Summary: We examine several surprising signs that occurred when Jesus was executed and died.
Six years ago, I began what I planned to be a seven-year series of messages. It is based on the book by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken that is titled, Jesus on Trial. My goal is to teach on seven important aspects of the trial of Jesus Christ: the diabolical conspiracy to kill him (which I covered six years ago); his night-time arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (which I covered five years ago); the short resistance that the disciples mounted in his defense (which I covered four years ago); the witnesses who accused him of blasphemy during his ecclesiastical trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (which I covered three years ago); the verdict reached in his civil trial by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (which I covered two years ago); the sentence of death that his enemies demanded (which I covered last year); and his execution by crucifixion (which I plan to cover this evening).
Jesus was led to the place of execution, carrying his cross according to Roman custom. He was crucified between two thieves who had also been sentenced to death. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Then the people and the religious leaders gathered around the cross of Jesus and began to mock him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:31-32).
But Jesus would not do that. His entire life’s mission was to seek and to save the lost. He had obeyed God’s law his entire life, and now he was about to suffer the wrath of God for sinners. And, if he were to come down from the cross, his mission to save sinners would fail. He had to die to make atonement for sinners.
The Bible states the execution of Jesus in Matthew 27:45-54:
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54)
An execution is defined as follows: “The carrying out of a death sentence.”
If you had been privy to what was going on behind the scenes regarding the trial of Jesus, you would have been aware that it all began with a conspiracy. The religious leaders and the political leaders had conspired together to get rid of Jesus. But they were having great difficulty doing so because of Jesus’ immense popularity with the people. However, a stunning development took place when one of Jesus’ own inner circle of friends stepped forward to betray him to the authorities. Judas Iscariot volunteered to betray Jesus for some unknown reason.
Then, on the evening of 15 Nissan, 30 AD Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. A large band of soldiers had managed to arrest Jesus without too much trouble.
The brief resistance from Jesus’ disciples did not amount to much. Jesus was quickly taken into custody, and a hasty trial was convened. Actually, there were two trials on the night of Jesus’ arrest. The religious leaders tried to find a way to accuse Jesus of some offense of which he would be guilty, for as Mark said, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death” (Mark 14:55).
Most of the testimony presented at the ecclesiastical trial was vain testimony. Many bore false witness against Jesus, and their testimony did not agree (Mark 14:56). The high priest must have been beside himself because he could not get two witnesses to agree on their testimony. So, he did something that was entirely improper in a capital trial: he himself intervened. He asked Jesus if he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed. Jesus said he was, and the Sanhedrin accused Jesus of blasphemy.