Words at the Cross

Words spoken directly to the Lord Jesus on the cross

1. ‘And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross’, Matt. 27. 39, 40.

The first group reviled Him (spoke injuriously against Him). They wagged their heads in utter contempt, not even taking time to stop. By their gesture they fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 22 verse 7, ‘All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head’. They misunderstood His claim to rebuild the temple in three days, ‘But he spake of the temple of his body’, John 2. 21. His prophecy would be gloriously fulfilled by His resurrection on the third day.

2. ‘And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, and saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself’, Luke 23. 36, 37.

The second group, the soldiers, mocked Him and approached the cross offering Him vinegar to drink. Unknown to them, they too were fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy, ‘and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink’, Ps. 69. 21. He was the one who had turned water into wine at Cana of Galilee, but the last thing men offered to Him was vinegar to drink. Matthew adds that it was mingled with gall, 27. 34.

3. ‘And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us’, Luke 23. 39.

The third group were the malefactors. Again, a prophecy was fulfilled, ‘he was numbered with the transgressors’, Isa. 53. 12; Mark 15. 28.

At His birth, He was surrounded by the beasts of the field, and at His death He was numbered with the outcasts of society; men who were criminals. Many who passed by mocked the Lord Jesus, and ‘The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth’, Matt. 27. 44.

Each group said to the Lord Jesus, ‘Save thyself’. Little did they appreciate that He had come to save others and to give Himself a ransom for all, 1 Tim. 2. 6. He was on the cross according to the will of God and, ‘pleased not himself’, Rom. 15. 3. The first group said, ‘save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross’; the second group said, ‘If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself’. The third group said, ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself’.1

The truth is that He was the Son of God; He was the King of the Jews; and He was the Christ. Yet He remained on the cross until the mighty work was done.

Words spoken about the Lord Jesus at the cross

1. The chief priests, scribes, and elders

‘Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God’, Matt. 27. 41-43.

If anyone should have known to expect the arrival of the Saviour, it ought to have been these men, the chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel. They were well acquainted with Zechariah chapter 9 verse 9, ‘behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation’, see also Isa. 52. 7.

It is remarkable to listen to those who had made themselves the enemies of Christ using words that were absolutely true:

‘He saved others’ - millions of souls on earth and in heaven can say a loud ‘Amen’ to that statement.

‘Himself he cannot save’ - to save us, He gave Himself.

‘He trusted in God’ - as the perfect servant of Jehovah, He lived in constant prayerful dependence on God, Ps. 22. 10.

‘Let him deliver him now, if he will have him’ - the worst of all the verbal taunting of Christ recorded in scripture.

Let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him’ - millions of His people have believed in the One who did not come down from the cross but who remained there, and ultimately cried in triumph, ‘It is finished’, John 19. 30.

2. Some of them that stood there

‘Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias … The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him’, Matt. 27. 47, 49.

The Lord Jesus had no need to call for Elias. He could say, ‘Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?’ 26. 53.

3. The centurion

‘Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God’, Matt. 27. 54. ‘Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man’, Luke 23. 47.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each mention the centurion who was in charge of the crucifixion. Matthew informs us that his duty entailed ‘watching Jesus’, 27. 54. Mark tells us that he stood near to the cross, 15. 39. What seemed to impress the centurion most was the manner in which the Lord Jesus bowed His head, and said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’, Luke 23. 46.

Then there were the miracles -the darkness, the earthquake, the rending of the stones. These were visible, tangible, and audible signs to convince even the most sceptical. What was the result? ‘They feared greatly’, Matt. 27. 54; ‘he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man’, Luke 23. 47. He confessed Christ to be the Son of God, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’, Mark 15. 39; see 1 John 5. 1.

Let us not overlook what Matthew tells us, ‘they that were with him … feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God’, 27. 54. There was a work of grace not only in the centurion’s heart but also in the hearts of the soldiers who were with him. They found salvation at the foot of the cross where multitudes still can come in repentance and faith to claim the Saviour as their own.

What a delightful account of the grace of God towards the soldiers who nailed the Saviour to the cross.

Words written by Pilate at the cross

All four Gospel writers mention the words that were written by Pilate and fixed over the cross.

John calls it a title, ‘Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross’, 19. 19, 20. These are the only two occurrences of this word in the New Testament. The title of a book conveys something of its contents, and a comparison of the four Gospels will show that the title read, ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS‘. So, the words of Pilate’s title spoke volumes about the One who was on the centre cross.

Matthew calls it an accusation, 27. 37. The word is translated ‘cause’, Acts 13. 28. It is rendered ‘crimes’, Acts 25. 27. Concerning the Lord Jesus, there was no cause and there were no crimes; yet for guilty sinners and for crimes that were not His own He suffered and died on the cross. The accusation became an affirmation of who He was and what He came to do.

‘Was it for crimes that I have done,
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree’.

Isaac Watts

Mark and Luke both speak of a superscription, and there is something durable about ‘words that are written’. The Jews raised an objection. They said to Pilate, ‘Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews’, John 19. 21. Pilate would not yield, nor change one word. He said, ‘What I have written I have written’, v. 22. Why were the words not changed? Was it merely the intransigence of the governor? No, God was in control of everything that took place at Calvary - ‘[He was] delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God’, Acts 2. 23.

The words were not changed because they were true. They were read by the crowds of people going into and returning from Jerusalem. John says, ‘This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city’, 19. 20. The writing was in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin, so that everyone who passed by on the highway could read and understand the words. Matthew says that the ‘accusation’ was, ‘set up over his head’, 27. 37. When first written, the words were in three languages, but they are now preserved for us in our New Testament and can be read in over 1500 languages.

On one occasion the Lord said, ‘Show me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny’. He asked, ‘Whose is this image and superscription?’. When the answer was given as Caesar’s, He said, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’, Matt. 22. 19-21. The superscription on the coin reminded the people of their obligation to render Caesar his due. The superscription on the cross reminds us of our obligation to render all that we are and have to the One who suffered there for us.

This is Jesus

The angel Gabriel announced both to Mary and to Joseph that the child who would be born of Mary would be called Jesus, and that His mission to earth would be ‘for he shall save his people from their sins’, Luke 1. 31; Matt. 1. 21.

‘And when He hung upon the tree,
They wrote this name above Him;
That all might see the reason we
Forevermore must love Him’.

George W. Bethune

Of Nazareth

It was the fulfilment of prophecy, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’, Matt. 2. 23. It was a place of ill repute - Nathanael asked, ‘Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ John 1. 46. Ask anyone from the multitudes who were healed, and they were ever thankful for the day they heard the message, ‘Jesus of Nazareth passeth by’, Luke 18. 37.

‘And burdened ones, where’er He came,
Brought out their sick and deaf and lame.
The blind rejoiced to hear the cry:
‘Jesus of Nazareth passeth by’.

Emma F. R. Campbell

The King of the Jews

As Christians we mourn the sad moral conditions in the world today, but we should never become so discouraged and downcast that we lose the enjoyment of the bright prospect that is ours in Christ. In spite of everything and everyone who would oppose, God has said in the unchangeable words of scripture, ‘Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion’, Ps. 2. 6.

What Pilate wrote was true, and the King who hung on the cross outside the city will one day rule on the throne inside the city.



Matt. 27. 40; Mark 15. 30; and Luke 23. 37, 39.


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