And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Yesterday we looked at the first of six details Matthew gives about Jesus’ crucifixion. Today we’ll look at the remaining five.
2. Gambling for Christ’s clothes (v. 35). Each of the gospels reports how the soldiers divided Christ’s clothing, though John alone explains that the gambling was actually only for Christ’s seamless outer robe, John is also the only one who says specifically that this was to fulfill Psalm 22:18, which says, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (see John 19:24).
A few Greek manuscripts of Matthew include this verse, but it seems to be a late addition made to conform Matthew’s text to John’s.
3. The written charge against Jesus (v. 37). Each of the gospels also record this detail, though they have different versions of the actual wording of the placard. Matthew has: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” Mark has: “The king of the Jews” (15:26). Luke reports the words as: “This is the king of the Jews” (23:38). John, who has the fullest version, writes: “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.”
Bible students have wrestled with these variations, trying to reconcile them. But the effort is unnecessary and usually farfetched in my judgment. Some suggest that since the words were in “Aramaic, Latin, and Greek,” according to John 19:20, the gospels translate different languages. That is unlikely. What we have are probably partial reports. The full text might have read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews,” or something like it. The important thing is that Jesus was killed for having claimed to be the Messiah. He was rejected as king by both the Jews and Romans, but he lives today as the only true Ruler of all men, whether Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female. Jesus is indeed the King of kings, and Lord of all.
4. “Two robbers…with him” (v. 38,44). Each of the gospels also reports that two others were crucified at the same time, though only the first three call them robbers and only Luke reports the conversion of the one. “Robber” is the same word that was used to describe Barabbas (leistes), and it probably means more than just “thief.” It refers to what we would call a revolutionary and suggests that those who were crucified along with Jesus were Barabbas’ companions. This is more than likely in that stealing was not a capital offense. Was Barabbas intended for the croSS in the center?
Probably. If so, Jesus literally took his place, just as in a figurative sense he has taken the place of all who believe in him and trust him alone for their salvation. Luke explains that both robbers began by cursing Jesus along with everyone else, but that one eventually settled down and rebuked his friend: “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then, turning to the Lord, he pled, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43). That was a wonderful promise! One Bible student said, “One thief was saved so that no one might despair, but only one so that no one might presume.” None of the gospels refers to Isaiah 53:12 at this point, but it is difficult not to think of these strange circumstances as its fulfillment, Isaiah wrote, He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.
5. Insults from the passers-by (vv. 39, 40). The insults of those passing by seem to have fulfilled Psalm 22:7: All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. It is a sorry observation on our corrupt natures that people are seldom more heartless than when they see another person suffering, as Jesus was.
6. Mocking by the chief priests, teachers of the law, and elders (vv. 41-43). Reference to these groups of people indicates that they were members of the Sanhedrin, the body that had arrested, tried, and condemned the Lord. They challenged him to have God deliver him, unwittingly fulfilling the taunt of Psalm 22:8, He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.