Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours, from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. The Gospel writers record seven statements that He uttered while He was dying. Traditionally these are called the Seven Last Words of Christ. These seven words give us a window into what Jesus was thinking and what was important to Him as He was giving His life for us.
As you read these Seven Last Words of Christ, do so reflectively. Take the time to pray about each one. Ask God to use these words to give you a greater appreciation for what Jesus did for you on Good Friday.
The First Word
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Luke 23:34 (NIV)
To the Jewish leaders, He was a blasphemer. He had said He was God, and so He deserved to die. To the Roman authorities, He was a threat to the empire. He had claimed to be a king, which was punishable by death.
They had no idea who Jesus really was. At the very moment when they should have been worshiping Him, they were killing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet, rather than destroying them, the Son of God asked His Father to forgive them.
A few years earlier Jesus had told His followers to love their enemies.
Now, as He was dying, Jesus was living what He had taught.
27 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Luke 6:27-28 (NIV)
Jesus’ death was the ultimate act of love, even for His enemies. He died to provide forgiveness and reconciliation for all who are estranged from God. He offers forgiveness, not only to those who physically crucified Him but also to anyone who will acknowledge their sin and ask Him to forgive them. Sometimes we sin in ignorance. More often we know full well what we are doing. Jesus offers forgiveness to all who ask for it, whether or not we knew what we were doing.
The Apostle John, Jesus’ closest friend while He was on earth, writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NIV) Because Jesus died on the cross, we can be forgiven and reconciled to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
Have you ever acknowledged your sin to God and asked for His forgiveness? Do you keep short accounts with God, asking Him to forgive you whenever you become conscious of sin? Take some time now to examine your heart.
The Second Word
Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:43 (NIV)
Jesus—the Creator God, the King of the Universe—was crucified between two criminals.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Luke 23:39-41 (NIV)
Ironically, while the religious leaders and Roman authorities had no clue who Jesus was, one of the criminals did. He knew he deserved death and Jesus did not.
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23:42-43 (NIV)
The criminal confessed his sin and asked for mercy, and Jesus forgave him. It’s that simple.
But, is it too simple? Some people are troubled that a man who obviously deserved death could be forgiven without having done anything to make up for his sins. Was he an exception? He wasn’t really in a position to do any good deeds before he died, so maybe Jesus made an exception for him.
No. Jesus wasn’t making an exception. He was demonstrating that His offer of forgiveness is made, not on the basis of what we do, but in spite of what we’ve done. Just as the criminal could do nothing to make up for his sins, neither can we. God offers us forgiveness, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who Jesus is and what He’s done.
A sinner who knew he deserved death asked for mercy and received it. Jesus makes the same opportunity available to us. Have you taken Him up on His offer? If not, why not do so now? If you’ve already done it, thank Him again!
The Third Word
Woman, here is your son.
John 19:26 (NIV)
Perhaps the worst nightmare a mother can encounter is losing her child. We can only imagine what must have been going through Mary’s heart and mind as she saw her firstborn hanging on a cross. He was dying, and she was powerless to help Him.
Mary probably understood Jesus’ true identity better than anyone else. Did that knowledge bring her comfort, or was she even more distraught because she thought her Son was the promised Messiah, but now His life was fading before her eyes?
As He hung on the cross, Jesus’ heart went out to His mother. Mary was probably a widow, and Jesus was concerned for her welfare. The Apostle John records Jesus’ response to seeing His mother standing at the foot of His cross.
26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19:26-27 (NIV)
Jesus told his best friend, the Apostle John, to take care of His mother. Even in the midst of His own intense suffering, Jesus showed her love and compassion. He cared for her needs.
But, isn’t that what Jesus’ death is about—meeting the needs of others? He had compassion on an anonymous criminal dying next to Him. He cared for His grieving mother. And He offers mercy to us. That’s the kind of Savior He is.
Do you believe that He cares for you? Do you bring your needs to Him, asking for His compassion and mercy? Do you thank Him for the love He shows you?
The Fourth Word
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Mark 15:34 (NIV)
Of all of the Seven Last Words of Christ, this cry of dereliction is the most difficult to fathom. We can understand how Jesus could forgive those who crucified Him and the criminal who died with Him. We can empathize with His concern for His mother. And the Words that follow (“I am thirsty . . . It is finished . . . Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”) all make sense. But why would the Father forsake His own Son? How could God abandon Jesus? What would motivate God to turn His back on Jesus?
Death by crucifixion was excruciatingly painful, but Jesus’ physical pain paled in comparison to the spiritual and relational anguish He felt when His Father abandoned Him. Jesus was bearing the weight of our sin, and God’s wrath for that sin. Our Heavenly Father abandoned His Son because He was carrying our sin. Our sin separates us from God, and Jesus experienced that separation in our place.
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)
Perhaps we have trouble understanding this Fourth Word because we fail to appreciate the depth of our own depravity. What could motivate the Father to abandon His Son? My sin. My sin caused this seemingly unfathomable separation. My sin was so abhorrent that the Father refused to look on His own Son because He was bearing my sin.
Why would Jesus willingly choose to be forsaken by His Father? So that my lips would never have to utter His cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Deserted! God could separate from His own essence rather;
And Adam’s sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father.
Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation,
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation!
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Have you ever thanked Jesus for bearing your sin, for dying in your place? If not, why not do it now? And if you’ve already done it, you can never thank Him too much!
The Fifth Word
I am thirsty.
John 19:28 (NIV)
Not surprisingly, Jesus cries out in thirst. He had lost a lot of blood and drunk nothing for hours, so He was dehydrated. Jesus was a human being experiencing the physical pain associated with crucifixion. On the surface, this Fifth Word is a request for something to drink, to which the Roman soldiers responded by giving Him “wine vinegar” on a sponge (John 19:29).
Jesus’ cry, however, did more than simply express His physical discomfort. He was also intentionally fulfilling prophecy. The Apostle John tells us that, “knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’” (John 19:28 NIV)
Jesus did not die accidentally. His crucifixion wasn’t a failure of His mission. It fulfilled God’s eternal plan; and Jesus was fully committed to carrying out that plan, even though it cost Him His life. So, when the end was near, He made sure that even this seemingly insignificant detail wasn’t neglected.
My Lord suffered the pain of thirst because He was committed to God’s eternal plan to rescue me from a plight I brought on myself. My sin caused my need, and it caused His agony. My Lord is also my Savior who suffered and died in my place.
What an amazing concept! The Creator of the Universe entered into His creation and experienced the effects of its brokenness—a brokenness that is not His fault, but ours. He didn’t break it; we did. Yet He willingly suffered and died in order to rescue us and reconcile us to Himself. What an awesome God!
Put yourself in Jesus’ place. What might He have felt and thought while He was on the cross? Thank Him for all He was willing to endure because He loved you.
The Sixth Word
It is finished.
John 19:30 (NIV)
On a physical level, the plan was for Jesus to be born to a peasant woman in Roman-occupied Israel, grow up as the son of a carpenter, minister as a Jewish rabbi for three-and-a-half years, and die at the Romans’ hands in response to the Jewish religious leaders’ request. Everything had gone exactly as planned. Jesus had done what He had set out to do. “It is finished.”
On a spiritual level, the plan was for the eternal Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, to enter into His creation in order to rescue us from a plight that was our own fault. He came to reconcile us to our Creator from whom we were estranged because we chose to live independently of Him rather than trust and depend on Him as He had designed us to live. In order to accomplish this plan, Jesus had to suffer the indignities of life as a mortal human and bear the wrath of God, the pain of separation from His Father—a punishment which He did not deserve, though we did. Everything had gone exactly as planned. Jesus had done what He had set out to do. “It is finished.”
Jesus had completed His mission. He had accomplished His goal. He had lived the life He had chosen to live, and now He was dying the death He had chosen to die. “It is finished.”
Jesus has done what I needed Him to do. He has died my death so that I might live. He has paid the full price for my sins. I need add nothing to what He has done. I can add nothing to what He has done. He has done what I could not do. “It is finished.”
How will I respond?
The Seventh Word
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
Luke 23:46 (NIV)
Having completed all that He had set out to do, Jesus gave up His life. No one took it from Him. He died when He was ready to die, not a moment sooner. Amazing!
Jesus’ final words are a prayer to His Father, expressing His trust and submission. Earlier, when He was being abandoned, Jesus had cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now, at the moment of His death, He called out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then, “My God . . . .” Now, “Father . . . .” Then, Jesus had endured the separation from God that we deserved. Now, His relationship with His Father had been restored, paving the way for our relationship with Him to be restored as well.
Jesus died the way He lived—in complete dependence on His Father. Jesus had lived His entire life in submission to His Father. He trusted Him fully. He never acted independently. Jesus voluntarily followed His Father’s will, even when He knew it would cost Him His life.
Consider some of the aspects of God’s character we see revealed in these Seven Last Words of Christ. Forgiving. Merciful. Compassionate. Loving. Holy. Just. Righteous. Powerful. Empathetic. Relational. Gracious. Servant-hearted. Self-sacrificing. To these can we add trustworthy? Yes!
Jesus trusted His Father in life and in death. Do you trust Him? Thank Him for all He’s done for you. Do you struggle to trust Him? Prayerfully reflect on His character, and ask Him to remove your doubts and increase your faith. Ask your Heavenly Father to give you the same kind of trust in Him that Jesus had.