Chapter twenty-three finishes the crucifixion story to 6:00 Friday evening, the beginning of the Sabbath (vs. 56). Having already condemned Jesus for blasphemy, a crime punishable by death, the religious leaders brought him to Pontius Pilate for execution, because Rome did not allow them to put anyone to death on their own. However, in a pluralistic society like Rome’s, they knew that Pilate did not care what Jesus believed and taught, so they needed a crime that he would notice; they chose treason against the Roman Empire (vs. 1-6).
As a part of his detailed investigative report, Luke alone mentioned that Jesus had a separate hearing before Herod, who had gone to Jerusalem for Passover. This incident would have been interesting to his Roman addressee, who would likely have not been able to figure out how two ruthless rulers like Pilate and Herod could ever get along (vs. 6-12). With Jesus back in his custody, Pilate tried everything he could to keep peace with Rome and assuage the Jewish religious leaders, but they would not have it. They demanded Jesus’ death, and Pilate finally gave in (vs. 13-25).
As they led him away, several things took place. First, Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry Jesus’ cross (vs. 26). Second, in response to some women who wept for him, Jesus’ told them that the judgment coming on Israel would be just as ruthless (vs. 27-31). Third, although Matthew briefly mentioned the criminals crucified with Jesus, only Luke told of the salvation of one of them (vs. 32-43), continuing his theme of Jesus’ compassion on all people. Fourth, though Luke did not record most of the events at the cross or Jesus’ famous last words, he did record those of the centurion who clearly understood Jesus’ innocence (vs. 44-49). Finally, Jesus was removed from the cross and buried in a tomb owned by “a member of the council” (vs. 50) who obviously had not been swayed by the mob. This took place just as “the Sabbath was beginning” (vs. 54). The women went home to prepare the embalming spices that they would bring back early Sunday to give him a proper burial. Luke’s note that “on the Sabbath they rested” is a vast understatement of a day which contained a wealth of emotion.