We often speak of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus on the cross. All four gospels mention them. Three are unique to Luke; three more are unique to John; there is only the one in Matthew and Mark, “last words” in the usual sense of the term. It is the most troubling of all, an expression of despair: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Below, we examine each of our Lord’s final statements.
1. Jesus addresses the Father.
Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." [Luke 23:34]
This first saying of Christ on the cross is traditionally called "The Word of Forgiveness". It is theologically understood as Christ’s prayer for forgiveness for those who were crucifying him: the Roman soldiers and all others involved in his torture and death. By virtue of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, forgiveness is possible, the gates of Heaven are opened, and sin is forever conquered.
2. Jesus speaks to Dismas.
And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." [Luke 23:43]
This saying is called "The Word of Salvation." In Luke's Gospel, Christ was crucified between two thieves (Dismas, the good criminal, and Gestas), Dismas supports Jesus' innocence and asks him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus replies, "Truly, I say to you..."
The punctuation of Christ’s reply has been the subject of doctrinal differences among Christians. Protestant Christians typically read this as, "today you will be with me in Paradise". This understanding presumes direct passage to Heaven. Catholics, however, interpret it as, "I say to you today," leaving open the possibility that the statement was made presently, but eternal beatitude would be experienced later.
3. Jesus entrusts his mother to the beloved disciple.
Jesus saw his own mother, and the disciple standing near whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother." And from that hour, he took his mother into his family. [John 19:26-27]
This statement is called "The Word of Relationship." Jesus entrusts his mother to the care of "the disciple whom Jesus loved," the Apostle John. Even in the depths of his misery, Christ cared not for himself but for the well-being of Mary.
4. Jesus cries out to the Father.
Around the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, saying"Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" which is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [Matthew 27:46]
And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [Mark 15:34]
Of the last seven sayings of Christ, it is the only one that appears in two Gospels. It is a quote from King David in Psalm 22. Some see it as an abandonment of the Son by the Father. Others understand Christ’s cry as that of one who was truly human and felt forsaken. Tortured to death by his foes, deserted by his friends, Jesus may have felt deserted by God.
5. Jesus is thirsty.
He said, "I thirst." [John 19:28]
This is called "The Word of Distress" and is contrasted with Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John.
The Gospel of John says Jesus was offered a drink of sour wine. A sponge dipped in wine on a hyssop branch was held it to Jesus' lips. Hyssop branches figured significantly in the Old Testament and in the Book of Hebrews.
This statement of Jesus fulfills the prophecy given in Psalm 9:21(cf. Psalm 22:15), thus the quotation from John's Gospel "to fulfill the scriptures."
6. "It is finished."
Jesus said, "Tetelestai", meaning "It is finished." [John 19:30]
This statement is called "The Word of Triumph," and is interpreted by some as the announcement of the end of Jesus’ earthly life in anticipation of his Resurrection.
Under this interpretation, these words are a cry of victory, not resignation. Jesus had completed his divine mission. Salvation was now possible. Christ had assumed our brokenness and taken our place. He had offered himself fully to God as a sacrifice on behalf of humanity.
Jesus refused the initial drink of vinegar, gall and myrrh (Matthew 27:34 and Mark 15:23) offered to alleviate his suffering. But here, several hours later, we see Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecy found in Psalm 69:21.
Catholic theologian Dr. Scott Hahn offers this interpretation:
"They put a sponge full of the sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine he said the words that are spoken of in the fourth cup consummation, "It is finished." What is the ‘it’ referring to? That grammatical question began really bothering me at some point. I asked several people and their response was usually, "Well, it means the work of redemption that Christ was working on." All right, that's true, I agree it does refer to that, but in context. An exegete, a trained interpreter of the word is supposed to find the contextual meaning, not just import a meaning from a theology textbook. What is Jesus speaking of when he says, "It is finished?" I mean, our redemption is not completed once he - he's not yet raised. Paul says, "He was raised for our justification."
So what is the ‘it’ talking about? He said, 'It is finished', and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, his breath. The ‘it,’ of course you realize by now, is the Passover sacrifice. Because who is Jesus Christ? He is the sacrifice of Egypt, the firstborn son. Remember, the Egyptians involuntarily had to offer up their firstborn sons as atonement for their own sins and wickedness. Christ dies for Egypt and the world. Plus, he is the Passover lamb, the unblemished lamb, without broken bones who offers himself up for the life of the world. This fits with John's gospel, because as soon as Jesus was introduced in chapter 1 of the fourth gospel by John the Baptist, what did John say? He said, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." And here is the lamb, headed for the altar of the cross, dying as a righteous firstborn and as an unblemished lamb. I believe that it's best to say in light of scripture that the sacrifice of Christ did not begin with the first spike. It didn't begin when the cross was sunk into the ground. It began in the upper room.
7. "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
And speaking in a loud voice, Jesus said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." [Luke 23:46]
In this final utterance, we see Christ’s complete trust in the Father. Jesus encountered death in the same way he lived his life, offering up his earthly existence as a perfect sacrifice and placing himself completely in God's hands.