The crucifixion is written to capture the intense isolation and suffering of Jesus. Relationally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, the portrait is painted that he is cut off, opposed, denied, mocked, reviled, falsely accused, physically destroyed, reputationally discredited, abandoned, and humiliated. It’s “death” in every literal and metaphorical sense.
I think they crucify him not so much as a criminal, but as a valueless toss-away. Pilate didn’t find any guilt, but his position wasn’t worth the trade-off: Fine, kill the guy. Who cares? The people were willing to trade him for Barabbas. Kill him. He’s not worth the trouble he’s causing. The Jews didn’t want an interruption to their power with the people or with their interpretation of Scripture. It’s easy to trade a life to preserve the order. Kill him. Our ways are more valuable than one life. Jesus was a piece of human litter, fit to be crumpled up and discarded. That’s what his crucifixion was: the repudiation of refuse.
Surprisingly, in the midst of it and through it all, Jesus continues to function in the same stream that had characterized his life. He speaks prophetically to the women following him.
Some irony drips off the page, as Jesus is murdered between two criminals. On the Ark of the Covenant, a type of Christ, the atonement seat is situated between two cherubim. Here, in scorn and reversal, the atonement seat is between two convicts. In the Passover scene at the Exodus, the space between the blood smeared on the lintels symbolized the house of life on the night of death, while both judgment and redemption were taking place simultaneously. So here between the lintels the lamb is slain, and the site becomes both a house of death and a house of life. The artistic imagery is both deep and intense.
Again, Jesus doesn’t divert from his stream: “Father, forgive them.” Symbolically he is bringing life through his death; verbally he gives life during his death; realistically he exudes life while being killed. The scene screams with criminality: Jesus is the farthest thing from criminal anyone could imagine, and yet he is being brutalized like one, hung between two, and acting as anti-criminal as conceivable.
Still people sneer: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” They scorn him for being a liar. Ironically, the sign above his head tells the truth. This whole scenario is one of painful contradiction.
One of the criminals, a dead man talking, has the chutzpah to ask a favor of Jesus: He asked Jesus to show mercy to him despite his worthlessness. This man is in no position to bargain. He has no other hope, no other chances, he had made his choices and is paying for them, but now, in desperation and possibly enlightened, he asks mercy from the God of Heaven. As we have found to be quite consistent in the whole book, anyone may come to Jesus at any time and He will receive them if their heart is in the right place. Even this man gets affirmed. Again we sense the irony: the man seems in no position to ask, and it appears as if Jesus is in no position to grant, but both are untrue: The man is in the perfect position to ask (hopeless), and Jesus is in the perfect position to grant it (dying for the sins of the world).
The whole scene pulses.