Luke 23 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Luke 23)
2. And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.

[We found this fellow perverting the nation.] "A disciple corrupting his food publicly, as did Jesus of Nazareth." 'To corrupt their food publicly,' is a phrase amongst the Rabbins to denote a mingling of true doctrine with heresy, and the true worship of God with idolatry. This was the accusation they framed against our Saviour at this time, that he taught heterodox and destructive principles, such especially as would tend to turn off and alienate the people from their obedience to the Romans. Aruch recites this passage of the Talmud more cautiously; for instead of as Jesus of Nazareth did, he hath it, as Jeroboam did.

7. And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod's jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.

[He sent him to Herod.] Did Pilate do this as yielding to Herod a jurisdiction in capital matters within the city of Jerusalem upon those that were Galileans? Probably he did it, either in flattery to the tyrant, or else that he might throw off from himself both the trouble and the odium that might arise upon the occasion of condemning Jesus, whom he judged to be an innocent man, and whom in some measure he pitied, looking upon him as a sort of a delirant person, one not very well in his wits: which opinion also Herod seems to have conceived of him, by putting upon him that fool's coat wherewith he clothed him: which I should willingly enough render white and shining, but that I observe our evangelist, when he hath occasion to mention such a garment, calls it a white and shining robe expressly. Chapter 9:29, his garment was white and glistering: Acts 1:10, two men in white apparel.

30. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

[Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, &c.] So they do say, Revelation 6:6: from whence, among other arguments, it may be reasonably supposed, that that chapter treats of the plagues and afflictions that should forerun the destruction of Jerusalem, and, indeed, the destruction and overthrow itself. Weigh the place accurately; and perhaps thou wilt be of the same mind too. Nay, I may further add, that perhaps this observation might not a little help (if my eyes fail me not) in discovering the method of the author of the Book of the Revelation.

31. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

[If they do these things in a green tree, &c.] Consult John Baptist's expression, Matthew 3:10; "Now also the axe is laid to the root of the tree," viz., then when the Jewish nation was subdued to the government of the Romans, who were about to destroy it. And if they deal thus with me, a green and flourishing tree, what will they do with the whole nation, a dry and sapless trunk?

34. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

[They cast lots.] They cast lots for his seamless coat, John 19:23,24. Moses is supposed to have ministered in such a garment: "In what kind of garment did Moses attend the seven days of consecration? In a white vestment. Rabh Cahnah saith, In a white vestment, wherein there was no seam." The Gloss is, "The whole garment was made of one thread, and not as our clothes are, which have their sleeves sewed to the body with a seam." But he gives a very senseless reason why his coat was without a seam; viz., to avoid the suspicion lest Moses should at any time hide any consecrated money within the seams of his coat.

36. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,

[They brought him vinegar.] Vinegar was the common drink of the Roman soldiers; and hence those to whom the custody of crucified persons was committed had it always ready by them. "He commanded that no soldier should drink wine in their expedition, but that every one should content himself with vinegar."

"The provision this man (viz. Misitheus) made in the commonwealth was such, that there never was any great frontier-city which had not vinegar, bread-corn, and bacon, and barley, and chaff, laid up for a whole year," &c. "Thou shalt give us as much hay, chaff, vinegar, herbs, and grass, as may suffice us."

Hence it may become less difficult to reconcile the evangelist amongst themselves, speaking of wine given him mixed with myrrh, and of vinegar too; viz., a twofold cup: one, before he was nailed to the cross, i.e. of wine mingled with myrrh; the other, of vinegar, while he hung there: the first, given by the Jews according to their custom; the second, by the soldiers, in abuse and mockery. But if you will grant a third cup, then all difficulty vanisheth indeed. Let the first be wine mingled with myrrh; the second, vinegar mingled with gall; the third, mere vinegar: which the soldiers gave to malefactors if they had desired drink, being that which they drank themselves. Hence the vessel filled with vinegar, was always in readiness, that the soldiers might drink when they had a mind, and persons also upon the cross, if they stood in need of it.

42. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

[Lord, remember me.] Christ is now upon the cross, as of old Joseph was in the prison, between two malefactors. There one of them was delivered, the other hanged; here one obtains salvation, the other perisheth. The faith of this thief is admirable; and kept even pace with that of the apostles, if, in some circumstances, it did not go beyond it. The apostles acknowledged 'Jesus to be the Messiah'; and so doth he: with this addition, which I question whether they did so clearly own and know or no, viz., that Christ should reign and have his kingdom after his death. He seems to have a sounder judgment concerning Christ's kingdom than the apostles themselves, as may be gathered from their question, Acts 1:6.

It pleased God, in this last article of time, to glorify the riches of his grace in a singular and extraordinary manner, both in the conversion of a sinner and the forgiveness of his sins: I say in such an article of time which the world had never before seen, nor ever was like to see again; viz., in the very instant wherein the Messiah was finishing his redemption. It was not unknown to either of the thieves that Jesus was therefore condemned to die because he had professed himself 'the Christ'; hence that of the impenitent malefactor, "If thou art Christ, save thyself and us." And if the penitent thief did for a while join with the other in his petulant reproaches (which seems intimated to us Matthew 27:44), yet was his heart touched at length, and, perhaps, upon his observation of that miraculous darkness which at that time had covered the world.

43. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shall thou be with me in paradise.

[Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.] I. Let us here first consider the phrase in paradise: in common Jewish speech, in the garden of Eden. In what sense we may collect from these following passages: "The Rabbins have a tradition. There are four that went into paradise: namely, Ben Azzai, Ben Zumah, Acher, and R. Akibah. R. Akibah saith unto them, 'When you come to the stones of pure marble, do not ye say Waters, waters [i.e. Alas! these waters will hinder us from going forward]; for it is written, He that telleth lies shall not dwell in my presence [now, it would be a lie to call white marble water].'" "Ben Azzai looked with some curiosity about him, and died: of him the Scripture speaks, 'Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.' Ben Zumah looked with some curiosity about him, and he was disturbed in his intellectuals: of him the Scripture speaketh, 'Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.'"

Aruch, reciting these words, saith, "It is called paradise, under the signification of the garden of Eden, which is reserved for the just. This place is in the heavens, where the souls of the just are gathered together." And the Talmudical Gloss hath it much to the same sense: "These four, by God's procurement, went up into the firmament."

While we are reading these passages, that story may easily occur to mind of St. Paul's being "caught up into paradise," 2 Corinthians 12; and perhaps the legend before us is but the ape of that story. In the story it is observable, that paradise and the 'third heaven' are one and the same thing: in the legend paradise and the highest heavens. For so the doctors comment upon the word in Psalm 68:5: "There are seven classes or degrees of just persons, who see the face of God, sit in the house of God, ascend up unto the hill of God, &c. And to every class or degree there is allotted their proper dwellingplace in paradise. There are also seven abiding places in hell. Those that dwell in paradise, they shine like the shining of the firmament, like the sun, like the moon, like the firmament, like the stars, like lightning, like the lilies, like burning lamps."

II. Our Saviour, therefore, telling the penitent thief, This day shalt thou be with me in paradise, he speaks in the common dialect, and to the capacity of the thief; viz., that he should be in heaven with Christ, and with all just persons that had left this world. Nor, indeed, would I fetch the explication of that article of our creed, He descended into hell, from any passage in the Scripture sooner than this here: adding this, that we must of necessity have recourse to the Greek tongue for the signification of the word, which they generally use to denote the state of the dead, as well the blessed as the miserable. Those who expound that passage in 1 Peter 3:19, of his going down from the cross into hell to preach to the spirits in prison there, do very little regard the scope of the apostle, and are absolute strangers to his meaning in it. For,

1. In that he shuts up the generation before the flood in an infernal prison, he falls in with the received opinion of that nation, which was, that that generation had no part in the world to come; and that they were condemned to boiling waters in hell.

2. He compares the present generation of the Jews with that generation before the flood; that Christ did of old preach even to that generation, and so he hath done to this; that that generation perished through its disobedience, and so will this. He runs much upon the same parallel in his second Epistle, chapter 3:6, &c. We must observe, that the apostle makes his transition from the crucifixion and resurrection of our Saviour directly to the generation before the flood, passing over all those generations that came between, on purpose that he might make the comparison betwixt that and the age he lived in.

53. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

[Wrapped it in linen.] "Mar Zutra saith, that out of the linen in which they wrapped up books, when it grew old they made shrouds for the dead of the precept; for this is to their disgrace." The Gloss adds, "That they do it of the linen wherein they fold up the book of the Law." Him who had suffered death by the sentence of the Sanhedrim, or magistrate, they were wont to call the dead of the precept, because he was executed according to the precept: and such a one to them was our Jesus. Now as to one that was condemned to death by the magistrate, they had an opinion that by how much the more disgracefully they dealt with him, by so much the greater atonement was made for him. Hence that expression, "They did not openly bewail him, that that very setting him at nought" (no man lamenting him) "might redound to his atonement." And from thence, perhaps, if the women at Jerusalem had bewailed any other person as they bewailed our Saviour, that other person might have said, "Ye daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, lest ye cut short my atonement": but Christ speaks to them upon a far different account. And under this notion they wrapped one that had been so executed, in some ragged, torn, old, dirty windingsheets; that this disgrace, being thrown upon him, might augment his expiation. But this good Arimathean behaves himself otherwise with Jesus, as having conceived quite another opinion concerning him.

54. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.

[And the sabbath drew on.] The vulgar reads, the sabbath began to dawn: not ill rendered. Beza reads, and the sabbath succeeded: not properly. One would have thought it would have been more congruously said, it began to be dark towards the sabbath: for the night before the sabbath was coming on: but,

I. The sabbatical candles that were lighted in honour of the sabbath were now set up. "There are three things which it is necessary a man should warn those of his own house of on the evening of the sabbath, when night is coming on: Have you paid your tenths? Have you begun your Erubhick society? Light up your candle." "Men and women are bound to light up a candle in their houses upon the sabbath day. If a man hath not bread to eat, yet he must beg from door to door to get a little oil to set up his light." These things being noted, the evangelist may not be improperly understood thus, "The sabbath began to shine with the lights set up"; respect being had to these sabbath candles. But I do not acquiesce here.

II. The evening of the sabbath was called amongst the Jews light. By the light of the fourteenth day they make a search for leaven by the light of a candle. By the light of the fourteenth day; that is, on the evening, or in the night that immediately precedes that day. So Rambam upon the place, "the search for leaven is in the night of the fourteenth day, although the eating of leavened bread is not forbidden before the noon of the fourteenth day. But they instituted this because it is most convenient searching in the night time by candlelight; and at that time also all persons are at home."

"The woman that miscarries on the light [i.e. the evening] of the eighty-first day, the Shammean school absolves her from any offering: but the school of Hillel doth not." The Gloss hath it, on the light of the eighty-fist day, i.e. in the night of the eighty-first day. The question disputed there is: "The woman that had been brought to bed of a girl was bound to the purification of eighty days"; when those days were at an end, then she was bound to offer, Leviticus 12:5,6. Now therefore seeing the oblation was to be brought on the eighty-first day, the question is, What if the woman should happen to miscarry within the very night that begins the eighty-first day, must she the next day offer one or two sacrifices? one for the girl, and one for that of which she hath miscarried? The Shammean school will have but one, but the school of Hillel saith two.

Pesikta speaking concerning a vowed sacrifice, from Leviticus 7:17, hath this passage: "Perhaps it may be eaten on the light [i.e. the evening] of the third day. The text saith upon the third day; it is eaten until the third day. It is not eaten on the light [i.e. the evening, or the night] of the third day": for then the third day was actually begun. But now in this phrase they restrain the word especially to the beginning of the night, though sometimes it is taken for the whole night, as in that tradition newly quoted concerning the woman that miscarried: and so the Gloss upon Pesachin. Maimonides discoursing about putting away the leaven which ought to be on the light of the fourteenth day, i.e. on the night that begins the fourteenth day, hath this passage; "By prescription of the scribes they search for, and cast out their leaven in the night; namely, the beginning of that night that ushers in the fourteenth day." Much to the same sense the Gemarist concerning the light: "How comes twilight to be called light? From thence, because it is written, In the twilight, in the evening, of the day," Proverbs 7:9. Rambam thinks it so called by a rule of contraries; for so he in Pesachin: "The night is called light, by the same rule that they call many other things by their contraries."

But the Gemarists upon the place affirm that the evening is not improperly called light, and prove it from that expression, Psalm 148:3: Praise him all ye stars of light. However unsuitably therefore it might sound in the ears of Greeks or Latins, when they hear the evening or the beginning of the night expressed by the light of the sabbath, yet with the Jews it was a way of expression very usual: and they could readily understand the evangelist speaking in their own vulgar way, when he would tell us the night of the sabbath drew on; but expresseth it by the light of the sabbath began to shine.

56. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.

[And rested the sabbath day.] If our Saviour was taken down from the cross about sunset, as it was provided, Deuteronomy 21:23; Joshua 8:29, then had the women this interim of time to buy their spices and despatch other business before the entry of the sabbath day.

I. Between the suns. So they called that space of time that was between the setting of the sun and the appearance of any star.

II. Might they not have that space of time also that was between the first and second star? We may judge something from this passage: "In the evening of the sabbath, if he see one star and do any work, he is acquitted; but if he see two stars, let him bring his trespass-offering."

III. Might they not have some farther allowance in the case of funerals? We may judge from this passage: "they do all works necessary about the dead [on the sabbath day]; they anoint him, they wash him, provided only that they do not stir a limb of him," &c. It was not safe for those women to shew themselves too busy in preparing for his interment; especially seeing Jesus died as a malefactor, and was odious to the people: this might exasperate the people against them, and so much the more too, if they should, in the least measure, violate the sabbath day. But further, besides the honour they gave to the sabbath, it was not prudence in them to break it for a work which they thought they might as well do when the sabbath was done and over.