What Was Said About Jesus on the Cross

Crucifixion of Christ

Jesus’ death on the cross is the central event of the Bible. It is the sacrifice that made forgiveness, redemption, and salvation possible for all mankind. Jesus foretold of His death (Matthew 16:21). The Scriptures prophesied of this event (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; et al.). Sufficient evidence has been provided to produce belief.

In addition to all the divinely given evidence, the gospel writers also recorded comments from some uninspired men as they spoke about Jesus and His crucifixion. It is interesting to see what others understood about Him, even some without the benefit of Old Testament teaching.

Pilate – Pilate was the Roman governor over the region that included the city of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders brought Jesus before him, intending to have Him put to death. Pilate initially resisted, but later consented after the crowd went into an uproar. When Jesus was crucified, Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross: “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). We do not know Pilate’s motive for writing this. It is doubtful that he really believed in Jesus since he was allowing His death. But it is significant that he clearly identified who was being crucified. It was Jesus – not just any Jesus, but Jesus of Nazareth. Lest there be any further confusion, he stated that He was the one who claimed to be a king (cf. John 18:36). There would be no mistake by anyone who passed by and saw that scene. They would know who was on that cross.

The Jewish Leaders – In responding to Pilate’s inscription, the Jews protested: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews’” (John 19:21). They did not want Jesus identified as their king. They told Pilate they had “no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). But what they did in their statement of protest was verify the claim of Jesus. They affirmed to Pilate that Jesus said He was a king. They understood Jesus’ teaching. They knew His intentions. They just did not believe Him.

The Thief on the Cross – When Jesus was crucified, two thieves were crucified with Him. Luke recorded one thief challenging Jesus to save Himself and them as well. The other thief rebuked him: “We indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said to Jesus, “Remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:39-42). This thief recognized two things. First, he knew Jesus was innocent. Second, he believed that Jesus would rule over His kingdom despite certain death on the cross. Therefore, we know that Jesus was recognized as a righteous man and that His teaching about the coming kingdom was understood by certain individuals.

The Centurion – The Roman soldiers were accustomed to crucifying prisoners. It was something they were trained to do and there was usually nothing particularly unique about a crucifixion. However, this time was different. While Jesus suffered on the cross, there was darkness from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45). Immediately after His death there was an earthquake, the veil of the temple was torn in two, and the graves were opened and the dead came into the city (Matthew 27:50-53). The centurion who was there to oversee everything took note of all that happened – including all that Jesus said and did – and reached a conclusion: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Did the centurion mean that he thought that Jesus was the Son of God as we understand it or just that he was righteous as Luke suggested (Luke 23:47)? In either case, this man understood that Jesus was different, was innocent, and that the power of God was with Him.

When we consider all of these things, we get an idea of what the people thought about Jesus. They recognized Him as a Jew from Nazareth. They also understood His claims of being a king. If they were honest, they recognized that there was no just cause for His condemnation. It was also plainly demonstrated that God was with Him. Besides the testimony of these uninspired men that has been recorded for us, these points are taught by the Scriptures as well. We must believe what it says, believe in Jesus, and look to Him for our salvation.


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