In these verses we have three things:—
I. Christ’s dying magnified by the prodigies that attended it: only two are here mentioned, which we had an account of before. 1. The darkening of the sun at noon-day. It was now about the sixth hour, that is, according to our computation, twelve o’clock at noon; and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The sun was eclipsed and the air exceedingly clouded at the same time, both which concurred to this thick darkness, which continuedthree hours, not three days, as that of Egypt did. 2. The rending of the veil of the temple. The former prodigy was in the heavens, this in the temple; for both these are the houses of God, and, when the Son of God was thus abused, they could not but feel the indignity, and thus signify their resentment of it. By this rending of the veil was signified the taking away of the ceremonial law, which was a wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles, and of all other difficulties and discouragements in our approaches to God, so that now we may come boldly to the throne of grace.
II. Christ’s dying explained (Luke 23:46) by the words with which he breathed out his soul. Jesus had cried with a loud voice when he said, Why hast thou forsaken me? So we are told in Matthew and Mark, and, it should seem, it was with a loud voice that he said this too, to show his earnestness, and that all the people might take notice of it: and this he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. 1. He borrowed these words from his father David (Ps. 31:5); not that he needed to have words put into his mouth, but he chose to make use of David’s words to show that it was the Spirit of Christ that testified in the Old-Testament prophets, and that he came to fulfil the scripture. Christ died with scripture in his mouth. Thus he directs us to make use of scripture language in our addresses to God. 2. In this address to God he calls him Father. When he complained of being forsaken, he cried, Eli, Eli, My God, my God; but, to show that dreadful agony of his soul was now over, he here calls God Father. When he was giving up his life and soul for us, he did for us call God Father, that we through him might receive the adoption of sons. 3. Christ made use of these words in a sense peculiar to himself as Mediator. He was now to make his soul an offering for our sin (Isa. 53:10), to give his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28), by the eternal Spirit to offer himself, Heb. 9:14. He was himself both the priest and the sacrifice; our souls were forfeited, and his must go to redeem the forfeiture. The price must be paid into the hands of God, the party offended by sin; to him he had undertaken to make full satisfaction. Now by these words he offered up the sacrifice, did, as it were, lay his hand upon the head of it, and surrender it; tithemi—“I deposit it, I pay it down into thy hands. Father, accept of my life and soul instead of the lives and souls of the sinners I die for.” The animus offerentis—the good will of the offerer, was requisite to the acceptance of the offering. Now Christ here expresses his cheerful willingness to offer himself, as he had done when it was first proposed to him (Heb. 10:9, 10), Lo, I come to do thy will, by which will we are sanctified. 4. Christ hereby signifies his dependence upon his Father for his resurrection, by the re-union of his soul and body. He commends his spirit into his Father’s hand, to be received into paradise, and returned the third day. By this it appears that our Lord Jesus, as he had a true body, so he had a reasonable soul, which existed in a state of separation from the body, and thus he was made like unto his brethren; this soul he lodged in his Father’s hand, committed it to his custody, resting in hope that it should not be left in hades, in its state of separation from the body, no, not so long as that the body might see corruption. 5. Christ has hereby left us an example, has fitted those words of David to the purpose of dying saints, and hath, as it were, sanctified them for their use. In death our great care should be about our souls, and we cannot more effectually provide for their welfare than by committing them now into the hands of God, as a Father, to be sanctified and governed by his Spirit and grace, and at death committing them into his hands to be made perfect in holiness and happiness. We must show that we are freely willing to die, that we firmly believe in another life after this, and are desirous of it, by saying, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.
III. Christ’s dying improved by the impressions it made upon those that attended him.
1. The centurion that had command of the guard was much affected with what he saw, Luke 23:47. He was a Roman, a Gentile, a stranger to the consolations of Israel; and yet he glorified God. He never saw such amazing instances of divine power, and therefore took occasion thence to adore God as the Almighty. And he bore a testimony to the patient sufferer: “Certainly this was a righteous man, and was unjustly put to death.” God’s manifesting his power so much to do him honour was a plain evidence of his innocency. His testimony in Matthew and Mark goes further: Truly this was the Son of God. But in his case this amounts to the same; for, if he was a righteous man, he said very truly when he said that he was the Son of God; and therefore that testimony of his concerning himself must be admitted, for, if it were false, he was not a righteous man.
2. The disinterested spectators could not but be concerned. This is taken notice of only here, Luke 23:48. All the people that came together to that sight, as is usual upon such occasions, beholding the things which were done, could not but go away very serious for the time, whatever they were when they came home: They smote their breasts, and returned. (1.) They laid the thing very much to heart for the present. They looked upon it as a wicked thing to put him to death, and could not but think that some judgment of God would come upon their nation for it. Probably these very people were of those that had cried, Crucify him, crucify him, and, when he was nailed to the cross, reviled and blasphemed him; but now they were so terrified with the darkness and the earthquake, and the uncommon manner of his expiring, that they had not only their mouths stopped, but their consciences startled, and in remorse for what they had done, as the publican, they smote upon their breasts, beat upon their own hearts, as those that had indignation at themselves. Some think that this was a happy step towards that good work which was afterwards wrought upon them, when they were pricked to the heart, Acts 2:37. (2.) Yet, it should seem, the impression soon wore off: They smote their breasts, and returned. They did not show any further token of respect to Christ, nor enquire more concerning him, but went home; and we have reason to fear that in a little time they quite forgot it. Thus many that see Christ evidently set forth crucified among them in the word and sacraments are a little affected for the present, but it does not continue; they smite their breasts, and return. They see Christ’s face in the glass of the ordinances and admire him; but they go away, and straightway forget what manner of man he is, and what reason they have to love him.
3. His own friends and followers were obliged to keep their distance, and yet got as near as they could and durst, to see what was done (Luke 23:49): All his acquaintance, that knew him and were known of him, stood afar off, for fear lest if they had been near him they should have been taken up as favourers of him; this was part of his sufferings, as of Job’s (Job 19:13): He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. See Ps. 88:18. And the women that followed him together from Galilee were beholding these things, not knowing what to make of them, nor so ready as they should have been to take them for certain preludes of his resurrection. Now was Christ set for a sign that should be spoken against, as Simeon foretold, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed, Luke 2:34, 35.