Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross
a sermon based the gospel account of Jesus' Death
edited by Rev. Frank Schaefer
Jesus' death by crucifixion may well be one of the most agonizing forms of torture and
execution that humanity has ever devised. It was usually a long and protracted procedure,
occupying two to three days. It was not blood loss that eventually led to the death but
the victim's inability to lift his head up far enough from his chest to breathe; and
therefore he would die of suffocation. Jesus actually dies unusually quickly for a
crucified victim. Perhaps this is due to the lashes, that scourging or flogging that
Pilate had ordered the Roman soldiers to give Jesus previously in hopes that that would
satisfy the Jewish leaders. Or perhaps there is a more supernatural or voluntary element
to Jesus' death, since it appears He has the strength to still cry out with a loud voice
just before He dies. Perhaps the gospel writers want us to understand that even in the
moment of Jesus' greatest agony He is able to consciously and voluntarily lay down His
The theology of the cross, of Jesus' time on this torture stake, is also profound; and
perhaps as good a way to epitomize it as any in a short survey like this is to focus on
what has come to be known as Jesus' seven last words on the cross, actually referring not
to individual words but to the seven sayings that the gospel writers, all four of them, in
different places, record. The probable sequence of these seven words and their
significance may be as follows:
1. "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother." Jesus
turns to his mother and to the beloved disciple, the apostle John, and says, "Woman,
behold your son. Son, behold your mother"-speaking of both of them in terms
of family endearment. Even on the cross He has not forgotten those closest to Him. Many
believe that Joseph, Jesus' adopted father, may well have died by now, and therefore He is
calling upon His beloved disciple John to care for Mary, His mother.
Jesus turns to one of the thieves or criminals (better translated "rebels" or
"insurrectionists") surrounding Him on the two crosses on either side of Him,
who has cried out for remembrance when Jesus comes into His kingdom. Jesus replies, "Truly,
today you will be with me in paradise." As soon as they both die, they can
enjoy the presence of God the Father in eternal bliss. We must not forget how
controversial "death-bed" conversions have been regarded in the history of
Christianity--perhaps most notably the death-bed baptism of emperor Constantine. Even
while hanging on the cross, Jesus reaches out in an incredible show of grace and love to a
3. "I thirst." Jesus cries out, "I
thirst." And yet He refuses to drink what was either a painkiller or a
poison, anything that would relieve His suffering or speed up the process of His death.
And so His statement, "I thirst," is probably not merely a statement of human
anguish but also one of spiritual anguish following His acknowledgment of separation from
4. "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" Jesus
cries out, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?"
Although theologians wrestle with all of the implications of what it means to bear the
sins of the world, this one thing is clear: that Jesus felt some awareness of now being
separated from His heavenly Father. The consciousness of oneness and intimacy that He had
enjoyed throughout His life was broken. What a dark moment this must have been for the One
that was without sin, always in perfect harmony with the heavenly Father. One must
wonder if the mental and spiritual agony Jesus expressed with these words were not more
torturous than the physical pain.
5. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."
-- The first words that are recorded from Jesus on the cross show that even in this
situation of great agony He is prepared to forgive His accusers, His torturers, His
enemies, as He cries out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they
are doing." Jesus exhibits under the most extreme and difficult
circumstances his own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount calling his followers to love
6. "It is finished" Jesus cries out, "It is
finished"-certainly referring to his life on earth, his ministry,
his calling, his incarnate humanity, but perhaps we are meant to see also that
the whole plan of salvation history has now been
accomplished and established for all generations.
7. "Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit." Lastly, Jesus
says, remarkably, with that well-known Jewish prayer of children, child-like trust in the
Father whom He no longer feels is present: "Father, into Thy hands I commit
my spirit." Perhaps this was the most pristine expression of Jesus' own
faith. Faith when the going gets extremely rough; faith in God when God's presence
is no longer experienced.
May we all learn from Jesus great faith, trust, love, grace, and mercy which he
expressed under the most extreme circumstances the human experience has to offer.
May we be found faithful to God as he was faithful to the end. May God be unto
you a sure help in these days in which we ponder the meaning of life and death and . . .
new life in Christ. Amen.