The place of Jesus' crucifixion is called Golgotha (v. 33), lit., "place of the skull." It was located outside the city proper in accordance with Jewish and Roman custom (Lev. 24:14; Num. 15:35f.; Acts 7:58; Heb. 13:12-14).
According to v. 34, “they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.” This has been interpreted in two different ways:
1) The traditional view is that it was customary for Jewish women to provide a narcotic drink to those condemned in order to deaden their sensitivity to the pain of crucifixion. See Prov. 31:6-7. If so, then Jesus' unwillingness to drink reflects his determination to endure with complete consciousness the agonies of the cross and the Father's wrath.
2) Others argue that this was not an act of compassion on the part of the women but an act of cruelty and torment on the part of the soldiers ("they" refers to the soldiers). The mixture was designed to make the wine undrinkable and extremely bitter. Thus the soldiers teased Jesus under the pretense of giving him good wine. Their real purpose was to aggravate his agony and humiliation.
The reference to his garments being divided by the casting of lots (v. 35) is an allusion to Psalm 22:16-18. It was customary to divide the victim's clothes among his executioners. Jesus would have had only a bloody inner and outer garment, a belt, and a pair of sandals.
V. 36 with its reference to the soldiers sitting down to keep “watch over him” is found only in Matthew. He probably included it to indicate that the soldiers feared a rescue attempt on Jesus or perhaps to emphasize that Jesus truly died on the cross, i.e., that he was not removed prior to death.
“And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’” (v. 37). This charge is, of course, highly ironic. Pilate, wishing to offend the Jews and to mock their hopes of one day throwing off Roman rule, rubs their noses in their subservient status. Unknowingly, of course, he charged Jesus with being precisely who, in fact, he was.
The “two robbers” (v. 38a) who were crucified with him, “one on the right and one on the left” (v. 38b), were probably insurrectionists caught in the same uprising that had led to the arrest of Barabbas (cf. Isa. 53:12).
One would think that Jesus had been subjected to enough public humiliation, yet we read in vv. 39-40 that “those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’” See Psalm 22:6-8. As noted, crucifixion was purposely public in order to deter others and especially to add to the humiliation of the victim by exposing him to the taunts of passersby. With expressions of malicious glee, they sadistically mock him and take delight in his pain.
The first taunt recalls the charge of Mt. 26:60-61. These were men who likely had been present with the Sanhedrin when the original accusation had been made.
The second taunt not only reminds us of his trial (Mt. 26:63), but for readers of Matthew's gospel it recalls a striking parallel - 4:3,6! "Through the passersby Satan was still trying to get Jesus to evade the Father's will and avoid further suffering" (Carson, 576).
“So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (vv. 41-43).
Evidently they did not address Jesus directly but spoke among themselves in the sort of whisper that one intends to be overheard by the object of one's scorn.
"He saved others" is probably a reference to his healing ministry. There is a double meaning here. In the sense in which the Jewish leaders meant it, they were obviously wrong. He who healed others and raised the dead could certainly have saved himself. And yet, on the other hand, if he is to accomplish that redemptive work for which he went to the cross, he cannot save himself. He must yield himself up to crucifixion.
Do we not all, at times, measure God's power by what we see? We think that what God does not do, He cannot do. But here we see that He does not save himself, not because He cannot, but simply in order that by not saving himself He might save us.
The challenge to come down from the cross has several levels of meaning: (1) It is yet one more malicious mockery of Jesus' apparent helplessness. (2) It is as if these hypocrites are suggesting that their failure to believe Jesus is Jesus' fault! "It's your fault; if we don't believe, you've got no one to blame but yourself. Come on down and we will bow before you!" (3) Finally, whereas the taunt implies that Jesus could gain a following by coming down from the cross, in reality he can secure a people for himself only by staying on it! Someone once said, "These men would have believed him if he had come down from the cross. We believe in him precisely because he stayed upon it!"
Not knowing that their taunt (v. 43a) was a fulfillment of Ps. 22:8, these men hurl their final blasphemy. Based on their belief that God must honor and deliver his Messiah, they conclude that Jesus' helplessness is proof that his claims were false and his death was deserved. Of course, God did vindicate and deliver him, but this was not the hour. That glorious confirmation of Christ's deity and messianic identity awaited the resurrection.
Verse 44 may well have led us to conclude that neither of the robbers repented, for together they “reviled” Jesus in the same way as the religious leaders. However, we are thankful that Luke provides information that one of the robbers repented, moving from insult to loving adoration and trust (see Lk. 23:39-43). Here our Lord sees the initial fulfillment of Isa. 53:11 - "he shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied."
What makes the death of Jesus different from that of the two robbers? All three were condemned by Rome. All three were nailed to a cross. Why does one death differ from the others?
His death differs because they were sinful men dying for their own sinful deeds. He was no mere man, but the God-man, the righteous dying for the unrighteous, the just for the unjust. And in doing so he exhausted in himself, both body and soul, the eternal wrath of God so richly deserved by those for whom he suffered.