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March 25, 2024

The 7 Last Words of Jesus from the Cross Explained

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This article is based on teaching by Pastor Colin Smith, Senior Pastor of The Orchard from his series 7 Words from the Cross. Follow his teaching on YouTube, the Open the Bible app or by searching “Open the Bible” in your favorite podcast app.

The Bible tells us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). How does the cross show or demonstrate God’s love? 

Many people who believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again do not feel that God loves them. Maybe you can identify with that. You know about the cross. You know that Jesus suffered and died there. But it is not obvious to you how this is love.

Jesus spoke seven times during the six hours He was hanging on the cross, and each time He spoke, He revealed something of His love. As you read the summary explanation of the seven last words of Jesus from the cross, may you come to see and know that Jesus loves you, and may you find His love irresistible.

The 7 Last Words of Jesus from the Cross

1. “Father, forgive them.”

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

The soldiers took their hammers, and the long metal spikes, and they nailed the Son of God to a beam of wood. They lifted Him up on a wooden pole, and dropped the pole into a hole in the ground. Then Jesus spoke for the first time from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The men who nailed Jesus to the cross didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. They didn’t have a bad conscience. They didn’t feel that they needed to ask God for forgiveness. They were committing the most terrible sin in the history of the human race, and Jesus said that they did not know what they were doing.

This tells us something of huge importance: you cannot know what sin is from your own feelings about right and wrong. If you trust your own intuition, you will sin and go on sinning and you won’t even know it. We need God to tell us what sin is and He does this in the Bible. 

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), and that is what He is doing here. The people who were pouring out cruelty on Him were the very ones on His heart. Perhaps no one had ever prayed for these Roman soldiers before, but Jesus did. And He prays for you too when no one else would. 

Sermon: Praying for the Person Who Causes You Pain (listen below)

2. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Two criminals were crucified with Jesus, one on His right and one on His left. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us’” (Luke 23:39). Here is a man in the last hours of his life. He is completely lost, he is completely helpless, and he is still angry with God.

The other criminal had also given himself to a life of crime. He was just a few hours away from eternity. Soon he would face the judgment of God. But then something changed. A silence came over this man’s soul, and perhaps for the first time in his life, he really thinks about his own position. Earth was receding, and eternity was looming large on the horizon.

Now he sees with awesome clarity that before the day is done, he will stand before God and give an account for his life. As these thoughts run through his mind, he hears the voice of the other thief cursing Jesus, and he says, “Do you not fear God?” (Luke 23:40).

Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43). It is an extraordinary story. A man who is destined for hell and is right on the brink of eternal destruction, is given full access to the joys and privileges of eternal life. If there was hope for this man, there is hope for you and for every person you will ever meet.

Sermon: Breakfast with the Devil, Supper with the Savior (listen below)

Book Inspired by the Sermon: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Pastor Colin Smith

Related Article: The Story of the Thief on the Cross—and What It Means for Us by Kevin Halloran

3. “Woman, behold your son!” 

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26-27)

The relationship between Jesus and Mary changed. For 33 years, Jesus has been the son of Mary according to the flesh. But He was also the Son of God. He assumed human flesh, which He took from His mother, so that He could become our redeemer. That is why He came into the world and why He is on the cross.

As Mary stands at the foot of the cross, in her grief and in her sorrow, she must have been crying out, “My son, my son, my son…” And Jesus is saying, “You must no longer think of me as your son. Woman, behold, your son. From now on John is to take that place in your life.”

Well then, how was she to regard Jesus? As her Lord and Savior. When the angel told Mary about the child to be born, she said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47). She had always looked to God as her Savior. So, how would God save her?

Answer: Jesus went to the cross and laid down the life He had drawn from Mary. His body was broken. His blood was poured out. Mary’s son died, and in His death He became her Savior. Mary was losing an irreplaceable Son and she was gaining an incomparable Savior.

Sermon: How Mary’s Son Became Her Savior (listen below) | Watch on YouTube

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, cf. Mark 15:34)

Fulfillment of Psalm 22:1

Jesus was nailed to the cross at nine o’clock in the morning, and between nine and noon He spoke just three times. To His Father: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” To the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And to His mother and His disciple: “Woman, behold, your son… Behold, your mother.”

Three sentences in three long hours. For the rest of that time, He hung there and suffered in silence. Three hours, and every minute must have seemed like an eternity. Then at noon, darkness covered the land: “Now from the sixth hour [twelve o’clock] there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour [three o’clock]” (Matthew 27:45). 

For three hours Jesus had suffered pain and ridicule at the hands of men, but now He was plunged into something far worse. Jesus entered into all the dimensions of hell on the cross. Hell is conscious suffering, in blackest darkness, surrounded by demonic powers, under the judgment of God, beyond the reach of the love of God. Jesus endured all that hell is on the cross. And He did this so that you would never know what it is like. 

Sermon: The Day God Turned His Face Away (listen below) | Watch on YouTube

5. “I thirst.”

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

Fulfillment of Psalm 22:15

Jesus was on the cross for six hours, and with every hour that passed His suffering increased. Fever raged in His body as the wounds around the nails that had pierced His hands and feet widened under the weight of His body. Dehydration set in. He must have felt as if His whole body was burning.

The same Jesus who said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37) is now saying, “I thirst.” This is the only time that Jesus refers to His own suffering on the cross. His other words were spoken to forgive others, to open paradise, to provide for His mother, to reveal the anguish of hell, to announce the atonement, and to trust His spirit to the Father in death. But in these words, He speaks out of His physical suffering. 

We all suffer in various ways, but at some point in your life, you will suffer in a way that pushes you to the outer edge of your endurance. Jesus has been there. He suffered, and that is why He is able to help those who suffer. Jesus thirsted because of His suffering. So, He is able to help those who suffer. 

Sermon: When Suffering Takes You to the Edge (listen below) | Watch on YouTube

6. “It is finished!”

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Jesus said, “It is finished!” What was finished? 1. The long night of His suffering; 2. The full course of His obedience; 3. The decisive battle with His enemy; and 4. The complete work of His atonement.

This was the end of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus knows suffering more than anyone has ever known it, but He is not suffering now. He is done with that. He is finished. He is not in the grave either. He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, where He intercedes for us.

This is important. A suffering world needs a Savior who knows about suffering. But a Savior who is overwhelmed by suffering is of no use to us. We need a Savior who has triumphed over suffering. That is what we have in Jesus: He was plunged into indescribable suffering, but He was not overcome by it. He came through it and triumphed in it. 

Sermon: Crossing the Finish Line (listen below) | Watch on YouTube

7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

Fulfillment of Psalm 31:5

Jesus was not overwhelmed by death. It did not overcome Him. He said, “No one takes [my life] from me… I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). The life of Jesus was not taken. It was given. He gave Himself into death: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This is the significance of the loud voice. Have you ever been with someone while they died? No one speaks in a loud voice at the moment of death. But Jesus did. He entered death in triumph. And Mark adds, “When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’” (Mark 15:39). Do you see the glory of this? No one ever died like that.

Sermon: What Happens When You Die (listen below) | Watch on YouTube

Recommended Book:

6 Hours that Changed the World by Colin S. Smith

One Friday there were six hours that changed the world forever. During these hours, Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and through what Jesus accomplished that day, the lives and eternities of millions changed forever.

This book explores these six hours and reveals the extraordinary love of Jesus for us… a love no one else has ever shown… a love no one else could ever offer. Prayers included as you spend time reading Six Hours that Changed the World.