Great Days in History (Part 3): The Day of Jesus’ Crucifixion

Great Days in History

Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate release Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. […] Then they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. And they crucified Him…” (Mark 15:15-24).

After being born into this world and living a relatively short life here, Jesus died. However, more than anyone else, His death was significant. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was the day in which He died on the cross for our sins. As we have already seen, this was part of God’s plan from the beginning (Revelation 13:8).

The Background

Jesus lived a perfect life – In the previous lesson, we highlighted Jesus’ humanity – the fact that He came to earth and “partook” of “flesh and blood” and was “made like His brethren in all things” (Hebrews 2:14, 17). However, there was a significant difference between the life of Jesus and the lives of others. Paul described the universal problem of sin: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In contrast, Jesus was “separated from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26) because He was perfectly sinless.

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:21-22).

Jesus’ life is an example for us to follow. But more than that, the fact that Jesus was sinless meant that His crucifixion was wholly undeserved. In Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering of Christ, he said, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). When Pilate examined Jesus, he recognized that there was “no guilt in Him” (John 19:4); but he caved to the pressure of the Jews and allowed Jesus to be put to death anyway.

Jesus was rejected by His people – Again, this was prophesied by Isaiah: “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3). When Pilate presented Jesus before the Jews as their “King,” the people called for His crucifixion, even going so far as to willingly claim Caesar as their king (John 19:4-5).

The Jews rejected Jesus despite what the Scriptures said about Him. Paul wrote, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). Jesus said that the Scriptures testified about Him (John 5:39) and He explained later that “all things which [were] written about [Him] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Yet despite this evidence from the Scriptures which were “read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21), the Jews rejected Him.

They also rejected Jesus despite what they saw Jesus say and do. In addition to the witness of the Scriptures (John 5:39), Jesus said that His works testified of Him (John 5:36). When the Jews demanded Jesus to “tell [them] plainly” if He was the Christ, He said, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (John 10:24-25). There was ample evidence to show that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God; yet the people ignored this evidence and rejected Him.

Jesus knew all that was going to happen to Him – When Jesus was led away to be crucified, it did not come as a surprise to Him. Earlier in the evening before His arrest, He knew “that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1). When Judas came with the mob to the Garden, Jesus already knew “all the things that were coming upon Him” (John 18:4).

With all of the prophecies that pointed to His death on the cross (Isaiah 53:3-9; Psalm 22; et al.), it should not be surprising that Jesus knew what was going to happen. After all, He was the Word in the flesh (John 1:1, 14).

Even while He was on the earth, Jesus indicated that He knew what was to transpire and provided clues to others about what would happen. He told Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Later He told His disciples, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). John added that this statement was made “to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die” (John 12:33). Matthew recorded, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). None of these things caught Jesus by surprise. He knew what was going to take place and came to do the Father’s will (Hebrews 10:5-10).

The Events on That Day

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden – In His prayer, Jesus demonstrated a willingness to submit to the Father, regardless of what the outcome would be: “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). Paul used this example to make the point that we must be willing to humble ourselves as Jesus did: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

However, it is important to understand that Jesus did not grudgingly go along with the Father’s will. When He prayed for the “cup” to be removed (Mark 14:36), He was not expressing a desire to avoid the cross. As we have already noticed, Jesus knew what was going to take place as far as His death on the cross. Despite this, He clearly articulated His willingness to suffer this: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18). Jesus prayed “that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by” (Mark 14:35). In other words, He was not praying that He might not have to endure the crucifixion; He was praying that the events of this “hour” might be accomplished. His prayer was not to escape the cross, but to be delivered through the cross.

Jesus’ trial and condemnation – There were several stages to the trial of Jesus. He was first tried by the priests and faced false accusations, insults, and physical abuse (Mark 14:53-65). He then stood before Pilate where He was questioned and, though He was found to be innocent, was condemned to death (Mark 15:2-5, 10-15). Luke also recorded the fact that Jesus was sent by Pilate to Herod where He was treated with contempt and mocked before being sent back to Pilate (Luke 23:11). Jesus endured all of these things leading up to His crucifixion.

Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross – Before the cross, Jesus was scourged when Pilate yielded to the Jews’ demands to have Jesus crucified (Mark 15:15). After this happened, the soldiers mocked and abused Him before taking Him to the place where He would be crucified: “The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him” (Mark 15:16-20).

When Jesus was crucified, His hands and feet were nailed to the cross (Psalm 22:16; John 20:25). Once He was hung in the air, the mocking continued (Mark 15:29-33). The physical abuse and torture His body endured throughout the ordeal was extreme. In describing in detail the suffering endured by those condemned to this punishment, Henry E. Dosker wrote, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Again, Jesus knew “all the things that were coming upon Him” (John 18:4), and He went to the cross anyway.

Signs in His death – There were several signs that accompanied Jesus’ death on the cross:

  • Darkness from the sixth to ninth hour – “When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33).
  • The veil of the temple was torn – “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last. And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).
  • The earth shook, tombs were opened, and the dead were raised – “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53).

All of these things led the centurion to conclude, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

Key Lessons

The need for a sacrifice – In discussing the comparison between the sacrifices offered under the Law of Moses and the sacrifice of Christ, the Hebrew writer said, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Animal sacrifices had been offered “continually year by year,” but the system under the old law contained “only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Hebrews 10:1). Because of this, the Hebrew writer said, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).

Since the animal sacrifices offered under the Law of Moses would not take away sins (Hebrews 10:4) and there could be no forgiveness without blood being shed (Hebrews 9:22), another sacrifice was necessary. In order for forgiveness to be possible, Jesus would have to shed His blood on the cross. The Hebrew writer explained, “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me… By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:5, 10). The “blood of Christ” is able to “cleanse [our] conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14).

We remember this sacrifice when we observe the Lord’s Supper. Before His death, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and gave the cup as a symbol of His “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). This memorial is to be observed each first day of the week (cf. Acts 20:7) because of how important it is for us to remember. Paul told the Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). We must continue to remember and proclaim Christ’s death even today.

Jesus’ qualifications – Paul told Timothy, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). He was qualified to serve as mediator because He shared characteristics of both parties. “The fullness of Deity [dwelt] in bodily form” in Him (Colossians 2:9). He also “became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Therefore, He was able to be the mediator – “a go-between” (Vine’s) – between God and men. He was able to bring about reconciliation between both parties (Romans 5:10).

Jesus was different from every high priest in that He was perfectly qualified. Notice what the Hebrew writer said: “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:26-28). No one else would have ever been qualified to fulfill this role.

Furthermore, only Jesus was qualified to offer and to be the sacrifice for our sins. Notice in the passage above that the priests under the Law of Moses would “offer up sacrifices” of bulls and goats while Jesus made a perfect sacrifice “once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).

The effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice – Unlike the sacrifices that were offered under the Law of Moses, Jesus’ sacrifice was perfectly able to take away sins. Again, the sacrifices under the old law that were offered “continually” could never “take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1, 4). Yet Jesus’ sacrifice was just “one offering” that “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). John wrote, “The blood of Jesus…cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for everyone. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is different from what is taught in the Calvinist doctrine of “limited atonement” – the idea that Jesus did not die for the world, but only for the elect. Yet Paul wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). The salvation that was made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is open to everyone.

However, this salvation is conditional. Though God’s grace has “appeared…to all men” (Titus 2:11), we know that not all will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14). How can this be? The only way to harmonize these passages is by concluding that God offers salvation to everyone, but will only save those who meet His conditions. Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). He is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). Jesus’ crucifixion has made salvation available, but we must take advantage of this offer.

Conclusion

In the previous lesson, we highlighted God’s love as one of the key lessons regarding Jesus’ birth. However, the death of Christ on the cross was necessarily connected to this as well. Because God loved the world, He sent Jesus into the world to die on the cross for us.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Salvation is open to all, but we need to take advantage of His offer of salvation. Since He gave His life for us, we need to give our lives to Him and offer ourselves as “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).


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