Luke 23:26-43

The King’s future

Discussion Question

Have you ever observed an injustice and not done anything about it?

Background

Jesus has been betrayed, arrested, mocked and sentenced to death unjustly. The teachers of the law and leaders of Israel hated Jesus for preaching the kingdom of God in a way that did not paint them in a wonderful light. While they continued to accuse him with lies they persuaded the Roman government to execute Jesus on the basis of their hatred. They would rather a known murderer go free than to let this man continue to teach the people things that they did not agree with.

Read Luke 23:26-43

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then

“ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”

and to the hills, “Cover us!”’

31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”t And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What did you see?

Structure

  • Carrying the cross (26-31)
    • Simon of Cyrene (26)
    • Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)
  • At the cross (32-43)
    • Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)
    • They don’t know what they are doing (34-38
    • One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

Carrying the cross (26-31)

Simon of Cyrene (26)

“…[the soldiers] seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country…” Mark 15:21 tells us also that Simon is known as the father of Alexander and Rufus – the same Rufus, perhaps, whom Paul knew and regarded his family so highly (Romans 16:13). Cyrene is a port city in North Africa. The city encouraged Jews to settle there. A synagogue in Jerusalem, called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, was used by people of Cyrene and Alexandria (Acts 6:9). It is likely that Simon was a practicing Jew who had come from Cyrene for the Passover festival.

“…and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.” The synoptic gospels (Matt-Mark-Luke) all mention this fact of Simon being part of the suffering of Jesus. John does not include this detail in his story. It is easy to stretch the purpose of Simon’s story too far but I feel comfortable noting the involvement, in God’s sovereignty, of a man beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judah taking part in the suffering of Christ. I will not make too much of this but to say that the kingdom of God is and always has been for the whole world to take part in. Perhaps the gospel writers, apart from stating what actually happened, like to include this piece of information because they know that the kingdom of God is about to go global. Luke includes, in the next section, a reminder that Jerusalem is not going to stand for much longer – it’s time will end but the gospel is bigger than Jerusalem.

Daughters of Jerusalem (27-31)

“A large number of people followed him…” This ‘him’ would refer to Jesus as the rest of the sentence makes clear. The order of procession is Jesus, followed by Simon of Cyrene, followed by the crowd, but it is Jesus as the one they are all following.

“…including women who mourned and wailed for him.” Luke 8:52 describes a similar tradition of wailers and mourners over the death of someone. Jesus is a dead man walking. But Jesus will turn the mirror back onto them.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children…” These women of the city where Jesus is being condemned were weeping over the unfortunate death of Jesus. They may be sincere followers, or simply women who know that this is a sad end to a good man. Not everyone in that day hated Jesus. This passage reveals the women here who mourn and later a criminal who concludes that Jesus is the King. But the representative leaders of Jerusalem hated him. Jesus tenderly warns them that it is themselves and their children that they ought to mourn for. Jesus is going to the cross as is predestined. And the city of Jerusalem will be judged for killing him. Jesus has spoken about this on a number of occasions in this gospel (Luke 11:49-50; 131:34-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-24). Jesus himself had wept for Jerusalem (19:41). The historic events of the siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD were gruesome on the people in the city. Zechariah 12:10-14 may be alluded to.

“For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women…” Jerusalem will receive judgement from God for all of the prophets who have been killed in the past and for the killing of the Son of God. Luke 20:9-18. The Romans lay siege to the city in April 70 AD and starved the Jews. By August, the Romans took the city, destroying the Temple. It is these few months of siege leading to the destruction that Jesus directs these women to mourn. His death in imminent, but theirs is also.

“They will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”” Again, a time is coming when death will seem better than life. This is a specific event fulfilled in 70 AD and yet is a forerunner to judgement day for all humanity. See Hosea 10:8 and Rev 6:16. At this point we’ll just remember that Jesus was the Great Prophet and continues to prophecy even as he goes to the cross.

“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This is a lesser to greater kind of argument: if this happens when the tree is alive, what will happen when it is dead? The Son of God is physically present with the people of God in the city of God and they choose to put Him to death. Imagine what evils people will do when God is not so present and merciful. In the instance of the siege on Jerusalem, the people were driven to madness with famine. When the Romans eventually took the city, they barely needed to execute anyone because the city had been starved to death. For anyone interested, here are the records of Josephus on the seige (sections 10, 12 and 13 focus on the difficulties in the city)…

 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/josephus/works/files/war-5.htm .

At the cross (32-43)

Two criminals with Jesus (32-33)

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.” The scene changes with new characters introduced but they remain unnamed. They represent two types of people who will interact with Jesus and stand for two ways to live. Neither will represent godly living since they are about to die as criminals.

“…the Skull…” The location was well known in the day of Luke’s writing. With the passing of time and thousands of years of wars and construction, this landmark is up for debate. When Luke wrote the gospel, as with Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, this was a knowable landmark. The point is that the location of Jesus’ death was known. Nobody mistook what took place that day, where or when. Neither did they mistakenly crucify Judas and everyone think that was Jesus or whatever crazy conspiracy can be imagined and believed. Perhaps the place looked like a skull or perhaps, with the crucifixions occurring there, it had the name of the Skull (Golgotha in Aramaic).

“…one on his right and one on his left.” Jesus is slain as a lawbreaker, with criminals at his side. See Isaiah 53:12 and Luke 22:37.

They don’t know what they are doing (34-38

“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”” I love the words of JC Ryle, “as soon as the blood of the Great Sacrifice began to flow the Great High Priest began to intercede.” Who is he praying for exactly? It would be wise to keep the forgiveness here to the extent that these people are still able to repent and receive forgiveness – as about 3000 do on the day of Pentecost! They do know what they are doing, in that they are nailing a man to a cross, but they do not understand fully that they are nailing the true Messiah to the cross! See Acts 3:17 and 1 Cor 2:8.

“And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.” A direct fulfillment of Psalm 22:7,18. The people are so ignorant of the events and yet they are all events predicted in the scriptures. The mocking of this man paints the picture of how low our sin takes us. At the lowest point in human history, we stood before the Son of God, we bowed down low and gambled for his clothing in mockery. We would rather worship material things that the One who created us. Psalm 22:8 is mimicked as they call on him to save himself.

“…God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” A tautology? The Messiah is the Chosen One. Isaiah 42:1.

“The soldiers…offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king…” The wine was cheap wine used by the poor. The soldiers were getting in on the mocking too – showing that Jew and Gentile were all against the Son of God. Their action paired with their words seem that they are bringing him wine as a servant would bring it to a king – but they mock.

“…a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” His death and his birth are both marked with mockery of this fact (Matthew 2:2). Mark 15:26 describes the sign as the written notice of the charge against him. John 19:19 informs us that Pilate had the notice placed there and John’s gospel expands on the objection that the Jews had to this sign (John 19:19-22). Jesus is being put to death for this claim. Pilate is making the Jews aware that this is the treason that he is condemned for. The Jews do not like this sign because they reject everything about it. As a reader of this event, we see the man on the cross clearly labelled and bleeding out for his people. The king of the Jews is the suffering servant. Mark 10:45.

One criminal with Jesus (39-43)

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him…” We are back to the criminals and even ‘they’ get in on the mocking. It is the same cry: save yourself! But the reason he hangs on the cross is not because he can’t save himself but because WE can’t save ourselves! He hangs there in order to save us – criminals of God’s kingdom.

“But the other criminal rebuked him…then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Let’s reflect. Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus but he was ordered to do that and he said nothing to allow us to know where he was at (but we think kindly of him). The women mourn for Jesus and yet we aren’t sure completely of why they mourn. Do they love Jesus or are they merely weeping over the occasion? We empathise with them too but we don’t know for sure where their hearts are at. Everybody else in the story have clearly mocked Jesus and so we know where they are at. And now we come to the second criminal. He is guilty and deserves death. He confesses this clearly to his fellow criminals. But looking at Jesus he remarks that Jesus has a kingdom that he owns and that it is up to Jesus whether this man is able to enter it or not. But he asks Jesus directly for entrance. Totally underserved. Totally unworthy. But he asks. And Jesus says…

“…today you will be with me in paradise.” This means one thing for sure and opens up further questions. The thing we know is that Jesus confesses to being able to give access to his kingdom. Either he went to his death truly believing nonsense in which case Jesus is a lunatic. Or He really is the King of the Kingdom and can grant access to whoever he pleases. And now that the sacrifice has begun, access is granted. It is granted on the basis of two things. The confession of sin or the admission of guilt and the confession of Jesus as LORD. The latter is the most clear in this case. The man does not say, ‘Jesus please forgive me for my sins.’ But, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ In other words, ‘Jesus, you are the king, will you know me in your kingdom?’

The question that it opens up is that of when. When will the man be in paradise? The straight forward answer is today, but what about the concept of the dead sleeping and that they will be raised on the last day? The questions of what happens after death fall into the category of wait and see. Just as the Old Testament promised the coming king but how he comes and what he does wait and see. And those putting Jesus to the cross did not know what they were doing. When we enter the kingdom ourselves, all will be clear. It may well be that we die and enter the timeless future of eternity when the second coming has already occurred. That is one theory. See Revelation 2:7.

What did we learn?

In the midst of prophecy concerning the judgment of God coming on Israel, the people proceed to put the beloved Son of God to death. His execution was humiliating and full of mockery and yet irony also. He was dying in order to save those who would mock him. His sacrifice opens up the way for forgiveness. It will not be the self-righteous who are saved but sinners who come to the King to call Him their Lord.

Now what?

Topic A: Prophet, Priest and King. The Old Testament described and prescribed three distinct offices of prophet (one who received the word of God and spoke it in the people’s hearing for a purpose), priest (the mediator role of Aaron and the Levites to offer sacrifices to God for the people) and King (obviously the ruler of Israel). These three offices come together in Christ and we have observed them all in this very passage. His prophecy of dark times ahead for the daughters of Jerusalem, his offering to forgive through the sacrifice he gives of himself and his Kingship in granting the criminal access to Paradise at his welcome. Now, there are other facets to Jesus than this (such as wise-man) and we don’t need to force Jesus into a tick box of theology but the book of Hebrews takes this approach to highlight how amazing our Saviour is. He is better than Moses, better than the Levitical priests and he is the very Word of God who has made atonement for sins and sat down on the throne in heaven.

Topic B: What it takes to be saved. It took the compassion, patience, humility, mercy, kindness, graciousness and love of God to send his willing Son to the cross. If there were another way, the Father would have granted it by Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42. For us, it takes ownership of our transgressions and the confession of Jesus as LORD – as our LORD. This is Romans 5:8 and 10:9 combined.

Topic C: God is not all about love and forgiveness. While the cross of Christ shows us the love and mercy of God on us sinners, there stands the need to be forgiven lest the wrath and judgement of God fall on us. Jesus’ warning to the daughters of Israel was about the historic fall of Jerusalem, by the arm of the Romans but as the consequence of repeated rejection of God. He will not forgive everybody just because. Merciful and loving as he is, the death of Christ shows us that there is wrath to be avoided. If we do not reconcile with the Son then we have no other mediator to stand between us and God’s righteous anger. John 3:36.

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