Who said those words? About whom were they spoken? What were the circumstances under which they were said? Were those words accurate or false?
The occasion was the crucifixion of our Lord. Because the place where Jesus was crucified was located near the city of Jerusalem, many people went out to “have a look,” as we say (John 19:20). Among the onlookers were unbelievers who spoke words of sarcastic blasphemy. That day some folks said to Jesus, “Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” (Mark 15:29,30).
What else was said? “Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, ‘He saved others, Himself he cannot save. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:31,32). So, it was the chief priests of the Jews who said that Jesus was not able to save Himself. Those pitiful men mocked the sinless Son of God. Such mockery will be absent when they bow before Jesus, the King of kings, on the Day of Judgment!
What those chief priests said about Jesus, was it true? Did He really save others? He came into this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), and He was successful in that mission. He did save people from their sin (Matthew 1:21).
What about the other part of the chief priests’ statement? Was it true that Jesus was unable to save Himself? Think about three possible aspects of Jesus saving Himself. First of all, in the sense of saving Himself from sin, Jesus had no sin (1 Peter 2:22). He came to save sinners, but He was not a sinner, so He had no need to be saved. So, in
the spiritual sense of delivering one from sin, no, He did not save Himself.
A second matter to consider is this: Could Jesus have saved Himself in the sense of avoiding the cross altogether (like we say “save” ourselves from facing a type of trouble)? Could He have “saved” Himself from such horrific suffering? When Judas brought a mob to grab Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Simon Peter took out a sword and started slashing it to protect the Master. Do you recall what Jesus told Him? “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).
How large was a legion of soldiers among the Romans? It is thought to have been around 6000 men. Thus, the Christ was saying that, if He so desired, He could summon over 70,000 angels to His aid so He could avoid pain and death. Jesus did not choose that form of salvation; that is, He refused to take such “a way out.” His willingness to sacrifice His life is seen in these words: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again . . .” (John 10:17,18).
But what about when He already was hanging on the cross? Did Jesus have the power to save Himself by getting Himself off the cross, which is what the mockers called on Him to do? Of course, He did! The One Who miraculously fed large multitudes of people, raised the dead, and calmed the sea certainly had the power to come down from the cross. It was not a question of power, but plan. It was God’s plan for Jesus to drink the cup of suffering and death, as Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given me?” (John 18:11).
Yes, Jesus could have come down from the cross that day. Yet, He chose not to do so. Why? Number one, because He came down from heaven to do the Father’s will (John 6:38), and He was one hundred per cent committed to doing what pleased His Father. In God’s eternal plan for our salvation, Jesus’ death was essential. Jesus knew that and was committed to doing what was required of Him. Number two, He went to and stayed on the cross because of His great love for you and me. Selfless, unconditional love caused Jesus to do what He did.
Do you know what else is amazing about Jesus’ love? He went to the cross and endured its unthinkable pain all the way to the end . . . and He did so even for those who mocked Him that day! Do you suppose that some of those mocking priests were among the large group of priests who, after Jesus returned to heaven, obeyed the faith and had their sins forgiven by God’s mercy? (Acts 6:7). Despite those men’s evil intent as they chided the crucified Christ, God’s door of salvation still was open to them. How amazing is that?!
— Roger D. Campbell