This is a devotional Bible study on the words of Jesus on the cross and the meaning of the cross. To get the most benefit, you will need to spend some time on it. You can look at the Bible references by touching them. Enjoy!
Bible References - Touch or hover over the Bible references to bring up some of the verses in ESV. Follow more» to get the whole passage. If it's not working, touch another part of the page and try again.
Jesus' words on the cross:
# Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Luke 23:32-38 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Jesus was probably thinking about all the people involved in his crucifixion, the Jewish authorities, the people who shouted "crucify him", Pontius Pilate, the soldiers simply obeying orders etc. He prayed for these people even as he was being nailed to the cross.
These words of Jesus reflect his own teaching about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus was just beginning the very act that would enable the forgiveness of their sins as he carried them on the cross (Is 53:12).
Christians over history have been encouraged to emulate Christ as they have been persecuted (Acts 7:59-60, 1 Peter 2:21).
for they know not what they do - none of those there were aware of the magnitude of the event which was unfolding before them. They were witnessing a pivotal point in history as the Son of God was crucified (Acts 3:14-15, 13:27, 1 Cor 2:7-8).
Response - Are there people who you need to forgive? (Mark 11:25, Luke 11:4, 17:3-4, Matt 6:14-15)
# Woman, behold, your son!...Behold, your mother!
John 19:25-27 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 nearby, 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.
Even as Jesus was hanging on the cross in physical pain, he was thinking about his mother and what was going to happen to her. This was a remarkable act of love and care.
There were several women at the cross who were followers of Jesus (Matt 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, Luke 23:49). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was standing near to the cross - she would probably have been about 50 years old and widowed.
the disciple whom he loved - This mysterious character is mentioned several times in John's gospel (John 13:23, 20:2-9, 21:7, 20-23, 24). In the end he identifies himself as the writer of the gospel - the Apostle John. It appears that Peter, James and John were the disciples who were closest to Jesus (Mark 5:37-38, 9:2, 14:33-34). John was probably the youngest apostle and was bold enough to be at the foot of the cross. He lived to an old age and wrote the Gospel of John, three letters and the book of Revelation.
Jesus was the oldest son of Mary and would have looked after his mother and this was a continuation of his responsibility (Exodus 20:12, Deut 5:16).
Although Jesus had other brothers and sisters, he obviously thought that John was a better choice to look after Mary (Matt 13:55-56, 12:46, Mark 3:31, 6:3, Luke 8:19, John 2:12, 7:2-3, 5, 10, Acts 1:14, 1 Cor 9:5, Gal 1:19).
Response - How well do you look after your parents and other members of you family? Are there actions you could take? (Eph 6:2-3)
# Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:39-44 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour (12.00 noon), and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (3.00 pm).
This was a conversation between three men under torture and each one had a different perspective.
The first criminal was understandably angry and took it out on Jesus "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" His request was for Jesus to save them from their suffering by some miraculous act. It is easy for us to be like this thief - our main reason for calling upon God is to help improve things for us in this world - so we are concerned with getting money, being healed, finding happiness, comfort, security etc. Jesus actually had a different agenda for his disciples - we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34).
The second criminal recognised that he was sinful but that Jesus was righteous - he was repentant. His request to Jesus was not about getting off the cross, it was about eternal life "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom". Maybe he had heard Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God or he had heard about it from others (Matt 3:2, 5:3, 6:33, 18:3-4, 19:23, Mark 4:30, Luke 8:1, 10, John 3:3, 5). This request was a prayer of faith acknowledging who Jesus is and that Jesus could save him eternally.
The two essential elements for salvation are repentance and faith (Mark 1:15, Luke 15:10, John 3:16, Acts 3:19-20, 16:30-31). The second criminal fulfilled both of these and Jesus was able to speak these words of assurance “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This man would have died with peace in his heart and the prospect of a wonderful eternal future. He was not saved because of the deeds done in his life but only by the grace of God appropriated by faith - even at the last moment! (Eph 2:8-9)
Response - Make sure that you are seeking the Kingdom of God first! Here is a simple prayer which you could pray if you have never really repented and put your faith in Jesus as your saviour. You may think that you are not good enough but remember we are saved by God's grace - not our deeds.
Thank you, Father, that you love me. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong and turn away from them. Thank you that Jesus died for me. Please forgive my sins. I believe in Jesus as my saviour. Lord Jesus, I want to follow you for the rest of my life. Amen
There was darkness between 12 noon and 3 pm as Jesus fulfilled his work on the cross. The remaining words took place at the end of this period.
# My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Mark 15:34-35 And at the ninth hour (3.00 pm) Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” (Also Matt 27:46-50)
I used to think that these words of Jesus were words of failure or loss of faith in God. But when I became a Christian, I came to realise that this was far from the truth - these words were an indication that Jesus was carrying my sin and dying in my place. They are words of life and salvation for us.
These words are a quotation from Psalm 22:1. This prophetic psalm by King David written 1000 years before Jesus describes a man who is suffering and includes some details relevant to the crucifixion (Psalm 22:1, 7-8, 16, 18, Matt 27:35, 39, 43, 46, John 20:25).
Our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2). As Jesus was suffering on the cross, he bore our sins in his body and therefore experienced separation from his Father for the first time - he was separated by our sins (1 Peter 2:24, Gal 3:13). He took our sins upon himself and gave us his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21, Isaiah 53:11). The weight of sin was very great since it included all the sins of mankind past and future (John 1:29).
Response - Thank Jesus for dying in your place and taking your sins away. You could take some bread and wine (or juice) using it to remember that Jesus died for you (1 Cor 11:23-26).
# I thirst.
John 19:28-29 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.
These words are the only ones relating to his physical suffering. It may also be that he was referring to the spiritual thirst which he had feeling far away from his father.
There are various scriptures which may have been fulfilled. (Psalm 22:15, 42:1-2, 63:1, 69:21)
In his teaching, Jesus talked about hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matt 5:6) and that if we believe in him we shall never thirst (John 6:35).
He also offered living water which we can drink and never be thirsty again (John 4:13-14). This is connected with the work of the Holy Spirit who not only quenches our thirst but enables rivers of living water to flow out of our heart (John 7:37-38, 39).
It is ironic that the great source of living water was thirsty! He suffered so that we can have our thirst quenched.
Response - If you are feeling spiritually dry and thirsty, come to Jesus. Ask him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and receive his living water - you will never thirst again (Luke 3:16, 11:13, John 14:16-17, Acts 1:8, 2:33, 2:38, 10:44-45, 19:6, Rom 14:17).
# It is finished.
John 19:30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The Greek word for "It is finished" is tetelestai which means it is completed. It is like the finishing of a painting by an author or the finishing of music by a composer. The word was used for the completion of a transaction "paid in full". This word is an indication that the saving work of Jesus on the cross was completely accomplished (John 4:34).
We are not saved by our own works, but the grace of God and our faith enable us to be saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross (Eph 2:8). This is the gift of God. The good shepherd laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11).
Jesus' death on the cross was not a defeat - it was a victory over sin, death, evil powers and the devil (Col 2:14-15, Heb 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8). Jesus' death was the decisive event which fixed the future. Although in the present time, sin, death and the devil are still active - their ultimate fate is determined because of the victory of Jesus on the cross (Rom 16:20, Rev 5:12, 20:10, 14).
What was finished?
Here are a few things that were achieved as Jesus suffered on the cross.
Reconciliation - The main problem of mankind is that we are separated from God by our sin, we are enemies of God and fall under the wrath of God (Rom 5:9-10, Matt 3:7, John 3:36, Rom 1:18, Eph 2:3, 5:6, Col 3:5-6). As Jesus died on the cross he removed our sins and enabled reconciliation (Col 1:19-20, 21-22, Rom 5:11). We are justified by his blood - this means that the legal charges against us are dropped (Rom 5:9). The wrath of God is averted through the sacrifice of Jesus (1 Thess 1:10). This is described by the word propitiation (translated differently in some versions), which means to appease God's wrath (Rom 3:25, Heb 2:17, 1 John 2:2, 4:10). As Christians, it is our task to preach the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19, 20). As people repent and put their trust in Jesus as their saviour, they are forgiven, reconciled to God and become part of his family (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1).
Sacrifice - In the Old Testament, animals were repeatedly sacrificed by a human priest for the removal and forgiveness of sin. Once a year on the special day of atonement, the High Priest carried the blood of animals into the most holy place in the tabernacle as an offering for his own sins and the sins of the people (Lev 16:1-22, Heb 9:1-10). These rituals in the Old Testament were only a temporary measure, a shadow of the real event (Heb 10:1, 3-4, 11). When Jesus died on the cross, he was the sacrifice, the Lamb of God shedding his own blood (Heb 10:5, John 1:29). He was also taking the role of the Great High Priest taking his own blood into heaven itself as an offering for the sins of mankind (Heb 9:11-14, 24). This was the complete and effective final sacrifice for sin (Heb 7:27, 9:26, 10:12, 14, Eph 5:1-2, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Pet 1:18-19, Rev 5:11-12) .
Redemption - Jesus died to redeem us through his blood according to the riches of his grace (Eph 1:7). Redemption means releasing or setting free. Jesus redeemed us from the penalty of our sin - because we have broken God's laws (Gal 3:13, 4:4-5, Heb 9:15), the power of sin (Titus 2:13-14) and slavery to Satan (Col 1:13-14). Our redemption will be complete when we are transformed and have new bodies, but this was achieved by the blood of Christ as he died on the cross (Heb 9:12). Jesus also gave his life as a ransom to set us free (Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Tim 2:5-6, 1 Peter 1:18-19). This ransom was not paid to Satan - it is impossible that God would need to pay Satan anything! God is the one who grants our freedom and the ransom was paid in relation to God's justice for our release from the power of sin and Satan (John 8:34-36).
Healing - Jesus spent his time teaching, healing and casting out demons. Matthew, in his gospel, relates the healing and deliverance to a fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah (Matt 8:16-17). He quotes from Isaiah 53 which is clearly a prophecy about Jesus suffering on the cross. Isaiah describes how he was going to carry our sorrows, iniquities and sicknesses as he suffered (Isaiah 53:3-12). This suggests a complete salvation providing for forgiveness of sins, healing of the body and healing of the soul (spiritual, physical and psychological). The apostle Peter also quotes from this passage in relation to our salvation (1 Peter 2:24-25). The healing power of Jesus springs from the cross and empowers our prayers for healing in the name of Jesus (John 16:24) and the gift of healing by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 3:6, 9:33-34, 1 Cor 12:9). The foot of the cross is a good place to go when we are sick and need healing.
Response - Reflect on the power of the cross. This brilliant song may help you - read the words and listen to the video.
Oh, to see the dawn Of the darkest day: Christ on the road to Calvary. Tried by sinful men, Torn and beaten, then Nailed to a cross of wood.
This, the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us, Took the blame, bore the wrath: We stand forgiven at the cross.
Oh, to see the pain Written on Your face Bearing the awesome weight of sin; Every bitter thought, Every evil deed Crowning Your bloodstained brow.
Now the daylight flees, Now the ground beneath Quakes as its Maker bows His head. Curtain torn in two, Dead are raised to life; ‘Finished!’ the victory cry.
Oh, to see my name Written in the wounds, For through Your suffering I am free. Death is crushed to death, Life is mine to live, Won through Your selfless love.
This, the power of the cross: Son of God, slain for us. What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.
(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)
# Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!
Luke 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
Mark 15:37-39 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 in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Matt 27:50-52 And Jesus cried out 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.
This was the dramatic death of Jesus with a loud cry, tearing of a curtain, geological disturbance and raising of the dead.
These words are quoted from a psalm (Psalm 31:5).
The curtain of the temple was a barrier to the most holy place in the temple. This miraculous tearing of the curtain showed that Jesus, by his death, had opened the way for us to approach God himself. (Heb 10:19-20, 4:16)
Jesus voluntarily breathed his last (John 10:15, 17-18). Our good shepherd gave his life for us.
The centurion was so impressed by the way that Jesus died that he became convinced that this was the Son of God.
Stephen spoke similar words to Jesus when he died as the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:59).
The strange temporary raising of people from the dead was a sign that death had been defeated by the death of Jesus (Heb 2:14). The curse from Eden had been broken (Gen 2:17). The resurrection of Jesus a few days later was vindication of the victory on the cross and it opened the way to our resurrection and eternal life. (1 Cor 15:20-21, 23, 25-26, 51-52, 56-57, 1 Thess 4:16, Dan 12:2, John 5:28-29, Rev 21:3, 4, 22:4) For the believer death has no terror, it is simply a gateway to wonderful eternal life in the presence of God.
1 Cor 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Response - One thing we can be sure of is that we will all die - unless the Lord comes before then. Make sure that you are ready!