Every year on Good Friday, Christians take time to meditate on the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us in suffering a humiliating, bloody death by crucifixion. It’s a time to dwell on what Jesus suffered for us, in all its pain and intensity, without rushing straight ahead to the good news of Easter, resurrection, and new life.
The Last Words of Jesus
One of the ways Christians have traditionally meditated on Good Friday is by reading and reflecting on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross. Luke records the final words of Jesus before he died on the cross:
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44)
Significance of His Last Words
This passage is a moving account of Jesus’ dying words. When everything was said and done, Jesus’ work on the cross was all but complete, and his proclamation, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” finished the work. The significance of Jesus’ statement lies in a conversation he had with religious leaders about his role in God’s great plan:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I make take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:14)
No one truly took Jesus’ life from him. God had given him a specific task. That task was to lay down his life on behalf of the world (John 10:18).
Just as it was Jesus’ God-given task, it was also Jesus’ choice to lay down his life.
When we read of Jesus before his crucifixion, the gravity of this choice becomes even more apparent. In Luke 22:39 Jesus spends an intense evening in prayer, wrestling with the reality of the task ahead of him. Going so far as to ask God to remove the task, to make another way, Jesus ultimately concludes that God’s will must be done.
Seven Last Statements of Jesus Christ
1. Matthew 27:46 tells us that about the ninth hour Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
2. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
"By interceding for His transgressors through this prayer, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy that was foretold by Isaiah, hundreds of years prior. This prayer, from upon the cross particularly, would have been a confirmation of His identity to those awaiting their beloved messiah, as described by the prophets of God." (excerpt from Why Did Jesus Say "Father Forgive Them", Amy Swanson)
3. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Jesus was blameless, without sin, and was not guilty of such a horrific death, but two men who were guilty of their crimes hung next to Him that fateful day. Both men spoke to Jesus, but only one would die to be greeted into the promise of Heaven. The response of Jesus in this instance was profound to the criminal, as He promised this sinner that he too would enter the gates of Heaven to live in Paradise, not later but that day!" (excerpt from What Did Jesus Mean When He Told the Thief "Today You Will Be with Me in Parradise"?, Cally Logan)
4. “Dear Woman, here is your son!” and “Here is your mother!” When Jesus recognized His mother standing near the cross with the Apostle John, He entrusted His mother’s well being to John’s responsibility. (John 19:26-27).
"Jesus established a new relationship between His beloved mother and His beloved disciple. He said to her, "Woman, behold your son, for whom, from now on, you must have a motherly affection," and to John, "Behold you mother, to whom you must pay a sonly duty." And so from that hour, that hour never to be forgotten, that disciple took her to his own home." (excerpt from Why Did Jesus Say "Woman Behold Your Son"?)
We might equate “thirsting” with Christ’s call to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Another possible connection would be to link this statement with Christ’s invitation that all who are thirsty are invited to drink from the waters of life (Revelation 22:17). These interpretive links are not necessarily wrong. It is out of this place of physical exhaustion that Jesus declares his thirst. The hours spent in the sun, coupled with the physical pain he was feeling, would have created mild, if not severe, dehydration. Jesus speaks of his own thirst out a real human need for sustenance and relief. On the cross, Jesus is physically thirsty." (excerpt from What is the Meaning and Significance of Jesus Saying "I Thirst"?, Rev. Kyle Norman)
6. “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The work His Father had sent Him to do, which was to teach the Gospel, perform miracles, and achieve reconciliation for His people, was fulfilled. The debt of sin was paid.
"Jesus is saying in “It is finished” that the debt owed by man to his Creator on account of Adam’s sin is finally and forever dealt with. Jesus, with “it is finished,” is saying not only does He take away man’s sin, but now He removes it as far as the east is to the west, for is finished, done, signed, and sealed because of the blood of Jesus. When Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) He brought about the completion of all the Old Testament prophecies, symbols, and foreshadowing about Himself." (excerpt from The Meaning and Significance of "It is Finished", Dave Jenkins)
7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46) Jesus willingly gave his life.
"Because He was fully God and fully man, Jesus could have taken himself off the cross, remained alive, and exerted His divine authority. He chose not to do so. His divine nature means He intentionally had to choose to no longer hold onto life. This statement is a direct quotation from that passage of Scripture. In context, it appears: “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God” (Psalm 31:3-5). " (excerpt from Beautiful Meaning Behind "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit", Bethany Verrett)
Jesus faced the incredible task of laying down his life as a ransom for the world. This task was traumatic and overwhelming, but Jesus accepted it willingly. After hanging on the cross for three hours, Jesus finally gave up his own life. He was not helpless at the hands of those who crucified him—he alone had the authority to end his life. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says, “The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many.” The crucifixion was Jesus’ plan, and it was his plan from before creation—he’s the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
But Jesus’ death is still death. It is still an abomination. Though Jesus submitted, this doesn’t mean everything was fine. The author of life was murdered by evil men (Acts 2:23). But Jesus yielded to the evil and injustice because he knew who was really in charge.
Saved by the Blood of Christ
The story doesn’t end here; there is the hope we celebrate at Easter. But for now, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the suffering sacrifice of our Savior. You can give thanks to Jesus for his steadfast love and faithfulness that led him to lay down his life for you as a ransom.
According to Crosswalk.com, "Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is the fulfilled prophecy of the Messiah who would be persecuted, die for our sins, and rise on the third day. (Isaiah 53). Remembering the resurrection of Jesus is a way to renew daily hope that we have victory over sin. According to the New Testament, Easter is three days after the death of Jesus on the cross."
Learn more about the History and Meaning of Easter
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.