Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
8. Soldiers slandering
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ 31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 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. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 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.” 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.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Also refer to Matthew 27:26-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:16-24, 28-37
8. Soldiers slandering
We now focus on the soldiers on duty when Jesus died on the cross as recorded in Luke chapter 23 verses 26-38. Please also read the verses on the soldiers in Matthew, Mark and John, to find some added details which I mention later. After a cruel flogging, Jesus is led away. The soldiers make Simon of Cyrene carry His cross. They lead out two criminals to be crucified, where they flank Jesus in the centre. Barabbas should have been there.
I suggested earlier that the loving and compassionate words of Jesus from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,’ might apply to everyone, or might have been for religious leaders, or for the two crucified criminals, or even for the cruel, taunting, bullying, soldiers who treated Jesus so savagely and unfairly although Pilate and Herod found no case to answer? They certainly need to have their sins forgiven.
Earlier, the soldiers mocked Jesus in a sham coronation using a purple robe and a crown of thorns. They mocked Him as ‘King of the Jews’, repeatedly hit Him with a staff and spat on Him. They fell on their knees in mock worship, then removed the robe of purple and replaced Jesus’ own clothes. This is how they prepared the innocent King of Glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die. They now continue that cruel mocking, offer Him sour wine vinegar, and carry on the theme of insulting the would-be king. Pilate’s written notice above Jesus on His cross is: ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’ The soldiers’ second-hand taunts copy the sneering religious rulers’ words, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers’ version is, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Their copycat blaspheming of the eternal Son of God is now copied again by one of the prisoners. You need not be very bright to copy others’ cheap anti-God and anti-Christ slogans!
Great evidence for God’s perfect authorship of the infallible Bible is seen here and in the other gospels about Jesus’ clothing. Combining those passages together, here is what happens. The soldiers divide up Jesus’ clothing into four shares between them. It seems that four soldiers and their Centurion are on crowd control around those three crosses. (We meet the Centurion later.) No doubt he can call for more men, if needed. We read in John 19:23-24 that there is a seamless undergarment made in one piece, and presumably good quality. The soldiers agree not to tear that up but to cast lots for it. As they do so, they fulfil a part of a prophecy of Scripture, Psalm 22:16-18, which prophesies that on the cross Jesus will be surrounded, His hands and feet will be pierced, His bones will stick out (as He hangs on that cross), He will be looked at and stared at, and that while some of His clothing will be divided other clothing will be taken by casting lots. Even the miserable actions of the soldiers were recorded in prophecy hundreds of years before crucifixion was practised in Israel. Also, they often broke the legs of crucified dying victims in later stages of crucifixion to stop them pushing up against the downward pressure impacting their chests to cause earlier suffocation. The soldiers therefore break the legs of both weakened and dying criminals to cause them to die earlier. But when they get to Jesus they find Him dead already. This fulfils Old Testament Scriptures that none of His bones will be broken. (Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, Psalm 34:20). Of course, Jesus did not persuade them before not to break His legs to fulfil prophecy! He was already dead when they come to break His legs. All this is further evidence that God’s inspired prophecy in the Bible is nothing less than history told by God through the prophets in advance! We really can trust the Bible!
We can learn much from what what happens around and to these soldiers:
It was vital that Jesus should die
The soldiers are there to ensure that all the victims of crucifixion die on their crosses—including Jesus. Remember why it is vital for Jesus to die on that cross and rise again three days later. He is sinless and perfect and is punished there for us by God the Father, to take the judgment and penalty we deserve for all our sins. Only when we turn from them and by faith give our lives to Jesus, shall we escape Hell, know our sins are forgiven, and gain a home forever in Heaven. God also changes and blesses us now as we become what Jesus called ‘born again’ spiritually! Jesus had to die.
Did Jesus really die?
Some sceptics from various religions or because they reject the Bible as God’s word, say that Jesus did not really die on the cross but swooned and so his resurrection was a fake. There are some very strong reasons why they are wrong. But just for now, remember those hard soldiers are professional ‘crucifiers’. They know their job: their futures and even their lives depend on them doing it well. They all know the two criminals were alive, but Jesus was dead. To prove that was so, one soldier thrusts a spear into Jesus’ side and out comes ‘blood and water‘. The ‘water‘ was probably the fluid in Jesus’ extended pericardial sack around His heart, and shows that, medically speaking, Jesus died of acute heart failure. This was the view of the late Professor Verna Wright, an eminent physician who often contributed medical articles in medical journals such as the Lancet. Professor Wright was the regular medical expert on a panel of various experts in their field who discussed the evidence for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But please also note that Pilate double checks with the Centurion that Jesus is dead. That occurs only after Joseph of Arimathea, who obviously knew He was dead, asks Pilate’s permission to put Jesus’ body in his unused tomb. So did Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, who accompanied him (Mark 15:38-39). Were four professional soldiers, their experienced Centurion boss, Joseph, Nicodemus and Pilate all wrong? No! This theory of straw fails on various other serious grounds too.
You can trust the Bible
Remember the fulfilled prophecies of Scripture involving the soldiers. We considered them about and around what happened on the cross. Gallup, the American statistician is well known for the ‘Gallup-polls’ which accompany many elections. He said he had proved God mathematically by working out the statistical probability of a limited number of prophecies coming true, using the law of probabilities. The result of his calculations was overwhelmingly in favour of his conclusion that God exists and knows what He predicted accurately. It is foolish not to trust the Bible.
Do not abuse authority
If ever, like these soldiers, you are in a position of strength, trust and authority over others, do not abuse it. And do not pick on someone you see who you think is in a weaker position than you are. Abuse and bullying are wrong and sinful, and God will judge it if it is not confessed and forsaken.
Never give in to peer pressure
Have you ever wondered if at least one of the soldiers did not really agree at heart with what his colleagues were doing, but was scared to say so? If so, he should nevertheless have objected and refused to take part. Never give in to peer pressure, hard as that can be. If you trust Jesus, you will find He gives you courage.
Don’t cover up your ignorance by mocking
Never mock something just because you do not understand it and find it easier to laugh at it than think it all through. Keep quiet and humbly find out what it is all about.
Think things through for yourself
Make sure that any objections you raise to something are not just other people’s second-hand objections, or something you are saying to please others, or to look clever. Think things through for yourself: then object if you are sure your cause is important, worthy and justified.
‘The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me’
Finally, please reflect again on how much Jesus loved you to go through all He suffered on the cross, when He died for you, bearing your sins. Think of ‘the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). If you have not already repented and trusted in Jesus, make sure that, as a point of urgency, you do turn from your sins and ask Him into your life as your Saviour. Determine to put Him first in your life each day, as your Lord, and tell Him so. Pray to Him each day and read some of His word, the Bible, daily and carefully. And make sure you get regular fellowship and worship with other Christians each week.