The Death of Jesus (Commentary)

A Different View: The Death of Jesus

Commentary by Steven Whitehead

Surely all Christians find the subject of the crucifixion difficult to talk about and for the would-be story-teller the challenge is even greater. The Gospel writers are matter-of-fact: “And they crucified Him” (Mark 15:24 / Matthew 27:35 / Luke 23:33 / John 19:18); nothing more was needed as the original audience knew all about it. If we change how we tell the story from audio to visual we have to make some difficult decisions. “They crucified Him” leaves much to our imagination. Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ (2004) shows us everything in gory detail to the extent that some commentators define the film’s genre as Horror and while we could not disagree that the events that day were horrific this was not how the four Evangelists were inspired to record the story.

As ever we must open our Bible to see what it actually says. The passages are Matthew 27:33-56, Mark 15:22-41, Luke 23:33-49, and John 19:17-37. We note that the first three all start with the conjunction kai, “and”, while John uses oun, “so”. This reminds us not to read verses in isolation but to go back to get the full context. If you do not remember what happened leading up to the Crucifixion we recommend turning back a page or two until you get your bearings: Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, and then condemned. None of the Gospels give the full story but it is relatively straightforward to harmonise the accounts. F. LaGard Smith does this well in his Narrated Bible (1984).

Nowhere is the need to harmonise clearer than in the words from the cross. Taken together the four Gospels record seven statements from “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34) to, presumably, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It is possible to arrange the seven in slightly different sequences while still making sense but clearly “It is finished” has to come closer to the end than the beginning. Most commentators believe that the Gospel writers used statements that suited their theological aim rather than trying to get everything in. So far as we can tell, of the twelve disciples (1) only John was an eye-witness (John 19:35) although we assume that he shared every detail he remembered with the others and the women present also had ears. Perhaps someone took the trouble to interview the centurion. The name Longinus is not found in the Bible and was only attached to the otherwise nameless centurion in the fourth century so there is no obligation to believe that this really was his name and we concede that it is fanciful to assume that a brave Evangelist tracked down the centurion to ask him some questions but this does not mean that it could not have happened. Speculation at this distance in time is futile but my decision as story-teller was to give him a name. Likewise I decided which statements to include in my retelling and you will also notice that I omitted the detail of the uncanny darkness (Matthew 27:45 / Mark 15:33 / Luke 23:44) and the Temple curtain being ripped apart (Matthew 27:50 / Mark 15:38 / Luke 23:45) although some of these points are picked up on in later episodes, so keep reading BiBloS!

Any reputable Bible dictionary or encyclopaedia will give you the relevant background and some examples are listed below. A word to the wise: if at first you do not find what you are looking for try changing the key word. It is a reasonable expectation that any Bible reference book will cover the crucifixion but it might be under any of: “Cross”, “Crucifixion”, “Death of Jesus”, “Execution”, “Jesus, death of” and so on. Bible commentaries will also yield results but what you get will depend on the commentator’s approach. Some will give all the historical and medical information you need while others concentrate on the spiritual importance of the death of Jesus. The information you want is out there but you may need to be prepared to browse or to ask for further advice. Whether you want archaeological, historical, medical, or theological information someone has written about it. Crucifixion was, regrettably, a common occurrence for hundreds of years so there is more than enough information available. However what happened next – the Resurrection – was unique.


  1. Actually only eleven by now, as if Judas was not already dead he was no longer part of the twelve.


The following have been used in preparing the story and commentary. This is not a comprehensive list but does at least give you a starting point as well as a snap-shot of my library:

Bromiley, Geoffrey W., (editor): The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1979)

Burke, D. G. “Cross; Crucify”, pages 825 – 830 in Bromiley, Volume One (1979).

Duncan, Ken and Philippe Antonello: The Passion (Wheaton IL, Tyndale House, 2004).

Encyclopædia Britannica: “Crucifixion” in Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  (Chicago IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015).

Green, Joel B. et al (editors): Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Leicester: IVP, 1992)

Green, J. B., “Death of Jesus” (pages 146-163) in Green, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Leicester: IVP, 1992)

Hillyer, N. (editor): The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1980).

Smith, F. LaGard (editor), Narrated Bible (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 1984)

Torrance, J. B.: “Cross, Crucifixion”, pages 343 – 344 in Hillyer, Volume One (1980).