Agony on the Stake
ALONG with Jesus two robbers are being led out to be executed. Not far from the city, the procession comes to a halt at the place called Golgotha, or Skull Place.
The prisoners are stripped of their garments. Then wine drugged with myrrh is provided. Apparently it is prepared by the women of Jerusalem, and the Romans do not deny this pain-dulling potion to those being impaled. However, when Jesus tastes it, he refuses to drink. Why? Evidently he wants to have full possession of all his faculties during this supreme test of his faith.
Jesus is now stretched out on the stake with his hands placed above his head. The soldiers then pound large nails into his hands and into his feet. He wrenches with pain as the nails pierce flesh and ligaments. When the stake is swung upright, the pain is excruciating, for the weight of the body tears at the nail wounds. Yet, rather than threaten, Jesus prays for the Roman soldiers: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Pilate has posted on the stake a sign that reads: “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews.” Apparently, he writes this not only because he respects Jesus but because he loathes the Jewish priests for their having wrung Jesus’ death sentence from him. So that all may read the sign, Pilate has it written in three languages—in Hebrew, in the official Latin, and in the common Greek.
The chief priests, including Caiaphas and Annas, are dismayed. This positive proclamation spoils their hour of triumph. Therefore they protest: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Chafing from having served as the pawn of the priests, Pilate answers with resolute contempt: “What I have written I have written.”
The priests, along with a large crowd, now gather at the site of the execution, and the priests refute the testimony of the sign. They repeat the false testimony that was given earlier at the Sanhedrin trials. Not surprisingly, therefore, passersby begin speaking abusively, wagging their heads in mockery and saying: “O you would-be thrower-down of the temple and builder of it in three days, save yourself! If you are a son of God, come down off the torture stake!”
“Others he saved; himself he cannot save!” the chief priests and their religious cronies chime in. “He is King of Israel; let him now come down off the torture stake and we will believe on him. He has put his trust in God; let Him now rescue him if He wants him, for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’”
Caught up in the spirit, the soldiers too make fun of Jesus. They mockingly offer him sour wine, apparently holding it just beyond his parched lips. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they taunt, “save yourself.” Even the robbers—one impaled to Jesus’ right, and the other to his left—ridicule him. Think of it! The greatest man who ever lived, yes, the one who shared with Jehovah God in creating all things, resolutely suffers all this abuse!
The soldiers take Jesus’ outer garments and divide them into four parts. They cast lots to see whose these will become. The inner garment, however, is without a seam, being of superior quality. So the soldiers say to one another: “Let us not tear it, but let us determine by lots over it whose it will be.” Thus, unwittingly, they fulfill the scripture that says: “They apportioned my outer garments among themselves, and upon my apparel they cast lots.”
In time, one of the robbers comes to appreciate that Jesus truly must be a king. Therefore, rebuking his companion, he says: “Do you not fear God at all, now that you are in the same judgment? And we, indeed, justly so, for we are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did; but this man did nothing out of the way.” Then he addresses Jesus, with the petition: “Remember me when you get into your kingdom.”
“Truly I tell you today,” Jesus replies, “You will be with me in Paradise.” This promise will be fulfilled when Jesus rules as King in heaven and resurrects this repentant evildoer to life on earth in the Paradise that Armageddon survivors and their companions will have the privilege of cultivating. Matthew 27:33-44; Mark 15:22-32; Luke 23:27, 32-43; John 19:17-24.
▪ Why does Jesus refuse to drink the wine drugged with myrrh?
▪ Why, apparently, is a sign posted on Jesus’ stake, and what exchange does it initiate between Pilate and the chief priests?
▪ What further abuse does Jesus receive on the stake, and what evidently prompts it?
▪ How is prophecy fulfilled in what is done with Jesus’ garments?
▪ What change does one of the robbers make, and how will Jesus fulfill his request?