Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
8. Soldiers slandering
13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” 18 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) 20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” 23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. 26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. 50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
8. Soldiers slandering
Welcome to no. 8 in Gerard’s ‘At the Cross—Attitudes at Calvary’ series, from Luke chapter 23. Please also read the verses on the soldiers in Matthew, Mark and John, to find added details, now included. After a cruel flogging Jesus, is led away. The soldiers make Simon of Cyrene carry His cross. They lead two criminals to be crucified, to flank Jesus in the centre.
I suggested earlier that the loving and compassionate words of Jesus from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,’ might apply to everyone, or might have been for the criminals. Could they also be for the cruel, taunting, bullying, soldiers who treated Jesus so savagely and unfairly after Pilate and Herod found no case to answer?
Earlier, the soldiers mocked Jesus in a sham coronation using a purple robe and a crown of thorns. They mocked Him as ‘King of the Jews’, repeatedly hit Him with a staff and spat on Him. They fell on their knees in mock worship, then removed the robe of purple and replaced Jesus’ own clothes. This is how they prepared the innocent King of Glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die. They now continue that cruel mocking, offer Him sour wine vinegar, and carry on the theme of insulting the would-be king. Pilate’s written notice above Jesus on His cross is: ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ The soldiers’ second-hand taunts copy the sneering religious rulers’ words, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers’ version is, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Their copycat blaspheming of the eternal Son of God is now copied by one of the prisoners. You need not be very bright to copy others’ cheap anti-God and anti-Christ slogans!
Great evidence for God’s perfect Bible authorship is seen here and in the other gospels about Jesus’ clothing. Combining those passages together, here is what happens. The soldiers divide up Jesus’ clothing into four shares between them. It seems that four soldiers are on crowd control around those three crosses, plus their Centurion. (We meet him later.) No doubt he can call more men, if needed. We read in John 19:23-24 that there is a seamless undergarment made in one piece, and presumably good quality. The soldiers agree not to tear up that but to cast lots for it. As they do so, they fulfil a part of a prophecy of Scripture, Psalm 22:16-18, which prophesies that on the cross Jesus will be surrounded, His hands and feet shall be pierced, His bones will stick out (as He hangs on that cross), He will be looked at and stared at, and that while some of His clothing will be divided other clothing will be taken by casting lots. Even the miserable actions of the soldiers were recorded in prophecy hundreds of years before crucifixion was practised in Israel. Also, they often broke the legs of crucified dying victims in later stages of crucifixion to stop them pushing against the downward pressure impacting their chests to cause earlier suffocation. The soldiers therefore break the legs of both criminals to achieve their earlier deaths. But when they get to Jesus they find Him dead already. This fulfils Old Testament Scriptures that none of His bones will be broken. (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, Psalm 34:20). Jesus did not persuade them not to break His legs to fulfil prophecy! He was already dead. All this is further evidence that God’s inspired prophecy in the Bible is nothing less than history told by God through the prophets in advance! We can trust the Bible!
We can learn much from these soldiers, despite their brutality:
- See how vital it is for Jesus to die on that cross (and rise again three days later). He is sinless and perfect and is punished there for us by God the Father, to take the judgment and penalty for all our sins. Only when we turn from them and give our lives to Jesus, shall we escape Hell, know our sins are forgiven, and gain a home forever in Heaven. God also changes and blesses us now as we become what Jesus called ‘born again’ spiritually!
- Some sceptics (from another religion or Bible non-believers) say Jesus did not really die on the cross but swooned, so his resurrection was a fake. There are big reasons why they are wrong. For now, remember these hard soldiers are professional ‘crucifiers’. They know their job: their lives depend on them doing it well. They all know the two criminals were alive, but Jesus was dead. Also, Pilate double checks with the Centurion that Jesus is dead, after Joseph of Arimathea obviously thought He was dead, and asked Pilate’s permission to put Jesus’ body in his unused tomb. Were four professional soldiers, their well experienced Centurion boss, plus Joseph and Pilate all wrong? No! This theory of straw fails on other serious grounds too.
- If ever, like them, you are in a position of strength, trust and authority, do not abuse it. And do not pick on someone you see as in a weaker position. Abuse and bullying is wrong and sinful.
- Have you ever wondered if at least one of the soldiers did not really agree at heart with what his colleagues were doing? If so, he should have objected and not taken part. Never give in to peer pressure—if you trust Jesus, you will find He gives you courage.
- Never laugh at something if you do not understand it. Keep quiet and humbly find out what it is all about.
- Make sure any objections you raise to something are not just second-hand, or to please others. Think things through yourself: then object if you are sure your cause is worthy and justified.
- Finally, please reflect again on how much Jesus loved you to go through all that on the cross for you, and die for you, bearing your sins. Think of ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20). Make sure you turn from your sins to trust in Him as your Saviour, and put Him first in your life each day, as your Lord. Pray to Him each day and read some of His word, the Bible, daily and carefully.