The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus
The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus
- John Guzzetta
The last words a person utters are often of great importance. Everyone, for example, knows the last words of Julius Caesar: “Et tu, Brute?” Well, at least that’s according to William Shakespeare. More ancient sources report that Caesar said, “You too, child?”
Everyone knows the last words of Nathan Hale, the American revolutionary, before being hanged by the British in 1776. He famously and courageously declared, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Sometimes, last words express a readiness to die. Stephen in Acts 7, as He was being stoned, said, “I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This not only confirmed his testimony that Jesus was the risen Lord but indicated his longing to join Him. Sometimes, last words express a fear of death.
Queen Elizabeth, who had one of England’s most glamorous and successful reigns, died in 1603 of a long debilitating illness. Her last words: “All my possessions for a moment of time.” Such words teach us something profound about the brevity of life, and the importance of spiritual riches. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Sometimes, people resort to a little gallows humor, such as Lady Nancy Astor, who had always been known in the British Parliament as quick with a joke. She awoke briefly from unconsciousness to see her bed surrounded by loved ones. Her last words, spoken with great sarcasm: “Am I dying, or is this my birthday?” Or Conrad Hilton, of the international Hilton Hotel chain, when asked by reporters in 1979 if had any last words of wisdom for the world, said “Leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.”
Sometimes people don’t realize their last recorded words will be so ironic. Like those of Captain William J. Fettermen, a soldier defending the western frontier against Indian raids. He had little respect for the native tribes, and said, “Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the entire Sioux nation!” The bodies of him and his eighty men were found just a few days later.
I could go on with this sort of trivia. But, let me get serious. Never has the significance of one’s last words been truer than with Jesus. He spoke not just for family or friends, but for us. He spoke His last earthly words in the presence of eyewitnesses, who would go on to record the sayings in the pages of inspired Scripture, to be read and studied for all of time. Jesus, the master Teacher, intended to communicate great truths even as He painfully uttered His last words!
Christ hung on the cross for about six hours before He died. He had already gone without food and sleep the night before, in the agony of prayer, and in the shame of betrayal by Judas and arrest by the Roman soldiers. He had been questioned before six parties and found guilty based on false evidence and a shouting mob. He had been flogged unmercifully and stripped and mocked. He had been forced to carry His crossbeam through the streets of Jerusalem, until He arrived outside the city, to a foreboding place named kranius in the Greek language, calvary in the Latin—the Skull.
At nine in the morning, the nails had been driven through wrists and feet, and the slow, torturous death by crucifixion had begun. From nine until noon it was daylight. From noon until three, an eerie darkness blanketed the earth. And during this time of ultimate anguish, at the culmination of His earthly ministry, as the very son of God hung between heaven and earth, mediating between God and man, He spoke seven times from the cross—three while it was light, four while it was dark. Three about the people around Him, four about the significance of His own suffering.
His seven last statements were (perhaps in this order, as best I can figure):
• “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
• “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
• “Woman, behold your son!” and “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27).
• “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
• “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
• “Father, into Your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23:46).
• “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Why did Jesus—always in control of His faculties and words— say these particular things? To whom did He say them, and what did the words mean to them who were listening from nearby the cross? What do they mean for us today? In the next several bulletin articles, we will examine in detail the meaning of each of these seven statements.