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Luke 23:33-46 Notes

Luke 23:33-43 - EXEGESIS


CONTEXT:  Luke 23 opened with Jesus' appearance before Pilate (23:1-5)-his appearance before Herod (23:6-12)-and his sentence of death (23:13-25). Then they led Jesus to the place of crucifixion, enlisting the support of Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross (23:26). A large group of women were grieving and wailing as Jesus made his way to the cross (23:27)-but Jesus warned them of terrible times ahead for themselves and their people (23:28-31).


LUKE 23 COMPARISONS WITH MARK AND MATTHEW:  Luke's account of the crucifixion differs from that of Mark and Matthew at a number of points:

  • In Mark and Matthew, the mocking by soldiers takes place in the governor's headquarters rather than at the site of the crucifixion (Mark 15:16-20; Matthew 27:27-31).
  • Luke doesn't mention the word Golgotha.
  • Luke uses the word, "criminals," while Mark and Matthew use the more specific word, "bandits."
  • Neither Mark nor Matthew mention Jesus' prayer, "Father, forgive them" (v. 34)-nor do they mention the repentant criminal and Jesus' promise, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (v. 43).
  • Luke mentions darkness and the tearing of the temple curtain but not the earthquake that split rocks and opened tombs, resulting in the resurrection of saints who had fallen asleep (Matthew 27:51-52).

These differences most likely reflect typical Lucan emphases (forgiveness-concern for the ignorant and outcast) rather than a separate source.  Verse 32 says, "Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with (Jesus)."



32 Now two others, who were criminals, were also being led away to be put to death with Him.  33 And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 [But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."] And they cast lots, dividing His garments among themselves. 35 And the people stood by, watching. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, "He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One." 36 The soldiers also ridiculed Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, "If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!" 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."


 "When they came to the place that is called The Skull" (v. 33a). Luke does not use the word, Golgotha, but says that Jesus was crucified at a place called the Skull. We think of the crucifixion as taking place on a hilltop, but none of the Gospels mentions a hill. The Skull may be a hill, protruding from the landscape and resembling a human skull, but that is conjecture. In any event, its name brings forth gruesome images.


"they crucified (Jesus) there with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left" (v. 33b). Crucifixion is intended to degrade the person being crucified. It strips the person of honor and permits people to abuse him. It is the ultimate punishment, reserved by Rome for the worst offenders.

  • Throughout his ministry Jesus identified with sinners, and their quality has steadily spiraled downward-from ordinary crowds at the beginning to a prostitute in the middle of the story and thieves being crucified at the end.  His purpose was to save people of every stripe who were in need of saving (Wright, 455).


"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" (v. 34a). Some early manuscripts do not

include this prayer, which the NRSV marks with brackets to acknowledge a question of authenticity. While

scholars are divided, many believe the prayer to be authentic, because it fits so well in Luke-Acts.

  • Jesus taught the disciples to love their enemies and to pray for those who abuse them (6:27-28). Here he practices what he preaches.
  • Jesus' concern for the ignorance of those responsible for his death is much like his concern for the ignorance of the people of Jerusalem (19:41-44).
  • In Acts 7:59, Luke records Stephen's prayer, which is modeled on verse 34.

For whom is Jesus praying? Most likely his prayer includes not only the soldiers who are inflicting his wounds, but also Jewish leaders who instigated the crucifixion, the crowd that demanded it (23:18-25), and the disciples who (except for the women standing at a distance-verse 49) are nowhere to be found-perhaps even for Judas.

Jesus' prayer does not mean that Israel will not pay a price for their evil deed. Jesus has already wept over Jerusalem (19:41-44) and has foretold the destruction of the temple (21:5-6) and Jerusalem (21:20-24)-but his purpose was to save rather than to curse.  His death provides salvation to all who avail themselves of his mercy, and thus provides the answer to his prayer (E.E. Ellis).


"Dividing his garments among them, they cast lots" (v. 34b). This is an allusion to Psalm 22:18, which says, "they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots."

  • Is this the fine robe that the soldiers mockingly placed on Jesus (v. 11)? Probably not, but we don't know.

Stripping a prisoner of his clothing degrades him-emphasizes the totality of his shame before a public audience.

  • For these soldiers, it is another day, another dollar-business as usual-just another dirty job! It is, in fact, a day that will change the world, but the soldiers miss its import completely. Once they hoist a cross into place, they face a long, boring wait. Casting lots to see who will win Jesus' clothing creates a momentary diversion.
  • Earlier, a woman with a hemorrhage touched the fringe of Jesus' clothing and, in that instant, received healing. Where the woman saw power, however, the soldiers now see only a pile of dirty clothing worth, at best, a few coins. How often we focus on trivial things and miss the great things happening around us!
  • It is worth noting that other soldiers relate quite differently to Jesus in this Gospel. In chapter 7, the centurion's faith exceeded anything that Jesus has found in Israel. At the conclusion of the crucifixion, another centurion will praise God and proclaim, "Certainly, this man was innocent" (v. 47).
  • Three groups taunt Jesus (vv. 35-39). "The rulers with them also scoffed (exemukterizon) at him....  The soldiers also mocked (enepaixan) him.... One of the criminals who was hanged insulted (eblasphemei) him."

            In each case, their ridicule is tied to a salvation motif based on Jesus' messiahship.  If Jesus is messiah, his mission is salvation (1:69; 2:11, 30). How can he save the people if he cannot even save himself? The ironies, of course, are that:

  • The salvation for which they are clamoring is temporal; the salvation Jesus is effecting is eternal.
  • The cross is the place where Jesus brings salvation into being.
  • If he were to save himself, he would abort that salvation ministry.
  • He prays for the salvation of those who are taunting him.
  • He saves the repentant criminal.
  • The three taunts echo the earlier three temptations of Jesus (4:1-13). The devil said:
  • "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (4:3).
  • "If you therefore will worship before me, it will all be yours" (4:7).
  • "If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down from here" (4:9).


Now the leaders say, "Let him save himself, if this is the Christ of God, his chosen one!" (v. 35). The soldiers say, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (v. 37). The criminal says, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!" (v. 39).

  • Each of these six challenges tempts Jesus to prove his messiahship. In each, Jesus is tempted to use his power for selfish purposes instead of servant purposes. In each, he holds fast to his mission and thereby defeats the tempter.
  • We, too, are tempted to question Jesus' kingship. If Jesus is king, why does he permit evil? Oscar Cullmann in Christ and Time suggests that Christ's Incarnation was like the Normandy invasion that set in motion forces that would lead to victory more than a year later. In the interim many battles would be fought and many soldiers would die. We, like the soldiers who lived in that interim, are living in the interim between the cross and Jesus' final victory. We should not expect life to be easy (Holladay).
  • One of my professors compared Jesus' victory over evil to the mortal wounding of a snake. The wound has sealed the snake's fate, but the snake is still dangerous. Even though fatally wounded, it can still strike with deadly force. Jesus has mortally wounded Satan, but we should not imagine that Satan is powerless. We have only to read our newspaper to learn Satan's still deadly power.
  • When the leaders scoffingly refer to Jesus as God's "chosen one" (Greek: eklektos), they echo the language of Isaiah 42:1, "my chosen in whom my soul delights." God also said at the Transfiguration, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (9:35). When the leaders refer to Jesus as God's chosen one, they confess more than they intend.


"The soldiers also mocked him, coming to him and offering him vinegar, and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself" (vv. 36-37-see also Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:36; John 19:29-30). In Psalm 69:21, the psalmist speaks of being fed poison for food and vinegar for drink-a sign of their contempt.  While some have suggested that these soldiers offered Jesus cheap vinegary wine as a sedative, the context makes it clear that their purpose was mockery, not mercy.


"An inscription was also written over him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: 'THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS'" (v. 38). Such inscriptions are customary. By informing passersby of the nature of the criminal's crime, Rome hopes to deter future crimes. While the inscription is intended as a statement of condemnation, it ironically states Jesus' true identity.

       What happens to Jesus on the cross fulfills several prophecies:

  • "All those who see me mock me. They insult me with their lips. They shake their heads" (Psalm 22:7).
  • "They divide my garments among them. They cast lots for my clothing" (Psalm 22:18).
  • "They also gave me gall for my food. In my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21).



39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" 40 But the other responded, and rebuking him, said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our crimes; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42 And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!" 43 And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

"If you are the Christ, save yourself and us! (v. 39b). "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v. 42). Both criminals ask to be saved:

  • The first does so out of unbelief (v. 39), but the second does so out of faith (v. 42):
  • The first acknowledges no wrong and criticizes Jesus. The second acknowledges his guilt and Jesus' innocence.
  • The first wants only to be freed from his cross so that he can resume life as he has known it. The second asks for Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom-a far more significant vision of salvation.
  • The first received nothing, but the second received all that he asked.


"this man has done nothing wrong" (v. 41b). This is one of the several testimonies to Jesus' innocence. Luke tells of similar testimony from Pilate (23:4, 14, 22) and Herod (23:15). At the conclusion of the crucifixion, the centurion in charge will testify, "Certainly this man was innocent" (23:47).


"Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v. 42). This is a remarkable statement considering the circumstances. This second criminal recognizes that Jesus' crucifixion is not going to compromise what Jesus has come to do. The criminal doesn't expect Jesus to save him from crucifixion, but he nevertheless anticipates that Jesus is due to inherit a kingdom, the precise nature of which he does not specify and presumably does not understand. In the next verse, Jesus will call his kingdom "Paradise," but that goes far beyond what this criminal understands in this verse. The criminal's appeal is that, when Jesus comes into his kingdom, he should remember this one who was crucified with him.


"Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (v. 43). Jesus, as a king, has the power of pardon, and exercises it here.  As so often in Luke's Gospel, he shows concern for the poor, women, children, the outcast, and the Gentile (4:31-37; 5:12-32; 6:6-11, 20-26; 7:1-17, 36-50; 8:1-3, 26-56, etc.).

  • Does Jesus mean that today he is initiating a salvation that will become effective in the general resurrection-or does he mean that the criminal will wake up in heaven today? By "today" does he mean before sunset (the close of day in Israel)-or within 24 hours-or something broader?
  • We know that Jesus will spend the next three days in the tomb or in "the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9), so it would not seem possible for him to meet the criminal in Paradise within the next 24 hours. We know only that this is a promise of salvation and that some sort of immediacy is involved.



44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the entire land until the ninth hour, 45  because the sun stopped shining; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, "Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I ENTRUST MY SPIRIT." And having said this, He died.

"It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two" (vv. 44-45). Perhaps the darkness is a sign that the powers of darkness were being allowed to prevail for the moment. Perhaps it is a sign of God's grief for a faithful son. Perhaps it is a warning to the people of Jerusalem.

  • The temple curtain separates people from the Holy of Holies, the dwelling place of God. Only the High Priest has access to the Holy of Holies, and he only once a year. The torn curtain symbolizes our free access to God as a result of Jesus' sacrifice (see Hebrews 10:20; Ephesians 2:14-15).

"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (v. 46-quoting from Psalm 31:5). Jesus' final words in this Gospel are very different from those in Matthew and Mark where he asks why God has forsaken him.

POSTSCRIPT-JESUS' DEATH AND BURIAL:  Verses 44-56 tell the stories of Jesus' death (vv. 44-49) and of Joseph of Arimathaea, a Council member who was "a good and righteous man" who had not consented to killing Jesus (vv. 50-56). Joseph went to Pilate, asking for Jesus' body, and upon receiving it, laid Jesus "in a tomb that was cut in stone where no one had ever been laid" (v. 53). Women who had come from Galilee followed along, observed, Jesus' burial, prepared spices and ointments to anoint Jesus' body, and observed the Sabbath, which followed immediately upon the heels of Jesus' death and burial.


Extra Commentary on Luke 23:33-43

Luke 23:33-43 challenges us to expand our notions of who deserves mercy. The passage is structured around three instances of mockery leveled against Jesus (verses 35, 36, 39). Stating only that Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals (verse 33), Luke's narration does not dwell on the mechanics of crucifixion. Luke's audience would have been aware of its horrific details. Nevertheless, the mockeries communicate how dismal things have become for Jesus. These taunts get closer and closer to him, giving the reader a sense that the forces against Jesus are closing in on him. The Jewish leaders are close enough for Jesus to hear them; the soldiers, who had already taken his garments (verse 34b), come up to Jesus as they mock him; and the final act of derision comes from someone right next to Jesus.

Each of these taunts challenges Jesus to save himself as a demonstration of his identity. In their calls for Jesus to demonstrate his power to save, the leaders, the soldiers, and the criminal address him with titles that from their perspective add to the ridicule but represent valid affirmations of Jesus' identity for Luke and his readers ("Messiah of God," Luke 23:35, 39; "chosen one," verse 35 "King of the Jews," verses 37, 38). They ironically pronounce Christian truths about Jesus without realizing it, unable to see that Jesus' identity as "Messiah," "chosen one," and "King" is inextricably linked to his crucifixion. The salvation Jesus offers takes place through the cross, not apart from it.

The taunting Jesus receives from the criminal offends the other criminal crucified with Jesus. This second criminal accepts that they are "condemned justly" and deserve their punishment, whereas Jesus "has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). How he knows that Jesus is innocent is not indicated, but his statement continues Luke's emphasis on Jesus' innocence (23:4, 14-15, 22, 47). Nor is it stated what the criminals had done.

Instead, Luke focuses on how these criminals position themselves before Jesus while in their guilty state. The first criminal joins the others in spurning Jesus and demands that Jesus save them all from being crucified (Luke 23:39). Luke presents this criminal's actions as a serious affront against Jesus, using blasphemeo to narrate his act of deriding Jesus (literally he "kept blaspheming" Jesus). The second criminal also asks something of Jesus, but his earnest request contrasts the first criminal's selfish, impertinent demand. While others in the scene use titles to mock Jesus, showing they do not really believe Jesus to be Messiah and King, this second criminal accepts in utter sincerity the inscription's identification of Jesus as "King" (verse 38), asking that he be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom (verse 42; see also Psalm 106:4-5). He speaks to Jesus in a startlingly personal and intimate fashion, addressing Jesus directly by name and not with a sarcastic use of a title.

In response, Jesus grants him salvation. Jesus' words in Luke 23:43 begin with an "Amen" saying (literally "Amen to you I say") that introduces his "today" pronouncement with a solemn assertiveness. Placed for emphasis immediately after the "Amen" saying is the word "today" (semeron), which appears at key points in Luke's Gospel to describe the arrival of Jesus' salvation in the world (2:11; 4:21; 19:9). Its last occurrence in Luke occurs here, at the cross from which Jesus' salvation becomes a reality to this criminal and a possibility to any of "the lost" (see also 19:10). Luke adopts the term "paradise" (paradeisos) from the Jewish literature of this period; it signifies the realm of eternal bliss in God's presence where righteous persons go after death.2 Jesus finds this criminal worthy of being in God's presence with all the righteous (including Jesus himself), despite the fact that by the Roman state and by his own admission he had been "justly" considered worthy of condemnation.

Granted he did not have as much time, but the second criminal did less than Kelly Gissendaner to receive such abundant mercy from Jesus. He acknowledged his own guilt and Jesus' innocence and made a sincere request that Jesus remember him, but this does not necessarily represent an obvious plea for forgiveness or a full-scale repentance on his part.3 Regardless, Jesus uses his power as "King" to dispense mercy in a boundlessly gracious fashion that far exceeds what is asked of him. As the Church Father Ambrose put it, "More abundant is the favor shown than the request made."4

Luke's crucifixion scene shows the wide scope of Jesus' offer of salvation. Whatever evil or crime one has done is no barrier for acceptance into Jesus' kingdom. Jesus offers direct access to salvation to persons worthy of the most extreme punishment for their sins. Even those carrying out the crucifixion and the mockeries can be forgiven by Jesus (Luke 23:34a).5 And though he responds to the second criminal's request, Jesus ignores the calls to save himself, because it is through the cross that he comes into his kingdom, where those deemed unrighteous may share in the salvation of the righteous. His reign is not a death-dealing system intent on punishment, but a "paradise" that "today" extends even to those whom we do not think deserve it.