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Here is Luke's record of the final trials of Jesus before Pilate (Luke 23:1-7), before Herod (Luke 23:8-12), and before Pilate again (Luke 23:13-25), Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross, the prophecy to the daughters of Jerusalem, and the crucifixion of the malefactors (Luke 23:26-32), the crucifixion of our Lord, three sayings from the cross, the inscription, and the death of Jesus (Luke 23:33-49), and the entombment (Luke 23:50-56).
Pilate was the fifth procurator of Judea, holding office from 28-36 A.D. In view of all that is known of this evil ruler from the writings of Philo, and from the New Testament itself, it is incredible that one would say that "There is not enough information about him to make a valid judgment of the kind of man he was"! F1 Luke recorded that Jesus himself mentioned Pilate's mingling the blood of Galilaean worshipers with the blood of their sacrifices in the temple itself (Luke 13:15); and what is in this chapter alone provides ample information upon which to form a definitive judgment regarding what kind of man Pilate was.
The Sanhedrin had just concluded the formal daylight trial at which they had condemned Jesus to death; but since they were prohibited by the Romans from the execution of such a sentence (John 18:31), they were compelled to pursue their objective in the court of the pagan governor.
There was no mention by those hypocrites of the true reason for their condemnation of Jesus, which was this, that he claimed to be the divine Messiah, the Son of God. Concerning the triple allegations in this verse, Barclay accurately said:
They charged Jesus: (a) with seditious agitation; (b) with encouraging men not to pay tribute to Caesar; and (c) with assuming the title king. Every single item of the charge was a lie, and they knew it. F2
Luke's record, like all of the Gospels, omits some things found in the others and includes some things not found in the others, the only proper understanding of such records being found in the composite record of all four Gospels.
As Spence noted, the very first thing Pilate did was to attempt an avoidance of condemning Jesus, or even judging him at all.
"Take ye him, and judge him according to your law" (John 18:31); to which the Sanhedrinists replied that they were not allowed to put any man to death ... revealing their deadly purpose in the case of Jesus. F3
Some have understood this verse as indicating Pilate's willingness to accept the third charge against Jesus (that he laid claim to being a secular king), that being the reason for the question here; but that simply cannot be true. As Ash observed: "Pilate knew the Jews would follow a king, not deliver him up." F4 Thus, the third charge was as clearly false in Pilate's understanding of it, as were the others. If Jesus had been what the Sanhedrin said he was, a claimant of secular kingship, they would have followed and supported him unto death. In fact, some of those very hypocrites had spent an entire day trying to get Jesus to be the quartermaster of a secular army against Rome (see in John 6). Thus Pilate's pinpointing the third charge had no reference to his being taken in by such a lie, but rather shows his astonishment at it.
Thou sayest ...
This has been interpreted as noncommittal, a denial, and as an affirmation of Jesus' kingship, the latter being the true meaning. From John, it is learned that the Lord explained thoroughly to Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. There is no evidence at all that Pilate ever doubted Jesus' word on this. See under Luke 23:38. This is proved by Pilate's immediate announcement of Jesus' innocence.
This is another effort of Pilate to avoid condemning Jesus, there having been at least seven of these in all. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:13-24. This was the point at which Pilate should have dismissed the charges, called out the soldiers in the tower of Antonio, and dismissed the mob; but in the meantime he had a brilliant idea, prompted by what the Sanhedrinists next said. See under Luke 23:5.
Stirreth up the people ...
had, in context, connotations of sedition and was as false as all the other charges. Again and again, Jesus had carefully avoided arousing any inordinate enthusiasm of the people.
That was the word that caught Pilate's attention, giving him what he hoped would be a means of avoiding responsibility.
Tinsley, after observing that this incident appears only in Luke, said, "Some scholars have doubted whether this trial before Herod ever took place. F5 It may be assumed that Tinsley is among that group of scholars. However, such opinions lose their force when it is recalled that "some scholars" deny God; some scholars deny the New Testament; some scholars deny the supernatural; some scholars deny the existence of angels, or prophecy, or the resurrection of the dead, or any such things as heaven and hell or the final judgment. The sheep of God, however, know their Shepherd's voice. Every word in the sacred Gospels is historical truth.
Pilate's maneuver here, in sending the Lord to Herod, was a skillful political ploy, resulting in a reconciliation between these contemporary Roman subalterns (see under Luke 23:12).
Luke alone recorded the "friendly" warning of the Pharisees to Jesus that "Herod would fain kill thee" (Luke 13:31); and it was fully in keeping with Luke's thoroughness and dependability as a historian that he should have included this incident, proving, absolutely, that the Pharisees who thus addressed Jesus were lying. Herod indeed wanted to see Jesus, but it was from curiosity, not from intent to murder. As Frank L. Cox commented: "The frivolous Herod, looking upon Jesus as a juggler or magician, was eager for him to satisfy his vulgar curiosity." F6
The false charges of the Jewish leaders were so obviously impossible of being true that the Lord did not need to say anything: and, in addition to that, the known character of Herod was such that it would have been an unnecessary waste on the part of Jesus to have honored any of his questions with a reply.
Herod's conduct in this episode suggests what many in all ages have done with regard to Jesus; they have set him at naught. Herod, in the false security afforded by his palatial residence, his bodyguard of soldiers, his wealth and human eminence, saw nothing in the lowly Jesus that he should either honor or respect; but ironically, that evil man's place in history is due altogether to the fact that Jesus the Christ stood before him for a brief while during that eventful week. Herod, after indulging in the shameful business of the mockery, acquitted Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.
Cause of the enmity is not known, but it is commonly believed to have been Pilate's slaying of the Galilaeans mentioned in Luke 13:1-2. It was Pilate's civility and deference to Herod which healed the breach. F7
It has often been noted that old enemies often become friends when there is a common opportunity to wound the Lord in the person of his followers.
In this whole episode, Herod appears as the most contemptible. Hobbs agreed that "In all this horrible picture, no figure appears so ignominious as Herod." F8
Before leaving this unit of teaching, attention should be directed to the slander that this episode "was included as part of (Luke's) attempt to remove responsibility for the death of Jesus from the Roman authorities." F9 Not only is there no such attempt in this paragraph, nor in the whole New Testament, to do such a thing; but, on the other hand, the culpability, dastardly cowardice, unfeeling injustice, and utter incompetence of Pilate are overwhelmingly evident throughout the chapter.
THE SECOND TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
The six trials of Jesus were: before Annas, before Caiaphas, before the Sanhedrin at daybreak, before Pilate, before Herod, and again before Pilate. Some twenty pages of comment regarding these six trials are given in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 26:57ff. The trial here is the last of the six.
In the last sentence of this passage is the shameful injustice of Pontius Pilate. Having declared Jesus to be without "fault," and further announcing Herod's corroboration of such a verdict of innocence, Pilate proposed that he would "chastise him"! Translating the paragraph into the vernacular, Pilate said, "The man is absolutely innocent, and THEREFORE I will beat him half to death!" The scholars who find in this some exoneration of Pilate find what is not in it.
Luke 23:17 (the first sentence) has been removed from the text on sufficient grounds; but it is true nevertheless, being valuable as a commentary. The full teaching of this omitted verse is found in John 18:39, where its authenticity cannot be denied. Spence commented that:
As a Hebrew custom, it is never mentioned save in this place. Such a release was a common incident of a Latin Lectisternium, or feast in honor of the gods. The Greeks had a similar custom at the Thesmophoria. It was probably introduced at Jerusalem by the Roman power. F10
There is every evidence that Pilate tried to utilize such a custom in his efforts to find a way of releasing Jesus. The wicked hierarchy, however, merely stirred up the people to clamor for the release of Barabbas, a notorious robber, murderer and seditionist, as mentioned in the next verse.
This name is usually understood to be patronymic, meaning "son of father"; but Spence pointed out another possible meaning which seems to be more probable, Bar-Abbas indeed meaning "son of father," but Bar-Rabbas means "son of Rabbi." F11
The choice of Israel in their preference of this wicked criminal instead of the holy Jesus eventually came down upon the whole nation like an avalanche. See the article, "Why God Destroyed the Temple" in my Commentary on Mark, under Mark 13:2.
Summers has a very interesting comment on this, in which he pointed out that the mob took up a chant, as also indicated in Luke 23:18 in the words "all together." He said:
Transliterated into English-character syllables it is:
[Greek: Stau-rou], [stau-rou-ton]! [Greek: Stau-rou], [stau-rou-ton]!
Even in English words, the cadence of a chant is present:
Cru-ci-fy, cru-ci-fy-him! Cru-ci-fy, cru-ci-fy-him!
That was the most dreadful "one-two - one-two-three-four" beat ever to sound in the ears of men. F12
One can only stand in amazement at the cowardice and injustice of a weakling governor who had the legions of the Roman army under his command, but who nevertheless yielded to a mob's rape of justice by any such device as this.
Far from Luke's attempting to exonerate Pilate, he omitted a number of efforts on the part of the pagan governor to release Jesus. Here is a list of the efforts Pilate made to release the Lord:
PILATE'S EFFORTS TO AVOID CONDEMNING JESUS
In view of the above, there can be no justification for the notion that Luke in any manner colored his narrative to improve the image of Pilate. As a matter of fact, Pilate's image appears starkly ugly enough in the chapter before us.
And their voices prevailed ...
Prevailed over what? Over a cowardly governor who, with an army at his back, allowed himself to be bullied by the evil priests. Pilate signed the death warrant of a man he had repeatedly declared to be innocent; and, if there is anything worse than this that a governor might be guilty of, it is surely unknown to this writer.
There was no extenuation for such a crime on Pilate's part, his knowledge of Jesus' innocence, as proved by his repeated efforts to release him, only aggravating his guilt, not diminishing it. As Luke said, "He gave sentence ... Jesus he delivered up," the same being the Crime of the Ages, nor does Luke's record soften or excuse it in any manner whatsoever.
SIMON OF CYRENE
Most commentators identify this Simon as the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21) and with Rufus and his mother (Romans 16:13). The inference is that Simon became a Christian, that his sons Alexander and Rufus were distinguished members of the church in Rome, and that Simon's widow (?), the mother of Rufus (Romans 16:13), was a close friend and associate of the apostle Paul. Although incapable of being proved, such assumptions are quite reasonable.
"This was a principal city of northern Africa, between Carthage and Egypt, corresponding with modern Tripoli." F13 "The Jews formed one of the four recognized classes in the city ... it was represented in the Pentecost crowd (Acts 2:10) and evidently had its own (or shared) synagogue in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). F14
Coming in from the country ...
Summers thought that Simon might have been "traveling to Jerusalem for Passover and arriving late." F15 However, the Passover was held that night, not the night before (John 18:28). This is another example of numerous New Testament verses which have been misinterpreted due to the Friday crucifixion tradition.
JESUS' PROPHECY TO THE DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM
"The warm feeling with which all classes of women regarded Jesus is especially marked in this `the Gospel of womanhood'." F16
Daughters of Jerusalem ...
indicates that the vast majority of these were residents of that city; and significantly, Jesus thought more about the woe which was coming upon the Holy City than of his own terrible sufferings. Such selflessness was never known except in Jesus.
Blessed are the barren ...
As Spence said, "This is a strange beatitude to be spoken to the women of Israel, who through all their checkered history, so passionately longed that THIS BARRENNESS might not be their portion." F17
The green tree ... the dry ...
This proverbial expression has been variously interpreted; but it would appear that Farrar's explanation is correct: "If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and the false?" F18 There is here a dramatic prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, in which women especially would be deprived and suffer tribulations.
The green tree represents the innocent and holy Saviour in the spirituality and vigor of his life; the dry tree represents the morally dead and sapless people, typified by the fig tree, blasted by his word, four days earlier. F19
Thus, by this prophecy, as Jesus left the city for the last time, he prophesied its doom no less than he did upon entering it (Luke 19:41f). Not even the prospect of immediate death took the Saviour's mind away from the awful penalities that would fall upon Jerusalem for his rejection. The fires of suffering consuming Jesus (the green tree) would be nothing to compare with the fires of destruction that would burn up the dead tree (Jerusalem, judicially and morally dead).
This was Pilate's doing, and was probably designed as an insult to the Jews who would not have been favorable to such executions in such proximity to their great Passover (that night); but God overruled this vengeful deed of the governor in the fulfillment of prophecy. "He was numbered with the transgressors," and "he made his grave with the wicked" (Isaiah 53:12,9).
None of the Gospel writers dwelt upon the horrors of the terrible death; and perhaps their restraint should be a caution to all people. The crucifixion of the Christ had been prophesied the better part of a millenium before it occurred, in Psa. 22, at a point in history when such a means of execution had never been invented. Long ago, such a torturing death was outlawed by the conscience of all mankind, tenuous and imperfect as such a conscience is.
Father, forgive them, etc. ...
This was the first of the seven utterances of Jesus from the cross; and it has the utility of indicating two centers of forgiveness, one on the earth, the other in heaven. It may not be supposed that Jesus' prayer for the forgiveness of the soldiers who crucified him implied their immediate forgiveness in heaven. Jesus, AS A MAN, forgave them; but the matter of their eternal forgiveness was still contingent upon their faith and acceptance of the terms of the Christian gospel. See full discussion of this under "The Seven Words from the Cross," in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:66.
And parting his garments among them, they cast lots ...
As Barclay noted:
Every Jew wore five articles of apparel: the inner tunic, the outer robe, the girdle, the sandals, and the turban. There remained the great outer robe. It was woven in one piece (John 19:23,24). To cut it would have ruined it; and so the soldiers gambled for it. F20
For further discussion of this action of the soldiers in fulfillment of prophecy, and regarding the garments of Jesus, see in my Commentary on John, under John 19:24. The prophecy fulfilled was Psa. 22:18.
What the rulers meant by this was evil, and it was also untrue in the sense in which they meant it. Jesus could indeed have saved himself by coming down from the cross, because he did a far more wonderful thing three days later by coming out of the grave. However, it was not possible for Christ thus to save himself (by coming down from the cross) without aborting his mission of human redemption; and in this spiritual sense, what the evil rulers said was true: "He saved others" but was unable to "save himself."
Such taunting mockery seems nearly incredible in the mouths of the rulers of Israel. How deep was their hatred, how blind their perception, how unfeeling their hearts, and how wicked were their purposes that they should thus have joined in such a mockery of the world's only Saviour!
Spence observed that there were three instances of vinegar being offered to Jesus, as follows:
(1) There was a draught prepared with narcotics and stupefying drugs (Matthew 27:34), which Jesus refused. (2) The one here mentioned in Luke...was one of the tortures of the crucifixion, (the soldiers) lifting sour wine to his lips and then whisking it rapidly away. (3) The third was when the Lord was almost exhausted (John 19:28-30), ... the soldiers possibly acting in this case out of compassion.
There is no indication that Jesus accepted any wine while on the cross, out of respect to the vow in Luke 22:18 and parallels.
Harrison said that "The full inscription was probably: THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS." F21 Of course, this is most certainly correct, being a composite of what all four of the sacred Gospels have recorded. For a fuller discussion of this, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:37.
The notion that Pilate believed, even in the slightest degree, that Christ was a claimant of Caesar's throne, is rejected, absolutely. As Geldenhuys succinctly expressed it:
We know that Pilate was thoroughly conscious of the fact that Jesus laid no claim to kingship (in an earthly sense); and it is certain that by means of this superscription he revenged himself on the Jews and was not mocking Jesus. F22
However, the inscription, intended by its author as a sadistic joke on the Sanhedrin, was another instance of the wrath of man praising God; because it was highest truth that Jesus of Nazareth was King of the Jews, the only rightful king they ever had, even the ancient monarchy being contrary to God's will (1 Samuel 8:6-9).
At first, both criminals reproached Jesus (Matthew 27:44); and Luke's mention of what one of the two said is not a denial of that; and quite likely the one referred to here was the more vehement of the two; because, as Luke would relate in a moment, the other wrongdoer turned to the Lord and received forgiveness.
This priceless episode, peculiar to Luke, has marvelously enriched the Christian Gospel. The penitent malefactor, despite the fact of having indulged in the reproaches against Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion, as the day had progressed, became more and more aware of the suffering Saviour at his side; and later, when the impenitent malefactor took up his mocking reproach again, this repentant thief rebuked him, confessing at the same time that the awful punishment he was receiving was no more than he deserved. One corollary of the soul's awareness of God's presence is the accompanying recognition of one's own unworthiness; and upon this premise, it is safe to conclude that the penitent thief had recognized God himself in the person of Jesus Christ the Lord. Such a conclusion appears mandatory in view of the awful punishment being endured and the wrongdoer's confession that he deserved it. Such an evaluation of sin and its consequences is impossible except through an awareness of God's presence.
In some of the old versions, the thief is quoted as saying, "Lord, remember me, etc."; and, although this address has been removed upon sufficient textual evidence, the full idea is nevertheless in the passage (see under preceding verse).
This is the second of the Seven Words spoken by Jesus from the cross; and for extended comments on this and all of them, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 25:66.
Ash noted that "In some elements of first-century Judaism, (this word) described the heavenly abode of the soul between death and the resurrection." F23 Without much doubt, this is the meaning here. After Jesus rose from the dead, he stated that he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17); therefore, Paradise is not identified as the final abode of the blessed. It is the same as "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:11).
These verses introduce two of the Calvary miracles, of which there are seven; and they are important enough to warrant extensive treatment, which will be found in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:51, where thirteen pages are devoted to "Phenomena Accompanying the Crucifixion and Resurrection." These great wonders were "signs" in the supernatural sense, attesting the godhead of Jesus Christ. No rationalistic explanation of these occurrences is possible. For example:
"Probably Mark's version was intended to imply an eclipse, but Luke makes this explanation explicit." F24 Gilmour here relied upon a false reading of the sacred text. The Greek says, "the sun's light failing" (English Revised Version (1885) margin), Besides that, no eclipse ever lasted any longer than about an hour; and also it was the full moon! One may not suppose that the learned physician Luke was ignorant of so basic a fact as this, or that he intended here to assert an impossibility such as an eclipse of the sun at Passover! It is not LUKE'S ignorance which shines in an attempted rationalization such as this! It is Gilmour's.
Another example: "Matthew also points out that the earth quaked, which may have caused the rent veil"! F25 Indeed, Indeed! Was there ever on this earth a shaking that could tear even a piece of cloth in two? Furthermore, the temple was not shaken at all in that earthquake mentioned by Matthew; and, in addition, the veil was rent squarely in two parts "from the top to the bottom," not from the bottom upward, a phenomenon that was witnessed by the entire company of temple priests, and which probably accounts for the conversion of so many of them (Acts 6:7).
This was the final of the Seven Words from the cross. See under Luke 23:43. The three utterances given by Luke are omitted in the other Gospels, just as Luke omitted the utterances they included. All seven of these utterances of Jesus are authentic, historical words truly spoken by the world's Saviour while upon the cross. Such a conceit as that of Gilmour, who said that "Luke substitutes an apt quotation from Psa. 31:5 for the one (by Mark) from Psa. 22:1," F26 is a travesty on Biblical exegesis. Luke gave a saying that Mark did not record; and Mark gave one that Luke did not record, both being absolutely genuine.
He gave up the ghost ...
The loud voice just mentioned was significant. "The loud voice shows that Jesus did not die of exhaustion." F27 If death had come from exhaustion, his vocal chords would not have functioned at all. Jesus' death was conscious and voluntary, fulfilling his prophecy recorded in John 10:17,18.
Luke here added another quotation from the centurion who had charge of the crucifixion. Quibbles which have been raised regarding these words and others from the parallels are refuted by a careful examination of what the holy records have recorded.
Now the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things which were done, feared exceedingly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. - Matt. 27:54.
And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. - Mark 15:39.
From Matthew's account it is clear that the words, "Truly this was the Son of God," were not spoken by the centurion only, "they that were with him" also being subjects of the verb "saying." Thus there were multiple speakers, and this necessarily means that there were multiple sayings also. The most astounding physical wonders ever known on earth were occurring. The miracles of the loud voice (and it was that) was precisely the act that prompted the centurion's utterance that "Truly this man was the Son of God," as plainly stated in Mark's account. Note that it was when the centurion saw that Jesus so gave up the ghost, that he recognized Jesus as the divine Son of God.
As Dr. Lloyd Bridges, a Central Church of Christ minister, Houston, Texas, said in a sermon:
The Greek New Testament has no article in the title the centurion gave Jesus, being simply SON OF GOD. It is wrong to translate this "a Son of God," the true meaning being "the Son of God." There is only one Son of God!
Luke here stated that the centurion "glorified God." How? By confessing that Jesus is the Son of God! In the further quote given by Luke that the centurion said, "Certainly this was a righteous man," is there any denial that he also said, "Truly this man was the Son of God"? Indeed there is not. There is no way to deny, either honestly or intelligently, that the situation points to MANY EXCLAMATIONS having been uttered on that awesome occasion, not merely by the centurion but also by the men who were with him. The fact of the sacred Gospels having written down only two remarks that were made cannot be made to read that these were all of the remarks uttered. Likewise, Luke's having given one remark, and Matthew and Mark another, is incapable of denying that both are genuine.
Some have attempted to scale down the impact of "the Son of God" by rendering the words, "a son of God"; but the English Revised Version (1885) is correct in the rendition, "the Son of God." C. E. B. Cranfield, a renowned scholar, declared unequivocally that "The Greek text does not at all necessitate the rendering, `a son'." F28 It is not, therefore, the Greek text, but skepticism, that motivates the changing of these words.
Certainly this was a righteous man ...
Matthew Henry's reasoning on this statement is thus:
The centurion who commanded the guard ... This testimony amounts to the same as "Truly this man was the Son of God"; for if Jesus was a righteous man, he said very truly when he said he was the Son of God; and therefore that testimony of Jesus concerning himself must be admitted; for, if it were false, he was not a righteous man. F29
This verse corroborates all that Matthew recorded with regard to the earthquake, the opening of the Calvary graves, the darkness over the whole earth, etc.
All his acquaintance ...
is a reference to the multitudes from all over Palestine, and to the numbers of them who were personally acquainted with Jesus through having seen his mighty deeds and heard his discourses. Only malice can read this as a reference to "the apostles," and then allege that Luke contradicted Mark who said that they all "forsook him and fled" (Mark 14:50).
THE BURIAL OF JESUS
See my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:57 for a discussion of the honorable councillor Joseph, his secret discipleship, and the motivation that might have inspired his conduct here. All of the Gospels contain an account of Joseph of Arimathaea and his supplying the tomb in which Jesus was buried. This quadruple testimony emphasizes the importance attached to this event. See my Commentary on Matthew under Matthew 27:57, and my Commentary on Mark under Mark 14:42, and my Commentary on John, under John 19:38, for additional comments on this subject.
It appears from the parallels that the verdict pronounced by the Sanhedrin at daybreak had been unanimous; and from this it is supposed that neither Nicodemus nor Joseph had been invited to the meeting, or that, if invited, they had refused to attend, knowing the certain outcome of it and being unwilling to consent to such a judicial murder.
This place was identified by Eusebius and Jerome with Ramah, the birthplace of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:19); but the exact location of it is not known. F30
Went to Pilate ... asked for the body ...
This was a courageous thing to do; but, as ever, when some great crisis occurred, God raised up a Joseph to meet it. So it was during the famine in Egypt; so it was when Jesus was an infant; and so it was here.
Rather extensive studies were completed and presented in the Gospel of John (see my Commentary on John) regarding "The Two Graves of Jesus," a description of the tomb in which Jesus was buried (that of Joseph of Arimathaea), and "Concerning the Cloths" in which the body was wrapped. See in my Commentary on John, under John 19:40 and John 19:41. Also, regarding the "Undisturbed Grave Clothes of Jesus," see in my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 27:52, and in my Commentary on John under John 20:5.
Where never man had yet lain ...
The Old Testament miracle of a man's having been raised from the dead by his body's being thrust into contact with the bones of a prophet (2 Kings 13:21) might have given the enemies of the Gospel the idea of attributing the resurrection of Christ to some similar thing; but Providence countermanded any such conceit by causing the burial of Jesus in a virgin tomb.
The sabbath drew on ...
This was not the ordinary sabbath (which came every Saturday), but the special "high day" (John 19:31) sabbath marking every 15th of Nisan (which could come on any day of the week); and this verse says that THAT sabbath "drew on," meaning that it would begin at sunset, after which the solemn Passover meal would be observed, the following twenty-four hours being, by God's special commandment, also called "a holy convocation" upon which "no servile work" could be done, and having full status as a holy sabbath. See Lev. 23:7,8; Num. 28:18,25, and Exo. 12:16. Since this sabbath was tied to the 15th of Nisan, it could fall on any day of the week; and, in the year 30 A.D., it fell upon Friday, which by Jewish reckoning began at sunset (about the time Jesus was buried) on Thursday, the day he died. See full discussion of this in my Commentary on Mark, under Mark 15:42. That this solemn Passover meal was actually eaten AFTER Jesus was dead and buried appears from John 18:28.
It is good that Luke recorded this, because it refutes the lie that on the morning of the resurrection perhaps the women went to the wrong grave! No more dependable group of witnesses could be imagined than a multitude of women, all of whom saw the grave and observed the manner in which the body was buried.
This is not a denial that Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus might also have made such preparations for anointing the body, a tender act of love that could not be rendered because of the sudden onset of the holy Passover and its special high sabbath. Significantly, by the falling of that high day upon a Friday (beginning Thursday at sunset), there were back-to-back sabbaths, Friday and Saturday, a truth witnessed in the Greek text of Matt. 28:1 which speaks of "the end of the sabbaths (plural)" and says that the first day of the week came toward the "end of one of the sabbaths," after which the events of the resurrection began to unfold. Every Greek student on earth knows of this reference (twice) to plural sabbaths, that is, back-to-back sabbaths, in Matt. 28:1; but despite this, out of deference to the Friday crucifixion theory, it is still translated "the sabbath" even in the version before us. The word of God is true.
Considering the lapse of three nights and two whole days BEFORE the anointing of the body of Jesus, or the wrapping in spices, could begin, due to double sabbaths, it is not hard to understand why those who intended thus to minister to a dead body would have been about their business "very early" on the first day of the week (Mark 16:2). As God would have it, however, no ministration whatever was required for the body of our Lord, other than that which is mentioned in these verses. He rose from the dead even before the women arrived to anoint him.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.