Luke 23
Benson Commentary
And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.
Luke 23:1-3. And the whole multitude of them — Namely, of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, arose and led him unto Pilate — See on Matthew 27:42; and Mark 15:1. And they began to accuse him, — Charging him with three capital crimes; perverting the nation, forbidding to give tribute to Cesar, and saying, that he himself was Christ, a king. They did not charge him with calling himself the Son of God, knowing very well that Pilate would not have concerned himself with such an accusation, which no way affected the state. All the three crimes, however, with which the Jews charge him, were only inferences of theirs, from his saying that he was the Son of God, Luke 22:70. They themselves drew imaginary consequences from his doctrine, which he had expressly denied; nay, and taught the contrary: and they who oppose his followers still use the same method. They lay to their charge things of which they are perfectly innocent, and on that ground persecute them with violence. The truth is, the opposition which these chief priests and others made to Christ, proceeded from mere malice and envy: and they pretended zeal for Cesar only to ingratiate themselves with Pilate, and to procure from him a condemnatory sentence against Jesus, without which they knew they could not accomplish their design of putting him to death. So far were they from being in reality zealous for, or even well affected toward Cesar, that a general uneasiness, of which Pilate was not ignorant, prevailed in the nation under the Roman yoke, and they wanted nothing but an opportunity to shake it off. And now they wished Pilate to believe, that this Jesus was active to foment that general discontent, of which, in reality, they themselves were the aiders and abetters. Christ had particularly taught, that they ought to give tribute to Cesar, though he knew many would be offended with him for it; and yet he is here falsely accused as forbidding to pay that tribute! As to making himself a rival with Cesar, it is certain that the chief reason why they rejected him, and would not own him to be the Messiah, was because he did not appear in worldly pomp and power, and assume the character of a temporal prince, nor do any thing against Cesar. He did indeed say that he was Christ, and if so, then a king; but not such a king as was ever likely to give disturbance to Cesar.

And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.
And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it.
Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.
Luke 23:4-9. Then said Pilate — After having heard his defence. See on Matthew 27:11-14; and Mark 15:2-5. I find no fault in this man — I do not find that he either attempts or asserts any thing injurious to Cesar. And they were the more fierce — The priests were not disconcerted or abashed by the public declaration, which the governor, in obedience to conscience and truth, made of the prisoner’s innocence; for they persisted in their accusations with more vehemence than before, affirming that he had attempted to raise a sedition in Galilee. They probably mentioned Galilee, either to alarm Pilate, the Galileans being notorious for sedition and rebellion; or to influence him, knowing that he was prejudiced against the people of that country. Pilate, hearing of Galilee, asked whether the prisoner came out of that country? and, being informed that he did, he ordered him to be carried away immediately to Herod, who was then in Jerusalem. Perhaps he supposed that the prince, in whose dominions the sedition was said to have been raised, could be a better judge of the affair than he. Moreover, as Herod was a Jew, expert in the religion and customs of his country, the governor imagined, that he might have had influence with the priests to desist. Or, if at their solicitation he should condemn Jesus, Pilate thought to escape the guilt and infamy of putting an innocent person to death. He might also propose to regain Herod’s friendship, formerly lost, perhaps by encroaching on his privileges. But whatever was his motive, the king, who had of a long time desired to see Jesus, rejoiced at this opportunity; for he hoped he should have the pleasure of seeing him work some miracle or other. Nevertheless, because Herod had disregarded the admonitions of John the Baptist, and had been guilty of the heinous crime of putting him to death, Jesus, liberal as he was of his miracles to the poor and afflicted, would not work them to gratify the curiosity of a tyrant, nor so much as answered one of his questions, though, Luke 23:9, he proposed many to him, probably concerning the miracles which were reported to have been wrought by him. “In this our Lord followed the rule observed by God in the administration of his moral government. He bestows on men means, opportunities, and assistances, such as, if they improve them properly, will lead them to knowledge, holiness, and happiness. But, these being slighted by men, God, after waiting the determined time, for wise reasons, shuts up from them all the springs of grace, and leaves them hopeless of that salvation, which they have so long despised.” — Macknight.

And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.
When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.
And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.
And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.
Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.
And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.
Luke 23:10-12. And the chief priests and scribes — Whose malice had brought them to attend him thither; stood — In the presence of the king; and vehemently accursed him — Doubtless as an enemy to Cesar, and guilty of seditious practices, crimes which they had laid to his charge before Pilate. Observe, reader, it is no new thing for good men and good ministers, who are real and useful friends to the civil government, to be falsely accused as factious and seditious, and enemies to the government. Herod, with his men of war — Namely, those of his soldiers who now attended him as his life-guard; set him at naught — Treated him in a very contemptuous manner, as a despicable person beneath their notice; and who no way answered the account they had heard of him, as he neither said nor did any thing to gratify their curiosity. And arrayed him in a gorgeous robe — Herod, finding himself disappointed in his expectation of seeing Jesus work miracles, ordered him to be clothed with a robe, in colour like those which kings used to wear, and permitted his attendants to insult him. Thus Herod, who had been acquainted with John the Baptist, and had more knowledge of Christ too, and of religion, than Pilate had, was more abusive to Christ than Pilate was: for knowledge without grace does but make men more ingeniously wicked. Our Lord’s being dressed in this manner by Herod’s order, shows, that here also the priests had accused him of having assumed the titles and honours belonging to the Messiah; for the affront put upon him was plainly in derision of that pretension. The other head of accusation, his having attempted to raise a sedition in Galilee, on account of the tribute, they durst not touch upon, because Herod could not fail to know the gross falsehood of it. Herod’s usage of our Lord was exceedingly insolent, but, perhaps, the remorse of conscience, which he had felt on account of the murder of John the Baptist, might render him cautious how he joined in any attempt on the life of Jesus, which we do not find that he ever did. The expression, εσθητα λαμπραν, which we render, a gorgeous robe, is translated in the Vulgate, veste alba, a white garment, and by Erasmus, Castalio, Beza, and in the Zurich translation, veste splendida, a shining garment. “Though the Greek word may be rendered either way,” says Dr. Campbell, “I prefer the latter, as denoting that quality of the garment which was the most remarkable; for this epithet was most properly given to those vestments, wherein both qualities, white and shining, were united. Such white and splendid robes were worn in the East by sovereigns.” And he sent him again to Pilate — Without further injury, thereby intimating, that he left him to do what he pleased with his prisoner, but that, for his own part, he apprehended his pretensions to royalty worthy of derision rather than serious resentment. And the same day Herod and Pilate were made friends together — Whatever Pilate’s real intentions were, in sending Jesus to Herod to be examined by him, his doing this was so well taken by the latter; and Herod’s sending him back to the Roman governor was, on the other hand, such a public instance of regard to him, that this mutual obligation, with the messages that passed between them on this occasion, brought them to a better understanding one of another, than there had been of late between them. For before they were at enmity between themselves — The cause of this enmity can only be conjectured: perhaps it might be the slaughter which Pilate had made of some of the Galileans, who had come up to offer sacrifices at Jerusalem, spoken of Luke 13:1; or, perhaps, Pilate had encroached upon Herod’s jurisdiction, by giving judgment in causes which concerned his subjects: and therefore Herod, looking upon the sending of Jesus to him to be judged, because he was a Galilean, as a reparation for former offences, was forthwith reconciled to Pilate. Observe, reader, how those who quarrelled with one another, could yet unite against Christ, as Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek, though divided among themselves, were confederate against the Israel of God, Psalm 83:7.

And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.
And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.
And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,
Luke 23:13-16. And Pilate — Having received an account of what had passed before Herod; called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people — Namely, such of them as had appeared against Jesus as his accusers; and said, Ye have brought this man unto me as one that perverteth the people — As having taught doctrines injurious to your religion, and also to the civil peace and the Roman government; and behold I have examined him before you — And heard all that could be alleged against him; and have found no fault in this man Ουδεν αιτιον, no crime, or cause for accusation; touching the things whereof you accuse him — None of which you have proved against him. No, nor yet Herod — He has discovered no fault in him, though much better acquainted than I am with your customs and religion. Lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him Εστι πεπραγμενον αυτω, hath been done by him: for, instead of sending him back, like one who deserves a capital sentence, he has treated him like an idiot rather than a traitor, so as plainly to show that he thinks him to be merely an object of ridicule. I will therefore chastise him — Namely, by scourging; and release him — And am persuaded he will give us no further trouble: nor would he have interest enough to do it, if he were so inclined. Thus Pilate solemnly protests that he believes Christ has done nothing worthy of death or of bonds; and therefore, surely he ought immediately to have discharged him, and not only so, but to have protected him from the fury of the priests and rabble, and to have bound his persecutors to their good behaviour, for their insolent conduct. But, being himself a wicked man, he had of course no respect for Christ. Having made himself otherwise obnoxious, he was afraid of displeasing either the emperor or the people, and therefore, for want of integrity, he yields to a set of miscreants, whom he ought to have dispersed as a riotous and seditious assembly, and have forbid to come near him; for he plainly saw what spirit influenced them. He declares Christ to be innocent, and therefore has a mind to release him; yet, to please the people, 1st, He will release him under the character of a malefactor, because of necessity he must release one, Luke 23:17; so that, whereas he ought to have released him as an act of justice, he will release him by an act of grace, and be beholden to the people for it. 2d, He will chastise him, and release him: But if no fault be chargeable upon him, why should he be chastised? There is as much injustice in scourging as in crucifying an innocent man; nor could it be justified by pretending that this would satisfy the clamours of the people, and make him the object of their pity; for we must not do evil that good may come.

Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:
No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.
I will therefore chastise him, and release him.
(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:
Luke 23:18-25. They cried out all at once — Thus, by giving ground a little, and proposing to chastise Jesus, to satisfy these wretches, Pilate only encouraged them to press on the more, and become more violent in their clamours for his crucifixion; saying, Away with this man Αιρε τουτον, tolle istum in crucem, crucify this fellow; and release unto us Barabbas, who for a certain sedition, and for murder, was cast into prison — Thus the Jewish rulers demanded the release of a notorious villain, who had really been guilty of the crime whereof they had falsely accused Jesus; had made an insurrection with some accomplices; and had also committed murder in the insurrection, a crime which, though their impudence exceeded all bounds, they durst not lay to Christ’s charge. For this infamous creature the people likewise begged life, preferring him to the Son of God, who had always made it his whole study to do them good! Pilate, therefore, willing — Or rather, desirous; to release Jesus, spake again to them — Luke does not tell us what the governor said to the people, but the other evangelists have supplied that defect. See on Matthew 27:15-25, and Mark 15:6-15. But they — Without so much as offering any further reason, persisted in their importunity; and cried out as before, Crucify him, crucify him — They not only would have him to die, but to die in the most ignominious and painful manner: nothing less will satisfy them than that he should be crucified. And he — Pilate; said unto them the third time, Why? What evil hath he done — Name his crime. What can you prove against him? I have found no cause of death — No cause why he should be put to death. We may observe here, as Peter, a disciple of Christ, dishonoured him by denying him thrice; so Pilate, a heathen, honoured Christ by thrice owning him to be innocent. I will therefore — As I said, (Luke 23:16,) chastise him — By scourging, and then I hope your rage will be moderated, and you will be prevailed upon to agree that I should let him go, without any further punishment. But popular fury, the more it is complimented, the more furious it grows. Hence they were instant with loud voices — With great noises or outcries; not requesting, but requiring that he might be crucified — As if they had as much right at the feast to demand the crucifying of one that was innocent as the release of one that was guilty! And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed — Pilate at length yielded to their importunity, and consented to do what was contrary both to the conviction and inclination of his own mind, not having courage to withstand so strong a stream. He gave sentence that it should be as they required — Here we see judgment turned away backward, and justice standing afar off, for fear of popular fury! truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. He released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, &c. — Who hereby would be hardened in his wickedness, and do the more mischief; whom they desired — Being altogether such a one as themselves; but he delivered Jesus to their will — And he could not have dealt more barbarously with him than to deliver him to the will of them who hated him with a perfect hatred, and whose tender mercies were cruelties.

(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.
And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.
And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.
And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.
And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
Luke 23:26-27. And as they led him away — After he had been barbarously scourged and mocked, as is recorded, Matthew 27:26-31, and Mark 15:15-20, where see the notes; they laid hold on one Simon, coming out of the country — Who was probably a friend of Christ’s, and known to be so; and on him they laid the cross — Which doubtless was done to put a reproach upon him; that he might bear it after Jesus — Lest Jesus should faint under it, and die away, and so prevent the farther instances of the malice which they designed. See on Matthew 27:32. And there followed him a great company of people — Especially of women. These were not only his friends and well-wishers, but many others of the common people, who were not his enemies, and were moved with compassion toward him, because they had seen, or at least heard of, his wonderful works, and what a wise, holy, and benevolent man he was, and had reason to think he suffered unjustly; this drew a great crowd after him, some of whom were influenced by pity, others probably by curiosity; but they also, as well as those that were his particular friends, bewailed and lamented him — So that, though there were many that reproached and reviled him, yet there were some that valued him, were sorry for him, and sympathized with him in his sufferings. Observe, reader, the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus may move the natural affections of many who are strangers to devout affections; and those may bewail Christ who do not savingly believe in him, and truly love him.

And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
Luke 23:28-29. But Jesus turning, said, &c. — Jesus, who ever felt the woes of others more than he did his own, forgetting his distress at the very time that it lay heaviest upon him, turned about, and with a benevolence and tenderness truly divine, said to them, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, &c. — Not that they were to be blamed for weeping for him, but commended rather: those hearts were hard indeed, that were not affected with such sufferings of such a person; but he bids them weep not only for him, but also and especially for themselves, and for their children, namely, because of the destruction that was coming upon Jerusalem, which some of them would probably live to see, and share in the calamities thereof; or at least their children would, for whom it behooved them to be solicitous. For the days are coming in which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, &c. — As if he had said, “The calamities about to fall on you and your children are most terrible, and call for the bitterest lamentations; for in those days of vengeance you will vehemently wish that you had not given birth to a generation whose wickedness has rendered them objects of the divine wrath to a degree that never was experienced in the world before. And the thoughts of those calamities afflict my soul far more than the feeling of my own sufferings.” These words sufficiently imply that the days of distress and misery were coming, and would fall on them and on their children; which indeed they did in a most awful manner; though at that time there was not any appearance of such an immediate ruin: nor would the wisest politician have inferred it from the present state of affairs. The prediction was especially fulfilled during that grievous famine which so miserably afflicted Jerusalem during the siege. For, as Josephus reports, (Bell., Luke 5:10,) mothers snatched the food from their infants out of their very mouths: and again, in another place, (Bell., Luke 5:12,) the houses were full of women and children, who perished by famine. But Josephus relates a still more horrid story, which our Lord, with his spirit of prophecy, had probably in view. He says, (Bell., Luke 6:3,) “There was one Mary, the daughter of Eleazer, illustrious for her family and riches. She, having been stripped and plundered of all her substance and provisions by the soldiers, out of necessity and fury killed her own sucking child, and having boiled him, devoured half of him, and covering up the rest, preserved it for another time. The soldiers soon came, allured by the smell of victuals, and threatened to kill her immediately if she would not produce what she had dressed. But she replied, that she had preserved a good part for them, and uncovered the relict of her son. Dread and astonishment seized them, and they stood stupified at the sight. ‘But this,’ said she, ‘is my own son, and this my work. Eat, for even I have eaten. Be not you more tender than a woman, nor more compassionate than a mother. But, if you have a religious abhorrence of my victim, I truly have eaten half; and let the rest remain for me.’ They went away trembling, fearful to do this one thing; and hardly left this food for the mother. The whole city was struck with horrors” says the historian, “at this wickedness; and they were pronounced blessed, who died before they had heard or seen such great evils.”

For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
Luke 23:30-31. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, &c. — Proverbial expressions, to signify their desire of any shelter or refuge; and so very desirous were they of hiding themselves, that some thousands of them crept even into the common sewers, and there miserably perished, or were dragged out to slaughter. (Bell., Luke 6:9.) For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry — If the Romans are permitted by Heaven to inflict such heavy punishments on me, who am innocent, how dreadful must the vengeance be which they shall inflict on the nation, whose sins cry aloud to heaven, hastening the pace of the divine judgments, and rendering the perpetrators as fit for punishments as dry wood is for burning. The expression is proverbial; and was in frequent use among the Jews, who compared a good man to a green tree, and a bad man to a dead and dry one. It is as if our Lord had said, If a righteous person suffer thus, what will become of the wicked? Of those who are as ready for destruction, as dry wood is for the fire? Compare Ezekiel 20:47, with Ezekiel 21:3, where God’s burning every green and every dry tree is explained to be, his destroying the righteous and the wicked together. See also Psalm 1:3, where a good man is compared to a green tree full of leaves: and both Christ and John the Baptist resemble bad men to dry, dead, and barren trees.

For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
Luke 23:32-34. There were also two other malefactors — This should rather be rendered, Two others, who were malefactors, were also led with him to be put to death. The distinction between Jesus and the malefactors is remarkably preserved in the next verse. And when they were come to the place called Calvary — See on Matthew 27:33, and Mark 15:22; there they crucified him — That is, nailed him to the cross; and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left — So that he was in the midst of two thieves, as if he had been the greatest criminal of the three. Thus he was not only treated as a transgressor, but numbered with them, and exhibited as the worst of them. Then said Jesus — Our Lord passed most of the time on the cross in silence; yet seven sentences, which he spake thereon, are recorded by the four evangelists, though no one evangelist has recorded them all. Hence it appears that the four gospels are, as it were, four parts, which, joined together, make one symphony: sometimes one of these only sounds; sometimes two or three; sometimes all sound together. Father — So he speaks, both at the beginning and at the end of his sufferings on the cross; forgive them — How striking is this passage! He made no manner of resistance to the cruel violence of his enemies; nor did he revile them, even when they were distorting his limbs, as on a rack; nay, on the contrary, even while they were actually nailing him to the cross, he seems to feel the injury they did to their own souls, more than the wounds which they gave him; and, as it were, to forget his own anguish, out of a concern for their salvation! In the midst of the agonies which he suffered, he pours out a compassionate prayer for those that were imbruing their hands in his blood, pleading the only excuse which the most extensive charity could suggest; Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do — Thus did our Lord Jesus, though expiring by the tortures which he felt, give us an example of that benevolence which he hath commanded us to practise; and breathe out at once a prayer and an apology for his executioners. The Roman soldiers, who were the immediate instruments of his death, had indeed but little knowledge of him; and the Jews, who were the authors of it, through their obstinate prejudices, apprehended not who he was: for if they had known him, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory, 1 Corinthians 2:8. And how eminently was this prayer of Christ heard! It procured forgiveness for all that were, or afterward became, penitent, and a suspension of vengeance even for the impenitent. And they parted his raiment, &c. — See on Matthew 27:35-36.

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
Luke 23:35-37. And the people stood beholding — Him hanging on the cross, being, it seems, not at all concerned, but rather pleasing themselves with the spectacle. And the rulers — Whom, from their office, one would have supposed to be men of sense and men of honour, stood among the rabble; and derided him, saying, He saved others, let him save himself — Thus do they upbraid him for the good works he had done, as if it were indeed for these that they crucified him. They triumph over him as if they had conquered him, at the time that he was conquering sin and death for them! They challenge him to save himself from the cross, when he was saving others by the cross! See on Matthew 27:39-44. Let him save himself if he be Christ, the chosen of God — If he really be the true Messiah, the elect of God, and, in consequence of that divine choice, be the king of Israel, as he has often pretended, let him save himself from death, that we may see a demonstration of his saving power; and we will then believe him. Or, if he, as the Messiah, would deliver our nation from the Romans, (to do which they supposed would be the principal office of the Messiah,) let him deliver himself from the Romans that have him now in their hands. Thus these Jewish rulers ridiculed him, as captivated by the Romans instead of subduing them. The expression, ο του θεου εκλεκτος, the elect, or chosen of God, is taken from Isaiah 42:1, and appears to be one of those titles by which the Messiah was at that time distinguished. The soldiers also — Who kept guard at that time, joined with the rest of the spectators; and mocked him, coming and offering him vinegar — To drink in the midst of his agonies. Compare John 19:29. And saying — As the rulers and people had done; if thou be the king of the Jews — As thou hast frequently pretended to be, before thou undertakest to deliver them, save thyself — From our power, and thus begin to assert thy claim to a supreme authority. Their insult, it seems, did not lie in their offering our Lord vinegar, for that was the soldiers’ common drink, when mixed with water; (see note on Matthew 27:48;) but it lay in what they said to him when they offered it, reproaching him for pretending to be a king, when he was so poor and mean a person, and now about to expire as a malefactor. As this claim of being a king, seemed to the soldiers most derogatory to the Roman authority, it is no wonder that they grounded their insult on this, rather than his professing himself the Son of God. Thus the priests derided his claiming the title of the Messiah, and the Romans his claiming that of a king.

And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Luke 23:38. A superscription also was written over him, &c. — THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS — No transposition is necessary here: for Luke does not tell us when the superscription was written, so far is he from saying that it was written after Jesus was mocked. He only observes in general that there was a title placed over him, and by mentioning it together with the insults, insinuates that it was one of them. The Evangelist John has marked the particular time when the title was written and affixed, Luke 19:9. See notes on Matthew 27:37-38.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
Luke 23:39-41. And one of the malefactors railed on him — The word κακουργος, here rendered malefactor, does not always denote a thief, or robber, but was a term likewise applied to the Jewish soldiers, who were hurried by their zeal to commit some crime, in opposition to the Roman authority. As Matthew and Mark represent both the malefactors here spoken of as reviling our Lord, we must either suppose that they both did so at first, and that afterward one of them, by divine grace co-operating with the extraordinary circumstances in which he was now placed, was brought to repentance; or that those evangelists put the plural number for the singular, as the best authors sometimes do. This seems most probable, because, if this malefactor, while on the cross, had been guilty of reviling Christ, it is likely that, when he rebuked his fellow-criminal, he would have confessed his sin in that particular, and have assigned some reason for so suddenly altering his opinion of Christ. But, indeed, it is by no means certain that his repentance did not commence till he hung on the cross. For any thing we know to the contrary, he might have repented and turned to God long before; his condemnation to death, and his sufferings in prison, being made, through divine grace, the means of producing that effect. Or, he might have heard our Lord preach in the course of his ministry, and have seen some of his miracles, and from a consideration of both joined together, might have been solidly convinced that he was the Messiah. And, with regard to the crime for which he was condemned to die, it might have been committed before such conviction took place, though not discovered till some time afterward. Or, like many professors of religion in every age, holding the truth in unrighteousness, he might have been overcome by temptation, so as to commit some gross act of wickedness, by which he had forfeited his life, but of which he had afterward sincerely repented. This supposition would account for his declaration concerning Christ, that he had done nothing amiss — Ουδεν ατοπον, nothing improper, disorderly, or out of place, as the words signify: a declaration which he certainly could with no propriety have made, unless he had firmly believed Jesus to be the true Messiah, and therefore innocent of those things which the Jews laid to his charge. Be this as it may, at whatever time, and in whatever way he was brought to repentance, he now gave evident proof, indeed all the proof which in his circumstances could be given, that his repentance was genuine; bringing forth all such fruits as were meet for repentance: 1st, In publicly confessing his guilt, and desert of the punishment inflicted on him. 2d, In reproving his fellow-criminal. 3d, In bearing an honourable testimony to Christ, and that at a time when the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and all the multitude, were condemning and reviling him; and he was in such disgraceful circumstances as stumbled even his own disciples. 4th, In professing, and evidently possessing, faith in a future state, and in the righteous retributions thereof, evidently manifested when, in reproving his fellow-sinner, he said, Dost thou not fear God? that is, fear his vengeance in another world; for they had nothing to fear in this, beyond the crucifixion which they were now suffering. 5th, By reposing his confidence in Christ, as the Lord of that world, at a time when his enemies were triumphing over him, and he himself, abandoned by most of his friends, was expiring on a cross. In short, as Dr. Whitby observes, “This thief improved his time at last in such an extraordinary manner, as, perhaps, no man ever did before, or will do hereafter. He then believed Christ to be the Saviour of the world, when one of his disciples had betrayed, another had denied him, and all of them had forsook him! to be the Son of God, the Lord of life, when he was hanging on the cross, suffering the pangs of death, and seemingly deserted by his Father! he proclaims him the Lord of paradise, when all the Jews condemned him, and the Gentiles crucified him as an impostor and malefactor! He feared God, acknowledged the justice of his punishment, and with patience submitted to it. He condemned himself, and justified the holy Jesus, declaring that he had done nothing amiss. He was solicitous, not for the preservation of his body, but the salvation of his soul; nor only for his own, but the salvation of his brother thief, whom he so charitably reprehends, so earnestly requests not to proceed in his blasphemous language, so lovingly invites to the fear of God. So that the glory which he did to Christ by his faith and piety, upon the cross, seems such as the whole series of a pious life in other men can hardly parallel.” Upon the whole, this penitent malefactor was a remarkable instance of the power of divine grace, especially if his conversion was effected while he hung on the cross. But this gives no encouragement to any to put off their repentance till they are on their death-beds, in hopes they shall then find mercy; for though it is certain that true repentance is never too late, it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true. None can be sure they shall either have time or grace to repent when they are sick and dying; but every man may be sure that he cannot have the advantages which this penitent thief had, whose case was altogether extraordinary, and who was placed in the midst of scenes and circumstances of the most affecting kind. He heard the blasphemous reproaches and revilings cast upon him whom he, now at least, if not before, knew to be not only a righteous man, but the true Messiah, the Son of God; beheld the barbarous cruelties exercised upon him, the unparalleled patience with which he suffered, and the benevolent and forgiving spirit which he manifested toward his murderers: not to mention the preternatural darkness which had begun to take place, sufficient, one would have supposed, to produce astonishment and dread in all whose hearts were not perfectly hardened. To which may be added, that the conversion of this sinner was designed to be a singular instance of the power of Christ’s grace, and to put a peculiar glory upon him when he was now in his lowest estate of humiliation and suffering.

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
Luke 23:42. And he said, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom — Such was the prayer of a dying sinner to a dying Saviour. And as in his confession he discovered deep repentance toward God, so in this petition he discovered strong faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He owns him to be the Lord, and to have a kingdom, and that he was going to that kingdom: that he should have authority in it, and that those should be happy whom he favoured; to believe and confess which was a great thing at that time, when Christ was in the depth of disgrace, deserted by his own disciples, reviled by his own nation, suffering as an impostor, and not delivered by his Father! Verily, we have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel! He evidently entertained an incomparably more rational and exalted notion of the Messiah’s kingdom than the disciples themselves: for while they expected nothing but a secular empire, he gave evidence that he acknowledged Christ’s spiritual dominion, and not only believed him to be a king, but such a king as, after he was dead, could profit the dead; for, at the very time that Jesus was dying on the cross, he begged to be remembered by him when he came into his kingdom. His petition discovers also great modesty, humility, and consciousness of his own demerits. He begs only to be remembered, and refers it to Christ in what way to remember him. It is a request like that of Joseph to the chief butler, Think on me, Genesis 40:14, and it succeeded better; the chief butler forgot Joseph, but Christ remembered this thief. Observe, reader, to be remembered by Christ, now he is in his kingdom, is what we should earnestly desire and pray for: and it will be enough to secure our welfare living and dying.

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:43. Jesus said — In answer to his prayer; Verily I say unto thee — I, the Amen, the faithful Witness, give thee assurance, This day thou shalt be with me in paradise — As if he had said, I will not only remember thee when I come into my kingdom, but this very day; and will confer upon thee more than thou hast asked. Christ here lets us know, 1st, That he was going, not only to αδης, the invisible world, but to that part of it termed paradise. His human soul was removing to the place of separate souls; not to the place of the damned, but to the place of the blessed. This was the beginning of the joy set before him, with the prospect of which he comforted himself. He went by the cross to the crown, and we must not think of going any other way, or of being perfected save by sufferings. 2d, That when penitent believers die, they go to be with him there. He was now as a priest, purchasing this happiness for them, and is ready, as a king, to confer it upon them. Observe, reader, how the state of happiness, prepared for holy souls after death, is set forth. 1st, It is being in paradise, a garden of pleasure, the paradise of God, Revelation 2:7, alluding to those gardens in which the eastern monarchs made their magnificent banquets, or rather to the garden of Eden, in which our first parents were placed, when they were innocent. It is termed Abraham’s bosom, in the story of Lazarus, and was a common expression among the Jews, for the mansion of beatified souls in their separate state. In the second Adam we are restored to all we lost in the first Adam; and more, to a heavenly paradise instead of an earthly one. 2d, It is being with Christ there. It is the happiness of paradise and of heaven, to see Christ, to be with him, and to share in his glory. Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, &c., John 17:24. Thus St. Paul expected, when he departed, to be with Christ, Php 1:23; and the first Christians in general were confident, that when they were absent from the body, they should be present with the Lord. 3d, Holy souls enter this place, or state, immediately upon death. This day, that is, before six o’clock in the evening, when their day ended. “The souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are immediately in joy and felicity.” Observe, 1st, “That the word σημερον, to-day, is not to be connected with I say, as if the sense were this, I say to thee to-day; but with the words following, so as to contain a promise, that the thief [with respect to his soul] should even that day be in paradise, appears from the familiar phrase of the Jews, who say of the just man dying, To-day he shall sit in the bosom of Abraham. 2d, Christ doubtless spake in that sense in which the thief could, and in which Christ knew he would, understand him; now he, being a Jew, would surely understand him according to the received opinion of his nation concerning paradise, which was, that it was the place into which pious souls, separated from the body, were immediately received.”

And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
Luke 23:44-45. About the sixth hour — Answering to twelve o’clock with us; there was darkness, &c. — See on Matthew 27:45. The noon-tide darkness, covering the sun, obscured all the upper hemisphere. And the lower was equally darkened, the moon being in opposition to the sun, and so receiving no light from it. Until the ninth hour — Or three o’clock in the afternoon. And the veil of the temple was rent, &c. — See on Matthew 27:51.

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
Luke 23:46-49. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit — The Father receives the spirit of Jesus; Jesus himself the spirits of the faithful. See on Matthew 27:50. When the centurion — The Roman officer, who stood over against him and guarded the execution; saw what was done — In so miraculous a manner, in those amazing prodigies that attended Christ’s death; he glorified God — By a free confession of his persuasion of the innocence of Jesus; saying, Certainly this was a righteous man — Notwithstanding all the vile reproaches which have been cast upon him. And all the people that came together — On this remarkable occasion, among whom, doubtless, were some of those who, but a little before, had been insulting him in his dying agonies; beholding, the things that were done, smote their breasts — For sorrow and remorse; in terrible expectation that some sad calamity would speedily befall them and their country, for the indignities and cruelties they had offered to a person, for whom God had expressed so high a regard even in his greatest distress. See these verses elucidated at large on Matthew 27:54-56. And all his acquaintance — Who these were, Matthew and Mark inform us, in the verses just referred to.

Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.
And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.
And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counseller; and he was a good man, and a just:
Luke 23:50-56. There was a man named Joseph, a good man, and a just — One who united in his character the two great principles of morality — justice and benevolence. The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them — Though he was a member of the council which condemned Jesus, he did not join them in their unjust sentence, having either declined being present when the sentence was passed, or having remonstrated against it. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus, &c. — See this paragraph explained at large in the notes on Matthew 27:57-61, and Mark 15:42-47.

(The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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