Harmony of the Gospels


(36) Seven Events of First Three Hours on Cross

Scripture: Matthew 27:35-44, Mark 15:24-32, Luke 23:33-43 (focal passage), John 19:18-27

Tom Lowe



The Apostles Creed states it without embellishment: "He was crucified, dead, and buried.” His Crucifixion is the first event of the first three hours the Lord spent on the Cross. We need to understand it not only from the historical point of view, but also from the doctrinal. What happened and why it happened is important.

Date: Thursday of Jesus final week

Location: Golgotha (Calvary)

They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. (Psalm 22:18)


(Luke 23:33) And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
(Matthew 27:35a) And they crucified him,
(Mark 15:24a) And when they had crucified him,
(Mark 15:25) And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
(John 19:18a) Where they crucified him,

Jesus was not executed in a quiet building away from the noise and activity. He was executed beside a public highway, on a day when perhaps hundreds of people were traveling. The place of execution was called Calvary(from the Latin for “Skull”). Perhaps the configuration of the land resembled a skull, or perhaps it was so named because it was the place of death, and a skull is often used as a symbol of death. No one actually knows the exact place where the crucifixion or burial occurred. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the traditional site but many believe it was Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb because they give a better picture of what the site is presumed to be like in the early centuries.

The moderate description of the crucifixion given in Scripture is worth noting. There is no lingering over the terrible details. There is just the simple and unemotional statement, “there they crucified Him.” The Holy Spirit does not indulge in dramatics, resort to sensational journalism, or dwell on sordid details. He simply states the fact: "Then they crucified Him." Yet eternity itself will not exhaust the depths of those words.

Once again Stewart’s remarks are to the point: "That the Messiah should die was hard enough to credit, but that He should die such a death was utterly beyond belief. Yet so it was. Everything which Christ ever touched—the cross included—he adorned and transfigured and haloed with splendor and beauty; but let us never forget out of what appalling depths he has set the cross on high." 

O teach me what it meaneth
That cross uplifted high
With One, the Man of Sorrows,
Condemned to bleed and die.
—Lucy A. Bennett

There were three crosses at Calvary that day, the cross of Jesus in the middle, and a criminal’s cross on each side of Him. This fulfilled prophesy found in Isaiah 53:12—“He was numbered with the transgressors.”

(Luke 23:34a) Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

With infinite love and mercy Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” What grace! As with Christ and the martyr Stephen, we must be so controlled by the Spirit so that in our darkest hour we will be able to speak these words and mean them.

Some of the fruit of this prayer would be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost ([1]Acts 2:41). “They know not what they do” means that they were not aware of their wickedness. They did not recognize Him as the true Messiah ([2]Acts 13:27-28). They were blinded to the light of divine truth, “for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory ([3]1 Corinthians 2:8). Still, their ignorance certainly did not mean that they deserved forgiveness: rather, their spiritual blindness itself was a manifestation of their guilt (John 3:19). But Christ’s prayer while they were in the very act of mocking Him is an expression of the boundless compassion of divine grace.

Who knows what a great river of divine wrath was averted by this prayer! Morgan comments on the Savior’s love: “In the soul of Jesus there was no resentment; no anger, no lurking desire for punishment upon the men who were maltreating Him. Men have spoken in admiration of the mailed fist. When I hear Jesus thus pray, I know that the only place for the mailed fist is in hell.”


(Luke 23:34b)And they parted his raiment, and cast  [4]lots.
(Matthew 27:35b) and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my  [5]vesture did they cast lots.
(Mark 15:24b)they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.
(John 19:23) Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his  [6]coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
(John 19:24) They said therefore among themselves, Let us not  [7]rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did.

At executions such as Christ’s, the soldiers were allowed to share the personal effects of those who died. Here we find them dividing Christ’s garments among themselves. Apparently there were five pieces altogether. They divided four, but there was still the tunic, which was without seam and could not be cut up without making it worthless. To resolve the problem, the soldiers resorted to gambling. They cast lots for the tunic, and it was handed over to the unnamed winner. Little did they know that in doing this; they were fulfilling a remarkable prophecy written a thousand years previously; they part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (Psalm 22:18). These fulfilled prophecies remind us once more that this Book is the inspired Word of God, and that Jesus Christ is indeed the promised Messiah.
Denney said, “The one perfect life that has been lived in this world is the life of Him who owned nothing, and who left nothing but the clothes He wore.”


(Luke 23:35) And the people stood  [8]beholding. And the rulers also with them  [9]derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
(Luke 23:36) And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, (Luke 23:37) And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

(Matthew 27:36) And sitting down they watched him there;

The common people and the religious leaders ridiculed Him by challenging Him to use His powers as Messiah to save himself. However, that was the one thing Jesus could not and would not do. To save Himself would have meant the loss of the entire world. If Jesus had come down from the cross, He would not have been the Christ. He would not have fulfilled all of Isaiah 53 which speaks of His death. Because Jesus Christ stayed on the cross, we can be healed of sin, the awful plague of mankind. It is no wonder He endured Satan’s earlier temptation, for now He would conquer Satan’s power forever by denying Himself!

They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall, an allusion to Psalm 69:21; “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” This was customarily given to condemned prisoners to serve as a kind of anesthetic or antiseptic.

These soldiers were representatives of a world of little men. They apparently had no sense of history being made. If only they had known, they would not have sat down and kept watch; they would have knelt down and worshiped.


(Luke 23:38) And a  [10]superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(Matthew 27:37) And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Mark 15:26) And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(John 19:19) And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
(John 19:20) This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
(John 19:21) Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
(John 19:22) Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.

It was the custom to put a title above the head of the crucified, and to indicate the crime. Over Christ’s head they put the title, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The exact wording of the superscription varies somewhat in the four Gospels, which is apparent from these verses. The chief priests protested that the title should not appear to be a statement of fact, and they wanted it to look like the mere claim of the Accused. However, Pilate overruled them; the truth was there for all to see—in Hebrew, the official speech of the Jews; in Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire; and in Greek, the universal tongue.  This was probably written as a mockery to the Jews.

Once again we quote Stewart: "We cannot miss the significance of the fact that the inscription was written in three languages, Greek and Latin and Hebrew. No doubt that was done in order to make sure that everyone in the crowd might read it; but Christ’s Church has always seen in it—and rightly—a symbol of the universal lordship of her master. For these were the three great world languages, each of them the servant of one dominant idea. Greek was the language of culture and knowledge; in that realm, said the inscription, Jesus was king! Latin was the language of law and government; Jesus was king there! Hebrew was the language of revealed religion; Jesus was King there! Hence even as he hung dying, it was true that “on his head were many crowns” ( [11]Revelation 19:12). Pilate placed a placard over Jesus’ head with the accusation: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Little did he realize how true this intended mockery of the Jews really was. Indeed, as Matthew shows, Jesus was the King of the Jews, whom they had rejected.

The physical suffering in those final three hours on the cross was bad enough, but the Lord also endured continuous insults and mockery by those who observed.


(Matthew 27:39) And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
(Mark 15:29) And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,

The curious along with those that hated Him, walked beneath His cross and looking up at Him shook their heads from side to side while making fun of Him, cursing Him, and hurling insults at Him (Psalm 22:6-8). When Christ prophesied about the temple He had referred to His body ([12]John 2:19–21), but these accusers mocked Him because they thought He spoke of the building and thus His word had failed. The claim would be fulfilled just three days later, at His resurrection.

(Matthew 27:40) And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
(Mark 15:30) Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

If the cross reveals God’s love, it also reveals man’s depravity. Passers-by paused long enough to jeer at the Shepherd as He was dying for the sheep: “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” This is the language of rationalistic unbelief. “Let us see and we will believe.” It is also the language of liberalism. “Come down from the cross"—in other words, remove the offense of the cross and we will believe. William Booth said, “They claimed they would have believed if He had come down; we believe because He stayed up.”

Had He come down from the cross, the people still would not have believed in Him. And if He saved Himself, He could not save others ([13]John 12:23–28). First the suffering, then the glory; first the cross, then the crown. Remember that the next time you are tempted to take the easy way.

(Matthew 27:41) Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
(Matthew 27:42) He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
(Matthew 27:43) He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
(Mark 15:31) Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
(Mark 15:32) Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

The chief priests, scribes, and elders joined the chorus. With unintentional insight they cried, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” They meant it as a taunt; we adapt it as a hymn of praise:

Himself He could not save,
He on the cross must die,
Or mercy cannot come
To ruined sinners nigh;
Yes, Christ the Son of God must bleed,
That sinners might from sin be freed.
—Albert Midlane

The religious leaders mocked His claim to be the Savior, His claim to be the King of Israel, His claim to be the Son of God. The further accusations, He saved others … He trusted in God … He said I am the Son of God were actually true in the opposite sense in which the priests intended them.

He saved others; himself he cannot save, though not true, indirectly emphasizes the fact that He would not save Himself because He was willing to save others. Descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe is typical of the thinking of fallen man; they confused the order of revelation. When a person believes in Christ, he begins to see. Spiritual understanding and discernment are results of spiritual illumination, which is accomplished by the new birth through the Holy Spirit.


(Matthew 27:38) Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
(Mark 15:27) And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.
(Mark 15:28) And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.
(John 19:18b) and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.

The sinless Son of God was flanked by two robbers, just as Isaiah had predicted 700 years previously, that He would be numbered with the transgressors—“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah53:12).

(Luke 23:39) And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
(Matthew 27:44) The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
(Luke 23:40) But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
(Luke 23:41) And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

We learn from the Gospel narratives that both robbers insulted Jesus at the beginning. If He was the Christ, why did He not save them all? But during the six hours they were on the cross, especially the last three hours, one thief saw that something unusual was taking place. He recognized that this one dying on the cross was not dying for Himself, but for someone else. Although He knew Barabbas should be on that cross, he also seemed to realize He was dying for Him. He realized that this was a transaction between God and the man on the cross, and the man on the cross was God. Then he turned to Christ in faith; and turning to his companion, he scolded him for his irreverence. After all, they were both suffering for crimes that they had committed. Their punishment was deserved. But this Man on the middle cross had done nothing wrong.
(Luke 23:42) And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

At first, both robbers hurled insults at Him. But one repented and was saved in the nick of time; in just a few hours he was with Christ in Paradise. How was it that He changed so quickly? It was faith! Turning to Jesus, the thief asked the Lord to remember him when He came back and set up His kingdom on earth. Such faith was remarkable, because at the time Jesus did not look like He could save anyone. The dying thief believed that Jesus would rise from the dead and would eventually reign over the world.

(Luke 23:43) And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

The thief who asked Christ for salvation received it. Jesus rewarded his faith with the promise that that very day; they would be together in Paradise. Paradise is the same as the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4), the domain of the righteous dead and the dwelling place of God. This thief was not fit to live on earth, according to the Roman government. But very shortly He would go to be with the Lord. This thief was a bad thief, not a good one, but because of his faith in the Son of God he became a saved thief. This man had faith to believe that the Lord Jesus was coming into a kingdom, and it would come after His death! Obviously, this thief had come a long way theologically while hanging on that cross. Charles R. Erdman writes: “This story reveals the truth to us that salvation is conditioned upon repentance and faith. However, it contains other important messages also. It declares that salvation is independent of sacraments. The thief had never been baptized, nor had he partaken of the Lord’s Supper. … He did in fact boldly profess his faith in the presence of a hostile crowd and amid the taunts and jeers of rulers and soldiers, yet he was saved without any formal rites. It is further evident that salvation is independent of good works. … It is also seen that there is no “sleep of the soul.” The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death. Again it is evident that there is no “purgatory.” Out of a life of sin and shame, the penitent robber passed immediately into a state of blessedness. Again it may be remarked that salvation is not universal. There were two robbers; only one was saved. Last of all it may be noted that the very essence of the joy which lies beyond death consists in personal communion with Christ. The heart of the promise to the dying thief was this: “Thou shalt be with me.” This is our blessed assurance, that to depart is “to be with Christ” which is “very far better.” 

From Jesus Christ’s side one person may go to heaven and another to hell. Which side of the cross are you on?


(John 19:25) Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

Contrasted to the soldiers and the crowd, John mentions three women who loved the Lord: Mary, His mother; Mary, the wife of Cleophas; and Mary Magdalene. Many Bible students think that there are four women named in this verse, as follows: (1) Mary, the mother of Jesus; (2) Mary’s sister, Salome, the mother of John; (3) Mary, the wife of Clopas; (4) Mary Magdalene.

(John 19:26) When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
(John 19:27) Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

In spite of His own suffering, the Lord had tender regard for others. Seeing His mother, and John, the disciple, He introduced John to her as the one who would henceforth take the place of son to her. In calling His mother “Woman,” the Lord did not show any lack of respect. But it is noticeable that He did not call her “Mother.” Although Mary was His earthly mother, Christ as her Redeemer and Savior refers to her in that redemptive relationship.

Here is love again. Christ tells John to take care of His mother. Does this have any lesson for those who might be tempted to exalt Mary to the place where she is adored? Mary, just like every other person needed a Savior and she was saved the same way you and I were; through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus here instructed John to care for Mary as if she were his own mother. John obeyed and took Mary to his own home. This teaches that everyone has a responsibility to provide for and take care of his parents.


_______________________Notes and Reference Scripture__________________________

  [1]Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
  [2]For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain.

  [3]Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
  [4]A “lot” was an object used in gambling, called here casting or drawing lots, which was either a pebble, or a potsherd (piece of broken pottery), or a bit of wood. Each person has their name inscribed on a lot, and all lots were thrown together into a vase, which was then shaken, and he whose lot fell out first upon the ground was the one chosen.
  [5]clothing, apparel
  [6]a tunic, an undergarment, usually worn next to the skin
  [7]to split into factions, be divide
  [8]look at, look on, see, observe, witness, feast your eyes on
  [9]ridicule, scoff, put down (informal), disparage, mock, scorn, disdain, knock (slang)
  [10]Superscription denotes “an inscription, a title.” On Roman coins the emperor’s name was inscribed, Matt. 22:20; Mark 12:16; Luke 20:24. In the Roman Empire, in the case of a criminal on his way to execution, a board on which was inscribed the cause of his condemnation, was carried before him or hung around his neck; the inscription was termed a “title” (titlos). The four Evangelists state that at the crucifixion of Christ the title was affixed to the cross, Mark (15:26), and Luke (23:38), call it a “superscription”; Mark says it was “written over” (epigrapho, the corresponding verb). Matthew calls it “His accusation”; John calls it “a title” (a technical term). The wording varies: the essential words are the same, and the variation serves to authenticate the narratives, showing that there was no consultation leading to an agreement as to the details.
  [11]His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
  [12]Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21But he spake of the temple of his body.
  [13]And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. 28Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 As a little first grader Jenny loved to sing. One day while driving in the car, she sang along with a tape by Michael W. Smith. The song was “Angels Unaware.” When it got to the line, “Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware,” she sang a different version. Little Jenny belted out, “Maybe we are irritating angels unaware.” Her rendition may be more truthful than Mr. Smith’s.

Christian Reader, March/April 1997, p. 80

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