Is Jesus the King of the Jews? How big of a threat is he to the ruling authorities? Is this another “would be messiah” who is going to try and lead a rebellion against the Romans?
Pilate and Herod, newfound best friends, find Jesus to not really be much of a threat and try to set him free. Herod, the current “king of the Jews,” is not too concerned and is excited to see Jesus because he hoped to see some cheap party tricks. When this alleged king didn’t have anything to say or do they mocked him and sent him back wearing the robes of a king.
The people quit arguing and simply started shouting, “Crucify him!”
As Jesus is being led away he makes an interesting comment, “For if the people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” N.T. Wright, in his “For Everyone” commentary, points out that this is one of Jesus’ darkest sayings but if we can find our way into the heart of the meaning of it then we will have a better understanding of what he thought the cross was all about.
Anyone who has built a fire knows that dry wood is what is needed for burning. Rebel leaders who are causing riots in the streets and trying to overthrow Rome are the dry wood ready for burning. Jesus is not this kind of wood. He, the green wood, is on a mission of peace and repentance, a mission about God’s reconciling kingdom for Israel and the nations. If they are willing to do this to him, the green wood, how much worse will their actions be to those rioters who are looking for excuses to create violence and mayhem? If the Romans are willing to crucify the prince of peace, what will they do to people who genuinely are trying to overthrow Rome? Jesus knows the kind of death he is dying as a holy revolutionary and he stops to tell these women to weep for themselves because things are going to get a lot worse.
Luke contrasts the two criminals in order to show the contrast in what is going on in this situation. Jesus is bearing the sins of many. He is making the sacrifice for all people though he is being executed as a criminal and a rebel. Those around him are mocking him and even one of the criminals mocks him. The other criminal brings reality to the situation. He provides the reader with context as to what is going on.
Jesus invites the criminal on the cross to Paradise with him. In Jewish thought, paradise wasn’t necessarily the final resting place, but the place of rest and refreshment before the gift of new like in the resurrection.
Jesus gives up his spirit into the Father’s hands. It is not taken from him! The curtain in the Temple is torn in two, representing the judgment that will come on the city, the system and the Temple itself that has rejected Jesus and his kingdom message.
The centurion gives witness to Jesus being a righteous man. This is slanted a bit from Mark’s declaration of Jesus being “God’s son” by the centurion. Luke is emphasizing Jesus’ innocence, which he has been doing all along. This way, no educated Roman can comment that if the Roman justice executed someone then they must have had a good reason.
Jesus has died on Friday, which is the last day of creation. The next day is the Sabbath, Saturday, the Day of Rest at the end of creation. We will see this a lot more clearly in John’s Gospel but I wanted to point this out because of the powerful implications. Jesus is then resurrected on Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of the New Creation.