What do Jesus’ seven words from the cross mean?

The last words someone says before dying are often very valuable to the surviving relatives. For example, the last words that Jesus spoke on the cross are of great value to Christians. Jesus said seven things while on the cross. These statements are in the Bible. The evangelists who tell the life story of Jesus write about these words from the cross. These texts are read in church, especially during Lent and on Good Friday. The seven crosswords have been set to music by several composers.

The seven words of Jesus on the cross

When Jesus was hung on the cross, He said a number of things in all his pain and suffering. Seven times he spoke a word or a short sentence. These are called the seven words of the cross. These are loaded statements, the will of a dying person. Seven crosswords, seven is a special number. In the Bible, the number seven symbolizes fullness and perfection. The seven words of the cross are not all in a gospel. The evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each tell their own version of Jesus’ death on the cross. If you add up all the statements in the different Gospels, you arrive at seven cross words.

The first crossword

In the first word of the cross, Jesus said Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). This crossword shows how Jesus looks at people. Despite what they do, even if they nail him to the cross, he still prays for forgiveness. Forgiving someone is something special. This crossword serves as an example, as Luke shows us. In his second book ‘Acts’ it is the first martyr Stephen who, when he is being stoned, prays for forgiveness for his opponents, for they know not what they are doing: ,While Stephen was being stoned, he cried out: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he fell on his knees, and cried with a loud voice, saying, Lord, lay not this sin against them: and after these words he died, (Acts 7:59-60).

The second crossword

The second crossword includes two short statements by Jesus. The first is to Mary his mother: This is your son, and then he says to John his disciple: This is your mother.

Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing with her, he said to his mother, “This is your son,” and then to the disciple, “This is your mother.” From that moment on, that student took her into his home. (John 19:25-27)

As in a kind of will, Jesus connects his mother with his beloved disciple. The deeper meaning of these words is that they show that belonging to Jesus provides a kind of spiritual kinship. The followers of Jesus are related to each other, brothers and sisters.

Mary the mother of Jesus, the Mother of the Church

Within Roman Catholic theology, this crossword of Jesus has been important for how Mary was viewed. From that perspective, Jesus not only says to John, his beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” In John he addresses all disciples, all believers: ‘Behold your mother’. That is why Mary is seen as the mother of the church in the Roman Catholic Church.

The third crossword

‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). This is the third word of Jesus on the cross. He says this to one of his fellow crucified ones. This man stands up for Jesus and defends him, then he asks Jesus if he will not forget him when he enters his kingdom.

One of the crucified criminals said to him mockingly: ‘You are the Messiah, aren’t you? Then save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God now that you are undergoing the same punishment? We have earned our punishment and are rewarded according to our deeds. But that man did nothing illegal.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered, ,I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise., (Luke 23:39-43)


The fourth crossword

In the fourth word from the cross, Jesus cries out in his God-forsakenness: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This crossword is described in both Matthew (27:46) and Mark (15:34). These words are first written in Jesus’ native language, Aramaic: ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani ?. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:2 here. The Psalms were used as prayers in Jewish tradition. This crossword is also a prayer, an exclamation from the deep suffering that Jesus is experiencing at that moment. This crossword typifies the desolation he feels at that moment.

The fifth crossword

In the fifth word of the cross he gives a simple message: ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28). This word of Jesus is also a reference to the Old Testament. It probably refers to Psalm 69:22. Again a psalm, but unlike the fourth crossword, it is now not a prayer. Or maybe it does. Some point to the ‘cup’, from which Jesus himself says he wants to drink, in John 18: 11: ‘Should I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?

Soldiers gave him sour wine After Jesus had hung on the cross for hours and his death was near, he said he was thirsty. It is not directly a request for a drink. Yet the soldiers who guard the execution site there feel that they are being called upon. There was a barrel of sour wine there; they put a sprig of marjoram into it with a sponge and brought it to his mouth.

The sixth crossword

After Jesus had drunk of the sour wine, he said, It is finished (John 19:30). Jesus endured everything. He persevered to the end. He has not succumbed, not a word of displeasure. It’s finished. Finally. In the evangelist John, the crucifixion and the exaltation of Jesus coincide. The crucifixion is the earthly event, the exaltation is more spiritual and heavenly. He has completed his heavenly assignment.

The seventh crossword

Jesus’ last word before he died he shouted with a loud voice. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46). Jesus shouts these words so that everyone can hear his message. Words from Psalm 31 resonate: ‘Into your hand I commit my life’ (Psalm 31:6).

Around noon it became dark throughout the country as the sun went dark. The darkness lasted for three hours. Then the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion saw what had happened and praised God, saying, ,Truly, this man was a righteous man!, (Luke 23:45-47)


The seven words of the cross set to music

The seven last words of Jesus have been a source of inspiration for composers. Many have set these words to music. For example, the Lutheran-Protestant composer Heinrich Schütz (1585-1627) wrote ‘Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz’ . The Italian composer, violinist and organist Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) composed the ‘Septem verba a Christo in cruce moriente prolata’ . The Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) also set the last words of Jesus to music in his ‘Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze’ . César Franck (1822-1890) ‘Les Sept Paroles du Christ en Croix’ and Charles Gounod (1818-1893) ‘Les Sept Paroles de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ sur la Croix’ also used the seven words of the cross as a source of inspiration. More recently, Daan Manneke ‘Seven Last Words’ (2010) and Michael John Trotta ‘Seven Last Words (Septem Ultima Verba) for choir and orchestra ‘ (2017) have musically interpreted the last words of Jesus.

read more

  • The symbolic meaning of the cross of Jesus
  • The sponge soaked with sour wine for Jesus on the cross

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