For many, the Gospels are the best part of the Bible for one reason: Jesus. Yes, all of Scripture already points to the Son, but these four accounts record the words and works of The Word manifest in the flesh; the very image of the invisible God.
Men of all ages have scrutinised, studied, and marvelled at these narratives for two millennia. Among them, His seven utterances on the cross ― through the most monumental hours for mankind ― have received much attention.
Last week, we began a deeper look at some of His utterances on the way to Golgotha. Part 1 looked at Jesus’ exhortation to rise and pray amid trouble and temptation. In Part 2, we explored the unique nature of His call from the night of His arrest. Today, we look at the following text:
“But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry? (Luke 23:28-31).
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the biggest event in history. If it is merely a story, then nothing truly matters. If it is true, however, then nothing else truly matters. Perhaps, this is why there have been many attempts to explain the resurrection away.
If the death and resurrection of Jesus are true, nothing else truly matters
The Quran, for instance, claims that Jesus never really died on the cross. Some maintain that Jesus fled to India. They point to a shrine in Srinagar, Kashmir, that supposedly marks His real burial place.
There is, of course, the swoon theory, or the suggestion that Jesus merely fell unconscious on the cross. Versions of this one have made their way into many literary works; DH Lawrence’s 1929 poem — where Jesus fled to Egypt and fell in love with a princess — being the most iconic, perhaps.
As interesting as those creative theories are, they’re highly improbable. Those sentenced to be crucified under Roman law are put through several rounds of torture first. Many men are half-dead by the time they make it to the cross; many don’t even make it that far.
That, and the crucifixion, sealed it. Death by asphyxiation and/or congestive heart failure was certain.
Now, our concern, for the study of the passage before us, is the first part of the torture. And we have to look at the other three evangelists for its record. Luke only records that Pilate handed Jesus over to the will of the mob (Luke 23:25). The other three describe — to varying extent — the torture before the cross.
Let’s back up for a moment. Jesus had been through extreme mental agony at Gethsemane. From there, He was led to the houses of Annas (John 18:12-14, 19-23) and Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57, 59-68; Mark 14:53, 55-65) to be tried illegally; was denied by Peter, one of His own (Mark 14:54, 66-72; Luke 22:54-62); condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71); tried by Pilate and Herod a total of three times (John 18:28–38; Luke 23:6-12; Matthew 27:15-26; John 18:39-19:1, 4-16) — all in less than 12 hours.
Then, came the torture. Matthew, Mark, and John note that Pilate had Jesus scourged (or “flogged”). Hematidrosis (Luke 22:44), from the suffering at Gethsemane, would’ve set up Jesus’ skin to be very sensitive.
Before they flogged a criminal, the Romans would strip him, stretch him out against a pillar or a low post, and tie his hands so that he had no means of defending himself. Then, with a whip made of braided leather with metal balls and sharp bones woven into them, a soldier would strike the criminal thirty-nine times, up and down the back. The third-century historian Eusebius notes: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.”
Before they flogged a criminal, the Romans would strip him… and tie his hands so he had no means of defending himself
At the end of it, the criminal would go into hypovolemic shock — if not be already dead. The heart would race, trying to pump blood that wasn’t there; blood pressure would drop, causing a collapse; kidneys would stop producing urine to preserve whatever fluid was left; and the person would become very thirsty as the body craved for liquids to stabilise the massive blood loss.
Furthermore, Jesus had a crown of thorns smashed into His head, before even more mockery ensued (Matthew 27:27-30).
Tradition holds that Jesus staggered — and eventually collapsed on the procession to Calvary — under the weight of the cross (which estimates suggest would be well over 100 kgs). We read in John 19:28 that, while on the cross, Jesus said, “I thirst.” So, by all accounts, Jesus was in hypovolemic shock too.
And there, amid the torment in the garden, the torture in the governer’s chambers, and the terror of the cross at Golgotha, Jesus spoke.
‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ is used to refer to the whole of Israel in the Old Testament (Micah 4:8; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 9:9) — which could also be whom Jesus referred to here. There were a whole lot of women lined up on the streets mourning and lamenting Jesus. Only a week prior they had lined up to hail Him as King (Matthew 21:1-11).
No, these verses do not record some explosive, hair-raising final words before a big showdown. He opened His mouth to call His people — the same that disowned Him — to repentance. He warned them of impending doom and called them to weep for their sons. Jesus’ warning, primarily, referred to the coming destruction of Jerusalem in AD 66-70. The Lord quoted the warning to the northern kingdom in Hosea 10:8.
He opened His mouth to call His people — the same that disowned Him — to repentance
They, not Jesus, were the real victims. This dark day in His life would give way to a glorious new morning for all who would put their faith in Him. His suffering and death would not be in vain; their lives, however, would end wishing the mountains and hills would fall on them.
Only a few moments earlier, they emphatically rejected Jesus when they shouted, as one, that they had no king but Caesar (John 19:15). They were so thirsty for His blood that they accepted responsibility for His death, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25).
J W Shepard notes:
“The tragic reply came back like an echo of a groan from future generations. Thirty years later, on this very spot, judgement was pronounced on some of the best citizens of Jerusalem. Of the 3,600 victims of the governor’s fury, not a few were scourged and crucified! Judas died in a loathsome suicide, the house of Annas was destroyed some years later, Caiaphas was deposed a year after the crucifixion (of Jesus), and Pilate was soon after banished to Gaul and there died in suicide. When Jerusalem fell, her wretched citizens were crucified around her walls until, in the historian’s grim language, “space was wanting for the crosses, and crosses for the bodies.” The horrors of the siege of Jerusalem are unparalleled in history.”
Perhaps more frightening is the fact that this lament is echoed next in Revelation. When the sixth seal is opened, the unbelieving world will say “to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17). John MacArthur writes: “Israel’s judgement was thus a preview of the future judgement of the world.”
Let me close this section quoting two verses:
For He says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2
“…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15
There is yet one more takeaway from this passage. No, it does not further cast condemnation in what has been a grim reading already. I hope it does the opposite and soothes your heavy heart. And that hope is based on the fact that the text reflects the startling coalescence of the contrasts within Jesus’ heart.
Scottish theologian James Stewart notes:
“No one was half so compassionate to sinners, yet no one ever spoke such red-hot, scorching words about sin. A bruised reed he would not break. His whole life was love, yet on one occasion he demanded of the Pharisees how they ever expected to escape the damnation of hell… There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts that confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.”
Notice, how, as the multitude was preoccupied with His sufferings, Jesus was concerned about what was to come their way.
The multitude was preoccupied with His sufferings, but Jesus was concerned with what was to come their way.
Remember the slogan, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…”? It is used — quite appropriately — to encourage one another towards full-time evangelism. Here’s the context: “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).
It seems that we live in a world that champions “love”… without the truth. Many Christians are pushing to bring truth back to the table — and rightly so. But in our passionate pursuit for the truths of God, we cannot leave love behind. Jesus did not leave us a choice; He did not intend to.
He was barely breathing, yet He found the resource to consider their tears; barely alive, yet He continued — in a sense — to preach the truth to them. That’s the very reflection of the heart of our Lord: truth with compassion, in perfect balance.
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