Summary: The "seven words of the cross."
WORDS FROM THE CROSS
It is finished!
Often the final words of a great saint are poignant and compelling. For example, one can scarcely not be moved by the words of Paul to his young protégé, For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4.6-8; cf. the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30.11-20, or Joshua speaking to the twelve tribes in Joshua 23.6-16, or Paul speaking to the Ephesians in Acts 20.13-38). The words of Jesus to the disciples in the upper room have a similar ring to them (John 14-17). But the words from the cross are even more penetrating theologically and emotionally. They are summary statements of Jesus’ life and his great redemptive work.
The seven words from the cross are found in Luke 23 (3 words), John 19 (3 words), and Mark 15 (cp. Matt 27.46). The Synoptic Gospels approximate the crucifixion at midmorning (the third hour), while John notes the time at about midday (the sixth hour). One must be careful not to impose upon the first century the modern Western fixation with time. Indeed, such precision was not possible without a clock. However, John’s reasoning for fixing the death of Jesus near the noon hour may be theologically motivated as is evident from John 1.29, where he notes that Jesus was identified as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (cp. 1.36) and it was the custom to sacrifice the Passover lambs at noon.
While we consider the words of Jesus from the cross we may also want to remind ourselves of the testimony attached to the cross on the titulus (the sign above Jesus’ head). Written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek were the words: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews (Matthew 27.37; cp. John 19.20). Like the words of Caiaphas (John 11.50), they are an unwitting testimony to the person and work of Jesus the Messiah. While there is no absolute certainty as to the exact order of the utterances from the cross, I have listed them in their traditional order.
1. Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23.34).
People often act with great zeal, convinced that their actions are completely justified, no matter the results. Such was Paul’s conviction as he persecuted the early Christians. He testifies before Agrippa, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them (Acts 26.9-10). When Jesus speaks these living words from a cross on which He was dying they are addressed broadly to the ignorant bystanders as well as the Roman guards and Jewish leaders. Of course, these are also the words of Stephen, the first Martyr of the Christian church (Acts 7.60).