The immediate scene of the crucifixion offers several points of conflict. This would have been the most stupendous series of events in all time, if any of them ever happened at all. The jewel of consistency should crown the inspired record of these wonders. Amid all the miracles appealed to accredit the story of the death and resurrection of a god, the seal of god’s truth should blaze upon this supreme miracle for the faith of mankind. Let us look for the miracle of truth in these four records.
BEARING THE CROSS
Matthew (27.32), Mark (15.21), and Luke
(23.26) say that on the way to
WHEN WAS IT?
The time of the crucifixion is greatly confused, both as to the day and the hour of the day. Three of the gospel historians declare that the Last Supper was itself the Passover meal; John says it was before the Passover; and John, the most intimate friend of Jesus, who was with him at the foot of the cross, says that be was crucified before the Passover, and after noon: “And it was the preparation of the Passover, and about the sixth hour” (19.14) when Jesus was delivered up to be crucified (19.16); he was taken to Golgotha (19.17); and Pilate came and wrote the inscription (19.19); so that the crucifixion took place some time after noon, and before the Passover, “because it was the preparation” (19.31). Thus Jesus did not eat the Passover. According to the other three accounts, the crucifixion took place the day after the Passover; a difference of two days.
Matthew says that the crucifixion lasted from to : “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” (Matthew 27.45). But Mark says: “It was the third hour [9 a.m.], and they crucified him” (Mark 15.25); though he joins Matthew in making the dying cry come at the ninth hour, or 3 p.m. (15.34), as does Luke (23.44); so that Jesus, according to two recorders, hung for three hours on the cross; for six hours, according to Mark.
Jesus was crucified with an inscription above his head. With respect to this Matthew says:
soldiers who crucified Jesus) set up over his
head his accusation written, This is Jesus the King of the
Jews.” (Matthew 27.37)
“And the superscription
of his accusation was written
over, The King of the Jews.” (Mark 15.26)
superscription also was written over him in
letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, This is the King of
the Jews.” (Luke 23.38)
wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And
the writing was, Jesus of
And John, who says he was there throughout, adds a totally new incident:
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. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.”
The inscription reads four different ways, with really vital differences of text. Luke, who did not see it, and John (19.20) say that it was written in three languages, on the order of the Rosetta Stone. Mark and Luke say that the name of Jesus was not in the inscription, which simply read: “This is the King of the Jews”; Mark makes it even more laconic by omitting the first two words. Matthew declares that it named Jesus; John asserts that it gave him both name and title, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Matthew says that the soldiers who crucified Jesus set up the inscription; Mark and Luke say simply that it “was written,” without indicating its writer; John flatly contradicts Matthew’s statement that the soldiers did it, declaring that Pilate wrote it and put it on the cross. The colloquy about the text between Pilate and the chief priests, recorded by John (19.21), is evidently apocryphal, as Pilate certainly was not present, and it may be doubted that the chief priests were there either.
It would seem to be of great importance to know who were witnesses to that awful scene of a dying God; but the accounts are too variant and contradictory to satisfy a just interest. All the recorders speak of passers-by, soldiers, chief priests, scribes and elders of the Jews, and John makes Pilate present. That no Jews were or could be present is asserted by scholars versed in Jewish customs and tradition. These holy gentry would not so much as enter into the judgment hall of Pilate to press their accusations against Jesus “lest they should be defiled” (John 17.28); much less would they defile their pure selves by witnessing the murder they had procured, even if permitted to do so.
Probably only the Roman soldiery was present, with chance passers-by and some of the pagan populace. The three synoptists speak of “the centurion” and his remarkable testimony. A centurion was an important officer, commander of one hundred men, a captain of a company of soldiers. There were but four soldiers (John 19.23) present, and it is hardly likely that a company commander was sent in charge of a corporal’s squad of four men to execute two thieves and one Christ.
The friends and followers of Jesus who
witnessed the fatal scene deserve our attention more; but we can never know who
they were. John, who claims to have been on the spot, says that only “there
stood by the cross of Jesus” three Marys, “his
mother, and his mother’s sister [both oddly named Mary], and Mary Magdalene”
(John 19.25); and that Jesus, pointing to John, said: “Woman, behold thy son”
(19.26, 27). But John was not present, according to the silence of all the
other gospel truth-bearers. Matthew, who was not there, bears record of “many
women ... which followed Jesus from
John alone of the delectable Twelve was
present at the final tragedy, according to him; all the disciples (himself
"Many wise words are spoken in jest, but they don't compare with the number of stupid words spoken in earnest." -Sam Levenson (1911-1980)