Luke 23:26-49


The Son of Man Made Perfect through Suffering

Luke 23:26-43  -  Jesus is Crucified

In the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, Luke followed largely the order that had been mapped out by Mark, though he added a number of significant details, and omitted others.

26 As they led him out,
they seized on Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the countryside,
and placed the cross on him to carry behind Jesus. 

Cyrene was the capital city of one of the countries of Northern Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea. There were many Jews present in the city who had come from various places around the Empire. Simon (the name was Jewish) may have been one of these, a pilgrim to Jerusalem for the feast.

Simon would have carried the cross beam only. The upright would already have been in place at the site of crucifixion.

In detailing that Simon carried the cross behind Jesus, Luke echoed the message of Jesus given to the disciples during his ministry in Galilee: If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross every day and so follow me (9:23 Note also 14:27). Luke gave no indication whether Simon carried the cross reluctantly or willingly, nor if he later became a disciple. The fact that his name was retained in the community memory might indicate his later conversion. 

27 A big crowd of people and women followed him,
beating their breasts and weeping for him.

The image of women beating their breasts and wailing reflected a common scriptural theme:

... call for the mourning women to come;
send for the skilled women to come;
let them quickly raise a dirge over us,
so that our eyes may run down with tears,
and our eyelids flow with water.
For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion... (Jeremiah 9:17)

Luke’s reference to a big crowd of people may have been an overestimation on his part. Jerusalem’s streets were narrow and, though usually crowded, would hardly have provided room for any additional great crowd.

28 Jesus turned to them and said,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me!
Weep rather for yourselves and for your children!
29 For look a time is coming when people will say, ‘
'Blessed are the women who are childless,
the wombs that have never borne,
the breasts that have never suckled.' 
30 Then they will start to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
and to the hills, “Hide us!”

The quotation was from a passage of Hosea that spoke of God’s pending punishment of the Northern Kingdom of Israel for its failure to heed the prophets: 

The days of punishment have come,
the days of recompense have come;
Israel cries,
“The prophet is a fool,
the man of the spirit is mad!”
... but now Ephraim must lead out his children for slaughter.
Give them, O Lord—
what will you give?
Give them a miscarrying womb
and dry breasts...
The inhabitants of Samaria tremble...
... They shall say to the mountains, Cover us,
and to the hills, Fall on us. (Hosea 9:7,14; 10:5,10)

Jesus’ comment echoed his lament over the city as he entered it a week beforehand. They had not listened to the prophets in the past, nor had they listened to Jesus. On that occasion Jesus had referred to the coming destruction of Jerusalem before the might of the Roman armies. Its destruction was still on his mind. Luke obviously intended to connect the destruction of the city in the year 70 AD to its failure to listen to Jesus. 

31 For if they do these things when the tree is green,
what will happen in the dry land?”

Jesus’ image was drawn from a warning given to Israel’s enemies by Ezekiel. 

Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, 
and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; 
the blazing flame shall not be quenched... (Ezekiel 20:47)

Jesus’ point was that what they were doing to him would pale in comparison with the suffering that would be associated with the later destruction of Jerusalem.

The whole incident was special to Luke, and served to indicate something of the inner attitude of the suffering Christ, not absorbed in himself and his needs, but consistently reaching out to others.

32 Two other criminals were led away to be killed with him.
33 When they came to the place called The Skull,
they crucified him there,
and the two criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

Luke did not give the Hebrew name for the location since it would have meant nothing to his readers.  Its translated name, however, reeked of death.

34 Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them.
They do not know what they are doing.” 

It is uncertain whether this verse is belongs to the original text. The most reliable early manuscripts omitted it, yet a number of ancient authors quoted it. Scholars do not agree. Its content reflects clearly a consistent element of Luke’s portrayal of Jesus:  he wished to present Jesus as the exemplar of authentic discipleship.

The capacity and readiness to forgive were among the powerful possibilities of life in God’s Kingdom. Jesus had referred to forgiveness in the prayer he taught the disciples, and had made it the subject of his explicit teaching. It was fitting that Jesus himself offer forgiveness to those who had hurt him. Yet in doing so, as the prayer (and inner struggle) on the Mount of Olives had clearly shown, Jesus, too, had to struggle and wrestle in order to love and forgive those colluding in the sin of the world. Genuine forgiveness is never easy. 

To whom was Jesus referring? The context would seem to refer to the chief priests and other senior men, the Roman governor and his soldiers, and anyone else involved in his murder.

In later centuries, certain Christians would scapegoat the Jewish people as a whole in anything but a spirit of forgiveness. Such was obviously not the attitude of Jesus. Whoever they were, Jesus explicitly forgave them.

... They divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Luke simply included a detail from Mark’s account, drawn in its turn from Psalm 21, perhaps to underline the utter poverty of Jesus as he faced into death: 

All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
... They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots. (Psalm 21:7-8,17-18)

Consistently Jesus had sided with the poor, in his behaviour and in his teaching. Everyone dies naked to the eyes of God. Jesus died naked to the eyes of human society.

35 The people stood there looking.

Though the people looked, Luke left them silent, giving no clue to their attitudes or allegiances – inarticulate and overawed by the drama.

The rulers sneered, saying,
"He saved others.  Let him save himself -
if he is the Christ, God's chosen one".
36 The soldiers, too, made fun of him.  
As they came up offering him their sour wine,
37 they would say,
"If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself"
38 [for there was an inscription over him written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, "This man is the king of the Jews"]. 
39 One of the criminals hanging there blasphemed him, saying,
"Are you not the Christ?
Well then, save yourself and us".

Luke mentioned three groups intent on dishonouring Jesus: the rulers, the soldiers, and one of the criminals (as he had mentioned three groups accompanying him on his way to crucifixion: soldiers, a big crowd of people including the women, and two criminals).

All three groups mocked his identity, and his power to save. The leaders disowned Jesus as the Christ/Messiah of God, his chosen one; the soldiers, perhaps taking their cue from the inscription fixed to the cross, called him King of the Jews; and one of the criminals called him simply the Christ/Messiah, prompted, perhaps, by the taunts of the leaders.


“Save yourself!” The word salvation has become familiar in the Christian vocabulary, referring to the state of being a peace with God, particularly after death but also in the present. Luke’s Gospel did not exclude that meaning but was itself less precise, covering such things as physical healing and any general reversal of a situation of felt need.

The Kingdom Experience. The “mockers” challenging Jesus to ”save” himself were taunting him to reverse his present situation of helplessness and threatening death. However, Jesus on occasion had spoken of salvation in a more radical sense as entrance into the Kingdom experience in the present and later after death: “Whoever wish to save their life will lose it; but whoever lose their life fon account of me will save it” (9:24). Responding to the question about who could be “saved” if those with wealth would find it amazingly difficult, Jesus had said: “What is inhumanly impossible is possible with God” (18:26). 

Gift of God. Jesus’ point was that salvation is always the gift of God. People cannot save themselves, though their readiness to trust God opens them to God’s saving action. In that sense, Jesus could not save himself. Salvation would be God’s response to his faithfulness and integrity. As noted earlier, in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus had prayed “to the God who was able to save him from death ... and he was heard” (Hebrews 5:7).

Death Overcome. Jesus refused to see death as the ultimate crowning of the meaninglessness of life. God’s response was, in fact, to raise Jesus to new life, which at the same time was continuous with his mortal human life, and also involved his sharing directly in the power of God. Death was no longer meaningless, and could now be defined differently. It was not the last word, but the means of entry to life to the full. The rest of the human race that responded in faith to Jesus and to his message of the Kingdom would also be eventually raised to life with him. 

Liberated from the Sin of the World. Though the mockers understood salvation in terms of individual experience, it meant much more than that. Salvation would be the communal experience of liberation from the sin of the world, not just from the sum of individual sins, but from sin as it takes shape in social, political and religious systems where people interrelate destructively. The trials of Jesus clearly exposed the dishonesty, corruption and brutality of people enmeshed in their systems and enslaved to their needs – whether the political and military systems of Rome or the religious system of Israel and by extension virtually all political, military, religious and social institutions. Salvation would be the experience of social honesty, integrity, compassion and freedom.

Though he would refer later to the presence of an observing crowd, unlike Mark, Luke made no mention of their mocking Jesus. Luke’s concern seemed to have been to mute somewhat the degradation and horror of the event. He was also not particularly interested in determining who shared in the guilt of the process. His major concern was to underline the fact of Jesus’ proclaimed innocence. The following incident clearly indicated his priorities.

40 The second criminal answered up and rebuked him saying,
"Do even you not fear God,
when you are under the same sentence?
41 We are hanging here justly.  
We are getting what we deserve for what we have done.  
But this man has done nothing out of order."

Luke was the only evangelist to add this detail. It may have been his own creation. What mattered for Luke was his statement of Jesus' innocence.

It might well have happened that potential rebels had first anticipated an ally in Jesus - their aims seemed to coincide. They were both sensitive to oppression and prepared to resist it. Jesus’ approach, however, was clearly non-violent. They would quickly have learnt that, and impatiently lost interest in him. Their disillusionment may have found expression in the taunting remark of the first criminal: what change would ever be brought about by non-violence? At least they knew he was not guilty of the same violent acts for which they were condemned.

42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come as king".
43 He said to him, "I assure you,
today you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus’ response seemed to indicate that the criminal’s request might have pointed toward a beginning of conversion. Luke may also have wished the criminal’s comment to illustrate that, whatever about the inefficiency of non-violence, violence had also proved unproductive. The whole intervention contributed an element of humanity and kindness into an otherwise bleak and heartless scene.

Jesus had commented earlier in his narrative, in connection with the “sinful woman” who had anointed him in the house of the Pharisee, that her sins must have been forgiven her because she has loved much. It seemed that something similar had happened to the criminal. His love had taken shape in his faith and hope in Jesus and his solidarity with him. Perhaps they in their turn had been stirred by his observation of Jesus’ innocence and his prayer that God forgive his oppressors.

Jesus’ response to the criminal served to build up Luke’s image of Jesus as the perfect exemplar of the faithful son of God. His concern was to underline the deliberate selfless response of Jesus from within the experience of suffering and dehumanisation. 


The word “Paradise” had not figured earlier in the Gospel narrative. It was a Persian word that had come into the Jewish vocabulary from the time of Persian overlordship after the nation’s liberation from Babylon. The word had entered into the Hebrew Scriptures in the creation story of Genesis. Literally it meant “garden”. In the Jewish mind it referred to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve had lived in innocent naïveté, at peace with themselves, with each other and with God. Adam and Eve had lost their innocence, and since then the common experience of humanity had increasingly become one of “ innocence lost”.

[It may perhaps be said that in some sense all human growth involves a movement beyond innocence, the knowing exercise of responsibility in freedom, the prioritisation of options, the experience of the good, the less good, and the not good. Choices are made in a context of limitation: death will come; life can be lived only once. Given that context, choices are significant. At birth every person enters a world that in many ways has lost its way and where relationships have become distorted - where such lostness and distortions (the sin of the world) have become structured into human nature and social interactions, and inevitably absorbed from the moment of birth (and perhaps even conception).]

In the Jewish mind, Paradise had come to refer also to a future experience free from the destructive pressures of life in the world, an undefined experience of “innocence regained”, of peace and of happiness.


The Human Journey Ended (1) – Jesus Trusts God

Luke 23:44-49  -  Jesus Dies

44 It was about the sixth hour by this time,
and darkness came over the whole earth until the ninth hour
45 and the sun was blocked out.
The veil of the Sanctuary was torn down the middle.

Earlier in the narrative when speaking of the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus had said: There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars ... When these things begin to happen, straighten up and lift your heads, because your redemption has come close (21:25,28). Taking his lead from Mark’s Gospel, Luke gave the same detail. He was not necessarily referring to any historical event. He was illustrating the reality unfolding at a totally different level. This was the beginning of the process of redemption.

The veil of the temple shielded the Holy of Holies from common gaze. The Holy of Holies was understood to be the place par excellence of the presence of God among his people.

Again what was in question was not a factual event. The tearing of the temple curtain was symbolic. With the death of Jesus, God was accessible to everyone, no longer hidden from view. Indeed, the very death of Jesus in its own way revealed the heart of God: Jesus had remained faithful, empowered by God. God’s way of love had triumphed.

46 Shouting out with a loud cry, Jesus said,
“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”
When he said this, he expired.

As so often in his narrative, Luke again departed radically from Mark. In Mark the dying Jesus had shouted out his sense of dereliction by God, the absence of God: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.

Luke was concerned consistently to emphasise the deliberate response of Jesus to his experience of suffering. The words that Luke put on his lips were taken from one of the Hebrew psalms that Jesus would have known from his youth and recited frequently.

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me. 
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (Psalm 31:1-5)

Jesus had wrestled with the temptations to despair, lack of trust and vindictiveness. He had overcome: forgiving, and surrendering to God in total trust. Jesus believed that his faithful God would truly redeem him. It was also Luke’s faith. His confidence in Jesus’ certainty was the reason he had chosen to present Jesus’ passion the way he did.

47 The centurion observed what had happened
and glorified God, saying,
“This man was a truly just man.” 

In Mark’s narrative, the centurion’s comment could have been ambiguous. There was no doubt in Luke’s. The Roman Empire, firstly through Pilate, then through the criminal who had violently rebelled against it, and finally by the centurion who had executed the deed of execution, publicly declared once more that Jesus was innocent. Ironically, in proclaiming Jesus as innocent, the Empire was declaring its own brutality, oppression and moral bankruptcy.

Though Rome had killed the innocent Christ, it was in fact no worse than other Empires. It simply embodied the sin of the world. The innocence of Jesus exposed the dishonesty, corruption and violence that disfigure the human race. It revealed the virtually inevitable vicious tendencies of human systems to blind individuals to what they are doing and lead them to surrender their sense of moral principle and innate decency to the systems’ needs. It unmasked the sin of the world.

48 The crowds that had gathered around for the spectacle,
when they saw the things that happened,
turned back home beating their breasts.

Again Luke muted the starkness of Jesus’ humiliation. Not only did the crowds not mock the dying Jesus, they may have been moved even to a response of repentance. Though the practice of beating their breasts was a common way of expressing grief, in the context even grief may have suggested shame and contrition.

49 All his acquaintances stood some distance from him;
and the women who followed him from Galilee
carefully observed all these things.

Luke also assumed that Jesus was not completely abandoned as he died. Acquaintances, presumably both male and female, were there at a (safe) distance. Luke specifically mentioned the women who had followed him from Galilee, without giving any idea of numbers. With a few exceptions women had generally been the invisible members of the group of disciples. By the time Luke was writing his Gospel, the tradition seemed to have forgotten their names (or discounted their importance).

Next >> Luke 23:50-56