying on the Cross was in fact Scripture. Jesus was said to recite all the verses between Psalm 22 and Psalm 31. He started His recitation from the first verse in Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God…” and then recited either silently or out loud all the verses to His closing words in Psalm 31:5, “Into your hands...” Since Jesus was a scholar of Scripture and a faithful Jew, it makes wonderful sense that Christ’s final words were mostly Scripture. The final words of Christ on the Cross, all seven of them in order, are:

(1.) The Word of Forgiveness (Luke 23:34): “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” 

(2.) The Word of Salvation (Luke 23:43): “Assuredly, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” 

(3.) The Word of Affection (John 19:26-27): “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” 

(4.) The Word of Distress (Matthew 27:46): “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” 

(5.) The Word of Weakness (John 19:28): “I thirst!” 

(6.) The Word of Triumph (John 19:30): “It is finished!

(7.) The Word of Faith (Luke 23:46): “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.”

A t the last breath of Christ, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit became a reality on earth. The Holy Spirit has been active for all time since Creation and through the lives and historical periods of the Hebrew Bible, but never has it been poured out like this. Now it’s the Holy Spirit’s turn to bring people into God’s family through Christ, and enable those who follow Him to become like Jesus in their renewal of life.

(1) The Word of Forgiveness. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

By praying that prayer on the cross, Jesus was echoing Isaiah 53:12, which declares that the Suffering Servant was “interceding for the rebellious.” But for whom was Jesus interceding as He suffered His torturous death, as He fulfilled His eternal role as the Great Intercessor? Jesus seems to be asking the Father not to charge certain people with the depravity involved with killing the very Son of God. Jesus is pleading with the Father to overlook the wrongs of these perpetrators, since they do  not understand the profound role they play in this cosmic drama. These abusers and traitors simply can’t grasp this deep mystery, and how they are part of God’s grand scheme of prophecy fulfillment and eternal salvation. His prayer was profoundly merciful, mouthing those words as he gasped for air. His Spirit of grace simply overflowed as He convulsed in pain. Who did He want forgiven… all those who did Him harm, or only those who repented? Because of Jesus’ unlimited loving-kindness, it could be a mistake to draw too small a circle of those being forgiven. And we can’t forget the unforgettable fact that Jesus included all of us in this intercession. Our sins are forgiven through Jesus on the Cross, His death and Resurrection.

Some Biblical scholars claim that the Greek text implies a repetitive action, that His prayer on the cross was not a one-time prayer. Jesus evidently continued praying this prayer of forgiveness. He kept asking the Father to forgive all sinners, and all who had done Him wrong during His Passion.  One can easily imagine Jesus, in his depleted, exhausted mind, hanging on the cross, mentally going through an inventory of who needs to be forgiven. In his continuing prayer, Jesus considered everyone who had a hand in the sacrifice of the Innocent One.

Father, forgive the disciples. Hand-picked personal friends of Jesus, they had seen many ups and downs together during the years of ministry. They performed miracles two by two, they heard His teachings and parables. They traveled extensively around the countryside and towns, communicating the wisdom of God. They saw Jesus walk on water and calm the storm. They saw Him feed the thousands and restore sanity to the man at the tombs. And yet, they abandoned Jesus when He needed them most. Even after they all said they would rather die than desert Jesus, they fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, “Strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Father, forgive the disciples, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Judas. Here we have the main culprit in the Passion of Christ. Here is the betrayer who was once personally chosen by Jesus in prayer to the Father. Here is the longtime disciple who accompanied Jesus and the other disciples during His ministry, who heard every word, who saw every miracle.  We do know Judas fulfilled many prophecies in the Hebrew Bible, including Psalm 41:9 and Psalm 55:12-14. Was Judas disappointed in Jesus because he wanted political change, and Jesus was only offering spiritual change? Was he merely greedy for money, or for status if Jesus succeeded in overthrowing Roman occupation? We’ll never know, exactly. We do know he repented of his betrayal, he threw the silver pieces back in the faces of the priests, and that he was so filled with guilt and shame that he killed himself. Judas ended up being a traitor and a tragic failure, the one that got away. Is he indeed “headed for destruction” forever? Father, forgive Judas, for he didn’t know what he was doing.

Father, forgive AnnasHe was a retired high priest, still a powerful elder in the Temple, and he retained much authority in the eyes of many Jews. Annas was more political than religious. He was a weak beaurocrat without much of a spine. During this hearing, Annas asked Jesus many questions, especially about the content of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus brushed him off and merely told Annas to ask His followers. Annas shrugged his shoulders, bound Jesus, and sent Him to Caiaphus. Annas was the first domino to fall in the rush to condemn Jesus. Father, forgive Annas, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the religious authorities. There were many leading priests, scribes and elders who jumped on the bandwagon early to kill Jesus. They were plotting to murder Him while he was engaged in His public ministry. They were seemingly always out to get Him, to prove Him wrong, to harass and trap Him.  They were the ones who mocked, scorned and jeered at Jesus as He was being tortured to death. During their gloating, they even quoted scripture back in Jesus’ face on the cross, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!”  Father, forgive the religious authorities, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Caiaphus. He was the ruling high priest, and his job seemed to be much more political than spiritual or religious. During his trial questioning before Caiaphus, Jesus made it clear that He considered Himself co-equal to the Lord Yahweh, akin to the Great I AM (Ex. 3:14). As soon as Jesus claimed to be the I AM in Caiaphus’ presence, the high priest flew into a rage, tore his robe, and called for the Jewish high council to condemn Jesus to death. Caiaphus’ mind was already made up before the hearing… Jesus was a blasphemer and should die. The trial continued marching to the cross, and Caiaphus was a major instigator to that end. Father, forgive Caiaphus, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Sanhedrin. This was a group of 70 elders that comprised the Jewish supreme court.  When Jesus was being tried in front of them, the high council made a mockery of the justice system, seeking false witnesses to condemn Jesus. After they declared His guilt and sentenced Him to death, they gathered around Him and spit in Jesus’ face, beat Him with their fists, slapped Him and mocked Him. The Sanhedrin, the highly revered high council, seemed to lose all objectivity and all sense of propriety, moral reasoning, and sound judgment. They were blinded by their hatred of Jesus. After physically attacking Jesus, they bound Him and took Him to Pilate. Father, forgive the Sanhedrin, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Peter. Peter was the leader of the Twelve, and apart from John, probably the closest friend to Jesus during their years together. He was brash, impulsive, impetuous, and yet was faithful to Jesus throughout their ministry. He was the first disciple to declare that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. He once declared that he would never desert Jesus, and would rather die than abandon Him. And yet, there he was sleeping while Jesus suffered in the Garden. He couldn’t seem to do anything right that fateful night. He promised to never deny Jesus, and he soon broke that promise by denying Him three times. After these denials, Peter went off by himself and wept bitterly in shame, humiliation and guilt. At this point, Peter was a big disappointment, to himself and to Jesus. Father, forgive Peter, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive Pilate. He was the insecure, belligerent Roman governor of Judea, where Jerusalem was located. He evidently loved to badger the occupied Jews to keep them under his thumb. On the other hand, his job was to stifle any possible revolt against the Roman occupation. Pilate was directly accountable to Caesar, so he had to watch his step.  Pilate handed Jesus over to the soldiers for a near fatal flogging and to crucifixion. He gave the bloodthirsty crowd what they wanted, despite his inner conflicts. In the end, he may have tried washing his hands of the whole mess, but his partial responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus stuck to him like glue. Father, forgive Pilate, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the crowd. That unruly mob standing at Pilate’s door was ready to be riled up, for sure. They allowed themselves to get out of hand by the religious authorities who kept egging them on. Were some of these bystanders the same ones who just a week ago were waving palm branches and shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord“? Well, they were now yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!” at the top of their lungs. They were not a group of innocent bystanders. They were a lynch mob. Jesus just stood there, mutely taking it all in. Father, forgive the crowd, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive Herod. Standing before Herod, Jesus knew very well that this was the man who beheaded his close cousin and prophet John the Baptist. Even with that history, Jesus stood silent. Herod asked Jesus questions, but He didn’t want to dignify them with a response. Jesus refused to answer because He knew that Herod just wanted to make sport of Him. Herod proceeded to mock Him, jeer at Him, ridicule Him, then he shrugged and sent Him back to his new pal Pilate. Herod treated the whole hearing as if it was a reality show, just for him. Jesus was not a Person that Herod took seriously. He ended up ignoring Jesus and getting on with business. Father, forgive Herod, for he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Father, forgive the Roman soldiers. They were a brutal killing machine. They flogged Jesus to within an inch of his life, with lead-tipped whips. They mocked and jeered, they scorned and ridiculed. They beat Jesus with their fists, they taunted Him, they spit in His face. They took His clothes off and put on a red robe to humiliate Him. They gave Him a reed to hold as a royal scepter, then they took the reed back and beat Him with it. They clipped branches off the nearby Jerusalem thorn bush with two inch thorns, wove a crown, and jammed it into His scalp. They stripped off His clothes, nailed his hands and feet to the wooden cross and left Him there to die in agony and shame. To add disdain to the abuse, they sat at the foot of the cross and rolled some dice for Jesus’ seamless garment, as His blood dripped down on them. The soldiers showed no mercy, they were grossly inhumane, and Jesus submitted to all of it. Father, forgive the Roman soldiers, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Father, forgive them? Forgive them all? They deserve judgment, not forgiveness! To His dying breath, Jesus had forgiveness on His mind. It all seems preposterous and counter-intuitive. But Jesus’ earlier words to His disciples seem to anticipate what Jesus did on the cross. He was magnanimous to the end, incarnating His message of grace and forgiveness. “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also… Love your enemies! Do good to them.” (Luke 6:27-29, 35; NLT).

(2.) The Word of Salvation. “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” 

When Jesus was raised on the cross, he found Himself hanging between two thieves on their crosses, one thief on the right and the other thief on His left.  The two thieves might have been similar in their criminal behavior, but it appears their hearts were as different as night and day. Jesus the Innocent One, executed between two thieves, the guilty ones. This fulfilled the messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12. He was numbered with sinners. He let himself be regarded as a criminal. He was counted as one of the rebellious.

The unrepentant thief remained cynical to the end. He ridiculed Jesus. He hurled abuse at Him, sneering such remarks as, What kind of Messiah are you? If you really are the Anointed One, prove it! Save yourself from this fate! And while you’re at it, be our savior and save us too!

Jesus did not respond to the abuse. He never opened his mouth to the thief who was scoffing at Him. He was like a lamb led to slaughter, silent before His foe.

The repentant thief treated Jesus much differently. He even advocated for Jesus by rebuking the other thief. Have you no shame? Have you no fear of God even before you die? You and I deserve this punishment. We were thieves, so we shouldn’t be surprised that this is our fate. But this man does not deserve this. He is totally innocent. What has he done wrong? Nothing. Nothing at all.

The repentant thief saw the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross that declared “This is the King of the Jews.” At that moment he believed that Jesus truly was the King, even if He was a dying King. A mustard seed of faith entered his soul as he pleaded with Jesus, Please remember me when you come into your Kingdom!

That was all the opening Jesus needed to act. Even a hairline crack in the heart was enough for Jesus to offer grace. Jesus responded with, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise. Paradise. Heaven. The restored Garden of Eden. The place of rest for the departed in Christ. Jesus promised a new life to the redeemed criminal, a life with Jesus Himself. The Orthodox Christians look at this way… “To be reconciled to Christ is to be in Paradise immediately. The souls of the departed are in the presence of God and experience a foretaste of His glory before the final resurrection.”

(3.) The Word of Affection. “Woman, behold your son. And you, John, behold your mother.” 

Jesus loved His mother to the end and felt a duty to care for her in His absence. Mother Mary was around 50 years old at the time of the crucifixion, a widow, with apparently no one to provide for her upon Jesus’ death. It looks like Jesus didn’t have any younger brothers to take care of her, so Jesus made sure she had a home and a support system. If Jesus had younger brothers, Jewish Law dictated that they take on the responsibility for caring for their mother. Some church traditions point out that this is proof of the idea that Jesus had no siblings, Mary had no other children than Jesus. In His tenderness towards His mother, He points to the apostle John, the only disciple who stood with Jesus in His moment of death on the Cross, and told Mary that John was her son from now on, and Mary was John’s mother. John will treat Mary as his mother, and Mary will treat John as her son. John will take care of her from now on. Christian tradition is that John took Mary with him to settle in Ephesus, and he cared for her to her dying day there.

It needs to be said that Jesus wasn’t disrespectful of Mary when He addressed her as “woman” from the Cross. “Woman” was actually a term of endearment, of affection, that gave dignity to the woman being addressed. It was a sacred title in Scripture when used by Jesus, and it was intended to convey deep respect. Jesus used that term in other situations in His earlier ministry: the woman at the well in John 4:21; the forgiven adulteress in John 8:10; and then with Mary herself at the Cana wedding in John 2:4. In this culture at this time, Jesus could just as well have addressed His mother as “dear woman.”

(4.) The Word of Distress. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

In Judaism, when someone recites a Bible verse, the entire context of the verse is implied and brought to memory. And the first verse of Psalm 22, quoted by Jesus here, is considered the title of the psalm. These words of Jesus about being forsaken, with feelings of abandonment, is only a part of the psalm, the starting point It does not convey everything that Jesus was undoubtedly thinking at this point. There is a good chance that Jesus continued reciting the whole of Psalm 22 right there on the Cross, with Jesus referencing the psalm to Himself as the fulfillment of that Scripture. And how does Psalm 22 conclude?  “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”  Jesus closed with thoughts of joyful confidence and a triumphant sense of final victory in the end.

Biblical scholars make a special point that these words of distress were not reflecting despair. In His humanity, owning our experience in life of suffering and distress, He experienced in His humanness alienation from God. He spoke these words identifying with all of us in our human condition. This last word of Christ was a cry from His human heart. But Jesus was not abandoned by God. That is unthinkable. The Son and the Father share an unbreakable bond in an eternal union with each other. No, the Father didn’t turn His back on the Son at any time, nor could He. It literally isn’t possible. The Son wasn’t a temporary orphan. The Trinity cannot be divided, because the Trinity is simply indivisible. Jesus knew the heart of the Father, even as He appropriated human distress.

(5.) The Word of Weakness. “I thirst!”

Thirst is the most fundamental of human weakness. His thirst simply revealed the normal needs of a human body. Jesus experienced everything common to human existence: He thirsted; He grew hungry; he needed rest; He sweat when He worked; He bled when He was cut; He felt pain if He was injured; He suffered shame in His nakedness on the Cross; and he died, like everyone else will at some point. He experienced a life that in most ways was just like you and me.

But death? Death to God? The death of the Son of God is nonsensical. Illogical. It doesn’t make sense. Life and death don’t mix. Death and Jesus don’t fit. It is somehow sacrilegious. Death is the ultimate indignity for the Giver of life. As the final result of sin, the death of Christ is the conclusion of sin’s victory over God. Death is an extreme impurity experienced by the only Pure One. Death defiles the world, making a dead person unclean and mortally defeated. Was Jesus unclean when He died? After all, death is this world’s vile pollutant. For the time being, the Son of God was defeated by sin’s final consequence.

(6.) The Word of Triumph. It is finished!”

It’s done! It’s over! It is accomplished! My mission from the Father is fulfilled, just like I promised! Yes, Jesus on the cross completed the work of salvation. He fulfilled His promise to the Father that He said in His priestly prayer of John 17, “I brought glory to You here on earth, Father, by completing the work You gave me to do.” (17:4). And so now Jesus has finished His duty of offering salvation to the world through His death on the Cross. He has fulfilled all those Scriptural prophecies about the coming Messiah and His mission. In Greek the word “finished’ means “paid in full.” The blood sacrifice of Christ paid the penalty of human sin. His death completed the work of creation, gaining the eternal life that was part of the original plan. He accomplished the miracle of new life through forgiveness of sins, a spiritual do-over through the love of God. Mission accomplished.  “The secret of the whole world of humanity is the love between the Father and the Son. That is at the root of it all. Upon the love between the Son and the Father hangs the whole universe. What it can mean exactly, you know, I cannot tell you. Why the Lord must go and ascend to His Father, though with Him all the time and with Him at the moment, I cannot tell you; but it means something, as if there were some center somewhere where this very body of His must be embraced by the arms of the Father before He was satisfied – as if He had to go back and tell His Father, “I have done it, Father, I have done it. It is over now and we shall have them all back by and by.’” (George MacDonald, from his sermon Knowing the Risen Lord).

(7.) The Word of Faith. “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” 

The death of Christ was entirely voluntary. It was an intentional sacrifice. Matthew said that Jesus “yielded up His spirit” because He couldn’t just die like every other person. He is the Lord of life, He had to give His life up, it couldn’t be taken from Him. Once again, Jesus recited Scripture on the Cross, Psalm 31:5, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; I entrust my spirit into your hands; I place my life into Your hands.” These last words of Jesus to his Father reflect an eternal faith and confidence and trust in Him. Notice the second part of that verse in Ps. 31:5, “For you have redeemed Me, O Lord, God of truth and faithfulness.

He accepted death because He assumed the whole tragedy of our life. He chose to pour His life into death, in order to destroy it, and in order to break the hold of evil. His death is the final and ultimate revelation of His perfect obedience and love. He accepted the ultimate horror of death. His death is total fulfillment. The Author of life was at work transforming death into life, on killing death itself.”