Luke 23:46

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 3.08.11 PMLuke 23

46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

We come now to the seventh word from the cross, the last word. It is a beautiful word. It is a powerful word. When we think of the cross, we think naturally of the hands of Christ. But here in this last word, Jesus draws our attention to the hands of the Father. Our hope is in the pierced hands of Jesus. Jesus’ hope was in the sovereign hands of the Father.

Barrie Shepherd has written a beautiful poem entitled, “Father, Into Thy Hands.” In it, he imagines what Jesus was saying in this moment.

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Into thy hands, Father, into thine,
for these hands that have been mine
are just too broken now to hold it any longer. They have served well for thirty years and more, these hands you gave me.


The hands you gave me, Lord, have done their task—complete—
and now can do no more. This spirit they have held and worked for, expressed in countless loving ways, is ready to return. Into thy hands, then,
O Father, thy hands that have been ever under mine, thy hands that have supported, guided every move and every moment, into thy hands I commit my

my self; knowing that the hands that have
so tended me in grace will not forsake me now, will never let me go, but will embrace me
in eternal love from this day’s ending
onward even to forever.

Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit. [1]

That is a poignant way of imagining what Jesus was saying in the seventh word, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” I suspect this seventh word might hit us all in different ways. In truth, I suspect it hit the original hearers in different ways. It certainly was saying something to people right where they were then and right where they are now. Let us consider how the different groups could have or, at least, should have heard this word.

A statement to the pagan Romans: He Who Has Seen the Son Has Seen the Father.

One thing we might miss when we read this seventh word is the unique meaning and significance it likely had for the Romans standing nearby. To understand this, you need to understand the death and funerary customs of the ancient Romans. Specifically, there was a custom among the Romans “in which the nearest of kin receives the dying person’s breath in his own mouth, ensuring the spirit’s survival.”[2] This is attested to in ancient literature and seems to have been a kind of folk belief of the time: that you should try to catch the dying person’s last breath in your own mouth. Put another way, dying Romans were understood to commit their spirits to their closest kin standing nearby. In so doing, the soul of the deceased would survive.

Clearly this is not a Christian belief, but it is indeed intriguing to think, in light of that custom, how the Romans, and, specifically, the Roman soldiers, would have interpreted the seventh word.

46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

The fact that Jesus commits his spirit to God as His closest kin would have undoubtedly had a powerful impact on the Romans standing nearby. If God is Christ’s nearest kin, and if He entrusts His spirit to God the Father, and if the Father, presumably, caught the spirit of Christ, does that not say something astounding about who exactly this Jesus is?

It is most likely that the Romans who heard this would have instinctively interpreted it in the light of their own customs and would have been amazed at the possible implications. Perhaps this helps us understand the very next verse:

47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

Thus, to the pagan world, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” was a cry of Christ’s innocence because it was proof of Christ’s oneness with the Father and therefore evidence that what Jesus said and did was indeed of God.

A statement to the watching Jews: Christ is the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

If the seventh word might have hit the Romans in a particular way, it likely hit some of the Jews standing by in yet another way. To understand this, we need to understand that Jesus once again quotes the Old Testament in this word. In particular, he is quoting Psalm 31.

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!

2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!

3 For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;

4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

6 I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.

7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,

8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.

Why is this interesting? It is interesting because, as Craig Keener notes, “this line from Psalm 31:5 is said to have often been recited at the period of the evening offering – about the time of Jesus’ death.”[3] Of what is Dr. Keener speaking?

Keener is speaking about something known as the perpetual sacrifice, the Tamid. The instructions for this sacrifice are found in Exodus 29.

38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40 And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.

In Exodus 29, we find that there are to be two sacrifices of lambs every day, a perpetual sacrifice. It should be noted that the offerings were also accompanied by a wine and grain offering. Jewish tradition tells us that the Tamid was offered at 9 a.m. and at 3 p.m., that is, in the morning and in later afternoon.

Now why is that interesting? It is interesting because, when Jesus comes onto the scene, John the Baptist says this of Him in John 1:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

So John the Baptist called Jesus the lamb who would take away the sins of the world. And this lamb is sacrificed, He is crucified on the cross. In Mark 15 we read:

25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him.

And then later in the same chapter we read:

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

So Jesus was crucified at the third hour, or 9 a.m., and Jesus died at the ninth hour, or 3 p.m. In other words, Jesus was offered as a sacrifice when the morning Tamid lamb was offered and then died on the cross in the late afternoon when the evening lamb was offered. How do we know that the evening Tamid lamb was offered at 3 p.m., the ninth hour? Because in Acts 3 we read this:

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

The hour or prayer was the hour in which the evening lamb was offered. This was the hour of prayer. This was the hour when Peter and John would later go up to the temple. This was the hour when Jesus died on the cross. And this was the hour when Psalm 31:5 was quoted by the priest: “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”

In quoting Psalm 31:5, Jesus aligned Himself with the sacrificial lamb at the very moment when the sacrificial lamb was being offered up in the temple.

“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Sacrificial lamb imagery is all over Jesus and all over the crucifixion of Jesus. Outside of the parallels with the Tamid is the fact that Jesus is sacrificed at Passover, when, of course, the Jews offered a Passover lamb to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and when they remembered and celebrated the sovereignty and faithfulness of God. There is a great deal of debate surrounding the claim that is often made that Jesus died at precisely the moment when the Passover lamb was killed. Even so, the exact moment is irrelevant. They certainly went up to Jerusalem at Passover and so the crucifixion is linked to that observance regardless of exact timing. Furthermore, Paul specifically calls Jesus the Passover lamb in 1 Corinthians 5.

7b For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

Jesus, then, is the Passover lamb, the lamb whose blood, if sprinkled on our hearts, will save us from judgment and death just as the blood of the Passover lamb did for Israel in Egypt.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” The words of the priest over the sacrifice, and, on the cross, the words of the sacrifice over the priests. One cannot help but believe that at least some of the Jews, and, specifically, some of the Jewish authorities, would have noted the poignancy of these particular words at that particular time from the lips of this particular crucified man.

Christ has come to be our sacrificial lamb. The Lord Jesus has given His life so that we might know forgiveness and so that we might have life. Most gloriously, Jesus has done this for you! Have you accepted the sacrifice that Jesus made on your behalf?

A statement to all of hurting humanity: We can trust our Father in Heaven with all that we have and are.

There is yet one more thing about Jesus quoting Psalm 31:5. William Barclay points out that Psalm 31:5 “was the first prayer that every Jewish mother taught her child to say last thing at night.” In quoting it and adding the word “Father” to it, “Jesus,” Barclay writes, “died like a child falling asleep in his father’s arms.”[4]

What a beautiful image. The Lord Jesus demonstrated His trust in the Father by offering the words of a child’s bedtime prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” In truth, this is not very different than the prayer we teach our children: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Quoting a child’s bedtime prayer did not mean, I should point out, that this was a “Precious Moments” scene of porcelain sweetness. This was a beautiful statement of trust, true, but it was a statement born of struggle and pain. Wesley Hill writes that, “‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’…is not a Pollyannaish serenity talking but is rather a trust born out of the struggle of Gethsemane.”[5]

“The ultimate question,” wrote Patrick Henry abut the seventh word from the cross, “is not ‘What happens when I die?’ but ‘In whom can I trust to the end?’”[6] That is very true. In saying what He said, Jesus was showing who He could trust to the end.

In His moment of greatest agony, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” At the end of the day, when you are weak and spent, when life is at an end, it is the only prayer that the people of God can offer: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

This explains why these words in particular have been so often quoted and prayed by men and women of God in their moments of martyrdom. Hezekiah Butterworth has pointed out that these words or some form of them have been expressed in the dying moments of numerous great heroes of the faith. In addition, of course, to the Lord Jesus, these were the dying words of St. Stephen “the proto-martyr,” “of Polycarp, of Basil, of Bernard, of Huss, of Luther and Melancthon…of Columbus and Silvio Pellico.”

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” prayed Knox…

“O God, my heavenly Father, receive my spirit,” [John of Barneveld] prayed at the block.

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” prayed Bishop Hooper.

[Thomas] Cramner, putting his right hand that had signed the recantation into the flame, and saying, “This unworthy right hand,” uttered the same prayer, as did Latimer, Patrick Hamilton, and Rowland Taylor, in the flames.

“O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit, for thou has redeemed my soul, O Lord God of truth,” prayed the young Scottish martyr, Hugh M’Kail.

Margaret Wilson, bound to the stake at the low-water mark in the Bay of Wigton, saw the advancing tide. It rose slowly, until it reached her throat, when she prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Lord Harant, a Protestant martyr of Bohemia, prayed, kneeling by the block, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: in thee have I always trusted: receive me, my blessed Redeemer.”

Lord Otto, another Bohemian martyr, prayed, “Almighty God, to thee I commend my spirit; receive it for the sake of Christ, and admit it to the glory of thy presence.”

“Miseree mei, Deus,” said Henry Gray, Duke of Suffolk, holding up his hands, and looking up to heaven. He then said, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” and made the sign to the executioner.

“Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” prayed Lady Jane Gray, at the block.[7]

Time and time again throughout history, men and women who paid for their faith in Jesus with their lives prayed this prayer. Why? Because it is a statement of simple and beautiful trust. It was Jesus’ way of saying, “I know that Your hands will not fail me. I know that You will receive my Spirit. I know that I will have ultimate victory in You!”

There is an old sermon illustration, at least as old as the mid 1800’s, about a botanist in the highlands of Scotland who spotted a rare and highly prized plant far below the cliff where he stood on a little embankment jutting out from the sheer cliff face. As he stood there contemplating how he could get down to the embankment to retrieve the plant, a little Scottish boy came walking along.

The botanist stopped the boy, pointed to the plant far below, and explained the situation. “I wonder,” he asked the boy, “if you will allow me to tie my rope around your waste and lower you down to the plant? I promise I will not let you go.”

The boy heard the proposal, paused, looked back over the edge of the cliff, and said, “No.”

As he turned to go, the now frantic botanist called for the boy to stop, produced his wallet, and offered the boy an impressive sum of money. “I will pay you,” he said, “if you will let me lower you down.”

The boy paused again.   He looked at the money, looked back over the cliff edge at the plant far below, looked back at the man, thought for a bit, and then said, “I’ll tell you what, mister. I don’t want your money. And I’m not going to let you lower me down there. But I will do it for free if you meet one demand.”

“Anything,” the botanist said.

“I will do it,” replied the boy, “if my father can hold the rope.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”


Trust in the Father who loves us.

“Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”

Have you committed your spirit to God through Jesus Christ?

Oh why?

Why would you wait?

Commit it to him today.


[1] J. Barrie Shepherd, “Father, into Thy Hands.” Christian Century. (February 27, 1985), p. 205.

[2] Keener, p.255. See also Valerie Hope, Death in Ancient Rome. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2007), p. 93-94.

[3] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.255.

[4] William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1970), p.301-302.


[6] Patrick Henry, “The Last Word: Good Friday Meditation on Luke 23:46.” Christian Century. (April 8, 1981), p. 385-387.

[7] Hezekiah Butterworth, “A Wonderful Prayer.” The Christian Treasury Containing From Ministers and Member of Various Evangelical Denominations. (Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter, and Co., Melbourne Place, 1879), p. 117.

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