It is worth observing that when Christ overcame the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, neither grumbling like Israel of old, nor capitulating like Adam, Luke adds these striking words, “Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)
The activity of Satan was not complete. He still lurked in the shadows, looking for opportunities to assail Christ.
It is not hard to imagine his influence in the heart of Judas, nor his stirring up hatred among the Pharisees. He was likewise certainly at work in the crowds sowing confusion and blindness. But while all that is true, we see a familiar device at play during the crucifixion. Consider the refrain of the rulers and soldiers and the criminal hanging alongside Jesus.
The first sneered, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” (Luke 23:35). The second echoed this sentiment by saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” (vs 36). Lastly, the criminal blasphemed, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” (vs 39)
We have heard similar words before. From where do they arise?
Think back to the manner in which Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.”
If you are…
If you are…
If you are…
One cannot help but wonder if Satan wasn’t capitalizing on the opportunity of the cross, jabbing a finger in the weakness and humiliation of Christ’s broken position. He no doubt wanted to mock and insult Christ, to amplify to the greatest possible degree the feeling of abasement. But like those temptations of old, he wanted Christ to not trust in the Father.
The jeering onlookers certainly didn’t understand the degree of the dark manipulation, feeling only within themselves a powerful inflammation of pride and hatred. As such, they did not understand fully the significance of their actions.
But neither did they recognize the irony of their words. By remaining on that cross, Jesus was in fact proving that He was the Christ. By remaining on that cross, He would be raised in three days, overcoming death’s hold. And by remaining on that cross, Christ was providing a means by which the criminal could be saved, not superficially from the crushing pain of crucifixion, but more fundamentally, from sin itself; the very thing that brought him to that point.
In all this, they did not understand the depths of Jesus’ words when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”