Easter. The Passion of Jesus XXII. Crucifixion part 3. Luke and John. Finale.

Part 21, here. You can read the whole series here.

Crucifixion 3. Luke and John. Last post!

After the story of the repentant robber, we read that it’s the 6th hour and the darkness comes until the 9th hour. Like Matthew, Luke only speaks of the 6th and 9th hours and doesn’t mention the third hour. Luke talks of the sun being eclipsed and it’s not clear whether he means some kind of solar eclipse or simply that the sunlight is obscured in some way. The word he uses is the one that would be used in the case of the moon passing in front of the sun, but that is impossible for that time of year. Now Luke speaks of the “curtain of the temple” being torn. He moves this event to a point where Jesus is still alive. This revokes the point of Mark’s narrative. No judgement is implied this way, and Luke has a soothing vision of what happens after Jesus’ death.

Finally, Luke writes his version of Jesus’ final words: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” And this is a psalm as well (Psalms 31:5). This meshes with the way Luke modifies Mark in a number of ways. Jesus wasn’t troubled, he didn’t say my soul is sorrowful, he’s not abandoned by the disciples, he doesn’t find them sleeping in Gethsemane, he had prayed for Peter so he wouldn’t fail, he’s been forgiving and healing all the way through the Passion. Now, he dies peacefully, without the terrible Markan anguish. It’s Luke’s vision of the good death, a Christian death, forgiving, trusting God, etc. Luke has a lot of parallels to this in the death of Stephen.

Luke has no earthquakes or dead rising at Jesus’ death contra Matthew. But he does have a centurion. “Certainly, this man was innocent.” This is important for Luke, he wants to tell the empire that Jesus didn’t violate any Roman laws. Luke writes in a somewhat hostile and suspicious environment in terms of Roman attitudes about Jews. The Jewish war was a very troublesome one for the empire, it absorbed much of the best soldiery and considerable time and treasure, and while Luke writes 20 years later, it’s useful to point out that Christians were founded in a tradition of innocence toward Rome.

Luke describes the people as repentant as they watch Jesus die. They return home striking their breasts in confession. He also seems to have the apostles and women disciples standing off at a distance in sorrow. They don’t run away in Luke’s Passion story. Jesus’ death is seen as a powerful story of forgiveness.

For John there is a kind of chiasm again (work it out). And John doesn’t include a lot of things found in the Synoptics. He doesn’t have Simon of Cyrene, the women on the way to Calvary, the wine with myrrh, Jesus’ prayer “Forgive them Father, for . . .” No hour indications, the taunts of the passersby and priests, repentance of the robber, the crying out episodes, no earthquake, no tearing of the temple veil, no centurion at the cross. None of this is in John.

John merely states that Jesus is taken to the place of crucifixion, where he’s crucified between the two robbers.[26] John now brings Pilate back, in order to supply his confession of the Truth, and it comes on the sign attached to the cross with the words “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And it’s written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It’s like an imperial proclamation.

John, in considering the soldiers and Jesus’ clothing, uses the psalm again:

23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.

24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. (KJV)

Another instance of tearing open the parallelism. “Parted the raiment” and “vesture they did cast lots” is a single act, two ways of saying the same thing. John treats it as two separate acts and has to supply a narrative that matches those two acts, complicating the narrative for that purpose.

Is there a point to the coat without a seam? John doesn’t say. A lot of speculation exists for it as a result. I have no clue myself. There is this thing in John 21 about the net that catches the 153 fish and it’s not torn. At least they match up in odd detail. Maybe there is no symbolism to it. just a thing that was passed on.

Caravaggio's Entombment of Christ. That's Mary of Clopas in the back with here hands up. Who was she?

Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ. That’s Mary of Clopas in the back with her hands up. Who was she? Why is she attached to the story?(Image: Wikipedia.)

Now John turns to the people at the cross. Other Gospels have friendly persons at the cross, but they are far away. The other Gospels give no impression, no hint that anyone is standing near Jesus at all, except the soldiers and the centurion at the death. John gives a starkly different account of that.

First of all, the women: Mary his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary (mother, daughter? you can’t tell) of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. This is odd because it’s impossible to tell whether there are two people here, or perhaps as many as four. Mary of Clopas makes no appearance anywhere else. Who was she? A disciple? A friend of one of the others? But Jesus has interest in only one of the women.

When Jesus saw his mother there, with the disciple whom he loved (the ID is back, and he never really leaves) he said to his mother, here is your son, in turn he said to the disciple, here is your mother. And from that hour the disciple took her into his care.

It’s hard to ignore the possible symbolism of the triads, Jesus, Mary, ID, and Abel, Eve, Seth, and the ID seems to represent the devoted followers of Jesus in generality, caring for, building up the church. There is also an interesting parallel with Cana. Cana happened before the hour had come, at this point the hour has already come. In both scenes, Jesus calls his mother Woman. It’s an odd address for son to mother. At Cana, Jesus says he has no common concern with Mary. At the cross, the opposite is true. There’s the flavor of will and testament to the scene. In it the ID becomes Jesus’ brother. Theologically it accomplishes what Luke’s narrative of the infancy of Jesus does with the visit of Gabriel. It draws Mary into the role of disciple and mother to disciples. She becomes the first disciple again, as she was for Luke. She’s seen it all, from beginning to end.

All the way through John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Son of God come down from heaven, the Father has turned over all judgement to him, he can’t be judged by humans. He told Judas to get his job done, and the only thing Jesus does at Gethsemane is mark a little time until Judas can get there. And when the soldiers and others arrive, led by a tribune and with Jewish police, Jesus speaks the words, “I am,” and they all collapse to the ground. In this episode John has Jesus establish his real family, something that appears at the house preaching story (“who is my mother . . .”). In John, no one taunts Jesus on the cross. He is triumphant, raised up (draw all to me), he is one step closer to heaven.

John shows Jesus asking for something to drink: “I thirst” (Ps 22:16, 69:22, Ex 12:22). And perhaps John is closing the remark to Peter in the Garden about drinking the “cup” (Jn 18:11). When Jesus receives the wine, he says, “it is finished” and dies. He is always in control. Sovereign of the moment. He has completed the task of ritual sacrifice, a key to Mormon temple worship (law of sacrifice and so forth)[27] in many foundational ways (though everyone seems to forget that it’s an undeniable and key linkage to the cross, not Gethsemane where our current dialogue seems to terminate in some quarters). It’s a singular sacrament. One that we remember in the emblems on Sunday.

In the words of the ancient hymn:

Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God
a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form
he humbled himself and
became obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Your turn to read on the burial and the miracle of resurrection.

Happy Easter!


[26] There is the question as to why John and the other Evangelists have Jesus between the robbers. Possibly it’s an attempt to show Jesus as a criminal deserving death, even worse given the central position. The Evangelists would have a different purpose, possibly to show that Jesus is superior in another sense.


  1. Thank you for this series. It provided a marvelous Holy Week reading.

  2. Thank you Sheldon.

  3. fernandezma says:

    It was a very nice experience to read all the series. I felt like the student sitting at the feet of the teacher. Thanks!

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed it fernadezma.

  5. Jason K. says:

    Echoing what others have said, I found this series a terrific lead-up to Easter this year. Thanks, Bill!

  6. Thanks, Jason.

  7. Wonderful, thought-provoking series. Thanks.
    For BCC I would appreciate a new line in Features to gather these posts, to refer back and give a pointer to.

  8. Leonard R says:

    Thank you for all of these. Happy Easter.

  9. Thanks all.

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