3.4.9.5 Jesus' crucifixion and sacrificial death

On the way to Golgotha, a great multitude followed Jesus. To the women who wept over Him the Lord said: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children" (Luke 23: 28). With these words He was referring to the impending destruction of Jerusalem.

Two criminals were executed together with the Lord. Jesus' cross stood between them. Here the words of Isaiah 53: 12–that the Lord would be numbered with the transgressors–were fulfilled. The unimaginably heavy suffering finally led to a cruel death struggle.

The words Jesus spoke on the cross attest to His divine greatness. Even while suffering and dying, He turned to others in mercy, forgiveness, intercession, and care, thereby revealing the love and grace of God.

Ecclesiastical tradition has arranged the final words of Jesus–which are recorded differently in each of the gospels–into a specific sequence, which is also followed here:

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23: 34).

The Son of God, compassionate even on the cross, interceded before God the Father on behalf of all those who had put Him to the cross and who were unaware of the scope of their actions. Here, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the commandment to love one's enemies (Matthew 5: 44-45, 48).

"Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23: 42-43).

The Lord turned in compassion to the criminal who had been crucified together with Him, who had asked Him for grace, and who, in the face of death, had recognised Jesus as the Saviour. The Paradise which the Lord opened to the repentant sinner was–according to the understanding of that time–the dwelling of the devout and righteous in the hereafter.

"Woman, behold your son!"–"Behold your mother!" (John 19: 26-27).

In the face of death, Jesus showed concern for Mary, His mother, and entrusted her to His disciple John. This demonstrates the love and care of Christ who, despite His own need, still stood up for the needs of others.

In Christian tradition, Mary is interpreted as a symbol of the church, which was then placed under the care of the Apostle ministry, as represented here by Apostle John.

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15: 34).

When death is near, devout Jews turn to God with these words from Psalm 22. On the one hand, they thereby lament the feeling that God is distant, but on the other hand, also profess their faith in His power and grace. Jesus here addressed these words to His Father.

However, Psalm 22 also refers to the suffering of the righteous and their trust in God. Beyond that, this psalm is considered a broad reference to the sacrificial death of Christ and thus an Old Testament testimony of the Messiah Jesus.

"I thirst" (John 19: 28).

Hereby the words of Psalm 69: 21 were fulfilled: "They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." In the figurative sense, this last drink signified that Jesus had to drink the cup of suffering in its entirety and thereby perfectly fulfil His Father's will.

"It is finished!" (John 19: 30).

It was about the ninth hour, that is in the early afternoon, when these words were spoken. An important stage in the history of salvation had now come to an end: Jesus had brought the sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. His sacrificial death had closed the old covenant, which had only been made with the people of Israel. The new covenant, to which Gentiles also have access, had now taken effect (Hebrews 9: 16).

"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (Luke 23: 46).

This quotation from Psalm 31: 6 makes clear that, even in this moment, Jesus Christ fully trusted in His Father.

Dramatic events accompanied the Lord's death: the earth shook, rocks were split, and the veil of the temple, which separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, was torn in two. This signified that the Old Testament's sacrificial service had come to an end in Christ's death, and was no longer of significance. The old covenant had been fulfilled. On the other hand, this is an indication that through Jesus' sacrificial death and the tearing of "the veil"–"that is, His flesh" (Hebrews 10: 20)–the way to the Father is now open.

Under the impact of these events, the Roman captain and the soldiers who were guarding Jesus said: "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27: 54). Thus it was the Gentiles, who testified of Jesus as the Son of God at His death.

Joseph of Arimathea, who belonged to the high council, went to Pontius Pilate and requested that he be given the body of Jesus in order to bury Him. Together with Nicodemus, whom the Lord once taught about the rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3: 5), he laid Jesus in a tomb that had never been used before, which was hewn out of the rock. A stone was rolled in front of the grave. The high priests had soldiers guard the tomb (Matthew 27: 57-66).

Like His death, the suffering of Jesus has occurred on behalf of mankind, according to the testimony of the Scriptures, and is thus able to effect salvation: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Peter 2: 21-24).

Through His suffering and death, Christ the Mediator reconciles mankind with God and creates redemption from sin and death. Thereby the words of John the Baptist are fulfilled: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1: 29). Through His sacrificial death the Lord has broken the power of Satan and overcome death (Hebrews 2: 14). Since Jesus resisted all the temptations of Satan and remained without sin, He was able to take the sins of all humanity upon Himself (Isaiah 53: 6), and through His blood was able to acquire the merit whereby all guilt of sin can be washed away. His life, which He gave for the sinner, is the ransom. His sacrificial death opens up the way for mankind to come to God.

See also