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Dr. Luke: Healing the Breaches - Book 8

This is the longest book of the series, 160 pages, covering Luke 22-24. It begins with the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal and gives the sequence of events from Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and His many appearances to various people during the next 40 days before His ascension.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 13

On the Way to Crucifixion

Jesus was scourged after His trial before Pilate (Matt. 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1). Luke says only that Jesus was punished (Luke 23:16, 22), using the Greek word paideuo, which often speaks of chastising a son. Its root word is pais, “son.” Heb. 12:5-8 uses the term paideuo in relation to fathers chastening their sons. In fact, Heb. 12:6 says,

6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines [paideuo], and He scourges every son whom He receives.

In order to take the liability for our sin upon Himself, He had to be both scourged and killed. Scourging was the penalty for lesser sins (misdemeanors) that did not involve restitution payment (Deut. 25:3). The death penalty was applied in cases where restitution was not possible (such as in premeditated murder), or even when a man refused to pay restitution as prescribed by the law (Deut. 17:12).

When Isaiah described the sufferings and death of the Messiah, He spoke of both the death penalty and of scourging. Isaiah 53:5 says, “by His scourging we are healed.” Isaiah 53:8 says further that as a lamb led to the slaughter, “He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of My people to whom the stroke was due.” In Isaiah 53:12 we read that “He poured out Himself to death” and by Himself “bore the sin of [the] many.”

In His scourging, Jesus brought healing from disease. In His death Jesus brought healing from death itself—that is, He brought us immortality.

In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, Jesus was scourged over 60 times, presumably by Roman soldiers who did not know the law. But I believe that the law is prophetic and that He was given forty lashes according to the law’s limitation in Deut. 25:3. The law does not specify who ought to administer the lashes, so from that standpoint it may not matter who actually scourged Jesus.

It was a tradition that scourging should be limited to 39 lashes, so that in case of a miscount, they should not violate the law unintentionally. But they later avoided this problem by using a whip with thirteen strands known as a flagellum. Each strand had pieces of embedded metal or bone, capable of tearing apart one’s flesh in a gruesome fashion. In whipping someone three times, the lashes totaled 39 in all.

Strangely enough, it also appears that many of the Jews either were ignorant of the law or simply did not care about its limitation to forty lashes. Josephus testifies that he himself whipped some rebels without regard to this limitation:

On which occasion Josephus again used a second stratagem to escape them [2000 men who stood outside his headquarters, threatening him]; for he got upon the top of the house and …  said he would comply with all their demands, in case they would but send some of their number in to him that might talk with him about it. And when the principal of them, with their leaders, heard this, they came into the house. He then drew them to the most retired [private] part of the house and shut the door of that hall where he put them, and then had them whipped till every one of their inward parts appeared naked. In the meantime the multitude stood around the house and supposed that he had a long discourse with those that were gone in, about what they claimed of him. He then had the doors set open immediately, and sent the men out all bloody, which so terribly affrighted those that had before threatened him, that they threw away their arms and ran away.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, II, 21, v]

Josephus was a priest and a descendant of the Hasmonean dynasty, which had ruled Judea from 163-63 B.C. As an educated man, he ought to have known the law of God, but apparently he did not follow it in this case.

The victims of this beating, however, were not fulfilling any Bible prophecy. I believe that the law prophesies of Jesus Christ, and on that basis, I believe that Jesus was scourged with forty stripes in order to take upon Himself the full penalty of our “diseases.”

Simon of Cyrene

After His beating, Jesus was sent to the top of the Mount of Olives to be crucified in a public place, where all who came to Jerusalem along that path might see and be reminded to subject themselves to the authorities. By this time Jesus was greatly weakened by the scourging. So a man was pressed into service to carry the crossbeam which was to be nailed to the upright stake that remained permanently on the Mount.

Luke 23:26 says,

26 And when they led Him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.

Apparently, Simon had spent the night outside of Jerusalem (perhaps in Bethany). He had just come off the Mount on his way to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. He arrived just as the crowd was walking in the opposite direction toward the Mount. Simon then carried the crossbeam up the Mount, where Jesus was crucified. We do not know for sure if Jesus fell under the weight of the crossbeam, but Simon’s act follows the spirit of the law found in Deut. 22:4,

4 You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up.

His name, Simon, probably indicates that he was a Jew who lived in Cyrene. Cyrene was a Greek colony located on the Mediterranean coast west of Egypt in Libya. It had been founded in 630 B.C., and in 323 B.C. it became part of Egypt. By Jesus’ time, Cyrene had become part of the Roman Empire, though it maintained its self-government. There were enough Jews from Cyrene that they even had their own synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). We see their presence also on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:10.

Cyrene was famous for its School of Cyrenaics, founded four centuries earlier as a hedonist school of philosophy. According to this philosophy, pleasure—especially physical pleasure—was the most important goal in life. Pleasure was the only good in life, they said, and pain was the only evil. Hence, avoidance of pain was an important feature of this philosophy. Their hedonist philosophy was later replaced by Epicureanism, which modified this somewhat and yet still retained its most important goal of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

We do not know if Simon of Cyrene had been a student (or teacher) at this School, but it is certain that he was very familiar with its philosophy. For Simon, then, to be called upon to witness the pain and suffering of Jesus firsthand must have been a life-changing experience for him. Mark 15:21 gives us further details, saying,

21 And they pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.

Mark implies that he knew Simon well by the time he wrote his gospel. No doubt he had became a Christian, and Mark even suggests that his sons, Alexander and Rufus, were well known to his readers. Simon and Mark might even have known each other earlier:

According to the tradition of the Coptic Orthodox Church, its founder, Saint Mark was a native of Cyrene and ordained the first bishop of Cyrene.,_Libya

It is unlikely, however, that Simon’s son, Rufus, was the same man mentioned in Rom. 16:13. That Rufus was apparently Paul’s half brother, as he says,

13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.

If it were the same Rufus, it would indicate that the mother of both Paul and Rufus was married to Simon of Cyrene. But we know that the Roman Rufus was surnamed Pudentius, a wealthy senatorial family in Rome. So Paul calls Rufus also by his family name Pudens in 2 Tim. 4:21, while greeting also Pudens’ wife Claudia and her brother Linus (the first bishop of Rome).

I have no doubt that Simon of Cyrene was of a different family. His philosophical background as a Cyrenian was meant to present the contrast to the philosophy of God, where the Messiah’s pain and suffering would bring true pleasure and happiness to the world. “By His scourging, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The solution to all the pain and suffering brought about by Adam’s sin was not to engage in pleasure or to avoid pain. The solution was for Christ to die, thereby paying the penalty for Adam’s sin.

Prophecies on the Road

John 19:14 tells us,

14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king. 15 They therefore cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then delivered Him to them to be crucified.

The sixth hour was noon. By this time the whole city was full of life, and Jesus’ followers had heard the news of His arrest. Luke 23:27 says,

27 And there were following Him a great multitude of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him.

Jesus’ night-time trial before Caiaphas had been conducted while most people were asleep, but no doubt in the morning the news would have spread quickly while Jesus was at the Praetorium. Luke 23:28-31 says,

28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 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.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things in the green tree, what will happen in the dry?”

Verse 29 refers back to Luke 21:23, where Jesus had explained to His disciples about the coming desolation of Jerusalem. Here Jesus quoted Hosea 10:8-10, where the prophet had prophesied divine judgment to the House of Israel on account of its worship of the golden calf at Bethel,

8 Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” And to the hills, “Fall on us!”… 10 When it is My desire, I will chastise them; and the peoples will be gathered against them when they are bound for their double guilt.

It is plain that Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah was linked directly to the coming desolation of Jerusalem. In quoting Hosea 10:8, Jesus reminded the “daughters of Jerusalem” that Judah was as guilty as Israel had been in the days of Hosea. Hence, the same judgment would befall them.

The Two Trees

In Luke 23:31 Jesus continues, saying,

31 For if they do these things in the green tree, what will happen in the dry?”

Of Luke 23:31, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says,

“He quoted a current proverb. The application means that if such injustice can be perpetrated against an innocent man in the time of peace, what will befall the people of the city in time of war?

Jesus, then, was full of life, being the “green tree.” Judah was the “dry” tree, that is, the withered tree which Jesus had already cursed (Matt. 21:19). In Jesus’ statement in Luke 23:31, I see also the fulfillment of prophecy from Jer. 11:16,

16 The Lord called your name, “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”; with the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless [or “fruitless”].

In that context, we find that Jeremiah, too, was a type of Christ persecuted by the corrupt temple priests. The prophet tells us in Jer. 11:19, 20,

19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” 20 But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the feelings and the heart, let me see Thy vengeance on them, for to Thee have I committed my cause.

The priests of that time plotted against Jeremiah, even as they did with Jesus six centuries later. The plot was to “destroy the tree with its fruit,” indicating that they were cutting down a live, green tree that bore fruit. This was unlawful according to the laws of spiritual warfare found in Deut. 20:19, 20.

In this we see the contrast between the fruit-bearing tree and the barren tree that Jerusalem had become. This, I believe, is the underlying meaning of Jesus’ statement about the green tree and the dry tree. The priests were cutting down a fruit-bearing tree by crucifying Jesus—much like they plotted to do with Jeremiah many years earlier.

Jeremiah appealed His case to the divine court in verse 20, saying, “to Thee have I committed my cause.” In Jeremiah’s day the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed, along with its temple, according to the divine judgment. The same was to happen in the first century.

A Cross or a Tree?

Dr. Ernest Martin argues in his book, Secrets of Golgotha, that Jesus was crucified on one of the trees on the Mount of Olives, to which was affixed the crossbar or patibulum which Jesus carried there with the help of Simon of Cyrene. Part of his argument involves the words of Jesus in Luke 23:31,

31 For if they do these things in the green tree [xylon], what will happen in the dry?”

Luke 23:26 says that Simon bore Jesus’ stauros, “cross,” by which is meant the patibulum. He does not tell us specifically how Jesus was crucified. John 19:19 says that the inscription above His head was nailed to the stauros, which the NASB translates as “the cross.” However, stauros can also refer to a tree, and people were crucified, more often than not, on an actual tree.

That there were many trees in the area is implied, because a garden was normally an orchard, not a vegetable garden. There are therefore many early Church fathers who referred to the cross as a tree. However, the most weighty argument is found in Scripture itself, for Peter says in Acts 5:30,

30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross [xylon].

Here Peter used the same word, xylon, which Jesus used in Luke 23:31, where it translated “green tree.” (See also Acts 10:39, 1 Peter 2:24, Acts 13:29, and Gal. 3:13.) Peter was referring to the biblical form of execution found in Deut. 21:22, 23,

22 And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged in accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.

This law was observed later in Joshua 8:29 when Joshua “hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening.” Shortly after this, they hanged five more kings on trees until evening (Joshua 10:26). This was the common practice, and since Pilate had told the Jewish priests to carry out the sentence against Jesus themselves, it is likely that they nailed Jesus to a tree and a crossbar.

In fact, Dr. Martin believes that Jesus and the two thieves were all nailed to the same tree with their backs to each other. He cites John 19:31-33 as evidence of this:

31 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of prepara-tion, so that the BODIES should not remain on the cross [stauros] on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

The wording may indicate that all three “bodies” were on the same stauros. If this is so, it would also explain the way that the soldiers came to break their legs. We know that the two robbers were crucified on either side of Jesus (Matt. 27:38). John 19:32, 33 says,

32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break His legs.

If they were each crucified separately, with Jesus in the middle, would John have worded his account to show that the soldiers broke the legs of the first man, then passed by Jesus to break the legs of the second man, and then return to the middle only to find that Jesus had already died? As Dr. Martin puts it, “Being in the middle should have made Jesus the second to be killed” (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 296).

This is not a crucial point, but it lends credence to the view that, separately or together, they were nailed to a tree.

Was Jesus Stoned to Death?

In John 18:31, after the chief priests threatened Pilate with the accusation that he was not Caesar’s friend, Pilate told the chief priests, “take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your law.” Since Jesus was condemned on a charge of blasphemy (Matt. 26:65), it is clear that the chief priests intended to stone Jesus. Lev. 24:16 says,

16 Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

Blasphemers were normally stoned to death according to biblical law. Hanging a person on a tree or post only served to make the condemned one helpless against the onslaught of stones. Martin quotes Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church telling us,

“Stoning is the only form of capital punishment recognized in the Mosaic Law” (Vol. II, pp. 528, 529).

Martin comments, saying,

“There is no doubt that Jesus experienced the torment of volleys of small, sharp stones thrown at the front parts of his naked body while he was nailed to the tree of crucifixion. The stones were hurled at his face, at his mid-section, and his legs. These must have been like sharp flintstones (many of which are on the Mount of Olives) that would break the skin and dislodge the flesh but without the force to break his bones. Such volleys of stones hitting his body persistently for almost six hours could produce the description of Isaiah: ‘As many were astonished at thee; his visage [his outward appearance] was so marred more than any man, and his form [so marred] more than the sons of men” (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 309).

Dr. Martin quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah 52:14, which is part of the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, where the suffering Messiah was to be “marred” (mishkath), or literally disfigured almost beyond recognition. The beating that Jesus suffered would have marred His back, and the nails would have marred His hands and feet; but what could have marred his face, if not the stones?

We know that Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world and paid its penalty. The law penalizes some with a beating (Deut. 25:3) and others with death in general; but if Jesus paid the full penalty for sin, would He not also have to be stoned to pay all of the penalties for sin in accordance with the law?

Because the law prophecies of Christ and His death, and Isaiah confirms His disfigurement, it seems to be a virtual certainty that Jesus was stoned by the people passing by while He was on the cross. In fact, such stoning by the public would have been viewed as a requirement.

One can only imagine the anguish that John and the Marys must have felt during Jesus’ final hours of life. So the prophecy of Simeon to Mary in Luke 2:35 was fulfilled: “a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The “many hearts” were all those who cast stones at Jesus.

The Talmud itself has its own view of Jesus’ execution. Sanhedrin 43a gives this account:

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu the Nazarean was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour, he was hanged on the eve of Passover.”

The New Testament account says nothing of a forty-day time where people could speak in his favor. Nonetheless, it is interesting that it claims that Jesus was to be “stoned” as well as “hanged,” according to the law in Deut. 17:5.

Burning the Tree

Dr. Martin points out the underlying reason why Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. First he quotes from the story of Achan in Joshua 7:15,

15 And it shall be that the one who is taken with the things under the ban shall be burned with fire, he and all that belongs to him, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has committed a disgraceful thing in Israel.

Such people were not burned alive, but were hanged, then stoned, and then their bodies committed to the fire. Dr. Martin writes:

“And this is exactly what the authorities in Jerusalem were intending to do with Jesus. But, as explained in the last chapter, Joseph of Arimathea stepped in hurriedly to prevent this fate from happening to the body of Jesus. Though it is probable that the tree on which Jesus was killed (being considered accursed) was uprooted and burnt to ashes to keep the land from being contaminated, Jesus himself was spared this judicial requirement because Pilate granted Joseph of Arimathea his request to bury Jesus in his newly hewn tomb not far away from the crucifixion site” (Secrets of Golgotha, p. 320).

Jesus’s death fulfilled the prophecy of the red heifer which was to be burned completely. However, the “fire” in this case was the “fiery law” of Deut. 33:2, not a literal fire. The fact that it was the divine law that killed Jesus means that He took upon Himself the law’s judgment.