“Chapter 20: Luke 23–24,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 20,” New Testament Student Manual
Chapters 23–24 of Luke provide the opportunity to study some additional details of the events leading up to and following the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Savior was accused by Jewish leaders; questioned by Pilate, Herod, and then Pilate again; and sentenced to be crucified. Luke’s account helps us see that even while Jesus Christ was being falsely accused and suffering on the cross, He exemplified self-restraint, compassion, love, and forgiveness. Moreover, Luke’s accounts of the Savior’s post-Resurrection appearances are some of the clearest and most detailed witnesses of Jesus’s physical Resurrection. The Savior manifested Himself to two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, and to the eleven Apostles and those who were with them. His visit to the Apostles is particularly important because He commanded them to handle His physical body so they might know for certain that He had risen. Having done so, they could fulfill their commission to be witnesses of His literal Resurrection.
Luke 23:2 contains three charges the Jews were bringing against the Savior: “perverting” or causing disruption to the nation, teaching Roman subjects not to pay tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be a king of a competing earthly kingdom. These would have been considered acts of treason, for which the penalty was death. Jesus Christ, of course, was innocent of these trumped-up charges. For insights about the charge of treason, see the commentaries for Matthew 27:11 and for Mark 15:1–2.
Sensing that there was “no fault” in Jesus, Pilate began looking for a way to dismiss the case against Him (Luke 23:4). When Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him to Herod Antipas, who had political jurisdiction over Galilee but was in Jerusalem for Passover. Herod was eager to see Jesus, hoping to witness a miracle of some sort. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, who had ordered the slaying of the children of Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16). Herod Antipas had entered into an adulterous marriage with his brother Philip’s wife. When John the Baptist had heard of this marriage, he had called it unlawful (see Mark 6:18), for which Herod had put John the Baptist to death. Jesus had earlier referred to Herod as “that fox” (Luke 13:31–32), giving us further insight into Herod’s deceptive character.
Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote about the exchange between the Savior and Herod: “Herod began to question the Prisoner; but Jesus remained silent. The chief priests and scribes vehemently voiced their accusations; but not a word was uttered by the Lord. … As far as we know, Herod is … the only being who saw Christ face to face and spoke to Him, yet never heard His voice. … For Herod the fox He had but disdainful and kingly silence. Thoroughly piqued, Herod turned from insulting questions to acts of malignant derision. He and his men-at-arms made sport of the suffering Christ, ‘set him at nought and mocked him’; then in travesty they ‘arrayed him in a gorgeous robe and sent him again to Pilate’ [Luke 23:11]. Herod had found nothing in Jesus to warrant condemnation” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 636).
Elder Robert D. Hales (1932–2017) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared these thoughts on how we might follow the Savior’s example when other people criticize or persecute us:
“When we respond to our accusers as the Savior did, we not only become more Christlike, we invite others to feel His love and follow Him as well.
“To respond in a Christlike way cannot be scripted or based on a formula. The Savior responded differently in every situation. When He was confronted by wicked King Herod, He remained silent. When He stood before Pilate, He bore a simple and powerful testimony of His divinity and purpose. Facing the moneychangers who were defiling the temple, He exercised His divine responsibility to preserve and protect that which was sacred. Lifted up upon a cross, He uttered the incomparable Christian response: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).
“Some people mistakenly think responses such as silence, meekness, forgiveness, and bearing humble testimony are passive or weak. But to ‘love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]’ (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage” (“Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 72).
Only Luke described Jesus’s appearance before Herod Antipas and Pilate’s subsequent attempt to declare Jesus’s innocence by referring to Herod as a second witness: “I … have found no fault in this man … : no, nor yet Herod … ; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him” (Luke 23:14–15). Luke’s account gives us the clearest understanding that Jesus appeared before Pilate twice—before and after He was sent to Herod. Luke also recorded that Pilate asked the Jews in attendance three times why they wanted Jesus crucified and then, finally giving in to popular pressure, released Barabbas (see Luke 23:1–26).
For more information about Jesus Christ’s arraignment before Pilate and Barabbas’s release, see the commentary for Matthew 27:15–21.
After Pilate sentenced the Savior to be crucified, many sorrowful people followed Him as He was led away. Luke particularly mentioned that women were members of this group—one of his numerous references to faithful women who revered Jesus Christ. At least some of them had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem (see Luke 23:49, 55). Elder James E. Talmage explained that the Lord’s warning to these women, whom He called “daughters of Jerusalem” (see Luke 23:28–31), referred to the future destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70: “It was the Lord’s last testimony of the impending … destruction that was to follow the nation’s rejection of her King. Although motherhood was the glory of every Jewish woman’s life, yet in the terrible scenes which many of those there weeping would live to witness, barrenness would be accounted a blessing; for the childless would have fewer to weep over, and at least would be spared the horror of seeing their offspring die of starvation or by violence” (Jesus the Christ, 654).
The “green tree” described in Luke 23:31 represents the time of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry. The Savior’s statement implied that if the oppressors of the Jewish people could carry out such evil acts (see Luke 23:28–30) at a time when Jesus was among them, they would do much worse things to the Jewish people after He was gone—a time represented by the “dry tree.” The Joseph Smith Translation adds a sentence to this verse (see Luke 23:31, footnote b), which describes the destruction that would occur after the Savior’s death.
Luke’s record of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ shares many common features with the other Gospel writers. The following chart identifies where you can find student manual commentary on these shared features:
Location of Topic in Luke
Commentary in This Manual
Luke 23:33. Jesus Christ was crucified at Calvary.
Luke 23:35–39. “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.”
Luke 23:43. Jesus Christ spoke while on the cross.
Luke 23:45. The veil of the temple was rent.
Luke 23:50–56. Joseph of Arimathea and others buried the Savior.
Calvariae (in English, Calvary) is the Latin translation of the Greek word that means “skull.” The other Gospel writers called the place of execution Golgotha, which comes from the Hebrew gulgoleth and the Aramaic gulgutha, both of which mean “skull.”
The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that the Savior spoke of the soldiers who crucified Him when He prayed, “Father, forgive them”: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Meaning the soldiers who crucified him,) and they parted his raiment and cast lots” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 23:35 [in Luke 23:34, footnote c]). Luke recorded that after the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, they mocked Him and offered Him vinegar (sour wine) when He cried out in thirst near the end of His ordeal (see Luke 23:36; John 19:28–30).
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency explained one reason why we too should forgive those who offend us: “We must forgive and bear no malice toward those who offend us. The Savior set the example from the cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). We do not know the hearts of those who offend us” (“That We May Be One,” Ensign, May 1998, 68). For additional prophetic statements on forgiving others, see the commentaries for Matthew 18:21–22 and for Matthew 18:33.
The soldiers’ actions at the foot of the cross fulfilled a prophecy found in Psalms: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalm 22:18). The Savior’s clothing was divided among the soldiers, but they decided to cast lots for His “vesture,” which was His robe (see Matthew 27:35; Luke 23:34).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “How marvelous it is to view the fulfillment of prophecy. More than a thousand years before, David, by the power of the Holy Ghost, had foretold in minute detail what these Gentile soldiers would do on this dread occasion as they acted without help or guidance from either the friends or enemies of Jesus” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:820–21).
True to the Faith describes how the word paradise is generally used in the scriptures and then explains how it is used differently in Luke 23:43:
“In the scriptures, the word paradise is used in different ways. First, it designates a place of peace and happiness in the postmortal spirit world, reserved for those who have been baptized and who have remained faithful (see Alma 40:12; Moroni 10:34). Those in spirit prison have the opportunity to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation through the work we do in temples (see D&C 138:30–35). When they do, they may enter paradise.
“A second use of the word paradise is found in Luke’s account of the Savior’s Crucifixion. When Jesus was on the cross, a thief who also was being crucified said, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom’ (Luke 23:42). According to Luke 23:43, the Lord replied, ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that … the Lord actually said that the thief would be with Him in the world of spirits [see History of the Church, 5:424–25]” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 111).
The thief’s words imply that he was guilty of some crime but also that he had some knowledge of Jesus Christ and faith in Him. Beyond this, we know little about the thief.
While serving as an Area Seventy, Elder Alain A. Petion explained that the Savior’s words to the thief appear as a reassurance: “The Savior graciously answered and gave him hope. This criminal likely did not understand that the gospel would be preached to him in the spirit world or that he would be given an opportunity to live according to God in the spirit (see 1 Pet. 4:6; D&C 138:18–34). Truly the Savior cared for the thief who hung beside Him; surely He cares greatly for those who love Him and strive to keep His commandments!” (“Words of Jesus: On the Cross,” Ensign, June 2003, 34).
From Luke 23:46 and other references, we learn that Jesus was in control of His life; He could determine when physical death would come to Him (see John 10:17–18; 19:11). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out that only after Jesus Christ had endured all that the Atonement required of Him did He commend His spirit unto the Father: “When the uttermost farthing had then been paid, when Christ’s determination to be faithful was as obvious as it was utterly invincible, finally and mercifully, it was ‘finished’ [see John 19:30]. Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair. With faith in the God He knew was there, He could say in triumph, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ [Luke 23:46]” (“None Were with Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 88).
The women had prepared spices and ointments to finish preparation of the body of Jesus because his burial had been done in haste. Yet, the women strictly observed the Sabbath (on Saturday) “according to the commandment” before they went back to the tomb on Sunday to finish their task (Luke 24:1). This information was important to Luke. Even in the midst of their great tragedy, they kept the Sabbath commandment. The Greek word for “spice” is aroma. Spices and ointments were usually scented and were used for funerary, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes. To read more about Joseph of Arimathea’s role in the burial, see the commentary for Matthew 27:57–60.
When Mary Magdalene and other women came to the Savior’s tomb on Sunday morning, they found the body of Jesus gone. Two heavenly messengers reminded them that Jesus had spoken to them about his death and Resurrection while they were in Galilee. At that time He had testified, “The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again” (Luke 24:7; see also Matthew 17:22–23). It was only after being reminded of this declaration that the women remembered Jesus’s words (see Luke 24:8).
The women then found the eleven Apostles and told them about the words of the angels. Even though Jesus had foretold His death and Resurrection on several occasions (see Luke 9:22, 43–45; 18:31–34), the Apostles found it difficult to believe the news of the Lord’s Resurrection when they heard it. Commenting on this, President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) asked, “Why were they thus forgetful and seemingly ignorant of all they had been taught by the Savior respecting the objects of his mission to the earth? Because they lacked one important qualification, they had not yet been ‘endowed with power from on high.’ [Luke 24:49.] They had not yet obtained the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 20).
For help understanding the initial disbelief of the disciples, see the commentary for Mark 16:11–14.
Luke’s account makes clear that the Savior’s own prophecy about His Resurrection—the central event of Christendom—was fulfilled (see Luke 24:6–7), and it was affirmed by the two angelic witnesses, thus fulfilling the ancient law of witnesses (see Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1). Additional prophetic insights on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ can be found in the commentaries for Matthew 28:1, for Matthew 28:6, for Mark 16:1–7, for John 20:1–10, for John 20:11–18, and for John 20:19–23.
Among the women who approached the tomb that glorious Sunday morning were Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Joanna, wife of Chuza (see Luke 8:3; 24:10). Among the women disciples who followed Jesus, Mary Magdalene seems to have served in a leadership capacity and had a prominent role in serving the Savior and a close association with Him. She is mentioned first in several listings of female followers (see Matthew 27:56; Luke 24:10), and she was the first to see the resurrected Lord (see John 20:1–18).
On the day of the Savior’s Resurrection, two of His disciples were walking toward Emmaus, a distance of “threescore furlongs” from Jerusalem (about seven miles or eleven kilometers; see Luke 24:13). Like Peter, these disciples had hoped that Jesus would be the political and military leader desired by the Jews. Thus, after the Savior began walking with them without them knowing His identity, they sadly spoke of the Savior’s death and said, “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21).
In response, the Savior expounded the scriptures to them and helped them understand that His death was a vital part of His saving mission.
The prophet Alma summarized the Savior’s saving mission: “Believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day” (Alma 33:22).
The Gospels record that initially the followers of Jesus did not fully recognize how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. This lack of understanding contrasts with their later vivid understanding of His saving mission and the ways it fulfilled prophecy. For example, in Peter’s first public teaching after the Resurrection, he quoted Psalm 16:8–11 and Psalm 110:1 and explained how these prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus (see Acts 2:22–36). In Peter’s next recorded public teaching, he explained how the prophecies in Deuteronomy 18:15 and Genesis 22:18 were fulfilled by Jesus, and he taught that “all the prophets” had “foretold of these days” (see Acts 3:22–26). Later, Peter, Paul, and other disciples consistently referred to ways the scriptures of the Old Testament testified of Jesus and His work.
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught about the value and power of teaching from the scriptures:
“If the Savior were among us in the flesh today, He would teach us from the scriptures as He taught when He walked upon the earth. In the synagogue at Nazareth, ‘there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. … And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears’ [Luke 4:17, 21]. Later when the Sadducees and Pharisees posed a difficult question, ‘Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God’ [Matthew 22:29]. And after His Resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, His disciples ‘said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ [Luke 24:32]. To His disciples then and now, His words ring out: ‘Search the scriptures; for … they are they which testify of me’ [John 5:39]—a testimony borne by the Holy Ghost, for ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things’ [Moroni 10:5]” (“Holy Scriptures: The Power of God unto Our Salvation,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 26).
As the Savior used the scriptures to teach His disciples that He was the Messiah, their hearts burned within them, for the Holy Ghost was bearing witness to them of the truth. Jay E. Jensen, who later became a member of the Seventy, explained that a “burning” in the heart is one of the ways the Holy Ghost can manifest truth to us:
“After one exceptional sacrament meeting, my fifteen-year-old son mentioned, ‘Dad, during the talk I felt a warm feeling.’ We discussed what it means to have a warm feeling and related it to the burning of the bosom mentioned in scripture: ‘You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.’ (D&C 9:8.)
“The burning varies in intensity—to my son, it was a generally warm feeling in the chest. In the account of the two disciples who met the resurrected Savior on the way to Emmaus, one of the believers said, ‘Did not our heart burn within us?’ (Luke 24:32.) This feeling may not occur frequently in our lives, but when it does, it is a tangible manifestation that confirms truth or answers prayers” (“Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit?” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 22).
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency further explained the “burning” that comes with revelation from the Holy Ghost: “The teachings of the Spirit often come as feelings. That fact is of the utmost importance, yet some misunderstand what it means. I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them.
“What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture [D&C 9:8] signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 13).
On the day of the Savior’s Resurrection, a sacred meeting occurred between the Lord and Peter, His chief Apostle. This meeting is mentioned only in Luke 24:34 and in 1 Corinthians 15:5, but these references give no details about what took place. Elder Bruce R. McConkie described what may have occurred during this meeting: “We feel free to suppose [that this appearance] was one in which the tears of Peter’s denial in the court of Caiaphas were dried; one in which he was assured that though Satan desired to sift him as wheat, yet because Jesus had prayed for him, the noble Peter would yet come off triumphant; one in which a blessed bond of unity, of love, and of peace was established between the Master and his servant” (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 4:272).
The Savior’s appearance to His disciples described in Luke 24:36–42 provides some of the clearest information in the Gospels about what a resurrected body is like (see also Alma 11:44; 40:23). President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) commented on these verses and further described characteristics of a resurrected body:
“After [Jesus Christ] had laid down his life and had taken it again on the third day, he presented himself to his disciples and told them to handle him and see, for a spirit had not a body of flesh and bones as they saw that he had. And so they came, and they handled him.
“Further to convince them, he partook of the fish and honeycomb. He ate in their presence and convinced them by a practical demonstration that it was he himself, that the uneducated may read and understand; and yet the wise men in all their learning, close their eyes against these truths. …
“After the resurrection from the dead our bodies will be spiritual bodies, but they will be bodies that are tangible, bodies that have been purified, but they will nevertheless be bodies of flesh and bones. … They will no longer be quickened by blood but quickened by the spirit which is eternal, and they shall become immortal and shall never die [see Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:44; D&C 88:15–32]” (Doctrines of Salvation, ed. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:268–69, 285).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that the Savior’s journey to Emmaus with the two disciples, which had occurred earlier on the day of His Resurrection, further illustrates what a resurrected body is like: “They may have walked together for as long a time as two hours. And all the while to have the Son of God interpret for them the Messianic word! … Perhaps some day the conversations of this Emmaus walk will be revealed. But our Lord had a purpose over and above that of interpreting the Messianic word—he could leave that to Peter and Paul and the others, as they were enlightened by the power of the Holy Spirit; his mission was to show them what a resurrected person is like” (Mortal Messiah, 4:277).
Luke recorded two times when the resurrected Savior expounded the scriptures concerning Himself to His disciples (see Luke 24:26–27, 44–48). The Savior made it possible for the disciples to understand these things as they had not done before: “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). These experiences, as well as the knowledge and testimony gained from the reality of the Savior’s Resurrection, seem to have had a profound, lasting effect on the disciples.
The Savior’s declaration that “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44) referred to the three main categories of Jewish scripture. For an explanation of these categories, see the commentary for “Scriptures” under “The New Testament Setting.”
To learn more about the New Testament witnesses of the resurrected Jesus Christ, see the chart “New Testament Appearances of the Resurrected Jesus Christ” in the commentary for John 20:29–31.
After the resurrected Jesus Christ spent time in Galilee and gave the Apostles their great commission (see Matthew 28:16–20; Mark 16:15–18), He went back to Judea and led his disciples to Bethany, on the east slope of the Mount of Olives, and blessed them there. He then ascended into heaven (see Luke 24:49–52). Elder Bruce R. McConkie affirmed that Jesus Christ’s Ascension into heaven to dwell with His Father was literal: “Christ’s Ascension is literal in the fullest and most complete sense of the word. He was a resurrected man, a personage of tabernacle who, though immortal, walked and talked and ate with his earthly friends. … The resurrected Lord ascended from the earth and went to the place where his Father is. As our latter-day revelation expresses it: He ‘ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father.’ (D. & C. 20:24.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:872).
President Joseph Fielding Smith provided insight into the meaning of the phrase “sit down on the right hand of the Father”: “Showing favor to the right hand or side is not something invented by man but was revealed from the heavens in the beginning. … There are numerous passages in the scriptures referring to the right hand, indicating that it is a symbol of righteousness and was used in the making of covenants” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:156–57; see also Mosiah 5:9–12; 26:23–24; Alma 5:58; Helaman 3:30). For further insights on the Savior’s Ascension, see the commentaries for Mark 16:19 and for Acts 1:9–11.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples returned with joy to Jerusalem. There, they stayed continually in the temple, praising God (see Luke 24:53). Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the temple—with Zacharias and Elisabeth in the temple, then with Mary and Joseph in the temple, and then, after the Savior’s Resurrection, with the Apostles and other disciples continually in the temple (see Acts 2:46).