“And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.”
What a day to remember!
Jesus’ enemies had finally managed to kill Him.
How popular Jesus had been. For over three years he had taught as no man had ever taught. He had performed astounding miracles. Just this past Sunday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey to the jubilant shouts of the multitudes that had come to celebrate the Passover. They acknowledged Jesus as the great son of David, the Christ of God, sent to establish the throne of David forever.
But now it was Friday, the day of the Passover. The Sanhedrin had arrested Jesus and brought Him to Pilate, the Roman governor, for execution. Amazingly, the same crowds that had hailed Jesus as their king just days earlier were persuaded by their leaders to demand Jesus’ crucifixion. Caving under the mounting pressure, Pilate ordered Jesus’ execution.
The crowds that followed Jesus outside of Jerusalem to the place of execution witnessed many strange things that day. And when it was all done, they returned to Jerusalem smiting on their breasts. This is because God had spoken judgment against them through the strange events of that day.
But a few lingered at the scene of the crucifixion in shocked silence. These were His acquaintances, those who knew and loved Jesus. For them the crucifixion was a glorious victory that they did not as yet understand. But they certainly did understand the defeat of Jesus’ enemies, and they were amazed.
Three unusual events took place during the six hours that Jesus hung from the cross.
There was the darkness that descended upon the earth. Jesus had been nailed to the cross at 9:00 a.m. At noon a terrible darkness descended on the entire earth and lasted for three agonizing hours.
Then immediately upon Jesus’ death at 3:00 p.m. two more very unusual things happened.
There was a mammoth earthquake that tore the countryside apart and laid open many graves that dotted the hills.
And then there was the rending of the temple veil. The two main rooms of the temple were divided by a large veil. At Jesus’ death this veil was torn from the top to the bottom. This was no doubt witnessed by the priest offering incense at the evening sacrifice. And the report of this spread immediately throughout the city, even to the crowds at the cross.
These amazing events were signs through which God clearly spoke and revealed the significance of the cross.
We must understand that the cross did not belong to Jesus’ enemies but to God. Yes, Jesus’ enemies were using the cross to accomplish their devilish purpose of doing away with the Son of God. But God was simply using their evil deeds to accomplish His purpose to save His elect church. The cross belonged to God. After allowing Jesus’ enemies time to vent their wrath on Him, God silenced them with His awesome works.
Through these mighty works God spoke.
He spoke through the three hours of darkness. Darkness in Scripture is a sign of God’s judgment and punishment for sin. Hell, the place of God’s wrath, is described as outer darkness. Through the darkness that descended on the cross, God revealed that He was pouring out the wrath of hell upon Jesus for the sins of His people.
God also spoke through the rending of the veil. The veil in the temple proclaimed throughout many centuries of the Old Testament that, because of sin, the way to God’s presence was closed. By ripping the veil asunder, God proclaimed that the way to Him was now open, because Jesus had taken away the sins of the people.
God also spoke through the devastating earthquake. Every earthquake is a sign of the final destruction of the world. Through the earthquake that shook the hills of Judea at Jesus’ death, God proclaimed that the fruit of the cross would be the destruction of the present universe to make way for a new creation.
An overwhelming defeat!
And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things that were done, smote their breasts, and returned.
A large company of people had followed Jesus to the place of execution. Because this was near a main highway into Jerusalem, many passersby also stopped to see the goings on.
The presence of the multitude is easily understood. This was no common execution. This was the crucifixion of Jesus, whom many had hailed as king. Besides this, there was intense hatred for Jesus. Some had been His enemies throughout His entire public ministry. Others had turned against Him when He allowed Himself to be humiliated before Pilate, thereby making it clear that He was not the kind of king they sought. Their intense hatred became evident from the constant jeers and taunts hurled at Jesus as He hung on the cross.
This hostile crowd now beheld the things that were done. With great amazement they witnessed the three hours of darkness, as well as the violent earthquake, with its devastation. And they heard the reports of the rending of the temple veil.
In small groups they returned to Jerusalem, smiting their breasts. Smiting upon one’s breast was a sign of sorrow and mourning, even of alarm, fear, and anguish. All these emotions filled the hearts of those that slowly left the scene of the cross. And spontaneously they beat upon their breasts.
This is because the crowds “beheld” the things that had just taken place. This means, not only that they closely observed what had happened, but also that they sensed the meaning of it all. They saw in the darkness that had descended upon them the sign of God’s wrath, wrath also upon them for what they had just done. They saw in the violent earthquake a picture of the destruction that awaited them for their sin. And by the rending of the temple veil they at least understood that the temple, which they honored so much, was of no more significance.
And they were filled with gloom and despair. They had gone to the cross with a sense of victory. They were about to destroy and rid themselves of someone whom they had all come in one degree or another to despise. But suddenly the cross had been taken out of their hands. Through strange and terrifying events God had proclaimed judgment and destruction upon them. It left them in fear and anxiety. With a sense of dread and mourning they slowly departed the scene of the cross smiting their breasts.
A stunned silence!
“And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.”
Jesus’ acquaintances were also at the scene of the cross. These were those known to Jesus intimately. Theirs were hearts filled with love rather than animosity for Jesus. They included His inner band of disciples. Did it include Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who buried Jesus? Special mention is made of the women that followed Him from Galilee.
After the crowds had slowly melted away from the place of Jesus’ execution, these acquaintances remained. They lingered, not wanting to leave. We are told that they stood afar off. Perhaps this was because the soldiers would not let them come close as they removed the bodies of Jesus and the two malefactors from their crosses. Perhaps they even lingered long after the body of Jesus was taken away by Joseph and Nicodemus for burial. They stood afar off to take it all in.
They stood in stunned silence.
They too had beheld the things that had taken place that day. And they did not understand. Yes, they understood that judgment of God spoken that day upon Jesus’ enemies. But they did not as yet understand the purpose of Jesus’ crucifixion and the gospel of salvation that God had proclaimed through the terrifying events that accompanied it. This is evident from the fact that the women who stood afar off that day hastened to Jesus’ grave on Sunday morning to anoint His body.
But they would understand.
Soon they would behold even more amazing works of God. In a few days they would behold the empty grave of Jesus and the angel that spoke of His resurrection. Over the course of the next forty days they would behold the risen Lord ten different times, not only verifying the fact of the resurrection but also explaining its significance. At the end of this forty-day period, the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus would behold His ascension into heaven. And ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, they would behold the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.
With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit they would understand!
Jesus was crucified to bear away the wrath of God against sin for the salvation of the church.
On the basis of that wonderful atonement, God would one day destroy this present creation, including His and their enemies. On its ruins God would erect a new heaven and earth, where His kingdom will be established forever in Jesus Christ. In that kingdom the people of God would have open access to the very presence of God through Jesus Christ.
Beholding these glorious realities, the stunned silence of Jesus’ followers was changed to joyous confession. With joy and boldness they proclaimed the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They did so in spite of threats and persecution from Jesus’ enemies. Gladly they followed Jesus, bearing His cross.
And God graciously used this bold witness of His church to turn the hearts of many of Jesus’ enemies to Him to find salvation in His death and resurrection.
What a horrible thing to be the enemy of Jesus Christ. His enemies can do no more than to return home, smiting on their breasts in anguish.
What a blessing to be an acquaintance of Jesus Christ by faith. They have the joy of salvation in Him and the hope of eternal life.