Is Jesus last exclamation on the cross: “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” a prototype for Christians to copy, or paraphrase, when they face imminent death?
What is a Protestant answer on this question, gleaned from Luke 23:46?
As you are looking for a prototype regarding whether Christians should (or could) say, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” when they face imminent death, I refer you to Acts 7:55-60. And this is a view I have, as a Protestant, knowing many others agree with this.
The chapter deals with Stephen's defense when accused of speaking blasphemously against the temple in Jerusalem, and against the law. The climax comes from verse 48, where Stephen points out that the most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, and that his accusers resist the Holy Spirit; indeed, their fathers who had received the law by the disposition of angels, had not kept it. Now comes the part that answers your question.
"But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Act 7:55-56 A.V.
That triggered them rushing on him to start stoning him to death, outside the city. What was Stephen's verbal response as he was being stoned to death?
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had aid that, he fell asleep." Acts 7:59-60
Notice how Stephen took the example of what Christ said when he was about to die on the cross, and repeated both phrases, but with this one important difference: while Christ cried out in prayer to God, Stephen cried out in prayer to the risen Christ.
This is the biblical precedent for Christians repeating the words of Christ when similarly in a situation of imminent death. They can - as did Stephen - make their prayer of committal to Christ. Of course, Stephen had just had a vision of both God and Christ in heavenly glory, but that makes it all the more significant that he addressed Christ with that phrase about his spirit, and that phrase about forgiving his murderers.
It's not that dying Christians should make that prayer - but they certainly could, if they had the faith of Stephen.
Alternatively, the cry may be taken as one specific to the case of Jesus, an expression of the fact that he was "laying down his life".
See "... I lay down my life, that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it up again" (John ch10 v18, RSV).
This is implied in the Luke quotation, in that the cry comes before the final breath, not during it.
I don't see why not? You do not have to designate a specific person of the Trinity, you can just call upon God. I posted a similar question 11 days ago asking Unitarians why Stephen at Acts 7:59-60 why he specifically called upon Jesus Christ to receive his spirt. Never received one response.
Should Christians call to God asking him to receive their spirit when dying?
Do not know if ”should” be the first word in your question, but rather ”can” might be more appropriate.
Many Christians employ the words of Christ in their prayers, so there is no reason to suggest that Christians cannot use these words of Jesus when they are dying. It is admirable to to imitate Jesus in all things. So yes we can pray the words of Jesus when we are dying: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”
If we can sing these words I suppose we can pray them too: Into Your Hands.
"Into thy hands I commit my spirit" is a fine final prayer. On the other hand, one has to wonder of one is truly prepared to do that. What if we still have some unresolved spiritual business? Jesus taught that to be forgiven by God, we must first forgive others.
If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
On that basis, it would be good to remember and recite another prayer of Jesus on the Cross that Luke reports:
“Father, forgive them..."
Conclusion: Once a person loves his enemies and forgives those who have trespassed against them, they are better prepared to commit their spirits to God. After all, that is precisely what Jesus did.
Should or Could There is no commandment to say anything when at the point of death. But such expressions like what Jesus and Stephen said, reflected the close personal relationship that a man of God has who has walked daily with his Creator (Father). One would find such closeness in the Psalms authors who expressed the same intimacy.
As a historical note, it was customary for executioners in the Pioneer days to give a statement to the condemned man something like, And may God have mercy on your soul. It was presumed that all who die are Going to meet their Maker. Perhaps Jesus was acknowledging this fact publically, so others would take note and find some sort of comfort in Jesus's faith. Jesus was going to meet His Father (actually, "be reunited" with His Father).
Jesus' excruciating pain did not cloud His thinking concerning Where He came from, and where He was going...or the purpose for His He being here on earth...or He would have called ten thousand angels to come and rescue Him. Love transcending won out! (John 13:3-4)
Last words It is an interesting psychological safari going around the world and recording the "Last Words" of famous (or not so famous) Christians...then comparing them with the last words of unbelievers! One would find that knowing where one is going "after death" determines the amount of tranquility and hope one would have at this important juncture of existence.
Before the advent of Intensive Care Units in hospitals, people with terminal diseases would be allowed to die peacefully at home. Near and dear ones of the patient would sit around the bed and recite prayers. Since the patient can hardly be expected to recite prayers for himself/ herself , they would be said on his/ her behalf by the relatives.One such prayer is :" Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph, be a companion to this soul " .The prayer, repeated over and over till the person takes his/ her last breath, is so simple that the dying person can subconsciously repeat it . I have seen this practice in Catholic families and am not aware if Protestants have its counterpart.