The Death of the King–The First Three Hours (Matthew 27:33-44)
Golgotha (verse 33) means “place of the skull” (the term “Calvary” means the same thing), possibly so named because the rock formations on this hill may have resembled a human skull. A skull speaks of death and certainly “Calvary” was the place of death. Three men–one innocent, two guilty–would die on this day.
Just before the crucifixion a drink was offered to Jesus (verse 34). This was vinegar (wine) mixed with gall (a bitter substance identified in Mark 15:23 as myrrh). Thus this was a “drugged” drink, and apparently the purpose of this drug was to deaden pain and alleviate suffering. When Jesus tasted it and realized what it was He refused to drink it. He did this no doubt because He wanted to endure with full consciousness all the pain that was in store for Him, in order to be our perfect Substitute and Saviour. [Our Lord’s response to this drug provides a wonderful lesson as to what the believer’s response should be to drugs which wrongly affect the mind and rob us of our full mental faculties. It also shows us how the Lord always faced His problems and never sought to escape from them, as many do today by their drug trips, drinking times, etc.] Note: We recognize that physician recommended pain killers used by modern medicine can be very helpful in managing a person’s pain. We are simply pointing out that our blessed Lord did not seek an escape from the pain and suffering which faced Him at Calvary’s cross.
The crucifixion itself is mentioned in the briefest of terms. It simply says, “They crucified Him” (verse 35). The gospel writers did not go into all the gory details because the essence of what took place on the cross involves not what the Romans did to Jesus (by driving nails through His hands and feet) but what God the Father did to Christ by judging Him for our sins. Many men have suffered and died by crucifixion, and many suffered on crosses much longer than Christ did. The awfulness of the cross cannot be appreciated unless one understands that “the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of of all” (Isaiah 53:6) and that “it pleased the LORD to bruise Him” (Isaiah 53:10). His suffering primarily involved our sins (1 Pet. 3:18), not the nails.
Verse 35 gives a remarkable example of fulfilled prophecy. This prediction was given in Psalm 22:18, penned by David a thousand years before the event took place (and centuries before death by Roman crucifixion was even known). The Roman soldiers fulfilled this prophecy to the smallest detail, and certainly these men were unfamiliar with the Hebrew Scriptures and were totally unaware that their actions were fulfilling God’s prophetic Word.
It was a custom to write the crime above the criminal so that all would know the reason he was dying. See verse 37 for what was written over the Lord’s head. He died because He was the rejected King of the Jews. He occupied the center cross surrounded on each side by criminals (verse 38). This was the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 (“numbered with the transgressors”).
Those who passed by were very vocal in their mocking (verses 39-43). If Christ had saved Himself and come down from the cross, as these mockers suggested, what would that have meant? If He had saved Himself (compare verse 42), then would He have been able to save others? It was God’s love for the sinner that kept Him on the cross.
Verse 44 tells us about the robbers who died with Christ. Notice what both of these men were doing. This is in sharp contrast with Luke 23:39-43 where we only find one robber mocking Christ. This is a fine example of the wonders of true repentance. One of the criminals stopped his mocking and repented. These two robbers are representative of all people. Every person resembles one of these robbers. Every person is a guilty sinner who either rejects Christ or receives Christ by faith. All men are drawn to that center cross (John 12:32) and they each must decide what they will do with the Crucified One.
The Lord Jesus was on the cross for approximately six hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
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