Since the invention of audio and video recordings we have witnessed some amazing things:
- Last words and reactions of pilots before a plane crash when rescuers find the "black box."
- Footage of wars being fought shown in real time on TV news.
- Crimes and gun battles captured on cell phones and broadcast across the internet for millions to see.
There was no such technology in Jesus' day, but nevertheless I would like to describe as best I can the last images and words experienced by the Lord before His death. These were recorded by eyewitnesses whose accounts have been preserved in their written records. The Bible is our "black box" for these events that took place so long ago.
The Last Things That Jesus Saw and Experienced
Mark 14:53-65 — Jewish Trial (First Scene)
Jesus has been arrested by temple and Roman guards after being betrayed by Judas in the Garden. The Apostles have run away and He is all alone.
He is brought first to Annas, the former High Priest and father-in-law to the current High Priest, Caiaphas. This was probably done to formulate some kind of charge against Jesus which would then justify a trial. Jesus is then brought before the Jewish court (Sanhedrin) of the High Priest, Caiaphas, who has convened a 'special' inquiry in the early hours of the morning.
It was illegal to call such an assembly at night in order to prosecute a capital case, but their mission to provide some sort of due process in order to condemn and execute Jesus was urgent, and a charge against Him needed to be formulated. And so, one accuser after another is brought forth, without success, because each one contradicts the other.
Finally, in utter frustration, Caiphas himself addresses Jesus and simply asks Him if He believes that He is the Messiah, to which Jesus answers in the affirmative because He cannot lie, even to protect His own life, and He cannot avoid confessing the truth concerning His actual identity. Mark tells us that Jesus is then condemned to death based on His own declaration. What all the false accusers could not produce with their lies, Jesus accomplishes by telling the truth about Himself.
While Peter denies Jesus in the dark and cold courtyard outside, Jesus accepts His sentence of death while standing bound before the Jewish leadership inside the High Priest's house. Once the charge against Him is set, the night of horror begins as His tormentors spit, beat, mock and slap the Son of God; and the words of Isaiah are fulfilled,
I gave My back to those who strike Me,
And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard;
I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.
- Isaiah 50:6
Matthew 27:26-31 — The Roman Trial (Second Scene)
After having falsely accused and tortured Him, the Jewish leaders bring Jesus to the Roman governor, Pilate, because although they had sentenced Him to death, only a Roman official could carry out an execution.
11Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, "Are You the King of the Jews?" And Jesus said to him, "It is as you say."12And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He did not answer.13Then Pilate said to Him, "Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?"14And He did not answer him with regard to even a single charge, so the governor was quite amazed.15Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the people any one prisoner whom they wanted.16At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.17So when the people gathered together, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?"18For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.
19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him a message, saying, "Have nothing to do with that righteous Man; for last night I suffered greatly in a dream because of Him."20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.21But the governor said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas."22Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Crucify Him!" 23And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!"
24When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves."25And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!"
- Matthew 27:11-25
Pilate, after questioning Jesus, realizes that there is no evidence or crime deserving the death penalty. He vainly tries to free the Lord but is unsuccessful because the cries of the Jewish mob, incited by the Priests and other Jewish leaders complicit in the effort to have Jesus put to death, threaten to spill over into a riot. Pilate, in an effort to appease them, turns Jesus over to the Roman guards where His ordeal of suffering is about to continue:
- Verse 26: The scourging - Roman soldiers used short whips made up of leather strips to which were attached bones or lead bits at the tips for maximum injury. The whipping was applied from both sides with the objective being the ripping of the flesh into open wounds.
- Verse 27: A cohort - A group of about 600-1000 men. All were present to watch since the torture was conducted as a cruel spectacle appealing to bloodlust.
- Verses 28-29: They dressed Him in a robe, put a reed in His hand, plunged a crown of thorns down on His head and mockingly addressed Him as a king, even kneeling before Him in order to humiliate the subject of their torture.
- Verses 30-31: They then spat on Him, took the reed away (as a sign of His powerlessness) and beat Him on the head driving the thorns further into His skull, while laughing at Him. They then led Him away to His death.
- The purpose of this unnecessary torture and cruelty by the Roman soldiers was to destroy the prisoner's spirit before destroying his body with crucifixion. It also served as a visual object lesson to any other Jew who might have plans to undermine Roman rule and law.
If we could see through the eyes of Jesus at this point, what we would notice most of all was that there was not a single drop of human pity or compassion in their attitude. As I said, their goal was to completely destroy Him psychologically before they destroyed Him physically.
Luke 23:26-27 — The Crucifixion (Final Scene)
Once the beatings and mockery were over He was led out of the city to be crucified.
26When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.27And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him.
- Luke 23:26-27
He was too weak to carry His own cross (the cross formation was about eight feet high) and so Simon from Cyrene (modern day Libya) was pressed into service as the large noisy crowd made its way outside the walls of the city to Golgotha (the place of the skull) for the actual execution.
33And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull,34they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.
- Matthew 27:33-34
Prisoners were given wine mixed with myrrh to calm them down. This was not an act of mercy but was done so the condemned would not resist and move about while the nails were being driven through their hands and feet. Jesus refused to drink wanting His mind clear to the end. He still had things to do.
35And when they had crucified Him,
- Matthew 27:35a
They crucified Him, one large nail per hand and foot. In most cases death came slowly from thirst, pain, exhaustion and asphyxiation. This agony would go on for three or four days before the prisoner would finally expire.
35..they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots.
- Matthew 27:35b
As was their custom, the soldiers who were responsible for the execution shared any clothing or valuables left by the ones crucified. In Jesus' case they gambled for His robe, not wanting to divide it among themselves, and waited for Him to die.
37And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS."38At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left.39And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads40and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying,42"He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.43He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"
- Matthew 27:37-43
Once crucified, the people not yet satisfied with His suffering, continued to hurl insults at Jesus while He hung on the cross suffering and dying in the most humiliating fashion.
44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.
- Matthew 27:44
Even the two thieves hung on either side of Jesus were insulting Him as well.
Beaten, bleeding, degraded and in terrible pain, Jesus looks out over the scene before Him and sees the cruelty of the guards, the hatred of the crowd, the mocking of the religious leaders, the abandonment of His disciples and He finds the strength to say seven things before He dies on the cross.
The Last Seven Things That Jesus Said From the Cross:
1. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
The very first words from His mouth while He hung on the cross were not concerning His own pain, the injustice of it all, a cry for help or a curse on His tormentors, but rather a plea to God on behalf of His murderers.
2. "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)
The second thing He says is a response to one of the thieves next to Him.
39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" 40But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?41And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."42And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!"43And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
- Luke 23:39-43
Notice that in Matthew 27:44 it says that both thieves were cursing Him. What do you think finally convinced one of them to believe: miracles, doctrine? No, the thief witnessed the power of forgiveness working in love. He heard from Jesus the words of forgiveness towards His enemies, and he was moved to seek forgiveness for himself.
The lesson of the thief on the cross is not that it is never too late to be saved, or that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but rather the power of salvation is love - love unto death if necessary. This is what draws all men to Christ: His great love.
3. "Woman, behold, your Son!.. Behold, your mother!" (John 19:26-27)
After He is crucified, Jesus' mother and John approach the cross, and the Lord puts her into the care of the Apostle that He loved.
We know that Jesus is divine not only because of His great miracles, but while the greatest battle for humanity is being waged at Calvary, He has His eyes on all the details and needs of everyone there, even the care of His earthly mother when He will no longer be there to look after her Himself.
4. "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus deals with those furthest away from Himself first (enemies, thieves, mother, disciple) and, finally, Self. The Lord now grapples with His own suffering. He bears the final crushing punishment for the sins of all men: separation from God.
It was not the physical abuse and pain that atoned for sin, these were natural consequences of men's sin, ignorance and hatred of God. Jesus experienced these in one way or another throughout His life and ministry with its culmination here at Calvary. The suffering that paid the price for sin was paid on the cross, but it was not the cross itself, it was the separation that Christ experienced from His Father while on the cross. This terrible agony caused even the Son of God to cry out; this was the punishment reserved for guilty sinners. This burden Jesus willingly took upon Himself on behalf of all sinners - on behalf of you and me!
5. "I am Thirsty." (John 19:28)
Jesus asked for a drink. Why? It seems that after having suffered so heroically He would make it to the end without any physical assistance.
I believe that He asked for a drink because He was human and in doing so demonstrated that He suffered as a human, unprotected by some supernatural armor against pain. The life He lived was perfect because He was God; the life He offered in suffering was human because He was man.
6. "It is finished!" (John 19:30)
From the beginning, God's plan was to send His Son to live a perfect life and offer that life in death in order to pay the moral debt of sin accumulated by all men which in turn condemned everyone to separation from God eternally. The history of the Jewish nation and the life of Jesus all led to this act, and now it was accomplished once for all.
When we believe, repent and are baptized we need to understand that we lay hold of the finished work of atonement that Christ has made on our behalf. All sin has been dealt with, forever. The payment for your sins and mine has been made in full. When Jesus said, "It is finished!" He meant that nothing else needed to be done in order to make restitution for the sins of all of mankind.
7. "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit." (Luke 23:46)
These are the last words of Jesus before He dies. Notice that He does not die struggling to hang on to life as most men do, but willingly offers His spirit in death to His Father. Why? Because Jesus knew He had the power to both lay it down and pick it up again.
17For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.18No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."
- John 10:17-18
Christians do not have the power to lay down their lives and then pick them back up again. They do, however, have the assurance from the One who does have this power, that when their lives are over He will raise them up once again. We know that if He has the power to pick up His own life, He certainly has the power to raise up others as well.
We often ask ourselves, "What would we have done if we were there, if we were transported back to that time?" If we were there on that terrible day as Jesus surveyed the view from the cross, where would He have seen us?
It's not really necessary to go back in time in order to answer that question. We can judge what our position would have been back then simply by looking at our position here today. For example:
- The Romans: They were unbelievers, unwittingly opposing God and crucifying the Savior. Today we have many who do not believe and are in the darkness manipulated by Satan through their ignorance, and opposing God and Christ without even knowing it.
- The Jews: Believed in God but refused to accept God's word made flesh. Today, how many claim to know and believe in God but refuse to obey His word and follow Jesus instead of traditions and doctrines not based on the Bible. We reject God when we reject Christ; we reject Christ when we reject His word.
- The Disciples: They believed in Jesus but refused to stand with Him when under pressure. Jesus said that many would receive the word, but when persecutions came would quickly fall away. Among our own members today we have many who have confessed Christ and have been baptized, but when it comes time to choose between Christ or a bad habit, a sexual sin, worldly friends, the pressure of family or jobs, they, like the early disciples, run away and watch from a distance the mob who killed their Lord.
- Those on the cross with Jesus: Only Jesus went to the cross, no one else went with Him. There could have been 12 crosses on Calvary that day (if the soldiers would have caught the disciples and they confessed Christ, they would have also been crucified with Him). However, we know that only one was willing to go. Today, all those who confess His name, sincerely repent of their sins, are baptized and follow Christ until He returns, these are the ones on the cross with Jesus.
3Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.5For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
- Romans 6:3-5
There was only one place to be back there and there is only one place to be today: on the cross with Christ.
In various locations around the world people have built crosses on high hills that overlook their principal cities. Places like Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and Montreal in Quebec. There is even a large cross built near the city of Edmond here in Oklahoma. These are wonderful gestures done to pay homage to the Christian heritage of these places, but Christ does not want the cross on a hill or mountain somewhere, He wants the cross within us and He wants us on the cross with Him.
You have seen the video and black box of the "View From the Cross" that I have presented to you based on the writings of the Apostles and early disciples. Based on what you have seen, ask yourselves this question: "What group would you have been standing with on that day?" The unbelieving Romans, the disobedient Jews, the cowardly disciples or are you on that cross with your Savior, Jesus Christ? If you have never been there with Him before and you would like to join Him on the cross, then repent and be baptized today and make His cross your own.
If you have left that position and would like to rejoin the Lord and His cross then pray for forgiveness as you repent and return.
Wherever you are, the Lord calls out to you from His cross.