Category Archives: cross

A closer look at the cross of Christ – If God became man, we kind of man would He be?  

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, we would expect His human life to be sinless, since it isIncarnation (Christianity) - Wikipedia inconceivable that God would sin.

Jesus fulfilled this expectation in that He lived completely above sin.

2 Cor. 5:21: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Because He possessed perfect moral purity, He is never seen to admit the need of penitence, and never confessed himself to be guilty of sin.

“In vain do we look through the entire biography of Jesus for a single stain or the slightest shadow of his moral character. There never lived a more harmless being on earth. He injured nobody, he took advantage of nobody. He never spoke an improper word, he never committed a wrong action.”

Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, we would expect Him to be holy in character.

Not only would there be an absence of sin in His life, but there would be in Him a superb degree of holiness (This is one of the strongest proofs that Jesus was God incarnate).

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, it would be expected that His words be the greatest ever spoken.

Jesus is called the Master Teacher, and is lauded in the greatest of human literatures. His teachings in the gospels are read more, quoted more, translated into more languages, loved more, believed more, represented more in art, and set to more music.. .than the words of any other person.

He never had a course in teaching, yet knew more about it than anybody else. He had perfect knowledge about God and about God’s will, and it showed in His lifestyle. He never had to guess what God wanted Him to do.

He also had perfect knowledge of the people whom He taught. He knew what was in man (John 2:25).

He taught new things in terms of old ones, and used farming, fishing, cooking, and buying land to make his points clear.

He adapted this method to the particular person or group He wished to teach.

He was the  Master Teacher, too, because He practiced what He taught. Even His enemies said: “No one ever spoke the way this man does?” (John 7:46).

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, it would be expected that He exert tremendous influence over human minds.

“Whether Jesus be man or God, whether the gospels be mainly fiction or fancy, certainly a historic person named Jesus gave men such an impact as to be unequaled by far in the entire annals of human history.”

Just think.. some 2,000 after His life, he is still quoted by so many!

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN it would be expected that He would perform supernatural deeds.

The life of Christ is a constant illustration of the supernatural in Him:

* Protection by hosts of angels.

* His supernatural knowledge.

* His supernatural death.

* His supernatural resurrection.

* His supernatural ascension.

Turn to Matthew 11:3-5: relate context and discuss verses.

Matthew 11:3-5: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” {4} Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: {5} The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

* Remember what the Pharisee, Nicodemus said, in John 3:2, when he came to Jesus by night? “For no one could perform the  miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

The main purpose of his miracles were to cause people to believe on Him. Jesus wanted to prove to all honest hearts that He was sent from God to save men. Sickness and disease were used to furnish an occasion for Christ to heal and God to be glorified.

The resurrection of Christ alone is sufficient to convince any one and every one, if they are honest, that Jesus is the Son of God!

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, it would be expected that He manifest incomparable love for humanity.

He did this in a way no other has ever done.. He died even for His enemies. He demonstrated throughout His life that He was a friend of sinners.. the poor.. .the despised.. the broken-hearted.. .the downcast. His constant attituue was gentle, tneder, sympathetic, loving, and kind.

  1. IF GOD BECAME MAN, that He would be the most divine, unique, and incomparable person who ever lived.

This is confirmed by atheists, infidels, and unbelievers.. .who will at least appraise His character.

He was raised in an illiterate province, and had no special training…yet was (and is) accepted by the most scholarly, wealthy, powerful, and influential as being truly the Son of God.

‘Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, and that a dispised one. He worked in a carpenter shop for 30 years, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. he never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a house. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a really big city. He never traveled, except in His infancy, more than 200 miles from the place where He was born. He had no credentials but himself.

“While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away; one of them betrayed Him. He was turned over to His enemies…He went through the mockery of a trail. He was nailed upon a Gross between two thieves. His executors gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth, His seamless robe.

“When He was dead, He was taken down from the cross and laid in a borrowed grave through the courtesy of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone, and today Jesus is the centerpiece of the human race, and the leader of all human progress. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built, all the parliaments that have ever sat, and all the kings that have ever ruled PUT TOGETHER have not affected the life of man upon this earth like this one solitary personality.

“All times dates from his birth, and it is impossible to understand or interpret the progress of human civilization in any nation on earth apart from His influence.

“Slowly through the ages man is coming to realize that the greatest necessity in the world is not water, Iron, gold, food, clothing, or even nitrate in the soil…but rather, Christ enshrined in human hearts, thoughts, and motives.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 16, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: An Unlikely Alliance (Herod and Pilate)

Who Was Pontius Pilate? | Faith Magazine

A closer look at the two Roman officials who found no sin in Jesus at the cross (Pilate and Herod)

 The Cross Does Interfere

Things have come to a pretty pass,” said a famous Englishman testily, “when religion is permitted to interfere with our private lives.”

To which we may reply that things have come to a worse pass when an intelligent man living in a Protestant country could make such a remark. Had this man never read the New Testament? Had he never heard of Stephen? or Paul? or Peter? Had he never thought about the millions who followed Christ cheerfully to violent death, sudden or lingering, because they did allow their religion to interfere with their private lives?

But we must leave this man to his conscience and his Judge and look into our own hearts. Maybe he but expressed openly what some of us feel secretly. Just how radically has our religion interfered with the neat pattern of our own lives? Perhaps we had better answer that question first.

I have long believed that a man who spurns the Christian faith outright is more respected before God and the heavenly powers than the man who pretends to religion but refuses to come under its total domination. The first is an overt enemy, the second a false friend. It is the latter who will be spewed out of the mouth of Christ; and the reason is not hard to understand.

One picture of a Christian is a man carrying a cross. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The man with a cross no longer controls his destiny; he lost control when he picked up his cross. That cross immediately became to him an all-absorbing interest, an overwhelming interference. No matter what he may desire to do, there is but one thing he can do; that is, move on toward the place of crucifixion.

The man who will not tolerate interference is under no compulsion to follow Christ. “If anyone would,” said our Lord, and thus freed every man and placed the Christian life in the realm of voluntary choice.

Yet no man can escape interference. Law, duty, hunger, accident, natural disasters, illness, death, all intrude into his plans, and in the long run there is nothing he can do about it. Long experience with the rude necessities of life has taught men that these interferences will be thrust upon them sooner or later, so they learn to make what terms they can with the inevitable. They learn how to stay within the narrow circular rabbit path where the least interference is to be found. The bolder ones may challenge the world, enlarge the circle somewhat and so increase the number of their problems, but no one invites trouble deliberately. Human nature is not built that way.

Truth is a glorious but hard mistress. She never consults, bargains or compromises. She cries from the top of the high places: “Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold” (Proverbs 8:10). After that, every man is on his own. He may accept or refuse, receive or set at naught as he pleases; and there will be no attempt at coercion, though the man’s whole destiny is at stake.

Let a man become enamored of eternal wisdom and set his heart to win her and he takes on himself a full-time, all-engaging pursuit. Thereafter he will have room for little else. Thereafter his whole life will be filled with seekings and findings, self-repudiations, tough disciplines and daily dyings as he is being crucified unto the world and the world unto him.

Were this an unfallen world the path of truth would be a smooth and easy one. Had the nature of man not suffered a huge moral dislocation there would be no discord between the way of God and the way of man. I assume that in heaven the angels live through a thousand serene millenniums without feeling the slightest discord between their desires and the will of God. But not so among men on earth. Here the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other. In that contest there can be only one outcome. We must surrender and God must have His way. His glory and our eternal welfare require that it be so.

Another reason that our religion must interfere with our private lives is that we live in the world, the Bible name for human society. The regenerated man has been inwardly separated from society as Israel was separated from Egypt at the crossing of the Red Sea. The Christian is a man of heaven temporarily living on earth. Though in spirit divided from the race of fallen men he must yet in the flesh live among them. In many things he is like them, but in others he differs so radically from them that they cannot but see and resent it. From the days of Cain and Abel the man of earth has punished the man of heaven for being different. The long history of persecution and martyrdom confirms this.

But we must not get the impression that the Christian life is one continuous conflict, one unbroken irritating struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. A thousand times no. The heart that learns to die with Christ soon knows the blessed experience of rising with Him, and all the world’s persecutions cannot still the high note of holy joy that springs up in the soul that has become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

In 4 B.C. Herod the Great, king of Palestine for almost 44 years, died and left his territory to his three sons – Philip, Archelaus, and Herod Antipas.  To Philip were given the territories northeast of the Sea of Galilee.  To Archelaus were given the territories of Samaria, Judea, and the northern part of Idumea.  To Herod Antipas were given the territories of Galilee and Persia east of the Jordan.

In 6 A.D., Archelaus was deposed of his territories because of his incapability.  Rather than replace him with a suitable ruler from the Jews, the Romans decided to place Judea under direct control of Roman governors, who became known as procurators.  From 26-36 A.D., this post was held by Pontius Pilate.

The idea of Roman control was a constant irritant to the Jews.  Because of this, the Jews made sure they were also a constant irritant to the Romans.  Some Jews hated the Romans so much that they organized themselves into a subversive political party known as “Zealotswhose sole purpose became the advocation of the overthrow of the Roman government.  In an effort to appease the Jews in Jerusalem, the procurators of Judea moved their headquarters from Jerusalem to Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast.

However, they left occupation troops in the city, and whenever large crowds of Jews were expected to assemble in Jerusalem for a religious holiday, the procurators usually made sure they were in the city to help maintain peace and order if it was needed. While there, they always stayed at the palace of Herod the Great.  This is why Pilate was in the city of Jerusalem before the annual passover feast at the time of Jesus1 arrest.

At this time in Jewish history, the Sanhedrin council’s jurisdiction had been reduced to the point that it really had very little authority over anything that was not strictly religious, and all its decisions had to be reported to the Roman government.  For this reason, the council had to get the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, to confirm the sentence of death on Jesus before he could be executed.

When the Jews brought Jesus before Pilate for this confirmation, upon learning that Jesus had been in Galilee preaching (and therefore subject to Herod Antipas), Pilate attempted to avoid confirming Jesus’ sentence by sending Jesus to Herod, who also happened to be in the city because of the Passover feast. However, Herod spoiled Pilate’s plan by sending Jesus back to Pilate to make him pronounce the confirmation on Jesus’ death.

What type of men were these Roman officials who held Jesus’ life in their hands?  Could they be expected to use good judgment in their decisions concerning Jesus’ guilt or innocence?  How easily could they be influenced by their Jewish subjects?  In this lesson we will take a closer look at these two Roman officials involved in Jesus’ crucifixion.

  1. Herod Antipas

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great by his Samaritan wife, Matthaec (Maithace).  He was a Sadducee and as such denied a moral government and a future state.  Sadducees were distinguished for their ferocity and inhumanity in their judicial capacity.  Herod Antipas had a historical profile that was far from commendable.  He was superstitious, inquisitive about truth without loving it, crafty, incestuous and wholly immoral, and foxlike in his cunning (Luke 13:32).

John the Baptist, who openly rebuked Herod Antipas for his gross immorality and defiance of the Mosaic law, paid for his courage with his life (Matthew 14:1,10; Luke 13:31; Leviticus 18:16).  To Herod’s credit, he was a subtle diplomat and an astute manager of difficult situations.

When Jesus was brought to Herod Antipas at Pilate’s direction (Luke 23:6-7), Herod was very glad to see Jesus (Luke 23:8).  In fact, Herod had long desired to see him (Luke 23:8).  This may have been because of Herod’s steward, Chuza.  His wife, Joanna, was a long-time follower and supporter of the ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:3).  It could have been through Chuza that Herod learned about Jesus’ ministry.  [It is also interesting to note that in later years, Manaen, a member of Herod’s court, became a member of the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1)).  However, Herod was confused about who Jesus may have been.  He at first thought Jesus might have been John the Baptist, raised from the dead (Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9).  But the real reason Herod longed to see Jesus was not to learn of his ministry, but to see if some sign would be done by Jesus in his presence (Luke 23:8).

Herod questioned Jesus at some length, but Jesus made no answer (Luke 23:9).  As the chief priests and scribes stood near by, Herod and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him (Luke 23:10-11).  Herod then had Jesus arrayed in gorgeous apparel and sent him back to Pilate (Luke 23:11) without finding Jesus guilty of any crime.


  1. Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the 5th procurator or governmental representative of imperial Rome in Palestine.  He reigned from 26-36 A.D.  Pontius, his famtly name, meant “belonging to the sea”; Pilate, taken from a Latin word, meant 11one armed with a javelin”. He was hated by the Jews and Samaritans for his covetous and cruel government and actions.  History tells us that he was recalled from his office by the emperor Tiberius and banished to Vienna in Gaul by Caligua, where he took his own life by drowning in 41 A.D.

Pilate’s first encounter with Jesus:

Jesus is brought before Pilate by the Jewish leaders on the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:1-2; Mark 15:1; Luke 23:1; John 18:28) Pilate asks the leaders, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”  (John 18:29)

The Jewish leaders tell Pilate, “If this man were not an evildoer we would not have handed him over.”  (John 18:30)

The Jewish leaders accuse Jesus saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.” (Luke 23:2)

Pilate tells the leaders, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”  (John 18:31)

The Jewish leaders respond, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”  (John 18:31)

The chief priests and elders accuse Jesus, but Jesus makes no answer to them.  Pilate asks Jesus, “Have you no answer to make?  Do you not hear (see) how many things they testify (bring) against you?”  (Matthew 27:13; Mark 15:4)

Jesus gives Pilate no answer.  Pilate wonders greatly. (Matthew 27:14; Mark 15:5)

Pilate questions Jesus, ”Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2;Luke 23:3; John 18:33)

Jesus asks Pilate, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say It to you about me?”  (John 18:34)

Pilate answers Jesus, “Am I a Jew?  Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” (John 18:35)

Jesus answers Pilate, “My kingship Is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight; that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”  (John 18:36)

Pilate asks Jesus, “So you are a king?”  (John 18:37)

Jesus answers Pilate, “You have said so.” “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.  Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:37)

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?”  (John 18:38) Pilate tells the chief priests and multitudes, “I find no crime

In this man.”  (Luke 23:4; John 18:38)

The chief priests tell Pilate, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” (Luke 23:5)

In an effort to shirk the responsibility of sentencing Jesus to death  Pilate, upon hearing that Jesus had taught in Galilee, sends Jesus to Herod (Galilee was Herod’s territory) to let him deal with the Jews.  However, Herod spoils Pilate’s plan and returns Jesus to Pilate to make him pronounce the final decision on Jesus.

Pilate’s second encounter with Jesus:

Pilate calls together the chief priests, rulers, and the people and says, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him; neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us.  Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; I will therefore chastise him and release him.”  (Luke 23:13-17)

The crowd at the feast comes up to Pilate and asks him to do what he was wont to do for them.  (Mark 15:8) Pilate addresses the crowd at the feast, “I find no crime in him. Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:9; Luke 23:18; John 16:39)

Pilate knew it was out of envy that they (Jews) had delivered him (Jesus) up.  (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10) Pilate’s wife sends word to Pilate, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.”  (Matthew 27:19)

The crowd said to Pilate, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas11  (Luke 23:18; John 18:40)

Desiring to release Jesus, Pilate again addresses the crowd, “Behold, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.  Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” (Matthew 27:21; Luke 23:20; John 19:4)

After the crowd demands Barabbas, Pilate asks them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:22; Mark 15:12)


After the crowd demands Jesus be crucified, Pilate asks them,

Why, what evil has he done?  I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” (Matthew 27:23; Mark 15:14; Luke 23:22)

Pilate tells the crowd, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.”  (John 19:6)

The Jews answer Pilate, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.” (John 19:7)

Pilate asks Jesus, “Where are you from?” but Jesus makes no answer.  Pilate then says, “Will you not speak to me?  Do you not know that I have the power to release you, and power to crucify you?”  (John 19:9-10)

Jesus answers Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”  (John 19:11)

After the crowd demands again that Jesus be crucified, Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing and a riot was beginning.  He took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, .1 am Innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (Matthew 27:24; John 19:12)

The crowd answers, “1f you release this man, you are not Caesars’ friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.”  (John 19:12)

Pilate says to the Jews, “Here is your King!”  (John 19:14)

The crowd answers,  “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15)

Pilate asks the crowd, “Shall I crucify your King?” (John 19:15)

The chief priests answer, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

Pilate has Jesus scourged and releases him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:26; Hark 15:15; Luke 23:25; John 19:16)

Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross.  It read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

(Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; John 19:19-22)

Conclusion of Lesson

Two men stood in the way of the Jews sending Jesus to his death – Herod and Pilate.  When confronted by the angry multitude of Jews who brought Jesus to them, both Herod and Pilate found no wrongdoing in Jesus, but allowed him to be crucified because of their fear of the Jews.

Today, we as Christians also allow Jesus to be crucified anew in the world we live in.  Because of our own fears, we often let others be critical of Jesus, the church  members of the church, God’s word, ministers and missionaries of the gospel, and our brothers and sisters Christ.

We do this by not speaking up and taking a stand when others speak evil of God’s workers on the earth now.  Are we any better than Herod or Pilate in this regard?  No, the truth is we are just as guilty as both these men were because of our fears also.  Christians have been the “silent majority” for too long.



23:11-12 Now Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Then they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.NLT With this prisoner refusing to answer, and looking very little like a great miracle worker, Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Angry at Jesus’ refusal to even answer questions for him, Herod resorted to making a mockery of this man who was supposedly such a great prophet, teacher, and miracle worker. To make fun of Jesus’ claim to be a king (probably Pilate had sent along this information when he sent Jesus to Herod), Herod put a royal robe on him, probably a purple color with fine workmanship. Herod did not even take the charge seriously. So he neither released the prisoner nor made a judgment about his guilt. He simply sent him back to Pilate.

Herod and Pilate had a rather tenuous relationship. Herod was the part-Jewish ruler of Galilee and Perea. Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and Samaria. Those four provinces, together with several others, had been united under Herod the Great. But when Herod the Great died in 4 b.c., the kingdom was divided among his sons, each of whom was called “tetrarch” (meaning “ruler of a fourth part of a region”). Archelaus, the son who had received Judea and Samaria, was removed from office within ten years, and his provinces were then ruled by a succession of Roman governors, of whom Pilate was the fifth.

Herod Antipas had two advantages over Pilate: he had come from a part-Jewish monarchy, and he had held his position much longer. But Pilate had two advantages over Herod: he was a Roman citizen and an envoy of the emperor, and his position was created to replace that of Herod’s ineffective half brother. It is not surprising that the two men were uneasy around each other. Jesus’ trial, however, brought them together. Because Pilate had recognized Herod’s authority over Galilee, Herod had stopped feeling threatened by the Roman politician. And because neither man knew what to do in this predicament, their common problem united them.


According to the Roman custom of releasing a criminal during the Passover season, Pilate presented Jesus to the people. Pilate did not want to bear the responsibility of putting an innocent man to death. But the crowd insisted on Barabbas’s freedom, the release of a known murderer. That Jesus literally died in Barabbas’s place vividly illustrates the ultimate significance of Jesus’ death. He took the place of not only Barabbas but also all who stand condemned before God’s perfect standard and trust in Christ for salvation.

23:13-14 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.”NRSV Pilate thought he had gotten rid of his problem, only to have Jesus sent back. The decision still rested on his shoulders. So he attempted to let this innocent man go by telling Jesus’ accusers that he had examined him and not found this man guilty of any of their charges—including subversion, refusal to pay taxes, causing riots, or perverting the people. He didn’t even find Jesus guilty of being the king he claimed to be. Pilate may have incorrectly thought that Jesus was just a poor, deluded man; he did know, however, that Jesus was innocent.


When the stakes are high, it is difficult to stand up for what is right, and it is easy to see opponents as problems to be solved rather than as people to be respected. Had Pilate been a man of real courage, he would have released Jesus regardless of the consequences. But the crowd roared, and Pilate buckled. People are like Pilate when they know what is right but decide not to do it. When you have a difficult decision to make, don’t discount the effects of peer pressure. Realize beforehand that the right decision could have unpleasant consequences: social rejection, career derailment, public ridicule. Then think of Pilate and resolve to stand up for what is right no matter what other people pressure you to do.

23:15 “Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty.”NLT Pilate could back up his decision with Herod’s conclusion about Jesus. Herod had mocked Jesus but apparently had sent back word to Pilate that he could find nothing worthy of the death penalty. Jesus was tried a total of six times, by both Jewish and Roman authorities, but he was never convicted of a crime. Even when condemned to execution, he had been convicted of no felony. Today, no one can find fault in Jesus. Just like Pilate, Herod, and the religious leaders, however, many still refuse to acknowledge him as Lord.

23:16 “Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”NIV The word “punish” here may not indicate the severe flogging that Jesus received after being sentenced, prior to his crucifixion (as noted in Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15), although John 19:1 reports Jesus being flogged and then brought before the crowd. Pilate may have hoped that the flogging would appease the crowd, and they would pity the man and let him go. Pilate was planning to release Jesus, but first he would punish him—to pacify the Jews and teach the prisoner a lesson to stay out of trouble in the future.


Pilate knew that Jesus had done nothing deserving punishment, and certainly not the death penalty. Even so, he didn’t have the courage or the decency to release Jesus; he tried to find a middle position that would allow Jesus to live and still appease the chief priests and the Jewish rulers. He failed, and Pilate is known forever as the man who ordered the crucifixion of the Son of God. Where do you stand? Have you made up your own mind about Jesus, whether to follow him as Lord and Messiah, or to dismiss him as a misguided martyr? There is no middle ground, no way to ride the fence when it comes to Jesus. You must either embrace him as Lord or reject him as a fraud.

23:17 (For it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).NKJV This verse does not exist in most modern English versions because it does not appear in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts. It may have been added later, perhaps picked up from Mark 15:6 to make a smoother transition between what is recorded in verses 16 and 18. This information helps the reader understand why the Jews called for the release of a prisoner in 23:18. But the text without 23:17 reads just as well; Pilate’s statement about releasing Jesus (23:16) is followed (23:18) by an immediate plea from the crowd to release Barabbas instead.

Each year at Passover, Pilate had made it a custom to release any prisoner the people requested. He may have instituted this custom to be on good terms with them as well as to help cover his many wrongful acts toward them. In any case, it became expected. So, according to the people, it was necessary for him to release a prisoner to them at the feast.

23:18-19 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)NIV The suggestion that Pilate was going to release Jesus (23:16) sent the leaders into a frenzy. Pilate had wanted to release Jesus as the Passover gift (Mark 15:8-9). This had been a public announcement, so many people in the crowd cried out with one voice that Jesus must be put to death. The prisoner they wanted set free was a man named Barabbas. Oddly enough, Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection. Barabbas may have been somewhat of a hero among the Jews for his acts of rebellion against Rome, but he was on death row in a Roman prison. He was a true rebel and revolutionary and had even committed murder. The religious leaders had tried to pin this accusation on Jesus in order to have him put to death, but they chose a man who had done such acts and wanted him set free. Clearly their actions followed no logic. They merely wanted Jesus put to death and would go to any lengths to make sure it happened.

Who was Barabbas? Jewish men had names that identified them with their fathers. Simon Peter, for example, was called Simon, son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17). Barabbas is never identified by his given name, and this name, “Bar-abbas,” simply means “son of ‘Abba'” (or “son of daddy”). He could have been anybody’s son—and that makes for interesting commentary in that he represents all sinners. Barabbas, son of an unnamed father, committed a crime. Because Jesus died in his place, this man was set free. All people too, are sinners and criminals who have broken God’s holy law. Like Barabbas, they deserve to die. But Jesus has died in their place, for their sins, and, by faith, they have been set free.


If you were heavily in debt—to the point where you could never pay it off on your own—and someone offered to pay your debt for you, what would you say? Or if you were sentenced to life in prison, and someone offered to serve your sentence for you, how would you respond? That is what Jesus has done for believers in his death on the cross. He has paid a debt that they could never repay; he has served a sentence that they deserved. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion, a horrible form of death normally reserved for slaves and non-Roman citizens. In addition, the Old Testament taught (Deuteronomy 21:23) that anyone who died by hanging on a tree was cursed. His death atoned for our sins and fulfilled the requirements for breaking the covenant with God. How do you respond toward the one who has done all that for you? The only appropriate response is to live a life of gratitude and obedience before him.

23:20-21 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”NIV Pilate really wanted to release Jesus. Matthew recorded that even Pilate’s wife had experienced a dream about Jesus and had urged Pilate to let Jesus go (Matthew 27:19). Pilate must have been in a tight spot, because for some reason he put himself in the position of bargaining with the crowd. He had the authority to let Jesus go and then get on with his day; instead, he appealed to them again but to no avail. They wanted Jesus to be crucified.

This was, in itself, an amazing request. Crucifixion was the Roman penalty for rebellion and abhorrent to the Jews. They thought that Jesus’ crucifixion would demonstrate that his life and message had been under God’s curse, for Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (niv). This is just what the Jewish religious leaders wanted. If Jesus were to be executed, it would be by crucifixion. He would die the death of a rebel and slave, not the death of the king he claimed to be. The crucifixion, from the Jewish perspective, was meant to brand Jesus as cursed by God; the crucifixion, from the Christian perspective, pictures Jesus as taking God’s curse against sin upon himself and allowing his people to be set free from sin.


What are the nonnegotiables in your life? What are those core principles and bedrock beliefs that you will not compromise or sell out no matter what? Consider this question before you are in a crisis whereby your principles and beliefs are put to the test. Pilate seems to have had no such convictions. He knew Jesus was innocent and undeserving of punishment, yet he yielded to pressure from his political enemies to sacrifice him. Like Pilate, most people are put in positions where they have to decide where they will stand. Unlike Pilate, Christians must decide to stand firm on the truth revealed to them by God. Where do you stand?

23:22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”NIV Pilate tried for the third time. He could not fathom why the crowd so badly wanted this man’s death. Jesus had not committed any crime; there were no grounds for the death penalty. Pilate repeated what he had said in 23:16. He would have Jesus punished and then release him.

There are two reasons why Luke stressed these three attempts Pilate had made to release Jesus. First, Luke wanted to show through his Gospel the innocence of Jesus before Roman law. Luke was giving evidence to prove the acceptability of Christianity to his Gentile readers. Second, he was establishing the Jewish guilt for Jesus’ death. In Acts, this is the basis of the evangelistic sermons to the Jews—you killed him; he died for you and rose again; now repent and be converted (Acts 2:36-38; 3:13-16; 13:26-41).

23:23-24 But the crowd shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death, and their voices prevailed. So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded.NLT Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death . . . so Pilate sentenced Jesus to die. No doubt Pilate did not want to risk losing his position, which may already have been shaky, by allowing a riot to occur in his province. As a career politician, he knew the importance of compromise, and he saw Jesus more as a political threat than as a human being with rights and dignity.

23:25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.NIV Pilate did not want to give Jesus the death sentence. He thought the Jewish leaders were simply jealous men who wanted to get rid of a rival. When they threatened to report Pilate to Caesar (John 19:12), however, Pilate became frightened. Historical records indicate that Pilate had already been warned by Roman authorities about tensions in this region. The last thing he needed was a riot in Jerusalem at Passover time when the city was crowded with Jews from all over the Empire. So Pilate released Barabbas, the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, and then surrendered Jesus to their will. One must wonder if Pilate ever questioned himself later—why he had allowed a mob to convince him to set a murderer free and execute an innocent man. Clearly Pilate was a man of little conviction and even less courage. But don’t forget the responsibility of these Jewish leaders who demanded that Jesus die—Matthew recorded that they accepted the responsibility, stating that Jesus’ blood could remain on them and on their children (Matthew 27:25).

Matthew’s Gospel explains that Pilate took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize his innocence in condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:24), but this act was no more than self-deception. Jesus may have been surrendered to the will of the mob, but this was still a purely Roman execution. Pilate had to command it in order for it to happen. After releasing Barabbas, Pilate did allow Jesus to be flogged (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15) as part of the Roman legal code that demanded flogging before a capital sentence was carried out. The Romans did it to weaken the prisoner so that he would die more quickly on the cross. Jesus had predicted that he would be flogged (18:32).



Almost. It’s a sad word in any man’s dictionary.

“Almost.” It runs herd with “nearly,” “next time,” “if only,” and “just about.” It’s a word that smacks of missed opportunities, aborted efforts, and fumbled chances. It’s honorable mention, right field, on the bench, runnerup, and burnt cookies.

Almost. The one that got away. The sale that nearly closed. The gamble that almost paid off. Almost.

How many people do you know whose claim to fame is an almost?

  • “Did I ever tell you about the time I almost was selected as the Employee of the Year?”
  • “They say he almost made the big leagues.”
  • “I caught a catfish that was taller than me! Well … almost.”

As long as there have been people, there have been almosts. People who almost won the battle, who almost climbed the mountain, who almost found the treasure.

One of the most famous “almost’s” is found in the Bible. Pilate. Yet, what he missed was far more significant than a catfish or an award.

He almost performed what would have been history’s greatest act of mercy. He almost pardoned the Prince of Peace. He almost released the Son of God. He almost opted to acquit the Christ. Almost. He had the power. He had the choice. He wore the signet ring. The option to free God’s Son was …. . and he did ….. al­most.

Almost. How many times do these six ugly letters find their way into despairing epitaphs?

  • “He almost got it together.”
  • “She almost chose not to leave him.”
  • “They almost tried one more time.”
  • “We almost worked it out.
  • ‘He almost became a Christian.”

What is it that makes almost such a potent word? why is there such a wide gap between “he almost” and “he did”?

In the case of Pilate, we don’t have to look far to find an answer. It is Dr. Luke’s acute commentary in chap­ter 23 that provides the reason. Let’s tune in at verse 22: “A third time he [Pilate] said to them [the crowd], “why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” But they were urgent, de­manding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed (italics mine, RSV).

You’re right, Luke. Their voices prevailed. And, as a result, Pilate’s pride prevailed. Pilate’s fear prevailed. Pilate’s power-hunger prevailed.

“Their” voices were not the only voices, you know. There were at least three others Pilate could have heard.

He could have heard the voice of Jesus. Pilate stood eye to eye with him. Five times he postponed the decision hoping to gratify the mob with policies or lashings. Yet Jesus was always sent back to him. Three times he stood eye to eye with this compelling Nazarene who had come to reveal the truth. “what is truth?” Pilate asked rhetorically (or was it honestly?). Jesus’ silence was much louder than the crowd’s demands. But Pilate didn’t listen.

He could have heard the voice of his wife. She pleaded with him to have nothing to do with that righ­teous man for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” One has to pause and wonder about the origin of such a dream that would cause a lady of purple to call a small-town Galilean righteous. But Pilate didn’t.

Or he could have heard his own voice. Surely he could see through the facade. “Ananias, Caiaphas, cut the phoney allegiance, you slobs; I know where your interests are.” Surely his conscience was speaking to him. “There is nothing wrong with this man. A bit mysterious maybe, but that’s no reason to string him up.”

He could have heard other voices. But he didn’t. He almost did. But he didn’t. Satan’s voices prevailed.

His voice often does prevail. Have you heard his wooings?

  • “0ne time won’t hurt.”
  • “She’ll never know.”
  • “Other people do much worse things.”
  • “At least you’re not being hypocritical.”

His rhetoric of rationalization never ends. The father of lies croons and woos like a traveling peddler, promising the moon and delivering disaster. “Step right up. Taste my brew of pleasure and sing my song ofsensu­ality. After all, who knows about tomorrow?”

God, meanwhile, never enters a shouting match with Satan. Truth need not scream. He stands perma­nently, quietly pleading, ever present. No tricks, no side shows, no temptations, just open proof.

People’s reactions vary. Some flow immediately to the peddler of poison. Others turn quickly to the Prince of Peace. Most of us, however, are caught somewhere in between, lingering on the edge of Satan’s crowd yet hover­ing within earshot of the message of God.

Pilate learned the hard way that this stance of “al­most” is suicidal. The other voices will win. Their lure is too strong. Their call too compelling. And Pilate also learned that there is no darker hell than the one of remorse. Washing your hands a thousand times won’t free you from the guilt of an opportunity ignored. It’s one thing to for-give yourself for something you did. It is something else to try to forgive yourself for something that you might have done, but didn’t.

Jesus knew that all along. For our own good, he demanded and demands absolute obedience. He never has had room for “almost” in his vocabulary. You are either with him or against him. With Jesus “nearly” has to be­come “certainly.” “Sometimes” has to become ‘(always.” “1f only” has to become “regardless.” And “next time” has to become   time.”

No, Jesus never had room for “almost” and he still doesn’t. “Almost” may count in horseshoes and hand grenades, but with the Master, it is just as good as a “never.”

From Holman Bible Dictionary

PILATE, PONTIUS (Pi’ luhte, Pahn’ shuhs) Roman governorof Judea remembered in history as a notorious anti-Semite and in Christian creeds as the magistrate under whom Jesus Christ “suffered” (1 Tim 6:13). The New Testament refers to him as “governor,” while other sources call him “procurator” or “prefect” (an inscription found in Caesarea in 1961). Pilate came to power about A.D. 26, close to the time when two of his contemporaries, Sejanus in Rome and Flaccus in Egypt, were pursuing policies apparently aimed at the destruction of the Jewish people. Pilate’s policies were much the same. His procuratorship consisted of one provocation of Jewish sensibilities after another. He broke all precedent by bringing into Jerusalem military insignia bearing the image of Caesar in flagrant defiance of Jewish law. He removed them only when the Jews offered to die at the hands of his soldiers rather than consent to such blasphemy. He brutally suppressed protest by planting armed soldiers, disguised as civilians, among the Jewish crowds. Against such a backdrop, it is not hard to understand the reference in Luke 13:1 to “The Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifice (NIV).” Pilate was finally removed from office as the result of a similar outrage against Samaritan worshipers who had gathered on Mount Gerizim, their holy mountain, to view some sacred vessels which they believed Moses had buried there. When the Samaritans complained to Vitellius, the governor of Syria, Pilate was ordered to Rome to account for his actions to the emperor and is not mentioned again in reliable contemporary sources.

In view of his record, it is surprising that Pilate allowed himself to be pressured by a group of Jewish religious authorities into allowing Jesus to be executed. A possible explanation is that he already felt his position in the empire to be in jeopardy (note the threat implicit in John 19:12). Pilate seems to have had no personal inclination to put Jesus to death, and the New Testament writers are eager to show that he did not (Luke 23:4, 14, 22; John 18:38; 19:4, 6; compare Matt. 17:19). The Gospel writers sought to demonstrate that Jesus was innocent from the standpoint of Roman law and that consequently Christianity in their day was not a threat to the Roman political and social order. The fact that Jesus was brought to Pilate at all probably means that He had not been formally tried and convicted by the Sanhedrin, or Jewish ruling Council (if he had, he would probably have been stoned to death like Stephen, or like James the Just in A.D. 62). Instead, a relatively small group of Jerusalem priests, including the high priest, wanted to forestall any kind of a messianic movement by the people because of the repression it would provoke from the Romans (see John 11:47-50, 53). They maneuvered Pilate into doing their work for them (compare Luke 23:2). Pilate is represented in all the Gospels as questioning Jesus especially on the subject of kingship, but he remained unconvinced that Jesus was in any way a serious claimant to Jewish or Roman political power. The inscription he insisted on placing over the cross according to all the Gospels was Pilate’s last grim joke at Jewish expense: “This is the King of the Jews.” Anti-Jewish to the end, Pilate was telling the world, “What a sorry race this is, with such a pitiful figure for their king!”

HEROD (Hehr’ uhd) The name given to the family ruling Palestine immediately before and to some degree during the first half of the first Christian century. Their family history was complex, and what information has come down has been frequently meager, conflicting, and difficult to harmonize. The chief sources are the references in the New Testament, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, and a few obscure references by Roman historians, such as Dio Cassius, Plutarch, and Strabo.

The most prominent family member and ruler was Herod, son of Antipater who had been appointed governor of Idumea by Alexandra Salome, the Maccabean queen who ruled Palestine 78-69 B.C. With the permission of the Romans, Antipater left his son Phasael as Prefect of Jerusalem and his second son, Herod, governor of Galilee. See Intertestamental History.

Herod the Great. Herod the Great was born about the year 73 B.C. and was a son of the desert, well adapted to the political intrigues of ambition, lust for power, and efficiency at warfare. He made a trip to Rome and was confirmed by the Senate as “king of Judea” in the year 40 B.C. He routed some persistently threatening robber bands in Galilee and gained the esteem of the Romans and even the support of some of the Jews by his decisive action. He finally brought Jerusalem under his control in the year 37 B.C.

His rule of Judea is usually divided into three periods: (a) The Period of Consolidation (37-25 B.C.), (b) The Period of Prosperity (25-13 B.C.), and (c) The Period of Domestic Troubles (13-4 B.C.).

During the period of consolidation, he had many adversaries, coming from at least four fronts. Jewish people refused to support him because he was not a full-blooded Jew, but a descendant of Esau. Herod also had difficulties with the Hasmonean family. See Hasmoneans. Chief among them was Alexandra, the evil and vicious daughter of Hyrcanus II. She interceded with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, who brought pressure on Mark Antony in an effort to put Herod under her control. This constant intrigue multiplied as time progressed.

Charges were brought against various members of the family. Within a short time Herod had executed Hyrcanus II, the son of Alexandra Salome who had returned from exile, Hyrcanus’ daughter Alexandra, and her daughter Mariamne I, who was also Herod’s favorite wife, the one whom he deeply and passionately loved. Mariamne had Maccabean blood flowing through her veins, was most beautiful, and Herod’s hopes for establishing a dynasty rested with her and their two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. Suspicious that Mariamne committed adultery and that her sons would use their Maccabean lineage for political advantage, Herod had them put to death. Herod also had executed Aristobulus III, son of Alexandra and brother of Mariamne soon after he was appointed by Herod to be high priest. Herod had him drowned at a celebration in Jericho soon after his inauguration.

Herod also faced an adversary in the person of Cleopatra, the famous queen of Egypt, but his craftiness enabled him to maintain his independence from her. Herod was successful in ingratiating himself to the Romans. By sheer force of personality and lack of hesitancy in executing even the close members of his own family, he strengthened his position as undisputed ruler of Palestine under the permission of Roman authority.

The second period of Herod’s life involved the prosperity of his vast building programs. With the aid of the Romans the territory was extended to what had been unparalleled since the reign of Solomon (died 931 B.C.). His taxation of the people to support his building activity was extensive, but he virtually rebuilt every city in the land, even constructing entire cities from the ground up. He also built many palaces for himself.

Soon the now nearly four hundred-year-old Temple of Zerubbabel was pale in contrast to the magnificence of his new palaces and structures in Jerusalem. In the year 19 B.C. he embarked on an extensive remodeling of the Temple, which captured the imagination of the world of that day. It was frequently said that if one had not seen Herod’s Temple, he had never seen a truly beautiful building (compare John 2:19-20).

The periods of Herod’s life overlapped to some degree, but it was from the years 13-4 B.C. that his domestic troubles intensified and preoccupied him. Antipater, his firstborn son, and Salome, his sister, continually agitated the household and brought accusations against Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Herod and Mariamne. Finally, the charges of sedition could not be ignored. Herod brought charges against them before the Emperor in the year 12 B.C. Herod finally gave the order, and in 7 B.C. they were carried to Sebaste (Samaria) and strangled. Antipater continued to be an ambitious thorn in Herod’s side. On his deathbed Herod gave the orders to execute Antipater, fearing that he would take the throne even before Herod himself died. Antipater was executed immediately. Herod himself died five days later (4 B.C.). He was seventy years old, a man racked with ill health and mental deterioration, now thought by some to be a form of progressive arteriosclerosis. He had reigned for 37 years since his confirmation by the Senate and 34 years since his capture of Jerusalem.

Herod, of course, was king of Judea under the Roman authority when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1). He received the Wise Men and sent them on to the Christ child with orders to return to him and let him know where he could find the newly born “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2-8). He gave the orders to kill the babies of Bethlehem two years old and under, in hopes of getting this One whom he saw as a successor to his throne (Matt. 2:16).

Herod had several wills. His final one designated Archelaus to succeed him as king of Judea (Matt. 2:22), another son Antipas to be tetrarch (governor) of Galilee and Perea, and another son Philip as tetrarch of the Northeastern Districts. The Romans banished Archelaus after a ten-year rule, and the kingdom was then transformed into an Imperial Province of the Roman Empire with Coponius as the first procurator (governor). Antipas continued to rule Galilee and Perea and was the one who had John the Baptist put to death (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:16-29; Luke 9:9). Also, Jesus appeared before him during his trial, as Pilate the procurator sent Jesus to him for a possible decision (Luke 23:6-12).

See picture, This aqueduct built by Herod the Great brought fresh water to Caesarea Maritima.

Other Herods named in the New Testament include the following:

Agrippa I, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod. He ruled with the title of king from A.D. 41-44. Agrippa I ordered James the son of Zebedee killed with the sword and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-23).

Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I, heard Paul’s defense (Acts 25:13-27; compare Acts 26:32). With his death the Herodian dynasty came to an end, in title as well as in fact.

Drusilla (Acts 24:24) was the third and youngest daughter of Agrippa I. She had been married briefly at age 14 to Azizus, king of Emessa, probably in the year 52. In 53 or 54 she was married to Felix, the Roman procurator.

Bernice was the sister of Drusilla and Agrippa II, and also his wife. Paul appeared before them in Acts 25.

Herod Philip was the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem (Luke 3:1). He built Caesarea Philippi and was governor of the Northeastern districts of Iturea, Gaulinitis, Trachonitis, and Decapolis. He was married to Salome, the daughter of Herodias.

A Herod Philip is mentioned in Mark 6:17 as the first husband of Herodias. In some places he is mentioned simply as Herod, or Herod II. Most scholars do not believe that he was the same person as the governor of the northeastern districts.

Herodias (Matt. 14:3) was the daughter of Aristobulus (son of Herod and Mariamne I) and Bernice, the daughter of Herod’s sister, Salome. She was the second wife of Herod Antipas and called for the head of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:3-12; Mark 6:17-29; compare Luke 3:19-20).

Salome was the daughter of Herodias. She was married to Philip. After his death in 34, she married a relative Aristobulus, prince of Chalcis and had three children (Matt. 14:6-12; Mark 6:22-29).

Herod was a paradox. He was one of the most cruel rulers of all history. His reputation has been largely one of infamy. He seemed fiercely loyal to that which he did believe in. He did not hesitate to murder members of his own family when he deemed that they posed a threat to him. Yet marital unfaithfulness and drunkenness did not seem to be among his vices. Because of his effective administration, he virtually made Palestine what it was in the first Christian century. He has gone down in history as “the Great,” yet that epithet can only be applied to him as his personality and accomplishments are compared to others of his family.


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 11, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross of Jesus: The Trials

What Is the Definition in the Bible of Sanhedrin?

Jesus underwent six trials. The first three were Jewish, before Annas, Caiphas and the Sanhedrin. The second three were civil, before Pilate, Herod, and then back to Pilate again. It is hardly fair to call these trials, such a mockery was made of Jewish law. As for the Jewish verdict, it was already decided, not on the basis of truth or justice, but on the basis of jealousy and expediency. As for the Roman verdict, Jesus was never found guilty of any crime. Rather, Pilate handed him over to avoid another nasty confrontation with the Jewish leaders which surely would have ended his political career.

The following points catalogue the major breaches of justice in regard to Jesus’ trials (especially according to the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin):

  1. He was arrested through a bribe (i.e., blood money).
  2. He was arrested without a clear charge.
  3. Trials could not be held at night or on feast days.
  4. They used physical force to try to intimidate Jesus during the trial.
  5. False witnesses offered conflicting testimony against him.
  6. Witnesses were not supposed to testify in the presence of each other.
  7. Jesus was asked to incriminate himself, which he really didn’t do!
  8. Jesus was not given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.
  9. The high priest never asked for a vote from the Sanhedrin, which should have started with the youngest and gone to the oldest.
  10. He was charged with blasphemy and temple violation at his Jewish
  11. trial but the charges were changed at his civil trial to claiming to be king, causing disturbances, and refusing to pay taxes. 11. He was convicted and executed the same day as his trial.

Some people doubt the credibility of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial because they have a hard time believing that these respectable religious leaders would have allowed so many illegalities. What complicates the issue further is these accounts have served as a platform for anti-Semitism on more than one occasion. Because the Jewish leaders were the perpetrators of this crime against Jesus, their descendants have been brutalized throughout church history. That is repulsive and illogical, especially since Jesus died as a result of every person’s sin, not as a result of Jewish schemes. We are all culpable. Furthermore, Matthew, Mark and John (not to mention Jesus and later Paul), were Jews and could hardly be accused of anti-Semitism (Carson, pp. 549-552).

While it is illogical to persecute Jewish people for what a few Jewish leaders did centuries ago, it is also illogical to rewrite history so as to exculpate those Jewish leaders who perpetrated this crime. They were guilty, along with the Romans, for a heinous crime and radical breaches of justice. God has already judged this act (Mt 23:37-39; Lk 13:34-35; 23:27-30). “Christians” don’t need to add to God’s judgment nor execute it.

As for these illegalities, they may not be as radical as they first appear. (1) The Mishnaic regulations may have had more relevance to the local courts (Beth Din) than to the Sanhedrin. (2) There may have been exceptions made for special cases held on feast days due to their exceptional nature and the constraints of time. (3) These regulations may not have all been extant during the time of Jesus’ trial. (4) It seems clear that the Sanhedrin here acted out of expediency (i.e., to avoid a riot among the people). Because of time constraints of the coming Sabbath and the fact that Pilate, as a Roman governor, probably only entertained new cases early in the morning, the Jewish council had to act quickly.

The bottom line is this: There were significant breaches of justice which are understandable considering the pressures the Jewish leaders felt and the volatile nature of these events. There is nothing here that is historically unreasonable. Furthermore, while we are horrified by this judicial travesty allowed by both the Jewish and Roman leaders involved, we all must accept our own role in the death of Jesus. Ours is not to place blame, but to proclaim the wonderful news that Jesus died for our sins and freed us from the guilt and punishment deserved by all.


Section 154 – Phase #1: Annas (Jn 18:12b-14, [15-18] 19-23)

They bound him 13and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.

Jesus is escorted from Gethsemane to the palace of the high priest. Annas served as high priest from a.d. 7-14. Since the Jews accepted a high priest for life, Annas still holds sway over the people in spite of the fact that the Romans have installed another high priest in his place. He is an immensely wealthy and powerful man. He is the one who controls the buying and selling in the temple court. Hence, Jesus’ two cleansings of the temple have been particularly irksome to Annas. His vicious greed and political clout are a deadly combination for anyone who stands in his way.

Annas uses his wealth and influence to get his way with the Romans as well as with the Jews. Five of his sons, his son-in-law, Caiaphas, and one grandson are installed by Rome as high priests. This allows Annas to manipulate their decisions without the constraints of the office (a very lucrative position, indeed). Thus, it is no surprise that Jesus is first brought to Annas even before his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the current “Roman” high priest (a.d. 18-36).

This preliminary investigation takes place in Annas’ palace. It is likely that Caiaphas also lives in one wing of the palace. Thus, it will not take long to “transfer” Jesus from Annas to Caiaphas. Both men are in agreement that Jesus must die. Caiaphas has explicitly stated so much a month or two earlier (Jn 11:49-50). If Annas and Caiaphas both live in the same palace, this would also explain how Peter’s denial takes place in both the house of Annas and later in the house of Caiaphas (Cf. Mt 26:57-58 & Jn 18:13, 15, 24). All three denials take place in the same courtyard, which is surrounded by wings of rooms.

Jn 18:19-23 19Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

20I have spoken openly to the world, Jesus replied. I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.

22When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. Is this the way you answer the high priest? he demanded. 23If I said something wrong, Jesus replied, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?

Annas opens the investigation with some rather inane questions about Jesus’ disciples and teachings. Jesus points out how senseless his questions are since his ministry has been public. One doesn’t need a special investigation to ascertain what Jesus did and said. It is a matter of public record. Annas is, at best, buying time, and at worst, attempting to get Jesus to incriminate himself.

One of Annas’ bruisers takes offense at Jesus’ response and slaps him in the face (cf. Acts 23:1-5). Jesus may have been impudent, but nothing in his response was illegal or illogical. Jesus demands an explanation from the guard, which he has yet to receive.


Section 155 – Phase #2: Caiaphas (Mt 26:57, 59-68; Mk 14:53, 55-65; Lk 22:54a, 63-65; Jn 18:24)

While Annas is investigating Jesus, Caiaphas is rounding up the troops. He has gathered certain members of the Sanhedrin, likely those privy to the plot. He has also subpoenaed a number of “friendly” but false witnesses. They are eager to testify against Jesus though they aren’t really qualified to do so.

[JN 18:]24Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

Mk 14:55-59 with Mt 26:59-60 55The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for {falseMT} evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

57Then some {twoMT} stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 56We heard him say, I will {am able toMT} destroy this man-made temple {of GodMT} and in three days will build another, not made by man. 59Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

When Annas’ interview comes to a sudden dead end, Jesus is transferred to another wing of the palace where Caiaphas resides. The High Priest bolsters himself with other members of the Sanhedrin. They are looking for evidence against Jesus. A number of antagonists volunteer to testify against Jesus but none of the them get their stories straight.

Finally a couple of stories gel. They remember a three-year-old incident. It took place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he claimed that he could rebuild the temple (Jn 2:19). Both witnesses, however, misrepresent what Jesus said. They accuse him of threatening to destroy the temple of Jerusalem. But that is not what Jesus said. He said, “If YOU destroy this temple, I will rebuild it.” In addition, he was talking about his own body, not the mortar and bricks of the building. While they misrepresent his words, they very correctly understand Jesus’ symbolic action of cleansing the temple. That was a very real threat (cf. Lk 19:41-44; Mk 11:11-25; Jer 7:1-11).


Mt 26:62-64 with Mk 14:61-62 62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you? 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God {The Blessed One.MK}

64Yes {I am,MK} it is as you say, Jesus replied. But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.

Jesus doesn’t answer this foolish accusation about him threatening the temple. Why should he? Since their testimony doesn’t agree, it is not admissible as evidence. In addition, Jesus has not come to defend himself but to die for the sins of the world. Therefore, he remains silent as prophesied (Isa 53:7).

Illegally, the high priest places Jesus under oath to testify against himself: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” (Obviously Caiaphas used those two titles synonymously). Jesus’ response in Matthew’s rendition is somewhat ambiguous. It might be interpreted as “Well, that’s what you say,” or “If that’s what you want to think, then sure.” In Mark, however, Jesus is all too clear, “I am.” The time for veiled references and subtle suggestions is over. Caiaphas asks a straightforward question and gets a straightforward reply right between the eyes.

Caiaphas gets more than he has bargained for. Not only does Jesus claim to be the Messiah; he applies messianic prophesy to himself. “In the future [lit., “from now on”] you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God…” is a clear reference to Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1, two of the most obviously messianic texts of the OT. These verses will be fulfilled literally when Jesus comes back to earth. But from the day that Jesus is crucified, he will not reveal himself to the Jewish leaders incarnationally anymore. Any glimpse they get of Jesus after that day will be the majestic, nonincarnational Christ.

Mt 26:65-68 with Mk 14:64-65; Lk 22:63-64 65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. 66What do you think? {They all condemned him.MK} He is worthy of death, they answered.

67Then they {[t]he men who were guarding Jesus,LK} spit in his face, {blindfolded himMK} and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him 68and said {demanded,LK} Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you? {The guards took him and beat him.MK}

Lk 22:65 65And they said many other insulting things to him.

This kind of talk sends Caiaphas into orbit. His fury at such “blasphemy” is fueled by delight — he finally has an excuse to kill Jesus. He tears his robe (a typical Jewish gesture of consternation either of sadness or anger: Gen 37:29; 2 Kgs 18:37; Judg 14:19; Acts 14:14). He shouts to his peers that Jesus had blasphemed. In Caiaphas’ mind, such blatant blasphemy overrides any need for proper jurisprudence. They need no more witnesses, no more formalities, no more legalities. They gave Jesus enough rope and he hanged himself. All that’s left for them to do is kick the stool out from under his feet. The other counsel members present agree with Caiaphas.

Literally, blasphemy is reviling God. This can be done by bringing God down to the human level by criticism or accusations. Or it can be done by elevating yourself to God’s level, thus making a human equal to God. This is what they accuse Jesus of doing. In their minds Jesus has scandalized God by making himself equal to God. Now, if Jesus is not who he claims to be, he deserves to die as a blasphemer according to the OT (Lev 24:10-23). But if Jesus is who he claims to be, these men are about to make a galactic mistake.

Convinced of Jesus’ guilt, they feel perfectly justified in roughing him up a bit. The guards surrounding Jesus spit in his face and begin to slap him around and perhaps even beat him with billy-clubs. Then they blindfold him and punch him in the face. It is kind of a game they played which might be called “Pop the Prophet.” Mocking him, they demand that he reveal which one of them hit him. Beyond the beating and the extended ridicule, Peter adds to Jesus’ suffering by denying him.


Section 156 – Peter’s Denials (Mt 26:58, 69-75; Mk 14:54, 66-72; Lk 22:54b-62; Jn 18:15-18, 25-27)

Trying to harmonize this event is a mess! All four Gospels represent different people talking to Peter. And all four evangelists intermix the narrative of Jesus’ trial inside the palace and Peter’s trial in the courtyard. As a result many of the verses describing Peter’s denial are separated from each other. This does not mean, however, that this story is merely a literary product nor does it mean that all four evangelists do not represent the events accurately. Consider these things: (1) There are two major events taking place here at the same time, one with Jesus and one with Peter. Thus one might expect a “soap-opera effect” when retelling the story. That is, they switch from one scene to another and then back again. (2) Out in the courtyard there was little light. Aside from the Passover moon all you had was the dim light of a charcoal fire with perhaps a few torches off to the side. It was difficult for the servants to see Peter. In fact, they finally identify him clearly not by sight but by his Galilean accent. If they find it difficult to see Peter surely he and John would find it difficult to clearly identify who exactly was speaking. (3) Furthermore, there were likely several people speaking at once. Thus, two evangelists might identify two different speakers and both be right. For instance, Luke says a man made the second accusation while Matthew and Mark identify a slave girl. And Mark says it was the same girl who made the second accusation while Matthew says it was a different one. John identifies a relative of Malchus who made the third accusation while Matthew and Mark say the whole group charged him. It is entirely possible that they are all correct. (4) This incident was an embarrassment to Peter and his friend John. It is not the kind of thing they would want to talk about in great detail. Perhaps their reticence to talk about it resulted in the paucity of details we now have.

We do have divergent (but not contradictory) details. The fact that this event was an embarrassment to Peter, and thus the church at large, lends credibility to its historicity. In other words, who is going to invent a story like this?! Furthermore, the confusion of detail is just what one would expect from an event on such a night as this, filled with tragedy, veiled in darkness and bathed in tears.

Yet we must not overlook the details that are consistent through each of the four Gospels. First, the confrontation with Peter began with a slave girl. The great Apostle, the manly fisherman, fell prey to fear, intimidated by a teeny-bopper doorkeeper. Second, there is Jesus. While he is on trial inside, getting beat up by diabolical men, Peter, out in the courtyard, is being sifted by Satan. Both trials are going badly but for very different reasons. Third, there is the fire. Specifically it was a heap of burning charcoal. Hence, it gave little light. There were dark shadows cast across the courtyard of the high priest that night. It was quite symbolic of the spiritual condition shrouding that palace. Finally, there is the rooster, a clarion reminder that Jesus is still in control. Although his crows were a horrific sound for Peter, they echo the sovereignty of God.

Jn 18:15-17 with Mt 26:58; Mk 14:54; Lk 22:54 15Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus {at a distance.MT, MK, LK} Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.

17You are not one of his disciples, are you? the girl at the door asked Peter.

He replied, I am not.

Although Peter flees from Gethsemane he doesn’t go far. Ducking behind buildings and shrubs, Peter follows at a distance with another disciple. It is almost certainly John. (1) Peter and John were known to spend a lot of time together (Jn 13:23-24; 20:2-3; Acts 3:1-2; 8:14). (2) John characteristically doesn’t mention himself in his Gospel. Surely he is the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2-3; 21:20, 24). (3) There were likely priestly ties in his family which may have allowed him access to the high priest’s house.

While John is able to march right in, Peter is held up outside the gate. John goes out, talks to the girl at the door and then ushers Peter in. On his way inside she gets a good, up-close look at him and asks if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. She thinks she recognizes him; besides, he is with John. That’s a dead giveaway. The NIV has translated her question well. This English phrase (v. 17), like the Greek original, expects a negative answer. Although the question calls for Peter to say “No,” she knows better and refuses to let it go. At this point, Peter’s motives may not be to save his own skin but to gain access to the palace in order to be near Jesus or perhaps even to effect his escape.

Jn 18:18 with Mt 26:58, 69; Mk 14:54, 66; Lk 22:55 18It was cold, and the servants and officials stood {satMT, MK, LK} around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing {sittingMT/seatedLK} with them, warming himself.

Mk 14:66-68 with Lk 22:56-57; Mt 26:70 66While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter {in the firelightLK} warming himself, she looked closely at him.

{This man was with him.LK} You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus, she said. 68But he denied it {before them all.MT} {Woman, I don’t know him.LK} I don’t know or understand what you re talking about, he said, and went out into the entryway.

The spring air in Jerusalem, at 2,600’ above sea level, can get pretty chilly at night. So the servants and officials stoke up a charcoal fire [anthrakian] and sit around narrating their “heroic capture” of this villain. There must have been much speculation flipped around the fire as to what would come of all this. Perhaps they even mention the eleven fugitives that they allowed to escape. Peter gets close enough to the fire to absorb the heat but is surely careful not to allow the glowing embers to illuminate his face. Some of them sit near the coals, others stand around the perimeter. They alternate positions as they get too warm or if their knees get tired from crouching. This may explain why John says they were standing and why the Synoptics say they were sitting.

While Peter huddles among the crowd around the fire, a slave girl approaches him again. It is likely the same girl who has been watching the gate. After thinking about it for a while and then watching Peter from a distance she can’t let it go. She comes over to him and gets a better look at his face, orange with the glow of the embers. He squirms as she stares at him. Finally she blurts it out: “This man was with him!” You know she is no friend of the Jesus band by the way she refers to the Lord, “That Nazarene, Jesus” (Mk 14:67). Now the little twit is raising the suspicion of all the servants and officials in the courtyard. The situation around the fire is too hot to handle so Peter categorically and repeatedly denies knowing Jesus, pleads total ignorance, and then excuses himself. He will feel a bit more comfortable at the gate of the courtyard. It’s not so well lit, it’s away from the gawking group of servants, and it’s near the easiest escape route from the palace just in case things get out of hand.

Mk 14:69 with Mt 26:71; Lk 22:58 69When the {anotherMT} servant girl saw him there {a little later,LK} she said again to those standing around, This fellow is one of them {with Jesus of Nazareth.MT}

Mt 26:72 72He denied it again, with an oath: I don’t know the man!

Lk 22:59 with Mt 26:73 59About an hour later another {those standing near went up to Peter andMT} asserted, Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean. {Your accent gives you away.MT}

Jn 18:26 26One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?

Mk 14:71-72 71He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, I don’t know this man you re talking about.

72Immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

Lk 22:61-62 with Mk 14:72 61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: Before the rooster crows today {twice ,MK} you will disown me three times. 62And he went outside, {broke downMK} and wept bitterly.

Apparently Peter had a reprieve at the gate, but it was short lived. Another servant girl notices him and she too calls attention to the whole group, “Hey look what I found! It’s one of Jesus’ disciples.” This time Peter denies it more vehemently, even swearing with an oath that he doesn’t know Jesus.

The crowd around the fire isn’t all that intent on pursuing Peter. But after about an hour, when they had talked it over, and after getting a good long look at him in the shadows, several of the men decide to go have a chat with this fellow. That pretty much settled the issue in their minds. Their questions (expecting a negative answer) now become bold assertions: “You are a disciple of Jesus!” After all, they could tell by his accent that he was a hillbilly from the northern country. Then one of Malchus’ relatives confirmed it as an eyewitness, “Yes, I do know you! I saw you in the garden when you took a swipe at Malchus.”

Things are now looking rather desperate. His cover is blown. This calls for drastic measures. Peter calls down curses on himself [anatbematizō]! Essentially he swears on the penalty of hell that he doesn’t know Jesus. But he is interrupted by a rooster… just two crows. It snaps Peter out of his hypnotic desertion. At that moment he glances inside the room where Jesus is being tried. Their eyes lock. He sees Jesus’ swollen and bloodied face. But by the look in his eyes, Peter knows that none of those blows hurt quite so deeply as what Peter has just done to him. Then, like a cannon blast, the words of Jesus ring inside his head, “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” He has denied his Lord! He has fallen, and is a broken man. He runs out into the darkness, breaks down and weeps bitterly. This marks the end for Peter. In a way, it is. He will never again be the same.


Section 157 – Phase #3: The Sanhedrin (Mt 27:1; Mk 15:1a; Lk 22:66-71)

Luke is the only Gospel to record this third phase in detail. In fact, Matthew 27:1 and Mark 15:1 could easily be seen as the conclusion to phase two rather than a separate third phase. Furthermore, Luke does not record the first two phases of the trial at all. This has led some to say that phase 2 (Matthew & Mark) and phase 3 (Luke) are one and the same (compare Lk 22:67-71 & Mt 26:63-66), and that there are only five phases rather than six. While this is possible, it still appears that Jesus was led before the whole council at daybreak, probably in their official meeting place, the hall of Gazith. They wanted to try and make this whole messy business look as proper as possible before they led Jesus to Pilate.


Lk 22:66-71 with Mk 15:1; Mt 27:1 66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, {the whole Sanhedrin,MK} met together, and Jesus was led before them. {[They] came to the decision to put Jesus to death.MT}67 If you are the Christ, they said, tell us.

Jesus answered, If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.

70They all asked, Are you then the Son of God?

He replied, You are right in saying I am.

71Then they said, Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.

It must have been about 5:30-6:00 a.m. Jesus is led to the Sanhedrin. Most of its members have been involved in the arrest and preliminary hearings (Mt 26:59; Mk 14:55). There still may have been a few members, especially those with “pro-Jesus” leanings, who missed the “goings on” of the previous evening. They will now have to be brought into the loop for this “rubber-stamp” conviction to make it official. Even if a few vote “nay” or withhold their verdict, there is no doubt the majority will support the foregone conclusion that Jesus must die. Caiaphas and his cronies have this one all but in the bag.

The Sanhedrin was the high court of the land, much like the Supreme Court of America. There were seventy members who sat in three semicircles with the defendant in the middle. They had the right to proclaim a death sentence but were not allowed to execute capital punishment (except in matters of temple violation). Any verdict of execution will have to be passed on to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Since Roman governors generally entertained new cases only early in the morning, this decision to kill Jesus must be reached “posthaste.” This trial will be short and sweet. Perhaps this can account for the brevity of our narrative on this third phase. It could also explain why the Sanhedrin covers the same ground as Caiaphas. After all, this is what solicited Jesus’ “blasphemous” confession the first time. If it worked once, surely it would work again.

Jesus is again asked to incriminate himself (cf. Mt 26:63-66; Mk 14:61-64). Jesus answers in much the same way he did before. He points out what a farce this hearing was. Their questions are not designed to discern the truth but to trap Jesus. Furthermore, if Jesus were to ask any questions of them, they will refuse to answer. Therefore, the examination is bogus and the cross-examination impossible. The trial is a sham!

Unlike Caiaphas’ earlier question (Mt 26:63), the Sanhedrin asks separately if Jesus believes he is the Messiah and if he believes he is the Son of God. Instead of just coming right out and saying “Yes,” Jesus says, “You’ll see.” When the Christ comes in the clouds with all his angels, there will be no doubt that he is who he claims to be. From this point on (v. 69) Jesus’ enemies will no longer see the incarnate Christ. Any glimpse they get of him, whether in visions (Acts 9:1-5; Rev 1:12-16) or in vindication (Lk 21:27), will be of the glorified Christ. This is a bold assertion.

This leads to their second question: “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus responds boldly and clearly: “It is as you say.” Their response is predictable; we’ve already seen it in Caiaphas. They all decide to have Jesus put to death. What an irony! The Sanhedrin finally procures the evidence needed to condemn Jesus. Yet this is also the evidence needed to believe in him. By condemning Jesus to death, the Sanhedrin condemns itself to ultimate unbelief.

Jesus must now be handed over to Pilate. The problem is that Pilate is uninterested in their accusation of blasphemy. That is not enough to get Jesus executed by the Romans. So the last bit of business for the Sanhedrin is to trump up some Roman charges that are serious enough to get Pilate’s attention. They come up with three: (1) He subverts the nation (i.e., causes riots), (2) refuses to pay taxes, and (3) claims to be a king (Lk 23:2).


Section 158 – Suicide of Judas Iscariot (Mt 27:3-10; Ac 1:18-19)

Matthew and Luke are the only two evangelists to record Judas’ suicide. Luke reserves it for his second volume. In Acts this pericope proves the need for an apostolic “replacement” for one who abandoned his role. In Matthew, it serves to contrast the terrible end of Judas with the righteous suffering of Jesus. It also serves as a warning of the terrible consequences of rejecting Jesus. Just as Peter’s denial “interrupts” the narrative of Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas, so Judas’ suicide “interrupts” Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Again Matthew uses this “soap-opera” style for these simultaneous scenes.

Mt 27:3-8 with Ac 1:18-19 3When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4I have sinned, he said, for I have betrayed innocent blood.

What is that to us? they replied. That’s your responsibility.

5So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. {There he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.AC} 6The chief priests picked up the coins and said, It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money. 7So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8{Everyone in Jerusalem heard about thisAC} That is why it has been called {in their language Akeldama, that isAC} the Field of Blood to this day.

The inevitable verdict of the Sanhedrin has finally and officially been announced. We’re not told how or why Judas is privy to this announcement. But we do know that it breaks his spirit. He feels terrible about what happened [metamelomai]. Perhaps he never expected Jesus to actually be condemned. He may have thought that Jesus would overpower them as he had done before or that the people would rise to his rescue. Perhaps Judas didn’t think at all about what the consequences might be and is now overwhelmed by the result of his actions. He would not be the first (or last) person to be blinded by greed. It is good and right for him to feel bad, but that is a far cry from biblical repentance.

When Judas tries to “undo” his deed by returning the money, it is too little too late. This is a significant gesture for a man who loves money as much as Judas did. The chief priests show how little they cared about Judas or about the truth. Try as he might, Judas couldn’t stop what he has started.

So, in one last spiteful gesture, he throws the money into the temple. Now the temple is a big place so it may be difficult to pinpoint just where the coins landed. One good possibility is that he threw it back into the treasury [korbanas, a cognate of the word korban (see comments on Mt 15:5)], where the chief priests said blood money could not go. A more colorful possibility is that he threw it into the holy place [naos]. Of course no one but the priests were allowed in there. But Judas considers himself a dead man already, damned by God (Deut 21:23; Acts 1:20), so he would have few qualms about defiling the holy place, especially after how he was just treated by the chief priests. This supposition also respects Matthew’s distinction between the temple compound [hieron] and the temple proper [naos].

Judas runs out of the temple to the potter’s field where he commits suicide. Afterward the field is used as a burial plot and renamed “The Field of Blood” (“Akeldama” in Aramaic). Whether that was because it was a cemetery, because Judas died there, or because it was purchased with blood money makes little difference since all three of them are related. According to tradition, this field was on the south side of the city, on the steep hill overlooking the valley of Hinnom (i.e., Gehenna). It was a useless piece of ground where the potters of the city would come gather their clay.

We must now settle two discrepancies. First, why does Matthew say that chief priests purchased the field when Luke says that Iscariot purchased it? Answer: Luke is using “shorthand.” Since the field was purchased with Judas’ money, the sale is credited to him (posthumously) even though the chief priests actually did the paperwork. Second, why does Matthew say he hanged himself when Luke says that he fell and burst open? Is it not possible that both are true? The potter’s field is on the side of a steep hill. When Judas hanged himself, if the knot failed or if the branch broke (perhaps as a result of the earthquake), he could have fallen to a grisly death. A second more gruesome option is that he hanged himself on Friday morning and wasn’t found until after the Sabbath. In the hot Palestinian sun he could have bloated and subsequently fallen with gruesome results.


Mt 27:9-10 9Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.

This prophecy presents some difficulty. The words most closely resemble Zechariah 11:12-13. But Matthew attributes the prophecy to Jeremiah. Now, there are some verbal similarities to Jeremiah 32:6-16 and 18:2-3, but these passages aren’t talking about the same thing. So how are we to understand this prophetic fulfillment? A number of “solutions” have been proposed (cf. Carson, pp. 562-566). (1) Matthew made a mistake. (2) Matthew is citing the OT section which is headed by Jeremiah rather than the specific book from which the prophecy comes. (3) There is a textual variant, with weak support, which uses “Zechariah” rather than “Jeremiah.” (4) Some have gone so far as to say that Matthew followed a lost portion of Jeremiah or that Jeremiah was actually the author of Zechariah 9-11. None of these solutions, however, are satisfying.

Carson presents a more reasonable solution. Instead of looking for verbal correspondence (word by word), we should look for correspondence of ideas (thought by thought). Furthermore, we should analyze Matthew’s use of these ideas through typological exegesis so common in Matthew’s work. Here’s what we find. The thoughts of Matthew 27:9-10 correspond to Jeremiah 19:1-13. Here Jeremiah is ordered by the Lord to purchase a clay jar from the potter. He is to take it, along with the priests and elders, to the valley of Hinnom. There he is to smash the jar on the ground as a symbol of what God was about to do to Jerusalem because of its idolatry and disobedience. Furthermore, Matthew not only uses the ideas of Jeremiah 19:1-13 but the words of Zechariah 11:12-13. When he combines the two passages he only gives credit to the more prominent one (cf. Mk 1:2 citing Isa 40:3 & Mal 3:1). This comes as no great surprise.

Now for the meaning of the prophecy. When we take the ideas from Jeremiah 19, couched in the words from Zechariah 11, and apply them typologically in Matthew 27, we come up with something like this: The shepherds of God’s people were corrupt. In fact, they devalued God’s true shepherd to thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave (Exod 21:32). Instead of purchasing independence, their “dirty money” purchased punishment and death. What’s worse, not only did the leaders of Israel reject God, so did the people. Instead of following the ones God sent to them (Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Jesus), they followed corrupt leaders and paid dearly for that mistake.


Section 159 – Phase #4: Pilate (Mt 27:2, 11-14; Mk 15:1b-5; Lk 23:1-5; Jn 18:28-38)

The Sanhedrin has rubber-stamped Jesus’ death sentence. They’ve trumped up several charges acceptable to a Roman tribunal. They are now ready to lead him to Pilate. Normally Pilate resided in Caesarea. But during the feasts he would often come to Jerusalem to keep a close eye on the explosive Jewish population.

[JN 18:]28Then the Jews {the whole assembly rose andLK} {bound [him and]MT, MK} led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor, {Pilate.MT, MK, LK} By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.

Jesus is tied up and led from the Hall of Gazith to the governor’s palace. We’re not exactly sure where that was. It could have been in the Tower of Antonia on the northwest corner of the temple compound where the Roman garrison was stationed. A more likely spot, however, is Herod the Great’s old palace on the west side of the city. Pilate often stayed there when he came to town. If Pilate is in Herod’s palace, that would explain why Jesus is transferred so quickly to and from Herod. After all, Herod, no doubt, would also stay in this same palace when he visited Jerusalem.

Our ancient sources are even less flattering to Pilate than the Gospels. He was a self-seeking political opportunist who disdained the Jews. He was procurator of Palestine which gave him absolute power of life and death. The only court higher would be Caesar, and appeal to the emperor was reserved for Roman citizens. Upon entering office, he wanted to flatter Emperor Tiberius by hanging shields in the temple compound which had the emperor’s picture on them. The Jews were appalled. When they arrived at Pilate’s palace in Caesarea (several hundred strong) and asked him to remove the shields, not only did Pilate refuse, but he threatened to have them killed if they didn’t leave. Far from being intimidated, the Jews laid on the ground and exposed their necks for slaughter. Fortunately, Pilate realized that such a massacre would end his political career (if not his life) and granted the Jews’ request. Later, Pilate wanted to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem. He confiscated money from the temple treasury for the project. This infuriated the Jews to riot. But this time Pilate refused to back down. Obviously the emperor was well aware of these incidents and the tension between the Jews and Pilate. To make matters worse, there were rumors floating around Rome that Pilate was an accomplice in some of the uprisings against the emperor. Now, the rumors were likely not true. But Pilate was, nonetheless, being carefully watched by Rome. All this resulted in undue leverage for the Sanhedrin to coerce Pilate into executing an innocent man.

The Jewish leaders escort Jesus to the Praetorium but refuse to enter themselves lest they be defiled. If they came in contact with a Gentile, idolater, unclean foods, or any number of other such items which abounded in a pagan’s household, they would not be able to celebrate the Passover. Now, according to the chronology outlined in § 143, the Passover meal was eaten on Thursday evening. It is now Friday morning. Is there a discrepancy between the Synoptics? We think not! The Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread lasted for seven days. On Friday there was another important meal called the Chagigah, “the leaders.” These Sanhedrinites would not want to miss it. What is striking about this verse is that these men are so scrupulous about the religious observances and so corrupt in their judicial practices at the same time (Mt 12:9-14; 15:1-9; 23:23; 28:12-13).

Jn 18:29-32 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, What charges are you bringing against this man?

30If he were not a criminal, they replied, we would not have handed him over to you.

31Pilate said, Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.

But we have no right to execute anyone, the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Lk 23:2 2And they began to accuse him, saying, We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.

This scene is incredible! These men are asking Pilate to condemn Jesus without so much as raising a charge against him. They want Pilate to rely on their own Jewish judicial process. He is not about to fall for it.

Surely Pilate is aware that a major arrest has taken place the night before. It was likely that Pilate’s own troops apprehended Jesus in Gethsemane. What Pilate is not aware of is that the Sanhedrin wants an execution. So when Pilate says, “Take him yourself,” they respond, “We can’t! Rome has stripped us of our authority for capital punishment.” That must have stopped Pilate’s pulse for just a second.

The Sanhedrin may feel that they have been constricted by Rome. The truth is, this whole scenario has been designed by God. It was he who said that the Messiah was to be crucified (Ps 22), as a cursed sin offering (Deut 21:23, Gal 3:13). Jesus knew that and predicted it (Mt 20:19; 26:2; Jn 12:32-33). Had he been executed by the Jews, he would have been stoned. However, the Roman method of execution for foreigners and traitors was crucifixion.

The Jews bring three specific charges against Jesus. (1) He subverts the nation. Now, if they could show that Jesus caused riots then Pilate would take this charge seriously. The Roman empire was so huge that they were constantly stamping out little rebellions. Consequently, they took a no-nonsense approach to rebel leaders. Furthermore, Palestine was one of the most difficult pockets to govern. Hence, this charge alone could have gotten Jesus killed. However, when Pilate sees the mild disposition of Jesus, resigned to his inevitable suffering, and contrasts that with the boisterous, demanding leaders, it is clear who is the cause of the riots. (2) They say Jesus opposes paying taxes to Caesar. That is such an obvious lie that Pilate doesn’t even touch it. Just three days earlier in the temple, in front of hundreds of witnesses, Jesus commanded the payment of taxes to Caesar (Mt 22:21). (3) Jesus claims to be the Christ, a king. That is the most serious charge, for there is only one king allowed in this empire and that is the emperor. Anyone else who makes such a claim would be executed for sedition. While it is true that Jesus claimed to be king, it doesn’t take Pilate very long to discover that Jesus’ kingdom poses no political threat to Rome.


Jn 18:33-38a 33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, Are you the king of the Jews?

34Is that your own idea, Jesus asked, or did others talk to you about me?

35Am I a Jew? Pilate replied. It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?

36Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.

37You are a king, then! said Pilate.

Jesus answered, You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

38What is truth? Pilate asked.

Pilate, in typical Roman judicial form, interviews the defendant. He begins with the most serious charge. (It turns out to be the only serious charge.) Jesus’ response (v. 34) is not flippant. The verdict will hinge on the definition of the term “king” and Jesus must determine whose definition Pilate is using. While Pilate was wanting a “yes” or “no” answer, either one would have been incomplete and therefore deceptive.

Pilate appears to be a little edgy from the “get-go.” Why shouldn’t he be? He has had nothing but trouble from the Jews. His response is basically this: “Now look, your own people delivered you to me. Now work with me on this! Tell me what you’ve done to upset them.” So Jesus does. He answers both questions Pilate has asked up to this point: “Are you a king?” and “What have you done?” Answer: “I’ve established a spiritual kingdom.”

Now that Jesus and Pilate are on the same page, Jesus freely admits, “Yes, I am that kind of a king!” Here the trial turns evangelistic! Jesus, as he has done so many times before, testifies to who he is and where he came from and attempts to get Pilate to listen to truth. But he is too sophisticated and cynical for any of that! He shuts Jesus off by asking a critical question which he doesn’t even allow Jesus to answer. How different this trial could have been had Pilate listened. How different his own life could have been; how different his mark on history.

Jn 18:38b with Lk 23:4 With this he went out again to the Jews {chief priests and the crowdLK} and said, I find no basis for a charge against him.

Mt 27:12-14 with Mk 15:4 12When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13Then Pilate asked him, Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you? {Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.MK} 14But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge to the great amazement of the governor.

Lk 23:5 5But they insisted, He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.

John 18:38 records Pilate’s second of ten attempts to release Jesus. When he goes out to the courtyard where the Jews are awaiting a verdict, he plainly tells them, “The man is innocent!” That isn’t what they want to hear and they throw a fit [epischyon]. They pester, demand, and threaten Pilate until he finally gives in.

They begin by laying one accusation after another against Jesus. He is as silent then as he had been before Caiaphas. This amazes Pilate. But what can Jesus say to change their minds? He has already addressed their major accusations. There is no reason to waste his breath, and it was predicted that he wouldn’t (Isa 53:7).


Section 160 – Phase #5: Herod (Lk 23:6-12)

Only Luke mentions this incident. We are not surprised for he shows more interest in politics than the other evangelists. Furthermore, Luke has already mentioned Herod on several different occasions (Lk 3:1; 9:7-9; 13:31). It is an interesting and unusual encounter when the king of the Jews meets the King of kings.

Lk 23:6-12 6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. 7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle. 9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12That day Herod and Pilate became friends before this they had been enemies.

While the chief priests are shouting venomous accusations at Jesus, one of them says, “He started all this in Galilee and it has slithered all the way down here!” Bells and whistles go off in Pilate’s mind. Galilee was not his jurisdiction. That area is governed by Herod Antipas who just happens to be in Jerusalem for the Passover.

How fortunate all this is for Pilate! Herod is a convert to Judaism and appointed by Rome as a ruler of the Jews. He would be more familiar with Jewish legalities and more accepted by the Jewish populace to try this case. Here’s Pilate’s chance to rid himself of this political hot potato. In addition, he and Herod have been political rivals up to this point (perhaps vying for power with Rome). This conciliatory move by Pilate seals their friendship afterwards.

Jesus is escorted by the guards to Herod. They don’t have too far to go if Pilate and Herod are both staying in the palace of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas is eager to see Jesus for several reasons. First, he had attracted much attention in Galilee and Perea, some of which had been misconstrued as political aspirations. Herod is eager to ask him about his intentions but he hasn’t been able to catch up with this traveling evangelist (Lk 13:32). Especially in these last twelve months, Jesus has moved quickly and laid low much of the time. Second, Herod had murdered Jesus’ relative and forerunner, John the Baptist. Being superstitious, he assumed that John’s spirit had empowered Jesus to perform miracles (Mt 14:2; 16:14). Third, out of crass curiosity, he wants to watch one of Jesus’ miracles to see if they are as impressive as people say they are.

Not only does Jesus refuse to entertain Herod with a miracle, he won’t even talk to the man! Oddly enough, this “Jewish” Edomite is the only person in the Gospels that Jesus refuses to talk to. His silence continues (Isa 53:7), even before Herod. Herod’s last chance to repent had been at the preaching of John the Baptist, which he himself cut short.

The chief priests follow Jesus, spewing charges as they go. Herod grills Jesus who just stands there in stoic silence. Such a response (or lack of it) infuriates Herod. So he delivers Jesus to his guards to “toy” with him. Herod himself joins in the abuse and mockery. Such behavior is well beneath a king and betrays his lowly character. In fact, it is possibly Herod’s own expensive garment which is placed on Jesus’ back. Perhaps he says something like “Well, if you are the king of the Jews, you ought to dress like one. Here, let me help.” When they have exhausted the entertainment afforded by such derision, they send Jesus back to Pilate, much to Pilate’s chagrin.


Section 161 – & 162 Phase #6: Pilate (Mt 27:15-30; Mk 15:6-20a; Lk 23:13-25; Jn 18:39-19:16a)

[LK 23:]13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.

Pilate’s heart surely sinks when he sees Jesus returning from Herod. He wears a royal robe of mockery, but there is no guilty verdict. There are only accusations from the chief priests who continue to trail Jesus through these trials. Pilate assembles these leaders and says, “Now look, you have accused him of sedition. You’ve watched and listened as we interrogated him. But neither Herod nor I have found any substance to your allegations.”

Pilate knows that the Jews will never for a minute allow Jesus off “scot-free.” So he attempts to take the middle ground — beat him up real good and then let him go. Pilate is attempting to gain clemency through pity.

Mk 15:6-10 with Mt 27:15-17 6Now it was the {governor’sMT} custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7{At that time they had a notorious prisoner,MT} A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9Do you want me to release to you {Barabbas, orMT} the king of the Jews, {Jesus who is called ChristMT}? asked Pilate, 10knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.

Up to this point, the primary movers and shakers of this trial have been the Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin. It now appears that another crowd has shown up on Pilate’s doorstep. They are Jewish citizens, probably most of whom live in Jerusalem. They’ve not come specifically for Jesus’ trial. In fact, very few know about it outside the Apostles and the Sanhedrin. This group comes to ask Pilate to release a prisoner in celebration of the Passover. It is a mystery just when and how this custom developed. Nonetheless, it would certainly endear Pilate to the Jews (which he badly needed). It also affords Pilate yet another opportunity to try to release Jesus.

Pilate is well aware, through his informants, that Jesus is an immensely popular man. Surely Jesus did not escape his notice at the Feast of Tabernacles six months ago or the Feast of Dedication three months ago. Surely Pilate is acutely aware of the Triumphal Entry, cleansing of the temple and the day of discussions on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday of this week. The bottom line is this: The crowds love Jesus. Pilate knows this and is now going to attempt to turn the populace against their leaders.

Pilate gives them a choice: Jesus or Barabbas. That’s not a choice between good and bad. To many in this crowd, Barabbas would be a hero as an insurrectionist against Rome. Although the NIV says he was “notorious,” the word could also be understood as “noted” or “famous” (cf. Rom 16:7). It describes a person who was well-known whether it was for good or bad. He is called an insurrectionist (Lk 23:19), a murderer (Lk 23:19) and a robber (Jn 18:40). Most likely what we have here is someone who opposed Rome by plundering and even killing Roman soldiers and collaborators. It is interesting that the two other criminals crucified with Jesus are also described as “robbers” [lēstēs] like Barabbas. It is entirely possible that they are partners with Barabbas and that the three of them were already scheduled for crucifixion that day. If this is the case, then Jesus took Barabbas’ place. Now that would be an odd turn of events. Jesus, the Son of God, takes the place of Barabbas, whose name means, “the son of a father.”

While most of the crowd will be pleased with either option, Pilate is sure they will choose Jesus over Barabbas. After all, the people love Jesus; it’s the Jewish leaders who hate him. Pilate sees through the veneer of their false accusations to the deep envy which motivates their castigation of the Christ. Envy was not merely a vice according to Hellenistic moral philosophy, it was a social construct within the broader values of shame/honor. By the very nature of things, one only envies those of equal status. Thus, Jesus is recognized as a peer with these religious elites. They attempt to reduce Jesus’ status (and thus increase their own) by murdering him.

Mt 27:19-21 with Mk 15:11 19While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him. 20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded {stirred upMK} the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.21 Which of the two do you want me to release to you? asked the governor.

Lk 23:18 18With one voice they cried out, Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!

The trial is interrupted by an urgent message from Pilate’s wife. She warns him not to get tangled up with Jesus because he is innocent. The night before she had a nightmare about him. Perhaps it was prompted by hearing that her husband dispatched a cohort to arrest Jesus at the request of the Jews. Whatever prompted it, the Romans interpreted dreams as messages from the gods. Pilate, as a superstitious man, must be deeply moved by this communique which confirms what he has already unequivocally stated several times: Jesus is innocent. The dream would also start Pilate thinking that this execution involved more than the affairs of men.

The crowds, stirred by their leaders, begin to shout: “Away with this man!” That must have taken Pilate aback. They were shouting for him on Sunday and against him on Friday. How could this fickle crowd turn so quickly? First, the two crowds were not entirely the same. The majority of this crowd would have been Jerusalemites while the crowd on Sunday was primarily pilgrims coming up to Jerusalem. We have already seen at the Feast of Dedication (Jn 7) that the majority of the Jerusalemites were against Jesus while the majority of the pilgrims were for him. Second, the crowds supported Jesus as a political Messiah. Right now he doesn’t look too much like a triumphant king, vanquishing the oppressive Roman empire. That may have quickly turned them off. Third, most commoners would buckle under the face-to-face pressure of these prominent leaders. These were desperate times, charged with emotion. These reactionary people were easily moved to action, whether right or wrong.

Lk 23:20-22 with Mt 27:22-23; Mk 15:12-14 20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. {What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ, king of the Jews?MT, MK} 21But they kept shouting, Crucify him! Crucify him! 22For the third time he spoke to them: Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him. {But they shouted all the louder, Crucify him! MT, MK}

The judicial process has long since broken down. Reason is out the window. Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus through Herod and through Barabbas have failed. The leaders are more fervent than ever, and now the crowds have jumped on their bandwagon. Yet Pilate is more convinced than ever that Jesus is innocent and may even suspect that “the gods” are involved in this contest. Pilate wants, in the worst way, to let Jesus go. But things look pretty grim.

He now returns to his earlier plan (Lk 23:16), to beat Jesus soundly and hope for pity from the people. When he announces this to the crowd, they object all the louder. With one voice they chant: “Crucify him!”

Jn 19:1 1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.

Mt 27:27 with Mk 15:16 27Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium {palaceMK} and gathered the whole company of soldiers around.

Jn 19:2-3 with Mt 27:28-29 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They {stripped him andMT} clothed him in a purple {scarletMT} robe 3and went up to him again and again, {and knelt in front of him and mocked himMT} saying, Hail, king of the Jews! And they struck him in the face.

Mk 15:19 19Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.

Jn 19:4-5 4Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him. 5When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, Here is the man!

Mk 15:20a 20And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him.

Jesus is whisked back inside the Praetorium under guard. All the soldiers on duty from that cohort join in the attack. Flogging was a gruesome punishment which these soldiers seemed to enjoy. Their inhumane and indecent treatment of Jesus springs not so much from anger at him personally, but at his people who had caused so much trouble for the Romans. To these soldiers, who are merely peace-keeping forces in an occupied territory, all this was mere sport. Like a cat who has caught a mouse, the joy is not in the kill but in the torture of its victim.

Flogging was such a horrible punishment that it was illegal to flog Roman citizens without a direct edict from the Caesar. The victim was tied to a post or hung from a wall. Either method drew the muscles taut across the victim’s back. The soldier would then use a flagellum, also called a “cat of nine tails.” It was a short wooden stick with (often) nine thong strands attached to it. At the end of each strand was tied something sharp (e.g., bone, metal, glass), or metal balls. The purpose was not to lash out quickly so as to inflict welts. Rather, the soldier would attempt to rake the victim’s back with the sharp objects, literally shredding the muscles of the back, buttocks and legs. The Jews limited the lashes to thirty-nine. The Romans, however, were hindered only by their animosity and endurance. So much muscle was left shredded and hanging that the victim’s vertebrae were exposed and sometimes even his intestines. Often the “tails” would whip around the victim’s face, gouging out his eyes.

It is not surprising then, that flogging alone was lethal about six out of ten times. Those that survived were usually carried out on a stretcher with permanent mutilation.

Even after all this, the soldiers’ thirst for blood is not satisfied. They find a thorny branch and weave it into a mock crown, imitating the coronation wreath of Roman leaders. They place it on his head, then press it down on his brow. The pain from this would be minimal compared to what he has already suffered. There are not an abundance of nerve endings in the forehead, but there are many capillaries. The result would be a bloody mess which would mat Jesus’ hair, fill his ears, and cloud his vision.

The mock coronation continues. Jesus is stripped (a shameful experience for a modest Jew), and dressed in a purple robe, most likely an old faded military cape. They put a rod in his hand to imitate a ruler’s staff. Then the soldiers come up one at a time to pay their homage to him. They kneel before him and mockingly say, “Hail, king of the Jews!” They rise, spit in his face, slap him upside the head, grab the rod from his hand and used it to drive the crown of thorns deeper into his brow.

When the soldiers are finished with him, Jesus is returned to the governor. Pilate goes out to the clamoring crowd and again affirms Jesus’ innocence. Then with a dramatic flair he calls for the bloody spectacle. Surely this is enough to solicit their pity…. But it isn’t. Against all humanity and sensibility, as if controlled by a Satanic spell of hatred, they shout all the more, “Crucify him!”

The blood from Jesus’ back begins to coagulate in the fiber of the purple cloak. When they bring Jesus back inside, the soldiers callously rip the robe from his back, opening afresh the gaping wounds of the flogging. They return to him his simple garb, the cloak and tunic of a Palestinian peasant.


Lk 23:20-22 with Mt 27:22-23; Mk 15:12-14 But Pilate answered, You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.

7The Jews insisted, We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

8When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9and he went back inside the palace. Where do you come from? he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10Do you refuse to speak to me? Pilate said. Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?

11Jesus answered, You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.

Pilate is frustrated and wants no part of this messy business. Snidely he says, “You take him and crucify him.” The fact is, they cannot legally do that. That’s Pilate’s point: “This is nothing more than a lynching, and I want no part of it.” There is no evidence to support their charge of sedition against Jesus.

Now the truth comes out. The Jews want Jesus executed, not for sedition, but for blasphemy. Jesus has claimed to be the Son of God. That is true. Blasphemy, according to the OT, held the penalty of death. That was true. But what if Jesus really is the Son of God? That is the question racing through Pilate’s mind now. His superstitious nature, his wife’s dream, and the Sanhedrin’s new accusation all clash together in Pilate’s mind in a single question: What if Jesus is who he claims to be?! This was a frightening thought (cf. v. 8).

Pilate is now at square one — interrogating Jesus again. Well, that makes sense; he has just received a new charge against him which must be investigated. The problem is, Jesus won’t talk with him this time! Why? Because Pilate asks a stupid question. Pilate knows that Jesus is from Galilee; that’s why he sent him over to Herod. Pilate knows that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world; that is the first thing they talked about (Jn 18:36). So why should he ask where Jesus is from? The problem is that Pilate is merely at a loss as to how to investigate this new charge. He is a Roman, not a Jew. He neither understands nor cares about this theological debate about blasphemy.

Jesus’ silence adds to Pilate’s frustration and fear. He lashes out at Jesus saying, “Don’t you know that I have the power of life and death over you?” That is true; and Jesus doesn’t deny it. But Jesus reminds Pilate that any power he has was bestowed to him as a trust. They may disagree on its origin. Jesus says it is from his Father, God. Pilate would claim that it was from Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Nonetheless, they agree that Pilate has an obligation to wield his power for justice, not for political expedience. Jesus’ claim that God is indeed his Father again opens the floodgate in Pilate’s mind to that single ominous question, “What if…?” This discussion so moves Pilate, in fact, that he tries all the more earnestly to release Jesus from this moment on.

Jesus also points out another truth in his brief reply (v. 11). While Pilate has an obligation to execute justice and will be held liable if he does not, the Jewish leaders who arrested Jesus and press for his execution will be even more liable. Neither the Jews nor the Romans can be exonerated for this crime. In fact, the crowds will call for Jesus’ blood to be on them and on their children (Mt 27:25). We have no way to know if God honored their request, but it would be a gross misinterpretation and a horrific injustice against humanity to use Matthew 27:25 to support anti-Semitism. At the same time it would be irresponsible exegesis and inaccurate history to say that the Jewish leaders were not the primary force behind the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jn 19:12 12From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.

Lk 23:23 23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified.

Jn 19:13-15 with Lk 23:23 13When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.

Here is your king, Pilate said to the Jews.

15But they shouted, Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!

Shall I crucify your king? Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar, the chief priests answered. {And their shouts prevailed.LK}

Mt 27:24-25 24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. I am innocent of this man’s blood, he said. It is your responsibility! 25All the people answered, Let his blood be on us and on our children!

Lk 23:24 24So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

Mk 15:15 with Jn 19:16; Lk 23:25 {FinallyJN} 15Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified {and surrendered Jesus to their will.LK}

Pilate knows that Jesus is right. He has to execute justice! He marches out to this clamoring mob with a new resolve to release Jesus. But now they start playing dirty. They say that if Pilate releases Jesus, he is no friend of Caesar because Jesus opposes Caesar when he claims to be a king. Translation: “If you don’t kill Jesus for us, we will accuse you before Tiberius as a seditionist along with Jesus and your political career (if not your life), will be over!” That was a hit below the belt. Pilate begins to crack. He will not give Jesus over merely for the avarice and envy of the high priests. But he will give him over to save his petty political career which would end in a mere three years anyway. (He will be banished by the emperor.) As feeble as that sounds, many have betrayed Jesus for much less.

Pilate brings Jesus out before the mob once again. Now he stands on the stone pavement (Gabbatha) where he will hear his sentence. All is now mockery: the Sanhedrin pretends to be loyal to Caesar; Pilate pretends to absolve himself of Jesus’ murder; and both parties pretend to practice judicial proceedings. All that remains of justice is a veneer of formality. All senses are dulled by the incessant chant, “Crucify him!” When Pilate mocks the crowd saying, “Here is your king,” they nearly riot in response. He knows he has lost and will cave in to their demands. He washes his hands. This too is a mockery of the Jews. The practice was probably Jewish, not Roman (cf. Deut 21:6; Ps 26:6). With a visual demonstration that his antagonistic audience would understand, Pilate says one last time, “I want no part of this!”

So Barabbas is released. Jesus is prepared for execution. We are horrified by the scene; repulsed by each player. Yet we strangely feel a part of the plot. Somehow we are there, on the wrong side of justice. As we survey the hordes we have come to loathe, we realize that we are among them.

John looks at his watch and marks the hour. It was approaching noon on Friday, the day of preparation. However, Mark 15:25 says that Jesus was crucified about 9:00 a.m. It would appear that we have a contradiction on our hands. How can Jesus be crucified at nine if Pilate gives his sentence at noon? In an attempt to solve this apparent discrepancy, some scholars propose that John uses a Roman-civil timing which begins counting the hours of a day from midnight and noon as we do today (cf. Hendriksen, pp. 104-105; B. F. Westcott, 2:324-326). Their main support is Pliny (Natural History, 2.79.188), who says that the Roman priests reckoned a civil day as lasting from midnight to midnight for the purposes of legal leases. However, in the previous sentence he said that “the common people everywhere” count the hours of a day from dawn until dark. In fact, the Roman sundials reflect this practice. The middle of the day is “VI” not “XII.”

How then do we solve this apparent discrepancy? A number of suggestions have been offered (cf. Brown, pp. 882-883; & Morris; pp. 649-650). The most likely solution, however, is simply this: Neither Mark nor John can be expected to speak with chronological precision. Neither of them had a Timex. Nor is it likely there were sundials on every street corner. When each of them look into the sky and see the sun, they roughly estimate how late in the morning it is. The fact that their estimates differ by three hours is uncomfortable but certainly not an insurmountable difficulty. Furthermore, both of them likely record the time for rhetorical emphasis rather than chronological precision. John may be trying to emphasize how the trial drug on through the morning. Mark, on the other hand, divides the crucifixion into three segments, each three hours long. For both of them, the mention of time is not about punching a clock, but painting a picture.

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 9, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross of Christ – Walk as Jesus walked 1 John 2:6

Our lesson begins today with an idea that comes from I John 2:6, where John said that “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” I’d like us to look at Jesus, both God and man today…and fully come to appreciate the lifestyle He lived.

The word “incarnation” is a vital point for us: it is the union of God and man in one person… God being every bit God, becoming man in every way.

John 1:1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (vs. 14).

This passage is one of the summits of Scripture. In fact, it probably reaches the highest of human thought. What is the thought that reaches the height of human concepts? It is this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is…

  • the Word of God
  • the Creator of Life
  • the Very Being and Essence of Life.

These three truths have to be deeply thought about to understand their meaning. A quick reading of this passage leaves a person disinterested, not even close to understanding what is being said. However, the importance of the truths lie at the very foundation of life. They cannot be overstated, for they determine a man’s destiny. If Jesus Christ is the Word of God, then men must hear and understand that Word or else be lost forever in ignorance of God Himself.

  1. Christ is eternal (v.1-2).
  2. Christ is the Creator (v.3).
  3. Christ is Life (v.4-5).

Jesus revealed his essential nature in what he taught and did. John wrote about Jesus as fully human and fully God. Although Jesus took upon himself full humanity and entered history with the limitations of a human being, he never ceased to be the eternal God, eternally existing, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the source of eternal life. John’s Gospel tells the truth about Jesus, the foundation of all truth. If we cannot or do not believe in Jesus’ true identity, we will not be able to trust our eternal destiny to him. John wrote his Gospel to build our faith and confidence in Jesus Christ so that we might believe that Jesus truly was and is the Son of God (20:30-31).

John starts at the “beginning,” with the first eighteen verses of John, called the prologue. Many commentators consider the prologue to be a poem or, at least, rhythmical prose. Some commentators suggest that verses 1-5, 10-12, and 14-18 may have been parts of one or several early Christian hymns. Others have thought that verses 14-18 were used as an early church confessional statement, to which John added his stamp of approval.

Furthermore, the prologue to John’s Gospel provides a miniature of the entire Gospel. John’s goal and guiding purpose in writing can be found in almost every phrase of his work. The prologue highlights most of the insights and truths that we find in the rest of the Gospel. John introduced key terms: the Word, God, life, light, darkness, witness, the world, rejection/reception, belief, regeneration (becoming a child of God), incarnation (the Word become flesh), the one and only Son of the Father, glory, grace, truth, fullness. In the rest of the Gospel, John expanded and illustrated each of these from Jesus’ life and ministry.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Christ is presented in the following ways:
the one who expresses God (the Word)
God himself
the giver of eternal life to those who believe
the bringer of light into a dark world
the giver of grace to those who receive him
the unique Son sharing an intimate relationship with his Father
the bearer of heavenly truth
the expression of God’s glory and fullness.

1:1 In the beginning. When John wrote of the beginning, he was paralleling the words of the creation account. He stressed that “the Word” already existed at the time of creation (as is translated in the neb). More likely, John was thinking of a beginning before “the beginning” in Genesis 1:1, a timeless beginning. Thus, we could translate the first part of the verse as “in eternity the Word existed.”

Each of the Gospel writers chose a different starting point for their accounts of the life of Jesus. Matthew began with Abraham, showing how Jesus came from Abraham’s family and was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Mark skipped most of the preliminaries and moved right to the action, beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke began with a review of his research method and rooted Jesus’ life in the wider historical events of his time. But John presented the largest perspective of all, describing Jesus as the very source of everything we understand as beginning. His purpose was to record, in outline form, the biography of the Son of God, who even in becoming a human being accomplished so much that “if every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (21:25 niv).

The Word. John called the Son of God, who was with God his Father in the beginning, the Word. John did not identify this person immediately, but described his nature and purpose before revealing his name (see vv. 14, 17). As the Word, the Son of God fully conveys and communicates God. What does John mean by “the Word”? Theologians and philosophers, both Jews and Greeks, used the term word in a variety of ways. The Greek term is logos. In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, “the Word” is described as an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source of God’s message to his people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2), and God’s law, his standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11).

The Greeks used “the Word” in two ways. It could mean a person’s thoughts or reason, or it might refer to a person’s speech, the expression of thoughts. As a philosophical term, logos conveyed the rational principle that governed the universe, even the creative energy that generated the universe.

In both the Jewish and Greek conceptions, logos conveyed the idea of beginnings—the world began through the Word (see Genesis 1:3ff., where the expression “God said” occurs repeatedly). John may have had these ideas in mind, but his description shows clearly that he spoke of Jesus as a human being he knew and loved (see especially 1:14), who was at the same time the Creator of the universe, the ultimate revelation of God, and also the living picture of God’s holiness, the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17 niv). Jesus as the logos reveals God’s mind to us.

To strict Jewish readers, “the Word was God” sounded like blasphemy. Strongly monotheistic, they found it difficult to even speak about God without running the danger of offending the One and Only. Certainly God “spoke” words, but to say “the Word was God” equated the two realities; the Hebrew mind resisted any such thinking about God. One of the most compelling reasons to believe the doctrine of the Trinity comes from the fact that it was revealed through a people most likely to reject it outright. In a world populated by many gods, it took the tough-minded Hebrews to clarify the revelation of God’s oneness expressed through Three-in-oneness. We humbly bow before the one God, but we do not presume to easily comprehend his essential being.

To John, this new understanding of “the Word” was gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Although it had been right in front of philosophic minds for centuries, they had been blind to it. Jesus revealed the truth in the light of his identity. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the express image of God’s substance (Hebrews 1:3), the revealer of God, and the reality of God. The theme of the real identity of Jesus dominates the Gospel of John. We should be grateful that the Son of God has expressed the Father to us and made him real to us. Otherwise, we could not know God intimately and personally.

The Word was with God. By using this expression, John was explaining that the Word (the Son) and God (the Father) already enjoyed an intimate, personal relationship in the beginning. The last verse of the prologue (1:18) tells us that the Son was at the Father’s side; and in Jesus’ special prayer for his followers (chapter 17), he expressed that the Father loved him before the foundation of the world.

The Word was God. Not only was the Son with God, he was himself God. According to the Greek, this phrase could be translated “the Word was divine.” John’s Gospel, more than most books in the New Testament, asserts Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is called “God” in 1:1; 1:18; and 20:28.

Often little words become large issues. Cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to insert an indefinite article in verse 1, making it “and the Word was a god” (New World Translation, a specific “translation” by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It is a small addition with devastating results. The added a serves to bolster the teaching that Jesus was a created being who “earned” divine qualities that are attainable by the rest of us. If Jesus is only a god, then the so-called gospel is only bad news. However, John was writing not about gods but about God, and he clearly claimed that “the Word was God”!

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.NKJV The second verse of the prologue underscores the truth that the Word coexisted with the Father from the beginning. A wrong teaching called the “Arian heresy” developed in the fourth century of Christianity. Arius, the father of this heresy, was a priest of Alexandria (in Egypt) during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He taught that Jesus, the Son of God, was not eternal but was created by the Father. Therefore, Jesus was not God by nature; Christ was not one substance with the Father. He also taught that the Holy Spirit was begotten by the logos. Arius’s bishop, Alexander, condemned Arius and his followers. But Arius’s views gained some support. At the Church Council in Nicea in 325 a.d., Athanasius defeated Arius in debate and the Nicene Creed was adopted, which established the biblical teaching that Jesus was “one essence with the Father.” Yet this controversy raged until it was defeated at the Council of Constantinople in 381 a.d.

This heresy still exists, however, in several so-called Christian cults (see box above). Yet John’s Gospel proclaims simply and clearly that the Son of God is coeternal with the Father.

(1:1-2) Jesus Christ, Son of God—Eternal—Preexistent—Revelation: Christ is eternal. Note three profound statements made about Christ, the Word.

  1. Christ was preexistent. This means He was there before creation. He had always existed.
  2. “In the beginning [en archei]” does not mean from the beginning. Jesus Christ was already there. He did not become; He was not created; He never had a beginning. He “was in the beginning with God” (cp. John 17:5; John 8:58).
  3. The word “was” (en) is the Greek imperfect tense of eimi which is the word so often used for deity. It means to be or I am. To be means continuous existence, without beginning or origin.

      “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Psalm 90:2).

      “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Proverbs 8:23).

      “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).

      “[Christ Jesus] who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8; cp. 2 Cor. 8:9).

      The testimony of John is that Jesus Christ was the Word, the One who had always existed. He was the Son of the living God.

  1. Christ was coexistent. He was and is face to face with God forever. The word “with” (pros) has the idea of both being with and acting toward. Jesus Christ (the Word) was both with God and acting with God. He was “with God”: by God’s side, acting, living, and moving in the closest of relationships. Christ had the ideal and perfect relationship with God the Father. Their life together—their relationship, communion, fellowship, and connection—was a perfect eternal bond. This is exactly what is said: “The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:2).

      “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us)” (1 John 1:1-2).

The testimony of John was that Jesus Christ was the Word, the One who had always co-existed with God. Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God.

  1. John did not say that “the Word” was the God (ho Theos). He says “the Word” was God (Theos). He omits the definite article. John was saying that “the Word,” Jesus Christ…

is of the very nature and character of God the Father, but He is not the identical person of God the Father.

is a distinct person from God the Father, but He is of the very being and essence (perfection) of God the Father.

When a man sees Christ, he sees a distinct person, but he sees a person who is of the very substance and character of God in all of His perfect being.

      “Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

      “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9).

      “Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Romans 9:5).

      “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (Col. 1:15).

      “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).

      “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).

      “Which in his [Jesus Christ] times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).

      “And he [Jesus Christ] hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).

The testimony of John was that Jesus Christ was the Word, self-existent and eternal, the Supreme Majesty of the universe who owes His existence to no one. Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God.

Jesus Christ is eternal. This says several critical things about Christ.

1)   Christ reveals the most important Person in all the universe: God. He reveals all that God is and wants to say to man. Therefore, Christ must be diligently studied, and all that He is and says must be heeded to the utmost (cp. John 5:24).

2)   Christ reveals God perfectly. He is just like God, identical to God; therefore, when we look at Christ we see God.

3)   Christ reveals that God is the most wonderful Person. God is far, far beyond anyone we could have ever dreamed. He is loving and caring, full of goodness and truth; and He will not tolerate injustices: murder and stealing, lying and cheating of husband, wife, child, neighbor, brother, sister or stranger. God loves and is working and moving toward a perfect universe that will be filled with people who choose to love and worship and live and work for Him (cp. John 5:24-29).

The very nature of Christ is…

to exist eternally.

to exist in a perfect state of being, knowing nothing but eternal perfection.

to exist in perfect communion and fellowship eternally (cp. 1 John 1:3).

Note: it is the very nature of Christ that shall be imparted to believers; therefore, all three things will become our experience.

      “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20).

      “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

      “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

      “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:21).

      “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).

      “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

INCARNATION (in kahr nay’ shuhn) God’s becoming human; the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus of Nazareth.

Definition of Doctrine Incarnation [Lat. incarnatio, being or taking flesh], while a biblical idea, is not a biblical term. Its Christian use derives from the Latin version of John 1:14 and appears repeatedly in Latin Christian authors from about A.D. 300 onward.

As a biblical teaching, incarnation refers to the affirmation that God, in one of the modes of His existence as Trinity and without in any way ceasing to be the one God, has revealed Himself to humanity for its salvation by becoming human. Jesus, the Man from Nazareth, is the incarnate Word or Son of God, the focus of the God-human encounter. As the God-Man, He mediates God to humans; as the Man-God, He represents humans to God. By faith-union with Him, men and women, as adopted children of God, participate in His filial relation to God as Father.

The Humanity of Jesus The angel of the Lord, in a prophecy of Jesus’ birth, plainly stated the purpose of the incarnation: “[Mary] shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21; compare Luke 19:10; John 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:15). The liberation of humanity from everything that would prevent relationship with God as Father requires incarnation. The biblical materials related to incarnation, though not systematically arranged, portray Jesus as the One who accomplished the mission of salvation because He was the One in whom both full divinity and full humanity were present.

Jesus referred to Himself as a man (John 8:40), and the witnesses in the New Testament recognized Him as fully human. (For example, Peter, in his sermon at Pentecost, declared that Jesus is “a man approved of God among you…” Acts 2:22). That the Word was made flesh is the crux of the central passage on incarnation in the New Testament (John 1:14).

The respective genealogies of Jesus serve as testimonies to His natural human descent (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-37). In addition, Jesus attributed to Himself such normal human elements as body and soul (Matt. 26:26, 28, 38). He grew and developed along the lines of normal human development (Luke 2:40). During His earthly ministry, Jesus displayed common physiological needs: He experienced fatigue (John 4:6); His body required sleep (Matt. 8:24), food (Matt. 4:2; 21:18), and water (John 19:28). Human emotional characteristics accompanied the physical ones: Jesus expressed joy (John 15:11) and sorrow (Matt. 26:37); He showed compassion (Matt. 9:36) and love (John 11:5); and He was moved to righteous indignation (Mark 3:5).

A proper understanding of the events preceding and including His death requires an affirmation of His full humanity. In the garden, He prayed for emotional and physical strength to face the critical hours which lay ahead. He perspired as one under great physical strain (Luke 22:43-44). He died a real death (Mark 15:37; John 19:30). When a spear was thrust into His side, both blood and water poured from His body (John 19:34). Jesus thought of Himself as human, and those who witnessed His birth, maturation, ministry, and death experienced Him as fully human.

Although Jesus was fully human in every sense of the word, His was a perfect humanity—distinct and unique. His miraculous conception highlights distinctiveness and originality of His humanity. Jesus was supernaturally conceived, being born of a virgin (Luke 1:26-35). To be sure, the Bible records other miraculous births such as those of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-2) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:57), but none attained to the miraculous heights of a human being supernaturally conceived and born of a virgin.

The New Testament also attests to the sinless character of Jesus. He, Himself, asked the question, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” (John 8:46). Paul declared, God “made him to be sin for us who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). The writer of Hebrews held that Christ was “without sin” (4:15). The New Testament presents Jesus as a man, fully human, and as a unique man, the ideal human.

The Deity of Jesus Paul, in a statement on the supremacy of Christ, asserted, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell” (Col. 1:19; compare John 20:28; Titus 2:13). Jesus, was aware of His divine status (John 10:30; 12:44-45; 14:9). With the “I am” sayings, He equated Himself with the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:14). The assertion of the New Testament is that Jesus was God (John 6:51; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; esp. 8:58).

The Bible affirms the preexistence of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2; see also John 1:15; 8:58; 17:5; Phil. 2:5-11). Jesus realized accomplishments and claimed authority ascribed only to divinity. He forgave sins (Matt. 9:6) and sent others to do His bidding, claiming all authority “in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18-20).

The central proclamation of the gospel is that He is the only way to eternal life, a status held by deity alone (John 3:36; 14:6; compare Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9). The New Testament pictures Him as worthy of honor and worship due only to deity (John 5:23; Heb. 1:6; Phil. 2:10-11; Rev. 5:12). He is the Agent of creation (John 1:3) and the Mediator of providence (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). He raised the dead (John 11:43-44), healed the sick (John 9:6), and vanquished demons (Mark 5:13). He will effect the final resurrection of humanity either to judgment or to life (Matt. 25:31-32; John 5:27-29).

The titles ascribed to Jesus provide conclusive evidence for the New Testament’s estimate of His person as God. Jesus is “Lord” (Phil 2:11), “Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15), “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8), “the mediator” (Heb. 12:24), and “who is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5). In addition, the New Testament repeatedly couples the name “God” with Jesus (John 1:18; 20:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 2 Thess. 1:12; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20).

Formulation of the Doctrine The problems of the incarnation begins with John’s assertion, “the Word was made flesh” (1:14). Clear expression of the relation of the Word to the flesh, of divinity to humanity within the person of Jesus became a matter of major concern during the first five centuries of the Christian era. The unsystematized affirmations of the New Testament were refined through controversy, a process which culminated in the ecumenical councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325), Constantinople (A.D. 381), Ephesus (A.D. 431), and Chalcedon (A.D. 451).

The Council of Nicaea marked the meeting of church representatives from throughout the Christian world. Its purpose was to settle the dispute over the teachings of Arius, a presbyter in the church of Alexandria. He taught a creature christology—that is, he denied the Son’s eternal divinity. Against Arius, the council asserted that the Son was of one substance with the Father. Jesus was fully divine.

The Council of Constantinople met to clarify and refute the christology of Apollinarius, Bishop of Laodicea. Apollinarius insisted that Jesus was a heavenly man dissimilar to earthly men. If a human is body, soul, and spirit, the bishop asserted that Jesus was a body, soul, and Logos [lit. “word”], a man not having a human spirit, or mind. Against this doctrine, the council affirmed the full humanity of Christ.

The Council of Ephesus considered the marriage christology of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople. He held that the union of the human and divine in Jesus was like the marriage of a husband and wife. As a result, the Council accused him of teaching that there were two separate persons in Christ.

The Council of Chalcedon was perhaps the most significant church council for Christianity. It met in debate over the teaching of Eutyches, a monk from Constantinople. He denied that Jesus had two natures. This reaction against the christology of Nestorius prompted the council to express the incarnation of Jesus in terms of one person with two natures—human and divine.

The mystery of the incarnation continues, and the statements of the first four councils of the Christian church preserve that mystery. Jesus, God incarnate, was one Person in two natures—fully divine and fully human. (by Walter D. Draughon III from the Holman Bible Dictionary)

Do we fully comprehend this concept? Do we believe that…”when Jesus was cut, He bled; when struck, He bruised; when He was sad, He cried; when He was angry, He revealed it; when He got cold, He chilled…when hot, He perspired…when His heart stopped beating and His lungs no longer processed air… He died.”


  1. Christ did not only come into our flesh, but also into our condition, into the valley and shadow of death, where we were, and where we are, as we are sinners. John Bunyan (1628–1688)
  2. God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation. I. Packer (1926– )
  3. God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh so he might be weak enough to suffer. John Donne (1572–1631)
  4. God, who had fashioned time and space in a clockwork of billions of suns and stars and moons, in the form of his beloved Son became a human being like ourselves. On the microscopic midge of planet he remained for thirty-three years. He became a real man, and the only perfect one. While continuing to be the true God, he was born in a stable and lived as a workingman and died on a cross. He came to show us how to live, not for a few years but eternally. Fulton Oursler (1949– )
  5. He clothed himself with our lowliness in order to invest us with his grandeur. Richardson Wright (b. 1885)
  6. In the humanity of Jesus, God was truly speaking our language. John Powell
  7. Jesus’ coming is the final and unanswerable proof that God cares. William Barclay (1907–1978)
  8. No one could ever have found God; he gave himself away. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1327)
  9. The Christian faith is founded upon . . . a well attested sober fact of history; that quietly, but with deliberate purpose, God himself has visited this little planet. B. Phillips (1906–1982)
  10. The coming of Jesus into the world is the most stupendous event in human history. Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990)
  11. The shepherds didn’t ask God if he was sure he knew what he was doing. Had the angel gone to the theologians, they would have first consulted their commentaries. Had he gone to the elite, they would have looked around to see if anyone was watching. Had he gone to the successful, they would have first looked at their calendars. So he went to the shepherds. Men who didn’t have a reputation to protect or an ax to grind or a ladder to climb. Men who didn’t know enough to tell God that angels don’t sing to sheep and that messiahs aren’t found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough. Max L. Lucado (1955– )
  12. We know how God would act if he were in our place—he has been in our place. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
  13. What a terrific moment in history that was . . . when men first saw their God in the likeness of the weakest, mildest and most defenseless of all living creatures! Malcolm Muggeridge (1903–1990)
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 5, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross – Sanhedrin Sins

What Is the Definition in the Bible of Sanhedrin?

A closer look at the laws the Jewish leaders broke to bring Jesus to trial and crucifixion at the cross

No One Wants to Die on a Cross

If we should suddenly be revealed to those around us on the outside as Almighty God sees us within our souls, we would become the most embarrassed people in the world. If that should happen, we would be revealed as people barely able to stand, people in rags, some too dirty to be decent, some with great open sores. Some would be revealed in such condition that they would be turned out of skid row. Do we think that we are actually keeping our spiritual poverty a secret, that God doesn’t know us better than we know ourselves? But we will not tell Him, and we disguise our poverty of spirit and hide our inward state in order to preserve our reputation.

We also want to keep some authority for ourselves. We cannot agree that the final key to our lives should be turned over to Jesus Christ. Brethren, we want to have dual controls—let the Lord run it but keep a hand on the controls just in case the Lord should fail!

We are willing to join heartily in singing, “To God Be the Glory,” but we are strangely ingenious in figuring out ways and means by which we keep some of the glory for ourselves. In this matter of perpetually seeking our own interests, we can only say that people who want to live for God often arrange to do very subtly what the worldly souls do crudely and openly.

A man who doesn’t have enough imagination to invent anything will still figure out a way of seeking his own interests, and the amazing thing is that he will do it with the help of some pretext which will serve as a screen to keep him from seeing the ugliness of his own behavior.

Yes, we have it among professing Christians—this strange ingenuity to seek our own interest under the guise of seeking the interests of God. I am not afraid to say what I fear—that there are thousands of people who are using the deeper life and Bible prophecy, foreign missions and physical healing for no other purpose than to promote their own private interests secretly. They continue to let their apparent interest in these things serve as a screen so that they don’t have to take a look at how ugly they are on the inside.

So we talk a lot about the deeper life and spiritual victory and becoming dead to ourselves—but we stay very busy rescuing ourselves from the cross. That part of ourselves that we rescue from the cross may be a very little part of us, but it is likely to be the seat of our spiritual troubles and our defeats.

No one wants to die on a cross—until he comes to the place where he is desperate for the highest will of God in serving Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “I want to die on that cross and I want to know what it is to die there, because if I die with Him I will also know Him in a better resurrection” (see Philippians 3:10-11). Paul was not just saying, “He will raise me from the dead”—for everyone will be raised from the dead. He said, “I want a superior resurrection, a resurrection like Christ’s.” Paul was willing to be crucified with Christ, but in our day we want to die a piece at a time, so we can rescue little parts of ourselves from the cross….

People will pray and ask God to be filled—but all the while there is that strange ingenuity, that contradiction within which prevents our wills from stirring to the point of letting God have His way….

Those who live in this state of perpetual contradiction cannot be happy Christians. A man who is always on the cross, just piece after piece, cannot be happy in that process. But when that man takes his place on the cross with Jesus Christ once and for all, and commends his spirit to God, lets go of everything and ceases to defend himself—sure, he has died, but there is a resurrection that follows!

If we are willing to go this route of victory with Jesus Christ, we cannot continue to be mediocre Christians, stopped halfway to the peak. Until we give up our own interests, there will never be enough stirring within our beings to find His highest will.

Many remarkable trials have characterized the judicial history of mankind.

The trial of Socrates before the dicastery of Athens, charged with corrupting Athenian youth, with blaspheming the Olympic gods, and with seeking to destroy the constitution of the Attic Republic, is still a sublime and thrilling chapter in the history of the Athenians.

The trial of Charles the First of England sealed with royal blood a new covenant of British freedom, and erected upon the highway of national progress an enduring landmark to civil liberty.  A philosopher of history declares that these condemnatory and executory proceedings against a Stuart king worthy of all the epoch-making movements that have glorified the centuries of England constitutional growth.

The trial of Aaron Burr is the blackest chapter in the annuals of our republic.  Burr was the most extraordinary man of the first half century of American national history.  His arraignment at the bar of public justice on the charge of high treason – that he sought to destroy the Country of Washington, the Republic of Jefferson – was the sad and melancholy close of a long and lofty life.

But these trials, one and all, were tame and commonplace when compared with the trial and crucifixion of the Galilean peasant, Jesus of Nazareth.  The trial of the Nazarene was before the high tribunals of both heaven and earth; before the Great Sanhedrin, whose judges were the master’spirits of a divinely commissioned race; before the court of the Roman Empire that controlled the legal and political rights of men throughout the known world, from Scotland to Judea and from Dacia to Abyssinia.

The trial of Jesus was twofold: Hebrew and Roman, or Ecclesiastical and Civil.  The Hebrew trial took place before the Great Sanhedrin.  The Roman trial was held before Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, and before Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee.  These trials – all made one, were links in a chain, and took place within a space of time variously estimated at from ten to twenty hours.

During these trials, the legal rights of the man Jesus at the bar of human justice under Jewish and Roman law were under suspicion.  Upon what were the complaints against Jesus based?  What were the rules and regulations of Hebrew and Roman law directly applicable in the trials before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate?  Were these rules and regulations followed during Jesus’ trial?  As we take a closer look at the trial of Jesus, we hope these questions will be answered fully.

Background Information

The gospels of the New Testament form almost the entire record of fact available on the trial of Jesus.  Except for a line from Philo, a passage from Josephus, a mention from Tacitus, and a few fragments from the Talmud, all else is darkness except for the gospel records.  The trial of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 26:47-28:26; Mark 14:43-15:15; Luke 22:47-23:24; John 28:3-29:16.

The Pentateuch and the Talmud form the double basis of Hebrew jurisprudence.  The Mosaic Code furnished the necessary platform of justice; ancient tradition and Rabbinic interpretation contained in the Talmud supplied needed rules of practical application.  The Pentateuch was the foundation, the cornerstone; the Talmud was the superstructure, the gilded dome of the great temple of Hebrew justice.

Thirty-six capital crimes are mentioned by the Pentateuch and the Talmud.  Hebrew jurisprudence provided four methods of capital punishment for these crimes – beheading, strangling, burning and stoning.  Other noncapital punishments included imprisonment, flagellation (scourging), slavery, and internment.

Hebrew tribunals were three in kind:  the Great Sanhedrin, the Minor Sanhedrin, and the Lower Tribunal or Court of Three.  The Great Sanhedrin was the high court of justice and the supreme tribunal of the Jews.  It sat in Jerusalem, and numbered seventy-one members.  Its powers were legislative, executive, and judicial.  It exercised all the functions of education, government and religion.  The Great Sanhedrin was divided into three chambers – the chamber of priests, the chamber of scribes, the chamber of elders.  Theoretically, each chamber consisted of twenty-three members, who)along with two presiding officers, total~ the seventy-one members.  The officers were the president (High Priest) and vice-president.

Membership in the Great Sanhedrin required certain member qualifications.  To qualify for membership the person had to:

  • Have been a Hebrew and a lineal descendent of Hebrew parents.
  • Have had judicial experience.
  • Have been thoroughly proficient in scientific knowledge.
  • Have been an accomplished linguist.
  • Have been popular, modest, of good appearance, and free from haughtiness.
  • Have been pious, strong, and courageous.

Disqualification automatically occurred if the person:

  • Never had any regular trade, occupation or profession.
  • Was a gambler, dice player, bettor, usurer, or slave dealer.
  • Had dealt in the fruits of the seventh year.
  • Had obtained the position by fraud or unfair means (monetary payment).

Disqualification could also occur on specific cases before the court if a member of the Sanhedrin:

  • Was an aged man, never had any children, or was an illegitate child.
  • Was concerned or interested in the matter to be judged.
  • Was a relative of the accused person.
  • Would benefit from the death or condemnation of the accused person.

The process of the trial of Jesus is not altogether easy to follow. It seems to have fallen into three parts. The first part took place after the arrest in the Garden, during the night and in the High Priest’s house, and is described in this section.

The second part took place first thing in the morning, and is briefly described in Matt 27:1-2.

The third part took place before Pilate and is described in Matt 27:11-26. The salient question is this—was the meeting during the night an official meeting of the Sanhedrin, hastily summoned, or was it merely a preliminary examination, in order to formulate a charge, and was the meeting in the morning the official meeting of the Sanhedrin?

However that question is answered, the Jews violated their own laws in the trial of Jesus; but if the meeting in the night was a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the violation was even more extreme. On the whole, it seems that Matthew took the night meeting to be a meeting of the Sanhedrin, for in Matt 26:59 he says that the whole Sanhedrin sought for false witness to put Jesus to death. Let us then first look at this process from the Jewish legal point of view.

The Sanhedrin was the supreme court of the Jews. It was composed of Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and elders of the people; it numbered seventy-one members; and it was presided over by the High Priest.

  • For a trial such as this a quorum was twenty-three.
  • It had certain regulations. All criminal cases must be tried during the daytime and must be completed during the daytime.
  • Criminal cases could not be transacted during the Passover season at all.
  • Only if the verdict was Not Guilty could a case be finished on the day it was begun; otherwise a night must elapse before the pronouncement of the verdict, so that feelings of mercy might have time to arise.
  • Further, no decision of the Sanhedrin was valid unless it met in its own meeting place, the Hall of Hewn Stone in the Temple precincts.
  • All evidence had to be guaranteed by two witnesses separately examined and having not contact with each other. And false witness was punishable by death. The seriousness of the occasion was impressed upon any witness in a case where life was at stake: “Forget not, O witness, that it is one thing to give evidence in a trial for money, and another in a trial for life. In a money suit, if thy witness-bearing shall do wrong, money may repair that wrong; but in this trial for life, if thou sinnest, the blood of the accused and the blood of his seed unto the end of time shall be imputed unto thee.”
  • Still further, in any trial the process began by the laying before the court of all the evidence for the innocence of the accused, before the evidence for his guilt was adduced.

These were the Sanhedrin’s own rules, and it is abundantly clear that, in their eagerness to get rid of Jesus, they broke their own rules. The Jews had reached such a peak of hatred that any means were justified to put an end to Jesus.

The following points catalogue the major breaches of justice in regard to Jesus’ trials (especially according to the Mishnaic tractate Sanhedrin):

  1. He was arrested through a bribe (i.e., blood money).
  2. He was arrested without a clear charge.
  3. Trials could not be held at night or on feast days.
  4. They used physical force to try to intimidate Jesus during the trial.
  5. False witnesses offered conflicting testimony against him.
  6. Witnesses were not supposed to testify in the presence of each other.
  7. Jesus was asked to incriminate himself, which he really didn’t do!
  8. Jesus was not given the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.
  9. The high priest never asked for a vote from the Sanhedrin, which should have started with the youngest and gone to the oldest.
  10. He was charged with blasphemy and temple violation at his Jewish
  11. trial but the charges were changed at his civil trial to claiming to be king, causing disturbances, and refusing to pay taxes. 11. He was convicted and executed the same day as his trial.

The Sanhedrin convened as occasion required.  Mondays and Thursdays were regular court days.  The court sat from the close of the morning sacrifice to the time of the evening sacrifice.  The official hours for holding court were between the morning sacrifice and noon; but a suit entered upon during the legal hours could be carried on until evening and civil cases could be continued even after nightfall.  But in no case of a criminal nature could the court continue its session during the night.

Twenty-three members constituted a quorum of the Great Sanhedrin.  In criminal trials a majority of one vote was sufficient for an acquittal. For condemnation, a majority of two was necessary.  A very peculiar rule of Hebrew law also provided that a simultaneous and unanimous verdict of guilty rendered on the same day of the trial had the effect of an acquittal.  Appeals were allowed from a Minor Sanhedrin to the Great Sanhedrin, but there was no appeal from a mandate, judgment, or decree of the Great Sanhedrin.

There were no lawyers or advocates in Hebrew trials.  There were no bodies similar to today’s Grand jury.  There were no public prosecutors or State’s attorneys.  No court could consist of a single judge.  Three judges were required for the lowest court, three and twenty for the next highest, and seventy-one for the Great Sanhedrin.

Certain witnesses were disallowed in Hebrew trials – Gentiles, women, minors, slaves, idiots and lunatics, deaf mutes, blind men, gamblers, usuers, illiterate or immodest persons, persons convicted of irrrligion or immorality, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, and all persons interested in the case.  Two witnesses were required to convict an accused person; the prosecuting witness being included, three were necessary.  Witnesses were required to agree in all essential details, their testimony was invalid and had to be rejected.  No oath of the witnesses was required.

Trial witnesses were examined by a special committee of the Sanhedrin. They were kept separate and two distinct sets of questions were asked of each.  The first set consisted of an established series of seven questions relating to the time and place of the crime – ~Was it during a year of jubilee?  Was it in an ordinary year?  In what month?  On what day of the month?  At what hour?  In what place?  Do you identify this person?  The failure of any witness to answer satisfactorily any of these seven questions entitled the accused to immediate acquittal.

The second set of questions embraced all matters not brought out by the first set of seven questions.  However certain questions could not be asked of the witnesses – evidence of character  good or bad; previous convictions of the accused; and evidence as to the prisoner’s antecedents.  By Hebrew law, false witnesses were to suffer the penalty provided for the commission of the crime they sought by their testimony to fix upon the accused.

The accused was never compelled to testify against himself’ but was permitted and encouraged to offer testimony in his own behalf.  His confession of guilt was accepted in evidence and considered in connection with other facts of the case, but was never permitted to stand alone as the basis of a conviction.  Hearsay and circumstantial evidence was irrelevant under Hebrew law.  Written or documentary evidence was also inadmissible.  Some oral testimony (vain and standing) was also not allowed.

One interesting part of Hebrew law without parallel in the jurispridence of the world was called “Antecedent Warning”.  This simply meant t~ no person charged with a crime involving life and death, or even corporal punishment, could be convicted, unless it was shown by competent testimony that immediately before the commission of the crime the offender was warned that what he was about to do was a crime and that a certain penalty was attached to its commitment.

The principal features of a Hebrew capital trial included (1) the Morning Sacrifice, (2) the Assembling of the 3udges in the Hall of Hewn Stones, (3) the Examination of the witnesses, and (4) the Debates and Balloting of the 3udges on the guilt or innocence of the accused.  Three scribes were present to record the proceedings.  The first recorded the names of the judges who voted for the acquittal of the accused and the arguments on which the acquittal was grounded.  The second recorded the names of the judges who voted for the condemnation of the accused and the arguments on which the conviction was based.  The third kept an account of both matters so as to be able to supply omissions or check inaccuracies that the other scribes reported.  Hebrew law made no provision for a judge to change his vote once he had voted for acquittal.  Only a vote for conviction could be changed to acquittal in later balloting.

When voting began, the youngest of the council members were required to vote first, to prevent them from being influenced by older members.  To vote, the concil member rose from his position, declared his vote, and gave a short explanation for voting as he did.  A majority of two was necessary to convict   A majority of one was necessary to acquit.  In event of conviction, sentence could not be pronounced until the next afternoon and the session of the court was accordingly adjourned until the following day.  There were always two trials in every Hebrew capital case.

The Accusations Against Christ

  1. Extra-judicial Charges
  2. He was a preacher of turbulence and faction.
  3. He flattered the poor and inveighed against the rich.
  4. He denounced whole cities.
  5. He gathered about him a rabble of Publicans, harlots and drunkards under a mere pretense of reforming them.
  6. He subverted the laws and institutions of the Mosaic commonwealth and substituted an unauthorized legislation of his own.
  7. He disregarded not only all distinctions of society, but even those of religion, and commended the idolatrous Samaritan as of greater worth than the holy priest and pious Levite.
  8. Though he pretended to work miracles, he had invariably refused to preform them in the presence and at the request of the Rabbis of the church.
  9. He had condemned the solemn sanctions of their holy religion
  10. He had sat down to eat with publicans and sinners.
  11. He ate with unwashed hands.
  12. He had disregarded the obligations of the Sabbath.
  13. He had attended the Jewish feasts with great irregularity or not at all.
  14. He had declared that God could be worshiped in any other place as well as in his Holy Temple.
  15. He had openly and violently interfered with the temple’s sacred services by driving away the cattle gathered there for sacrifice.

None of these extra-judicial charges were ever brought against Jesus during his trial, but they would have been in the back of the judges’ minds as they tried Jesus for the actual judicial charges brought against him during his trial.

  1. Judicial Charges
  2. Sedition

The judicial charge of sedition was dropped during the trial when the witnesses’ testimony did not agree.

  1. Blasphemy

The charge of blasphemy was ultimately the only judicial charge brought against Jesus and the one he was finally convicted of by the Sanhedrin.

The following illegalities took place during Jesus’ arrest and trial:

  1. The Arrest of Jesus
  2. The arrest took place at night.
  3. The arrest was effected through the agency of a traitor and informer.
  4. The arrest was not the result of a legal mandate from a court whose intentions were to conduct a legal trial for the purpose of reaching a righteous judgment.
  5. The Private Examination of Jesus before Annas (or Caiaphas)
  6. The examination was conducted at night.
  7. No judge, or magistrate, sitting alone, could interrogate an accused judicially or sit in judgment upon his legal rights.
  8. Private preliminary examinations of accused persons were not allowed.

III. The Indictment Against Jesus

  1. The accusation, at the trial, was twofold, vague, and indefinite
  2. The accusation was made in part, by Caiaphas, the high priest, who was one of the judges.
  3. The Proceedings of the Sanhedrin Against Jesus
  4. The proceedings were conducted at night.
  5. The proceedings were conducted on the day preceding a Jewish Sabbath.
  6. The proceedings were conducted on the first day of the Feast of Un~eavened Bread.
  7. The proceedings were conducted on the eve of the Passover.
  8. The trial proceedings were conducted within one day.
  9. The sentence of condemnation was founded upon Jesus’ uncorrobated confession.
  10. The verdict against Jesus was unanimous.
  11. The sentence of condemnation was pronounced in a place forbidden by law.
  12. The High Priest rent his clothes.
  13. The balloting was irregular.
  14. The members of the Sanhedrin were disqualified to try Jesus.
  15. The merits of the defense were not considered

The Sanhedrin was competent to take the initiative in the arrest and trial of Jesus on the charge of blasphemy, this being a religious offense of the most awful gravity.  The court was also competent not only to try but to pass sentence of death upon Jesus if he should be found guilty of the charge.  However, even though the council had these rights, they forsook their own laws and traditions in many instances to bring about the condemnation of Jesus.  By actual count, at least twenty laws and traditions of the Pentateuch and Talmud were broken during Jesus1 arrest and trial.

The Sanhedrin were so fixed on the outcome they wanted to see occur that they, supposedly the most righteous and religious men of the Hebrew nation, intentionally broke their own laws to effect the desired outcome.  They purposely ignored parts of their own laws to bring Jesus to the crucifixion.  In the case of Jesus, it was okay to ignore and bend the laws, because the end result was for good, at least in their own eyes.

Isn’t this the way many so-called Christians practice their religion today?  They pick and choose only those parts of God’s religion that fits them for the occasion they find themselves in.  They ignore the parts that seem to get in their way, that crimp their style, that hinder their daily lives.  Theirs is a cafeteria-style religion where they go through the line many times a day, picking and choosing what best fits their needs at the time.  For them, its okay to be religious, but it better not ever get in the way of their everyday lives!

What type of religion are you following today?  Is all of God’s word entering your heart or do you screen out portions that make you uncomfortable or don’t quite fit your everyday activities?  Are you crucifying Jesus with your own style of religion – like the Sanhedrin did?  You are if you aren’t taking all of God’s word and applying it to your own life.  Is it time for you to stop and evaluate your attitude and practices in light of all of God’s word?

Christ was tried six times, three times before the Romans and three times before the Jewish tribunals:

  1. Before Annas
  2. Before Caiaphas
  3. Before the Sanhedrin
  4. Before Pontius Pilate
  5. Before Herod Antipas
  6. Before Pilate again

The First Trial

Matthew omitted the first trial and arraignment before Annas, the ancient head of the high priestly conclave who was doubtless the prime mover of the cabal against Jesus. Annas lived into his nineties and appears in history as a venomous and zealous bigot, deformed in mind and body. He covered his deformed hands with silken gloves, but there was no covering for the mind of this man who was described by the infidel Reman as a “fit architect indeed to fashion the death of Christ.” Annas remained head of religious Jewry, although his excess in ordering the death of one of his enemies had resulted in his being deposed upon the accession of Tiberius in 14 A.D. In spite of his deposition, however, Annas for more than half a century retained the power of the office, and was accorded the title by the Jews; but the LEGAL title and office rotated among the sons and sons-in-law of Annas. It was significant that Christ was first arraigned before Annas.

The Second Trial

This was conducted before Caiaphas who also later presided over the convention of the Sanhedrin at daybreak (Luke 22:66). Luke’s arrangement of the details is more chronological. Matthew’s topical summary naturally includes portions of the narrative out of chronological sequence. However, it is plain that Peter’s triple denial took place at the long night-trial, at which only a part of the Sanhedrin was present, and during which Christ was mocked, taunted, smitten, and abused throughout the night by the soldiers. Presumably, during this long travesty on judicial procedure, Caiaphas and his aides were trying to formulate some pattern of the charges they would prosecute before the whole Sanhedrin at daybreak.

Matthew 26:58 But Peter followed him afar off, unto the court of the high priest, and entered in, and sat with the officers, to see the end.

The court and the house of the high priest were the same. Peter’s following the Lord “afar off” in this instances has been cited as one of the reasons that he faltered and denied Jesus. Had he been with Jesus as was that “other disciple,” presumably John, he might have endured without denying his Lord (John 18:13). Other preconditions that led to Peter’s fall are seen in that he: (1) contradicted Jesus’ word, (2) relied on his own strength, (3) turned to carnal weapons, (4) sustained the Lord’s rebuke, (5) followed afar off, (6) accepted a place in the company of Christ’s enemies, and (7) warmed himself at their fire.

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false witness against Jesus, that they might put him to death.

Having changed their strategy from murdering Christ secretly to the more open method of seeking a legal execution, the high priests and their followers worked throughout the long night to put together some kind of case that would stand up against Christ. This frenzied endeavor on their part continued all night and into the third trial and was the consuming passion at both the second and third trials. It is evident that considerable consternation came upon that evil company as the long night wore on. Things were not going according to plan. False witnesses indeed came, but their testimony was so absurdly false and unconvincing that it was unusable. Furthermore, if they had thought that Judas would provide the inside details needed to sustain a capital charge against the Lord, they were utterly confounded when Judas returned the money, confessed his own sin, and proclaimed the innocence of the Master. Those wily hypocrites were caught in their own net. They would not be able to extricate themselves until the whole sorry business, and their REAL reasons for seeking Jesus’ death would be spat out in public before the Roman governor. It must have been a long night for Caiaphas, as well as for Jesus!

Matthew 26:60 And they found it not, though many false witnesses came. But afterwards came two and said, This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.

If such a tale as these words of the false witnesses was all they had to report, one must be amazed at the plight of the evil men who had relied on it. This was nothing more than a garbled version of what Christ had said, not of the temple but of himself, who is the greater Temple (John 2:19). After searching all night that was all they had, and no one knew any better than Caiaphas that it was not enough for their purpose. Matthew’s “afterwards” indicates that that weak and inconclusive charge was all that could be culled from a whole night of coaching and hearing false witnesses. It was hardly enough to justify convening the entire Sanhedrin, as Caiaphas’ subsequent actions proved.

The Third Trial

This trial was the formal arraignment and prosecution before the whole Sanhedrin and immediately following the all-night circus in the house of Caiaphas, where it may be assumed that Christ made limited answers if any at all. He well knew the preliminary trial was only a fishing expedition and that the issue would be decided before the whole council after daybreak. The night runners had fanned out over the dark city, and the emergency meeting of the most sacred court of the Hebrews got under way very early, perhaps by four o’clock in the morning, as the first rays of morning light brightened the summit of the Mount of Olives. The trial began, Caiaphas presiding; the arraignment was made; the suborned witnesses came on with their lie re: “destroying the temple and building it in three days”! Much to the discomfiture of Caiaphas, Jesus did not even reply. Why? It was not necessary. Nothing stated even by the suborned and lying witnesses could be made the grounds for demanding of Pilate the death penalty for Christ. Caiaphas stood up. The judicial bench had suddenly become a very hot seat for him. The whole wretched business was badly out of hand, and they were at their wits’ end to know how to get out of it. Little did they dream that at the precise moment decided by Christ, he would stand forth in all his solemn majesty and hand them, of his own volition, the key to his crucifixion; but it would not be upon their terms, but upon his!

Matthew 26:62 But Jesus held his peace.

He held his peace until the full import of the impasse in which the Sanhedrin found itself was apparent to all of them. Without him, they could do nothing. It was true of them no less than of Pilate, to whom Christ said, “Thou wouldst have no power against me except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). Christ could surely have escaped execution at the hands of that court, merely by continuing to be silent. They were already defeated.

Then came the climax of that third trial, like a stroke of lightning!

Matthew 26:63 And the high priest said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ, the Son of God.

That was the very instant toward which Christ had unerringly moved from the very first moment of his public life to that precise moment. At last, there was no danger of being misunderstood as a seditionist; there, before the assembled elders of his nation, in solemn convocation, before the sacred Sanhedrin, the high priest placed the Christ upon judicial oath, lifting his hands over his own head after the customs of Israel, and intoning the solemn oath, “I adjure thee by the living God, tell us whether thou art the Christ,” the Son of God. The answer of Jesus as recorded by Mark (Mark 14:62), while more satisfactory to English ears, is not so dramatic as Matthew’s before the Hebrew court where it was delivered. Both accounts record the dramatic shock with which Jesus’ words were received.


The Illegal, Unjust Trial of Christ (Matthew 26:57-68)

And those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. But Peter also was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome. Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “this man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.'” And the high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do you make no answer? what is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, “He has blasphemed! what further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death!” Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, “Prophecy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?” (26:57-68)

The Jews had always prided themselves on their sense of fairness and justice, and rightly so. The judicial systems in the modern Western world have their foundations in the legal system of ancient Israel, which itself was founded on the standards set forth in their Scriptures, the Old Testament.

The essence of the Old Testament system of jurisprudence is found in Deuteronomy:

You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you. (16:18-20)

As the Hebrews worked out specific judicial procedures following those general principles, they determined that any community that had at least 120 men who were heads of families could form a local council. In later years, after the Babylonian exile, that council often was composed of the synagogue leadership. The council came to be known as a sanhedrin, from a Greek term (sunedrion) that had been transliterated into Hebrew and Aramaic, as it now is into English. It literally means “sitting together.” A local sanhedrin was composed of up to 23 members, and the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was composed of 70 chief priests, elders, and scribes, with the high priest making a total of 71. In both the local and Great sanhedrins an odd number of members was maintained in order to eliminate the possibility of a tie vote.

When referring to the national body in Jerusalem, sunedrion is usually translated “Council” in the New American Standard Bible (see, e.g., Matt. 26:59; Mark 14:55) and when referring to a local body is translated “court” (see Matt. 5:22; 10:17; Mark 13:9). As we learn from Luke, the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem was also sometimes referred to as “the Senate of the sons of Israel” (Acts 5:21) or “the Council of the elders” (Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5).

Members of local sanhedrins were to be chosen because of their maturity and wisdom, and the Great Sanhedrin was to be composed of those who had distinguished themselves in a local council and had served a form of apprenticeship in the national council. But long before Jesus’ day membership in the Great Sanhedrin had degenerated largely into appointments based on religious or political favoritism and influence. The Herods, especially Herod the Great, exercised considerable control over the Great Sanhedrin, and even the pagan Romans sometimes became involved in the appointment or removal of a high priest.

The general requirements of fairness and impartiality prescribed in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and elsewhere in the Mosaic law were reflected in the rabbinical requirements that guaranteed an accused criminal the right to a public trial, to defense counsel, and conviction only on the testimony of at least two reliable witnesses. Trials were therefore always open to public scrutiny and the defendant had the right to bring forth evidence and witnesses in his own behalf no matter how damning the evidence and testimony against him might be.

To guard against false witnessing, whether given out of revenge or for a bribe, the Mosaic law prescribed that a person who knowingly gave false testimony would suffer the punishment the accused would suffer if found guilty (Deut. 19:16-19). A person who gave false testimony in a trial that involved capital punishment, for example, would himself be put to death. For obvious reasons, that penalty was a strong deterrent to perjury and an effective protection of justice. An additional deterrent was the requirement that accusing witnesses in a capital case were to initiate the execution, making them stand behind their testimony by action as well as words (Deut. 17:7). It was that law to which Jesus made indirect reference when He told the accusers of the woman taken in adultery “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

Rabbinical law required that a sentence of death could not be carried out until the third day after it was rendered and that during the intervening day the members of the court were to fast. That provision had the effect of preventing a trial during a feast, when fasting was prohibited. The delay of execution also provided additional time for evidence or testimony to be discovered in the defendant’s behalf.

Simon Greenleaf was a famous professor of law at Harvard University in the last century. In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists ([Jersey City, NJ: Frederick P. Linn, 1881], pp. 581-84) a section written by lawyer Joseph Salvador gives fascinating and significant information about proper Sanhedrin trial procedure. Because a defendant was protected against self-incrimination, his confession, no matter how convincing, was not sufficient in itself for conviction.

On the day of the trial, according to Salvador, the court officers would require all evidence against the accused person to be read in the full hearing of open court. Each witness against him would be required to affirm that his testimony was true to the best of his knowledge and was based on his own direct experience and not on hearsay or presumption. Witnesses also had to identify the precise month, day hour, and location of the event about which they testified. A council itself could not initiate charges against a person but could only consider charges brought before it by an outside party.

A woman was not allowed to testify because she was considered to lack the courage to give the first blow if the accused were convicted and sentenced to death. Children could not testify because of their immaturity, nor could a slave, a person of bad character, or a person who was considered mentally incompetent.

There was always to be presumption of innocence, and great latitude was given the accused in presenting his defense. In a local council, eleven votes out of the total of twenty-three were required for acquittal, but thirteen were required for conviction. If the accused was found innocent, he was freed immediately. But if he was found guilty, the sentence was not pronounced until two days later and, as mentioned above, the council members were required to fast during the intervening day. On the morning of the third day the council was reconvened, and each judge, in turn, was asked if he had changed his decision. A vote for condemnation could be changed to acquittal, but not the reverse.

If a guilty verdict was reaffirmed, an officer with a flag remained near the council while another officer, often mounted on horseback, escorted the prisoner to the place of execution. A herald went before the slow-moving procession declaring in a loud voice, “This man [stating his name] is led to punishment for such a crime; the witnesses who have sworn against him are such and such persons; if any one has evidence to give in his favor, let him come forth quickly.” If, at any time before the sentence was carried out, additional information pertaining to innocence came to light, including the prisoner’s recollection of something he had forgotten, one officer would signal the other, and the prisoner would be brought back to the council for reconsideration of the verdict. Before the place of execution was reached, the condemned person was urged to confess his crime, if he had not already done so, and was given a stupefying drink to dull his senses and thereby make his death less painful.

The governing principle in capital cases was: “The Sanhedrin is to save, not destroy, life.” In addition to the above provisions, the president of the council was required to remind prospective witnesses of the preciousness of human life and to admonish them to be certain their testimony was both true and complete. No criminal trial could be begun during or continued into the night, the property of an executed criminal could not be confiscated but was passed to his heirs, and voting was done from the youngest member to the oldest in order that the former would not be influenced by the latter. And if a council voted unanimously for conviction, the accused was set free, because the necessary element of mercy was presumed to be lacking.

It is obvious that, when properly administered, the Jewish system of justice was not only eminently fair but merciful. It is just as obvious that the system did not operate either fairly or mercifully in Jesus’ trial, because the Sanhedrin violated virtually every principle of its own system of jurisprudence. Jesus was illegally tried without first having been charged with a crime. He was tried at night and in private, no defense was permitted Him, and the witnesses against Him had been bribed to falsify their testimony. He was executed on the same day He was sentenced, and, consequently, the judges could not have fasted on the intervening day that should have transpired and had no opportunity to reconsider their verdict. The only procedure that was properly followed was the offering of the stupefying drink, but that was done by Roman soldiers, not by representatives of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:23).

As is clear from the gospel accounts, Jesus had two major trials, one Jewish and religious and the other Roman and secular. Because Rome reserved the right of execution to its own courts and administrators, the Sanhedrin was not allowed to dispense capital punishment (John 18:31). The fact that it did so on several occasions, as with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:12-14; 7:54-60), does not prove the legality of it. It is likely however, that many illegal executions by the Sanhedrin were simply overlooked by Roman authorities for the sake of political expediency. For them, the loss of a single life was a small price to pay to keep order and peace. The only blanket exception that Rome granted was for the summary execution of a Gentile who trespassed a restricted area of the Temple.

It is also significant that both the Jewish religious and Roman secular trials of Jesus had three phases, meaning that, within about twelve hours, Jesus faced legal proceedings on six separate occasions before His crucifixion. The Jewish trial began with His being taken before the former high priest Annas in the middle of the night. Annas then sent Him to the presiding high priest, Caiaphas, who had quickly convened the Sanhedrin at his own house. Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin met a second time after daylight on Friday morning.

After the Jewish religious leaders had concluded their sham hearings, they took Jesus to the Roman procurator, Pilate, first of all because they could not carry out a death sentence without his permission. But they also went to him because a Roman crucifixion would help obscure their own nefarious involvement in what they knew were totally unjust proceedings and condemnation.

When Pilate discovered Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover. After being questioned and treated with contempt by Herod and his soldiers, Jesus was sent back to Pilate, who reluctantly consented to His crucifixion.

Matthew 26:57-68 reveals at least five aspects of that illegal and unjust treatment of our Lord: the convening of the Sanhedrin (vv. 57-58), the conspiracy to convict Jesus without evidence (vv. 59-61), the confrontation to induce His self-incrimination (vv. 62-64), the condemnation based on false charges and testimony (vv. 65-66), and the conduct of the court in the physical and verbal abuse of Jesus (vv. 67-68).

The Illegal and Unjust Convening of the Sanhedrin

And those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. But Peter also was following Him at a distance as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and entered in, and sat down with the officers to see the outcome. (26:57-58)

After the disciples fled in fear, the Temple police, Roman soldiers, and the others who had seized Jesus then led Him away. But we learn from John that, before they took Him to Caiaphas, they “led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year” (John 18:13).

Some twenty years earlier, Annas had served as high priest for a period of four or five years. But although he had been replaced as ruling high priest, he not only continued to carry the title but also continued to wield great influence in Temple affairs, largely through the five sons who succeeded him and now through Caiaphas, his son-in-law.

It was God’s design for high priests to serve for life. But the position had become so politicized that some of them served only a few years or even months, because they came into disfavor with a king or a Roman official. Some scholars believe that Annas had been removed from office by Rome because they feared too much power was being amassed by one man.

Annas controlled the Temple money changers and sacrifice sellers to such an extent that their operations were sometimes referred to as the Bazaars of Annas. It is likely that no Temple merchant could operate without being approved by Annas and agreeing to give him a large percentage of the profits.

A Jew never came to the Temple empty-handed. He always brought either a gift of money or a sacrifice to offer the Lord. But he could not offer Gentile coins, because they often carried the likeness of a ruler, which was considered a form of idolatry. Since the vast majority of coins used during New Testament times were either Roman or from a Gentile country under Roman control, Jews had to exchange such coins for Jewish ones before they could place their offerings in the bell-shaped receptacles in the Temple. And because the money changers in the Temple held a monopoly, they were able to charge exorbitant exchange fees.

A Jew who came to offer a sacrifice to God had to use an unblemished animal that had been certified by the priests. And although he could legitimately bring one of his own animals, the corrupt priests who were in charge of certification would seldom accept an animal not bought from a Temple merchant. Like those who, needed to exchange their money, Jews who wanted to sacrifice were at the mercy of Annas’s Temple establishment. It was for that reason that Jesus had twice cleansed the Temple of the money changers and sacrifice sellers, declaring in anger that they had profaned His Father’s house of prayer by making it a den of robbers (John 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-17). It was immediately after the second cleansing that the infuriated Temple authorities “began seeking how to destroy Him” (Mark 11:18).

Jesus was a persistent threat to Annas’s power, prestige, security and prosperity for which He was bitterly despised by the high priest. In addition to that, Annas resented Jesus for His holiness, truth, and righteousness, because those virtues were a judgment on his own vile character. Everything Jesus said and did angered Annas, because, like Judas, his absolute rejection of Christ had placed him utterly in the hands of Satan, the great choreographer who was staging this heinous travesty against God’s Son. Annas was one of a large cast of characters who were now manipulated by hell.

Annas may have instructed the arresting officials to bring Jesus to him first, or the officials may have reasoned that a charge against Jesus by such a powerful dignitary would not be contested when He was brought before the Sanhedrin for trial. In any case, taking Him first to Annas allowed Caiaphas time to assemble the Sanhedrin at his own house (see v. 59).

Although Annas had many personal reasons for hating Jesus and wanting Him dead, his first comments to the Lord indicate that he was still searching for a capital charge that would appear legal. In questioning Jesus “about His disciples, and about His teaching,” (John 18:19), Annas violated two major procedural requirements. First, he had Jesus arraigned before an indictment was brought against Him, and, second, he tried to induce Jesus to incriminate himself.

Jesus did not answer the question directly but His response was a stinging exposure and indictment of Annas’s duplicity and chicanery “I have spoken openly to the world,” He said; “I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; behold, these know what I said” (John 18:20-21). Jesus merely pointed out the obvious. Countless thousands had heard Him teach and preach and could testify first-hand about who His disciples were and about what He taught. Jesus also, in effect, challenged Annas’s illegal attempt to make Him testify against Himself.

Annas was embarrassed, infuriated, and frustrated. Because of their complicity the entire assemblage was also angered, and “one of the officers,” perhaps to help his superior save face, “gave Jesus a blow, saying. ‘Is that the way You answer the high priest?'” (John 18:22).

Some years later, the apostle Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin and, like His Lord, was struck simply for telling the truth. But unlike His Lord, he became angry and vehemently rebuked the presiding officer for his illegal treatment. Only when he learned that he was addressing the high priest did he apologize (Acts 23:1-5).

Jesus, however, never lost His composure, accepting His abuse with perfect calmness. He simply said to the officer who struck Him, “If I have spoken wrongly bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly why do you strike Me?” (John 18:23).

In complete exasperation and having no other recourse, “Annas therefore sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest” (v. 24). It was the middle of the night, perhaps shortly after midnight, because cock crowing, which normally began about 3:00 a.m., had not yet started (see Matt. 26:74).

Jesus was then brought before Caiaphas, the high priest, at whose house the scribes and the elders were illegally gathered together as the supreme Jewish Council (see v. 59). Contrary to expectations, however, no charge had yet been brought against Him. The high court of Judaism had been illegally convened at night to illegally try a man who had not even been indicted.

Though not as clever as his father-in-law, Caiaphas was equally devious and corrupt. He, too, was greedy unprincipled, materialistic, and power hungry. He, too, despised Jesus, truthfulness and righteousness because they were a judgment on his own wretched ungodliness.

During this time, Peter also was following Jesus at a distance, first to the house of Annas and then as far as the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas. Out of a conflicting mixture of cowardice and commitment, Peter tried to be as near His Lord as prudence permitted without being discovered, and he sat down with the officers to see the outcome.

The fact that Peter and others were sitting in the courtyard of the high priest reveals still another infraction of Jewish legal protocol. As previously noted, the Sanhedrin was permitted to hold a trial involving capital punishment only in the Temple and only in public. The private meeting at Caiaphas’s house clearly violated both stipulations.

The Illegal and Unjust Conspiracy to Convict Jesus

Now the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death; and they did not find any, even though many false witnesses came forward. But later on two came forward, and said, “this man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.'” (26:59-61)

The chief priests are mentioned separately probably because they were the primary instigators of Jesus’ arrest (see v. 47). But as Matthew makes clear, the whole Council, or Sanhedrin, was present.

The Council was empowered to act only as judge and jury in a legal proceeding. They could not instigate charges but could only adjudicate cases that were brought before them. But because they as yet had no formal charge against Jesus, they were forced to illegally act also as prosecutor in order to carry out their predetermined plan to convict and execute Him. Consequently they kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus, in order that they might put Him to death.

Because Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing, the only possible way to convict Him would be on the basis of false testimony. His accusers would have to be liars. Because the Council was so controlled by satanic hatred of Jesus, they now were willing to do whatever was necessary to condemn Him, even if that meant violating every biblical and rabbinical rule of justice. To accomplish their wicked conspiracy they found themselves perverting the very heart of the Sanhedrin’s purpose, stated earlier in this chapter: “to save, not destroy life.” Their purpose now however, was not to discover the truth about Jesus and certainly not to save His life. Their single, compelling desire was to put Him to death.

But try as they would, they did not find any legitimate charges against Him, even though many false witnesses came forward. During that first attempt to manufacture a charge, even the many false witnesses who were willing to perjure themselves could not devise a story that would stand scrutiny even in that corrupt and biased proceeding! Their testimonies not only were spurious but grossly inconsistent with each other (Mark 14:56), as is typically the case with liars.

The frustration of the assembly continued to mount until later on two witnesses finally came forward with a charge that seemed usable. They asserted that Jesus stated, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.” Mark’s more detailed account reports that they claimed Jesus said, “I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands” (Mark 14:58). Or perhaps Matthew reported one of the witness’s words and Mark the other’s, in which case the testimony even of those two men was not consistent.

Jesus’ actual words were, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19), and His hearers concluded that He was referring to the Jerusalem Temple building He had just cleansed (v. 20). The two false witnesses not only shared that false assumption but accused Jesus of saying, on the one hand, that He Himself was able to destroy the temple of God, and on the other, “I will destroy this temple” (Mark 14:58, emphasis added). Mark notes that “not even in this respect was their testimony consistent” (v. 59).

In addition to the inconsistency of their statements, which itself made the testimonies inadmissable in a legitimate hearing, the two men did not relate the year, month, day and location of the incident they claimed to have witnessed, as they were required to do by law.

The fact that not a single witness could be found to convict Jesus of wrongdoing is one of the strongest apologetics in all of Scripture for His moral and spiritual perfection. If any fault could have been found in Him it would have come to light. Even if demons had to provide the information, it would certainly have been presented. Demons are not omniscient, but they would have known of any sin Jesus committed had He been guilty of it, and they would have rushed to produce such evidence against Him through their wicked minions in the Sanhedrin. But neither Jesus’ human nor demonic enemies could find in Him the least transgression of God’s moral or spiritual law. His only transgressions had been against the man-made, legalistic, and unscriptural rabbinic traditions.

The ones who were ultimately on trial that day were those who stood in judgment of the perfect, sinless Son of God. That tribunal of sinful, unjust, and hate-filled men will one day stand before God’s heavenly tribunal and themselves be eternally condemned to the lake of fire.

The Illegal and Unjust Confrontation to Induce Self-Incrimination

And the high priest stood up and said to Him, “Do you make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (26:62-64)

The frustration of the Council members became unbearable as they desperately tried to get the trial concluded before dawn, when people would start milling about the city and their illegal venture would risk being discovered. They also, no doubt, wanted to conclude the affair quickly so they could make preparations for their own Passover sacrifices and duties that afternoon.

Trying again to steer Jesus into self-incrimination, the high priest and presiding officer therefore said to Him, “Do you make no answer? What is it that these men are testifying against You?” Probably gazing squarely into Caiaphas’s eyes, Jesus kept silent, adding still more to the high priest’s consternation. Since the testimonies of the two men were inconsistent, they should have been rejected by the court. A rebuttal by Jesus not only would have been futile but would have given the false testimony and the entire illegal proceedings the appearance of legitimacy.

Jesus stood majestically silent. It was the silence of innocence, the silence of dignity the silence of integrity the silence of infinite trust in His heavenly Father. It was a silence in which the lying words against Him reverberated in the ears of the guilty judges and of the false witnesses they had bribed. Goaded by that silence, which accentuated the travesty of justice over which he presided, the enraged high priest continued to badger Jesus, saying, “I adjure You by the Living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Appealing to the most sacred oath a Jew could utter, Caiaphas demanded that Jesus either affirm or deny His messiahship and deity. He was saying, in effect, “Answer my question truthfully on the basis that You are standing before the living God, who knows all things.”

Although none of the Council, except Joseph of Arimathea, if he was still present, believed in Jesus’ deity they were strongly hoping He would openly make that claim for Himself so that they could charge Him with blasphemy. The Mosaic law provided that “the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 24:16).

But a claim to deity would be blasphemous only if it were false, which it would be for any human being ever born—except Jesus. Although He had never flaunted or made public issue of His messiahship and deity, He had given numerous attestations to both, beginning early in His ministry. In the synagogue at His hometown of Nazareth, He read a well-known messianic passage from Isaiah and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21). His first specific claim to messiahship was made to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. In response to her statement that “Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ),” Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25-26). He had readily accepted the messianic epithets shouted to Him as He entered Jerusalem the previous Monday (Matt. 21:9). He continually referred to God as His heavenly Father, which the Jewish leaders rightly interpreted as a claim of deity (John 5:17-18), and He had declared to the unbelieving Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58), taking that ancient appellation of God (see Ex. 3:14) for Himself.

Jesus finally gave the affirmation the Sanhedrin had been waiting to hear. You have said it yourself; He replied. Mark’s account makes the acknowledgment of messiahship and deity even more explicit, as he quotes Jesus’ saying directly “I am” (Mark 14:62).

Then, referring to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, Jesus added, “Nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” “Not only am I the Messiah and the Son of God,” He was saying, “but one day you will see Me glorified with My Father in heaven and returning to earth as your Judge.” (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

Son of Man was a commonly acknowledged title of the Messiah, the one Jesus most often used of Himself, and Power was a figurative designation of God. Because the ungodly members of the Sanhedrin had refused to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they had sealed their doom to face Him at the end time as their Judge and Executioner. The accused would then become the accuser, and the judges would become the judged.

The Illegal and Unjust Condemnation of Jesus

Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death!” (26:65-66)

Upon that unambiguous confession by Jesus, the high priest tore his robes in horror, saying, “He has blasphemed!” The unbelieving members of the Sanhedrin had long ago discounted Jesus’ claims of deity. He had pleaded with them, “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (John 10:37-38). In other words, even if they could not believe the divine source of His teaching, how could they argue against the divine power behind His countless public miracles?

They had closed their minds to the truth, and no amount of evidence would open their eyes to it. Like many people throughout the ages who have rejected Christ, it was not that they had carefully examined the evidence about Him and found it to be untrue or unconvincing but that they refused to consider the evidence at all. Even God’s own Holy Spirit cannot penetrate such a willful barrier to His truth and grace. Miracles do not convince the hard-hearted.

When the high priest ceremoniously tore his robes, he did so not out of grief and indignation over the presumed dishonor of God’s name but rather out of joy and relief that, at last, Jesus had placed Himself into their hands, condemning Himself out of His own mouth. Although Leviticus 21:10 strictly forbade the high priest’s tearing his garments, the Talmud held that judges who witnessed blasphemy had a right to tear their robes if they later sewed them up. By his traditional and theatrical display, Caiaphas dramatically gave the appearance of defending God’s name, but inwardly he gloated over the illegal, unjust, and devilish victory he imagined he had just won.

“What further need do you have of witnesses?” he asked the Council rhetorically. And with that he asked for an immediate verdict: “Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” He did not bother to have the members polled individually and the results tabulated by scribes, as judicial protocol required, but simply called for verbal support of the predetermined conclusion of guilt.

With one voice they answered and said, “He is deserving of death!” The decision was unanimous as “they all condemned Him to be deserving of death” (Mark 14:64). The unanimous vote to convict should have given Jesus His freedom automatically because the necessary element of mercy was lacking. But by this time the Sanhedrin had relinquished even the semblance of legality and justice. Because we know that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Council but did not consent to Jesus’ condemnation (Luke 23:50-51), he obviously had left the proceedings before this final judicial farce transpired.

The verdict of guilty and the sentence of death were not based on careful consideration of full and impartial evidence and testimony. It was a senseless mob reaction, much like the one which, a few hours later, these same leaders would instigate and orchestrate regarding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:20-21).

The Illegal and Unjust Conduct of the Court

Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, and said, “Prophecy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?” (26:67-68)

Discarding the last vestige of decorum and decency the supreme court of Israel degenerated into a crude, mindless rabble. With total lack of inhibition, the religious aristocracy of Judaism—the high priest and chief priests, the elders, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees—revealed their true decadence, as some of them spat in Jesus’ face and beat Him with their fists.

To Jews, the supreme insult was to spit in another’s face (see Num. 12:14; Deut. 25:9). The impressive tomb of Absalom is still standing in the Kidron Valley just outside Jerusalem. But for thousands of years that monument has been spat on by Jewish passersby to show their contempt for Absalom’s treacherous rebellion against his father, David.

Others in the Council, perhaps the less rowdy older members, merely slapped Him. And instead of spitting on Jesus they threw verbal abuse in His face. After blindfolding Him (Luke 22:64), they demanded sarcastically “Prophecy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?”

Luke also reports that “they were saying many other things against Him, blaspheming” (22:65). The true blasphemers here were the accusers, not the accused. Jesus had not blasphemed because He was indeed God, but the ungodly Sanhedrin blasphemed repeatedly as they condemned, humiliated, and abused the sinless Son of God. And when these judges of Israel tired of tormenting Jesus, they turned Him over to the Temple police for further maltreatment (Mark 14:65).

As the later mob reaction before Pilate would prove conclusively the ungodly religious leaders who rejected and profaned Jesus were a microcosm of the Jewish nation. Spiritually and morally Israel was a rotting carcass waiting to be devoured by vultures, as indeed it was devoured by Rome less than forty years later. In a.d. 70 the Temple was burned and razed, most of Jerusalem was destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of its citizens were slaughtered without mercy.

Every person who rejects Christ spits in His face, as it were, and is guilty of blasphemy against God, who sent His beloved Son to save that person and all mankind from sin. The irony is that all who misjudge Jesus will themselves be rightly judged by Him one day. Men continually misjudge Jesus, but He will never misjudge them. The tables will be turned. The criminals will no longer unjustly condemn and crush the innocent but will themselves be justly condemned and crushed.

Even in the midst of the cruel injustice against Him, our Lord’s grace shined undiminished. Throughout His ordeal, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). This was His divinely-appointed time, and He resolutely and gladly faced hell’s moment of seeming victory. He would not turn or be turned from suffering and death, because only in that way could He bear “our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (v. 24).

From Holman Bible Dictionary

SANHEDRIN (san hee’ drihn) The highest Jewish council in the first century. The council had 71 members and was presided over by the high priest. The Sanhedrin included both of the main Jewish parties among its membership. Since the high priest presided, the Sadducea priestly party seems to have predominated; but some leading Pharisees also were members (Acts 5:34; 23:1-9).

The word Sanhedrin is usually translated “council” in the English translations of the Bible. Because of the predominance of the chief priests in the Sanhedrin, at times the words chief priests seem to refer to the action of the Sanhedrin, even though the name itself is not used.

According to Jewish tradition, the Sanhedrin began with the 70 elders appointed by Moses in Numbers 11:16 and was reorganized by Ezra after the Exile. However, the Old Testament provides no evidence of a council that functioned like the Sanhedrin of later times. Thus, the Sanhedrin had its origin sometime during the centuries between the Testaments. See Intertestamental History; Jewish Parties.

During the first century, the Sanhedrin exerted authority under the watchful eye of the Romans. Generally, the Roman governor allowed the Sanhedrin considerable autonomy and authority. The trial of Jesus, however, shows that the Sanhedrin did not have the authority to condemn people to death (John 18:31). Later, Stephen was stoned to death after a hearing before the Sanhedrin, but this may have been more a mob action than a legal execution authorized by the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:12-15; 7:54-60).

The Gospels describe the role of the Sanhedrin in the arrest, trials, and condemnation of Jesus. The Sanhedrin, under the leadership of Caiaphas the high priest, plotted to have Jesus killed (John 11:47-53). The chief priests conspired with Judas to betray Jesus (Matt. 26:14-16). After His arrest they brought Jesus into the council (Luke 22:66). They used false witnesses to condemn Jesus (Matt. 26:59-60; Mark 14:55-56). They sent Him to Pilate and pressured Pilate into pronouncing the death sentence (Mark 15:1-15).

The Book of Acts describes how the Sanhedrin harassed and threatened the apostles. The healing of the man at the Temple and Peter’s sermon attracted the attention of the chief priests. Peter and John were called before the council and warned not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:5-21). When the apostles continued to preach, the council had them arrested (Acts 5:21, 27). The wise counsel of Gamaliel caused the council to release the apostles with a beating and a warning (Acts 5:34-42). Stephen had to appear before the Sanhedrin on charges that sounded like the false charges against Jesus (Acts 6:12-15).

After Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, the Roman commander asked the council to examine Paul to decide what was Paul’s crime (Acts 22:30; 23:28). Paul identified himself as a Pharisee who was on trial for his hope of resurrection. This involved the council in a debate of the divisive issue of the resurrection (Acts 23:1-9). The chief priests and elders were part of a plot to have Paul assassinated as he was led to another hearing before the council (Acts 23:13-15, 20).

Leave a comment

Posted by on May 2, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross of Christ: Tried and Tempted

The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ | Biblical Christianity

For 40 days and nights, Jesus fasted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).  He had been led up (Matthew 4:1; Luke 4:ff) or driven (Mark 1:2) there by the spirit to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1).  He was with the wild beasts (Mark 1:13).  He ate nothing in those days and when they were ended, he was hungry (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2).

Satan then tempted Jesus (Mark 1:13) by saying to him, “If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Matthew 4:3; Luke 4:3).  Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).

Satan then took Jesus to the Holy City, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple (Matthew 4:5; Luke 4:9).  Satan then said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; for it is written (Psalm 91:11,12), ‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you’ and ‘on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'” (Matthew 4:6; Luke 4:9-11).  Jesus again resisted Satan’s temptation by quoting another scripture, Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12).

Satan then took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them in a moment of time (Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:5).  Satan then said to Jesus, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.  If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours” (Matthew 4:9; Luke 4:6-7).

For a third time Jesus resisted Satan’s temptation by quoting scripture, Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:12).

When Satan had ended every temptation, he departed (Matthew 4:11; Luke 4:13) until an opportune time (Luke 4:13).

Have you ever wondered when those opportune times might have been? Scripture tells us that Jesus was “In every respect . . . tempted as we are” (Hebrews 4:15), yet did not sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:21-24; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). 

These verses imply that there had to be other occasions when Satan returned to Jesus to again tempt him.  For this study, we will take a closer look at those other occasions mentioned in scripture when Satan or a person under the influence of Satan, tried to tempt Jesus again.

Context of Lesson

  1. Temptation by Unbelievers

Question:  When you’re made fun of, laughed at for what you believe or say, and made to believe that you’re wrong, isn’t that a form of temptation?  Don’t you want to immediately verbally or physically strike back at those ridiculing you or just run away and hide?  It wasn’t the unbelieving crowd tempting Jesus, it was Satan.  Satan wanted to plant a seed of doubt and unbelief in Jesus and use peer pressure to drive it home.

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter from the Dead (Matthew 9:18, 23-26; Mark 5:2, 21-14; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56) Jairus was a ruler of the Jewish synagogue (Matthew 9:18; Mark 5:22; Luke 8:40).  He had a twelve year old daughter (Luke 8:42) who was at the point of death (Mark 5:23; Luke 8:42).  Jairus asked Jesus to come to his house (Luke 8:41) and lay his hands on his daughter so that she might be made well (Mark 5:23).  While Jesus was detained by a woman who had had an issue of blood and wished to be healed (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:24-34; Luke 8:42-48), some came from Jairus’ house and told him that his daughter had died (Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49).

These people also asked Jairus, “Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Mark 5:35; Luke 8:49).  Jesus then said, “Do not fear, only believe, and she shall be made well” (Mark 5:36; Luke 8:50).  Then Jesus stopped these people and the great crowd (Mark 5:21) from following him, allowing only Peter, James and John to accompany he and Jairus to his house (Mark 5:37).  When Jesus, Jairus and the three apostles arrived at Jairus’ house, flutists were playing and the crowd was making a tumult, weeping and wailing loudly (Matthew 9:23; Mark 5:38).

Then Jesus asked the crowd, “Why do you make a tumult and weep?  The child is not dead but sleeping” (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39).  The crowd then laughed at Jesus (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:40; Luke 8:53).

Did Satan’s temptation of Jesus work?  No it didn’t.  Jesus had the unbelieving crowd put outside the house (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:40). Jesus then allowed only Peter, James, John and the child’s father and mother to go into the house with him (Mark 5:40; Luke 8:52). Taking the girl’s hand (Matthew 9:25), Jesus said to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 9:25).  The girl immediately got up (Matthew 9:26) and walked (Mark 5:42).

  1. Temptations by Religious Leaders

Question:  When you become angry at someone, do you become so frustrated and get so out of control that you get sidetracked and forget what you were trying to accomplish?  Does your anger so overtake you that you lose an opportunity to show others the good within you?  It wasn’t the scribes and pharisees tempting Jesus, it was Satan.  Satan wanted Jesus to become so angry that this opportunity to do good would be lost forever.

On several occasions Satan used the religious leaders of the day in efforts to tempt Jesus.  Scripture describes these efforts as attempts “to test, to entangle, to accuse, to put him to the test.”

One example of these attempts occurred when the Scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus as he taught in the synagogue.  They asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10).  The purpose of their question was to find an accusation against him (Luke 6:7), for they knew a man with a withered hand was present (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6).

Jesus knew their thoughts (Luke 6:8) and why they had asked the question.  He asked the man to “come and stand here” (Luke 6:8).  He then asked the tempters, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9) and “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep.  So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12).   His tempters remained silent (Mark 3:4).  Jesus looked around at his tempters with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5).

Did Satan’s temptation of Jesus work?  No it didn’t.  Jesus asked the man to “stretch out your hand” (Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:5; Luke 6:10).  Jesus then restored the man’s right hand and made it whole (Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:5; Luke 6:10).  Jesus had controlled his anger, overcome the temptation, and was able to make the best of an otherwise bad situation bring glory to God.

For additional study, other examples of religious leaders tempting Jesus include:

  1. The Pharisees and Sadducees asking Jesus for a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-21; Luke 11:16-26).
  2. The Scribes and Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus (John 8:3-11)
  3. The Pharisee’s questioning Jesus about the lawfulness of divorcing one’s wife for any cause (Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12).
  4. The Pharisee’s questioning Jesus about the lawfulness of paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26).
  5. The Sadducees questioning Jesus about marriage and the resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38).
  6. The Pharisees quesioning Jesus about which is the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34).
  7. The lawyer’s questioning Jesus about what one had to do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-37).
  8. Jesus cleansing of the temple of the sellers of animals and the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-25).
  9. The Chief Priests, Scribes, and Elders seeking false witnesses against Jesus (Matthew 26:59-62; Mark 14:55-59; Luke 23:2).
  10. A Pharisee questioning Jesus about why he did not wash his hands before eating (Luke 11:37-44).
  11. Temptation by the Apostles

Question:  What do you do when your closest friend, relative, neighbor, or brother and sister in Christ betray or disappoint you?  Do you disassociate yourself from them and avoid them from then on?  Do you find new individuals to become your closest friends and acquaintances?  Satan wanted to tempt Jesus into thinking that his choices for his apostles had been wrong, that his use of these men in his ministry had been a bad mistake on his part.

Perhaps Satan’s greatest efforts at tempting Jesus occurred when he used those individuals closest to Jesus to tempt him – his own apostles, the men he had hand picked to work along side him in his ministry and after his death, continue the work he had started.

When Jesus called the twelve, he gave them authority over unclean spirits – to cast them out, and to heal every disease and infirmity (Matthew 10:1,8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons (Matthew 10:8; Mark 3:15), and to preach the kingdom (Matthew 10:7; Mark 3:14; 6:12; Luke 9:2).

On occasions when the apostles were unable to heal (Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43), Jesus told them it was “because of your little faith” (Matthew 9:20).  When the apostles did not understand Jesus’ teachings, instructions or words (Matthew 16:5-7; Mark 8:14-17), Jesus told them, “0 men of little faith…do yo not yet perceive?” (Matthew 16:9), “Are your hearts hardened?” (Mark 8:17).  There were times when the apostles’ hearts were hardened (Mark 6:52) and Jesus’ words were concealed from them (Luke 9:45; 18:34).  Was it Satan who hardened the apostles’ hearts?  Since it was detrimental to Jesus’ ministry it must have been.  We know for certain that it was Satan who entered Judas Iscariot’s heart when he betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:2,27). We also know that Jesus called Peter “Satan” on one occasion (Matthew 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33).

Did Satan’s use of the apostles to tempt Jesus work?  No it didn’t.  Jesus didn’t write off the twelve as wrong choices for apostles.  He didn’t find new individuals to work along side him in his ministry.  Instead, he continued to teach, train, and help the apostles to learn, grow, and mature in his ministry, to develop into the kind of leaders he knew the church would need to grow and multiply following his death.  He didn’t give up on his choices.

  1. Satan’s Last Temptation

Question:  When your life seems to be crumbling in on you, when all hope seems to be gone, when there seems to be no escape from life’s pain and suffering, trials and tribulations, sorrow and agony, where do you turn?  To painkillers?  tranquilizers?  alcohol? drugs?  stimulants?  caffeine?  chocolate?  marijuana?  heroin? opium?  crack?  quaaludes?  valium?  Or some other type of human remedy?  Satan wanted Jesus to take the drugged drink and lessen Jesus’ suffering on the cross.

Satan’s last effort to tempt Jesus, like his first, came at a time when the physical, human side of Jesus was weakest.  It occurred as Jesus hung on the cross.  His physical body had gone without food, drink, or rest for almost 24 hours.  He had been bound at his arrest (John 18:12); spat on, struck and slapped by the Jewish authorities (Matthew 26:67; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64); his head pierced by the crown of thorns as it was struck by a reed (Matthew 27:29-30; Mark 15:17-19; John 19:2-3); his back torn into shreads from being scourged (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15); his body weakened from carrying the weight of the cross (John 19:17); his hands pierced by the spikes that held him to the cross;  his body weakened from loss of blood.  In physical pain and torment that would have already killed many a man, Jesus was tempted one final time by Satan.

As Jesus hung on the cross, a Roman soldier, perhaps, offered him a drink made of wine mingled with myrrh (Mark 15:23) or gall (Matthew 27:34) that had been made by some wealthy Jewish women.  Why was this drink a temptation?  To answer this question, one must take a closer look at the drink that was offered to Jesus.  It was made of gall, a bitter and poisonous herb, that was commonly used to dull a person’s senses and nerves, lessen pain, and hasten death.  It is mentioned in scripture as “poisoned water” (Jeremiah 8:14; 9:15; 23:15), “poisonous weeds” (Hosea 10:4), and “poison for food . vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21).  It was a narcotic painkiller.

Perhaps not knowing what was being offered to him, Jesus tasted it (Matthew 27:34).  When it touched his lips and he realized what it was, he would not drink it (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23).  To have done so would have lessened Jesus’ pain and agony on the cross, negating everything he had lived for.  Instead of tasting the drink further, Jesus chose instead to taste death for all mankind (Hebrews 2:9).

Did Satan’s effort to tempt Jesus with drugs work?  No it didn’t. When Jesus could have taken drugs to kill his physical pain, end his mental suffering, and hasten death on the cross, he chose to “just say no” to the licit (legal) drug used by the physicians and executioners of his day.  He said no to the drugs and no to Satan. The next time you have a hard day and are tempted to “pop a pill,” take a closer look at the cross.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 28, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross: Understanding Temptations  

Message: “Understanding Temptation” from Steve Adamson – Faith AG

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)  Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

  Temptation of Eve (Genesis 3:4-6)


Temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) Temptation of Christians Today
Lust of the flesh
The desire to fulfill pleasures, physical desires.
The fruit looked delicious and would be good to eat. Turn the stones into bread. Take what is easier or more pleasurable rather than God’s best.
Lust of the eyes
The constant craving for more.
The fruit was a pleasure to look at. Gain all the kingdoms of the world, as far as the eye can see. Respond impulsively, without restraint or self-control.
The pride of life
The desire for power or possessions
The fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom; Eve wanted to “be like God.” Throw yourself down and the angels will come and rescue you for God will not allow you to be hurt. Build a power base rather than seek to serve others

LET IT GOWhen the desire for possessions and sinful pleasures feels so intense, we probably doubt that these objects of desire will all one day pass away. It may be even more difficult to believe that the person who does the will of God will live forever.

But this was John’s conviction based on the facts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and promises. Knowing that this evil world will end can give you the courage to deny yourself temporary pleasures in this world in order to enjoy what God has promised us for eternity.

 James 1:13-15 (ESV) Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

1:13 We must have a correct view of God in order to persevere during times of trial. Specifically, we need to understand God’s view of our temptations.

Trials and temptations always present us with choices. God wants us to make good choices, not evil ones. Hardships can produce spiritual maturity and lead to eternal benefits if endured in faith.

But tests can also be failed. We can give in to temptation. And when we fail, we often use all kinds of excuses and reasons for our actions. The most dangerous of these is to blame God for tempting us. James turns his attention to this problem.

When tempted. As used here, the Greek word for temptation stands for a direct evil impulse. It can be used to indicate a trial (1:12), a temptation from within (1:14), or a temptation from without, usually relating to Satan’s work (Matthew 4:1).

In Jesus’ best-known prayer, he told his disciples to ask God, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 nkjv). It is crucial for us to remember always that God tests people for good; he does not tempt people for evil. Even during temptation we can see God’s sovereignty in permitting Satan to tempt us in order to refine our faith and help us grow in our dependence on Christ.

No one should say, “God is tempting me.”NIV Instead of persevering, we may give in or give up in the face of trial. We might even rationalize that God is at fault for sending such a trying experience, and thus blame God for our failure. From the beginning it has been a natural human response to make excuses and blame others for sin. Excuses include:

“It’s the other person’s fault.”  “I couldn’t help it.”   “Everybody’s doing it.”      “It was just a mistake.”

“Nobody’s perfect.”    “I didn’t know it was wrong.”  “The devil made me do it.”     “I was pressured into it.”

A person who makes excuses is trying to shift blame from himself or herself to something or someone else. A Christian, on the other hand, accepts responsibility for his or her wrongs, confesses them, and asks God for forgiveness.

For God cannot be tempted by evil. Because God cannot be tempted by evil, he cannot be the author of temptation.

Nor does he himself tempt anyone.NKJV God does not wish evil on people; he does not cause evil; he does not try to trip people up. Our failures are not God’s fault.

God may test believers in order to strengthen their faith, but he never tries to induce sin or destroy faith. God does not want us to fail, but to succeed.

At this point, the question may be rightly asked: “If God really loves us, why doesn’t he protect us from temptation?”

A God who kept us from temptation would be a God unwilling to allow us to grow. In order for a test to be an effective tool for growth, it must be capable of being failed. God actually proves his love by protecting us in temptation instead of protecting us from temptation.

He provides a way to resist: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

GOD’S WAY OUT OF TEMPTATION. God gives us these resources during temptation:

  • His presence. “He will not leave you nor forsake you” Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV) “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (ESV) Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
  • His model—Jesus. “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17-18 niv).
  • His guidance. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105 nrsv).
  • His mission for our life that keeps us directed. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 niv).
  • His other people with whom we share encouragement. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 niv).
  • His forgiveness when we fall and fail. “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 nrsv).

1:14 Some believers thought that since God allowed trials, he must also be the source of temptation. These people could excuse their sin by saying that God was at fault. James corrects this. Temptations come from within. Here James highlights individual responsibility for sin.

But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire.NIV Behind the idea of the evil desire is the Jewish doctrine of the two yetzers. This has to do with the Jewish belief that all people have two yetzers or impulses—an impulse to good and an impulse to evil—and that these impulses war within them. It is possible, perhaps even likely, that James is building upon this Jewish idea.

Desires can be either fed or starved. If the desire itself is evil, we must deny its wish. It is up to us, with God’s help. If we encourage our desires, they will soon become actions.

The blame for sin is ours alone. The kind of desire James is describing here is desire out of control. It is selfish and seductive.

When he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.NKJV The enticement of evil is expressed in two ways—being dragged away or being lured like a fish to bait, and being enticed.

Temptation comes from evil desires within us, not from God. We can both build and bait our own trap. It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.

Like a snowball rolling downhill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way. The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too great or moving too fast to control.

So we meet the enemy called temptation and discover it is in us. How can we withstand the attacks we know will come?

  • We must continually place ourselves under God’s protection.
  • We must reject the enticement, or temptation by recognizing it as a false promise.
  • We must bring into our life those activities that we know God has provided for our benefit—knowledge of Scripture, fellowship with Christ and other believers, good music, appreciation of all God has made—activities that expand our awareness in life.

     THE DEVIL AND OUR DESIRES. How does the devil make our desires serve his purposes?

He offers suggestions from within our environment and experience. What seems at first glance to be harmless may lead to evil. The person who takes Satan’s suggestions into his mind is fighting on dangerous ground. But the devil can’t entice our mind against our will.

He deceives with false advertising. Fame, sex, wealth, and power are presented to us as though they satisfy. But we don’t have to take his suggestions.

He singles us out through fear, making us feel as though we are struggling alone. But we are warned to “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 niv).

Knowing that we have these potential weaknesses in our defenses should motivate us to be careful to control our desires.

   1:15 Then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.NRSV James traces the result of temptation when a person yields to it. Desire in itself is not sin, but assenting to its enticement eventually gives birth to sin.

Desire, Deception, Disobedience, and Death. It takes spiritual growth and consistent dependence on God to know when a desire can be calmly evaluated and when a desire can easily become lustful and controlling.

Desires that present themselves to us in expressions that begin with “I have to have,” “I can’t do without,” or even “I would do anything if only I could” are all ripe for conception and birth into sin. It is helpful to ask ourselves occasionally, “What reasoning do I use that tends to lead me into sin?”

And sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.NIV Life is given to those who persevere in trials (1:12); death comes to those who allow their desire to run its course. Sin is full-grown when it becomes a fixed habit. Death is referring to spiritual separation from God that comes as the result of sin (see also Romans 6:23; 7:7-12; 1 John 2:16-17; 3:14).

When we yield to temptation, our sin sets deadly events into motion. There is more to stopping sin than just stopping sinning. Damage has been done. Deciding to “sin no more” may take care of the future, but it does not heal the past. That healing must come through repentance and forgiveness. Sometimes restitution must be made. As serious as the remedy sounds, we can be deeply grateful that there is a remedy at all. God loves us. It is his gracious love that breaks the cycle of desire-sin-death. Wherever we find ourselves in the process, we can turn to God in repentance for help. His way leads to life.

1:16 Do not be deceived. The Greek expression means “stop being deceived”—deceived about God’s goodness and about the source of temptation. Simply claiming that God is not the author of evil doesn’t automatically mean that he will help us fight it.

If life was fully defined by 1:13-15, our situation would be desperate. We might be faced with struggling against sin while God watched, uninvolved either way. James hurries on to spell out our hope. Not only does God not tempt us, he is also actively providing everything good that we find in life.

We are not to attribute evil intent to God—God is the source of good gifts, especially the new birth (1:18). He is the author of salvation, not temptation. Paragraph 1:16-18 is the positive side of the picture painted in 1:13-15.

The danger behind James’s warning to us not to be deceived is the temptation to believe that God does not care, or won’t help us, or may even be working against us. The picture is not pretty. If we come to believe we are alone, we have been deceived. If we distrust God, we have been deceived. And if we dare to accuse God of being the tempter, we have been thoroughly deceived.

What more devastating example of deception could there be than seeing the source of all good as the source of evil? Is it any wonder that Jesus leveled this charge at those who had a twisted view of God? “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Believing in God is important, but it also matters how we believe in him. As James will illustrate later (2:19), we are capable of believing in God—the wrong way. It is this very deception that James is attacking by his entire letter.

I can’t do without,” or even “I would do anything if only I could” are all ripe for conception and birth into sin. It is helpful to ask ourselves occasionally, “What reasoning do I use that tends to lead me into sin?”

And sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.NIV Life is given to those who persevere in trials (1:12); death comes to those who allow their desire to run its course. Sin is full-grown when it becomes a fixed habit. Death is referring to spiritual separation from God that comes as the result of sin (see also Romans 6:23; 7:7-12; 1 John 2:16-17; 3:14).

When we yield to temptation, our sin sets deadly events into motion. There is more to stopping sin than just stopping sinning. Damage has been done. Deciding to “sin no more” may take care of the future, but it does not heal the past. That healing must come through repentance and forgiveness. Sometimes restitution must be made. As serious as the remedy sounds, we can be deeply grateful that there is a remedy at all. God loves us. It is his gracious love that breaks the cycle of desire-sin-death. Wherever we find ourselves in the process, we can turn to God in repentance for help. His way leads to life.

1:16 Do not be deceived. The Greek expression means “stop being deceived”—deceived about God’s goodness and about the source of temptation. Simply claiming that God is not the author of evil doesn’t automatically mean that he will help us fight it. If life was fully defined by 1:13-15, our situation would be desperate. We might be faced with struggling against sin while God watched, uninvolved either way. James hurries on to spell out our hope. Not only does God not tempt us, he is also actively providing everything good that we find in life. We are not to attribute evil intent to God—God is the source of good gifts, especially the new birth (1:18). He is the author of salvation, not temptation. Paragraph 1:16-18 is the positive side of the picture painted in 1:13-15.

The danger behind James’s warning to us not to be deceived is the temptation to believe that God does not care, or won’t help us, or may even be working against us. The picture is not pretty. If we come to believe we are alone, we have been deceived. If we distrust God, we have been deceived. And if we dare to accuse God of being the tempter, we have been thoroughly deceived.

What more devastating example of deception could there be than seeing the source of all good as the source of evil? Is it any wonder that Jesus leveled this charge at those who had a twisted view of God? “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Believing in God is important, but it also matters how we believe in him. As James will illustrate later (2:19), we are capable of believing in God—the wrong way. It is this very deception that James is attacking by his entire letter.

The sequence, described clearly in sexual language, represents the course any sins have taken by the time they are apparent to others. Since it begins within, the help we need the most in combating sin is internal. That help comes from God. The best time to stop sin is at the moment we realize the desire is about to become focused, before it has conceived.

At first it [temptation] is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colors; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.

 1. A temptation is not present if the possibility for a wrong choice is not there.

Though I don’t fully understand why or how, I believe, from Luke 4, when the devil tempted Jesus:

* That he led Jesus to the highest point of the temple.

* That the devil somehow had the power to grant Jesus the power and splendor and control of all the kingdoms of the world.

I don’t know how.. but it would have not been tempting to Jesus unless the devil could have delivered on his promises?

  1. Jesus felt the full power of the Devil’s temptations…temptation at its greatest
  2. He was tempted through the flesh, eyes, and pride of life.
  3. He did not sin, though He felt this full power.

* We might not understand all these verses could say.. .but we must clearly see that the Savior can identify with us, and is therefore sympathetic with us.. and “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence…

It takes spiritual growth and consistent dependence on God to know when a desire can be calmly evaluated and when a desire can easily become lustful and controlling. Desires that present themselves to us in expressions that begin with “I have to have,” ”



Leave a comment

Posted by on April 25, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Sorrow, Celebration, and Self-examination

God: Creator and Sustainer of All Things God: Creator and Sustainer of All  Things - Church of the Messiah

A closer look into the miracles that occurred at the cross.

God Is the Creator of the Universe

(Psalms 33:6 NIV) “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.”

 (Psalms 102:25 NIV) “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

(Hebrews 11:3 NIV) “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

As Creator, God Sometimes Used the Natural World to Accomplish His Will

Old Testament Examples – Localized Events

  • Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire and brimstone (Gen. 19:15-29)
  • Egypt inflicted with plagues because people of Israel retained (Exodus 7:8-12:36)
  • Earthquake consumes families and households of 250 wicked men of Israel; men consumed by fire from heaven (Num. 16:31-34)
  1. Old Testament Examples – Worldwide events

The earth flooded by water (Exo. 7:9-8:2)

The rainbow placed in the sky (Gen. 9:13-17)

The sun stands still “about a whole day” (Joshua 10:12-15)

Testament Examples – Localized Events

The Storm Stilled on Sea of Galilee by Jesus (Luke 8:22-25; Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41)

An Earthquake Opens Prison Doors for Paul and Silas (Acts 16:19-40)

An Earthquake Occurs and Rocks Split Open at Jesus’ Death (Matthew 27:51)

The Curtain of the Temple Torn in Half at Jesus’ Death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45)

New Testament Examples – Worldwide Events

The Wise Men See a Star Appear in the East at the Birth of Jesus, Guides Them to the House Where Jesus Was (Matthew 2: 1-12)

The Three Unusual Hours of Darkness Before the Death of Jesus (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44).

Matt. 27:45-50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30

Mk 15:33 [MK 15:]33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

Lk 23:45 [LK 23:]45For the sun stopped shining.

Mk 15:34-35 [MK 15:]34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”NIV-12-14

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Between noon and 3 p.m. darkness covers Judea. This is the first of three phenomena that accompany Jesus’ death. It is a supernatural sign of judgment (cf. Amos 8:9-10) which cannot adequately be explained naturalistically. For example, an eclipse doesn’t last for three hours nor does it occur during the full moon of Passover. A sirocco (a desert windstorm) would hardly cover the land in complete darkness as if “the sun stopped shining.”12-65 No, the hand of God shrouded the land.

After only six hours on the cross, Jesus dies. He cries out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi…”12-66 This fourth saying from the cross is perhaps the most theologically significant and perhaps too deep for us to fully appreciate. But it seems to point in at least two directions. First, Jesus is calling us back to Psalm 22:1 by quoting it verbatim. This passage is an incredibly clear prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. It serves as a poignant reminder that this is God’s plan and it is still under his control no matter what it looks like on the surface. What is most striking about this Psalm, however, is that it was written about 1000 b.c., a full 600 years before crucifixion was in vogue. We are also impressed that the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) is prefaced by the Psalm of God’s Sacrificial Lamb (Ps 22).

Secondly, Jesus is not merely quoting Psalm 22:1; he is describing his present and insufferable separation from his Heavenly Father. From eternity past, Jesus has never known what it was like to be alienated from God’s presence. While we want to studiously avoid the error of the Gnostics and docetics who believed that Jesus ceased to be God in this moment, we do affirm that the Father, at some level, turns his back on Jesus as he becomes the embodiment of sin (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 3:26; Gal 3:13). Jesus is forsaken by God, that is, he is abandoned, left without God’s resources or intervention, to suffer and die alone.12-67 But this word pops up again in Acts 2:27, 31 to describe how God did NOT abandon Jesus in the grave. God’s abandonment may be harsh, but it is only temporary. Even Psalm 22 ends with a note of victory. After all, behind the cross is an empty tomb.

Jn 19:28 with Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so [immediatelyMT] they [one manMK] soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

Mt 27:49 with Mk 15:36 49The rest said [he said,MK] “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

Jn 19:30 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

 Lk 23:46 with Jn 19:30 46[With that, heJN] called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this he breathed his last, [bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.JN]

John interprets Jesus’ fifth statement from the cross as a prophetic fulfillment, probably alluding to Psalm 69:21. Jesus asks for a drink and one of the men standing there responds immediately. He is likely a soldier who dips a sponge into his own stash. This wine vinegar is a poor-man’s brew. It is a bit sour but a great thirst quencher. This time they apparently don’t mix it with myrrh. He puts the sponge on a stick and lifts it to Jesus’ lips before anyone really knew what was happening.12-68 The crowd says, “Hey, leave him alone. We want to see if Elijah is going to come and save him.” Because they misheard “Eloi” for “Elijah” this provides one last opportunity to mock Jesus. Since Elijah never actually died, the Jews expected him to return literally as a precursor to the Messiah based on Malachi 4:5. Now that Jesus is “praying to Elijah” this would provide one last point of ridicule.

Their derision is cut short. As soon as Jesus receives the drink he said, “It is finished” and then shouted, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that he takes one last breath, bows his head and releases his spirit. But what exactly was finished? His life? NO!… Easter’s on its way! His work on earth was done (Heb 9:26; 10:12-14). The perfect verb tense highlights the total completion of his task. He had accomplished what he had come here to do (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). In addition, some have speculated that Jesus is again alluding to Psalm 22, this time to the very last line, where God completes his task.

Even with his last breath he was alluding to Scripture. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” is likely taken from Psalm 31:5. Liefeld says that it was part of the Jews’ evening prayer (p. 1045). In turning to the Psalm itself, there is much there that would be relevant to Jesus at this very moment:

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Ps 31:2, 4-5, 7, 11-14, 22, 24).

Some years ago as I was driving to a meeting on what is called Good Friday morning, I heard a radio program on which the speaker was making an attempt to acknowledge it as a very special day. It was a day he said, when a certain man was prosecuted for crimes he did not commit and, although innocent, was sentenced to death. The speaker was of course talking about the crucifixion of Christ. He commented on the inspiration of that special Person and of all others like Him who stand unflinchingly for what they believe in, disregarding the consequences.

But as well-meaning as that speaker may have been, he utterly missed the true significance of Jesus’ death. Like most people in Western society, he knew many of the bare facts of the crucifixion but had no grasp of its meaning apart from the obvious travesty of human justice. And from what was said on that program, Jesus’ resurrection was considered to be more myth and legend than history. No divine purpose, activity, or accomplishment were so much as hinted at.

As noted in a previous chapter, by the time of Christ the Romans had crucified some 30,000 men in Palestine alone. It seems probable that some of whose men were also innocent of the charges against them. The majority of them were executed for insurrection and doubtlessly were sincere patriots who hoped to free their people from oppression. They died nobly for a cause they believed in. Why, then, we may ask, does history remember the name of only one of those men?

The answer is clear almost from the opening words of Scripture. The sin of Adam and Eve not only caused their own fall and that of all their descendants but also brought corruption of the entire earth. It was for that reason Paul declared that the physical world groans like a woman in childbirth, longing to be restored to its God-designed perfection (Rom. 8:19-22).

Immediately after the Fall, God gave the first veiled promise of deliverance from the sin that had cursed mankind and the rest of the world. He told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen. 3:15). Because men, not women, carry the seed of procreation, the seed of Eve was a prediction of the virgin birth of Christ, who would have no human father and who would be bruised temporarily “on the heel” by Satan but would bruise Satan permanently “on the head.”

When God provided the ram as a substitute for Isaac, whom He had ordered his father, Abraham, to sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-14), He provided a beautiful picture of the sacrificial offering of His own Son, Jesus Christ—except that for Him no substitute was or could be provided. And through the animal sacrifices prescribed in the law of Moses, God portrayed to His people the necessity of shedding blood for the remission of sin. But the blood of those animals had no power to remove the slightest sin, and the sacrifices had to be repeated continuously throughout the history of Israel. Yet imperfect as they were, they nevertheless pictured the true, sufficient, and once-for-all sacrifice for sins that Christ’s blood shed on the cross would provide. Only one of the 30,000 crucified died for the sins of the world!

Isaiah graphically predicted that the coming Messiah would be “pierced through for our transgressions,… crushed for our iniquities,” carrying in His own body the sins of all fallen mankind (Isa. 53:5). Zechariah predicted that one day God’s chosen people will turn as a nation to the One whom they had pierced, “and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son,’ (Zech. 12:10).

In the New Testament Paul explains that on the cross Christ was made a curse for us who deserve to be cursed (Gal. 3:13). Peter declares that He “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet. 3:18; cf. Heb. 9:28), and John speaks of Christ as the supreme sacrificial “Lamb who has been slain,’ (Rev. 13:8).

But nowhere in Scripture is the meaning of the cross delineated more powerfully than in Matthew 27:45-53, which records six miracles that form Almighty God’s own commentary on the meaning of the cross.

While Christ hung on the cross, some miraculous events happened – events which demonstrated perfectly that the cross was a triumph, not a tragedy. The cross was the Messiah’s great triumph!

As we have been reading the story of the Crucifixion, everything seems to have been happening very quickly; but in reality the hours were slipping past.  It is Mark who is most precise in his note of time.  He tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour, that is at nine o’clock in the morning (Mark 15:25), and that he died at the ninth hour, that is at three o’clock in the afternoon (Mark 15:34).  That is to say, Jesus hung on the Cross for six hours.  For him the agony was mercifully brief, for it often happened that criminals hung upon their crosses for days before death came to them.

In verse 46 we have what must be the most staggering sentence in the gospel record, the cry of Jesus:  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  That is a saying before which we must bow in reverence, and yet at the same time we must try to understand.  There have been many attempts to penetrate behind its mystery; we can look only at three.

(i)  It is strange how Psalm 22 runs through the whole Crucifixion narrative; and this saying is actually the first verse of that Psalm.  Later on it says, “All who seek me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7, 8).  Still further on we read:  “They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18).  Psalm 22 is interwoven with the whole Crucifixion story.

It has been suggested that Jesus was, in fact, repeating that Psalm to himself; and, though it begins in complete dejection, it ends in soaring triumph-“From thee comes my praise in the great congregation . . . .  For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:25-31).  So it is suggested that Jesus was repeating Psalm 22 on the Cross, as a picture of his own situation, and as a song of his trust and confidence, well knowing that it began in the depths, but that it finished on the heights.

It is an attractive suggestion; but on a cross a man does not repeat poetry to himself, even the poetry of a psalm; and besides that, the whole atmosphere is one of unrelieved tragedy.

(ii)  It is suggested that in that moment the weight of the world’s sin fell upon the heart and the being of Jesus; that that was the moment when he who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21); and that the penalty which he bore for us was the inevitable separation from God which sin brings.  No man may say that that is not true; but, if it is, it is a mystery which we can only state and at which we can only wonder.

(iii)  It may be that there is something-if we may put it so-more human here.  It seems to me that Jesus would not be Jesus unless he had plumbed the uttermost depths of human experience.  In human experience, as life goes on and as bitter tragedy enters into it, there come times when we feel that God has forgotten us; when we are immersed in a situation beyond our understanding and feel bereft even of God.  It seems to me that that is what happened to Jesus here.  We have seen in the garden that Jesus knew only that he had to go on, because to go on was God’s will, and he must accept what even he could not fully understand.  Here we see Jesus plumbing the uttermost depths of the human situation, so that there might be no place that we might go where he has not been before.

Those who listened did not understand.  Some thought he was calling on Elijah; they must have been Jews.  One of the great gods of the pagans was the sun-Helios.  A cry to the sun god would have begun “Helie!” and it has been suggested that the soldiers may have thought that Jesus was crying to the greatest of the pagan gods.  In any event, his cry was to the watchers a mystery.

But here is the point.  It would have been a terrible thing if Jesus had died with a cry like that upon his lips-but he did not.  The narrative goes on to tell us that, when he shouted with a great shout, he gave up his spirit.  That great shout left its mark upon men’s minds.  It is in every one of the gospels (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).  But there is one gospel which goes further.  John tells us that Jesus died with a shout:  “It is finished” (John 19:30).  It is finished is in English three words; but in Greek it is one-Tetelestai-as it would also be in Aramaic.  And tetelestai is the victor’s shout; it is the cry of the man who has completed his task; it is the cry of the man who has won through the struggle; it is the cry of the man who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light, and who has grasped the crown.  So, then, Jesus died a victor with a shout of triumph on his lips.

Here is the precious thing.  Jesus passed through the uttermost abyss, and then the light broke.  If we too cling to God, even when there seems to be no God, desperately and invincibly clutching the remnants of our faith, quite certainly the dawn will break and we will win through.  The victor is the man who refuses to believe that God has forgotten him, even when every fibre of his being feels that he is forsaken.  The victor is the man who will never let go his faith, even when he feels that its last grounds are gone.  The victor is the man who has been beaten to the depths and still holds on to God, for that is what Jesus did.

Eight events show this clearly.

  1. The terrifying darkness (v.45).
  2. The mysterious, loud cry (v.46-49).
  3. The great shout of triumph and the yielding up of Jesus’ spirit (v.50).
  4. The great veil of the temple torn: from top to bottom (v.51).
  5. The terrifying earthquake (v.51).
  6. The resurrection of many saints (v.52-53).
  7. The confession of the centurion and others (v.54).
  8. The courage and love of the women (v.55-56).

27:45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.NRSV Jesus had been put on the cross at nine o’clock in the morning. Death by crucifixion was slow and excruciating, sometimes taking two or three days. Three hours passed while Jesus put up with abuse from bystanders. Then, at noon, darkness settled over the land for three hours. We do not know how this darkness occurred, but it is clear that God caused it (Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention this). Some have suggested an eclipse occurred, but Passover was held at a full moon, a time when an eclipse is not possible. Along with the earthquake in 27:51, it could have been a natural event with supernatural timing.

Nature testified to the gravity of Jesus’ death, while Jesus’ friends and enemies alike fell silent in the encircling gloom. The darkness on that Friday afternoon was both physical and spiritual. All nature seemed to mourn over the stark tragedy of the death of God’s Son. Some see a fulfillment of Amos 8:9, where the darkness was a sign of God’s judgment: “‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight'” (niv). See also Exodus 10:21-22.

(27:45) Jesus Christ, Death—Earth, Darkness: the terrifying darkness. A supernatural darkness hung over the land from the sixth to the ninth hour, or according to our time from noon to 3 p.m.

Think for a moment. Just imagine…

Who it was hanging on the cross…

God’s only Son, the Sovereign Lord of all beings, both visible and invisible (cp. Col. 1:16).

The great architect and creator of the whole universe, of all nature.


What He was doing there on the cross…

Bearing the sins of all men.

Bearing the judgment and wrath of God against sin for all men.

Dying the death of man for all men.

Doing all that was necessary to free men from sin, death, and judgment so that they might live forever.

What the depth of God’s plan is…

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

When the facts are really meditated upon, is there any wonder that all things, including nature itself, were drastically affected by the death of God’s Son? The darkness demonstrated and symbolized several things.

  1. The darkness demonstrated that Christ was definitely God’s Son. Before Him all mouths are to be stopped in fear and reverence. There is no doubt that fear and wonder stopped the mocking mouths of the crowd standing around the cross. There is no mention of jeering taking place during these hours. The crowd was stricken with a sense of terror, wondering just what was happening (Matthew 27:54).

            “And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy” (Mark 14:33).

            “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

            “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkest day of human history. This was the day when the Son of God Himself was being put to death for the sins of men.

            “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

            “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkness of sin: sin which demands darkness to carry on its acts.

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21). Sin which leads to the most terrible darkness of all—death.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

  1. The darkness symbolized the darkness of the human soul and its works. The darkness of the human soul was now being borne by the Son of God—all for man.

            “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

            “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)….But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephes. 2:1-5, 13).

            “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people” (Psalm 22:6).

  1. The darkness symbolized the withdrawal of the light of God’s presence from the sinner. Christ hung upon the cross as the sinner—all for us—the sinner who was becoming sin for us.

            “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

            “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

  1. The darkness symbolized the anger of God at sin. Sin and the sinner deserve nothing but the judgment of darkness. Sin deserves no light from God’s presence, none whatsoever.

            “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

            “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

            “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

When Jesus was born, the night sky around Bethlehem was filled with  supernatural light as “the glory of the Lord shone around” the shepherds in the  field (Luke 2:9). John spoke of Jesus as “the light of men,’ and “the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man,’ (John 1:4, 9). Jesus spoke  of Himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12; cf. 12:35-36).

But the first miraculous sign that accompanied Jesus’ death was not glorious  light but dread darkness. From the sixth hour (noon), when the sun is at its zenith, supernatural darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour (3:00 P.M.). Jesus’ crucifixion had begun at the third hour, or 9:00 A.M. (Mark 15:25), and when the darkness began He had been on the cross for three hours.

During those first three hours, the silence was broken by Jesus only three times. The first was by His saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), and a short while later He said to the penitent thief beside Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (23:43). Shortly after that He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to John, “Behold your mother!” (John 19:26-27).

At the beginning of the second three hours the great darkness fell upon all the land. The Greek  (land) can also be translated earth, indicating the entire world. It is therefore not possible from the text to determine how widespread the darkness was. God was equally able, of course, to make the darkness local or universal. Shortly before the Exodus, He caused a great darkness to cover the land of Egypt (Ex. 10:14-15), and some forty years later He caused the sun to “stand still,” probably by temporarily stopping the rotation of the earth (Josh. 10:12-13; cf. 2 Kings 20:9-11).

Several interesting reports in extrabiblical literature suggest that the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion was worldwide. The early church Father Origen (Against Celsus, 2.33) reported a statement by a Roman historian who mentioned such a darkness. Another church Father, Tertullian, wrote to some pagan acquaintances about an unusual darkness on that day, “which wonder is related in your own annals and preserved in your own archives to this day” There was also a supposed report from Pilate to Emperor Tiberius that assumed the emperor’s knowledge of a certain widespread darkness, even mentioning that it was from twelve to three in the afternoon.

To describe this darkness Luke used the word, which has the literal meaning of failing, or ceasing to exist, and is the term from which eclipse is derived. But a normal astronomical eclipse would have been impossible during the crucifixion, because the sun and moon were far apart on that day. Regardless of its extent, therefore, the darkening of the sun was by the supernatural intervention of God. During that three-hour period, Luke explains, the sun was obscured (23:45).

The purpose for the darkness is not explained in the gospels or elsewhere in Scripture, but according to the Babylonian Talmud many rabbis had long taught that darkening of the sun was a judgment of God on the world for an unusually heinous sin. If, indeed, that was God’s intention at the crucifixion, He presented a gigantic object lesson to the world regarding the greatest sin ever committed by fallen mankind.

Some interpreters have suggested the darkness was a means of God’s casting a great veil over the sufferings of Christ, and others that it was an act of divine fatherly sympathy given to cover the nakedness and dishonoring of His Son.

But in light of many scriptural teachings and events, it would seem that the crucifixion darkness was indeed a mark of divine judgment. In speaking of Assyria’s being used by God to punish Israel, Isaiah spoke of “darkness and distress” that would cover the land, when “even the light is darkened by its clouds” (Isa. 5:30). In describing the day of the Lord, the same prophet declared that “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light” and that “the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil,” God said, “and the wicked for their iniquity” (13:10-11).

Also speaking of the day of the Lord, the prophet Joel wrote of “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Joel 2:2). Amos asked rhetorically, “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20). Zephaniah wrote, “Listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:14-15).

In those Old Testament passages and many others the judgment of God is directly associated with darkness, and similar association is found in the New Testament. Peter declares that God cast the rebellious angels “into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4). In much the same words, Jude speaks of those angels being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Jesus Himself frequently spoke of divine judgment in terms of “outer darkness,” where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

The cross was a place of immense divine judgment, where the sins of the world were poured out vicariously on the sinless, perfect Son. It was therefore appropriate that great supernatural darkness express God’s reaction to sin in that act of judgment.

(Matthew 27:45 NIV) “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.”

Its Cause–The Sun’s Light Failed (Luke 23:44).

  1. Not a lunar eclipse – Jewish Passover occurred during a full moon – a time when the moon would be ton the opposite side of the earth from the sun
  2. Roman astrologer Phlegon wrote that in the 14th year of Tiberius occurred “the greatest eclipse of the sun that was ever known…for the day was so turned into night that the stars appeared.”

Its Effects – like the three-day darkness on Egypt (Ex. 10:21-23)

(Exodus 10:21-23 NIV) “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt–darkness that can be felt.” {22} So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. {23} No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.”

A darkness that could be felt (vs. 21)

A thick darkness (vs. 22)

A darkness in which no one could be seen (vs. 23)

A darkness in which no one moved (vs. 23)

Its Scope  — Covered the entire world (Luke 23:44; Amos 8:9)

(Amos 8:9 NIV) “”In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.”

(Luke 23:44 NIV) “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,”

Context of the Lesson

God used the three hours of darkness at Calvary to accomplish His will

  1. The Events of the Darkness — It Was a Time of Sorrow
  2. For God the Father

God’s only begotten son (John 3:16) hung on the cross with the sins of the world on his being (I Corinthians 15:3). Jesus’ earthly body bore the marks and bruises that resulted from the Roman soldiers beating and scourging him (Matthew 27:26-31); John 19:1-3; Mark 14:65; 15:16-20). The flesh of his nail-pierced hands (John 20:20, 25,27) tore and bled from the weight of his own body as he hung on the cross.

The tragic sight of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross was more than even God himself wished to witness. The crucifixion scene, and the whole world along with it, were enclosed in unfathomable darkness for three long hours as God sorrowed and mourned the loss of his only Son.

 For Jesus the Son.

From the time of his arrest until his death, Jesus still concerned himself with those people closest to him. At the time of his arrest, he asked that his apostles be allowed to go free (John 18:8). They then forsook him and fled (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50). As he was being taken to Golgatha, Jesus turned to the women accompanying the multitudes and told them not to weep for him (Luke 23:27-31). As he hung on the cross, he had compassion for one of the robbers that was crucified with him (Luke 23:39-43) and made provision for the future care of his mother (John 19:26-27).

Then, after asking His heavenly father to forgive those who had crucified him (Luke 23:34), Jesus himself endured those three long hours of darkness. He felt alone, even to the point of being deserted by His own father (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1). But even then, he sorrowed not for himself, but for the sins of the world he suffered and died to overcome.

  1. For Satan and his Angels

The Prince of Darkness had long sought to undermine the ministry of Jesus. From the first temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13) until Jesus last temptation on the cross (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23), Satan had tried every power in his command to defeat Jesus. Jesus had resisted every temptation (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). Now, at long last, Satan saw victory in his grasp. The prince of light hung dying on the cross. Even the world was darkened, he thought, to allow the forces of darkness to savor their triumph even more. It seemed a great day of evil triumphing over good. A day to rejoice.

It was a Time of self-examination

Every person who had personally come into contact with Jesus or who had learned of Jesus through word of mouth, now had three hours of darkness to examine their words and deeds, their thoughts and actions, their personal relationship with Jesus, their attitude toward him and his ministry. Three long hours in a darkness so thick that no one could be seen or move. A time to reflect on nothing except the cause of the darkness – the dying Son of God.

Everyone had the same time and opportunity – his apostles, his disciples, the Roman soldiers, the multitudes, the two crucified criminals, Pilate and Herod, Barabbas the murderer, the women disciples, the Jewish council; those who loved him and those who hated him; both Jew and Gentile; Pharisee and Sadducee; male and female; slave and free. Three long hours to ponder their words, their deeds, their actions.

God used the three hours of darkness to proclaim to the entire world that the man Jesus hanging on the cross was the true Son of God, the Savior of mankind, the ultimate sacrifice for man’s sins. God used the darkness to bring mankind to the realization that they were lost without Christ.

God Is Still Using Darkness Today to Accomplish His Will.

God allows man to be an independent being. He has the freedom of choice in matters of life. His decisions, and their resulting outcome, are entirely man’s own doing. Man’s decisions often bring him problems, troubles, suffering, pain, and agony – darkness in his life. Each of us have different degrees of darkness to deal with in our lives. As we weave the fabric of our lives, If we could but step back and see the big picture as God can we would see that these dark periods in our lives can actually result in beautiful patterns being formed. The patterns formed are entirely up to us, created by what we do with the darkness that comes Into our lives, how we choose to handle it or let it handle us.

At the cross of Calvary, some of those present allowed the physical darkness to alert them to the spiritual darkness of sin in their lives. They used the darkness for good, and turned from their sins. How are you handling the darkness in your own life?

Sovereign Departure

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli,  lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.” And immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink. But the rest of them said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.” (27:46-49)

27:46-47 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”NRSV Jesus did not ask this question in surprise or despair. He was quoting the first line of Psalm 22. The context of this psalm indicates that this was a prayer of expectation for deliverance, not a cry of abandonment. Nonetheless, the whole psalm is a prophecy expressing the deep agony of the Messiah’s death for the world’s sin. Jesus knew that he would be temporarily separated from God the moment he took upon himself the sins of the world because God cannot look on sin (Habakkuk 1:13). This separation was the “cup” Jesus had dreaded as he prayed in Gethsemane (26:39). The physical agony was horrible, but the spiritual alienation from God was the ultimate torture. Jesus suffered this double death so that we would never have to experience eternal separation from God.

The bystanders misinterpreted Jesus’ words and thought he was calling for Elijah. Because Elijah had ascended into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11), a popular belief held that Elijah would return to rescue those suffering from great trouble (Malachi 4:5). He was associated with the final appearance of God’s kingdom. For example, at their annual Passover feast, each Jewish family would set an extra place for Elijah in expectation of his return.

(27:46-49) Jesus Christ, Separated from God: the mysterious, loud cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” This was the great separation, the moment when God forsook Christ, His only Son. What is the meaning of this shocking statement? The very idea that God could and would “forsake” His only Son staggers the human mind. Yet Christ shouted out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The meaning cannot be ventured into lightly. The meaning requires reverence and much prayerful thought. But even then, even after an eternity of prayerful thought, the depth of the meaning remains fathomless and unreachable to man.

Scripture indicates at least the following meanings.

  1. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God had withdrawn His presence from Him. He sensed that God was no longer with Him.
  2. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God had withdrawn His deliverance. Always in the past when Jesus was troubled, God had met His need. For example, God had sent a voice from heaven to assure Him (John 12:27-28); and when He was facing the cup in the garden of Gethsemane, God had even sent an angel to strengthen Him. But now, hanging upon the cross, God had forsaken Him. There was no deliverance from God. He was left all alone.
  3. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that He was bearing the curse of God, the curse of separation from God, the curse of the judgment and condemnation of God against sin (cp. Galatians 3:13.
  4. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus sensed that God’s life and holiness had left Him, that He had been delivered into the hands of the enemies of life and holiness, that is, into the hands of sin and death. He was being made sin and having to die. And both sin and death were foreign to God, alien to God’s nature which is life and holiness. Both sin and death stood as enemies of God and enemies to all that belonged to God.

In becoming sin and in dying, Christ experienced all that was contrary to the nature of God—all that was involved in God separating Himself from sin and death.

Jesus’ cry was prophesied in Psalm 22:1. The reason God had to forsake Jesus is given in Psalm 22:3: “Thou art holy.” Jesus had “become sin” for many (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christ bore sin for man; therefore, He had to bear the penalty due man—the penalty of separation from a perfectly holy God. In all the mystery of His death, Scripture proclaims: “[Jesus] His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree….” (1 Peter 2:24).

Note that some of the crowd misunderstood the words of Jesus’ cry. One had compassion and sought to help Him by giving Him a drink. But others stopped the man and superstitiously mocked by demanding that He be left alone to see if Elijah would come to save Him.

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

 “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).

 “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).

“The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fall upon me” (Psalm 69:9).

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

A second miracle occurred at about the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the  afternoon, through an inexplicable event that might be called sovereign  departure, as somehow God was separated from God.

At that time Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama  sabachthani?” As Matthew explains, the Hebrew Eli (Mark uses the Aramaic  form, “,” 15:34) means, My God, and lama sabachthani means, why hast  Thou forsaken Me?

Because Jesus was quoting the well-known Psalm 22, there could have been  little doubt in the minds of those who were standing there as to what Jesus was  saying. They had been taunting Him with His claim to be God’s Son (v. 43), and an appeal for divine help would have been expected. Their saying, “This man is calling for Elijah,” was not conjecture about what He said but was simply an extension of their cruel, cynical mockery.

In this unique and strange miracle, Jesus was crying out in anguish because of  the separation He now experienced from His heavenly Father for the first and only time in all of eternity. It is the only time of which we have record that Jesus did not address God as Father. Because the Son had taken sin upon Himself, the Father turned His back. That mystery is so great and imponderable that it is not surprising that Martin Luther is said to have gone into seclusion for a long time trying to understand it and came away as confused as when he began. In some  way and by some means, in the secrets of divine sovereignty and omnipotence, the God-Man was separated from God for a brief time at Calvary, as the furious wrath of the Father was poured out on the sinless Son, who in matchless grace became sin for those who believe in Him.

Habakkuk declared of God, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab. 1:13). God turned His back when Jesus was on the cross because He could not look upon sin, even—or perhaps especially—in His own Son. Just as Jesus loudly lamented, God the Father had indeed forsaken Him.

Jesus did not die as a martyr to a righteous cause or simply as an innocent man wrongly accused and condemned. Nor, as some suggest, did He die as a heroic gesture against man’s inhumanity to man. The Father could have looked favorably on such selfless deaths as those. But because Jesus died as a substitute sacrifice for the sins of the world, the righteous heavenly Father had to judge Him fully according to that sin.

The Father forsook the Son because the Son took upon Himself “our transgressions,… our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). Jesus “was delivered up because of our transgression” (Rom. 4:25) and “died for our sins according to the
Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). He “who knew no sin [became] sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:21) and became “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet. 2:24), “died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18), and became “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Jesus Christ not only bore man’s sin but actually became sin on man’s behalf, in order that those who believe in Him might be saved from the penalty of their sin. Jesus came to teach men perfectly about God and to be a perfect example of God’s holiness and righteousness. But, as He Himself declared, the supreme reason for His coming to earth was not to teach or to be an example but “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

When Christ was forsaken by the Father, their separation was not one of nature, essence, or substance. Christ did not in any sense or degree cease to exist as God or as a member of the Trinity. He did not cease to be the Son, any more than a child who sins severely against his human father ceases to be his child. But Jesus did for a while cease to know the intimacy of fellowship with His heavenly Father, just as a disobedient child ceases for a while to have intimate, normal, loving fellowship with his human father.

By the incarnation itself there already had been a partial separation. Because Jesus had been separated from His divine glory and from face-to-face communication with the Father, refusing to hold on to those divine privileges for His own sake (Phil 2:6), He prayed to the Father in the presence of His disciples, “Glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). At the cross His separation from the Father became immeasurably more profound than the humbling incarnation during the thirty-three years of His earthly life.

As already mentioned, the mystery of that separation is far too deep even for the most mature believer to fathom. But God has revealed the basic truth of it for us to accept and to understand to the limit of our ability under the illumination of His Spirit. And nowhere in Scripture can we behold the reality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and the anguish of His separation from His Father more clearly and penetratingly than in His suffering on the cross because of sin. In the midst of being willingly engulfed in our sins and the sins of all men of all time, He writhed in anguish not from the lacerations on His back or the thorns that still pierced His head or the nails that held Him to the cross but from the incomparably painful loss of fellowship with His heavenly Father that His becoming sin for us had brought.

Soon after He cried out to God about being forsaken, “Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, said, ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28). As John then makes clear (v. 29), it was at that time that immediately one of them ran, and taking a sponge, he filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed, and gave Him a drink.

The one who ran to help Jesus was probably one of the Roman military guards, and by taking a sponge and filling it with sour wine, he hoped temporarily to slake Jesus’ thirst. The sour wine was a cheap wine highly diluted with water that was a common drink for laborers and soldiers. Because it had a high water and low alcohol content, it was especially helpful in quenching thirst. John gives the added detail that the reed was a hyssop branch (John 19:29), which would not have been longer than eighteen inches. In order for such a short branch to reach Jesus’ lips, the horizontal beam of the cross would have had to be rather low to the ground.

Offering the drink to Jesus was perhaps an act of mercy but it was minimal in its effect and served only to prolong the torture before death brought relief. But the rest of those standing near the cross used that gesture of kindness as another opportunity to carry their mockery of the Lord still further, saying, “Let us see whether Elijah will come to save Him.”

It seems incredible that even the pitch darkness of midday did not alarm the wicked crowd. They were so bent on scorning Jesus that even such a momentous phenomenon as the blocking out of the sun did not deter them. Being aware of the many Old Testament associations of unnatural darkness with judgment, it would seem they would at least briefly have considered the possibility that divine judgment was occurring at that very moment. But the single thought now on their minds was to make Jesus’ death painful and humiliating. They had no comprehension of the amazing alienation of the Son from the Father.

Self-Giving Death

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (27:50)

(27:50) “It is finished”: the great shout of triumph and the yielding up of Jesus’ spirit. There are three important points here.

  1. Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word tetelestai is the shout of victorious purpose. Christ had completed His work, mission, and task. He was not crying the cry of a defeated martyr; He was crying the cry of a victorious conqueror.
  2. “Yielded up the ghost” (apheken to pneuma) means that He willingly yielded and gave up His spirit. It must always be remembered that Jesus willingly died. He willingly came to this moment of yielding and giving up His spirit unto death. Both Paul and Peter cover the Lord’s work during the three days immediately following His death until the resurrection.
  3. On the cross:

                        “[He] spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Col. 2:15. Cp. Ephes. 6:12.)

  1. On the cross and after death:

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:18-20. See note— 1 Peter 3:19-20.)

  1. After death:

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephes. 4:8-10. See note— Ephes. 4:8-10.)

  1. Christ died at the ninth hour, that is, three p.m. (Matthew 27:45, 50). This was the very hour when the priests began to make the evening offering of the Passover Lamb. While the priests were going about sacrificing the symbolic lamb for the people, the true Lamb of God was being sacrificed for the people’s sins outside the city walls (1 Cor. 5:7; Hebrews 13:12).

A third miracle of the cross was Christ’s self-giving death, the Son’s willing sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world in obedience to His Father’s will.

The fact that Jesus cried out again with a loud voice (cf. v. 46; Mark 15:37;  Luke 23:46) demonstrated considerable physical strength, even after the beatings,  scourging, crown of thorns, nail wounds, and hanging in agony for several hours. Jesus did not gradually fade away His life ebbing little by little until gone. Even  now He made it evident that He was not at the point of utter exhaustion and that He had the resources to stay alive if He so desired.

The last words the Lord cried out from the cross were first, “It is finished”  (John 19:30), indicating that the work His Father had sent Him to accomplish  was complete. Then, once again addressing God as His Father, He said, “Father,  into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).  (yielded up) has the basic meaning of letting go or sending away  indicating an act of volition. Jesus’ life was not taken from Him by men, but  rather He surrendered His spirit by the conscious act of His own sovereign will.  As He had explained to the Twelve, no one could or would take His life from  Him. “I lay it down on My own initiative,” He said. “I have authority to lay it  down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).

As just noted, Jesus’ ability to speak from the cross in a loud voice indicated  a reserve of energy unheard of for a person in His physical condition.  Nevertheless, even in light of His severe bodily condition, Jesus died much sooner than normal. Therefore when Joseph of Arimathea informed Pilate of  Jesus’ death and asked for His body, the governor was surprised and asked a  centurion to give verification (Mark 15:43-45).

Both of those facts attest to Jesus’ voluntary surrendering of His spirit. He  did not take His own life, but He willingly gave it up to those who sought to take  it and who otherwise could not have succeeded.

On the cross the Father judged the sin of the world that the Son took upon  Himself, and the Son, who divinely controls living and dying, willingly  surrendered His life as penalty for that sin.

Sanctuary Devastation

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom,  (27:51a)

(27:51) Veil Torn: the great veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. In the minds of the Jews, the veil was one of the most important things in the temple. Why? Because it surrounded the ark of the covenant which symbolized the very presence of God Himself. It was huge and beautiful, made of the very finest materials. It was sixty or more feet high.

To get some idea of the magnificence of the veil, imagine one of the other temple veils described by Josephus: “…before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was embroidered with blue and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. This mixture of colors [had] its mystical interpretation, but [it] was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet, there seemed to be signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air and by the purple the sea….This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens” (Josephus, Wars. 5. 5:4).

The significant point to note is that the veil was torn from top to bottom. This symbolizes that it was torn by an act of God himself. It symbolizes direct access to God (Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:3-12, 24; Hebrews 10:19-23). It was the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Up until this time only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and He could enter only one day a year, the Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33). Now through the body of Christ, any man can enter the presence of God. He can enter God’s presence and pray any time, any place.

“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Ephes. 2:14-15).

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:19-20).

“For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-23).

The fourth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was the divine  devastation of the sanctuary, as the veil of the temple was torn in two. (temple) does not refer to the Temple as a whole but to the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt in His symbolic presence. A huge woven veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple, and Josephus reports that this massive curtain was predominantly blue and was ornately decorated.

Once a year the high priest was allowed to pass through the veil on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the altar for the sins of the people, and that only for a brief period of time. Because, like God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, even that special sacrifice was only symbolic. The ritual had to be repeated every year, anticipating the one, true sacrifice for sins that the Son of God Himself one day would offer.

When Christ gave up His spirit, that once-for-all sacrifice was completed and the need for a veil no longer existed. By coming to the Son, any man could now come to God directly without need of priest, sacrifice, or ritual. Consequently the veil was torn in two from top to bottom by God’s miraculous act, because the barrier of sin was forever removed for those who put their trust in the Son as Lord and Savior.

By rending the Temple veil, God was saying, in effect, “In the death of My Son, Jesus Christ, there is total access into My holy presence. He has paid the full price of sin for everyone who trusts in Him, and I now throw open My holy presence to all who will come in His name. The writer of Hebrews admonished, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The Father’s dramatic tearing of the veil was made while the Temple was filled with worshipers, which included not only countless priests but also many thousands of pilgrims who were at that very moment celebrating the Passover sacrifice. Although the Temple was not destroyed until some forty years later, in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system of Israel and its attendant priesthood ceased to have even symbolic value when the veil was torn in two and the Holy of Holies was exposed. The ceremonies and priestly functions continued until the Temple was destroyed, but their divine significance ended when Christ died, as the Old Covenant was abrogated and the New inaugurated.

Soil Disturbance

and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, (51b)

(27:51) Earthquake: the terrifying earthquake. The symbolism could be threefold.

  1. The earth could have quaked under the weight of the sin placed upon its Architect and Creator.

 “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

  1. The earth could have quaked and torn at its rocks to symbolize the fatal blow to Satan’s domain.

“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:31-32).

“And having spoiled principalities and powers [upon the cross], he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:15).

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

  1. The earth could have quaked to symbolize that it, too, is stirred to await the glorious day of redemption.

“Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10-13.)

A fifth miracle that occurred during the crucifixion was a supernaturally caused earthquake. Immediately after Jesus died and the Temple veil was torn in two, the earth shook; and the rocks were split. Making still another statement about His Son to the world, and especially to His chosen people, the Father brought a devastating earthquake to Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

Again the Old Testament gives insight into the significance of the occurrence. When God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “the whole mountain quaked violently” (Ex. 19:18), and when He appeared to Elijah on a mountain, “a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord,… and after the wind an earthquake” (1 Kings 19:11). David sang of the earth’s shaking and trembling when the Lord became angry (2 Sam. 22:8; Ps. 18:7; cf. 77:18).

Isaiah spoke of the Lord’s punishing His people through “thunder and earthquake and loud noise” (Isa. 29:6), and Jeremiah of His venting His wrath on the nations of the earth by causing it to quake (Jer. 10:10; cf. Nah. 1:5). The book of Revelation tells of God’s causing the stars to fall to earth and of mountains and islands being “moved out of their places” during the final judgment (6:13-14).

In the original creation there were no earthquakes, because the earth, like all else that God made, was perfect. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment on earth in the very presence of God. But when they sinned, not only were they cursed and separated from God but the earth they inhabited was cursed as well. Since that time, both literally and figuratively the earth has been reeling under the destructive forces both of Satan’s evil corruption and of God’s divine judgment. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but until that time when the usurper will be forever banished to the lake of fire and the true Sovereign, Jesus Christ, reigns in His kingdom, the earth will continue to suffer corruption and destruction.

Speaking of God’s judgment on unbelievers, the writer of Hebrews declares, “His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:26-27).

At the cross Jesus earned the right to take the title deed to the earth from the hand of His Father (Rev. 5:9-10). Therefore when God shook the earth at the death of His Son, He gave the world a foretaste of what He will do when one day He shakes the earth in judgment at the coming of the King of kings. Because Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” His heavenly Father “highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

Subduing Death

and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many (27:52-53)

(27:52-53) Believers, Resurrected: the resurrection of many saints. Just who these saints were is not known, not for certain. But several facts mentioned in Scripture need to be noted.

  1. The graves were opened during the terrifying earthquake (Matthew 27:51), but the bodies did not arise until after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27:52). Christ had to be the first to arise from the dead—the first who was never to die again (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5).
  2. Between these two events, the cross and the resurrection, was evidently the time that Jesus bore the full punishment of death and hell for man’s sins. He tasted death for every man—both physical and spiritual death (Hebrews 2:9, 14).
  3. Peter adds, “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19). This probably means that He confronted the lost in hell and proclaimed that the way of the righteous is now vindicated. John quotes Christ in Rev. 1:18, “[I] was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen: and have the keys of hell and death.”

Many believe that before the resurrection of Christ all dead people went to a place known in Scripture as Hades. Hades was divided into two areas, paradise and hell. The spirits of believers went to paradise; the spirits of unbelievers went to hell. Some commentators believe that when Christ arose He took the saints of paradise with Him to live in the presence of God forever. Now, since Christ’s resurrection, all believers go immediately into the presence of God.

  1. Paul adds “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive…but He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth….” (Ephes. 4:8-10; cp. the graves opening in Matthew 27:51 and the bodies being raised in Matthew 27:52). The idea is that Christ led captivity—sin, death and hell—captive. He conquered all the enemies of man and set man free to arise and live forever in the presence of God.

The resurrection of these saints symbolized at least two things.

  1. It symbolized the conquest of death by Christ. The sting is now taken from death; the power of death is now broken.

            “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26).

            “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:51-57).

            “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

  1. It symbolized the resurrection of believers. Believers shall arise and be recognized and know one another (Matthew 27:53).

            “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).

            “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

            “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14).

            “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:16-17).

The sixth miracle at the crucifixion was closely related to the previous one, as the supernatural earthquake not only gave the world a foretaste of divine judgment but also caused many tombs to be opened.

The significant miracle of that event, however, was not the mere opening of tombs, as could occur during any earthquake. The great miracle was that many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After the veil of the Temple was torn in two and the earth around Jerusalem was violently shaken, the Lord selectively raised the bodies of certain believers who had died.

Matthew points out that many, but not all, bodies of the saints who had died were resurrected, making clear that this resurrection was divinely restricted to a limited number of believers. They had trusted in God during the time before and under the Old Covenant, and some of those bodies may have been in their graves many hundreds of years. When Jesus died, their spirits came from the abode of righteous spirits and were joined with their glorified bodies that came out of the graves. This was full and final resurrection and glorification, making this miracle another foretaste of God’s sovereign work during the end times, when “all the dead in Christ shall rise” (1 Thess. 4:16).

It is important to note that the phrase and coming out of the tombs should be followed by a period, indicating the close of the sentence. After His resurrection begins a new sentence and introduces a distinct truth, namely, that those select resurrected saints then entered the holy city and appeared to many.

Those saints did not appear in Jerusalem until after the Lord’s own resurrection, because He was divinely appointed to be “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And just as Christ Himself appeared after His resurrection only to those who already believed in Him, it would also seem that the many to whom the resurrected saints appeared were all believers. We are not told what they said to their brethren in the holy city, but their appearance in bodily form not only testified to Christ’s resurrection but also to God’s promise to raise all those who put their trust in Christ (1 Cor. 15:22, 51-53).

Through those six miracles the Father was saying that the cross is the only hope for eternal life. When one’s sin is carried away by Christ’s atoning death, the wrath of God is appeased for that believer, and he is delivered from the death and condemnation that the Lord endured on his behalf. For those who believe in the Son, access to God is open wide, and they are assured of living in His eternal and indestructible kingdom in eternal and indestructible bodies.



Section 165 – Jesus’ Death (Mt 27:45-50; Mk 15:33-37; Lk 23:44-46; Jn 19:28-30)

[MK 15:]33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

[LK 23:]45For the sun stopped shining.

[MK 15:]34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, Listen, he’s calling Elijah.

Between noon and 3 p.m. darkness covers Judea. This is the first of three phenomena that accompany Jesus’ death. It is a supernatural sign of judgment (cf. Amos 8:9-10) which cannot adequately be explained naturalistically. For example, an eclipse doesn’t last for three hours nor does it occur during the full moon of Passover. A sirocco (a desert windstorm) would hardly cover the land in complete darkness as if “the sun stopped shining.” No, the hand of God shrouded the land.

After only six hours on the cross, Jesus dies. He cries out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi…” This fourth saying from the cross is perhaps the most theologically significant and perhaps too deep for us to fully appreciate. But it seems to point in at least two directions. First, Jesus is calling us back to Psalm 22:1 by quoting it verbatim. This passage is an incredibly clear prediction of Jesus’ crucifixion. It serves as a poignant reminder that this is God’s plan and it is still under his control no matter what it looks like on the surface. What is most striking about this Psalm, however, is that it was written about 1000 b.c., a full 600 years before crucifixion was in vogue. We are also impressed that the Psalm of the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) is prefaced by the Psalm of God’s Sacrificial Lamb (Ps 22).

Secondly, Jesus is not merely quoting Psalm 22:1; he is describing his present and insufferable separation from his Heavenly Father. From eternity past, Jesus has never known what it was like to be alienated from God’s presence. While we want to studiously avoid the error of the Gnostics and docetics who believed that Jesus ceased to be God in this moment, we do affirm that the Father, at some level, turns his back on Jesus as he becomes the embodiment of sin (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Rom 3:26; Gal 3:13). Jesus is forsaken by God, that is, he is abandoned, left without God’s resources or intervention, to suffer and die alone. But this word pops up again in Acts 2:27, 31 to describe how God did NOT abandon Jesus in the grave. God’s abandonment may be harsh, but it is only temporary. Even Psalm 22 ends with a note of victory. After all, behind the cross is an empty tomb.


Jn 19:28 with Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, I am thirsty. 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so {immediatelyMT} they {one manMK} soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus lips.

Mt 27:49 with Mk 15:36 49The rest said {he said,MK} Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.

Jn 19:30 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, It is finished.

Lk 23:46 with Jn 19:30 46{With that, heJN} called out with a loud voice, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. When he had said this he breathed his last, {bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.JN}

John interprets Jesus’ fifth statement from the cross as a prophetic fulfillment, probably alluding to Psalm 69:21. Jesus asks for a drink and one of the men standing there responds immediately. He is likely a soldier who dips a sponge into his own stash. This wine vinegar is a poor-man’s brew. It is a bit sour but a great thirst quencher. This time they apparently don’t mix it with myrrh. He puts the sponge on a stick and lifts it to Jesus’ lips before anyone really knew what was happening. The crowd says, “Hey, leave him alone. We want to see if Elijah is going to come and save him.” Because they misheard “Eloi” for “Elijah” this provides one last opportunity to mock Jesus. Since Elijah never actually died, the Jews expected him to return literally as a precursor to the Messiah based on Malachi 4:5. Now that Jesus is “praying to Elijah” this would provide one last point of ridicule.

Their derision is cut short. As soon as Jesus receives the drink he said, “It is finished” and then shouted, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that he takes one last breath, bows his head and releases his spirit. But what exactly was finished? His life? NO!… Easter’s on its way! His work on earth was done (Heb 9:26; 10:12-14). The perfect verb tense [tetelestai] highlights the total completion of his task. He had accomplished what he had come here to do (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). In addition, some have speculated that Jesus is again alluding to Psalm 22, this time to the very last line, where God completes his task.

Even with his last breath he was alluding to Scripture. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” is likely taken from Psalm 31:5. Liefeld says that it was part of the Jews’ evening prayer (p. 1045). In turning to the Psalm itself, there is much there that would be relevant to Jesus at this very moment:

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth. I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends — those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord (Ps 31:2, 4-5, 7, 11-14, 22, 24).


Section 166 – Responses to Jesus’ Death (Mt 27:51-56; Mk 15:38-41; Lk 23:47-49)


[MT 27:]51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. 52The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

At the moment Jesus dies, the curtain of the temple is torn in two. It would have been more public if the torn curtain was the one between the temple courts and holy place. But Hebrews 4:16; 6:19-20; 9:11-28; 10:19-22 seems to indicate that the torn curtain was between the holy place and the holy of holies. Even though this would not have been seen by the general populace, it could hardly be kept a secret, especially by the priests who were later converted to Christianity (Acts 6:7). Edersheim says this curtain was sixty feet wide, thirty feet high, and as thick as the breadth of the palm of a hand (II:611). The fact that it was torn from top to bottom indicates that it was rent by the hand of God rather than human sabotage. Furthermore, while this tear probably happened simultaneously with the earthquake, we would be mistaken to think that the earthquake caused the tear. The entire building would collapse from an earthquake sooner than that curtain could be torn in two. No, this is a supernatural event which probably points in two directions. First, it symbolizes the impending destruction of the temple and the obliteration of all other sacrifices. Second, it marks the open access of God’s people to his holy presence.

More noticeable to those on Golgotha is the earthquake which shakes the city, also a sign of God’s displeasure (Isa 29:6; Jer 10:10; Ezek 26:18). The tombs of the city are torn open and the saints raised as if to preview 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. But exactly when are they raised? Verse 53 seems to indicate that they do not appear in the city until Sunday. Were they alive, hiding in their tombs for two days? Three simple changes in the NIV’s translation will clarify this verse. First, we place a period after “open” in v. 52. Next we eliminate the comma and the word “and” after “tombs” in v. 53. Third, we translate “they came out” (v. 53) [exelthontes] as a participle “having come out.” It now reads, “The tombs broke open. And the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, and having come out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection, they went into the holy city.” Hence, the tombs were broken open on Friday but the resurrection took place along with Jesus’ on Sunday.

Because this account is so wondrously miraculous, some have questioned its historicity. But it is no more difficult to believe this account than 1 Corinthians 15, our own hope for resurrection. With this account, Matthew pulls together the death of Jesus and his resurrection and shows us the implications of both: The veil between us and God is torn apart by his death and the tombs which hold us in death are torn apart by his resurrection.

Mt 27:54 with Mk 15:39; Lk 23:47 54When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus {heard his cry and saw how he died [and]MK} saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and {praised God andLK} exclaimed, Surely he {this manMK} was the Son of God! {a righteous man.LK}

Lk 23:48 48When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.

Mt 27:55-56 with Lk 23:49; Mk 15:40-41 55Many women {who knew himLK} were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee {to JerusalemMK} to care for his needs. 56Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and {Salome,MK} the mother of Zebedee’s sons.


This earthquake shakes the foundations of Jerusalem as well as this centurion’s soul. There is something majestic, even divine, about the way Jesus dies. It is accompanied by this mysterious darkness, the earthquake, the rent veil and the opened tombs. All of this cascades upon his soul. In holy fear he worships God, affirming that Jesus was who he claimed to be — God’s Son. A short time ago the crowds mocked Jesus for that very claim; now the centurion honors him with it.

Being a Roman, he may not understand all the implications of being God’s Son. After all, the Romans often deified men upon their deaths. Furthermore, the definite article “the” is lacking in the Greek text. Hence, he may be saying nothing more than that Jesus was a Son of God. Luke’s version of “a righteous man” rather than “Son of God” may support this milder acclamation as well. But the centurion is a resident of Palestine and surely aware that this title was used by the Jews for their Messianic hope. Hence, he is at least saying this: “Jesus didn’t deserve this. He was the Jewish Messiah he claimed to be.”

The centurion isn’t the only one shaken by Jesus’ death. The crowds also go away in mourning in fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10 (cf. Jn 19:37). His faithful female followers stand there paralyzed with grief. They have come all the way from Galilee to care for his needs as they had done throughout his ministry (Mk 15:41; Lk 8:2-3). But here and now there is nothing to do but stand idly by and watch their master die. Their dreams are shattered. The man and the movement are dead.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 21, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: The Centrality of the Cross

Do you know the painting by Holman Hunt, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, entitled ‘The Shadow of Death’? It depicts the inside of the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. Stripped to the waist, Jesus stands by a wooden trestle on which he has put down his saw. He lifts his eyes towards heaven, and the look on his face is one of either pain or ecstasy or both. He also stretches, raising both arms above his head. As he does so, the evening sunlight streaming through the open door casts a dark shadow in the form of a cross on the wall behind him, where his tool-rack looks like a horizontal bar on which his hands have been crucified. The tools themselves remind us of the fateful hammer and nails.

In the left foreground a woman kneels among the wood chippings, her hands resting on the chest in which the rich gifts of the Magi are kept. We cannot see her face because she has averted it. But we know that she is Mary. She looks startled (or so it seems) at her son’s cross-like shadow on the wall.

The Pre-Raphaelites have a reputation for sentimentality. Yet they were serious and sincere artists, and Holman Hunt himself was determined, as he put it, to ‘do battle with the frivolous art of the day’, its superficial treatment of trite themes. So he spent 1870–73 in the Holy Land, and painted ‘The Shadow of Death’ in Jerusalem, as he sat on the roof of his house.1 Though the idea is historically fictitious, it is also theologically true. From Jesus’ youth, indeed even from his birth, the cross cast its shadow ahead of him. His death was central to his mission. Moreover, the church has always recognized this.

Imagine a stranger visiting St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Having been brought up in a non-Christian culture, he knows next to nothing about Christianity. Yet he is more than a tourist; he is personally interested and keen to learn.

Walking along Fleet Street, he is impressed by the grandeur of the building’s proportions, and marvels that Sir Christopher Wren could have conceived such an edifice after the Great Fire of London in 1666. As his eyes attempt to take it in, he cannot help noticing the huge golden cross which dominates the dome.

He enters the cathedral and stands at its central point, under the dome. Trying to grasp the size and shape of the building, he becomes aware that its ground plan, consisting of nave and transepts, is cruciform. He walks round and observes that each side chapel contains what looks to him like a table, on which, prominently displayed, there stands a cross. He goes downstairs into the crypt to see the tombs of famous men such as Sir Christopher Wren himself, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington: a cross is engraved or embossed on each.

Returning upstairs, he decides to remain for the service which is about to begin. The man beside him is wearing a little cross on his lapel, while the lady on his other side has one on her necklace. His eye now rests on the colourful, stained-glass east window. Though he cannot make out the details from where he is sitting, he cannot fail to notice that it contains a cross.

Suddenly, the congregation stands up. The choir and clergy enter, preceded by somebody carrying a processional cross. They are singing a hymn. The visitor looks down at the service paper to read its opening words:

We sing the praise of him who died, Of him who died upon the cross; The sinner’s hope let men deride, For this we count the world but loss.

From what follows he comes to realize that he is witnessing a Holy Communion service, and that this focuses upon the death of Jesus. For when the people around him go forward to the communion rail to receive bread and wine, the minister speaks to them of the body and blood of Christ. The service ends with another hymn:

When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast Save in the cross of Christ my God; All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.

Although the congregation now disperses, a family stays behind. They have brought their child to be baptized. Joining them at the font, the visitor sees the minister first pour water over the child and then trace a cross on its forehead, saying ‘I sign you with the cross, to show that you must not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified…’.

The stranger leaves the cathedral impressed, but puzzled. The repeated insistence by word and symbol on the centrality of the cross has been striking. Yet questions have arisen in his mind. Some of the language used has seemed exaggerated. Do Christians really for the sake of the cross ‘count the world but loss’, and ‘boast’ in it alone, and ‘sacrifice’ everything for it? Can the Christian faith be accurately summed up as ‘the faith of Christ crucified’? What are the grounds, he asks himself, for this concentration on the cross of Christ?

The sign and symbol of the cross

Every religion and ideology has its visual symbol, which illustrates a significant feature of its history or beliefs. The lotus flower, for example, although it was used by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Indians, is now particularly associated with Buddhism. Because of its wheel shape it is thought to depict either the cycle of birth and death or the emergence of beauty and harmony out of the muddy waters of chaos. Sometimes the Buddha is portrayed as enthroned in a fully open lotus flower.

Ancient Judaism avoided visual signs and symbols, for fear of infringing the second commandment which prohibits the manufacture of images. But modern Judaism now employs the so-called Shield or Star of David, a hexagram formed by combining two equilateral triangles. It speaks of God’s covenant with David that his throne would be established for ever and that the Messiah would be descended from him. Islam, the other monotheistic faith which arose in the Middle East, is symbolized by a crescent, at least in West Asia. Originally depicting a phase of the moon, it was already the symbol of sovereignty in Byzantium before the Muslim conquest.

The secular ideologies of the twentieth century also have their universally recognizable signs. The Marxist hammer and sickle, adopted in 1917 by the Soviet government from a nineteenth-century Belgian painting, represent industry and agriculture; and they are crossed to signify the union of workers and peasants, of factory and field. The swastika, on the other hand, has been traced back some 6,000 years. The arms of its cross are bent clockwise to symbolize either the movement of the sun across the sky, or the cycle of the four seasons, or the process of creativity and prosperity (‘svasti’ being a Sanskrit word for ‘well-being’). At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, it was taken up by some German groups as a symbol of the Aryan race. Then Hitler took it over, and it became the sinister sign of Nazi racial bigotry.

Christianity, then, is no exception in having a visual symbol. The cross was not its earliest, however. Because of the wild accusations which were levelled against Christians, and the persecution to which they were exposed, they ‘had to be very circumspect and to avoid flaunting their religion. Thus the cross, now the universal symbol of Christianity, was at first avoided, not only for its direct association with Christ, but for its shameful association with the execution of a common criminal also.’2 So on the walls and ceilings of the catacombs (underground burial-places outside Rome, where the persecuted Christians probably hid), the earliest Christian motifs seem to have been either non-committal paintings of a peacock (supposed to symbolize immortality), a dove, the athlete’s victory palm or, in particular, a fish. Only the initiated would know, and nobody else could guess, that ichthys (‘fish’) was an acronym for Iēsous Christos Theou Huios Sōtēr (‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior’). But it did not remain the Christian sign, doubtless because the association between Jesus and a fish was purely acronymic (a fortuitous arrangement of letters) and had no visual significance.

Somewhat later, probably during the second century, the persecuted Christians seem to have preferred to paint biblical themes like Noah’s ark, Abraham killing the ram instead of Isaac, Daniel in the lions’ den, his three friends in the fiery furnace, Jonah being disgorged by the fish, some baptisms, a shepherd carrying a lamb, the healing of the paralytic and the raising of Lazarus. All these were symbolic of Christ’s redemption, while not being in themselves incriminating, since only the instructed would have been able to interpret their meaning. In addition, the Chi-Rho monogram (the first two letters of the Greek word Christos) was a popular cryptogram, often in the form of a cross, and sometimes with a lamb standing before it, or with a dove.

A universally acceptable Christian emblem would obviously need to speak of Jesus Christ, but there was a wide range of possibilities. Christians might have chosen the crib or manger in which the baby Jesus was laid, or the carpenter’s bench at which he worked as a young man in Nazareth, dignifying manual labour, or the boat from which he taught the crowds in Galilee, or the apron he wore when washing the apostles’ feet, which would have spoken of his spirit of humble service. Then there was the stone which, having been rolled from the mouth of Joseph’s tomb, would have proclaimed his resurrection.

Other possibilities were the throne, symbol of divine sovereignty, which John in his vision of heaven saw that Jesus was sharing, or the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven on the Day of Pentecost. Any of these seven symbols would have been suitable as a pointer to some aspect of the ministry of the Lord. But instead the chosen symbol came to be a simple cross. Its two bars were already a cosmic symbol from remote antiquity of the axis between heaven and earth. But its choice by Christians had a more specific explanation. They wished to commemorate as central to their understanding of Jesus neither his birth nor his youth, neither his teaching nor his service, neither his resurrection nor his reign, nor his gift of the Spirit, but his death, his crucifixion. The crucifix (that is, a cross to which a figure of Christ is attached) does not appear to have been used before the sixth century.

It seems certain that, at least from the second century onwards, Christians not only drew, painted and engraved the cross as a pictorial symbol of their faith, but also made the sign of the cross on themselves or others. One of the first witnesses to this practice was Tertullian, the North African lawyer-theologian who flourished about AD 200. He wrote:

At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [the cross].3

Hippolytus, the scholar-presbyter of Rome, is a particularly interesting witness, because he is known to have been ‘an avowed reactionary who in his own generation stood for the past rather than the future’.

His famous treatise The Apostolic Tradition (c. AD 215) ‘claims explicitly to be recording only the forms and models of rites already traditional and customs already long-established, and to be written in deliberate protest against innovations’.4 When he describes certain ‘church observances’, therefore, we may be sure that they were already being practised a generation or more previously. He mentions that the sign of the cross was used by the bishop when anointing the candidate’s forehead at Confirmation, and he recommends it in private prayer: ‘imitate him (Christ) always, by signing thy forehead sincerely: for this is the sign of his passion.’ It is also, he adds, a protection against evil: ‘When tempted, always reverently seal thy forehead with the sign of the cross. For this sign of the passion is displayed and made manifest against the devil if thou makest it in faith, not in order that thou mayest be seen of men, but by thy knowledge putting it forth as a shield.’5

There is no need for us to dismiss this habit as superstitious. In origin at least, the sign of the cross was intended to identify and indeed sanctify each act as belonging to Christ.

In the middle of the third century, when another North African, Cyprian, was Bishop of Carthage, a terrible persecution was unleashed by the Emperor Decius (AD 250–251) during which thousands of Christians died rather than offer sacrifice to his name. Anxious to strengthen the morale of his people, and to encourage them to accept martyrdom rather than compromise their Christian faith, Cyprian reminded them of the ceremony of the cross: ‘let us take also for protection of our head the helmet of salvation…that our brow may be fortified, so as to keep safe the sign of God.’6 As for the faithful who endured prison and risked death, Cyprian praised them in these terms: ‘your brows, hallowed by God’s seal…reserved themselves for the crown which the Lord would give.’7

Richard Hooker, the sixteenth-century Anglican theologian and Master of the Temple in London, applauded the fact that the early church Fathers, in spite of heathen scorn at the sufferings of Christ, ‘chose rather the sign of the cross (sc. in baptism) than any other outward mark, whereby the world might most easily discern always what they were’.8 He was aware of the forthright objections of the Puritans. ‘Crossing and such like pieces of Popery,’ they were saying, ‘which the church of God in the Apostles’ time never knew’, ought not to be used, for human inventions ought not to be added to divine institutions, and there was always the danger of superstitious misuse. As King Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent, so crossing should be abandoned. But Hooker stood his ground. In ‘matters indifferent’, which were not incompatible with Scripture, Christians were free. Besides, the sign of the cross had a positive usefulness: it is ‘for us an admonition…to glory in the service of Jesus Christ, and not to hang down our heads as men ashamed thereof, although it procure us reproach and obloquy at the hands of this wretched world’.9

It was Constantine, the first emperor to profess to be a Christian, who gave added impetus to the use of the cross symbol. For (according to Eusebius), on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge which brought him supremacy in the West (AD 312–313), he saw a cross of light in the sky, along with the words in hoc signo vinces (‘conquer by this sign’). He immediately adopted it as his emblem, and had it emblazoned on the standards of his army.

Whatever we may think of Constantine and of the development of post-Constantinian ‘Christendom’, at least the church has faithfully preserved the cross as its central symbol. In some ecclesiastical traditions the candidate for baptism is still marked with this sign, and the relatives of a Christian who after death is buried rather than cremated are likely to have a cross erected over his grave. Thus from Christian birth to Christian death, as we might put it, the church seeks to identify and protect us with a cross.

The Christians’ choice of a cross as the symbol of their faith is the more surprising when we remember the horror with which crucifixion was regarded in the ancient world. We can understand why Paul’s ‘message of the cross’ was to many of his listeners ‘foolishness’, even ‘madness’ (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). How could any sane person worship as a god a dead man who had been justly condemned as a criminal and subjected to the most humiliating form of execution? This combination of death, crime and shame put him beyond the pale of respect, let alone of worship.10

Crucifixion seems to have been invented by ‘barbarians’ on the edge of the known world, and taken over from them by both Greeks and Romans. It is probably the most cruel method of execution ever practised, for it deliberately delayed death until maximum torture had been inflicted. The victim could suffer for days before dying. When the Romans adopted it, they reserved it for criminals convicted of murder, rebellion or armed robbery, provided that they were also slaves, foreigners or other non-persons. The Jews were therefore outraged when the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 of their compatriots in 4 BC, and when during the siege of Jerusalem the general Titus crucified so many fugitives from the city that neither ‘space…for the crosses, nor crosses for the bodies’ could be found.11

Roman citizens were exempt from crucifixion, except in extreme cases of treason. Cicero in one of his speeches condemned it as crudelissimum taeterrimumque supplicium, ‘a most cruel and disgusting punishment’.12 A little later he declared: ‘To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.’13 Cicero was even more explicit in his successful defence in 63 BC of the elderly senator Gaius Rabirius who had been charged with murder: ‘the very word “cross” should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen, but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things (sc. the procedures of crucifixion) or the endurance of them, but liability to them, the expectation, indeed the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.’14

If the Romans regarded crucifixion with horror, so did the Jews, though for a different reason. They made no distinction between a ‘tree’ and a ‘cross’, and so between a hanging and a crucifixion. They therefore automatically applied to crucified criminals the terrible statement of the law that ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deut. 21:23). They could not bring themselves to believe that God’s Messiah would die under his curse, strung up on a tree. As Trypho the Jew put it to Justin the Christian apologist, who engaged him in dialogue: ‘I am exceedingly incredulous on this point.’15

So then, whether their background was Roman or Jewish or both, the early enemies of Christianity lost no opportunity to ridicule the claim that God’s anointed and man’s Savior ended his life on a cross. The idea was crazy. This is well illustrated by a graffito from the second century, discovered on the Palatine Hill in Rome, on the wall of a house considered by some scholars to have been used as a school for imperial pages. It is the first surviving picture of the crucifixion, and is a caricature. A crude drawing depicts, stretched on a cross, a man with the head of a donkey. To the left stands another man, with one arm raised in worship. Unevenly scribbled underneath are the words ALEXAMENOS CEBETE (sc. sebete) THEON, ‘Alexamenos worships God’. The cartoon is now in the Kircherian Museum in Rome. Whatever the origin of the accusation of donkey-worship (which was attributed to both Jews and Christians), it was the concept of worshipping a crucified man which was being held up to derision.

One detects the same note of scorn in Lucian of Samosata, the second-century pagan satirist. In The Passing of Peregrinus (a fictitious Christian convert whom he portrays as a charlatan) he lampoons Christians as ‘worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws’ (p.15).

The perspective of Jesus

The fact that a cross became the Christian symbol, and that Christians stubbornly refused, in spite of the ridicule, to discard it in favour of something less offensive, can have only one explanation. It means that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus himself. It was out of loyalty to him that his followers clung so doggedly to this sign. What evidence is there, then, that the cross stood at the centre of Jesus’ own perspective?

Our only glimpse into the developing mind of the boy Jesus has been given us in the story of how at the age of twelve he was taken to Jerusalem at Passover and then left behind by mistake. When his parents found him in the temple, ‘sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions’, they scolded him. They had been anxiously searching for him, they said. ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he responded with innocent astonishment. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:41–50). Luke tells the story with a tantalizing economy of detail. We must therefore be careful not to read into it more than the narrative itself warrants. This much we may affirm, however, that already at the age of twelve Jesus was both speaking of God as ‘my Father’ and also feeling an inward compulsion to occupy himself with his Father’s affairs. He knew he had a mission. His Father had sent him into the world for a purpose. This mission he must perform; this purpose he must fulfil. What these were emerges gradually in the narrative of the Gospels.

The evangelists hint that Jesus’ baptism and temptation were both occasions on which he committed himself to go God’s way rather than the devil’s, the way of suffering and death rather than of popularity and acclaim. Yet Mark (who is followed in this by Matthew and Luke) pinpoints a later event when Jesus began to teach this clearly. It was the watershed in his public ministry. Having withdrawn with his apostles to the northern district round Caesarea Philippi in the foothills of Mount Hermon, he put to them the direct question who they thought he was. When Peter blurted out that he was God’s Messiah, immediately Jesus ‘warned them not to tell anyone about him’ (Mark 8:29–30). This injunction was consistent with his previous instructions about keeping the so-called ‘Messianic secret’. Yet now something new took place: Jesus

then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this. (Mark 8:31–32).

‘Plainly’ translates parrēsia, meaning ‘with freedom of speech’ or ‘openly’. There was to be no secret about this. The fact of his Messiahship had been secret, because its character had been misunderstood. The popular Messianic expectation was of a revolutionary political leader. John tells us that at the peak of Jesus’ Galilean popularity, after feeding the five thousand, the crowds had ‘intended to come and make him king by force’ (John 6:15). Now that the apostles had clearly recognized and confessed his identity, however, he could explain the nature of his Messiahship and do so openly. Peter rebuked him, horrified by the fate he had predicted for himself. But Jesus rebuked Peter in strong language. The same apostle who in confessing Jesus’ divine Messiahship had received a revelation from the Father (Matt. 16:17) had been deceived by the devil to deny the necessity of the cross. ‘Out of my sight, Satan!’ Jesus said, with a vehemence which must have astonished his hearers. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’16

This incident is usually referred to as the first ‘prediction of the passion’. There had been passing allusions before (e.g. Mark 2:19–20); but this was quite unambiguous. The second was made a little later, as Jesus was passing through Galilee incognito. He said to the Twelve:

‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.’ (Mark 9:31)

Mark says that the disciples did not understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him. Matthew adds that they were ‘filled with grief’ (Mark 9:30–32; cf. Matt. 17:22–23). This was probably the time when, according to Luke, Jesus ‘resolutely set out for Jerusalem’ (9:51). He was determined to fulfil what had been written of him.

Jesus made his third ‘prediction of the passion’ when they were heading for the Holy City. Mark introduces it with a graphic description of the awe which the Lord’s resolution inspired in them:

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’

Luke adds his comment that ‘everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled’.17

This threefold repetition of the passion prediction adds a note of solemnity to Mark’s narrative. It is in this way that he deliberately prepares his readers, as Jesus deliberately prepared the Twelve, for the terrible events which were to take place. Putting the three predictions together, the most impressive emphasis is neither that Jesus would be betrayed, rejected and condemned by his own people and their leaders, nor that they would hand him over to the Gentiles who would first mock and then kill him, nor that after three days he would rise from death. It is not even that each time Jesus designates himself ‘Son of Man’ (the heavenly figure whom Daniel saw in his vision, coming in the clouds of heaven, being given authority, glory and sovereign power, and receiving the worship of the nations) and yet paradoxically states that as Son of Man he will suffer and die, thus with daring originality combining the two Old Testament Messianic figures, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the reigning Son of Man of Daniel 7. More impressive still is the determination he both expressed and exemplified. He must suffer and be rejected and die, he said. Everything written of him in Scripture must be fulfilled. So he set his face towards Jerusalem, and went ahead of the Twelve in the road. Peter’s negative comment he instantly recognized as Satanic and therefore instantly repudiated.

Although these three predictions form an obvious trio because of their similar structure and wording, the Gospels record at least eight more occasions on which Jesus alluded to his death. Coming down from the mountain where he had been transfigured, he warned that he would suffer at the hands of his enemies just as John the Baptist had done,18 and in response to the outrageously selfish request of James and John for the best seats in the kingdom, he said that he himself had come to serve, not to be served, and ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’.19 The remaining six allusions were all made during the last week of his life, as the crisis drew near. He saw his death as the culmination of centuries of Jewish rejection of God’s message, and foretold that God’s judgment would bring Jewish national privilege to an end.20 Then on the Tuesday, mentioning the Passover, he said he was going to be ‘handed over to be crucified’; in the Bethany home he described the pouring of perfume over his head as preparing him for burial; in the upper room he insisted that the Son of Man would go just as it was written about him, and gave them bread and wine as emblems of his body and blood, thus foreshadowing his death and requesting its commemoration. Finally, in the Garden of Gethsemane he refused to be defended by men or angels, since ‘how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’.21 Thus the Synoptic evangelists bear a common witness to the fact that Jesus both clearly foresaw and repeatedly foretold his coming death.

John omits these precise predictions. Yet he bears witness to the same phenomenon by his seven references to Jesus’ ‘hour’ (usually hōra but once kairos, ‘time’). It was the hour of his destiny, when he would leave the world and return to the Father. Moreover, his hour was in the Father’s control, so that at first it was ‘not yet’, though in the end he could confidently say ‘the hour has come’.

When Jesus said to his mother at the Cana wedding after the wine had run out, and to his brothers when they wanted him to go to Jerusalem and advertise himself publicly, ‘My time has not yet come’, the surface meaning was plain. But John intended his readers to detect the deeper meaning, even though Jesus’ mother and brothers did not.22 John continues to share this secret with his readers, and uses it to explain why Jesus’ apparently blasphemous statements did not lead to his arrest. ‘They tried to seize him,’ he comments, ‘but no-one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.’23 Only when Jesus reaches Jerusalem for the last time does John make the reference explicit. When some Greeks asked to see him, he first said, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’ and then, after speaking plainly of his death, he went on: ‘Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!’24 Then twice in the upper room he made final references to the time having come for him to leave the world and to be glorified.25

However uncertain we may feel about the earlier allusions to his ‘hour’ or ‘time’, we can be in no doubt about the last three. For Jesus specifically called his ‘hour’ the time of his ‘glorification’, which (as we shall see later) began with his death, and added that he could not ask to be delivered from it because this was the reason he had come into the world. Indeed, the paradox John records can hardly have been accidental, that the hour for which he had come into the world was the hour in which he left it. Mark makes matters yet more explicit by identifying his ‘hour’ with his ‘cup’.26

From this evidence supplied by the Gospel writers, what are we justified in saying about Jesus’ perspective on his own death? Beyond question he knew that it was going to happen – not in the sense that all of us know we will have to die one day, but in the sense that he would meet a violent, premature, yet purposive death. More than that, he gives three intertwining reasons for its inevitability.

First, he knew he would die because of the hostility of the Jewish national leaders. It appears that this was aroused quite early during the public ministry. His attitude to the law in general, and to the sabbath in particular, incensed them. When he insisted on healing a man with a shrivelled hand in a synagogue on a sabbath day, Mark tells us that ‘the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus’ (3:6). Jesus must have been aware of this. He was also very familiar with the Old Testament record of the persecution of the faithful prophets.27 Although he knew himself to be more than a prophet, he also knew he was not less, and that therefore he could expect similar treatment. He was a threat to the leaders’ position and prejudices. According to Luke, after his reading and exposition of Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue, in which he seemed to be teaching a divine preference for the Gentiles, ‘all the people in the synagogue were furious .. . They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.’ Luke adds that ‘he walked right through the crowd and went on his way’ (4:16–30). But it was a narrow escape. Jesus knew that sooner or later they would get him.

Secondly, he knew he would die because that is what stood written of the Messiah in the Scriptures. ‘The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him’ (Mark 14:21). Indeed, when referring to the Old Testament prophetic witness, he tended to couple the death and resurrection, the sufferings and glory, of the Messiah. For the Scriptures taught both. And the Lord was still insisting on this after he had risen. He said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘“Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Luke 24:25–27; cf. verses 44–47).

One would dearly love to have been present at this exposition of ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’. For the actual number of his recognizable quotations from the Old Testament, in relation to the cross and resurrection, is not large. He predicted the falling away of the apostles by quoting from Zechariah that when the shepherd was struck the sheep would be scattered.28 He concluded his Parable of the Tenants with a telling reference to the stone which, though rejected by the builders, subsequently became the building’s capstone or cornerstone.29 And while hanging on the cross, three of his so-called ‘seven words’ were direct quotations from Scripture: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ being Psalm 22:1, ‘I thirst’ coming from Psalm 69:21, and ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ from Psalm 31:5. These three psalms all describe the deep anguish of an innocent victim, who is suffering both physically and mentally at the hands of his enemies, but who at the same time maintains his trust in his God. Although of course they were written to express the distress of the psalmist himself, yet Jesus had evidently come to see himself and his own sufferings as their ultimate fulfilment.

It is, however, from Isaiah 53 that Jesus seems to have derived the clearest forecast not only of his sufferings, but also of his subsequent glory. For there the servant of Yahweh is first presented as ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering’ (v. 3), on whom the Lord laid our sins, so that ‘he was pierced for our transgressions’ and ‘crushed for our iniquities’ (vv. 5–6), and then, at the end of both chapters 52 and 53, is ‘raised and lifted up and highly exalted’ (52:13) and receives ‘a portion among the great’ (53:12), as a result of which he will ‘sprinkle many nations’ (52:15) and ‘justify many’ (53:11). The only straight quotation which is recorded from Jesus’ lips is from verse 12, ‘he was numbered with the transgressors’. ‘I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me,’ he said (Luke 22:37). Nevertheless, when he declared that he ‘must suffer many things’ and had ‘not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 8:31; 10:45), although these are not direct quotations from Isaiah 53, yet their combination of suffering, service and death for the salvation of others points straight in that direction. Moreover Paul, Peter, Matthew, Luke and John – the major contributors to the New Testament – together allude to at least eight of the chapter’s twelve verses. What was the origin of their confident, detailed application of Isaiah 53 to Jesus? They must have derived it from his own lips. It was from this chapter more than from any other that he learnt that the vocation of the Messiah was to suffer and die for human sin, and so be glorified.

The opposition of the hierarchy and the predictions of Scripture, however, do not in themselves explain the inevitability of Jesus’ death. The third and most important reason why he knew he would die was because of his own deliberate choice. He was determined to fulfil what was written of the Messiah, however painful it would be. This was neither fatalism nor a martyr complex. It was quite simply that he believed Old Testament Scripture to be his Father’s revelation and that he was totally resolved to do his Father’s will and finish his Father’s work. Besides, his suffering and death would not be purposeless. He had come ‘to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). It was for the salvation of sinners that he would die, giving his life as a ransom to set them free (Mark 10:45). So he set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. Nothing would deter or deflect him. Hence the reiterated ‘must’ when he spoke of his death. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected. Everything that was written about him must be fulfilled. He refused to appeal for angels to rescue him, because then the Scriptures would not be fulfilled which said that it must happen in this way. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer before entering his glory?30 He felt under constraint, even under compulsion: ‘I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am (rsv ‘constrained’, literally ‘hemmed in’) until it is completed!’ (Luke 12:50).

So then, although he knew he must die, it was not because he was the helpless victim either of evil forces arrayed against him, or of any inflexible fate decreed for him, but because he freely embraced the purpose of his Father for the salvation of sinners, as it had been revealed in Scripture.

This was the perspective of Jesus on his death. Despite the great importance of his teaching, his example, and his works of compassion and power, none of these was central to his mission. What dominated his mind was not the living but the giving of his life. This final self-sacrifice was his ‘hour’, for which he had come into the world. And the four evangelists, who bear witness to him in the Gospels, show that they understand this by the disproportionate amount of space which they give to the story of his last few days on earth, his death and resurrection. It occupies between a third and a quarter of the three Synoptic Gospels, while John’s Gospel has justly been described as having two parts, ‘the Book of the Signs’ and ‘the Book of the Passion’, since John spends an almost equal amount of time on each.

The apostles’ emphasis

It is often asserted that in the book of Acts the apostles’ emphasis was on the resurrection rather than the death of Jesus, and that in any case they gave no doctrinal explanation of his death. Neither of these arguments is sustained by the evidence. I am not of course wanting to claim that the apostles’ sermons express a full doctrine of the atonement as it is later found in their letters. Luke’s historical sense enables him to record what they said at the time, not what they might have said if they had been preaching several years later. Yet the seeds of the developed doctrine are there. Luke weaves his story round the two apostles Peter and Paul, and supplies five sample evangelistic sermons from each, in shorter or longer summaries. Thus we have Peter’s sermons of the Day of Pentecost and in the Temple precincts, brief abstracts of what he said during his two trials by the Sanhedrin, and a fairly full account of his message to the Gentile centurion Cornelius and his household.31 Then, when Luke is recounting the missionary exploits of his hero Paul, he contrasts his address to Jews in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch with that to pagans in the open air at Lystra, contrasts two more in the second missionary journey, namely to Thessalonian Jews and Athenian philosophers, and summarizes his teaching to the Jewish leaders in Rome.32 In each sermon the approach is different. To Jews Paul spoke of the God of the covenant, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but to Gentiles of the God of creation, who made the heavens, the earth and the sea and everything in them. Nevertheless, there was a core to the proclamation of both apostles, which might be reconstructed as follows:

‘Jesus was a man who was accredited by God through miracles and anointed by the Spirit to do good and to heal. Despite this, he was crucified through the agency of wicked men, though also by God’s purpose according to the Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer. Then God reversed the human verdict on Jesus by raising him from the dead, also according to the Scriptures, and as attested by the apostolic eyewitnesses. Next God exalted him to the place of supreme honor as Lord and Savior. He now possesses full authority both to save those who repent, believe and are baptized in his name, bestowing on them the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit, and to judge those who reject him.’

Several important points emerge from this gospel core.

First, although the apostles attributed the death of Jesus to human wickedness, they declared that it was also due to a divine purpose.33 Moreover, what God had foreknown, he had foretold. So the apostles repeatedly emphasized that the death and resurrection of Jesus happened ‘according to the Scriptures’. Paul’s own later summary of the gospel also stressed this: ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,…that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…’ (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Only sometimes are actual biblical quotations recorded. Many more unrecorded ones must have been used, as when in the Thessalonian synagogue Paul ‘reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead’ (Acts 17:2–3). It seems likely that these were – or at least included – the Scriptures which Jesus used, and therefore the doctrine which they expressed.

Secondly, although a full-scale atonement doctrine is missing, the apostolic preaching of the cross was not undoctrinal. Not only did they proclaim that Christ died according to the Scriptures, and so according to God’s saving purpose, but they called the cross on which he died a ‘tree’. Luke is careful to record this fact of both the leading apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter twice used the expression that the people ‘killed him by hanging him on a tree’, to the Jewish Sanhedrin and to the Gentile Cornelius. Similarly, Paul told the synagogue congregation in Pisidian Antioch that when the people and their rulers in Jerusalem ‘had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree’.34

Now they were under no necessity to use this language. Peter also spoke of Jesus’ ‘crucifixion’, and Paul of his ‘sufferings’ and ‘execution’.35 So why their references to the ‘tree’ and to his having been ‘hanged’ on it? The only possible explanation is to be found in Deuteronomy 21:22–23, where instructions were given for the body of a man, who had been executed for a capital offence by hanging, to be buried before nightfall, ‘because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’. The apostles were quite familiar with this legislation, and with its implication that Jesus died under the divine curse. Yet, instead of hushing it up, they deliberately drew people’s attention to it. So evidently they were not embarrassed by it. They did not think of Jesus as in any sense deserving to be accursed by God. They must, therefore, have at least begun to understand that it was our curse which he was bearing. Certainly both apostles stated this plainly in their later letters. Paul in Galatians, probably written very soon after his visit to Pisidian Antioch, wrote that ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (3:13). And Peter wrote: ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Pet. 2:24). If then Peter and Paul in their letters plainly saw the cross of Jesus in sin-bearing or curse-bearing terms, and both linked this fact with the verses in Deuteronomy about being hanged on a tree, is it not reasonable to suppose that already in their Acts speeches, in which they called the cross a tree, they had glimpsed the same truth? In this case there is more doctrinal teaching about the cross in the early sermons of the apostles than they are often credited with.

Thirdly, we need to consider how the apostles presented the resurrection. Although they emphasized it, it would be an exaggeration to call their message an exclusively resurrection gospel. For in the nature of the case the resurrection cannot stand by itself. Since it is a resurrection from death, its significance is determined by the nature of this death. Indeed, the reason for emphasizing the resurrection may be rather to emphasize something about the death which it cancels and conquers. This proves to be the case. At its simplest their message was: ‘you killed him, God raised him, and we are witnesses.’36 In other words, the resurrection was the divine reversal of the human verdict. But it was more than this. By the resurrection God ‘glorified’ and ‘exalted’ the Jesus who had died.37 Promoting him to the place of supreme honor at his right hand, in fulfilment of Psalm 110:1 and on account of the achievement of his death, God made the crucified and risen Jesus ‘both Lord and Christ’, both ‘Prince and Savior’, with authority to save sinners by bestowing upon them repentance, forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.38 Moreover, this comprehensive salvation is specifically said to be due to his powerful ‘Name’ (the sum total of his person, death and resurrection), in which people must believe and into which they must be baptized, since there is ‘no other name under heaven given to men’ by which they must be saved.39

When we turn from the apostles’ early sermons recorded in the Acts to the maturer utterances of their letters, the prominent place they give to the cross is even more marked. True, some of the shortest letters do not mention it (such as Paul’s to Philemon, Jude’s, and John’s second and third), and it is not altogether surprising that James’ largely ethical homily does not refer to it. Yet the three major letter-writers of the New Testament – Paul, Peter and John – are unanimous in witnessing to its centrality, as are also the letter to the Hebrews and the Revelation.

We begin with Paul. He found no anomaly in defining his gospel as ‘the message of the cross’, his ministry as ‘we preach Christ crucified’, baptism as initiation ‘into his death’ and the Lord’s Supper as a proclamation of the Lord’s death. He boldly declared that, though the cross seemed either foolishness or a ‘stumbling block’ to the self-confident, it was in fact the very essence of God’s wisdom and power.40 So convinced was he of this that he had deliberately resolved, he told the Corinthians, to renounce worldly wisdom and instead to know nothing among them ‘except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:1–2). When later in the same letter he wished to remind them of his gospel, which he had himself received and had handed on to them, which had become the foundation on which they were standing and the good news by which they were being saved, what was ‘of first importance’ (he said) was ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared…’ (1 Cor. 15:1–5). And when a few years later he developed this outline into the full gospel manifesto which his letter to the Romans is, his emphasis is even more strongly on the cross. For having proved all humankind sinful and guilty before God, he explains that God’s righteous way of putting the unrighteous right with himself operates ‘through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’, whom ‘God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood’ (Rom. 3:21–25). Consequently, we are ‘justified by his blood’ and ‘reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ (Rom. 5:9–10). Without Christ’s sacrificial death for us salvation would have been impossible. No wonder Paul boasted in nothing except the cross (Gal. 6:14).

The apostle Peter’s testimony is equally clear. He begins his first letter with the startling statement that his readers have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. And a few verses later, he reminds them that the price of their redemption from their former empty way of life has not been ‘perishable things such as silver or gold’, but rather ‘the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Although the remaining references in his letter to the death of Jesus relate it to the unjust sufferings of Christians (‘glory through suffering’ being the principle for them as for him), Peter nevertheless takes the opportunity to give some profound instruction about the Savior’s death. ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ and ‘Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (2:24; 3:18), in fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Because in the context Peter is emphasizing the cross as our example, it is all the more striking that he should at the same time write of Christ our sinbearer and substitute.

John’s emphasis in his letters was on the incarnation. Because he was combating an early heresy which tried to sever Christ from Jesus, the divine Son from the human being, he insisted that Jesus was ‘the Christ come in the flesh’ and that anyone who denied this was Antichrist.41 Nevertheless, he saw the incarnation as being with a view to the atonement. For God’s unique love was seen not so much in the coming as in the dying of his Son, whom he ‘sent…as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ and whose ‘blood…purifies us from every sin’.42

The letter to the Hebrews, which is more a theological tract than a letter, was written to Jewish Christians who, under the pressure of persecution, were being tempted to renounce Christ and relapse into Judaism. The author’s tactic was to demonstrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ, not only as Son over the angels and as Prophet over Moses, but in particular as Priest over the now obsolete Levitical priesthood. For the sacrificial ministry of Jesus, our ‘great high priest’ (4:14), is incomparably superior to theirs. He had no sins of his own for which to make sacrifice; the blood he shed was not of goats and calves, but his own; he had no need to offer the same sacrifices repeatedly, which could never take away sins, because he made ‘one sacrifice for sins for ever’; and he has thus obtained an ‘eternal redemption’ and established an ‘eternal covenant’ which contains the promise, ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’43

Still more striking than all this, however, is the portraiture of Jesus in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation. He is introduced to us in its first chapter as ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (v. 5) and ‘the Living One’, who was dead but now is alive for ever, and who holds the keys of death and Hades (v. 18). An appropriate doxology is added: ‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,…to him be glory and power for ever and ever!’ (vv. 5–6).

John’s commonest designation of Jesus, consonant with the symbolic imagery of the Revelation, is simply ‘the Lamb’. The reason for this title, which is applied to him twenty-eight times throughout the book, has little to do with the meekness of his character (although once his qualities as both ‘Lion’ and ‘Lamb’ are deliberately contrasted (5:5–6)); it is rather because he has been slain as a sacrificial victim and by his blood has set his people free. In order to grasp the broad perspective from which John views the influence of the Lamb, it may be helpful to divide it into four spheres – salvation, history, worship and eternity.

The redeemed people of God (that ‘great multitude that no-one could count’), who are drawn from every nation and language, and stand before God’s throne, specifically attribute their salvation to God and the Lamb. They cry with a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb.’

By a very dramatic figure of speech the robes they are wearing are said to have been ‘washed…and made white in the blood of the Lamb’. In other words, they owe their righteous standing before God entirely to the cross of Christ, through which their sins have been forgiven and their defilement cleansed. Their salvation through Christ is also secure, for not only are their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, but the Lamb’s name is written on their foreheads.44

In John’s vision, however, the Lamb is more than the Savior of a countless multitude; he is depicted also as the lord of all history. To begin with, he is seen ‘standing in the centre of the throne’, that is, sharing in the sovereign rule of Almighty God. More than that, the occupant of the throne is holding in his right hand a seven-sealed scroll, which is generally identified as the book of history. At first John ‘wept and wept’ because no-one in the universe could open the scroll, or even look inside it. But then at last the Lamb is said to be worthy. He takes the scroll, breaks the seals one by one, and thus (it seems) unfolds history chapter by chapter. It is significant that what has qualified him to assume this role is his cross; for this is the key to history and the redemptive process it inaugurated. Despite their sufferings from war, famine, plague, persecution and other catastrophes, God’s people can yet overcome the devil ‘by the blood of the Lamb’, and are assured that the final victory will be his and theirs, since the Lamb proves to be ‘Lord of lords and King of kings’.45

It is not surprising to learn that the author of salvation and the lord of history is also the object of heaven’s worship. In chapter 5 we listen as one choir after another is brought in to swell the praise of the Lamb. First, when he had taken the scroll, ‘the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders’ (probably representing the whole creation on the one hand and the whole church of both Testaments on the other) ‘fell down before the Lamb…and sang a new song:

‘You are worthy to take the scroll  and to open the seals,

because you were slain,  and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation…’

Next, John heard the voice of a hundred million angels, or more, who constituted the outer circle of those surrounding the throne. They too sang with a loud voice:

‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’

Then finally he ‘heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them’ – universal creation – singing:

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’

To this the four living creatures responded with their ‘Amen’, and the elders fell down and worshipped.46

Jesus the Lamb does more than occupy the centre of the stage today, in salvation, history and worship; in addition, he will have a central place when history ends and the curtain rises on eternity. On the day of judgment those who have rejected him will try to escape from him. They will call to the mountains and rocks to engulf them: ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’ For those who have trusted and followed him, however, that day will be like a wedding day and a wedding feast. For the final union of Christ with his people is depicted in terms of the Lamb’s marriage to his bride. Changing the metaphor, the new Jerusalem will descend from heaven. It will have no temple in it, ‘because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’; nor will it need either sun or moon, ‘for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp’.47

One cannot fail to notice, or to be impressed by, the seer’s repeated and uninhibited coupling of ‘God and the Lamb’. The person he places on an equality with God is the Savior who died for sinners. He depicts him as mediating God’s salvation, sharing God’s throne, receiving God’s worship (the worship due to him) and diffusing God’s light. And his worthiness, which qualifies him for these unique privileges, is due to the fact that he was slain, and by his death procured our salvation. If (as may be) the book of life is said in 13:8 to belong to ‘the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’, then John is telling us nothing less than that from an eternity of the past to an eternity of the future the centre of the stage is occupied by the Lamb of God who was slain.

Persistence despite opposition

This survey leaves us in no doubt that the principal contributors to the New Testament believed in the centrality of the cross of Christ, and believed that their conviction was derived from the mind of the Master himself. The early post-apostolic church, therefore, had a firm double base – in the teaching of Christ and his apostles – for making a cross the sign and symbol of Christianity. Church tradition proved in this to be a faithful reflection of Scripture.

Moreover, we must not overlook their remarkable tenacity. They knew that those who had crucified the Son of God had subjected him to ‘public disgrace’ and that in order to endure the cross Jesus had had to humble himself to it and to ‘scorn its shame’.48 Nevertheless, what was shameful, even odious, to the critics of Christ, was in the eyes of his followers most glorious. They had learnt that the servant was not greater than the master, and that for them as for him suffering was the means to glory. More than that, suffering was glory, and whenever they were ‘insulted because of the name of Christ’, then ‘the Spirit of glory’ rested upon them.49

Yet the enemies of the gospel neither did nor do share this perspective. There is no greater cleavage between faith and unbelief than in their respective attitudes to the cross. Where faith sees glory, unbelief sees only disgrace. What was foolishness to Greeks, and continues to be to modern intellectuals who trust in their own wisdom, is nevertheless the wisdom of God. And what remains a stumbling-block to those who trust in their own righteousness, like the Jews of the first century, proves to be the saving power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25).

One of the saddest features of Islam is that it rejects the cross, declaring it inappropriate that a major prophet of God should come to such an ignominious end. The Koran sees no need for the sin-bearing death of a Savior. At least five times it declares categorically that ‘no soul shall bear another’s burden’. Indeed, ‘if a laden soul cries out for help, not even a near relation shall share its burden’. Why is this? It is because ‘each man shall reap the fruits of his own deeds’, even though Allah is merciful and forgives those who repent and do good. Denying the need for the cross, the Koran goes on to deny the fact. The Jews ‘uttered a monstrous falsehood’ when they declared ‘we have put to death the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of Allah’, for ‘they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did’.50 Although Muslim theologians have interpreted this statement in different ways, the commonly held belief is that God cast a spell over the enemies of Jesus in order to rescue him, and that either Judas Iscariot51 or Simon of Cyrene was substituted for him at the last moment. In the nineteenth century the Ahmadiya sect of Islam borrowed from different liberal Christian writers the notion that Jesus only swooned on the cross, and revived in the tomb, adding that he subsequently travelled to India to teach, and died there; they claim to be the guardians of his tomb in Kashmir.

But Christian messengers of the good news cannot be silent about the cross. Here is the testimony of the American missionary Samuel M. Zwemer (1867–1952), who laboured in Arabia, edited The Muslim World for forty years, and is sometimes called ‘The Apostle to Islam’:

The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling- block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission….

If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything – the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the gospel centres here. The Cross is the pivot as well as the centre of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure.

The more unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering. We rediscover the apostolic emphasis on the Cross when we read the gospel with Moslems. We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.52

‘Irresistible’ is the very word an Iranian student used when telling me of his conversion to Christ. Brought up to read the Koran, say his prayers and lead a good life, he nevertheless knew that he was separated from God by his sins. When Christian friends brought him to church and encouraged him to read the Bible, he learnt that Jesus Christ had died for his forgiveness. ‘For me the offer was irresistible and heaven-sent,’ he said, and he cried to God to have mercy on him through Christ. Almost immediately ‘the burden of my past life was lifted. I felt as if a huge weight…had gone. With the relief and sense of lightness came incredible joy. At last it had happened. I was free of my past. I knew that God had forgiven me, and I felt clean. I wanted to shout, and tell everybody.’ It was through the cross that the character of God came clearly into focus for him, and that he found Islam’s missing dimension, ‘the intimate fatherhood of God and the deep assurance of sins forgiven’.

Muslims are not by any means the only people, however, who repudiate the gospel of the cross. Hindus also, though they can accept its historicity, reject its saving significance. Gandhi, for example, the founder of modern India, who while working in South Africa as a young lawyer was attracted to Christianity, yet wrote of himself while there in 1894:

I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.53

Turning to the West, perhaps the most scornful rejection of the cross has come from the pen of the German philosopher and philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche (died 1900). Near the beginning of The Anti-Christ (1895) he defined the good as ‘the will to power’, the bad as ‘all that proceeds from weakness’, and happiness as ‘the feeling that power increases… ’, while ‘what is more harmful than any vice’ is ‘active sympathy for the ill-constituted and weak – Christianity’. Admiring Darwin’s emphasis on the survival of the fittest, he despised all forms of weakness, and in their place dreamt of the emergence of a ‘superman’ and a ‘daring ruler race’. To him ‘depravity’ meant ‘decadence’, and nothing was more decadent than Christianity which ‘has taken the side of everything weak, base, ill-constituted’. Being ‘the religion of pity’, it ‘preserves what is ripe for destruction’ and so ‘thwarts the law of evolution’ (pp.115–118). Nietzsche reserved his bitterest invective for ‘the Christian conception of God’ as ‘God of the sick, God as spider, God as spirit’, and for the Christian Messiah whom he dismissed contemptuously as ‘God on the Cross’ (pp.128, 168).

If Nietzsche rejected Christianity for its ‘weakness’, others have done so for its supposedly ‘barbaric’ teachings. Professor Sir Alfred Ayer, for example, the Oxford philosopher who is well known for his antipathy to Christianity, wrote in a recent newspaper article that, among religions of historical importance, there was quite a strong case for considering Christianity the worst. Why so? Because it rests ‘on the allied doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement, which are intellectually contemptible and morally outrageous’.54

How is it that Christians can face such ridicule without shifting their ground? Why do we ‘cling to the old rugged cross’ (in the words of a rather sentimental, popular hymn), and insist on its centrality, refusing to let it be pushed to the circumference of our message? Why must we proclaim the scandalous, and glory in the shameful? The answer lies in the single word ‘integrity’. Christian integrity consists partly in a resolve to unmask the caricatures, but mostly in personal loyalty to Jesus, in whose mind the saving cross was central. Indeed, readers who have come without bias to the Scriptures all seem to have come to the same conclusion. Here is a sample from the twentieth century.

  1. T. Forsyth, the English Congregationalist, wrote in The Cruciality of the Cross (1909):

Christ is to us just what his cross is. All that Christ was in heaven or on earth was put into what he did there…Christ, I repeat, is to us just what his cross is. You do not understand Christ till you understand his cross. (pp.44–45)

And the following year (1910) in The Work of Christ he wrote:

On this interpretation of the work of Christ (sc. the Pauline doctrine of reconciliation) the whole Church rests. If you move faith from that centre, you have driven the nail into the Church’s coffin. The Church is then doomed to death, and it is only a matter of time when she shall expire (p.53).

Next, Emil Brunner, the Swiss theologian, whose book The Mediator was first published in German in 1927, sub-titled ‘A study of the central doctrine of the Christian faith’, defended his conviction with these words:

In Christianity faith in the Mediator is not something optional, not something about which, in the last resort, it is possible to hold different opinions, if we are only united on the ‘main point’. For faith in the Mediator – in the event which took place once for all, a revealed atonement – is the Christian religion itself; it is the ‘main point’; it is not something alongside of the centre; it is the substance and kernel, not the husk. This is so true that we may even say: in distinction from all other forms of religion, the Christian religion is faith in the one Mediator…And there is no other possibility of being a Christian than through faith in that which took place once for all, revelation and atonement through the Mediator (p.40).

Later Brunner applauds Luther’s description of Christian theology as a theologia crucis, and goes on:

The Cross is the sign of the Christian faith, of the Christian Church, of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ….The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the soli deo gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright – this is the opinion of the Reformers – understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ (p.435).

Again,the believing recognition of this uniqueness, faith in the Mediator, is the sign of the Christian faith. Whoever considers this statement to be a sign of exaggeration, intolerance, harshness, non-historical thought, and the like, has not yet heard the message of Christianity (p.507).

My final quotation comes from the Anglican scholar, Bishop Stephen Neill:

In the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.55

The verdict of scholars has understandably percolated through into popular Christian devotion. Allowances should be made for Christians who at Christ’s cross have found their pride broken, their guilt expunged, their love kindled, their hope restored and their character transformed, if they go on to indulge in a little harmless hyperbole. Perceiving the cross to be the centre of history and theology, they naturally perceive it also to be the centre of all reality. So they see it everywhere, and have always done so. I give two examples, one ancient and the other modern.

Justin Martyr, the second-century Christian apologist, confessed that wherever he looked, he saw the cross. Neither the sea is crossed nor the earth is ploughed without it, he writes, referring to a ship’s mast and yard, and to a plough’s blade and yoke. Diggers and mechanics do not work without cross-shaped tools, alluding presumably to a spade and its handle. Moreover, ‘the human form differs from that of the irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the arms extended’. And if the torso and arms of the human form proclaim the cross, so do the nose and eyebrows of the human face.56 Fanciful? Yes, entirely, and yet I find myself willing to forgive any such fancies which glorify the cross.

My modern example is the most eloquent description I know of the universality of the cross. It is Malcolm Muggeridge unconsciously updating Justin Martyr. Brought up in a Socialist home, and familiar with Socialist Sunday Schools and their ‘sort of agnosticism sweetened by hymns’, he became uneasy about ‘this whole concept of a Jesus of good causes’. Then:

I would catch a glimpse of a cross – not necessarily a crucifix; maybe two pieces of wood accidentally nailed together, on a telegraph pole, for instance – and suddenly my heart would stand still. In an instinctive, intuitive way I understood that something more important, more tumultuous, more passionate, was at issue than our good causes, however admirable they might be….

It was, I know, an obsessive interest…I might fasten bits of wood together myself, or doodle it. This symbol, which was considered to be derisory in my home, was yet also the focus of inconceivable hopes and desires….

As I remember this, a sense of my own failure lies leadenly upon me. I should have worn it over my heart; carried it, a precious standard, never to be wrested out of my hands; even though I fell, still borne aloft. It should have been my cult, my uniform, my language, my life. I shall have no excuse; I can’t say I didn’t know. I knew from the beginning, and turned away.57

Later, however, he turned back, as each of us must who has ever glimpsed the reality of Christ crucified. For the only authentic Jesus is the Jesus who died on the cross.

But why did he die? Who was responsible for his death? That is the question to which we turn in the next chapter.


Leave a comment

Posted by on April 18, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross of Christ – Jesus: His God-Man Lifestyle”

“Father, where shall I work today?” And my love flowed warm and free. Then He pointed me out a tiny spot, And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh, no, not that. Why, no one would ever see, No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me!”

And the word He spoke, it was not stern, HE answered me tenderly, “Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;
Art thou working for them or me’ Nazareth was a little place, And so was Galilee.”

The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Edman (Minneapolis: World Wide Publ., 1948), p. 209.

 Crucified with Christ

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

There seems to be a great throng of professing Christians in our churches today whose total and amazing testimony sounds about like this: “I am thankful for God’s plan in sending Christ to the cross to save me from hell.”

I am convinced that it is a cheap, low-grade and misleading kind of Christianity that impels people to rise and state: “Because of sin I was deeply in debt—and God sent His Son, who came and paid all my debts.”

Of course believing Christian men and women are saved from the judgment of hell, and it is a reality that Christ our Redeemer has paid the whole slate of debt and sin that was against us.

But what does God say about His purpose in allowing Jesus to go to the cross and to the grave? What does God say about the meaning of death and resurrection for the Christian believer?

Surely we know the Bible well enough to be able to answer that: God’s highest purpose in the redemption of sinful humanity was based in His hope that we would allow Him to reproduce the likeness of Jesus Christ in our once-sinful lives!

This is the reason why we should be concerned with this text—this testimony of the Apostle Paul in which he shares his own personal theology with the Galatian Christians who had become known for their backsliding. It is a beautiful miniature, shining forth as an unusual and sparkling gem, an entire commentary on the deeper Christian life and experience. We are not trying to take it out of its context by dealing with it alone. We are simply acknowledging the fact that the context is too broad to be dealt with in any one message.

It is the King James version of the Bible which quotes Paul: “I am crucified with Christ.” Nearly every other version quotes Paul as speaking in a different tense: “I have been crucified with Christ,” and that really is the meaning of it: “I have been crucified with Christ.”

This verse is quoted sometimes by people who have simply memorized it and they would not be able to tell you what Paul was really trying to communicate. This is not a portion of Scripture which can be skipped through lightly. You cannot skim through and pass over this verse as many seem to be able to do with the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.

The Full Meaning

This is a verse with such depth of meaning and spiritual potential for the Christian believer that we are obligated to seek its full meaning—so it can become practical and workable and livable in all of our lives in this present world.

It is plain in this text that Paul was forthright and frank in the matter of his own personal involvement in seeking and finding God’s highest desires and provision for Christian experience and victory. He was not bashful about the implications of his own personality becoming involved with the claims of Jesus Christ.

Not only does he plainly testify, “I have been crucified,” but within the immediate vicinity of these verses, he used the words I, myself and me a total of fourteen times….

I believe Paul knew that there is a legitimate time and place for the use of the word I. In spiritual matters, some people seem to want to maintain a kind of anonymity, if possible. As far as they are concerned, someone else should take the first step. This often comes up in the manner of our praying, as well. Some Christians are so general and vague and uninvolved in their requests that God Himself is unable to answer. I refer to the man who will bow his head and pray: “Lord, bless the missionaries and all for whom we should pray. Amen.”

It is as though Paul says to us here: “I am not ashamed to use myself as an example. I have been crucified with Christ. I am willing to be pinpointed.”

Only Christianity recognizes why the person who is without God and without any spiritual perception gets in such deep trouble with his own ego. When he says I, he is talking about the sum of his own individual being, and if he does not really know who he is or what he is doing here, he is besieged in his personality with all kinds of questions and problems and uncertainties.

Most of the shallow psychology religions of the day try to deal with the problem of the ego by jockeying it around from one position to another, but Christianity deals with the problem of I by disposing of it with finality.

The Bible teaches that every unregenerated human being will continue to wrestle with the problems of his own natural ego and selfishness. His human nature dates back to Adam. But the Bible also teaches with joy and blessing that every individual may be born again, thus becoming a “new man” in Christ.

When Paul speaks in this text, “I have been crucified,” he is saying that “my natural self has been crucified.” That is why he can go on to say, “Yet I live”—for he has become another and a new person—“I live in Christ and Christ lives in me.”

Atomic Experiment

“It was May 21, 1946. The place – Los Alamos. A young and daring scientist was carrying out a necessary experiment in preparation for the atomic test to be conducted in the waters of the South Pacific atoll at Bikini.

“He had successfully performed such an experiment many times before. In his effort to determine the amount of U-235 necessary for a chain reaction—scientists call it the critical mass—he would push two hemispheres of uranium together. Then, just as the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver, thus instantly stopping the chain reaction.

But that day, just as the material became critical, the screwdriver slipped! The hemispheres of uranium came too close together. Instantly the room was filled with a dazzling bluish haze.

Young Louis Slotin, instead of ducking and thereby possibly saving himself, tore the two hemispheres apart with his hands and thus interrupted the chain reaction. By this instant, self-forgetful daring, he saved the lives of the seven other persons in the room. . . (A)s he waited. . for the car that was to take him to the hospital, he said quietly to his companion, ‘You’ll come through all right. But I haven’t the faintest chance myself’ It was only too true. Nine days later he died in agony.

Over nineteen centuries ago the Son of the living God walked directly into sin’s most concentrated radiation, allowed Himself to be touched by its curse, and let it take His life . . . But by that act He broke the chain reaction. He broke the power of sin. – Planet In Rebellion, George Vandeman.

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 14, 2022 in cross

%d bloggers like this: