Jesus of Nazareth dies on the cross
In the last moments of Jesus' life, Nature seemed to turn upside down. This profound moment was witnessed by many people, particularly the centurion and the women who stood watching Jesus' last agony.
Jesus' last words on the cross
The last words that Jesus spoke were heart-rending: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani, My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?
They were the opening words of Psalm 22, a prayer Jesus knew by heart. Read it, the whole psalm, and you will see that Jesus was not reproaching God but trusting him, even in this last extremity. He still prayed to God as to a father.
Some people standing nearby misunderstood his words. They thought he was calling on Elijah the prophet: 'Eliyah, Elijah' - easy to mis-hear the words of a dying man. Many people believed Elijah would one day return, so trying to be kind they offered him sour wine. It was a favourite cheap beverage, said to quench thirst better than water, and it might keep him alive a little longer, in case Elijah did indeed return.
The only way they could give it to Jesus was in a sponge raised on a stick. They (or the soldiers) would only have had to lift it a little way above their heads.
Signs and wonders in Nature
The gospels record that there were a number of strange, frightening events at the moment Jesus died, as if Nature itself was screaming out in anguish at the death of Christ.
the land really turn dark?
If you worry about this, you are missing the point.
This is apocalyptic language, symbolic, similar to the Book of Revelations. The writers of the gospel were familiar with this type of writing, and assumed that their audience would be too. Chaos in Nature was an apocalyptic image.
The gospel-writers wanted to convey the cosmic tragedy of Jesus' death.
Jesus' crucifixion was supervised by a Roman officer, a centurion. What did he see when he looked at Jesus? Not just a man who trusted God even through dreadful suffering, but one who forgave all those responsible for his death. This was true nobility - and courage that a Roman soldier could appreciate.
a Good Friday was had by all
men there, keep those women back
held the spikes steady and I let fly
is orders, I said after it was over
we hauled on the ropes
The women at Jesus' death
Crucified men were often surrounded by relatives and friends.
In Jesus' case, these were mostly women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome who was the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John. As a precaution they stood at a distance from the cross.
They had followed Jesus - literally (to Calvary) and as his disciples in the years before his death. Faithful to him during his ministry, they were faithful to the bitter end. They stood in stark contrast to the male disciples who fled - though it must be said that the women were in less danger than the men.
Why do the gospel writers mention the women, when they largely ignored them during Jesus' ministry? Because these women were direct witnesses to the three major events of Christianity: the death of Jesus, his burial, and the resurrection.
Mary, Jesus' mother, and John the disciple
In the ancient world, a dying person could entrust his female relations, especially his mother, to the care of another person. The ancient writer Lucian records a last will and testament where a man called Eudamidas
Even a crucified man had the right to do this.
Now, even in this desperate moment as Jesus hung on the cross, he was concerned for his mother Mary. He asked his closest friend, 'the disciple whom he loved', to care for her after he was gone. A woman alone in the ancient world was easy prey, and clearly he did not wish his mother to come to harm.
The name of the disciple is not given and the incident appears only in John's gospel. Commentators have suggested that this may be because it was a memory of someone who was there, who remembered what was said but told it as a personal anecdote, not wanting to mention his own name.
There is a deep vein of irony running through the Passion narrative. For example
What happened next? See Burial of Jesus
1. Jesus' last words. Read the blue text
2. Signs and wonders. Read the green text
3. The centurion. Read the red text
4. Witnesses to Jesus' death. Read the black text
5. Jesus' mother Mary and John the disciple. Read the purple text
Matthew 27:45-56 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said "This man is calling for Elijah." 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put in on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him. " 50 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; 52 the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" 55 There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Mark 15:33-41 33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is calling Elijah." 36 And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" 40 There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, 41 who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
Luke 23:44-49 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, "Certainly this man was innocent!" 48 And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.
John 19:28-34 25 But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 28 After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), "I thirst." 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, "It is finished"; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Bible Study Guide: the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross: his last words, signs and wonders that occurred, the centurion, Mary and John
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Fletcher