A Study of Luke 23:26-44
In Luke chapter 23 the Lord Jesus is standing before Pilate.
We see here that the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was like wax in the hands of the leaders of the Jews, and he did to Jesus whatever they desired. Luke 23:
And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.
And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired (Barabbas); but he delivered Jesus to their will (to be crucified).
This is the last time we read about Barabbas in the Bible.
Then Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified.
He seemed to do whatever the leaders of the Jews desired.
But actually Pilate did whatever God desired.
God has officially declared that Jesus is guilty with our sins, and that He has to suffer the full penalty for those sins.
He has to suffer the equivalent of eternal damnation for our sins.
There had to be a precise moment in time when Jesus was sentenced to death.
This was at 6 O’clock on Friday morning, according to John 19:14.
He was accursed of God and to be hanged on a tree.
It was at 9 O’Clock on Friday morning that Jesus was crucified, according to Mark 15:25.
And it was at 3 O’Clock on Friday afternoon that Jesus died, according to Mark 15:33.
The place of crucifixion was not very far outside the city wall, but to fulfill prophecy He had to be killed outside the city gate. While the soldiers led Jesus away, God says, there were:
Three groups of people (Luke 23:24-25, Luke 9:23)
who were following Jesus.
Actually there were many more, but God makes us focus particularly on these three groups of people.
First there was Simon of Cyrene.
Secondly there were the professional wailing women.
And thirdly there were two criminals who also were to be crucified.
Nineteen times does the Lord Jesus Christ say in the New Testament these words: “Follow Me”.
This is not an incidental matter to Christ.
Following Jesus is not an option.
Following Jesus is the natural response of anyone who has become saved.
At least four times did the Lord Jesus say:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”.
(That was a quotation from Luke 9:23)
Following Jesus takes more than what these wailing women were doing.
Following Jesus means that we take up our cross daily, and follow Him.
The cross has to do with death.
What has to die is our sin, our selfish sin.
All sin is selfish, therefore Jesus said: “Let him deny himself”, which means cross out yourself.
Your own comfort is not important. You must cross out yourself, on behalf of others, so that other people also may be able to know this Jesus.
Now comes the difficulty:
To cross out yourself on behalf of others is not an option.
It is part and parcel of having been saved.
Who in the world would want a salvation like that?
That’s why salvation comes with a change of heart.
That’s why salvation is by grace alone.
Let’s look at: Simon Who Followed (Luke 23:26)
Who is this Simon of Cyrene?
We read in Luke 23:26,
And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus.
Simon came from Cyrene. Where is Cyrene?
If you dig up an old map, you find that Cyrene was in North Africa, about 500 miles West of Egypt.
It used to be a Greek colony, but now it was part of the Roman Empire, retaining its Greek culture.
Simon had a Hebrew name.
This confirmed the fact that there was a Jewish synagogue as far West as Cyrene.
At this point in time Simon was residing in Judea.
He was just passing by, coming from a field, minding his own business, when the Roman soldiers grabbed him and compelled him to carry the cross for Jesus.
Most likely the Roman soldiers picked on Simon of Cyrene because of his darker skin color.
Most likely Simon looked like a very strong man who could carry Jesus’ cross.
But he was not given any choice.
Here was God’s irresistible grace at work.
He was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus, and carry it behind Jesus.
This is how he came to meet Jesus.
The Roman soldiers got hold of Simon to carry the cross of Jesus for two reasons.
Pilate had written the superscription to be fastened above the head of Jesus.
It read: “This is the King of the Jews”.
The soldiers mocked Him:
If Jesus was a king, then He was entitled to wear a crown of thorns and to have a servant carry His cross.
But the second reason for getting hold of Simon was that Jesus had been scourged.
His back was bloody from the many lashes of the whip.
In His human nature He was unable to carry the cross on His back.
Jesus was at the end of His physical strength.
What a humiliation for the Son of God that He was unable carry His own cross.
He could have called twelve legions of angels to help Him.
But now he got help from a sinful human.
Just like everyone else in the human race, Simon has never been interested in Jesus.
He was not sick. He did not need a healer.
He was a Jew, and that should be enough to get into heaven.
That is what the Pharisees have told him all along.
Well, that is what he might have thought.
But afterward, when he talked with the disciples of Jesus, he heard that Jesus has said several times:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me”.
And then Simon realized that, unknowingly, he had been acting out that picture, carrying a cross and following Jesus.
Simon of Cyrene is a figure of all those true Believers who are taking up their cross and follow Jesus.
And after Simon witnessed the events after Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, the 3 hours of darkness, the earthquake, the curtain in the Temple was rent from top to bottom, Simon realized that this was no ordinary man.
This crucifixion needed some further investigation.
Then Simon realized:
He was named after: Simeon (Genesis 49:5-7, Joshua 19:1)
Who was Simeon?
Simeon was the second son of Jacob and Leah.
The oldest son of Jacob was Reuben.
But Reuben squandered the honor of being the firstborn by going to bed with his father’s concubine.
So Simeon was next in line for the great honor of the right of the firstborn.
But Simeon and his brother Levi did worse than Reuben.
They wiped out the entire city of Shechem by abusing the sacred ceremony of circumcision as a cloak for their cruel plan.
But God would not leave such a crime unpunished.
Later on, before their father Jacob died, they received the consequences for their evil deed.
Judah, the fourth son of Jacob received the great honor of the right of the firstborn, bypassing Reuben, Simeon and Levi.
In Genesis 49:5-7 Jacob spoke these words,
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.
O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall.
Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
So, Simeon and Levi were not to receive land as an inheritance.
In fact, when the land of Canaan was divided by lot among the tribes of Israel, we read in Joshua 19:1,
And the second lot came forth to Simeon, even for the tribe of the children of Simeon according to their families: and their inheritance was within the inheritance of the children of Judah.
As a result, the small tribe of Simeon completely disappeared within the tribe of Judah.
Therefore the name Simon, or Simeon, bears the disgrace of being without inheritance.
So Simon of Cyrene learned that he had no credentials of himself.
His birthplace was outside the commonwealth of Israel.
His name was connected with disgrace.
The help he was giving Jesus to carry His cross did not even come out of himself.
He was compelled by the Roman soldiers to do that.
So Simon realized that he was not such a good man as he thought he was.
In fact, he realized that he had not been a spiritual leader to his household and he has not been a good father to his sons Alexander and Rufus.
The only reason why he was carrying the cross of Jesus was, because God chose him to be His servant, so that he was just passing by when the soldiers were looking for a man to carry His cross.
God, through His irresistible grace, brought Simon of Cyrene in contact with Jesus.
When Simon looked back on this experience, O what a sweet compulsion this was to carry the cross of Jesus.
And now, when any burden or pain would rise up in his life, he considered it light, because he has seen the pain of Jesus, and he has come to know the burden of the cross of Jesus.
Let’s talk about: Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21, Romans 16:13, Acts 13:1, Acts 19:33)
We know that Simon of Cyrene had two sons, because we read in Mark 15:21,
And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.
Why does God emphasize that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus?
It must mean that at the time God wrote this Gospel through the hands of Mark, which was about 25 years later, Alexander and Rufus were well known to the Christians of those days.
There is only one other reference to Rufus in the Bible.
When God, through the hands of the Apostle Paul, wrote a long letter to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle also sent with that letter a great company of Saints to Rome.
Many of them are listed in Romans 16.
And there we read, in Romans 16:13,
Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Here we see that Rufus, who is most likely the son of Simon of Cyrene, was an assistant evangelist with the Apostle Paul, and Rufus’ mother was with them, ministering to both of them.
God sent these people to Rome, because the Christians in Rome were under attack. They needed support, because this was the time period when they were persecuted under Emperor Nero.
This shows the courage of Rufus and his mother.
This brief mention of Rufus and his mother reveals to us a great deal about the history that followed after Simon of Cyrene carried the cross of Jesus.
Simon had some urgent business to do in the city at this early hour.
Apparently he was just passing by when the soldiers grabbed him.
But God had other plans with him.
God made him come face to face with Jesus.
He has seen this man.
Jesus had done no crime, and yet He had been tortured and He was being crucified.
What was His crime?
The plaque above His head read these words:
“This is the King of the Jews”.
Is this why the priests and Pharisees wanted Him dead?
This is unbelievable!
The Jews eagerly wanted to drive the Romans out of their country.
So, why did they want to kill someone who was on their own side?
Then, at Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon that explained everything.
Simon was there, and with him several other men from Cyrene were there.
By God’s grace, Simon was struck in his heart when Peter preached that sermon.
Simon believed, and through his testimony his wife also believed.
Their children Alexander and Rufus also were raised in the faith of Jesus.
Then the persecution came and Simon and his family fled to Antioch, in Syria.
Many years later we find Simon still in Antioch. Acts 13:1.
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Here are five outstanding Christians who were all raised as Jews, and most likely two of them were from Cyrene in Africa: Lucius of Cyrene and Simeon, or Simon who was called Niger, or Black.
This was most likely Simon of Cyrene.
Two of these five men, Barnabas and Saul, were sent out as missionaries, with the blessings of the other three.
Later, the wife of Simon and her two sons, Rufus and Alexander, joined Paul on his third missionary journey.
We read about Alexander briefly in Acts 19 when he tried to silence an uprising at Ephesus.
Rufus and his mother went on to Rome, preparing the way for Paul, while Alexander went with Paul and Silas back to Antioch.
This was most likely the story of the family of Simon of Cyrene, because God had mercy on them. Simon carried the cross of Jesus.
It was on this cross that the sins of Simon and of his wife and children were atoned for.
There were also Women Who Followed Jesus (Luke 23:27)
And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.
The Lord Jesus is now focusing His attention on these wailing women.
These were not the women who faithfully ministered to the Lord Jesus and His Disciples.
These were not the faithful women who mourned at the cross and who brought sweet spices to His grave on resurrection morning.
These were women who were bewailing Him and lamenting, because He was supposed to bring back the kingdom of David.
They saw Him 5 days earlier triumphantly entering Jerusalem and being hailed as the King of Israel.
But now He was being crucified.
The King of the Jews never made it to His throne.
What a pity.
He did not succeed in driving the Romans into the Sea.
They bewailed Him, because He was dashing all their hopes for a glorious millennium.
In their view, physical death is the end of the line.
They did not see Jesus as the Son of God, for whom nothing is impossible.
Unfortunately, this is what mankind is primarily looking for.
There is none that seeks after the God of the Bible.
They want Christ, but they want this world too.
They do not want a Christ who must endure Hell for their sins.
Hell is too uncomfortable to think about.
No! They are waiting for a Savior who will drive all His enemies in the ocean, and who will set up an earthly kingdom with the capital in Jerusalem, and He will usher in a glorious 1000 years here on earth.
We will all be healthy, and wealthy and wise. We will have Christ and we have this world too.
But is that the Jesus whom we are looking forward to?
What do we teach our children?
Do we teach them the Jesus from the Bible only, or do we teach them that this world has its advantages too.
Do we raise our children like Simon of Cyrene has raised them?
He was teaching his children that the pleasures of this earth are not worth wailing about.
He was teaching his children that God desires that we deny ourselves on behalf of others, so that they too might hear the Word of God, and so that they too might be saved.
With what values do we raise our children?
Which Jesus do we teach our children?
The Lord Jesus is not very complimentary to these wailing women following Him.
He says that:
Their troubles will be Continuing till the end of time (Luke 23:28-30, Revelation 6:15-17, Romans 10:3)
What was the reason for Jesus to speak in this manner to these wailing women?
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.
For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.
Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
This last phrase is the key to unlock the meaning of this passage:
“Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.”
These words remind us of the prophecy of the Last Day, when Christ comes again and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn.
We read in Revelation 6:15-17
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
What was the reason for Christ to be so harsh on these women?
“Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children”.
Why should they weep for themselves?
Because they are going to Hell.
Why should they weep for their children?
Because their children are going to Hell.
What have they done?
The Lord Jesus is pointing to the end of time, and He identifies them as “Daughters of Jerusalem”.
What was the religion of Jerusalem?
God answers this in Romans 10:3 with these words:
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
They have not submitted themselves to God’s plan of salvation, but they have been going about to establish their own plan of salvation, which is a salvation by the works of the Law.
It is in the nature of man to create such false gospels.
In other words, these Daughters of Jerusalem represent those people who have established their own plan of salvation, based partially on Christ and partially on their own works.
And they will be continuing to bring such false gospels until the end of time.
That is why they should weep for themselves, because they will have to spend an eternity in Hell.
The Lord Jesus also said in verse 29: “Behold, the days are coming”.
What days are coming?
The parable of: The green tree and the dry (Luke 23:31, Matthew 21:18-19, Amos 8:11-12)
Here is a one-sentence parable. Luke 23:31,
For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
Actually, the word “green” does not occur in this sentence. The Greek word in this place is the word “hugros”, which means “moist”, or “full of sap”.
Nevertheless, the green tree does convey the right message: It is a live tree.
When we think of the green tree and the dry tree, our thoughts invariably drift to the occasion that the Lord Jesus cursed the Fig Tree.
We read in Matthew 21:18-19,
Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
The Fig Tree represents the nation of Israel.
The fig tree was in leaf. It had no spiritual fruit.
For example, The Lord Jesus Christ, the most perfect preacher possible, preached in the nation of Israel for 3½ years, and yet relatively few people became saved, at most 500.
While it was not God’s plan to save a great number from national Israel, nevertheless, God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
The Dry Tree represents the dry Fig Tree as well as the dry Olive Tree near the end of time.
What did the Lord Jesus mean in Luke 23:31, “For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry”?
Paraphrased He says: If they nail Christ to the cross in the nation that may be considered a green tree, or in other words: If there is still the Gospel of salvation available in the green tree, where then shall they go when the tree is dry?
There will be no place to go. That will be terrible.
The Lord Jesus is referring to the Final Tribulation Period here.
That is the Dry Fig Tree as well as the Dry Olive Tree.
Because they will be continuing to bring false gospels until the end of time, that is why there will be a Dry Tree at the end of time.
We are reminded of the words of Amos 8:11-12,
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.
That is the character of the Final Tribulation Period.
Jesus said that those days would come.
It is God’s plan that those days must come. In fact, they have come already.
Is God out of control?
No! God says in Amos 8:11, “I will send a famine in the land”.
It is God who is doing it. “It is only of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 2:22).
It is only by the grace of God that our sins have been paid at the cross.
Now the third group:
Two Malefactors Followed Jesus (Luke 23:32-33, Psalm 58:3)
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
(Remember the verse: He was numbered with the transgressors?)
What are “malefactors”?
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, these were robbers.
But Luke uses a different Greek word.
A “malefactor” is a general word for an “evildoer”.
But it is significant that TWO evildoers followed Jesus.
The number TWO is pointing to the Church, the corporate, visible Church, who claims to be following Jesus.
Indeed they are bearing their own cross and they are following Jesus.
But they are not following Jesus the way He intended them to follow Him.
They are bearing their own cross as a consequence of their evil deeds.
Without knowing it, they are actually on the way to Hell.
That is not the way Jesus taught us.
Unintentionally, these two evildoers represent all of us in the Church.
Whether we become saved or not, we all start out as evildoers from the day we were born.
God says in Psalm 58:3,
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
That is their nature, and that is what they do right from birth.
That is how our birth certificate reads: sinners from birth.
God says that we were by nature the children of wrath, because we were made in the likeness of our parents, the sinners Adam and Eve.
Is it then any wonder that we see so much sin in the Church?
God makes it clear in His Word to us that just being in a Church does not save anyone.
God makes it clear in His Word to us that before we can follow Jesus, we first must be Born Again.
God makes it clear in His Word to us that He must be in control, or else we are unable to follow Jesus.
These two malefactors were not Born Again. Initially these two men showed no repentance at all.
Their hearts were as wicked as at the time they were caught robbing people.
In fact, they were mocking the Lord Jesus like everyone else did.
But today people are not much better.
They make a mockery out of the Gospel of the Bible, by adding to and deleting from the Word of God, as they like.
All were mockers (Luke 23:34-38, Mark 15:31-32)
The Lord Jesus was humiliated to the full. That was part and parcel of His suffering for our sins.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (That means: the Lord Jesus was stripped naked)
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,
And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.
And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Add 1 page and 6 inches)
Even Pilate was mocking Jesus with this inscription, not knowing that He wrote an absolute truth.
Everyone was mocking Him, including the two evildoers crucified on His right and on His left.
Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.
Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.
Before WE got to know Jesus, WE reviled Him.
How did we revile Him?
We carelessly violated His Laws, and thereby we showed our disdain for Christ, the Word of God.
Both malefactors reviled Him.
But God had mercy on one (John 6:44,37, Luke 23:39-44)
What did God do in the heart of one of the two malefactors?
God made him see what he did not see before.
Can we conclude that he heard the Gospel while hanging on the cross for the first three hours?
1. He heard the rulers of his Church scoffing at Jesus. They were the Old Testament Church that he belonged to, and that he forsook a long time ago because he recognized those Pharisees as “hypocrites”.
2. He heard the soldiers mocking Jesus. The Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross had no good words for him either. The Romans and the Pharisees were ganging up on Jesus.
3. He heard the passers by reviling Jesus, and saying things such as “He saved others”, and he heard them say that He might be the “Christ”, the “Messiah”.
Was that true or false?
4. He heard Jesus not reviling back to His scoffers, but instead Jesus said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. What a gracious response from Jesus.
5. He read the plaque above Jesus head which stated His crime. And what was His crime? “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” This man was not a criminal!
6. Then he heard his fellow thief railing on Jesus. Actually the Greek word that is used here means “to blaspheme”. This fellow malefactor in the face of death was blaspheming God!
7. Basically he learned everything he needed to know from the scoffers. And he could see and hear with his own ears that those scoffers were wrong! Dead wrong!
8. Now he heard that his fellow criminal was actually on the side of the Romans and on the side of the Pharisees, the hypocrites. Now he knew: That was the wrong side!
9. All the evidence was leaning in the direction that this Jesus was no ordinary man. In fact, he heard them call Jesus “The Son of God”
10. He himself had reviled Jesus in the beginning, but now he saw how wrong he was. Could it be that Jesus would forgive him those awful words he had said?
He did not know. Jesus had not said anything for three hours. Then he looked at Jesus:
What did the repentant malefactor see?
He saw a naked man nailed on a Cross.
He saw Him wearing a crown of thorns, pressed into His head.
He saw Jesus bleeding from His back, from His hands, from His feet and from His head. It was a pitiful sight.
This man who has been so gracious toward His tormentors, was hanging on a cross in agony and was dying.
It was not a royal sight at all.
But then, what did God do?
God performed the miracle of salvation in the heart of this malefactor on the cross.
His fellow criminal heard all the same things, but it did not change his mind.
Can you see that it takes an act of God to save anyone?
They both were on the way to Hell.
God decided to save this one, and not to save the other.
How do we know that he was saved?
Listen to what he said in verse 39:
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
First he addressed Jesus as “Lord”. Then He acknowledged that Jesus is a King.
Only God could have given him this wisdom.
Then he realized his sins.
He realized he had blasphemed God just a few hours ago.
He realized that he had nothing to give.
He was poor and naked and crucified and full of Sin.
He could not do anything to save himself.
He was just hanging there, at the mercy of God.
But perhaps, would there be any chance, a tiny little chance that Jesus would forgive him his sins?
Could he plead with Jesus to forgive him?
He did not know that Jesus would forgive any Sinner that would plead for Mercy.
That is right. Any sinner. The Lord Jesus said in John 6:37,
“All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
Every Sinner that comes to Me, I will in no wise cast out.
But who is there who will come to Jesus of his own initiative?
The only ones who will come are those whom the Father has given to Jesus.
That means that there is a certain number of individuals whom the Father has chosen, and whom the Father will give to Jesus.
It is the Father who will draw them to Jesus.
This malefactor on the cross was one of those people whom the Father has given to Jesus.
And look how far the Father had to go to break this stubborn human being, until he finally surrendered:
God had to strip him naked and nail him to a cross.
God put him face to face with physical death, so that he began to think about the life hereafter. Finally God completed the miracle of Salvation in this man who had such a sordid life.
And now he pleads: “Lord, remember me”.
Now Jesus answers him in verse 43
And Jesus said unto him: Verily I say unto thee: Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
He received more than he had bargained for.
But what did it cost Jesus to forgive this malefactor all his sins?
Jesus had to become his Substitute.
What does that mean ?
It means that the Father had loaded on Jesus all the sins that this criminal on the cross had ever committed, and Jesus paid in full the price that those sins required.
He paid the equivalent of an eternity in Hell.
What a great salvation!
How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?
By Alfred J. Chompff