By Pastor Doug Batchelor
An Amazing Fact: The second and third U.S. Presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were good friends in their youth, but after Adams was replaced by Jefferson, political disagreements separated them and they never saw each other again. They were eventually reconciled in the last 14 years of their lives and exchanged many affectionate letters. When John Adams died at the ripe age of 91, his last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still lives." But this was incorrect.
You see, at the age of 83 -- during his last hours in his home in Monticello, Virginia -- Jefferson passed in and out of consciousness. In 1826, just a few hours before Adams died, Thomas Jefferson died surrounded by friends and family. His last words were, "Is it the 4th?" After he heard, "Yes," he breathed his last. Amazingly, the final words of these two Founding Fathers were uttered on the same day, July 4,and on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
In Matthew 12, Jesus tells us that in the judgment, we'll give an account for every idle word we speak. "For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37). We do a lot of talking in our lives. Somebody estimated that the average person in one week speaks enough words to fill a book with more than 500 pages. So people do a lot of talking. And some of us are more verbose than others. I speak a virtual encyclopedia's worth by the end of my week. Karen, my wife, isn"t far behind.
Sometimes we talk just to hear ourselves. But when we do that, people usually stop listening to us because it's like living by a railroad track -- a constant train of words. However, I had a friend who spoke very few words, and I noticed that whenever he spoke, people typically stopped to tune in because they were expecting he would say something profound.
A History of Last Words
Have you noticed that the final words of a person's life seem to command a little extra respect no matter how much they talked in life? Some of the most famous last words are credited to Napoleon's sister, Alicia. She observed on her deathbed, "Nothing is as certain as death." And the people around her thought she was dead, until she added, "Except taxes." That's for certain.
Of course, some people's final words are a disappointment. W. C. Fields, for instance, on his deathbed said, "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." What was he thinking? But some last words are more profound. Lord Palmerson said, "Die? My dear doctor, that"s the last thing I shall do!" Which is only somewhat true. On his deathbed, the wife of Alexander the Great asked him, "Who is going to rule in your place?" His dying words were, "The strongest."
Through time, Christians have also made some profound statements near death. Zwingli, a great reformer and contemporary of Luther, said, "They can kill the body but not the soul." We should all come to our ends with that kind of faith. William Carey, the great missionary to India, said, "When I am gone, speak less of Dr. Carey and more of Dr. Carey"s Savior." And Suzanna Wesley, one of the most incredible women in modern times, said, "Children, when I am gone, sing a song of praise to God."
Last Words in the Bible
Some of the great Bible patriarchs took special note when they saw their time was coming. They often gave a final charge or said something prophetic before they died. Joshua gathered all of Israel together and gave them the final admonition, "Be courageous!" just as Moses said before he died. And of course, Joshua added, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15 NKJV).
Peter used his last written words to stir the church. "Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle [body] to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me" (2 Peter 1:13, 14). Paul wrote something equally encouraging when facing execution: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6"8).
The Last Words of Jesus
The final words of Jesus are especially filled with meaning for Christians. When you account for each Gospel, Jesus uttered seven statements before He died. I think seven is noteworthy, because God often works in a cycle of seven. And because this is the Messiah, and everything He said was inspired, these final words of our Lord are of great importance. We're going to take a brief look at these phrases and explore their spiritual significance, considering why Jesus said what He said. I trust we will learn these statements comprise a message special to each one of us.
I should mention that the exact order of Jesus' final utterances on the cross might be impossible to prove. I've tried to structure this list according to the Bible and inspired commentary. I do believe we can be sure what His first words on the cross were and what His very last statement was. But the exact sequence is not my purpose. My goal is to remember them. The Bible tells us we are "crucified with Christ," and so these are words that should, in essence, be our words also.
"Father, forgive them."
Jesus pleads, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). These are His first words, spoken shortly after the soldiers hoisted the cross into position. I believe He was offering forgiveness for everyone, the entire human race, and not just the Romans torturing Him. Why is that important for you and me?
With the exception of Adam and Eve, humans came into this world as slaves to sin. Having been born in ignorance, we don't fully understand God. We have to learn who He is. So Jesus speaks to us from the cross today and says, "Father, forgive them. They don"t know who You are. They don't know how they hurt You when they sin."
He was talking to you and me, wasn't He? You and I are responsible. He died for our sins, so we directly or indirectly are responsible for Jesus making that declaration. That should compel us to do the same. Colossians 3:13 says, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." God wants us to forgive as Jesus forgave us. That's often not easy for us. But Christ will give us the power, because He wants us to. Remember that Jesus shed His blood for those who wound you.
Christ exemplified forgiveness at the cross. Jesus came for many reasons, but not least of those is that He came to forgive us of our sins and to empower us to forgive others. The love relationship that Christ tells us is mandatory for salvation is this love relationship. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart " and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27).
And what is the best way that Jesus demonstrated His love for us? He took our sins and forgave us. What is the best way that we demonstrate love for our neighbor" To forgive our neighbors, even those who are crucifying our characters.
We should remember when Stephen was stoned that he prayed for his persecutors, "Lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). The people stoning him knew very much what they were doing, and he still prayed for their forgiveness. Should we only forgive those who don't know that they've hurt us? Jesus said, "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15).
"Woman, behold thy son!"
In John 19:26, 27, Jesus uttered what is probably His second statement from the cross. "When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."
In one sense, Jesus was simply setting His house in order. Yet how would you feel if you were on the cross as your mother watched? You would probably be preoccupied with your own suffering. If I've got a little splinter, I want everyone to know. But here, Jesus becomes concerned with the suffering of others. He considers her anguish and also her earthly welfare. And He tenderly makes provision by directing her care to His disciple. What an incredible display of selflessness.
But I think something more spiritual is going on here. Biblically, the woman symbolizes the church. In Genesis, we learn that the "seed of the woman" is Christ. He was "bruising" the serpent's head when He says, "Woman, behold your son." It's an invitation, indeed a command, to behold Jesus on the cross, as the church's Savior. It is there we best see His victory over sin and His love for us.
Jesus' ministry began as John the Baptist invited the church to "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
And Jesus said in John 12:32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." Christ was lifted up at the cross to a position of visibility. Likewise, Moses stood on a hill when Israel was fighting the Amalekites. He even stretched out his hands in intercession, and as long as the people could see him, they won the battle. When Moses got tired and his hands dropped, the tide would turn. When he lifted up his hands again, they were victorious again. But they had to behold him, as the church must behold her Seed. As long as we can see by faith Christ"s nail-pierced hands raised before the Father in intercession for us, we can gain the victory. "Woman, behold your son!"
"You will be with Me."
Jesus' third statement comes in Luke 23:43. He says to the desperate and dying thief, "Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise" (NKJV). Isaiah 53:12 says Jesus would be numbered with the transgressors, and indeed, He died on a hill between two thieves. But these thieves represent two classes of people with one thing in common: They were helpless sinners. The two of them represent all of us. We are murderers, robbers, and rebels. We"ve each rebelled, gone our own way. Yet they both ask to be saved. What makes these two classes different"
The thief on the left says, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us" (Luke 23:39). Will anyone be saved by if? Jesus promises that if we believe, all things are possible. So "if" is a very dangerous word. It can separate the saved from the lost. But the other thief says, "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation" And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (vs. 40, 41). That is the meaning of repentance and confession! Very few criminals admit they"re guilty. Yet that"s one of the things we"ve got to do. Two thieves, one on the left and one on the right, represent everybody. We must repent and believe in Him If we ask, then we can be assured of something wonderful.
Even though the devil could nail Jesus to the cross, he could not keep the Savior"s hands from saving. Christ was able to tell that thief he would be in the kingdom. After the thief glorifies Jesus, we don't hear another word from him. I believe that a sweet assurance of God"s forgiveness and acceptance swept over him. He seized upon these words of Jesus, "You will be with me." How much easier do you think it was for him to bear his sufferings after he had the assurance of eternal life" Infinitely! The same should be with us. You should feel assured. And we need to step out in faith and take Jesus at His word. Like the thief, when suffering or discouraged by sin, we are invited to look to Jesus as Lord and King. We can repent and confess, then believe we have a place with Christ in paradise.
"Why have you forsaken me?"
The fourth statement is found in Matthew 27:46. "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani'" (NKJV). The Romans thought He was calling out for Elijah, because the Jews believed Elijah was coming back, and they mocked Him for it.
But that's why the Scriptures translate what Jesus was really saying. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me"" Why did He say that? Some people wonder if Jesus lost faith, crying out because He believed God had left Him. They think He"s saying, "God, why have you left me?" as though He didn't know -- that He'd finally lost faith.
Absolutely not! Christ was actually quoting from probably one of the most famous Messianic psalms of David: Psalm 22. Before the Passover lamb was sacrificed, the priests would often read a Passover psalm. The first verse in Psalm 22 is "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
Christ, our High Priest and Sacrifice, was conveying, "I am the Lamb. This is the Passover." As both our High Priest and spotless Sacrifice, He is "reading" a Passover psalm. The significance of the verse is that it is in the form of a question the Lord is posing to get us to think. For instance, God said to Adam, "Adam, where are you?" Is it because God lost track of Adam" Did God need a GPS to find him" No, of course not. God knows everything. He wanted Adam to think about where sin had brought him. God asks questions not because He doesn"t know, but because He wants us to think about the significance of what the question evokes.
So when Jesus said, "Why have you forsaken me," He was inviting all those who beheld Him on the cross to consider why He was there. It was a rhetorical question. Why was the Father separated from the Son? It"s because the Son was taking our sin; He was taking our place. Jesus was forsaken of the Father for our benefit. Isaiah 53:4 says, "Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted" (NKJV).
John 19:28 records Jesus" fifth statement. "After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst!" " (NKJV). Obviously, Jesus is dehydrated from His long trials and the loss of blood. He'd been whipped in the back and pounded in the face by the soldiers. They also shoved thorns on His head. His tongue was swollen with thirst.
Christ said that in the great judgment, He will separate the sheep from the goats. He'll say to the saved, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink" (Matthew 25:34, 35 NKJV). And as Christ described the condition of the suffering world in Matthew 25, He was also describing His condition on the cross. He was hungry, thirsty, sick, alone, a stranger, and a prisoner. He experienced all these deprivations on the cross.
And He said, "I thirst." Yet instead of giving Him water to assuage His thirst, they offered Him bitter wine. And He tasted it. Of course, He doesn't drink it, but the Bible says that He tasted suffering for all men. The first miracle of Jesus was to turn water into pure grape juice at a wedding, and He gave it to all humanity by offering all of us His blood -- pure and sinless. However, the last thing we offered Him was sour wine. Christ made an exchange: a blood transfusion with a sick race. Not only did He give us His blood, He took our sin. He made a complete transaction.
For what does God thirst? Jesus shows us this when He was at the well, depending on a human woman to give Him water to satisfy His thirst. When she accepted Him as the Messiah, He was satisfied because His satisfaction came from doing the will of the Father (John 4:32, 34).
Remember also that Jesus is a symbol of us on the cross. As He forgave, so should we. And as He thirsts, so should we. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Don"t miss this. When a soldier pierced Jesus with a spear, both blood and water poured out of Him. He emptied Himself, you might say, that we might be filled.
"It is finished!"
Luke 14:28"30 says, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it"lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "This man began to build and was not able to finish" " (NKJV). Christ was not a quitter. He completed what He came to do. His sixth statement, found in John 19:30, testifies to this. "So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" " (NKJV).
Christ's mission was a total success; that's wonderful news! He accomplished everything He came to do. And why did He come? "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Can we have everlasting life" Absolutely! Christ made it possible.
Hebrews 12:2 proclaims, "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." The Greek word for "finish" here is teleo, which can also mean "paid in full." It means the debt is cancelled. When a person had a debt in Bible times and paid it in full, they would write "teleo" across the debt. Christ did just that when He declared, "It is finished." So He completed His plan for saving us, and He paid the debt. And not just part of the debt"He didn"t make a down payment, and now we"ve got to keep the payments up. He said it is cancelled, paid in full. That"s good news.
Christ was also settling the controversy between God and the being once known as Lucifer. By saying, "It is finished," He vindicated God"s name against the backdrop of Satan's accusations.
"Father, into your hands."
One of the characteristics of the great men of the Bible is that they picked their time of death, because they knew it was God"s will for them. Their death was part of God"s plan. Moses climbed a mountain to die; he knew it was coming. Also, "When Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost" (Genesis 49:33). Samson even had the benefit of saying, "Let me die with the Philistines" (Judges 16:30). He scheduled his death.
And so did Jesus. The seventh and last statement of Jesus on the cross is recorded in Luke 23:46, "And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." And having said this, He breathed His last" (NKJV). Jesus said,
"No man takes my life." You can't kill God, so He laid His life down. Humanity shares the responsibility, because we took part, but we could not have done it without His willingness.
The Romans were actually surprised that Jesus died so soon because criminals often languished for days on the cross. Jesus expired after about only six hours. He let out that last breath, His skin tone faded to gray, and He died -- all willingly.
Now do you remember the first recorded words of Jesus? They're in Luke 2:49. He said to His parents, "Did you not know that I must be about My Father"s business?" (NKJV). Christ already knew that His purpose, from the time He went to that first Passover, was to fulfill the will of the Father as the Lamb of God. And He closes His ministry by acknowledging again that His life was about doing the Father"s will.
This is a characteristic for which you and I should strive. Sometimes we let ourselves think that going to church once a week is God"s will. But that"s not God"s plan, friends. All through the week we should be praying to the Father, "Thy will be done."
His last words are also words of complete faith. Straining under the crushing weight of the world"s guilt and staring into the abysmal portal of the tomb must have appeared hopeless. Yet by faith, Jesus laid hold on the Father. We learn from His last words that our faith needs to go beyond feeling. Jesus knew His mission, knew the prophecies said He would rise again, and even though He felt He was facing eternal separation, He said, "Father, I trust you." That's a perfect example for us.
His Dying Words Not His Last
Can you trust your life into the Father's hands" If you"re not doing it now, you can start. We can go through life knowing that even through the dangerous storms, we have a God who will bear us up in His hands. All we need to do is trust Him. I believe each morning it would be prudent for us to pray, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
The seven statements of Jesus on the cross were not just the words of any dying man. They are words of encouragement and revelation; they're promises from God Himself. They are also words of challenge, admonition, and council.
Of course, Jesus' dying words aren"t His last words. Indeed, His first words after His resurrection were, "Woman, why are you weeping"" (John 20:15 NKJV). Should we be sad? Yes, because He died on the cross, and He made those seven crucial statements. But He also now says, "You have nothing to cry about." He said to Mary, "Don't cry; I"m alive." He had been resurrected. And so you and I know that we can have faith, hope, and joy because of what Jesus did in our behalf.
I pray that you, like the redeemed thief, can know that He is your Lord and King, and that you have a place in paradise. You can be happy and no longer have to weep. He is not in the tomb; it is empty. Best of all, He has written "teleo," it is finished, paid in full, over our debt of sin -- so long as we accept that provision.