Probably the most famous last words recorded in literature are those spoken by Emperor Julius Caesar after being stabbed fatally by a group of assassins: “Et tu Brute?” In the play by William Shakespeare, first performed in 1599, as Caesar lies wounded and dying, he expresses his shock and sense of betrayal that his friend and loyal ally Brutus was among the murderous band: “You too, Brutus?” This has been quoted many times since then by individuals who feel that a friend has turned on them in a crucial moment.

There are other famous last words that have been collected over the centuries:

  • All my possessions for a moment of time. – Queen Elizabeth I (1603)
  • Money can’t buy life. – Bob Marley (1981, before dying of cancer at 36)
  • Either that wallpaper goes, or I do. – Oscar Wilde (1900)
  • Friends, applaud; the comedy is finished. – Ludwig von Beethoven (1827)
  • How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden? – Entrepreneur P.T. Barnum (1891)
  • I’m bored with it all. – Winston Churchill (1964, before 9-day coma and death)
  • Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss. – Playwright Wilson Misner (1933, after a priest said, “I’m sure you want to talk to me”)
  • Pardon me, sir. I meant not to do it. – Marie Antoinette (1793), after accidentally stepping on the foot of her executioner while walking to the guillotine)
  • Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him. – Actor John Barrymore (1942)
  • – T.S. Eliot (1965, whispering his wife’s name with his last breath)
  • Useless . . . Useless . . . – John Wilkes Booth (1865, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin)
  • Just don’t leave me alone. – Comedian John Belushi (1982)

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Jesus’ seven “Words from the Cross” are a powerful way of reminding ourselves of how awful his suffering was during the six long hours he was hanging on the Cross. All four Gospels in our Bible attempt to describe what his followers heard him say, but none of them contains all seven of those memorable sayings.* Christian tradition has commemorated them in an order that seems logical, and according to that listing, his last words were “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” This makes sense to me, because the torturous struggles, both spiritual (“Why have you forsaken me?”) and physical (“I thirst”), are behind Jesus, and he has closed that chapter with “It is finished.” Now comes his final act of resignation, of giving up, of turning his destiny entirely over to the Creator God who alone gives and takes life.

But isn’t it wonderful that at this final moment of giving in to his fate he begins with the loving family name “Father”? Earlier when he had spoken the words about feeling forsaken, he began with “My God,” not “My Father.” It’s also worth noting that the act of “commending” does not involve any sense of betrayal or bitterness; he isn’t frantically grasping to hold on to earthly life. He calmly and confidently entrusts his future to God, as a child would rest safely in a loving parent’s embrace.

I don’t know what my final spoken words will be the moment before I die, because that moment may sneak upon me. But I want my true inner self to be turned to face the God Jesus faced in his last moment, so that my last thought may echo his: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

— Pastor George Van Alstine

* You can see a chart of the sayings in the various Gospels in Wikipedia: