Holy Week Day 6 – Crucifixion

By Dr. Paul Wolfe

Day six confronts us with the great cosmic dilemma; the Messiah is slain; the chosen one of God is rejected by men; the King of glory is humiliated and mocked. In the midst of it all, Jesus is not only rejected by the crowds, some of the same ones praising him just days earlier, and persecuted by the religious leaders, but in a raw display of bold cowardice, he is denied by one of his closest followers, not just once, or twice, but three times, something which Jesus himself had foretold.

After the sham overnight trial before the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus is shuttled to the Roman authorities, the principal reason being to validate the Jewish leaders’ desire for the death of Jesus. This is abundantly clear in John’s account. When Pilate told the Jewish leaders to take him and try him according to their law, they refused, since, they said, their law made no provision for them to put him to death. This is a questionable response in terms of what the law actually said and meant, but that is irrelevant to their cause and schemes.

In his exchange with Jesus, Pilate asks him two crucial questions. First, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers affirmatively, even if somewhat ambiguously. However, in his following comments, Jesus makes it clear that his kingdom is not a matter of Jewishness, at least in the normal sense, but is a matter of “truthishness.” Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” This leads to the second crucial question from Pilate; “What is truth?” The question appears to be rhetorical to Pilate, for, after asking it, he quickly exits his chambers to say he finds no guilt in Jesus.  

The Jewish leaders insist on his death; the crowds insist on his death. For what? Without hesitation they protest: “He ought to die because he made himself out to be the Son of God.” This they got right, at least what they attribute to Jesus! Echoes of the parable of the vineyard owner resonate strongly (Matt. 21:33ff). They previously rejected and killed the servants, namely the prophets, and now they kill the Son.

Jesus is beaten, mocked, crowned with thorns and hung on a cross to die, and mocked even further. Condemned and cursed! In Jewish law, what is happening is evidence not so much of man’s curse, but of God’s curse. To the religious leaders, this validates their judgment. To Jesus, this validates the Scriptures. He cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a quotation of Psalm 22:1, perhaps the most quoted Psalm in the NT. In fact, there are quotations and allusions to this Psalm of anguish throughout the passion narrative. In a final act of fidelity to Scripture, Jesus expressed his thirst, which led them to give him a drink of sour wine, thus fulfilling Psalm 69:21. Jesus uttered, “It is finished,” and then gave up his spirit. Dead. Not in a swoon. Not fainted. Dead. Dead they said!    

At this point, it appears that all of creation begins to convulse. Though it was the middle of the day, the sun hid its face and there was darkness for three hours. The earth quaked and rocks split, destabilized at the death of the creator. And the veil of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, symbolizing a profound irruption from above.

As the day was ending, Jesus was removed from the cross, wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a tomb. The tomb was closed with a large stone, sealed, and guarded. He was gone.