Luke 23:33-43


The Gospel Lesson for this day is Luke 22:1-23:56 (long) or Luke 23:1-49 (short). It is suggested that Luke 23:33-43 be used as a text. This fits Passion Sunday beautifully.

This text is paralleled at Matthew 27:33-56; Mark 15:22-41; John 19:17-30.

Luke 23:33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left.

Luke alone uses the Greek word, rather than Golgotha. The hill was skull shaped. Luke alone uses the expression  "one on his right, the other on his left."  Luke is contrasting the two malefactors already in verse 33, perhaps more so than Matthew, Mark, and John.

Luke 23:34 Jesus said,  "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

The fact that the first half of this verse is not found in the better manuscripts has evoked much discussion.  But no commentaries, not even radical ones, suggest that the sentence be removed.  Of all the translations, only Goodspeed is bold enough to remove it.  Why do some of the best manuscripts not have it?

  1.   Perhaps the thought was incomprehensible to the scribe;

  2.   It is not paralleled in the other Gospels;

  3.   Perhaps it seemed contradictory to verses 29 and 30.

In view of Isaiah 53:12  "He made intercession for the transgressors" it must be considered textual. Acts 3:17; 13:27; 1 Corinthians 2:8 argue for its inclusion. Jesus is here ultimately praying for all men.

In the crucifixion Jesus assuaged the anger of God. Look at  The Lutheran Hymnal  #311:1:  "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior, Turned away God's wrath forever."  Also look at  TLH  #236.

He said this while He was being crucified. Arndt thinks it happened as the cross still lay on the ground and they are affixing Jesus to it.

In the Greek the last part of the verse is in bold face type.  This follows the LXX. KJV reads it paratactically:  "They parted his raiment, and cast lots."  RSV reads it hypotactically, making the participle denote purpose:  "They cast lots to divide his garments."  NEB makes the main verb denote manner:  "They divided his clothes among them by casting lots."  NASB makes the participles attendant circumstance:  "They cast lots, dividing up His garments."  As prophesied in Psalm 22:19, Jesus' clothes became the perquisites of the soldiers.  Jesus lost everything, even His clothes.  He had only one thing, a cross.

By the way, only slaves and criminals could be crucified. Jesus did not have Roman citizenship.

Luke 23:35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said,  "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One."

Note Psalm 22:8. Note the gradation here: people, Jewish rulers, soldiers, malefactors. Note the gradation of verbs.  The penitent malefactor is a sudden relief in this gradation. They taunt Jesus with the word  "save."  It is plain proof of what He did and said of Himself.  They, of course, are making fun. But, somehow, they can't forget this verb.  There is a sense in which they are testifying of him, though they hate Him and deny it.

Unbelievers always demand proofs and signs, the very antithesis to faith. That Jesus called Himself the Messiah is proved by the use of  "Christ" here.  Translations differ, but whether one reads  "God's Messiah" or  "God's Chosen One" makes little difference. The taunt is clear.

Luke 23:36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said,  "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."

Their mockery was likely instigated by what the Jewish leaders said and by the superscription on the cross. Note Psalm 69:21, also Luke 4:3. Luke alone mentions the mockery of the soldiers.

Luke 23:38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The verbal differences among the four evangelists concerning the superscription deny verbal inspiration only for the one who turns up his nose, mocks, and blasphemes Scripture.

Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:  "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

Verses 39-43 are peculiar to Luke. A magnificent passage. Matthew and Mark say that both criminals reviled Jesus.  Luke says that the one blasphemed Jesus.  Why resort to syndoche, meaning that Matthew and Mark meant that only one of the two taunted Jesus?  Read Isaiah 53:7 at this point.

Except for the  "seven" words, Jesus remained silent.  No anger, no arguing, no defense, just silence.  Surely during this time, perhaps two hours, the second malefactor thought twice.  Because of Jesus' prayer (verse 34) and utter submission, though innocent, by God's grace the malefactor came to faith.

It is remarkable that both malefactors use forms of  "aren't you" and  "don't you"  in their questions, expecting the answer  "yes"  but for different reasons. And note that both use the emphatic form of  "you."  The first taunts Christ:  "You're the Messiah, aren't You?" And when he says:  "Save Yourself and us" note that  "Yourself" is put first. Christ would have to prove it for Himself first.

Luke 23:40 But the other criminal rebuked him.  "Don't you fear God,"  he said,  "since you are under the same sentence?

"The other" might well be translated  "the one of a different kind."  NEB translates:  "Answered him sharply."  Beck:  "Warned him."  Arndt translates:  "Do not even you fear God as you should because you are suffering the same sentence of condemnation?"

Luke 23:41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

By the way, verse 38 was a taunt by Pilate at the Jews, not at Jesus, and unknowingly he preached the Gospel by having the superscription written and placed there.  In verse 41 the second malefactor plainly confesses his sin, the innocence of Jesus, and preaches Law to an impenitent man.  What a remarkable sentence!

Luke 23:42 Then he said,  "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

"Jesus"  of course means  "Savior."  When you preach on this, substitute the word  "Savior" and note how forceful this is.

Did the malefactor say:  "When You come INTO your kingdom" or "When You come IN your kingdom"?  The former would mean at death.  The latter would mean that second coming of Christ.  Most commentators choose the latter because of verse 43.

Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

This verse denotes Jesus' divine authority.  It is a personal promise.  The malefactor had spoken indefinitely though in true faith.  Jesus answer with precision, this very day.  This corroborates that the malefactor's prayer dealt with Christ's second coming.

Arndt: It teaches that these is a future life, that for the believer in Christ it is an existence of happiness; that the soul of the believer will at once upon death enter this region of bliss. There are few, if any, passages in Scripture that shed more comforting light on the existence of believers in the world beyond the grave.

In his dying hour the malefactor rebuked a blasphemer, confessed his sins, acknowledged Christ and His righteousness, and prayed for everlasting life.  That is more than some do in many years.

It is remarkable that the Jewish rulers, the soldiers, and the impenitent malefactor taunt Jesus with the verb  "save"  but the penitent malefactor does not use this verb. Why not?  The use of the vocative  "Jesus", which means  "Savior,"  clearly indicates this man's faith.  He wasn't asking to be saved, for he already believed that.  His prayer, proceeding from faith, asks for merciful remembrance.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 55-57. Used with permission.

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