Greek Study Luke 23:33-43
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
v33 τον καλουμενον (καλεω) pres. pas. part. "called" Κρανιον "skull" - in Aramaic the Greek rendering is "Golgotha", but Luke drops this name for some unknown reason.
εσταυρωσαν (σταυροω) aor. "they crucified" - none of the gospel writers describe Jesus' actual crucifixion.
τους κακουργους (ος) "the criminals" (Mark has "bandits", i.e. "terrorists" or "freedom-fighters" if a Jew or "insurgents" if you want to sit on the fence! Luke avoids the political innuendo using the word “criminal” – but also departs form the tradition (and the main rationale for Roman culpability) – wat’s up with that?
v34 αφες (αφιημι) aor. imp. "forgive" - This prayer is not found in all manuscripts.
αυτοις dat. pro. "them" Who, the priests, Romans, people, or all of them?
οιδασιν (οιδα) perf. "they [do not] understand (know).
v35 θεωρων (θεωρεω) pres. part. "staring” participle is adverbial.
εξεμυκτηριζον (εκμυκτηριζω) imperf. "sneered at" - Luke does not separate the officials from the people when it comes to abusing Jesus.
λεγοντες (λεγω) pres. part. "they said" attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they continued mocking him and said."
σωσατω (σωζω) imp. "let him save" rescue/heal himself…
ο εκλεκτος "the one picked out" – I.e. the Messiah, the one God has chosen.
v36 ενεπαιξαν (εμπαιζω) aor. ridiculed/made fun of. Some argue the offering of sour wine was how they mocked him - a king would never be offered poor wine (Ps.69:21).
οξος "wine/ vinegar" - low cost dry red wine, like they serve in most restaurants today!
v37 ει + ind. "if" - Introducing a first-class condition, hypothetical, where the stated condition is assumed to be true for argument sake.
v38 επιγραφη (η) "notice" – a placard or formal notice detailing the criminal's name and charge.
ουτος "this one”- not used in Mark. While this is derogatory in context, it is interesting that the charge doesn't have "claimed", although the exact wording of the inscription varies "king of the Jews" is a common.
v39 εβλασφημει (βλασφημεω) imperf. "hurled insults" - a durative – i.e. the insults flowed; "he spoke with sarcastic disrespect."
ουχι - "[Are] not [you the Christ]" – the negative here indicates that the question expects a positive response, although it is clear that he doesn't believe Jesus is Christ.
v40 επιτιμων (επιτιμαω) pres. part. "rebuked" serves as an adverb so "rebuckingly? This is purely a Lukan account and is so startling that it has caused great debate as to its authenticity. It is often suggested this criminal initially derided Jesus, but then responded positively, but such is conjecture.
ουδε φοβη (φοβεω) pres. pas. "don't you fear [God]" - The second criminal recognizes Jesus' messianic credentials and expresses the danger of affronting God.
v41 δικαιως adv. "[we are] justly condemned"
απολαμβανομεν (απολαμβανω) pres. "we are getting" what we deserve.
δε "but" - adversative
ατοπον adj. "wrong/improper/wicked” Jesus has done nothing deserving crucifixion. Luke is underlining the innocence of Jesus, not suggesting this criminal has a knowledge of the law, rather he senses the innocence of the man crucified next to him.
v42 μνησθητι (μιμνησκομαι) aor. pas. imp. "Remember me kindly / show me your kindness" an epitaph found on gravestone inscriptions of the time.
v43 σημερον adv. "today" – the coming day - a common technical phrase used of the messianic kingdom, does not mean "this day" but rather "the coming day." Jesus is responding to the criminal's understanding of paradise as a holding place for the righteous prior to the final establishment of the kingdom. The theology of death as asleep is inferred by this, the timeless nature of the resurrection is at the heart of this statement.
τω παραδεισω/ (ος) "paradise" - Originally a Persian word used of an enclosed garden, later a holding place after death where the righteous awaited the coming kingdom - Jesus likely means "heaven" in the sense of a new garden of Eden.
33. criminals: Mark and Matthew use the Greek word λεσται, "peasants who have been repressed and separated from their land and village. This is usually the result if they have been excessively taxed and forced to sell their land, have had their land confiscated by elites, or have broken an law enforced by the elites." Barabbas was a λεστεσ (Luke 23:18-19). Jesus had been accused of political crimes (Luke 23:2; 38, 39). In Luke the Greek is κακουργο, literally, "malefactor;" a common thief. This is Luke’s way of dismissing the earthly, political issues. Jesus’ crucifixion between two criminals is seen as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 (Luke 22:37).
34. "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing": "to whom do they refer? Scarcely to the Roman soldiers. Apart from the fact that the soldiers have not yet men mentioned (see v. 36), the ‘ignorance motif’ of Acts would have to be invoked to explain the sense of ‘them,’ i.e. the Jewish ‘leaders’ of the context, those who were crucifying and mocking him" (Acts 2:36).
they cast lots to divide his clothing: An allusion to Psalm 22:18.
35. See Psalm 22:8.
He saved others, let him save himself: This is an acknowledgement that Jesus had saved others. The reading concludes with Jesus’ statement to one of the criminals in verse 43, "today you will be with me in paradise," indicating that both he and the criminal will be "saved," not from the cross but from separation from God.
the Messiah of God, his chosen one: In Luke 9:35 "chosen one" is coupled with "my son" in the Transfiguration narrative. Jesus is God’s chosen one, the one anointed by God (at baptism, and now with the baptism of death (Mark 10:38; Romans 6:3).
36. The soldiers also mocked him: They continued their ill-treatment of Jesus which began in 22:63-65, now with the added tone of ridicule.
37: "Satan had offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world (4:5-7). The soldiers challenge Jesus to demonstrate his kingship by saving himself…. For Luke this is of course a high point in his narrative. Jesus is the King of the Jews. His only crime was to be what he truly is, and the cross is the place of his enthronement, for greatness is won through renunciation of self."
38. This is the King of the Jews: Literally, King of the Judeans. Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s question, "Are you the king of the Judeans," an affirmation of the assertion, though it leaves Pilate with the determination of how to understand it. Luke adds the demonstrative pronoun, "this" to the title to indicate the Roman taunt directed against both Jesus and any other royal pretenders. Other Judean kings would be treated as this one had been treated.
39. One of the criminals: In Mark 15:32 and Matthew 27:44 both robbers revile Jesus. In Luke only one criminal attacks Jesus, the other rebukes the first.
43. paradise: This is a Persian loan-word meaning a garden or park. It took on the connotation of the garden of Eden (Revelation 2:7). It is used as a synonym for heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4.
This is a different kind of king. The passage bristles with irony, which reflects the Markan account and must have arisen from Jesus’ first followers who made the connections. After all Jesus taught that the greatest would be the one who serves and He called the dominant models of power into question. Yet at the same time other forces pull in a different direction. Jesus the loser becomes Jesus the winner, but who wants to focus on losing? Paul spoke of the powerful powerlessness of the cross. Crucifixion confronts the norms of power with a new way of being God.
Luke follows Mark for the most part, but with variations in order and important additional details. Jesus is crucified on the grounds that he is subversive. That subversiveness is associated with the notion of ‘messiah’. ‘King of the Jews’ makes the charge explicit and stands over the cross as a warning against other would-be messiahs. Such a figure was widely expected to overthrow Rome. The notion was, however, rather flexible and may not have entailed military intentions at all but these finer points of Jewish theology would have been lost on a busy Roman administrator like Pilate. His chief concern would have been to suppress any form of popular movement that held potential to undermine stability. Fear is often ruthless. He understood enough to know there was no need to round up Jesus’ followers and execute them. You cut the head off the snake and the rest will die. But it didn’t die and Christians acclaimed Jesus messiah and not the kind of messiah that warranted an execution. In this sense the charge against him was false. Thus it makes sense to bring Barabbas into the story for he too belonged as did those who were crucified with Jesus. Outside of Luke’s Gospel they are called ‘lestai’, a term commonly used for revolutionaries. This all goes together to create an ironic situation in which one falsely charged for being ‘King of the Jews’ and messiah is being hailed as the ‘King of the Jews’ and ‘messiah’ by Christians.
The way out of the dilemma is to emphasize that Jesus was no threat at all. It was all a terrible misunderstanding. Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God, the kingdom within, and it had nothing to do with the broader political concerns. And you can read Luke this way: that forgiveness of individual sins is the goal, a forgiveness that is offered generously even to those who despise him 23:34 shows and even available for ‘criminals’ as 23:39-43 illustrates. Luke has even removed from his narrative the dangerous suggestions that Jesus may have spoken against the temple, which Mark reported as an echo of the Jewish trial and for which the tearing of the curtain of the temple was an advance sign. In Luke it is now more a sign of divine grief (23:44-45).
Was Jesus then a messiah of a rather harmless kind, concerned primarily with the inner world? Did those who colluded in his execution just miss the boat? Was it all a terrible misunderstanding? Luke is at pains to emphasize Jesus was innocent, he even has both Pilate and Herod Antipas say so. But there is no smoke without a fire. Something was smoldering in the movement of Jesus even if not military intervention. It was, however, something which gained a following that presented a clear and present danger to Roman stability. It is impossible to make sense of this without recognizing that there were indeed elements of subversion within the Jesus movement.
So Luke presents Jesus from the beginning as one who is addressing Israel’s hopes of liberation. The songs of the birth narratives are filled with it. And Jesus marches into the synagogue to link his mission to Isaiah 61 where He announces good news to the poor, hungry, and those who weep. He asserts the value of the valueless. He gathers people and announces change. He is not beginning a school for meditation nor is he promising a utopia at some other time and place. He is announcing a change that it already manifesting itself in Him and His community. And this was certainly NOT harmless for those with invested in the status quo. Was he one with Barabbas and the brigands? No; yet we need to see that in some sense He would have more in common with them than with Christian quietists.
To affirm that Jesus is king is to affirm a different kind of kingship. But it is not a kingship which abdicates into an inner world of meditation. Powerless is passivity if no power is taken up. Jesus was enormously powerful and aggressively assertive. He did not come to create a set of doormats but to spread a revolution of love and grace, which entailed identifying and embodying a new kind of power. The feast of Christ the king is very assertive. The paradox and irony of the passion is not be dissolved by saying Christ’s concerns lie elsewhere. It is rather to be entered as representative of a fundamental conflict in the here and now: about God, about Christ, about being Christian.
‘King’ is a male gendered expression but the issue is larger than this. Asserting Christ the king as an image of splendor with all the trappings of ancient royalty, in word and song it reinforces standard images of greatness, might and domination. Asserting Christ the king is a counter image to a world that keeps the poor poor. Christ the King is a subversive declaration. It is a way of locating what matters most because what matters most in the end is God.
The Scripture readings (Jer. 23:1-6, Col. 1:13-20, Luke 23:35-43) does not allow us to push Christ’s kingship off to a heavenly place. They remind us reconciliation applies to "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" (Col. 1:20). The peace of the gospel required a violent and unjust death. But Christ rules those who have received the redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness as a result of that death. We would never expect that one described as the incarnation of divine fullness (Col. 1:19) would enter into his rule dying like a common criminal. The Gospels underscore the irony of the crucifixion by describing his mocking and Luke rubs the message in by repeating this mocking three times (Luke 23:35-39): the rulers of the people mock the idea of a savior who cannot save himself, the soldiers mock him as a powerless king and one of the criminals mock him because he cannot save either himself or those dying with him.
But then people expect that divinely anointed leaders of the last days will redeem them. The promise of a divinely installed shepherd from the Davidic line (Jeremiah) does not point to some other world. It promises that the Jewish exile will end and the people will dwell securely in their land under the leadership of a king whose name will be "the Lord is our righteousness". Such a promise undercuts other rulers’ claims to legitimacy or divine support. But the rule of justice and peace will not be created by the political figures of this present age either. God condemns them for destroying what they should have protected.
Luke makes the rulers of the people the first to mock a crucified Jesus while the people stand in mute witness. Yet such mockery has an ironic quality. When the Roman soldiers who represent the real power mock Jesus as king of the Jews, they include both the people and their leaders in this gesture of contempt. And these soldiers do not expect Jesus’ act of saving himself to include them. Jesus merely provides the occasion to express their disdain for a weak, vacillating people. His execution demonstrates the power of Rome. But Luke’s version of the crucifixion does not permit mockery to turn the scene into a piece of political irony. Instead, Luke uses a tradition about the repentant criminal to provide a dramatic example of how Jesus in fact becomes savior even from the cross. During the trial scene, Pilate repeatedly states Jesus is innocent. The second criminal reminds us Jesus has done nothing to deserve the death. He then goes beyond mere recognition that Jesus is innocent to Jesus is King. So in the end Jesus is not a failure he is on the way to kingship, which is a lesson the risen Jesus must teach to his own confused disciples (Luke 24:26)
The criminal recognizes both the justice of his own sentence and the possibility for salvation in Jesus. His reward; greater than what he requested, is a place with Jesus. "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Is paradise the Magic Kingdom? Not hardly. We can only enter Jesus’ kingdom if we shed the flawed, human perceptions of power and like the thief turn toward the ultimate dichotomy, a Crucified Messiah!