After his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, another kind of agony was about to begin for Jesus who was already exhausted with the weight He had borne. Before the night was finished, He would be betrayed, falsely charged, scourged, spit upon and maligned in a trial that was utterly illegal. Why illegal? And who is the only mortal on record that Jesus refused to speak to? We will tell you in just a minute.
Hello, we are Scot and Maurine Proctor of Meridian Magazine at latterdaysaintmag.com and this is the Come Follow Me podcast. This week we are looking at the trials and crucifixion of Jesus in a lesson called “It is Finished” which covers Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23 and John 19.
Thanks to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that begins and ends this podcast.
As Jesus finished the agony of the atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, perhaps He could already see the string of torchlights coming up the mount, a multitude of armed soldiers, from the High Priest, led by Judas, intent on arresting Jesus.
The Lord said of Judas, “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” (Psalms 41:9) How heartbreaking to be betrayed by a kiss from a friend. If ever we have felt betrayed we can know that Jesus has been there before us. The Greek text of Matt. 26:40 and Mark 14:45 clear indicates that Judas “kissed him much” that is many times, or effusively.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “One wonders what the walk down the mountain that night was like for Judas and which was more searing—his lips on Jesus’ face, or Jesus’ words to him, ‘Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?’ (Luke 22:48). Few scenes of pathos rank with that of a guilty Judas trying to give back the thirty pieces of silver and seeing how those who had used him fiendishly were devoid of mercy and empathy for him. Judas’ soul-slide was not a sudden thing, and his subsequent suicide ranks as perhaps the most self-contemptuous in history.
(Elder Neal A. Maxwell “Taking Up the Cross”) https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neal-a-maxwell_taking-cross/
Though they had been given the signal, the armed band hesitated and Jesus walked to them and asked, “Whom seek ye?” When they answered Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord answered simply, “I am he.” His presence and dignity caused some of them to fall back and many fell to the ground in fright. Elder James Talmage said, “Christ’s presence proved more potent than strong arms and weapons of violence.” (See Jesus the Christ, pg. 15) When they asked again who he was, Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way.”
Defending Jesus against the arrest, Peter raised his sword and cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant. Touching the ear, Jesus healed it, saying, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53)
But now was the time for divine restraint as He allowed Himself to be taken captive that the scriptures might be fulfilled.
In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. (Matthew 26:55).
As the soldiers took Jesus, “they saw before them nothing but a weary, unarmed man, whom one of His own most intimate followers had betrayed, and whose arrest was simply watched in helpless agony by a few terrified Galileans” who finally fled in panic. Jesus had warned them: “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”
This was the beginning of a long and terrible night of inquisition. First, He was led to degenerate Annas, the former High Priest for seven years, the money-hungry usurper of Jewish power. One of the abominable men of the earth, He appointed and controlled the High Priest, who would have slavishly followed his every word.
If you want a capsulized view of the condition of the people at that time, look no further than Annas. The high priest, the only one allowed to go into the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year, was appointed, not by a religious council nor be revelation, but by Rome. Though he had not been the high priest for 20 years, Annas had seen that his son-in-law Caiaphas, was now the high priest and he continued to be the important man in town. This is evident because Jesus was taken there first. The money-changing tables that Jesus turned over on the temple grounds were the racket of Annas and Caiaphas.
Next, in exhaustion, He was led bound to Caiaphas, the legal High Priest, who had earlier told the Jews, speaking of Jesus that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. (John 18:19-23). Jesus death had long been his goal, but it became particularly urgent for him and the other religious leaders of the people after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. This was a miracle so dramatic that it could not be overlooked. Yes, Jesus had raised others from the dead. We think of the son of the widow of Nain and also the daughter of Jairus, but Lazarus had lain in the grave four days, the time in Jewish understanding when the body started to decay. People from all around came to see Lazarus and hear the story.
In Caiaphas’ palace at least a quorum of the Sanhedrin was gathered. They had before them a prisoner innocent of any crime. They had gathered for a trial that was illegal on so many fronts. It was not legal for a trial to be held at night. It was not legal for a trial to be held on a holy day—and this was Passover. It was not legal to ask the accused to testify against himself. And in the law, if all agreed, as these did on a verdict, the trial must be held again. It was understood that if all saw it the same way, that something prejudicial must be afoot.
“Their dilemma was real, for they themselves were sharply divided on all major issues save one—that the man Jesus must die.” However, since they needed to find a charge, they sought false witnesses. Many were eager to bare false witness, but “their testimony was so false, so shadowy, so self-contradictory, that it all melted to nothing.” (Frederick Farrar, Life of Christ, p. 597).
Through all their hopeless argument, Jesus listened in majestic silence, which only confounded them more until Caiaphas, enraged, hurled this question: “Answerest thou nothing? . . . I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered, for it had never been a secret, “Thou hast said” (Matthew 26: 62-64).
The charge was blasphemy against the only one who could not commit blasphemy—the Lord Himself. “What need we any further witness?
The charge against Jesus would be blasphemy, the charge He could never be guilty of. Jehovah was charged with blasphemy against Himself. In derision, the scoundrels at court spewed foul spittle at him, blindfolded him and slapped his face. They hurled taunts and jeers at Him, in a moment of utter blasphemy against God Himself. It was not enough that they were seeking his death in one of the cruelest methods ever devised by man, they had to heap humiliation and mockery upon him. In this moment Jesus was friendless and very alone.
But there was one nearby who should have been His friend. Peter waited in the courtyard below, mingling with the crowd and listening to malcontents tell stories of the arrest. The damsel who had admitted him to the palace said, “Art not thou also one of this man’s disciples?” “I am not,” (John 18:17) he said. Later another maid said, “This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.” This time Peter, more threatened, denied with an oath, saying, “I do not know the man.” (Matthew 26: 71,72). Then later as Peter was warming himself by the fire, and another said, hearing his Galilean accent, “Surely thou art one of them,” (Mark 14:70) and “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” (Luke 22:60). Peter cursed and swore with an oath, “Man, I know not what thou sayest.” (Luke 22: 60) Just then the cock crew, and the Lord, probably being led out a suffering prisoner, turned and looked upon Peter. Seeing that face of love, those suffering eyes, and knowing his own desperation, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
We want to play for you a powerful piece written by Rob Gardner from the work, The Lamb of God about Peter’s denial. We love this—and it always moves us.
[Insert Rob Gardner: I Cannot Watch Them] 4:11
It is noteworthy that in scripture, we get to see the weaknesses and fallacies of great prophets, as Peter was.
They were, however, bent on His death, and being subject to Roman overlords, they could not impose it themselves. So, followed by a riotous mob, they led Him bound to Herod’s magnificent palace, where Pilate, the Roman procurator, was keeping a wary watch over the Passover rabble. This being a Gentile house with leavened bread, the fastidious Jewish leaders would not defile themselves and enter, though ironically they found no defilement in seeking to kill the innocent.
Thus it was that Pilate came out to them, asking, “What accusation bring ye against this man?” It was a hard question from a practical politician, and they had searched for and found the charge—not blasphemy, which would mean nothing to a Roman. No, this time they charged Him with sedition, changing the accusation for Roman ears. He is a traitor to Caesar. He calls Himself the king of the Jews!
Of all those who examined Jesus, Pilate was the least guilty of malice toward Him. Something about the Lord touched the man. When he asked if Jesus was the king of the Jews, Jesus answered, my kingdom is not of this world, and after questioning Him Pilate said frankly, “I find in him no fault at all.”
To this the chief priests responded in a clamor of accusations, among which a single word stood out: “Galilee.” Pilate thought he saw a way out, which would have been going to the original jurisdiction. Herod Antipas, the degenerate son of Herod the Great, ruled as a Roman vassal in the green hills of Galilee. With relief, Pilate sent the Savior on to Herod.
Herod had killed John the Baptist, the mighty forerunner whose calling had been to make straight the way before the coming of the Messiah. John and Jesus were cousins. Before the cruel and insolent questioning of this despot, Jesus said not a word. For the weak, the sick, the child, the sinner, Christ had soothing, loving tones; for the Samaritan woman he witnessed of His mission, but for the tyrant He had only silence, all the more infuriating to Herod, for he had longed to see a miracle performed to satisfy his curiosity. Herod also believed superstitiously that Jesus might somehow be the reincarnation of John. According to Talmage, Herod is the only character in history to whom Jesus is known to have applied a personal epithet of contempt, calling him “that fox.”
The chief priests and rulers of the people were assembled, and the mocked, spat-upon, exhausted Jesus was once again brought before Pilate. Word of His arrest had spread through the streets of the city, and a mob of onlookers had gathered. To these Pilate made his pronouncement: “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man.” (Luke 23:14). This could have been enough; the Roman leader had spoken. But the pack of fanatics before him thirsted for blood. Pilate’s pity for the Lord was crushed under his cowardice, for Pilate had that most inconvenient of burdens, a guilty past. Several times before, he had ignited Jewish fury against Him. One time, for instance, he had confiscated money from the sacred treasury to build an aqueduct and then had sent soldiers in Jewish costume among the people carrying hidden daggers to punish those who had opposed him. Now he was caught; for past sin, he would sin again, violating his own best instincts.
So he tried another kind of appeasement. It was the custom at Passover to release a criminal. Here were two men, perhaps even standing before the mob as Pilate spoke. One was Barabbas, the leader of an insurrection, a murderer. The other was Jesus, the proclaimer of peace, who raised the dead. “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:14). Some in that crowd had been healed by the Lord, some had heard His healing words, but the chief priests moved among the people stirring them up until they shouted, “Barabbas. Release Barabbas.”
It is ironic that “bar” means “son of” and “abbas” means “father.” Barabbas was this false son of the father, who was released instead of the Only Begotten Son.
Pilate would have released Jesus, and his feelings were even more stirred when his wife came to him pleading, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him” (Matthew 27:19). Whatever these flickerings of conscience, Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and jammed it on that tired head; they placed a purple robe on His shoulders and then, gloating and leering, they smote Him and spit upon Him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:3). Consider this humiliation, this stinging injustice, and know that He who has suffered all things can succor us in every hour.
It is important to know that a scourging involved 39 lashes with a whip braided with metal, bone and pieces of glass. With each lash, this metal, bone and glass tore the prisoner’s flesh away, and often the scourging alone would kill someone.
Now Pilate brought the bleeding, wounded Jesus again before the crowd. “Behold the man!” he said. Was there even now no stirrings of pity for Him? Where was the man or woman who would speak up? Where were all those who were waving palm leaves just five days before? Their hosannas had vanished on a fickle wind. No, there was only Pilate’s corrupt voice repeating, “I find no fault in Him.” It was still early morning when Pilate gave in: “Shall I crucify your King?” and the people answered, “Away with him, crucify him. . . . We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:5).
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person.” And the people shouted, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:24,25).
Elder Maxwell said of this moment, “Trying to run away from the responsibility to decide about Christ is childish. Pilate sought to refuse responsibility for deciding about Christ, but Pilate’s hands were never dirtier than just after he had washed them.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell “Why Not Now?” Oct. 1974, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1974/10/why-not-now?lang=eng
I know we don’t ever really like to talk about the crucifixion in detail. It was a most gruesome and painful form of death and in some cases could leave the victim in a state of unbearable suffering for many days. I think we should set aside some of the traditional things that we have thought about the crucifixion of Jesus and try to see how it really was.
As we have said, the Jews had no authority to bring any to execution but they had pressured Pontius Pilate to authorize the crucifixion of Jesus. The Romans were experts at this form of death and would regularly crucify at least three victims a day during the Passover and other feasts. When the Romans would later besiege Jerusalem in A.D. 68, they would crucify no less than 500 a day on the Mount of Olives.
Crucifixion was the highest form of humiliation the Romans could contrive. We often picture the Savior carrying the entire cross to the place of execution. This was likely not the case. An average cross with the upright and the crossbeam would weigh a staggering 300 lbs. The victim was almost always tasked with carrying the crossbeam only—a weight of about 100 lbs. through the crowded streets so that he could be an example to all others that this unspeakable form of execution would come to any who were also found guilty of heinous crimes.
If the victim was not stripped naked before he arrived at the place of execution—which was often the case that they would be forced to carry the cross beam naked—he would be stripped at the place of execution and be placed on the cross completely naked. This was to bring about complete humiliation. Such was surely the case with Jesus.
We also have an idealized view of Jesus crucified up on a hill with the two malefactors, one on each side of Him. There is no way the Romans would have placed Jesus high atop a hill where He could not be seen close up, mocked and derided by passers by. He was most likely crucified at the base of the hill—at Golgatha—meaning “place of the skull.” It was possibly a place of execution that had been used many times with bodies and death a commonplace here. It was right by a main road, and in fact, near an intersection of main roads so that numerous people would be there to be shocked and warned by the gruesome execution.
For capital punishment, the Jews stoned, burned, beheaded, or strangled, but the Romans chose the cruelest punishment of all—crucifixion. It was a lingering death for its tortured victims. “The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; . . . there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst,” dizziness, cramp, starvation, sleeplessness, and shame. In Jerusalem, a charitable women’s group administered a mixture of wine and drugs to dull the pain as the victim was stretched on the ground and nailed to the crossbeam, but this Jesus refused.
In Greek the word “χείρ”, (transliteration cheir) usually translated as “hand”, could refer to the entire portion of the arm below the elbow. The smaller nails used were usually about 4 ½ inches long and would be placed not only in the palm of the hand but often between the two bones of the forearm—the radius and the ulna—in the wrist. The feet were often positioned together and the 7 inch nails were used to go through both feet at once and hold them together. Some crucifixions separated the feet with one foot nailed on the side of the post and the other foot nailed on the other side of the post.
There were times when a small board was placed by the feet so that the victim could use it to prop himself up to catch a needed breath. In some cases a small seat was placed on the post just above the man’s posterior—sometimes called a mercy seat—where he could push up with his feet against the nails and rest his body for a moment or two on the small seat and try to breathe. Either way, it was most often that the victim died of asphyxiation—from the sheer pressure on the center of the chest and lungs and the final inability to draw in air.
Again, Jesus was stripped and raised on the cross with a mocking sign over His head: “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” This too was a common practice of the Romans—to write the victim’s name above his head and what he was accused of. Jesus was accused (by Pilate’s command) of being King of the Jews.
Maurine, as we have said in former Podcasts, we only have a very small part of the record of Jesus’s life. We are missing most of the details and it makes us grateful for what we do have. We know from the account of the four gospels at least 53 words that Jesus spoke while on the cross. People often ask me in my institute classes or in other teaching settings, “What is your very favorite scripture?” I have hundreds that I truly love, but I do have one that stands above all the rest. I will tell you it in just a few minutes.
When we get to this point, with Jesus’ mortal life nearly over, I think of all the times the Lord assured His disciples that He had come to do the will of His Father. “I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” (John 15:10) “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5: 30) “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6: 38)
Even in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
All of these affirmations of obedience and submission really bring us such comfort and peace and give us a view of this perfect Son.
Now, back to those 53 words the Savior spoke from the cross. I think most of our audience could figure them out and say them all. Can you think of what He said?
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
That’s right—that’s 10 of the words—and Joseph Smith gives us insight into that sentence by adding (“Meaning the soldiers who crucified him” JST Luke 23:35). We have an olive wood carving in our home that shows Jesus coming from behind with his arms around the man who crucified him—the man is still holding the mallet and looks dejected and distraught—and the Savior is full of love. The title of this piece is forgiveness.
What other words do we have from Jesus on the cross, Maurine?
Well, I especially love that He looked down from the cross and saw His heartbroken and grieving Mother and said, “Woman, behold thy son!” And He was referring to John the Beloved apostle. And then He said to John, “Behold thy mother!” That always moves me as I picture Jesus in such agony and in His hour of need–and yet thinking of others—including His precious Mother.
I know, I’ve always loved that so much too.
And I am moved by His crying out at one point, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland offered the following insight: “I testify … that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. … Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. … For [the Savior’s] Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone”
(“None Were with Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 87–88).
As He hung in anguish, the rulers and people gaped and cursed and condemned Him, taunting, “He saved others; let him save himself.” Some said, “Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself.” (Matt. 27:40) But the words that smack most of Jesus temptations after His 40-day-fast are these: “If thou be the son of God, come down from the cross.” (ibid) The reviling and mocking continued from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. (see Matt. 27:41)
“He saved others,” another said in derision, “himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him.” (Matthew 27: 42) All of these things pain our hearts as we see the crowd hurling insults and mocking our precious Jesus.
To the thief who would repent, He gave hope. “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” he told him. Joseph Smith says a better translation of that would be, “Today shalt thou be with me in the world of spirits.”
We know that He said, “I thirst” to fulfill a Messianic prophecy.
We know that He said, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
At noon the heavens grew black for three hours, as if the universe itself were weeping for the agony of the Creator. In that time all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane returned, and His Father’s spirit itself withdrew that the victory might be His. (See McConkie, Bruce R., The Purifying Power of Gethsemane, April 1985)
At that ninth hour, 3:00 P.M., “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, . . . My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 81 In that eerie midafternoon darkness, someone ran and filled a sponge with vinegar. Having received the vinegar, Jesus said, “Father, it is finished!” And this is where the Prophet Joseph gives us four more words that the Savior spoke—and this is my very favorite scripture: “THY WILL IS DONE.” (JST Matthew 27:54) And He gave up the ghost. I love that so much. Here is the perfectly obedient Son who perfectly carried out His Father’s will and gave this last report to Him: Thy Will is Done!
As He died, the veil of the temple was rent, and the earth quaked and rocks were rent as if to say with a nearby centurion, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
The Sabbath was nigh at hand and the Jews would not let bodies remain on a cross on the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathaea “besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus…and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes…then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” (see John 19: 38-40)
During this time, Jesus’ immortal spirit performed a mission of utmost importance to the plan of salvation. An early Christian asked Peter, “Shall those be wholly deprived of the kingdom of heaven who died before Christ’s coming?” Or in any generation, shall those who died without knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ be cast out? It is a question that haunts Christian writing and was answered by Christ’s visiting the spirit world while His body was entombed.
In the world of spirits were gathered an innumerable host of those who had departed this life, “who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” and were awaiting His coming to open the gates that bound them. And “they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.” While these spirits were waiting, “the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful; and there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.” All “bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell. Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them.” (D&C 138: 12-16; 18-19; 24) For those faithful, who had been for so long without their bodies, they would soon follow the Lord to resurrection as “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” (Matthew 27:52)
But “the Lord went not in person among the wicked and disobedient” while among the spirits, “but behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.” (D&C 138:29-30) Since baptism was a necessary step to enter the kingdom, the early Christians had been taught to baptize for the dead by proxy. Paul understood this doctrine: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)
I love that the Father and the Son have a PLAN to offer to all of us—that if by chance (and it has happened millions and billions of times) one of our relatives does not have the opportunity to receive the ordinance of baptism by one who has the proper authority—in all ages of the earth—then this proxy ordinance can be extended to them by relatives on this earth.
Imagine your precious 10th Great Grandparents in the world of spirits, who had never had the opportunity in this life to hear of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, now having been taught these eternal truths and having the saving ordinances done by loved ones here—the glad tidings of this work being done is now delivered to your ancestors and they can accept or reject it!
I love how the Lord does not forget any of His children, no matter where they are, living or, as we call them, dead. This is indeed the Great Plan of Happiness!
Thanks for joining us today—what glorious truths and events we have been talking about in this Podcast.
Please pass the word along about the Podcast by sending them to latterdaysaintmag.com/podcast or tell them to go to their favorite Podcast platform and search for Meridian Magazine Come Follow Me, and they, too, can start listening.
Please join us next week as we will be studying the resurrection in the lesson entitled “He is Risen,” which will cover Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24 and John, chapters 20 and 21. We can’t wait to be in your home again.
Blessings to you!