Jesus died on the Cross to redeem mankind, to save us from our sins because of
his love for us. As recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in
the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ was mocked, scorned, and tortured in the praetorium. He carried his cross up the Via Dolorosa in
Jerusalem to Calvary, was nailed to the Cross, and hung between two common
criminals. He suffered an indescribable end, recalled by the Church on Good
Friday of Holy Week.
One may meditate on the Passion of Christ by reflecting on his Seven Words on
the Cross or by a devotion known as The Way of the Cross.
When religious pilgrimages to the Holy Land ended with military occupation of
Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, a popular devotion known
as The Way of the Cross arose during Lent retracing the Passion, Crucifixion,
and Death of Jesus. The fourteen Stations of the Cross are (1) Pilate condemns
Jesus to death; (2) Jesus takes up his Cross; (3) He falls the first time; (4)
Jesus meets his sorrowful mother Mary; (5) Simon helps carry the cross; (6)
Veronica cleans his face; (7) He falls the second time; (8) Jesus consoles the
women of Jerusalem; (9) He falls the third time; (10) Jesus is stripped of his
garments; (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) Jesus Christ dies on the
cross; (13) Our Lord is taken down from the cross; (14) Christ is laid in the
Here are his Seven Words, the last seven expressions of Jesus
Christ on the Cross recorded in Scripture.
THE FIRST WORD
"Father, forgive them, for they do not
know what they do."
of Nazareth is looking down from the cross just after he was crucified between
two criminals. He sees the soldiers who have mocked, scourged, and tortured
him, and who have just nailed him to the cross. He probably remembers those who
have sentenced him - Caiaphas and the high priests of the Sanhedrin. Pilate
realized it was out of envy that they handed him over (Matthew 27:18, Mark
15:10). But is Jesus not also thinking of his Apostles and companions who have
deserted him, to Peter who has denied him three times, to the fickle crowd who
only days before praised him on his entrance to Jerusalem, and then days later
demanded his crucifixion?
Is he also thinking of us, who daily forget him in our lives?
Does he react angrily? No! At the height of his physical suffering, his love
prevails and He asks His Father to forgive! Could there ever be greater irony?
Jesus asks his Father to forgive, but it is by His very Sacrifice on the Cross
that mankind is able to be forgiven!
Right up to his final hours on earth, Jesus preaches forgiveness. He teaches
forgiveness in the Lord's prayer: "Forgive us our
trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" (Matthew 6:12).
When asked by Peter, how many times should we forgive someone, Jesus answers
seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). He forgives the paralytic at Capernaum
(Mark 2:3-12), the sinful woman who anointed him in the home of Simon the
Pharisee (Luke 7:37-48), and the adulteress caught in the act and about to be
stoned (John 8:1-11). During the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last
Supper, Jesus tells them to drink of the cup: "Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28). And even following his Resurrection,
his first act is to commission his disciples to forgive: "Receive the Holy
Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the
sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23).
THE SECOND WORD
"Truly, I say to you, today you will be
with me in Paradise."
it is not just the religious leaders or the soldiers that mock Jesus, but even
one of the criminals, a downward progression of mockery. But the criminal on
the right speaks up for Jesus, explaining the two criminals are receiving their
just due, whereas "this man has done nothing wrong." Then, turning to
Jesus, he asks, "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom"
(Luke 23:42). What wonderful faith this repentant sinner has in Jesus - far
more than the doubting Thomas, one of his own Apostles. Ignoring his own
suffering, Jesus responds with mercy in His second word, living out his own
Beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain
The second word again is about forgiveness, this time directed to a sinner.
Just as the first word, this Biblical expression is found only in the Gospel of
Luke. Jesus shows his Divinity by opening heaven for a repentant sinner - such
generosity to a man that only asked to be remembered!
This expression offers us hope for salvation, for if we turn our hearts and
prayers to Him and accept his forgiveness, we will also be with Jesus Christ at
the end of our lives.
THE THIRD WORD
"Jesus said to his mother: "Woman,
this is your son."
Then he said to the disciple: "This is your mother."
and Mary are together again, at the beginning of his ministry in Cana and now
at the end of his public ministry at the foot of the Cross. John is the only
Evangelist to record Our Lord's mother Mary at the Cross. The Lord refers to
his mother as woman at the Wedding Feast of Cana (John 2:1-11)
and in this passage, recalling the woman in Genesis 3:15, the
first Messianic prophecy of the Redeemer, anticipating the woman clothed
with the sun in Revelation 12.
What sorrow must fill Mary's heart! How she must have felt meeting her Son as
he carried the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. "Behold I make all things
new" (Revelation 21:5). And then she had to watch him being nailed to the
Cross. Once again, a sword pierces Mary's soul: we are reminded of the prophecy
of Simeon at the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple (Luke
The loved ones of Jesus are with Him. There are four at the foot of the cross,
Mary his Mother, John, the disciple whom he loved, his mother's sister Mary the
wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. He addresses his
third word to his mother Mary and John, the only eye-witness of the Gospel
Jesus again rises above the occasion as he cares for the ones that love him.
The good son that He is, Jesus is concerned about looking after his mother.
St. Joseph was noticeably
absent. St. Joseph was not present at family occasions like the Wedding Feast
of Cana and had probably died before the public ministry of Jesus, or else he
would have been the one to take care of Mary following the Passion of Our Lord.
In fact, this passage indicates that Jesus was the only child of Mary, because
if he did have natural brothers or sisters, they would have provided for her.
But Jesus looks to John to care for her.
Another striking phrase indicating Jesus of Nazareth was an only child is Mark
6:3, referring to Jesus: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and
the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon,
and are not his sisters here with us?" The terms brother and sister in
Hebrew or Aramaic at that time could mean either biological sibling, cousin or
kinsman, or a spiritual brother or sister. Now if James, Joses
and Judas and Simon were also natural sons of Mary, Jesus would not have been
called the "son of Mary," but rather "one of the sons of
THE FOURTH WORD
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken
Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
was the only expression of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Both
Gospels related that it was in the ninth hour, after 3 hours of darkness, that Jesus cried out this fourth word. The ninth
hour was three o'clock in Judea. After the fourth Word, Mark related with a
horrible sense of finality, "And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed
his last" (Mark 15:37).
One is struck by the anguished tone of this expression in contrast to the first
three words of Jesus. This cry is from the painful heart of the human Jesus who
must feel deserted by His Father and the Holy Spirit, not to mention his
earthly companions the Apostles. As if to emphasize his loneliness, Mark even
has his loved ones "looking from afar," not close to him as in the
Gospel of John. Jesus feels separated from his Father. He is now all alone, and
he must face death by himself.
But is not this exactly what happens to all of us when we die? We too are all
alone at the time of death! Jesus completely lives the human experience as we
do, and by doing so, frees us from the clutches of sin.
His fourth Word is the opening line of Psalm 22, and thus his cry from the
Cross recalls the cry of Israel, and of all innocent persons who suffer. Psalm
22 of David makes a striking prophecy of the crucifixion of the Messiah at a
time when crucifixion was not known to exist: "They have pierced my hands
and my feet, they have numbered all my bones" (22:16-17). The Psalm
continues: "They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they
cast lots" (22:18).
There can not be a more dreadful moment in the
history of man as this moment. Jesus who came to save us is crucified, and He
realizes the horror of what is happening and what He now is enduring. He is
about to be engulfed in the raging sea of sin. Evil triumphs, as Jesus admits:
"But this is your hour" (Luke 22:53). But it is only for a moment.
The burden of all the sins of humanity for a moment overwhelm the humanity of
But does this not have to happen? Does this not have to occur if Jesus is to
save us? It is in defeat of his humanity that the Divine plan of His Father
will be completed. It is by His death that we are redeemed. "For there is
one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ
Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all" (I Timothy
"He himself bore our sins in his body
upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed."
First Peter 2:24
THE FIFTH WORD
fifth word of Jesus is His only human expression of His physical suffering.
Jesus is now in shock. The wounds inflicted upon him in the scourging, the
crowning with thorns, losing blood on the three-hour walk through the city of
Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, and the nailing upon the cross are
now taking their toll.
The Gospel of John first refers to thirst when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman
at the well. After first asking for "a drink," he answers the woman,
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink
of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will
give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life"
(John 4:13-14). This passage implies there is more than just physical thirst.
Jesus also thirsts in a spiritual sense. He thirsts for love. He thirsts for
the love of his Father, who has left him unaided during this dreadful hour when
He must fulfill his mission all alone. And he thirsts for the love and
salvation of his people, the human race. Jesus practiced what he preached:
"This is my commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no man than this,
That he lay down his life for his friends."
THE SIXTH WORD
When Jesus had received the wine, he said,
"It is finished;"
and he bowed his head and handed over the spirit.
Gospel of John recalls the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12 in this
passage. The soldiers offered wine on a sprig of hyssop to the Lord. Hyssop is
a small plant that was used to sprinkle the blood of the Passover Lamb on the
doorposts of the Hebrews (Exodus 12:22). John's Gospel related that it was the
Day of Preparation, the day before the actual Sabbath
Passover, that Jesus was sentenced to death (19:14) and sacrificed on the Cross
(19:31). John continues in 19:33-34: "But when they came to Jesus
and saw he was already dead, they did not break his legs," recalling
the instruction in Exodus 12:46 concerning the Passover Lamb. He died at the
ninth hour (three o'clock in the afternoon), about the same time as the
Passover lambs were slaughtered in the Temple. Christ became the Paschal or
Passover Lamb, as noted by St. Paul: "For Christ our Passover lamb
has been sacrificed" (First Corinthians 5:7). The innocent Lamb
was slain for our sins, so that we might be forgiven. It is now a fait accomplit. The sixth word is Jesus' recognition that his
suffering is over and his task is completed. Jesus is obedient to the Father
and gives his love for mankind by redeeming us with His death on the Cross.
The above painting is meant to capture the
What was the darkest day of mankind became the brightest day for mankind.
the Gospels as a group captured this paradox. The Synoptic Gospels narrated the
horror of the event - the agony in the garden, the abandonment by his Apostles,
the trial before the Sanhedrin, the intense mockery and torture heaped upon
Jesus, his suffering all alone, the darkness over the land, and his death, starkly
portrayed by both Matthew (27:47-51) and Mark (15:33-38).
In contrast, the passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John expresses his Kingship
and proves to be His triumphant road to glory. John presents Jesus as directing
the action the entire way. The phrase "It is finished" carries a
sense of accomplishment. In John, there is no trial before the Sanhedrin, but
rather Jesus is introduced at the Roman trial as "Behold your King!"
(John 19:14). Jesus is not stumbling or falling as in the Synoptic Gospels, but
the way of the Cross is presented with majesty and dignity, for "Jesus
went out bearing his own Cross" (John 19:17). And in John, the inscription
at the head of the cross is pointedly written "Jesus of Nazareth, The King
of the Jews" (John 19:19). The inscription INRI at the
top of the cross is the Latin Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum.
When Jesus died, He "handed over" the Spirit. Jesus remained in
control to the end, and it is He who handed over his Spirit. One should not
miss the double entendre here, for this may also be interpreted as His death
brought forth the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John gradually reveals the Holy Spirit. Jesus mentions living
water in John 4:10 and during the Feast of Tabernacles refers to
living water as the Holy Spirit in 7:37-39. At the Last Supper, Christ announces he would ask the
Father to send "another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of
truth" (14:16-17). The word Advocate is also translated as Comforter,
Helper, Paraclete, or Counselor. "But the
Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you
everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you" (14:26). The
symbolism of water for the Holy Spirit becomes more evident in John 19:34:
"But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately
there came out blood and water." The piercing of his side fulfills the
prophecy in Zechariah 12:10: "They will look on me whom they have pierced."
The piercing of Jesus' side prefigures the Sacraments of Eucharist (blood) and
Baptism (water), as well as the beginning of the Church.
THE SEVENTH WORD
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
seventh word of Jesus is from the Gospel of Luke, and is directed to the Father
in heaven, just before He dies. Jesus recalls Psalm 31:5 - "Into thy hands I
commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God." Luke
repeatedly pleads Jesus' innocence: with Pilate (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22), through
Dismas the criminal (by legend) (Luke 23:41), and
immediately after His death with the centurion - "Now when the centurion
saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was
innocent" (Luke 23:47).
Jesus was obedient to His Father to the end, and his final word before his
death on the Cross was a prayer to His Father.
The relationship of Jesus to the Father is revealed in the Gospel of John, for
He remarked, "The Father and I are one" (10:30), and again at the
Last Supper: "Do you not believe I am in the Father and the Father is in
me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who
dwells in me is doing his works" (14:10). And He can return: "I came
from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and
going to the Father" (16:28). Jesus fulfills His own mission and that
of His Father on the Cross:
"For God so loved the world that he gave
his only Son,
So that everyone who believes in him
may not perish but have eternal life.