Luke 23.44-56 — The Death and Burial of Jesus

Luke seems to think it’s important to let us know the repercussions and responses to Jesus’ death. It’s surely not a situation of, “Well, that’s over.” No, there’s more, and Luke wants to tell us about it.

First of all, nature itself seems to die (literarily), or at least mourn, with 3 hours of darkness. It’s not a solar eclipse (there’s a full moon), but a catastrophe of light. Nature, so Luke seems to be saying, is mirroring what is happening spiritually: Light has expired. We also know that in literature and mythology, darkness is a figure of the perpetration of evil.

Next we learn that the curtain (of the temple) is torn in two. This could mean three things (and probably means all three). First, the tearing of the curtain would symbolize God’s judgment. It’s an act of displeasure. God is manifesting his withdrawal from Jerusalem (Judaism); he has withdrawn his presence, just as he did in 586 when the Babylonians destroyed it. Secondly, in place of the old, Jesus was the new temple (“Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days). God was destroying the “temple” metaphorically in Jesus’ death, and also literally by rending the veil. And lastly, the veil was a barrier between God and the people, and the judgment is also the salvation: without the veil, God is now accessible to all people, not just to the priesthood. All followers of God are now priests, as was the original intention. Luke has been writing all along about obliterating the barriers between people, and between the people and God. Here is the coup de grace that is also a coup d’etat.

Jesus breathes his last, and the centurion makes an unintentional theological statement: Jesus is the Isaianic suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus has forgiven the people because they don’t know what they are doing, and here this Gentile, a Roman at that, expresses what everyone knows: This guy was innocent. He was not a seditionist. He was not a criminal, but righteous. This is Luke’s point all along. Jesus is different, unique, righteous, innocent, and the Son of God.

Then he turns his attention to the crowd. There seems to be no smug satisfaction, no “He got what he deserves,” but grief and mourning for the passing of a righteous man, their hope for salvation. They have no idea what’s coming.

He ends with a man who is on the Sanhedrin, who is also a righteous man, who had not voted in favor of Jesus’ death. Pilate grants his request for Jesus’ body for burial, possible also indicating that Pilate believed Jesus was innocent. Luke is piling up factors: Jesus was killed incongruously and illegitimately.

But Luke is also setting the stage for the scene to come: the tomb is out of solid rock, so it’s not vulnerable to sneaky theft from the back. It’s a new tomb, so there’s no possible confusion with other corpses. It’s right there, almost next to the scene of the crucifixion, so it’s a public place. There were witnesses to the death and burial of Jesus; they saw the bomb and how his body was laid in it. And now it’s the Sabbath, and the country rests.