The Lord Jesus Christ cried with a loud voice and ‘gave up the ghost’, v. 37. The word for giving up the ghost used by Mark and Luke translates as ‘expired / exhaled’, while Matthew uses a word which means ‘released / dismissed’, and in John, ‘surrendered’. This was the moment the sacrifice was complete.
God was satisfied with the sacrifice and His righteous wrath against sin was extinguished by the death of One who had no sin in Him.
The veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom; the imagery and the import of such an occurrence is a study all on its own. Tidball notes, very succinctly, that this graphically underlies opening up of the way to God to a plurality of people: ‘The old private access road of Judaism was now closed. The new access route (“public”) was through the cross. All along that way tread men and women, Jews and Gentiles, black and white, rich and poor, all on a level footing, carrying their own crosses, and enjoying restored communion with God’.1 The veil had symbolized the gateway to God and this was being dispensed with. Jew and Gentile would henceforth have direct access to God and be able to stand in His holy presence based on the completed work on the cross.
Each of the people mentioned here have a part to play in the care of the Lord Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of prophecy, in being multi-account witnesses to the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The manner in which Christ died proved to the centurion that this was no ordinary prisoner. All the events that had occurred, the darkness, the earthquake, had been supernatural enough. The dignity and the grace with which the Lord handled Himself in the face of such an onslaught of suffering had made an impression on him. He had heard Christ interceding on his behalf for what they were doing to Him. He had seen how the Lord Jesus would not take the wine mingled with myrrh but would die without His senses or faculties diminished and he heard how all His utterances were of a sound and sharp mind, not the incoherent ramblings erupting from an intoxicated and hallucinating mind.
Twice the Lord cried out with a loud voice: once to signify His loneliness and another to give up the ghost. To a hardened soldier, this was confounding. A human being who does not die suddenly from a quick blow, but rather in a slow and gradual manner, loses strength and becomes weak. Crucifixion was designed for this. Towards the end, the centurion would have expected a prisoner on the verge of death to be extremely feeble. Not so the Lord. He cried with a loud voice! Although weakened, He summoned all His strength and then died, in complete control of death just as with life. Henry says that the centurion was convinced about the divinity of Christ because He was dignified and in complete control of His own death at all times.2
The centurion then exclaims, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’, v. 39. For an outsider to proclaim this publicly, in the presence of all the priests and Jewish leaders who had condemned Him to die, would be an uncomfortable truth. We do not know what the centurion’s religious beliefs were. If he was Roman, he would believe in a plurality of gods. However, he did not claim that Jesus was a son of the gods, but that He was the Son of God!3
The centurion confirmed to Pilate that Christ had indeed died. When the chief priests asked Pilate for the prisoners’ bones to be broken, Pilate would have given this centurion the order to do so. And yet, in the fulfilment of prophecy (of which the centurion was totally unaware), he was instrumental in not breaking a single bone of the Lord Jesus. This was forbidden from being done, ‘A bone of him shall not be broken’, cp. Ps. 34. 20, John 19. 36. To all those who would still claim that Christ had not died, he would have witnessed, and probably ordered, the piercing of the Lord with a spear to ensure He was dead. In the process, he ensured the fulfilment of Zechariah chapter 12 verse 10, ‘they shall look upon me whom they have pierced’. Pilate marvelled that Jesus had died so soon. Crucifixion was meant to be a long, drawn-out affair. He wanted to make sure it was not just a case of being unconscious. Pilate would release the body of Christ to Joseph of Arimathaea on the certification and word of the centurion.
Mark records for us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, and Salome were there. None of the disciples except John are recorded as being at the cross of Christ. They were afraid of the authorities and what the rest of society would say. They were disheartened. The women there were not afraid to show their allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ in public.
The women were witnesses to the death of Christ. They witnessed the body of Christ being taken down and placed in the tomb. Noting the location, they would go to prepare spices. Although there were various other women, these have been recorded for us in scripture.
Mary Magdalene, whose devotion to the Lord is recorded in the pages of scripture, owed her life and her sanity to the Lord’s actions. On the first day of the week, even when everyone else had gone from the grave site, she was still looking for her Master.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Joseph of Arimathaea appears on the page of scripture, never to be mentioned again anywhere. He had been a secret disciple and when those who were closest to the Lord were nowhere to be found, God raised up a man to take care of the body of the Lord Jesus.
He was a rich man, an honourable man, and a counsellor, patiently waiting for the Kingdom of God. He was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin and was probably summoned to the trial of the Lord Jesus the previous night, but Luke tells us that he ‘had not consented’ to all that was taking place.
The dead bodies of prisoners executed were the property of the Roman state. On many occasions, they were disposed of in an open pit. The hatred of the religious leaders was such that they would have relished the thought of the dead body of Christ being desecrated by wild animals or being ignominiously disposed of with the other prisoners to show the people that Christ was a nobody.
God had other plans. He would not allow His Son to be so disrespected, ‘And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death’, Isa. 53. 9, had to be fulfilled. Also, there was the resurrection to look forward to. Christ’s body would be separated, sealed in, guarded and after all this, there would be no question or doubt that He had risen.
For all this, it needed someone to boldly go into the presence of Pilate and crave the body of Jesus. Joseph nailed his colours to the mast that day, knowing that this would be the end of his high position amongst the Jewish leadership. The tomb was near the place of crucifixion. This was not a hastily dug pit. Joseph had prepared this tomb, maybe as a memorial. It was hewn out of rock and time and resources had been spent. It was given up for the Lord.
Like everyone else, it is unlikely Joseph had expected the resurrection of the Lord. If this is the case, then when all was lost and there was nothing to look forward to, Joseph boldly went and begged the body of Christ and gave his own personal tomb and memorial to the Lord. This was publicly known and noticed because the chief priests would demand the tomb be guarded and soldiers be placed there. Joseph, this rich counsellor, a member of the Sanhedrin, was no longer a ‘secret’ follower of the dead Messiah from Nazareth.
Borland quotes Harold St. John as saying that Mark uses two words for the body of Christ. Joseph of Arimathaea begged for the body, soma.4 When Pilate had verified the death with the centurion, he delivered the corpse, ptoma, to Joseph. In the grand will of God, Pilate acceded to this strange request of a man from the Sanhedrin for the body of a criminal that was delivered to Pilate by the Sanhedrin.
Very lovingly, Joseph buys new linen, carefully wraps Him in it and, with help from Nicodemus, respectfully lays the body of the Lord in his own tomb. Risking all his worldly possession and position, he rolls the stone to close the tomb.
The Lord Jesus Christ underwent the agony of His soul for our sakes. He did it for you and me. ‘Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds’, Heb. 12. 2, 3.
D. TIDBALL, The message of the cross. Wisdom unsearchable, love indestructible, Inter-Varsity Press, 2001.
M. HENRY, The New Matthew Henry Commentary: The Classic Work with Updated Language, Zondervan Academic, 2010.
JND and YLT remove the article and translate as ‘Truly this man was Son of God’. WILLIAM KELLY comments, Tn all likelihood he was a heathen, and did not mean more than to own that Christ was not a mere man … He felt that, though His dwelling was in flesh, yet He was a Divine being, and not the Son of man merely… At the same time, the Spirit of God could well give the centurion’s … words a shape beyond what… [he] knew’, Major Works Commentary, e-sword resource.
A. BORLAND, Personalities at the crucifixion, Pickering and Inglis, 1969. In the standard STEPHENS Greek text (Samuel Bagsters Edition) this is not the case - both are given as soma. The footnote indicates that LACHMAN, TISCHENDORF, TREGELLES, and ALFORD change it to ptoma. This change is reflected in the RV and ESV translations.
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