Preaching the Cross By Numbers (Part 2)
This feature lesson continues an intriguing study pertaining to the cross of Christ and certain numbers that are mentioned or can be deduced from the Biblical record.

In our prior feature lesson, we underscored certain truths pertaining to the cross of Christ and their connection with the numbers 0 through 6. Specifically, we noted that Jesus had zero broken bones and zero sins. There is only one sovereign Lord, and He died one death to atone for all. At the cross, there was only one apostle present. Jesus was unique having two natures (both mortal and divine). When the Christ died at Calvary there were three crosses. After three days, Jesus was raised from the grave. The soldiers who hung Him on the cross divided His garments into four parts and cast lots for his seamless tunic. Our Lord's body suffered five major wounds on His last day (i.e., back, head, hands, feet, and side). He endured six unmerciful hours on the cross before giving up His spirit.

Let us now continue this study by considering:

Jesus uttered at least seven statements while on the cross. We will consider each recorded statement in what we believe to be chronological order.

  1. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).
    Jesus certainly practiced what He preached. He loved His enemies and prayed for His persecutors (cf. Matt. 5:43-45). It was predicted in Isaiah 53:12 that the Messiah would make "intercession for the transgressors." As Jesus was being nailed to the cross, or shortly thereafter, He uttered these words. Was Jesus praying specifically for the soldiers who were ignorantly following their orders? Or, did the scope of His prayer encompass all who were involved in this travesty of justice (i.e., even the hard-hearted Jewish authorities who should have known better)? Admittedly, the former may seem more likely, though the latter should not be discounted (cf. Acts 3:17; I Cor. 2:8).

    In either case, Jesus' forgiving spirit is admirable and worthy of imitation (cf. Col. 3:13). Although sins are technically not forgiven without repentance (cf. Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38), Jesus' words clearly show that He was not bitter about the situation and had no intentions of nursing a grudge. He desired that His enemies have opportunity to repent before it was everlastingly too late.

  2. "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
    What led up to Jesus speaking these words?

    Prior to this statement, Jesus had endured much ridicule and mocking. "The people stood looking on" (Luke 23:35). The scene had an awful fascination which many could not resist. Some affirmed they would "believe Him" if He came down from the cross (Matt. 27:42). The Jewish authorities had perhaps feared that He would save Himself, but now they jeer at Him, confidently thinking that He could not do so. They were not willing to let Him die in peace. In their view, this was the only time they had ever gotten the best of Him, and they intended to savor every moment!

    "Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him" (Luke 23:39). All of His mockers assumed that since God did not rescue Him, then He could not be the Messiah. Of course, this criminal takes the mockery a step further by taunting - "Save Yourself and us." Luke records that one of the crucifixion victims blasphemed Jesus, and the other defended Him. Matthew and Mark both make a statement about the crucified robbers reviling Him with the same thing as the others had. Thus, there are two possibilities. Either both of the robbers initially mocked Him and one later had a change of heart or the statements in Matthew and Mark must be interpreted in a general way (i.e., one robber reviled Him, and thus it could be stated that "the robbers," in general, blasphemed Him).

    Luke 23:40 records - "But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?'" He seems to be saying: "Why join in with these spectators at our own crucifixion? Don't you realize that we shall shortly have to stand before Almighty God and give an account of ourselves (cf. Rom. 14:10; Heb. 9:27)?! Obviously, this thief understood something of the fear of God as he spoke this rebuke.

    "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). The thief makes it clear that Jesus was dying a death He didn't deserve. They, on the other hand, were receiving the penalty for their wrongdoing. How did He know that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Perhaps he, due to Jesus' popularity, was acquainted with His teachings, miracles, and what others had said about Him. Also, it is certain that being in the presence of the Lord as He suffered so honorably would have had an influence upon the man (e.g., when Jesus prayed for His enemies).

    "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This man is seeking the pity of the Savior. He wants to have a place in the Lord's kingdom, though notably, he doesn't ask for a special place therein. It is most likely that this man had a physical view of the kingdom (unless his understanding exceeded that of the apostles at that time). However, since Jesus was near to death (and seemingly not going to be spared physically), it may be that the thief did understand that the kingdom was going to be a spiritual one. In either case, he believes that Jesus would come into His kingdom despite His crucifixion.

    "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Although Jesus had silently observed the ridicule and taunting of the rulers and multitude, He is more than willing to make reply to this penitent, dying man and give him the mercy he seeks. The word "Paradise" (i.e., enclosed park or pleasure ground) is used in the New Testament to refer to the intermediate state of the dead (i.e., "Abraham's bosom" in Hades) and heaven itself (cf. Rev. 2:7). This verse teaches that Jesus went to Paradise at death, and Acts 2:29-36 teaches that He went to Hades. There is no contradiction if one understands Hades to be a general term meaning the spiritual realm of the dead (i.e., departed spirits). Hades appears to have a "good" compartment and a "bad" one (e.g., Luke 16:19-31). The "good" side is known as "Paradise" or "Abraham's bosom," which apparently is where Jesus' spirit went at death (along with the spirit of the penitent thief). This thief did not go to heaven at death, but neither did Jesus (cf. John 20:17). Their bodies were buried and their spirits went to the blessed side of the Hadean realm where they would await the resurrection (which was only three days for Jesus).

    It is tragic that so much has been made of this incident in the denominational world. In their efforts to undermine the truth of the gospel plan of salvation (specifically regarding the necessity of baptism today), they fail to recognize important Biblical truths regarding this thief and his condition. The thief on the cross lived under the Old Testament dispensation of time. The last will and testament of the Lord (i.e., the New Testament) did not become effective until the death of its testator (cf. Heb. 9:15-17). Therefore, the thief on the cross is not an illustration or example of salvation for modern-day man. The New Testament was not operative when this promise of Jesus was given to the thief. The Great Commission had not even been given yet (Matt. 28:19,20), and so it is ridiculous to point to the thief as one who was saved without being baptized and attempt to conclude that one can be saved in like manner today (incidentally, no one knows whether the thief was baptized or not at some point prior to his crucifixion, cf. Matt. 3:5,6).

    Today, for one to be saved from sin, he must submit to the conditions of the gospel and become a baptized, penitent believer (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; etc.). The thief on the cross is not an example or pattern for modern-day man regarding how to be saved any more than Noah, Abraham, or Moses are examples of such. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter urged his listeners, after they believed, to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. Thus, it is foolish for one to ignore Acts 2 (and all the other examples of conversion in the book of Acts) and go back to the thief on the cross as a "pattern" for salvation for men today.

  3. "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother!' And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26,27).
    Interestingly, Jesus had referred to His mother as "woman" at the beginning of His ministry (cf. John 2:4); now He does so again at the end. Some wonder why Jesus did not expect His half-brothers to take care of her. The reason probably lies in the fact that they did not believe on Him at that time (cf. 7:5). Jesus wanted to commit His mother to a relative who was a believer, especially one whom He loved and trusted. John took the responsibility the Lord entrusted to him seriously, and he did so immediately. The fact that Joseph is not mentioned or present seems to imply that he was not alive at this time.

  4. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice - "'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'" (Matt. 27:46).
    There had been darkness over the land from noon until 3 P.M., which is when the sun usually produces the most light and heat. It is unknown whether the darkness was global or restricted to the land of Palestine. However, it should be noted that for the sun's light to fail for such a lengthy period, there must be a miraculous explanation (not a natural one, like an eclipse).

    Just moments before He gave up His spirit, Jesus cried out to His Father with these words (cf. Psa. 22:1). From a purely mortal perspective, it is impossible to fully understand what Jesus was enduring. Certainly His physical pain was immense, but even greater was the spiritual agony. No one can fathom the depth of the anguish that the perfectly righteous Son of God (cf. Heb. 4:15) experienced in bearing all the blackness of sin upon Himself for everyone (cf. II Cor. 5:21; Isa. 53:6,10,11).

    It is difficult to understand exactly what Jesus meant in His comment about the Father forsaking Him. Some have suggested that His words here were spoken for man's benefit alone (i.e., to call man's attention to what was really happening that day). This may be correct since it is certain that Jesus understood the purpose of God allowing Him to suffer and die in this way. It is also difficult to know if there really was a spiritual separation between the Father and Son while Jesus was being crucified as an offering for sin (cf. Eph. 5:2). Some believe that Jesus' words demand this. Others are unable to see how God could still be God if completely separated from the Son. Thus, they view Jesus' comment as essentially an expression of His feelings at that difficult hour. It seems safest to conclude that this "forsaking" is somewhat of a mystery. However, even though one may not fully comprehend it, one can know that Jesus was agonizing intensely regarding it.

    "Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, 'This Man is calling for Elijah!'" (Matt. 27:47). Jesus had now been upon the cross for six hours. The fact that He was under a lot of strain and had a dry throat likely rendered His articulation difficult and indistinct. For this reason, some of those who stood by, though perfectly familiar with the language, misunderstood Him and thought that He called upon Elijah.

  5. After Jesus knew that all things were accomplished in order to fulfill the Scriptures, He said - "I thirst!" (John 19:28).
    Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him, whether they were of a primary or secondary nature, without fail (cf. Psa. 22:15; 69:21). Although the Jews rejected Him, the prophecies of God's word confirmed Him as the only begotten Son of God.

    According to Matthew 27:48 - "Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink." There was a vessel full of sour wine ("vinegar," KJV) nearby (cf. John 19:29). The fact that the sponge was put on a reed gives a hint as to the height of the cross. Jesus was evidently several feet off the ground; this can be deduced since the sponge was not put directly up to his mouth by hand and since the greatest length of a hyssop reed would not have exceeded four feet. This beverage would not have done much more for Jesus than satisfy His thirst, which is all He desired.

    "The rest said, 'Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him'" (Matt. 27:49). It is unlikely that the people are expressing opposition to the sour wine being offered to Jesus. This seems rather to be a general statement meaning: "Let us do nothing to prevent Him from calling upon Elijah, or to prevent Elijah from coming."

  6. "So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, 'It is finished!' (John 19:30).
    His final two statements were uttered very close together chronologically.

  7. Jesus cried out with a loud voice - "'Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.' Having said this, He breathed His last." (Luke 23:46).
    "It is finished!" - These three words sum up all that Jesus came to do. The redemption of mankind was now being achieved, and the course which had been laid out for Him from the beginning had been completed. His life and work, His suffering and death, and the shame and agony of the cross are all viewed as behind Him. He had come, ministered, suffered, and would now conquer. He had triumphed through His righteousness on behalf of mankind. He had fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (cf. Matt. 5:17,18). Death was becoming the door to the realization of His glory and not the shame that His enemies intended. His mighty task had been accomplished! All that was left for Him was to release His life and overthrow death.

    Jesus bowed His head and gave up His spirit after crying out in a loud voice - "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (cf. Psa. 31:5). His loud cry was one of triumph, not defeat. Jesus deliberately put His head down into a position of rest as He laid down His life. He yielded it voluntarily; it was not taken from Him (cf. John 10:18).

    "Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split" (Matt. 27:51). This veil was a heavy curtain which hung between the Holy and Most Holy Places in the sanctuary. It shut out everyone from the Most Holy Place (except the high priest who would enter therein once a year, cf. Lev. 16). The message conveyed by the ripping of this curtain was that "the way into the Holiest of All" was now manifest to all (i.e., through Jesus; Heb. 9:7,8). The Levitical priesthood would be replaced by a priesthood composed of Jews, Gentiles, men, and women (cf. I Pet. 2:5,9; Gal. 3:27,28), and the Old Law would be replaced by a "better covenant" (Heb. 8:6-13; cf. Col. 2:14). The Most Holy Place of the temple no longer had much significance to God, which is obvious since He caused it to be exposed in this manner.

These seven sayings from the cross are certainly powerful and worthy of our consideration. We will conclude this study of numbers related to the cross in our next feature lesson. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.