All of Christ’s sayings were powerful. But the last words of Jesus on the cross as He died for us deserve intense consideration. They should change our lives.
Last words of Jesus
Had you stood in the crowd that day watching Jesus die, you would have heard Him utter seven astounding statements. Remarkable words, not only due to His duress, but because of the deep meaning they conveyed.
And in these seven last words of Jesus we find a lasting example of how we must also think and live!
In this article you will find the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross with explanation—the biblical meaning of Jesus’ last words and how they should change our lives.
What were the seven last sayings of Jesus?
- “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
- “You will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
- “Woman, behold your son!” (John 19:26-27).
- “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
- “I thirst!” (John 19:28).
- “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
- “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit’” (Luke 23:46).
Importance of the seven last words
The seven last sayings, also called the seven last words of Jesus, not only reveal what was most important to our loving Savior, but several of them helped complete the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies about that momentous day.
These meaningful sayings gave understanding, instruction, motivation and inspiration to the disciples and to the Church through the ages. What can we gain from studying each of them today?
Luke records this first of the seven last sayings of Jesus. In saying this, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy that He would make “intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
To whom was He speaking? In reality, all of us. As Peter explained weeks later, “all the house of Israel” crucified Christ (Acts 2:36). Then Peter told everyone in the temple that they “killed the Prince of life” (Acts 3:15). Paul expanded the list of sinners to every human being (Romans 3:23).
But Peter went on to say, “I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). So does God lower His standard of righteousness to our level of ignorance? No! Ignorance is not innocence, so Peter urged them to repent—turn from the sins that Christ had to die for—and be forgiven. (For deeper study, see “Sacrifice of Jesus” and “How to Repent.”)
Although because of sin we, too, were enemies of God, He never turned cold-hearted toward us, as Jesus’ words here so powerfully demonstrate. Can we, therefore, do anything less than strive to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)? (For deeper study, see “When Forgiveness Isn’t Easy.”)
Luke also records the second of the seven last sayings of Jesus.
Two criminals, guilty and deserving of death, hung beside Jesus. Both had reviled Him (Matthew 27:40-44); but later, when one blasphemed Christ again, the other had a remarkable change of heart and responded, “Do you not even fear God?” (Luke 23:40). Remembering that we face judgment before God, he confessed their just condemnation and Jesus’ innocence—“this Man has done nothing wrong” (verse 41).
Even more extraordinary, he expressed faith that Christ would rule over God’s coming Kingdom—“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (verse 42).
Jesus’ reply proved the truth of Hebrews 7:25: “He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Contrary to common opinion, this verse doesn’t show the thief went to heaven that day. Read our article “Thief on the Cross: What Happened to Him?” for the true explanation.
Interestingly, as the crowd insulted, mocked and spat on Him, Jesus never replied. But when this remorseful criminal humbly sought mercy, He instantly responded with compassion and assurance. This is God’s mind, God’s love. God stands ready to respond to the repentant.
Do we see ourselves in the words of this thief, mindful of our sin and need for God’s mercy? Do we likewise mercifully view others as Jesus saw this man—a potential child of God who, upon turning to God, will have the opportunity to be in His family and Kingdom?
John, the disciple Jesus had a special bond with, recorded the third of the seven last sayings of Jesus—the words of Jesus to His mother, Mary, and to John.
Mary had seen more than her share of sorrow in her life with Jesus. Now, seeing her grown Son hated by people and forsaken by friends, she “stood by the cross of Jesus” (verse 25).
No doubt Simeon’s words to her when Jesus was a baby returned to mind: “This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel … (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)” (Luke 2:34-35).
Yet here was Jesus, intensely suffering, but thinking of the needs of the mother who had loved Him and making sure she’d be cared for by John. While much of the story of His last hours highlights His relationship with His Heavenly Father, this reveals the honor He felt for His human mother.
A few hours before, Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, teaching them to humbly serve others. Likewise, while our spiritual relationship with God is our most important commitment in life, we must never ignore the responsibilities we carry in our physical relationships. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the second great commandment (Matthew 22:39).
For additional study, see our Bible Study Starter “Loving Your Neighbor.”
4. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Matthew and Mark both record this cry of Jesus that was the fourth of the seven last sayings of Jesus. It occurred about the ninth hour after sunrise, or about 3 p.m. Jesus had been in agony on the cross for six hours by this time.
But what did He mean by, “Why have You forsaken Me?”
David once wrote, “I have not seen the righteous forsaken” (Psalm 37:25). “Forsake” means to abandon or leave helpless. Being forsaken is a horrific experience, but to be forsaken by God would be the worst!
Surely His Father had not forsaken Him! Later statements show Jesus knew His Father didn’t, but did momentarily leave Him helpless. Why?
First, Jesus was taking on Himself all the sins of humanity—“the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6)—and God would not intervene to ease anything associated with the penalty of sin. Sin causes suffering, and Christ bore its full weight, including the emotional trauma of comprehending how sin distances us from God!
He had previously declared that “the Father has not left Me alone” (John 8:29). He had never experienced the aloneness that comes from being cut off from God, but now, bearing the sins of the world, He would.
Have you ever felt alone, forsaken? Christ knows that feeling, and He can give you the understanding and faith you need in such times!
Notice also, in asking, “Why have You forsaken Me?” He merely posed a question. Just because He felt forsaken, He would not forsake God. There was no accusing God, no questioning God’s love, no doubting His promises. It was, as some have noted, “a cry of distress, not of distrust.”
Something else is noteworthy. Earlier that day religious leaders, clearly rejecting Him as their Savior, had taunted Jesus, going so far as to mock Him with words from Psalm 22, a messianic prophecy (Matthew 27:41-43). When Jesus later cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” He, too, quoted Psalm 22—the same psalm His tormentors had used!
Using this scripture back to them was His rebuttal that they were indeed crucifying the Messiah! He knew this psalm prophesied about Him; and though He anguished over being temporarily forsaken, He knew God would answer. (For deeper study, see “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?”)
Let’s ask a question about ourselves, though: Has our Father ever asked of us, “My child, My child, why have you forsaken Me?” We all, of course, have abandoned God through our sinfulness. Isn’t it time to stop?
John records the fifth of the seven last sayings of Jesus.
“Knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled,” Jesus said, “I thirst.” In His anguish Jesus remained clear-headed and aware that the prophecy of Psalm 69:21 still needed to be fulfilled: “For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”
This again demonstrates His physical suffering (Hebrews 2:17-18), and He therefore understands our hurting too.
Considering that He gave His life for us, the least we can do is live our lives for Him, isn’t it?But thirsting, even more importantly, is also a spiritual matter. “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,” He told the Samaritan woman, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14; see also 7:38-39).
John records the sixth of the seven last sayings of Jesus.
What did He finish? Much! That day saw at least 25 messianic prophecies fulfilled, witnessing to the inspiration of God’s Word. At age 12, He had said, “I must be about My Father’s business” (Luke 2:49); and now that work committed to Him was finished!
He was only minutes away from concluding His ultimate work in the flesh—offering Himself as our atoning sacrifice, His beaten body and shed blood paying for our sins. Jesus had never wavered from His destiny—the Lamb of God, “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Now He had triumphed! “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
Also finished was Satan’s fate! It was through Jesus’ death that “He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Satan remains to be cast into the bottomless pit, but his time is coming. The Day of Atonement, one of God’s holy days, explains how God will shut the door on Satan and open the door for humanity’s reconciliation with God.
What has God given you to finish? Can we be as dedicated as the One who endured to the end to complete His work for us?
Luke records the last of the seven last sayings of Jesus.
He who freely gave Himself into the hands of His executioners was now committing Himself into the hands of His Father. In life He had always submitted to His Father’s will, and now in death it would be no different.
The forsaken feeling He’d experienced shortly before no longer remained. He knew God would answer His expectation, so, gasping His last breath, Jesus uttered His last words—words of complete faith.
Exactly as predetermined, of course, three days later God brought Him back to life.
Can we, likewise, put ourselves in God’s hands, not only when we die but, like Christ, in every day that we live?
What would Christ say to us now?
We marvel at what our Savior endured in dying, and it’s even more remarkable knowing what He thought and said. God preserved these words—and all the words in His Bible—because as Christ proclaimed in John 6:63, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
Considering that He gave His life for us, the least we can do is live our lives for Him, isn’t it? What He says to us now is no different from what He stated several years before His death: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
For more about the life and teachings of our Savior and King, see the related articles in this section: “Who Is Jesus?”