Jesus, having declared himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God, had provided more evidence of blasphemy to the ‘salivating’ Sanhedrin than they could have hoped for in their wildest dreams! The man actually said that he was God! The big problem with their trial, and with their definition of blasphemy, was: what provision was there for the real Messiah ever to show up?
The real Messiah was duly dispatched to Pontius Pilate to do the ‘decent’ Roman thing – a good old-fashioned crucifixion was the order of the day. But Pilate wanted to see that other Roman legal thing: evidence; and saw none – nothing to justify the death penalty, anyway. The Jewish authorities put additional pressure on Pilate by telling him that Jesus opposed paying taxes to Caesar (untrue) and claimed to be a rival king (a distortion). Playing for time, Pilate sent Jesus to King Herod, passing the buck and hoping that Herod would make the tough decision for him. Herod was both fascinated and fearful of Jesus’ popularity and wanted to avoid a local uprising on his own doorstep. He handed the ‘hot potato’ back to Pilate who had run out of time and friends.
It was very clear that Pilate wanted to avoid crucifying Jesus, since he announced no less than three times that he had found no basis for the charge against him. But he thought that he had a dilemma: release Jesus (as justice demanded) and offend the Jewish rulers or crucify Jesus and offend the Jewish people. Provoke an uprising either way, and this would offend his masters in Rome for failing to maintain the peace. Pilate was just in the middle of his musings when he heard the extraordinary sounds of the ordinary people baying for Christ’s blood and for Barabbas’ freedom! The mob prevailed, and Pilate beckoned to the hand-washing servant!
Luke, the medical man, ignores almost every medical detail of the crucifixion. He does mention Pilate’s revenge on the manipulative Jewish leaders: a written notice of the legal charge, placed above the cross, which proclaimed: “This is the King of the Jews”!
Two criminals who were crucified either side of him joined in the mockery and insults aimed at Jesus; both were being punished as they deserved under the law, but then one of them – in a moment of inspirational faith – asked for something that he didn’t deserve: a place in God’s paradise with Jesus that very day. Paradise (literally ‘the garden’ – Revelation 2) represents the place of glory and rest between death and bodily resurrection. Jesus showed in that short reply that eternal salvation is available to those who simply ask.
The crucifixion lasted from about 9am to 3pm for Jesus – short, as crucifixions went. For the second three hours, the land was submerged in total darkness, as the full measure of God’s punishment for the sins of the world was laid on his only Son. Darkness symbolised both separation from the Light of God, and perhaps a blanket of privacy around the Holy One’s agony. There is no agony greater than separation from the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings!
At the end of those three hours, the price had been paid and the punishment was over. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, was His Son’s final cry – also quoting from Psalm 31:5. Shortly afterwards, Jesus breathed his last and died. This action triggered the mysterious tearing of the curtain in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place – symbolising unhindered access to the presence of God.
Buried in a rock-cut tomb nearby, donated by Joseph of Arimathea, a secret rich disciple – and in haste to finish before the 6pm Special Sabbath would start – the Son of Man’s body was set to rest. Those who loved him watched from afar and went to make their own preparations for a more extensive burial, some of which they would never complete. It had been left to Mary a week or so earlier to have the honour of anointing his body for burial (John 12), and she was not a moment too soon!