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Unexpected Words from a Dying Man

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:39–44; John 19:25–27

Even extreme personal suffering could not distract Jesus from meeting the needs of others. As He hung on the cross, He showed concern for His executioners, a dying criminal, and His mother. Jesus is the ultimate example of a life lived for others.


There is something very solemn about a person’s last words. In the face of death, what a person truly believes comes to the surface.

I think of Voltaire, the noted French agnostic who had attempted, with his writings, to destroy the credibility of Christianity. On his deathbed he said to his doctor, “I am abandoned by God and man!”[1] On the other hand, Charles Spurgeon, the famous pastor and author from London, England, in the 1800s, said these final words: “Jesus died for me.”[2]

Last words reveal what matters most.

Now the Lord Jesus is about to deliver his final words, prior to His death. They not only reveal who He is, but also why He died on the cross.

What would you expect to hear from someone dying in agony on a cross? Well, the Lord is going to make seven statements from the cross, often referred to as His seven last words.

The first statement spoken by the Lord is recorded in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The verb tense indicates this phrase was repeated over and over again.

Imagine the soldiers nailing His wrists to the cross. They hoist Him up and seat Him on the saddle—the sedulum—and turn His legs and overlap His ankles and drive a single spike through them. Jesus is in extreme pain, yet He keeps saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The Gospel accounts tell us the soldiers mocked Him, the religious leaders jeered at Him, the criminals crucified on either side of Him cursed Him—and Jesus is saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

That statement is significant because Jesus is acting as High Priest, interceding for sinful humans who, because of the hardness of their hearts, cannot see that He truly is the Lamb of God.

Luke also records the second statement. He begins setting the context in verse 39: “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”

Both of these men had initially cursed at Jesus (Matthew 27:44), but one of them now has a change of heart. He rebukes his fellow criminal here in Luke 23:

“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (verses 40-41)

This is an incredible admission! He confesses his guilt, admits he deserves the death penalty, and then announces what everybody already knew—that Jesus has done nothing wrong; He is innocent! What courage!

Beloved, this is faith and trust in Christ! And we know that because he now turns toward Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (verse 42).

No doubt he has been contemplating that placard nailed above Jesus’ head, “This is the King of the Jews.” He is evidently a Jewish man, and he now believes by faith that Jesus really is a King and He really does have a kingdom. “Lord, I want to be in Your kingdom.”

And Jesus responds in verse 43, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What a wonderful conversion! This condemned thief is now promised a home in heaven!

This man becomes a powerful lesson on the doctrine of salvation. He can’t go back and live a better life; he can’t join a church; he can’t be baptized; he can’t do good deeds. The only thing he can do is declare His belief and trust in Jesus as his king, as his Messiah.

And, by the way, Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Following death, you immediately enter either heaven or hell, not some place where you sleep, not some halfway house of purgatory where you suffer and pay for your sins before getting into heaven. No, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

As we chronologically piece together these moments, John 19 records the Lord’s third statement. We are told there are four women at the cross, including Mary, Jesus’ mother. Then we read in verses 26-27:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Now the Roman Catholic Church says Jesus gave John the apostle to Mary, thus making her the patroness over him and all the apostles, and the church, and every believer since. But there is nothing in this verse that even hints at such a thing.

Jesus is simply fulfilling His earthly responsibility as the firstborn son to see that His mother is cared for. So, this is His last will and testament, so to speak—and it is very brief. After all, Jesus has no earthly possessions to give to anybody. In fact, the soldiers are gambling for His clothing at this very moment.

The Bible is silent where Joseph is concerned, but we can be certain he died several years earlier. The children Mary and Joseph had after the virgin birth of Jesus are mentioned in Matthew 13:55-56. That is why the Bible calls Jesus her firstborn Son, not her only Son. Jesus is fulfilling His duty as the oldest son—He is handing over to John the responsibility of caring for His mother.

At noontime, sometime after this statement, darkness falls across the land. For three hours, according to Matthew 27:45, the light of the sun somehow is blotted out, even though it is early afternoon. We have every reason to believe that this darkness covered the entire planet. The Greek word for “land” here in verse 45 is gē, which can be translated “earth.”

This is clearly a supernatural darkness, but why? I believe it is now dark for several reasons. First, this darkness is a judgment. The rabbis had long taught that the darkening of the sun was a judgment of God for some terrible sin. I believe God is sending a message that mankind has committed the most terrible crime in human history.

Second, this darkness would have been understood in these days as a symbol of mourning. Look at Amos 8:9-10:  

“On that day,” declares the Lord God, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. . . . I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.”

How prophetic that is! The only Son, the Son of God, is going to die.

Now third, darkness here needs to be understood in the context of the Passover. You may remember the ten plagues God sent on Egypt that forced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The ninth plague was darkness over the land of Egypt for three days. That darkness preceded the killing of the Passover lamb, as each Israelite family took a lamb, killed it, and sprinkled its blood on the doorway of the home to protect them from the tenth and final plague. And what was that plague? The death of the firstborn.

Now here, the firstborn Son is about to die on the cross, and darkness covers the land—not for three days, but for three hours. It is during this time, that Jesus, the final Passover Lamb, takes on the sin of the world. He is experiencing the wrath of God the Father as He bears the sin of the whole world.

We will stop here for now. But as we will see, Jesus has more to say from the cross—more declarations that give those of us who believe everlasting hope and assurance of everlasting life.

[1] “Dying Statements of the Unsaved,”

[2] Gordon Curly, “Cries from the Cross: The Word of Forgiveness,” Sermon Central,, November 29, 2010.

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