“Then were there two thieves crucified with him” (v. 38). Pictured is Jesus upon the cross. He had been scourged (v. 26), stripped of His clothing (v. 35), and nailed to the cross (Jn. 20:25). Above His head was the inscription, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
The purpose of the inscription was informational. It announced the reason for which Jesus was crucified. Jesus was the king which the Jews rejected. A traveler from a distant land and lacking knowledge of Judea and its culture might read the sign and ask: “Why was this king rejected?” This question is answered in verses 39-44.
Those who passed by cried out, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” These words are strikingly similar to those issued by Satan when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:3). In verse 40, the condition imposed upon Jesus by the passersby is in diametric opposition to the word of God. Some seven hundred years before the cross, God said, “. . . he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the tressressors” (Isa. 53:12). The passersby ignored the word of God. They would not accept Jesus as the Son of God unless Jesus, too, were to ignore God’s word. The passersby did not know the God who so loved the world that He should give His Son for all who should believe.
In verse 42, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders also imposed the come-down-from-the-cross condition upon Jesus. They said that they would believe that Jesus was the promised King of Israel if Jesus would come down. They would not accept the Promised One unless the Promised One would refuse to pour out His soul unto death. They looked upon the three crosses and beheld three transgressors. They did not see the promised king who was numbered with the transgressors. They would only accept a king who would ignore God in the same manner in which they ignored God. They would bow only to a king of their own creation. They did not know God. No man can know God unless he look upon the Son and see the Father (Jn. 14:9).
“Now from the sixth hour . . .” (v. 45). Darkness was over all the land. The sixth hour is noon and the noon time is significant. Noon is the hour of God’s judgment against Israel (see Amos 8:2, 9). It is likely that the passersby, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders thought the darkness to be God’s judgment against Jesus. The future destruction of the temple and scattering of Israel, however, is cause to infer the darkness was God speaking to His chosen people.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried . . .” (v. 46). The words which Jesus cried out were those of Psalm 22:1, a psalm of David. The words of Psalm 22, however, describe things which David never experienced. David’s bones were never pulled out of joint (v. 14); David’s hands and feet were never pierced (v. 16); and David’s clothes were never parted and lots cast upon them (v. 18). Why did David lament “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (v. 6)? David answered this question upon his death bed (II Sam. 23:2, 3). David’s words were not David’s. The words of Psalm 22 were given to David by God the Father. The words which were given to David are the very words which God the Son should speak when the passersby, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders would mock Him whom they had crucified.
Jesus cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” such that all men might know that He was the Promised One of whom the scriptures speak. Verse 47 reveals that some did not hear. They thought Jesus was crying out to Elijah to save Him. They did not hear the Son crying out to them through the scriptures. There are none so blind as them who will not see.
Jesus cried again and “yielded up the ghost” (v. 50). It was the ninth hour (v. 46). The ninth hour was the time of the evening sacrifice. Day in and day out, a lamb was sacrificed at this time in the manner prescribed in Exodus 29:39. The completion of the sacrifice was announced by a blast from a shofar. The blast served notice that the required sacrifice had been satisfied.
Jesus was the required sacrifice for sin. God gave notice that the required sin offering was complete with the renting of the veil in the temple and a great shaking of the earth (v. 51). The veil in the temple served as a barrier separating the most holy area of the temple (representing the presence of God) from the sanctuary. It was a barrier which no one could pass except the high priest on one day, the day of atonement. The physical renting of the veil is symbolic of Christ’s removing the veil that hid Old Testament truths from the chief priests and the scribes and elders (see II Cor. 3:14).
The Gentiles present (the Roman centurion and them with him) saw that which the Jews refused to see. They said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” Psalm 22 closes with the promise of a seed which will declare the righteousness of Him who was crucified to a people who shall hear. Christ has removed the veil. Let us declare the word of Him who spoke to David.