Who Is This Man On The Cross?
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The messianic language of Matthew’s Gospel, with its 53 direct Old Testament quotes and 76 other references, oriented our focus towards Jesus, as the eternal heavenly King that the Jews expected. The challenge to these claims intensified when the narrative moved into the Passion week: first, Caiaphas, the high priest confronted Jesus after His arrest on His divinity (Matt 26: 57-68), then Pilate questioned His title as King of the Jews, and lastly, the Roman Praetorium guards mocked Him (Matt 27:27-30). These vituperations continued at Golgotha: insults, ridicules, and taunts from passersby, the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and the robbers (Matt 27:39-44). The impossible irony was for Jesus to save Himself if He was truly Divine, by coming off the cross. But it was this very sacrifice for His enemies that made their salvation and reconciliation with His Father possible (c.f., Isaiah 53).
Without the eye of faith, the portrayal by Mark’s Gospel of Jesus as the suffering Servant-Messiah would be depressing. At every turn, the Lord seemed to be swimming against the tide alone; even His disciples misunderstood and forsook Him at critical junctures of His sojourn (c.f., Mark 7: 14-19; 8:33; Mark 9:31-32; Mark 14:66-72). Humanly speaking, hindsight becomes our best guide, due basically to our objective inability to perceive God’s prophetic pronouncements through the ages and His fulfilment of them (c.f., Mark 10:45; Mark 14:22-25). It was left to an unbiased Gentile, through a confluence of unearthly events, immediately following the death of Jesus, and without the foreknowledge of Scripture, to see through what God was doing at Calvary. The Roman Centurion at the cross, perceived this evil outcome to be the handiwork of God Himself (Mark 15:39). It was never billed as a tragedy, certainly not within the economy of the Father’s purpose. It was meant as a precursor to a victorious triumph over death, sin, and Satan as was evidenced on the third day with His incontrovertible resurrection. After all, God is in control.
The only Gentile among the New Testament writers, Dr Luke positioned his Gospel on Christ as the perfect human and Saviour. His penchant for historical detail provides us with several accounts only found in his Gospel (Luke 9:51 to Luke 18:35). Forgiveness is one of the prominent themes through his narrative (Luke 6:27-31; Luke 15:11-32; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:34, 43), even at the cross. If we are ever inspired to comprehend God’s agape through Christ and desire to willingly embrace it as a new way of life, a wisely forgiving heart brings us closest to God’s almighty lovingkindness in salvation.
John, the beloved disciple, was the only one at the cross with a few of the women who followed Jesus (John 19:25), and his Gospel highlighted Jesus as the Son of God (John 20:30-31). John’s commentary of Jesus’ last days, including His trial (sparing us the gory details), was the most comprehensive. He emphasised the miscarriage of both religious and secular justice, as the Lord Himself sought a fair trial (c.f., John 18:12-19:22; esp., verses 20-23), painting a profoundly paradoxical scenario, portraying the highest Jewish religious authority in the land, representing Yahweh to the community, and the defenders of the Law, who turned justice on its head and pled feigned loyalty to Caesar (John 19:13-16). John was probably sufficiently close to these proceedings to be able to catch what Pilate was saying. The latter was not looking for an answer in his rhetorical “What is truth?” as he immediately walked away from Jesus (John 18:38-39). The heart of man is utterly deceitful (Jer 17:9), given Pilate’s own conscience, when he sought on several occasions to have Jesus released. Not unlike Pilate, we can mentally hold our beliefs, but reticent for His Holy Spirit to have His way in our lives. The content of this truth is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).