What were the last words of Jesus on the cross?

From what can be gathered from the four gospels, Jesus' last words on the cross were most likely those recorded in John 19:30, "It is finished." This is a question which some point out as scripture contradicting itself, since the four gospels give slightly different accounts of what Jesus said before dying on the cross. Both Matthew and Mark record his last words as, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He then lets out a loud cry. Luke records his last words as, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." John records his last words as simply, "It is finished." It is possible that the loud cry which Jesus lets out in the gospels of Matthew and Mark was his last words. What may have been a loud cry to some may have been the intelligible last words which either Luke or John recorded. If this is the case, then either Luke or John were mistaken. Since John was present at the crucifixion as a first-hand witness (John 19:26, 35), and most likely Luke was only recounting the incident from other sources (Luke 1:1-4), then it would seem that Luke's account of Jesus' last words may be slightly in error. If this is indeed the situation and Luke's passage contradicts the others, then what is the significance of such a conflicting account?

  • Since many consider the Bible, including the letters of the New Testament, to be the inspired, inerrent word of God, any contradiction could possibly nullify the credibility of either a single book or even the entire collection. If one or more of the Gospels gives a conflicting account of an incident in Jesus' life, then it calls into question the validity of the rest of the accounts in the gospel and even brings into question the spiritual credibility of the remaining gospels. What if the one that seems to be wrong is actually right and the others are wrong? Even so, why were all four gospels included as canon scripture if they failed to be accurate on even one single account?

  • The gospels were written by men several years after the events which they recorded. They were intended as letters, not scripture, to help their readers better understand the life and teachings of Jesus. They may have borrowed material from other sources or from each other. Although some accounts of the same events may be slightly different, they are all in agreement that the events did occur. John omits the three hours of darkness and the tearing of the temple curtain which the other three gospels record and Luke omits the sour wine offered to Jesus on the cross which the other three gospels include, however, they all agree that he was crucified with two other men, that the inscription on his cross was KING OF THE JEWS, and that the guards divided up his garments. Mark records the time of crucifixion at about the third hour (Mark 15:25), while John records it at about the sixth hour (John 19:14), but they all agree as to the hour he died. Although John considers Jesus to have carried his own cross to its final destination (John 19:17), the other three gospels say it was simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for him. Regardless, they all agree that it was Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where he was crucified.

  • Maybe Jesus did say everything the four gospels claim. It's possible that not all of his words were heard by everyone, since there were multitudes present for the spectacle (Luke 23:48), but that some heard him say one statement at one point and others heard him say something else at a different point. (Not that some heard one thing and others heard the same thing as something completely different.) He apparently did say many different statements when he was upon the cross, such as, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34), "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43), "Dear woman, here is your son" (John 20:26), "Here is your mother" (John 20:27), and "I am thirsty" (John 20:28). As far as last words, Jesus first said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This may have been heard by all who were present. After drinking the sour wine, he then said with a loud cry, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." This may have only been heard by those who were closer to the cross, but to those further back it was heard only as a loud cry, or some understood the words while others didn't. His very last words may very well have been, "It is finished." This Jesus may have uttered as his last breath, which could have only been heard by those directly in front or under the cross, possibly his mother, one of the women who followed Jesus, or even the centurion who proclaimed, "Surely this was a righteous man," (Luke 23:47) and "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54, Mark 15:39).

        About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" -- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ...And when Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:46, 50)
        And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out is a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" -- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" ...With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last... And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:34, 37, 39)
        Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)
        When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

Note: Many believe that the last words of Jesus on the cross were those from Luke 23:46, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." These words, according to the same passage, were said in a loud voice, which would be consistent with the loud cry from Matthew 27:50 and Mark 15:37. The words of John 19:30, however, would be more consistent with the last part of Luke 23:46, "When he had said this, he breathed his last." Thus, "It is finished" would be more of a last, dying breath statement.

The apparent three-hour difference between Mark and John's time of crucifixion (third hour and sixth hour, respectively) may be reconciled by explaining the method of telling time. Mark asserts that it was the third hour (Mark 15:25), while John estimates it was about the sixth hour (John 19:14). Night and day were each divided into four three-hour watches. The third hour of daylight would have been between 9:00AM and 12:00PM, while the sixth hour would've been between 12:00PM and 3:00PM. It's quite possible that Mark's source for the time came from a sun dial, while John's estimate was based on the position of the sun in the sky. In either case, the third hour (which could've been any time before noon) and the sixth hour (which could've been any time after noon) could've been reasonably close to one another, both around noon. It is also possible that John used a different measurement of time and was referring to 6:00AM as the sixth hour, when Pilate announced the crucifixion, which would also put the actual crucifixion some time before noon.

At least two other issues must be addressed about this topic. The first is Jesus' question, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some accuse Jesus of condemning God for abandoning him. A better explanation is that he was quoting Psalm 22:1. At this point in time, Jesus had taken upon himself the sins of mankind, thus separating himself for the first time from God's presence. God could not look upon his only Son because he was the sin of the world. Jesus foresaw this experience and prayed earnestly and with great anguish (Luke 22:44) in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34) that this cup of iniquity be taken from him, but he submitted to the will of God on our behalf. Jesus became a sin offering in order to reconcile us to God (Romans 5:6-11, 2 Corinthians 5: 18-21, Ephesians 2:13-18, Colossians 1:13-23). The second issue which has been pointed out by many Jews is that the gospels fail to mention anything about the reaction of the Pharisees to the last words of Jesus on the cross. Traditionally, Jews were taught to declare the Shema Yisroel before death ("Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." Deuteronomy 6:4), however, none of the gospels seem to mention anything about this. Again, Jesus quoted from Psalm 22, which also included the Shem Yisroel ("Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel." Psalm 22:3). It's possible that Jesus quoted more of this chapter than Matthew and Mark recorded, or else the Pharisees who were present knew the scriptural reference. It's also possible that this was the loud cry which these two gospels mentioned as Jesus' last words.

        "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:5-11)