What a person says on their deathbed reveals a lot about their heart. Last words are revealing. Take an example.
A wealthy businessman lay on his deathbed. He gave every ounce of energy in his life to making money, and he succeeded. But he had grown estranged to his only child, a son.
The son wished that his father had shown him some affection during his life, but now, standing at his father’s deathbed, he feared he would never hear those three words he so longed to hear from his dad: I love you.
The father motioned for his son to come close to him. Perhaps this was the time. He leaned in as his feeble father whispered, “I buried a large sum of money near the oak tree in the back yard.”
And with that, the father breathed his last. All his life, money had been his god. With the father’s last words, he revealed that was all he cared about.
Jesus’ Famous Last Words
What do the last words of the most famous man in history tell us about him?
While Jesus of Nazareth hung on a Roman cross over two thousand years ago, he uttered seven distinct sayings that are distributed across all four New Testament Gospels. The Gospels of John and Luke record three each, while Matthew and Mark share the same one.
As we walk through these sayings, we’ll see what was truly on the heart of Jesus, the Savior of the world, at the time of his death.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NIV)
The first saying is maybe the most remarkable. While Jesus hung in excruciating pain on that cruel cross, blood oozing from his broken body, he prayed. He prayed for his persecutors. The very people who arrested, mocked, flogged, and nailed him to a cross—though he was innocent—are the people for whom Jesus pleaded to God.
Jesus follows his plea for their forgiveness with, “for they do not know what they are doing.” His persecutors were not just slaughtering an innocent man. They were murdering the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who came to earth to pay for their evil deeds (Acts 2:23).
What does Jesus’ first saying from the cross reveal? His heart was the very heart of God: filled with love for sinners.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NIV)
But Jesus’ care for others didn’t end there. His second saying reveals his concern for one particular man, as he turns to the thief hanging next to him. Jesus freely offered him eternal life.
The thief was also in great anguish; both men were close to death. Yet Jesus cared for this criminal’s soul more than his own life. Jesus, the innocent Son of God, was bearing the wrath of God in this man’s place, so that the thief at his side and so many other sinners could stand before God in Jesus’ place, innocent, and welcomed into paradise as God’s sons and daughters (Matthew 26:53-54; John 1:12).
“Woman, here is your son . . . Here is your mother.” (John 19:26-27 NIV)
In Jesus’ third saying we see his care for those closest to him. Knowing that, as the eldest child, in his absence, his mother would need someone to care for her, Jesus granted that privilege to “the disciple whom he loved” (John 19:26 NIV), who most commentators believe was the disciple John.
Both John and Mary were horrified at what they saw happening to Jesus. While all others fled, they boldly stood by the cross. They, too, needed comfort, and Jesus spent precious breath to remind John to care for his hurting mom.
Unlike the rich business tycoon who only cared about money, Jesus’ last words reveal a heart filled with love for others.
In the midst of deep suffering, this innocent man selflessly wished good to come to both his friends and his persecutors. He wanted their pardon, their rescue, their comfort. He was others-focused, even in the throes of death.
What else can we learn from Jesus’ four final statements?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 NIV)
In the fourth saying, Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22, written 900 years earlier by King David when he endured persecution. David’s experience clearly foreshadowed Jesus’ crucifixion. While it was written out of the anguish of David’s heart, somehow the Holy Spirit through David’s words was uttering the groaning of Jesus’ heart to come: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me . . . All who see me mock me . . . All my bones are out of joint . . . They pierce my hands and my feet . . . They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (Psalm 22:1, 7, 14, 16, 18 NIV).
Jesus was not simply expressing emotional anguish, and he certainly was not experiencing doubt. In quoting Psalm 22, Jesus pointed out that his suffering was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. By quoting the first verse, Jesus was saying in essence, “That entire psalm is about me.”
Jesus came as the fulfillment of God’s many, many promises to the people of Israel, the most prominent of those being to open the way for sinners to be reconciled to God. He was the prophesied Messiah, the one to whom the entire Old Testament points (Luke 24:27).
Just a few weeks earlier Jesus said precisely this to his disciples:
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again. (Luke 18:31-33 NIV)
Through this saying, we learn first that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Jesus was God himself, come to suffer for our sins, and to prove his faithfulness to his people in keeping all his promises.
“I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 NIV)
Jesus endured both physical and spiritual pain. When Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, he felt his heavenly Father’s wrath poured out on him. When Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), he experienced spiritual separation from the Father. Such spiritual anguish would only work to heighten the physical pain he felt.
Jesus’ fifth saying is proof he suffered physically. For most of us, this is a duh! moment: Of course he suffered physically! He was hanging from a cross!
But we shouldn’t overlook the significance of this. The fact that Jesus suffered physically shows us that, in his incarnation, though he was truly God, he also became truly human. Because Jesus suffered like us, we know he was truly made like us in every way.
We read in the book of Hebrews: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things (Hebrews 2:14 ESV). Jesus is fully human like us. With his hands and feet nailed to the cross, his back ripped to shreds from the previous flogging, and his bones out of joint, Jesus spoke in three simple words to his human frailty.
Whenever we suffer, whether it’s physical or spiritual pain, we can take heart, knowing that Jesus sympathizes with us because he too suffered—and he did it willingly for us. Therefore, he promises to show us mercy and grace in our suffering as he himself comforts and sustains us to endure suffering with patience and joy that glorifies him.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46 NIV)
Too often we imagine Jesus as passive, being dragged to his death, overcome by powerful forces, Roman soldiers, and the Jewish leaders.
Yet earlier Jesus told his disciples, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily” (John 10:18 NLT). Jesus was not defeated. This was a steel-spined lover, walking in sacrificial determination to take the place of the ones he loved.
Jesus’ last two sayings from the cross confirm this. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46 NIV) is not typically something a dying person says. John writes that Jesus “gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Combine this with the declaration “it is finished” and we have a picture, not of a passive death, but an active one.
Jesus gave up his spirit, as he did his body, voluntarily, of his own accord. When the time came to die, Jesus determined to die. Death did not steal his life; Jesus willingly handed it over for us.
Jesus declared that the work he came to earth to do was now completed; he declared it finished and he committed himself one last time to his Father.
After these last words, Jesus hung on the cross, alone. His disciples had scattered like sheep who had lost their shepherd. God the Father’s wrath was poured out on Jesus as he bore every sin ever committed by those who put their trust in him. The mockers and the murderers looked on in delight. The sky grew dark; the earth shook; the curtain in the temple was torn asunder.
To each of his disciples, all appeared lost.
“It is finished.” (John 19:30 NIV)
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. We’ve already seen that Jesus predicted his death, but he also predicted his resurrection. He did this in a number of ways:
- He did it metaphorically when he said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV).
- He did it symbolically when he said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40 NIV).
- He did it mysteriously when after the Transfiguration he told Peter, James, and John to not tell anybody what they had just seen, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).
Jesus’ crucifixion is the pinnacle of his earthly ministry. He came to die. As he said, “It is finished.” All has been done that needed to take place for our sins to be dealt with. But Jesus also came to bring new life to all those who trust in him.
In his death, Jesus bore our sins, and in his resurrection, he conquered death on our behalf. In this way, Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10 ESV).
Jesus’ Last Words for You
Jesus uttered these last words from the cross, revealing his heart for sinners—for us. In his last moments, while his body endured excruciating physical pain in your place, his mind was concerned with your forgiveness, his will was resolute to die so that you might have life because his heart was filled with love for your soul.
His final words reveal that in the middle of his execution, his primary concern was others. His last words reveal a heart that beats with the three words we so long to hear: I love you (John 3:16). Will you believe him?
Will you believe the good news that this man, Jesus, really died for you?