The 7 Last Words of Jesus in Context

by | Epic Bible Mystery

When you read the last words of Jesus on the cross, do you read them alone or in the context of Scripture more broadly? And can learning to do the later deepen your sense of their meaning?

In this article, we’ll consider how each of the 7 last sayings of Jesus can be seen as based in Scripture, whether as direct quotations or strong allusions to broader Scriptural themes.

(All scripture quotes below are the WEB, World English Bible, translation unless otherwise noted.)

A Journey of Discovery

It’s become increasingly apparent that I’ve spent most of my life reading the life of Jesus (the Gospels) outside its broader Scriptural context. The Lord’s final sayings on the cross are no exception and a perfect example of how much greater the meaning available when we do read the life of Jesus in its broader Scriptural context.

As I recall, there was a time when I thought the only Scripture Jesus was even quoting from the cross (let alone fulfilling in some other way) was Psalm 22:1 (as quoted in Mk. 15:34; Mt. 27:46).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1)

The rest of his words I simply read in immediate context… But now let’s explore how Scripture offers us much deeper meaning for each of Jesus’ sayings from the cross below.

Deeper in the Psalms

Beyond the puzzling nature of Jesus quoting the words of Psalm 22:1 (above), digging deeper in the Psalms as context for Jesus words can yield much insight and clarity.

Jesus again quotes another Psalm from the cross when he quotes Psalm 31:5 there (Luke 23:46).

Into your hand I commend my spirit.” (Psalm 31:5)

When we look closer at their context in the Psalm, both the quotations above have an ultimate compellingly triumphant outcome and meaning in common.

As Richard B Hays explained in his book, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, while Psalm 22 begins with these words of sorrow from David, they ultimate end in vindication and the broader purposes of God being fulfilled.

“Yes, you have rescued me… I will declare your name…

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh. All the relatives of the nations shall worship before you.
For the kingdom is Yahweh’s. He is the ruler over the nations.” (Psalm 22:21b,22a, 27-28).

Remember that the very reality Jesus spends his ministry preaching, the coming of the Kingdom of God, is the reality realized by the end of Psalm 22 seems worth noting to say the least. And better yet, its apparently the ultimate outcome of the faithful one’s suffering no less!

Psalm 31:5, the other Psalm quoted by Jesus on the cross, takes a similar triumphant turn in the very next line.

“Into your hand I commend my spirit.

You redeem me, Yahweh, God of truth.” (Psalm 31:5)

It is therefore fittingly consistent with the broader context of Psalm 22 that Jesus also quote from it here.

A third example of Psalm-inspiration in Jesus’ final words from the cross is when Jesus says, “I thirst”. This can be taken as an allusion or additional fulfillment Psalm 22 (verse 1 quoted above) and similar Psalm passages.

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd.

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” (Ps. 22:15)

Jesus expressing his thirst and the resulting actions by the soldiers (found in John 19:28) can be seen as a combined (or composite) fulfillment of Psalm 22:15 and Psalm 69:21 together.

In my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Ps. 69:21)

(Curiously, this won’t the last example of “composite fulfillment” that can be found in Jesus words on the cross.)

From the Psalms alone, we’ve already seen how three of Jesus seven sayings (or last words) from the cross are deepened by their broader Scriptural context and meaning.

What other treasures do you suppose we’ll find in those that remain?


Father Forgive Them: Further Beyond Direct Quotations

With our third Psalm-related example above, we started moving beyond direct quotations while considering Jesus’ words on the cross in their full Scriptural context. To explore the remaining four, we’ll continue in like fashion.

Like most of Jesus sayings on the cross, I remember initially taking this next example in its immediate Gospel and New Testament context alone and finding it meaningful in a general kind of way.

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

But like those before, it is a saying deepened by the broader context of Scripture as a whole.

Observe how Jesus asks God to forgive those putting him to death here on the basis that they don’t really understand the wrong they are doing.

As Hays also explains, this is in step with the law of Moses which makes a distinction between sins done in ignorance, which can be atoned for and forgiven, and those done knowingly and willfully, which can not.

“When you err, and don’t observe all these commandments which Yahweh has spoken to Moses… then it shall be, if it was done unwittingly… that all the congregation shall offer one young bull for a burnt offering… and one male goat for a sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and they shall be forgiven; for it was an error” (Numbers 15:22,24-25a)


“But the soul who does anything with a high hand… That soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised Yahweh’s word, and has broken his commandment, that soul shall be utterly cut off. His iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30-31)

As Hays also observes, Peter and Paul both reaffirm this understanding that the people and their leaders “acted in ignorance” in perpetrating Jesus’ crucifixion and can thereby be forgiven! (Acts 3:17, 13:27).

An additional layer of contextual meaning is found in how sins of ignorance are atoned for: with a sacrifice for the people by the priest! Given how Jesus is himself acting as the ultimate high priest here by offering the ultimate/final sacrifice (see the book of Hebrews), he is also completing the very process that atones for sins of ignorance in the same breath that he requests this forgiveness from God!

All this context and dramatic meaning can be seen to lie behind Jesus words here.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV)


The Word and the New Creation

For our fifth saying of Jesus on the cross, we’ll get to see how Jesus connects his sacrifice there to the full sweeping narrative of Scripture starting from the beginning.

Many readers of the Gospels will be familiar with the opening verses of John chapter 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him… In him was life, and the life was the light of men… John [the Baptist]… was sent that he might testify about the light. The true light… was coming into the world.” (John 1:1,3a,4,6b,8b,9)

But some may have never asked: Why does John choose to introduce Jesus’ life and ministry in this way?

In my previous post, I traced God’s redemptive efforts across Scripture as “new creation” events, or God working to re-birth humanity in righteousness in ways clearly patterned after the original Creation events & design.

I also describe how this helps explain John’s introduction.

John even presents Jesus entire life and ministry in the context of his (the Word’s) involvement in the original creation event (Genesis 1:1, 3; John 1:1-5).


How does that intro contextualize the life of Christ? Well, does not his work on the cross result in the reality that all can be “new creations” in him? (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:3-11)

Jesus original involvement in establishing Creation is a perfectly fitting introduction to his life and ministry. After all, the whole purpose of it is to complete God’s work of “new creation” across Scripture & ultimately restore his original design.

But this theme is not just seen in John’s introduction but across his gospel.

For example, after God’s six days of creation, we’re told he rested on the seventh. But we see him going back to work after humanity’s fall into sin. That work, as I detailed in my last post, reveals God working to restart Creation as he originally intended it.

When the pharisees confront Jesus for healing a paralyzed man on the Sabbath, he replies to them.

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17 NASB)

In other words:

  • God only rested after completing his work of Creation
  • Because of the Fall, God is no longer at rest!
  • He’s now working on an act of “new creation” (redemption/restoration).
  • And like the original Creation act, God and Jesus (the Word) will keep working and only rest after the new work is complete.


Credit to author Sam Nadler for observing that after the fall, God’s rest had ended and a new work began in his book Messiah in the Feasts of Israel.

Another place this theme appears in the Gospel of John is as follows:

  • Jesus breaths on his disciples in the upper room in John 20 (verse 22).
  • Echoing how God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam in Genesis 2 (verse 7).
  • Only here, Jesus is foreshadowing Pentecost when God’s Spirit will rush into the room and enter their hearts (Acts 2), re-birthing them in God’s righteous nature as “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • Hence Jesus involvement with the original creation act is fulfilled here in his involvement in the “new creation” (redemptive) act.

Again, Jesus act of “new creation” fulfills the original act of creation he was himself intimately involved in.

For our last example of this, we’ll at last come to the phrase of Jesus on the cross we’re focused on here.

Jesus makes it clear that his death is required for new life to be created, speaking of it as a “seed” or kernel falling into the ground to produce new life (new creation language).

Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

It seems that the old fallen creation must die to be reborn as a “new creation” and Jesus is vicariously making this possible with his work on the cross.

With God’s original work of creation, Genesis told us:

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2 NIV)

How fitting is it then, that just before Jesus dies on the cross, he should say the words…

“It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Echoing how God “finished” his work after the sixth day of creation (Genesis 2:2) with Jesus entering his rest just in time for the seventh day, which John 19:31 tells us was the day following his crucifixion, a Sabbath day of rest.

(Note: Death is referred to as “sleep”, ie. rest, in the Bible, including by Jesus himself before raising a girl from the dead in Luke 8:52.)

Credit again to Sam Nadler who introduces his chapter on the Sabbath rest quoting Genesis 2:2 (quoted above) and subsequently quotes Jesus words on the cross in John 19:30 that echo it.

With our fifth example down, Jesus’ sayings on the cross continue to find deeper meaning in the grander context of Scripture as a whole.


Ask the Righteous Man: What is My Fate?

And now we come to our sixth saying of Jesus on the cross. And this one may be more peculiar and interesting that any other in the sense that in involves a rare concept in biblical understanding: the concept of composite fulfillment.

What exactly is composite fulfillment? Composite fulfillment is when two or more thematically-linked passages in Scripture are fulfilled together in a singular way.

The clearest examples we have of composite fulfillment in the Gospels are examples that explicitly involve composite quotations. This occurs when the Gospel author combines two or more related passages of Hebrew Scripture together as if they were a single quotation.

Quick examples of “Composite Quotations” in Mark, Matthew and Luke include:

  • In Mark 1:2-3, the singular/blended quotation of Isaiah 40:3 and Exodus 23:20 (or Malachi 3:1) as one quote.
  • In Matthew 21:5, the singular/blended quotation of Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11 as one quote.
  • In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus’ own singular/blended quotation of Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:6 as one quote.
  • And more (see book referenced below).

This type of composite or blended quotation not only occurs across the Gospels, with clear examples found in the majority of Gospel narratives, but the very first example appears in the very first paragraph of the very first Gospel written: In Mark 1:2-3 (as noted above).

In other words, one might say this literary form is so deeply ingrained in the Gospel texts of the New Testament, you cannot even read more than a single sentence into the gospel tradition without first hitting upon it! And yet strangely it’s seemingly one of the most rarely known about, understood or discussed concepts for everyday bible readers. And as we’ll see, there’s deep treasure here often missed as a result.

Credit to scholars Sean A. Adams and Seth M. Ehorn for detailing examples of composite quotation in the New Testament in their book, Composite Citations in Antiquity – Volume Two.

Moving beyond direct quotations (once again), the most exciting realm of study regarding “composite fulfillment” in the Gospels is perhaps those where “the fulfillment” is seen in an event or detail of an event with or without an explicit Scriptural quote (again, like we’ve seen in Jesus sayings on the cross above).

It’s worth noting that candidate examples are less explicitly clear as a result and thereby, more open to controversy and debate. Yet the compelling nature of some examples reaches beyond reasonable doubt, I think you’ll soon agree.

Remember first, that the clear examples of composite fulfillment via quotation, as above, involve blending thematically-linked passages of the Old Testament.

For example, the passages blended into a single quote in Mark 1:2-3 all share the theme of one being sent ahead to prepare the way (be it an angel like in Exodus, or a prophet like in Malachi). It is only by being thematically-linked that they are seemingly then warranted to quote as if a singular reality and perhaps more importantly, fulfilled as such.

You can fairly quickly see how the other two examples included above are also joining texts thematically linked in this way.

Having set this foundation, let’s consider two thematically linked passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that are singularly fulfilled by the sixth saying of Jesus on the cross.

Our linking theme here is that both of these passages will involve someone looking to a righteous man with divine incite to inquire about his/their imminent fate. One story is from the life of Joseph and the other from the life of King Saul.

For Joseph, the story occurs when he is innocently put into an Egyptian prison and is soon joined by two Egyptian men being punished there as well. These two men are “the cup bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt” (Genesis 40:5). Both of these men have strange dreams in jail and are “troubled” with no one to interpret what they mean for them. But Joseph offers to interpret their dreams with God’s help.

The dream of the cup bearer, Joseph explains, means that in three days he will be restored back to his place as cup bearer at King Pharaoh’s side. But the baker’s dream means that in three days he will be sentenced to hang by the King.

To the cup bearer who will be redeemed, Joseph asks:

But remember me when it is well with you… and make mention of me to [King] Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house.” (Genesis 40:14).

You may have already realized that the innocent Joseph in the prison, being punished by the Egyptian authorities along with two other men, is not unlike Jesus being innocently punished and crucified with two other men by the Roman authorities.

But we’ll come back to how Jesus fulfills this event on the cross after we considered our other thematically linked Old Testament event below.

Turning to the story from King Saul’s life then, we have again a story of a man inquiring with a more righteous man of divine insight about his fate.

Here King Saul goes to the Witch of Endor to call the Spirit the Samuel up from the grave to ask Samuel what will happen to him with an imminent battle with the Philistine’s.

Like Joseph being innocently punished by the authorities of a foreign nation, the story of Samuel spirit being called up from the brave by King Saul is striking in its Jesus-like features more broadly, such as the description of seeing Samuel’s spirit rise by the Witch herself.

“I see a god coming up out of the earth.” (1 Samuel  28:13b ESV)

To King Saul’s inquiry regarding his own fate in the coming battle, Samuel tells King Saul the unwelcome news plainly: he and his family will soon be joining him in the grave.

“the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me.” (1 Samuel 28:19a ESV)

Now let’s return to Jesus on the cross where like Joseph, he is innocently being punished along with two other men. As these men are being crucified there with him, they are also facing their imminent fate.

Like the two men with Joseph and they good and bad fates foretold by their dreams, one of the men being crucified with Jesus is not on the path to being redeemed, mocking the idea that Jesus is the Messiah (Luke 23:39) in contrast to the other man, who is repentant and puts his faith in Jesus as Messiah (Luke 23:40-42).

As Joseph said to the other man going to be redeemed at King Pharaoh’s side (quoted above), the repentant man being crucified with Jesus says to him.

“Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

But for the other part of this composite fulfillment and the part reflected in the saying of Jesus on the cross here given in response, we must look to the second story and proceed with the words of Samuel to King Saul freshly in mind.

Only to the repentant man being crucified at his side, Jesus response is at once both more imminent and hopeful then these. 

Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

And so the sixth saying of Jesus on the cross is part of an exchange that fulfills two thematically-linked moments in redemptive history together as one redemptive event.

“Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”


“Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


Who is My Mother and Brother? A Gospel Theme Comes Full Circle

That brings us to our seventh and final saying of Jesus on the cross. Here we’ll do something slightly different than with the others. We’ll consider this final saying in the broader context of the New Testament itself.

Before dying on the cross, Jesus says something to his mother and to a male disciple there. Note: This male disciple is the only of Jesus’ male disciples who did not abandon him during his arrest, trial and execution.

“Therefore when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour, the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Read in the broader context of the Gospels, a heightened sense of drama and meaning is revealed for these words.

For Jesus had said something similar and relevant earlier in his ministry. It occurred when he was teaching in a home one day, that his mother and brothers came to find him (Mark 3:31–35; Matthew 12:46–50; Luke 8:19–21).

His mother and his brothers came, and standing outside, they sent to him, calling him. A multitude was sitting around him, and they told him, “Behold, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside looking for you.”


He answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking around at those who sat around him, he said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Some have suggested that Jesus’ family is put in a negative light here. But Jesus words from the cross and his mother’s support throughout his ministry show us otherwise. They suggest it was just a teaching opportunity and Jesus own mother is nevertheless included in the deeper sense of spiritual family expressed here after.

To the crowd in the house that day, Jesus says that the woman who does God’s will is his “mother” or “sister” in Spirit and men who does so, his “brothers”.

Jesus sacrifice on the cross is central to God’s will for his life. His mother and one male disciple are faithfully there supporting him in living by that will to the end.

Who is Jesus’ mother and who his brother? Jesus identifies his disciple as his brother and therefore a new son to his faithful mother and vice versa!

…he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”

A related teaching is also found in Paul’s epistles where he teaches:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.


For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”


The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.

– Romans 8:14-17 

Notice that Paul teaches that the Spirit testifies “that we are children of God… if indeed we suffer with him” ? Above, we saw Jesus speaking to his mother and disciple who stayed with him through his suffering even on the cross, fulfilling God’s will for his children to share in the Lord’s suffering, as his true spiritual family.

And this is in contrast to Jesus disciples in general, at least before Pentecost. For at the moment his suffering began, they failed to share in it with him. For when Jesus himself cried out “Abba! Father!” praying in the garden of Gethsemene in anguish, his disciples failed to keep watch with him and repeatedly fall asleep.

He went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him. He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Please remove this cup from me. However, not what I desire, but what you desire.”


He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Couldn’t you watch one hour? Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:35-38)

Now the disciples had not yet received the Spirit permanently. And Paul tell us it is by that Spirit we too can cry out “Abba Father” and as children of God share in the Lord’s suffering. But the example of Jesus’ own mother and one male disciple, even before Pentecost, shows this was at least possible earlier.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.

And so we can see how the broader context of the New Testament as a whole deepens the meaning of Jesus words to his mother and male disciple on the cross. Who is Jesus’ true mother and brothers and sisters (God’s children), those who do God’s will – including sharing in the Lord’s suffering with him.

“Therefore when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing there, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour, the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

The Last Words of Jesus Revisited

To wrap things up, hopefully your sense of the scriptural meaning behind Jesus sayings on the cross has been enhanced here (you might consider revisiting them each at the link above). And with these as a small example, perhaps your interest in reading Jesus life in Scriptural context has as well.



  • See the 7 last words of Jesus in the wikipedia article, Sayings of Jesus on the Cross.
  • In Origins of Christianity and the Bible, Andrew D. Benson discusses Jesus words on the cross as quoting Psalm 31:5 and Psalm 22 verses 1, 15 and others.
  • In Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard B. Hays discusses Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1 and the implied meaning from reading the Psalm in full (pages 84-85).
  • In Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Richard B. Hays discusses Jesus offering forgiveness for a sin of ignorance from the cross and related passages on pages 211-212.
  • In Messiah in the Feasts of IsraelSam Nadler’s chapter on Sabbath connects God’s finishing his work of creation (Genesis 2:2) and his rest thereafter ending with the fall of humanity and God’s working of redemption beginning with Jesus words on the cross that echo Genesis 2:2 in John 17:30 (see pages 8, 11-12.)
  • In Composite Citation in Antiquity: Volume TwoSean A. Adams and Seth M. Ehorn detail examples of composite quotation in the New Testament, including the examples from the Gospels above, amongst others.
  • In Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament, Nancy Guthrie observes the parallels between Joseph’s innocent punishment in Egyptian prison with two other men and Jesus innocent crucifixion with the two men – including the one will be redeemed vs condemned and the request to be remembered (see devotional entry, “March 5 – He Was Counted Among the Rebels”).
  • In a blog post, Neil Godfrey observes the parallels Samuel’s response to King Saul and Jesus’ response to the repentant crucified criminal here.