Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:38-54
The Gospels tell us surprisingly little about the physical aspects of our Lord’s crucifixion. All Matthew tells us is “when they crucified Him” (27:35). The focus of God’s word is on what the crucifixion means. The meaning of the crucifixion is worthy of a lifetime of study and meditation, and if we were to give our lives over to this study – we would never exhaust the riches that it contains. One of the things that the Gospel writers do so brilliantly, is they connect our Lord’s death both to the entire history of Israel – since Jesus is the climax of the covenant – and they also profoundly connect our Lord’s crucifixion with the rest of His life to reveal a unified understanding of who Jesus is and what He accomplished for His people. In order to see this, we need to slow down and make those connections in our own thinking.
Consider just mocking which is directed towards Jesus in verse 40: “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
To unpack the riches of this verse, we need to remember that Jesus never said that He was going to destroy the Temple. Rather, Jesus said: “[You] destroy this Temple, and I will raise it up in three days (John 2:19).” The irony is that even as they are hurling insults at Jesus, they are fulfilling the first part of His words. Three days later He would fulfill the second.
The second half of the verse should cause us to think about all of the times the word “if” was directed towards Jesus – and what this reveals about what God is truly like.
As Jeffrey Gibbs points out:
In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to take an easy path and wield His authority to save Himself. He tried to divert Jesus from the path of Sonship that entailed trusting God, eschewing personal comfort and protection, and worshiping and serving the LORD His God alone – no matter where that path might lead. Now the passersby speak with Satan’s voice in mockery and call on Jesus once again to deny His God-given calling: “Come down from the cross!”
The connections with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness also answer what it means for Him on the cross to be “the Son of God.” In the wilderness, Jesus was acting in his calling as God’s Son, that is, as the true Israel in the place of a failed people. Just as Jesus’ Egyptian sojourn until the death of Herod fulfilled the prophetic “out of Egypt I called My Son” (Mt 2:15), so also Jesus had entered the land in a new exodus and was declared “my Son” by the Father’s voice from heaven. “This one is My beloved Son.” Jesus faithfully withstood the temptations of Satan in the desert as the saving Champion of Israel, who had failed to be God’s true “so” so badly I n the past (Hos 11:2). He came to be the authentic “Son” on behalf of the rebellious “son.”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 22
Q. 22. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?
A. Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.