Luke 23 Part 3

39. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

One of the evildoing rebels speaks up. He calls upon Christ to save Himself and them along with Him. Of course, this criminal would have been happy to have been released from the cross, but from the Holy Spirit’s commentary on this, we know that he did not really believe that this could happen. He was just joining in the mockery and blasphemy with the others. It seems he was of the sort who would try to forget his own suffering by adding to that of others. So he takes up the words of the enemies of the Lord, and joins in mocking Him as well.

40. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?

The other rebel is not of the same sort, but rather speaks up on the Lord’s behalf. First, he rebukes the other criminal. Does he not fear God even now, considering that he is dying under the same condemnation as the Lord? What reason has he for feeling superior to the Lord, considering that he is dying on a cross himself?

How familiar is the attitude of this reviling criminal! We as human beings often, even in the midst of our own sin and guilt, look on others to mock their troubles and to feel superior. In proclaiming the Bible to inmates in prison, I find that some of them will have much pride, just like this man did. I cannot help but think, “What are you being proud for? You are an inmate in prison, for crying out loud!” But of course I never say that. Yet do we not all do the same thing? Knowing we are sinners and condemnable before God, nevertheless we condemn others who are no worse than we are! We would all do well to take heed to this sensible criminal’s rebuke.

41. “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

It would appear that this criminal was familiar with the Lord somehow. No doubt he had heard the teachings of the Lord Jesus, and knew that this Man could not have done anything worthy of death. Perhaps he had heard some of the details of His trial, and knew that He was condemned to death unfairly, and that even the Romans admitted that He did not deserve death. Or maybe he just read the accusation posted over His cross, and knew that it spelled out no crime. He could certainly see from that heading that the Romans had nothing of substance to accuse the Lord of.

42. Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

This man here expresses faith in God, probably based on the teachings of the Lord that he before had heard. Perhaps he had followed the Lord for a time, and had figured out that He was indeed God’s Savior. Yet when the Lord had not shown Himself to be eager to lead the people in revolt against Rome, he had fallen in with a more radical group, and had committed the crimes for which he was now being punished with death. Yet now on the cross he realizes his mistake. He should have followed the Lord all along! And even now, while Christ is dying on a cross, somehow the Spirit reveals to him His true position in the sight of God, and he expresses his faith in Him as the One Who will in the future rule the Kingdom of God. Such amazing faith this is, expressed in One Who even then was dying on a cross for the crimes he had committed!

43. And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

The Lord instantly recognizes the criminal’s faith, and promises him that he, too, will share in Christ’s Kingdom, as he has asked.

Many would try here to claim that the Lord Jesus was promising this man that that very day they would be together in Heaven. Yet those who claim this are separating this passage from the rest of the Scriptures and what they have to say about these things. First of all, we know where the Lord was going that day after He left the cross. He tells us this in Matthew 12:40.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

So where the Lord was going that day was not to heaven, but rather to the heart of the earth. That this truly does not mean heaven is confirmed to us in John 20:17, wherein the Lord said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” If He had not yet ascended to His Father, then He could not have gone to heaven and been there that day with this criminal. So what did Jesus mean by these words then?

At this point we must be very careful how we view this passage, not to mention the Word of God. We need to remember that the Bible was not originally written in English, but the New Testament portion was written in ancient (not modern) Greek. In the original Greek of this passage there was no punctuation. Moreover, in the original writings there weren’t even individual words, but all the letters were run together in one continuous stream. Texts were written out all in capital letters, with no punctuation, and no space between words or sentences. In today’s Greek texts, modern scholars have added punctuation, and small letters have been added since the fourth or fifth century, but that does not mean that these things were there originally, for they were not. So we need to keep in mind that in the original manuscripts of these books there was no punctuation. Our modern interpreters have added both the capitalization and the punctuation. Neither one of these are inspired by God.

Now we can hope that word division at least is usually pretty obvious and accurate. Capitalization is usually pretty clear as well, although sometimes it calls for a judgment call, like in some cases where one might argue whether Spirit or spirit should be written. Punctuation can be tricky as well, and the passage before us is a prime example. Consider how differently this verse would read if the comma were moved thus, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” This would change the “today” from indicating when they will be together in Paradise to rather emphasizing when He was saying it.

Now this word “today” or “this day” is used commonly in a Hebrew figure to emphasize that something solemn and important is being said. This phrase is used over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy. For example, in Deuteronomy 4:39, we read, “Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” Notice that “this day” does not mean that he wants them to know it that day and no other, but is emphasizing the importance of what they are being told, much as if I would say, “I am telling you right now.” Thus the words “this day” can be used to emphasize the importance of what is being said.

This same figure occurs over and over in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 4:40, we read, “You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today.” In Deuteronomy 6:6, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” He did not want them in their hearts for just one day, but from then on! In Deuteronomy 7:11, “Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” In Deuteronomy 8:1, “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers.” In 8:11, “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today.” In 8:19, “Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish.” Notice that the figure uses either “today” (verse 11) or “this day” (verse 19.) There is no difference between these two.

This same figure is in Deuteronomy 10:13, “and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” In Deuteronomy 11:2, “Know today that I do not speak with your children.” In 11:8, “Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess.” In 11:13, “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today.” In 11:26, 27, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today.” Finally, in 11:32, “And you shall be careful to observe all the statutes and judgments which I set before you today.

This figure is not limited to the Old Testament, or the Hebrew language. In Acts 20:26, we see the same figure, when Paul speaking to the Ephesian elders says:

26. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.

Paul uses the figure again in Acts 26:2.

2. I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,

Now the Lord was Himself an Israelite, and He was speaking to a criminal who no doubt himself was a Hebrew. They both would have been familiar with this figure, and the Lord used it in declaring to this man the truth. He was not telling this criminal that they would be together in Paradise that day. Rather, He was speaking of His kingdom to come, even as the man had asked him.

Now some have argued that this could not be the case, as there are two other times when the Lord uses “today,” the Greek word semeron, to begin a sentence, and in neither one of them could this figure of speech possibly be meant. These occurrences are both in Luke, the very book we are studying. The first is in Luke 4:21:

21. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Clearly in this case, what the Lord meant is that this Scripture was fulfilled that very day as they were hearing Him speak. The second is in Luke 19:9:

9. And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;

Again, what the Lord meant is that salvation had come to that house on that day. So do those who argue this have a point? The fact is that the Greek in these two passages is different from what we have in Luke 23:43. First of all, these words begin a sentence, and are not preceded with solemn words like in Luke 23:43, “Assuredly, I say to you today.” Moreover, the word “today” in both cases is preceded in Greek by the word “that,” hoti in Greek. Since in ancient Greek, as we previously said, they did not have punctuation, they of course did not have quotation marks. Therefore, it could be difficult to tell when a quotation started. Therefore, hoti or “that” could be used to introduce a quotation. This word is unnecessary in English because we do use quotation marks. However, in these two cases, the word “that” tells us that the quotation starts with “today,” and that “today” is part of the quotation, and therefore cannot be the Hebrew figure of speech for emphasis. Yet there is no hoti or “that” in front of “today” in Luke 23:43. This phrase in Greek is quite different.

Therefore, the attempt to compare these two to Luke 23:43, just because they are two other times that the Lord used the word “today,” is a faulty one. Hoti semeron is a different phrase than just semeron. “Today” could be used as the ancient Hebrew figure to emphasize what is being said, as it is used in Luke 23:43, Acts 20:26, and Acts 26:2. These are the verses which should be compared. “That today” is different, and is not used as this figure. To compare this verse with verses that use “that today” is not a good comparison.

So this man’s faith was active even as the King of the Kingdom was hanging on the cross. The King could tell him even as He was dying on the tree that He would see to it that this man would be with Him in that great Day! How blessed the realization this truth brings, that even there on the cross a man could express faith in Christ! But we must not be led astray by thinking that this verse indicates that Christ went to Heaven when He died. That is not what Christ was saying here.

44. Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

Now a darkness comes over all the earth. What a solemn sign this was! We do not know for certain what this darkness signified. We know that the Son of God was at this time taking upon Himself the sin of the world. Could it be this darkness symbolized the darkness of the sin that was even then being paid for on the cross? Or was God casting a veil of darkness over the marvelous work that was being done there? We cannot say for certain. Yet we do know that this darkness was most significant.

We read here that this darkness began about the sixth hour, and continued until the ninth hour. Remember, the Jewish day began at sunrise, or about 6:00 A.M. They then counted their hours from sunrise. Thus, this darkness lasted from about noon to 3:00 P.M.

45. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

Now the sun is darkened. Whether this is just a restatement of what we had in verse 44, or if this is some different phenomena, it is hard to say. But also the veil of the temple is torn in two. This would be the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. This was an extremely heavy curtain. Some even guess that this curtain might have been up to twelve inches thick. This is much thicker than what we would think of as a curtain. This tearing was nothing natural, either. This curtain, as big as it was, could not have been torn like this except by the power of God.

Some make a big deal of this, saying that this curtain being ripped opened the way for everyone to enter into the Holy of Holies. Yet before concluding this, we need to remember that this veil was not the only division in the temple. Only priests could go into the Holy Place in the first place, so tearing this curtain really only gave common priests access into the Holy of Holies, rather than just the high priest. Outside the walls of the main temple building, there were divisions as well, for this temple was a campus, not just a building. There was a court of the Gentiles on the outermost part of the temple grounds, and none who were not Israelites could pass beyond this. Yet no mention here is made of the dividing wall between the court of the Gentiles and the inner courts falling down. This tearing was symbolic of increased access to God, indeed, but not of the total access that we enjoy today in the dispensation of grace. The way for all, including Gentiles, to partake in the highest blessings of God would not be announced until the end of the Acts period and the proclamation made in Acts 28:28. Then, in Ephesians 3:12, it was declared that all who are in Christ have boldness and access with confidence. We must not get ahead of ourselves and read that back into this. There were many more divisions in the temple than just this veil!

46. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.

Now the Lord cries out with a loud voice. We are not told what He said here, but it could be that by comparing this with other gospels, we might find what He said. Then, the Lord Jesus dismisses His life by committing His spirit into the Father’s hands. True indeed it is that it was not the cross that killed Him, but rather that He laid down His Own life.

This word for the “spirit” that the Lord committed into the Father’s hands, pneuma, is the same as the Hebrew ruach in the Old Testament. Here, it is connected with the life, and giving up the life is giving up the spirit. The phrase “He breathed His last” in Greek here is exepneusen. Ex means “out,” so we might make this English as “He-gave-out-the-spirit.” Our English word “expired” has to do with giving out the breath, and thus dying. Here, the idea is very similar, only meaning “exspirited.”

47. So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”

This centurion was probably the Roman soldier in charge of the crucifixions taking place that day. He had no doubt seen many criminals and rebels die on the cross before this, but this time there is a difference. All these signs we have been reading of arrest his attention. (Although, of course, he did not see the veil in the temple tear.) He had seen many hang on the cross, no doubt wishing and even begging or pleading for death in their torment. Yet this was the first time he had ever seen anyone on the cross simply will His Own death, and thus bring it about. He cannot help but conclude that this was no common criminal who had just died, but rather a righteous Man, Who did not deserve the punishment that He was receiving. The centurion was right in this, of course, yet Christ was much more than just that!

48. And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned.

The crowd who were watching see that He has died, and they beat their breasts in grief. Then, they return to the city. When they expressed their sorrow in this way, they were not having a last-minute change of heart, as the teaching of some would indicate. Rather, the crowd had been sorrowing the entire time of the crucifixion at the death of the One Whom they had hoped was the Messiah come at last to deliver them. Now, observing His death, they depart, assuming that their hopes for salvation from this One have come to a bitter end. Yet they sorrowed at His death, and did not rejoice. The only ones happy with this were the jealous religious leaders by whose designs He was put on the cross in the first place. The common people, on the other hand, did not approve of His death, and indeed mourned it most sincerely.

49. But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The crowd were not the only ones present at the time of His death. There were also His acquaintances there, and the women who followed Him from Galilee. These followers stood at a distance and watched as these things took place. No doubt these faithful women, who had trusted so much in the Lord and had given so much in service to Him, even monetarily supporting His ministry, were dismayed and heartbroken at what they were seeing.

This verse is the only indication we have that many of the disciples may have returned to the Lord after their flight from the garden in order to view the end from afar. We know John was there, even up near to the cross where he could talk to the Lord. Peter had run out of the city and wept when he realized he had denied the Lord three times, and so it could be that he was too ashamed even to show his presence at the crucifixion. Yet many of His other disciples may have been there, listed here as His acquaintances. Indeed, that is all they were acting like, for none of them were willing to come near, probably still fearing for their own lives. Thus they stood far off as those who had only known Him distantly might have done. Yet we cannot know for sure that any of His nearer disciples other than John were present. It could be that they were all still in hiding, and were not even brave enough to come out to see the end.

50. Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man.

Now we are introduced to a good man named Joseph. He shared this name, meaning “Let him add,” with the Lord’s stepfather. Of course, this was a common name in Israel because of the famous Joseph of the book of Genesis, the progenitor of two of the tribes of Israel, Ephraim and Manasseh. This Joseph we are meeting here was a member of the Sanhedrin, as is probably implied by the word we have here translated, “a council member.” Yet this Joseph was a good and just man, not like the jealous and unrighteous religious leaders who had schemed to put the Lord to death.

51. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God.

This “good and just” man who “was also waiting for the Kingdom of God” did not approve of the decision and deed of the Sanhedrin when they condemned the Lord Jesus to death. In fact, we might guess that he was not invited to or made aware of the Sanhedrin’s early-morning show-trial of the Lord Jesus. The jealous leaders certainly wanted no powerful men opposing their nefarious scheme to murder the Lord. No doubt this man, like most of the loyal followers of the Lord Jesus, was kept in the dark until it was too late.

Joseph was from Arimathea (Heights.) This was the name of several cities in the land of Israel. Commentators guess that this one was in Mount Ephraim, where Samuel was born and lived.

Joseph was waiting for the kingdom of God. We would ask, after reading this statement, how anyone can imagine that the kingdom of God is “the sovereignty of God, which is moral and universal. It existed from the beginning, and will know no end. It is over all, and embraces all.” Companion Bible, Appendix 112, 2. How in the world could one wait for the sovereignty of God, which is moral and universal, and existed from the beginning? There would be no waiting for that! Yet this is the definition of the kingdom of God that is commonly put forward by many in dispensational circles.

The fact is that the kingdom of God is not simply the sovereignty of God, it is not universal, and it did not exist from the beginning. The word “kingdom” means “government,” and the government of God is the time, yet future, when God will take control of the governments of this world and make them His own. He had not done this in the days of Joseph of Arimathea, and he has not done this yet today. Those who know what the Scripture says about the kingdom of God are still waiting for it to come, even as Joseph was then.

52. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Joseph must have truly believed in the Lord. Now the Lord has died on a cross, and Joseph knows how the bodies of those thus killed are usually treated. Criminals executed on a cross were usually considered so vile that they were not worthy of a proper burial. Often, their bodies were taken down from the cross and thrown on a refuse heap to decompose exposed to the open air. Joseph had not approved of the Lord’s death, and he does not want to see His body treated in this dishonorable way.

Joseph acts, going to the Roman governor Pilate and asking for the Lord’s body. No doubt Pilate was happy to grant this to him. He felt he had been forced into putting the Lord to death by the Jewish rulers, and he was willing to do anything to get one back at them. Allowing the Lord to be buried in an honorable manner was one way of doing that. Nevertheless, it was a brave thing for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the body of a Man executed by Rome in the manner of a traitor like this. It must have taken a good deal of courage and conviction for him to do this. Thus we see that not all the rulership of Israel were as wicked or cowardly as those who had condemned Christ.

53. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before.

Joseph goes to the place of crucifixion and takes down the Lord’s body. Then, he wraps it in linen, the grave clothes of the rich, and lays it in a tomb. Whether he did this all himself, or whether he had servants to help him, we are not told. It was him doing it, regardless. We do know he had Nicodemus to help him, as we are told this in John 19:39. Nicodemus was yet another member of the Sanhedrin, so the Lord did indeed have honorable and powerful men who buried Him.

We learn from Matthew 27:60 that this tomb was Joseph’s own tomb that he had no doubt prepared for himself and his family. Tombs were not for one person at that time, but whole families were buried together in them. Yet hewing this tomb must have been something he did recently, and he was fortunate in that he had not had occasion to use it as of yet. Now he places the Lord as the first resident in it. This was a great way to honor his fallen Lord, as this was practically identifying the Lord as a member of his family.

54. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near.

This was still the day of the Passover, which was also the preparation day for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Passover would have been the day when all the houses were swept clean from top to bottom to insure that no leaven would be found therein during the upcoming feast. That is why it is here called the Preparation. The next day would have been the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The first and last day of that feast were always Sabbath days, whether they fell on the weekly Sabbath day or not. This is outlined in Leviticus 23:5-8.

5. On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover. 6. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread. 7. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it. 8. But you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD for seven days. The seventh day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.’”

So the Sabbath mentioned here was not the weekly Sabbath, and the Lord did not die on Friday. In this case, the feast of unleavened bread would have started on Thursday, and the Lord Jesus was crucified on Passover Wednesday. That means He was in the grave three days and three nights, before rising from the dead on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. That is how this would have worked out if the Lord was crucified in AD 29, which we would believe that He was.

55. And the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid.

We learned of all the women who followed the Lord Jesus in Luke 8:1-3. We even saw that they provided for Him out of their substance. Now, they follow after the party with Joseph that buries the Lord. They see everything that is done, including the tomb that He is laid in, and how it is that He is laid there. Yet in their sorrowful state they apparently do not fully register the rolling of the boulder over the entrance or how difficult that would make the tomb to open later.

56. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

Since verse 54 took place near the end of the day, they would not have had time to prepare these spices and oils before it arrived. Therefore, they must have waited until the day after the Sabbath beginning the feast of unleavened bread. They no doubt rested on the feast Sabbath, or Thursday, prepared the spices and oils on the following day, or Friday, and then rested on the weekly Sabbath, or Saturday. This second, weekly Sabbath is the one referred to here. This takes us through Christ’s three days and three nights in the tomb, as Matthew 12:40 declared.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Yet in spite of this clear statement, the common idea is that He was only in the grave for one full day, parts of two others, and two full nights! Yet the Scripture leaves no room for such stretching of the truth, for when the phrase “three nights” is added to “three days” it indicates full, twenty-four-hour days. No, the Lord Jesus did not die on Friday and stay only one full day in the grave. Rather, He died on Wednesday, and was in the grave three full days and nights, even as He said.