Crucifying the King of the Jews

Copia desde la Crucifixion dibujada hacia 1540...Luke 23:35-43. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. 34 (Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”) They divided his garments by casting lots. [The above is not part of the Sunday reading, but is generally considered within the narrative.] 35 The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” 36 Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine 37 they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  39 Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” 40 The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? 41 And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Those Who Mocked. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Luke pictures the majority of the people (laos) don’t mock Jesus (contrary to Mark’s description); they are simply watching. Executions were popular functions and doubtless many attended this one. But it was the rulers, not the people, who mocked (cf. Ps. 22:6–8). The leaders sneer (v. 35; lit. “look down their noses” or “thumbed their noses”) and the soldiers mock (v. 36) and one criminal blasphemes (v. 39). They all say the same thing: “Save yourself” – essentially the same temptations of the devil in Luke 4 – avoid the pain and suffering of the cross. Culpepper notes that “The irony here is that Luke underscores both Jesus’ real identity and the true meaning of his death. Jesus was hailed as the Savior at his birth (2:11); as the Son of Man, he had come to seek and save the lost (19:10). But just as he had taught that those who lost their lives for his sake would save them (9:24), so now he must lost his life so that they might be saved.

Among the rulers, they addressed one another, not Jesus, as they spoke of his saving activities they used two epithets: the Christ of God and his Chosen One. Clearly they intended to mock the words as signs of God’s special favor as they contrasted words the actual plight of Jesus, there on the cross. Yet unknowingly they invoke terms already in use in Luke’s gospel. Jesus has been acknowledged as Christ (or Messiah) by Simeon (2:26), the people (3:15), demons (4:41), and Peter (9:20).  Jesus is God’s chosen one (9:35, Transfiguration).  These very names ironically use, but nonetheless true, also become the charge of treason.

The Charge of Treason. Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  All four Evangelists mention the inscription on the cross. Such a placard would announce the crime for which the condemned man was being executed. The inscription over Jesus’ head is differently reported in all four Gospels, but as the inscription itself was in three languages (John 19:20) this is not unusual. What is clear is that Pilate was proclaiming that Jesus died as King of the Jews. He was taking a grim revenge on the Jewish leaders who had forced him into this position. But he was also unknowingly proclaiming Jesus’ royalty, a theme significant to Luke.


Luke 23:35 The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him: Luke’s formulation of the Jewish leaders’ mockery of Jesus in 23:35 is an allusion to Ps. 22:7–8 (21:8–9 LXX).It is unclear whether these allusions to Ps. 22 are meant to point to the second part of the psalm, which emphasizes Yahweh’s universal salvation, implying that the allusion shows the scriptural and thus divine necessity of the pattern of messianic suffering and glory (Larkin [1974: 526] does not find such a connection). But perhaps no allusions to the second half of Ps. 22 are needed for readers of Luke’s Gospel to understand the situation that he portrays: the Jewish leaders refer to Jesus correctly as “the Messiah of God, his chosen one,” but they think that Jesus has to save himself in order to prove the genuineness of his claims and of his message, without recognizing the fact that “the psalm on which their behavior is modeled recognizes God as the one who delivers” (Green, Gospel of Luke, 821).

sneer: ekmyktērízō literally translates as to “turn up one’s nose”, or to “look down one’s nose” with a sense of mocking or to “thumb one’s nose at.”

let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God: While mocking Jesus in 23:35, the Jewish leaders refer to Jesus, as (lit.) “the Messiah of God, the chosen one” (ho christos tou theou ho eklektos). The title “the chosen one” (ho eklektos) echoes Isa. 42:1 LXX, where the expression is used to describe the Servant of Yahweh. The rabbis understood this passage as referring to the Messiah. Thus ironically, the Jewish leaders taunt Jesus, effectively saying, “you are no Messiah, you can’t even save yourself” as the echo the Messianic passage from Isaiah. Yet in doing so they do not seem to notice that “language [of Isaiah] leaves the door open for the identification of a Messiah who suffers” (Green, Gospel of Luke, 821). Luke includes the allusion to Isa. 42:1 to emphasize that Jesus is the Messiah chosen by God in view of his suffering.

Luke 23:36 offer him wine: The offer of “sour wine” (oxos, a sour wine, cf.  Num 6:3) in 23:36 is reminiscent of Ps. 69:21 (68:22 LXX), where the gift of “sour wine” or “vinegar” is an act of mockery and insult. The soldiers join the mockery of Jesus by offering him the cheap wine that was popular among the lower ranks of society, insulting the “king” whom they have crucified (Green 1997: 821). The allusion explains another detail of Jesus’ crucifixion against the background of another psalm that describes the treatment of a righteous sufferer by his enemies, highlighting both Jesus’ suffering in being mocked and the fulfillment of Scripture in what Jesus had to endure at the cross.

Luke 23:37 If you are King of the Jews, save yourself: This echoes the mocking of the Jewish leaders. This is the second of three slurs involving “saving” (cf. vv.35, 36, 39). The reader knows the truth of the statement, “he saved others” (7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42) and that he is “Savior” (2:11, Acts 5:31; 13:23), but also that those he saved were saved by faith, as is Jesus in these last moments.

Luke 23:38 an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews”: The inscription was used to describe the crime of the accused. The inscription differs with slightly different words in each of the four gospels. John’s form is fullest and gives the equivalent of the Latin INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) that appears on Catholic crucifixes. IRNI is Latin for “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Latin uses the letter “I” instead of the English “J”, and “V” instead of “U.” The Johannine passage notes that the inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.


1 thought on “Crucifying the King of the Jews

  1. Pingback: Crucifying the King: The Penitent Thief | friarmusings

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