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,” ”



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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.

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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.


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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.

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Posted by on April 14, 2022 in cross


A closer look at the cross of Christ: Tempted in every way like us Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 4:14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. {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. {16} Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.NIV These verses logically follow from 2:17-3:1, “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. . . . Therefore . . . fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (niv).

The intervening section explains how Jesus is greater than Moses and Joshua, two of Israel’s greatest leaders. Jesus is greater than the law Moses gave; he gives a rest greater than Joshua gave in conquering the Promised Land. The writer moved on to show how Jesus is also greater than anyone in the Jewish priesthood, another important part of the Jewish heritage.

The word “therefore” ties in with the description of Jesus in 2:17-3:1 quoted in the previous paragraph. Our merciful and faithful high priest, Jesus, became like us in order to die for us, offering the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. Since we have a great high priest would have portrayed a vivid picture to the Jewish Christian readers. The high priest had been their highest religious authority. The priesthood began with Aaron, Moses’ brother (Exodus 28:41). Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple, and then only once a year to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation (Leviticus 16).

Jesus is the “great” High Priest, better than all the high priests of Israel. Here is why:

  • The high priests were humans who could offer sacrifices but could do nothing to take away sin. Jesus gave his life and died as the final sacrifice for sin.
  • The high priests could enter the Holy of Holies only once a year to atone for the sins of the nation. Jesus has gone through the heavens and has unrestricted access to God the Father. “Gone through the heavens” is a critical concept in Hebrews. In 7:26, Christ is referred to as exalted above the heavens, and 9:24 states that Christ entered heaven itself. “Gone through the heavens” refers to Christ’s transcending nature as our high priest and to his work for us in the highest of all sanctuaries, heaven itself.
  • The high priests interceded between God and the people, but they were human and sinful themselves. Jesus intercedes between God and people as the sinless Son of God, human yet divine. He had been tempted in every way humans are, so he can mercifully intercede for us and assure us of God’s forgiveness.
  • The high priests were the highest religious authorities for the Jews. Jesus has more authority than the Jewish high priests because he is both God and man.
  • People could not approach God except through a high priest. When Jesus died, the veil that separated the Most Holy Place in the temple was torn in two, indicating that Jesus’ death had opened the way for sinful people to reach a holy God.

Because of all that Christ has done and is doing for us, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. Do not drift away (2:1), but cling to this faith. “The faith we profess” most likely refers to a formulation or confession of faith they had once publicly accepted (see 3:1). The writer explains to the Jewish audience that they should not go back to an inferior system because they can have all that the system promised and longed after—access to and acceptability by God.

“Jesus fulfilled those desires,” says the writer, “hold on to that faith!” Allow Jesus to be your High Priest; only he can protect you from inevitable judgment (described in 4:12-13). Jesus Christ is not only the Son of God mighty to save, but the Son of Man able to feel.

J. C. Ryle


This is good news to people who wonder, “How can I approach God?” or “Will God listen to me?” Because Jesus is the High Priest, Christians can approach God and God will hear them when they pray. No sin is too great to keep God from hearing you, no background is too severe to cause your great High Priest to refuse to represent you. No matter what your family background, job history, ethnic roots, or past behavior, Christ is a faithful High Priest who represents all who trust in him.

4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.NKJV Because Jesus, our High Priest (4:14), was made like us, he experienced life completely. He grew tired, became hungry, and faced normal human limitations. Thus Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. Not only that, but he also was in all points tempted as we are. Jesus, in his humanity, felt the struggle and reality of temptation. Matthew 4:1-11 describes a specific series of temptations from the devil, but Jesus probably faced temptation throughout his entire earthly life, just as we do (see 1 John 2:16). He experienced the full pressure of temptation—all its power, tricks, and enticements. Temptation often ends for people when they give in to it, but Jesus was different. Being God, Jesus could never have given into sin. Although he was a human being, he was unlike us in that he was without sin. From our limited perspective it is difficult to understand this great mystery. What we can say is that Jesus could have sinned (which makes temptation real), but we know that he didn’t sin (which means he never yielded to temptation).

We can find comfort in knowing that as Jesus faced temptation, he knows how difficult it is to resist. We can be encouraged in knowing that Jesus faced temptation without giving in to sin and that he gives us the power to do so as well. For more on Jesus’ sinlessness, see 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5.

4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.NKJV Through his death on the cross, our great High Priest, Jesus, opened access to God. Now people can approach God directly because of Jesus’ sacrifice for sins. Because Jesus gave his life to do this for us, let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace. This verse is an open invitation to regard God as a great ally and true friend. Yes, God occupies a throne, a seat of power and authority, but it is a throne of grace, not a throne of greed or domination. The term “throne of grace” describes the constant care and love offered to God’s undeserving children.

God’s grace is a characteristic of his reign. “Grace” means undeserved favor. Our ability to approach God does not come from any merit of our own but depends entirely on him. Faith enables us so to rejoice in the Lord that our infirmities become platforms for the display of his grace.

C. H. Spurgeon


Believers can “come boldly” and confidently to this throne, for the king is our Father, who loves us as his children. At God’s throne, we will not receive anger or be ignored; instead, we will obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. God is not only concerned with converting people and collecting disciples; he also cares and nurtures those children who are his own. He listens to our needs. No request is insignificant, and no problem is too small for the one who sits on the throne of grace. God will never reject a Christian’s plea or ignore one who brings requests before God. When we come to God, we are promised “mercy,” God’s loving-kindness and forgiveness. When we come to God, we will receive “grace,” God’s undeserved favor, that will help in time of need. No matter what the problem, no matter what sin caused the need, God promises to help us at just the right time—his time. This doesn’t mean that God promises to solve every need the moment we come to him. Nor does it mean that God will erase the natural consequences of any sin that was committed. It does mean, however, that God listens, cares, and will answer in his perfect way, in his perfect timing.

Prayer is our approach to God, and we are to come “boldly.” Some Christians approach God meekly with heads hung low, afraid to ask him to meet their needs. Others pray flippantly, giving little thought to what they say. Come with reverence because he is your King. But also come with bold assurance because he is your Father, Friend, and Counselor.

Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)

The Holy Spirit continues to appeal to Jews who have heard the gospel and turned from Judaism but have not yet trusted Christ. He has been saying, in effect, “You know your dissatisfaction with Judaism and with your own lives. You know the superiority of Jesus to prophets, angels, and Moses, and the dangers of not trusting Christ and of your need for Him. What is keeping you from making the final decision?” Hebrews 4:1-13 was an urgent appeal not to delay in accepting God’s salvation, His perfect rest, in Jesus Christ.

Until now the appeal has largely been negative: if you do not believe, you will be doomed—forever apart from God and His rest. God’s Word has been shown in its all-seeing and judgmental role, as a two-edged sword (4:12).

The danger of hell is certainly real, and any preacher—especially when trying to reach the unsaved—is not true to the gospel if he avoids this truth. Because it is true, and because it is so terribly important, it must be preached and taught. Avoiding it is not only being unfaithful to God’s Word but also being unfaithful to the needs of the unsaved. To cry “Fire!” in a crowded building where there is no fire is not only against the law but extremely cruel and dangerous. But not to cry “Fire!” when a building is in flames is even more cruel and dangerous. Done in the right spirit and way, warning unbelievers of the dangers of hell is one of the greatest kindnesses we can show them.

The Positive Message

The message now turns to the positive side of the gospel. Salvation does more than keep us out of hell, immeasurably more. Many people have a caricature of fundamentalism, or evangelicalism, as having no message but “fire and brimstone, hell and damnation.”

Salvation not only saves from spiritual death, it brings spiritual life. It should be sought not only because of what will happen to us if we do not accept it, but because of what will happen to us if we do. What happens to us when we accept it is based on who Jesus is. If there were no other reason in the universe to be saved, who Jesus is would be reason enough.

Coming into a living relationship with Him is the greatest experience a person can have. To walk in the fellowship of the living Christ would be a glorious thing even if there were no hell to escape. So we have reason to receive Jesus Christ and enter into God’s rest not only because of fear of His judgment but because of His beauty, not only because of His wrath but also because of His grace, not only because He is a judge but because He is also a merciful and faithful High Priest.

Three things make Jesus our great High Priest—His perfect priesthood, His perfect Person, and His perfect provision. Because He is perfect in these aspects, He is God’s only true High Priest. All others, no matter how faithful, were but symbols of His priesthood.

His Perfect Priesthood

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (4:14)

Throughout the book of Hebrews the high priesthood of Jesus Christ is exalted. In chapter 1 He is seen as the One who has made “purification of sins” (v. 3). In chapter 2 He is “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17) and in chapter 3 He is “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (v. 1). Chapters 7-9 focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ high priesthood. Here (4:14) he is called a great high priest.

The priests of ancient Israel were appointed by God to be mediators between Himself and His people. Only the high priest could offer the highest sacrifice under the Old Covenant, and that he did only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). All the sins of the people were brought symbolically to the Holy of Holies, where blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat as a sacrifice to atone for them. As no other human instrument could, he represented God before the people and the people before God.

As we learn from Leviticus 16, before the high priest could even enter the Holy of Holies, much less offer a sacrifice there, he had to make an offering for himself, since he, just as all those whom he represented, was a sinner. Not only that, but his time in the Holy of Holies was limited. He was allowed to stay in the presence of the Shekinah glory of God only while he was making the sacrifice.

To enter the Holy of Holies, the priest had to pass through three areas in the Tabernacle or the Temple. He took the blood and went through the door into the outer court, through another door into the Holy Place, and then through the veil into the Holy of Holies. He did not sit down or delay. As soon as the sacrifice was made, he left and did not return for another year.

Every year, year after year, another Yom Kippur was necessary. Between these yearly sacrifices—every day, day after day—thousands of other sacrifices were made, of produce and of animals. The process was never ended, never completed, because the priesthood was not perfect and the sacrifices were not perfect.

Jesus, our great High Priest, after He had made the one-time, perfect sacrifice on the cross, also passed through three areas. When He passed through the heavens, he went through the first heaven (the atmosphere), the second heaven (outer space), and into the third heaven (God’s abode; 2 Cor. 12:2-4). Jesus went to where God Himself, not simply His glory, dwells. This is the holiest of all holies. But Jesus did not have to leave. His sacrifice was made once for all time. The sacrifice was perfect and the High Priest was perfect, and He sat down for all eternity at the Father’s right hand (Heb. 1:3). “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:4-5). He had made the perfect atonement for sin, the purpose for which He had come to earth. And the work was completed when He entered heaven and presented Himself in the Holy Place (Heb. 9:12).

Our great High Priest did not pass through the Tabernacle or the Temple. He passed through the heavens. When He got there He sat down, and God said, “I’m satisfied. My Son, Jesus Christ, accomplished the atonement for all sins for all time for all those who come to Him by faith and accept what He did for them.” The appeal of 4:14, therefore, is for yet uncommitted Jews to accept Jesus Christ as their true High Priest. They should demonstrate that their confession is true possession by holding fast to Him as their Savior. This emphasizes the human side of the believer’s security. True believers hold fast, as God holds them fast.

His Perfect Person

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (4:15)\

     At the end of verse 14 our great High Priest is again identified as Jesus, the Son of God. Here together are His human name, Jesus, and His divine title, Son of God. These two parts of His nature are also reflected in verse 15.


Most people seem to think of God as being far removed from human life and concerns. Jesus was the very Son of God, yet His divinity did not prevent Him from experiencing our feelings, our emotions, our temptations, our pain. God became man, He became Jesus, to share triumphantly the temptation and the
testing and the suffering of men, in order that He might be a sympathetic and understanding High Priest.

When we are troubled or hurt or despondent or strongly tempted, we want to share our feelings and needs with someone who understands. Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. The phrase “No one understands like Jesus” in the well-known hymn is not only beautiful and encouraging but absolutely
true. Our great High Priest not only is perfectly merciful and faithful but also perfectly understanding. He has an unequaled capacity for sympathizing with us in every danger, in every trial, in every situation that comes our way, because He has been through it all Himself. At the tomb of Lazarus Jesus’ body shook in grief. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest, He sweat drops of
blood. He experienced every kind of temptation and testing, every kind of vicissitude, every kind of circumstance that any person will ever face. And He is at the right hand of the Father right now interceding for us.

Jesus not only had all the feelings of love, concern, disappointment, grief, and frustration that we have, but He had much greater love, infinitely more sensitive concerns, infinitely higher standards of righteousness, and perfect awareness of the evil and dangers of sin. Contrary, therefore, to what we are inclined to think, His divinity made His temptations and trials immeasurably harder for Him to
endure than ours are for us.

Let me give an illustration to help explain how this can be true. We experience pain when we are injured, sometimes extreme pain. But if it becomes too severe, we will develop a temporary numbness, or we may even faint or go into shock. I remember that when I was thrown out of the car and skidded on my back on the highway, I felt pain for awhile and then felt nothing. Our bodies have ways of turning off pain when it becomes too much to endure. People vary a great deal in their pain threshholds, but we all have a breaking point. In other words, the amount of pain we can endure is not limitless. We can conclude, therefore, that there is a degree of pain we will never experience, because our bodies will turn off our sensitivity in one way or another—perhaps even by death—before we reach that point.

A similar principle operates in temptation. There is a degree of temptation that we may never experience simply because, no matter what our spirituality, we will succumb before we reach it. But Jesus Christ had no such limitation. Since He was sinless, He took the full extent of all that Satan could throw at Him. He had no shock system, no weakness limit, to turn off temptation at a certain point.
Since He never succumbed, He experienced every temptation to the maximum. And He experienced it as a man, as a human being. In every way He was tempted as we are, and more. The only difference was that He never sinned. Therefore, when we come to Jesus Christ we can remember that He knows everything we know, and a great deal that we do not know, about temptation, and testing, and
pain. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.

This truth was especially amazing and unbelievable to Jews. They knew that God was holy, righteous, sinless, perfect, omnipotent. They knew His divine attributes and nature and could not comprehend His experiencing pain, much less temptation. Not only this, but under the Old Covenant God’s dealings with His people were more indirect, more distant. Except for special and rare instances,
even faithful believers did not experience His closeness and intimacy in the way that all believers now can. Jews believed that God was incapable of sharing the feelings of men. He was too distant, too far removed in nature from man, to be able to identify with our feelings and temptations and problems.

If comprehending God’s sympathy was hard for Jews, it was even harder for most Gentiles of that day. The Stoics, whose philosophy dominated much Greek and Roman culture in New Testament times, believed that God’s primary attribute was apathy. Some believed that He was without feeling or emotions of any sort. The Epicureans claimed that the gods live intermundia, between the physical and spiritual worlds. They did not participate in either world, and so could hardly be expected to understand the feelings, problems, and needs of mortals. They were completely detached from mankind.

The idea that God could and would identify with men in their trials and temptations was revolutionary to Jew and Gentile alike. But the writer of Hebrews is saying that we have a God not only “who is there” but one “who has been here.”

Weaknesses does not refer directly to sin, but to feebleness or infirmity. It refers to all the natural limitations of humanity, which, however, include liability to sin. Jesus knew firsthand the drive of human nature toward sin. His humanity was His battleground. It is here that Jesus faced and fought sin. He was victorious, but not without the most intense temptation, grief, and anguish.

In all of this struggle, however, Jesus was without sin (choôris hamartia). He was completely apart from, separated from, sin. These two Greek words express the absolute absence of sin. Though He was mercilessly tempted to sin, not the slightest taint of it ever entered His mind or was expressed in His words or actions.

Some may wonder how Jesus can completely identify with us if He did not actually sin as we do. It was Jesus’ facing sin with His perfect righteousness and truth, however, that qualifies Him. Merely experiencing something does not give us understanding of it. A person can have many successful operations without understanding the least bit about surgery. On the other hand, a doctor may
perform thousands of complicated and successful operations without ever having had the surgery himself. It is his knowledge of the disease or disorder and his surgical skill in treating it that qualifies him, not his having had the disease. He has great experience with the disease—much greater experience with it than any of his patients—having confronted it in all of its manifestations. Jesus never
sinned, but He understands sin better than any man. He has seen it more clearly and fought it more diligently than any of us could ever be able to do.

Sinlessness alone can properly estimate sin. Jesus Christ did not sin, could not sin, had no capacity to sin. Yet His temptations were all the more terrible because He would not fall and endured them to the extreme. His sinlessness increased His sensitivity to sin. “For consider Him who has endured such
hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Heb. 12:3-4). If you want to talk to someone who knows what sin is about, talk to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ knows sin, and He knows and
understands our weakness. Whatever Satan brings our way, there is victory in Jesus Christ. He understands; He has been here.  We have a sympathetic High Priest, whose priesthood is perfect and whose Person is perfect.

 His Perfect Provision

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. (4:16)

The One who understands us perfectly will also provide for us perfectly. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Jesus Christ knows our temptations and will lead us out of them.

Come to God’s Throne of Grace

Again, the Holy Spirit appeals to those who are yet undecided about accepting Christ as their Savior and are led to that burial in water in order to have sins forgiven. They should not only keep from going back into Judaism, but they should hold on to their confession of Christ and, finally—and necessarily—go on to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.

Most ancient rulers were unapproachable by the common people. Some would not even allow their highest-ranking officials to come before them without permission. Queen Esther risked her life in approaching King Ahasuerus without invitation, even though she was his wife (Esther 5:1-2). Yet any penitent person, no matter how sinful and undeserving, may approach God’s throne at any time for forgiveness and salvation—confident that he will be received with mercy and grace.

By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, God’s throne of judgment is turned into a throne of grace for those who trust in Him. As the Jewish high priests once a year for centuries had sprinkled blood on the mercy seat for the people’s sins, Jesus shed His blood once and for all time for the sins of everyone who believes in Him. That is His perfect provision.

The Bible speaks much of God’s justice. But how terrible for us if He were only just, and not also gracious. Sinful man deserves death, the sentence of justice; but he needs salvation, the gift of grace. It is to the very throne of this grace that any person can now come with confidence and assurance. It is the throne of grace because grace is dispensed there.

How can anyone reject such a High Priest, such a Savior—who not only permits us to come before His throne for grace and help, but pleads with us to come in confidence? His Spirit says, “Come boldly all the way to God’s throne that has been turned into a throne of grace because of Jesus. Come all the way up, receive grace and mercy when you need it—before it is too late and your heart is hard and God’s ‘today’ is over.” The time of need is now.

What a High Priest we have. He sympathizes and He saves. What more could He do? 

  1. Christ is the Great High Priest (Part I): The Sympathetic High Priest, 4:14-16

(4:14-16) Introduction: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is the Supreme High Priest. This glorious truth begins a new discussion on the greatness and supremacy of Jesus Christ. He is the great High Priest, by far the greatest High Priest who has ever stood between God and man. The implication is unbelievable: as the great High Priest, He is able to sympathize—to actually feel every experience that we experience—no matter how painful. Jesus Christ not only feels for us, He feels right along with us. He is our great and sympathetic High Priest—the One who meets our every need and carries us through all the sufferings of this life. (Note: this passage and the next passage deal with the same subject, the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. They are split into two parts because of their length. However, a person may wish to combine them and make them one message or lesson and study.)

  1. The identification of the great High Priest (v.14).
  2. The significance for man (v.15-16).

(4:14) Jesus Christ, Deity—High Priest: the identity of the great High Priest. Note the word great. It is being used to set Jesus Christ apart from all other High Priests. Aaron, who was the first High Priest, was considered by the Jews to be the greatest of the High Priests. But this passage is declaring that Jesus Christ was the greatest High Priest. Two reasons are given.

  1. Jesus Christ has “passed into the heavens.” He is before the very throne of God; He is in the very presence of God Himself. An earthly High Priest ministered or passed into the most holy place of the earthly temple. But Christ passed or ascended into heaven and ministers in heaven. He ministers in the very presence of God Himself. Therefore, He is greater by far than any earthly High Priest including Aaron.
  2. Jesus Christ is “Jesus the Son of God.” His earthly name Jesus speaks of His human nature and sympathy for man. Jesus was a man just like all other High Priests. He suffered all the trials and temptations that other men and High Priests suffer; therefore, He can sympathize with all those who come to Him as their High Priest.

But note: Jesus Christ was also “the Son of God.” This was His heavenly name. He was divine, the very Son of God Himself who came to earth to deliver and save men from sin, death, and condemnation. He came to save us to the uttermost—to carry us before the very throne of God. He came to make it possible for us to live in the very presence of God Himself. How can He do this? Because He is the Son of God. As the Son of God He has the power to save us to the uttermost—to make us acceptable to God. No other priest can do this. Therefore, Jesus Christ is greater than all other priests. Jesus Christ alone is the great High Priest.

The point is this: let us hold fast our confession. Jesus Christ alone can save us. He alone has passed into heaven. If we wish to go into heaven, we must confess Christ and hold fast to our confession. We have to be genuine; we have to hold fast if we are to enter heaven and live with God.

 (4:15-16) Jesus Christ, High Priest: the significance of Jesus’ High Priesthood for man is fivefold.

  1. We have a High Priest who feels with us. The word “touched” (sunpathesai) means to sympathize, feel, and suffer with. It means to sympathize and feel with a person to the point that the hurt and pain are actually felt within one’s own heart. The idea is that Jesus Christ actually suffers when we suffer.

Name the trial or pain, temptation, or suffering—name the infirmity or weakness—name any and all human experiences—Jesus Christ actually sympathizes and feels with us. He actually suffers and hurts right along with us. We could ask for no greater Savior; we could crave no greater Intercessor; we could long for no greater High Priest to stand before God for us. Jesus Christ is our great High Priest. He is our representative before God. He is the One who carries on the glorious ministry and intercession for us, and He “is touched with the feelings of our infirmities”—with all of our human weaknesses and frailties.

  1. We have a High Priest who was tempted in all things just like we are, yet He was without sin. We must remember this glorious truth and never forget it, for it is the very basis of man’s salvation. No man will ever be saved unless Jesus Christ did live a sinless life. Why? Because some man has to live a sinless life and secure the ideal and perfect righteousness that covers sinful men. Apart from Christ there is no ideal righteousness that can stand before God and be acceptable to God. And only perfection, only the ideal, can stand before God. Therefore if Christ has not secured the ideal and perfect righteousness for us, then there is no righteousness to cover us—no righteousness in which we can believe and place ourselves—no righteousness to make us acceptable to God.

But this is the glorious gospel, and it is the point of this verse: Jesus Christ was sinless. He was tempted in all things just like we are, but He never sinned. He went through every experience and every trial and temptation that we go through. And He bore them all, never sinning. William Barclay points out that Christ even bore more than what we ever have to bear—much more:

“He is like us in all things—except that He emerged from it all completely sinless….The fact that Jesus was without sin necessarily means that He knew depths and tensions and assaults of temptation which we never know and never can know. So far from His battle being easier it was immeasurably harder. Why? For this reason—we fall to temptation long before the tempter has put out the whole of his power. We are easily vanquished; we never know temptation at its fiercest and its most terrible, because we fall long before that stage is reached. But Jesus was tempted as we are—and far beyond what we are. For in His case the tempter put everything he possessed into the assault, and Jesus withstood it. Think of it in terms of pain. There is a degree of pain which the human frame can stand—and then when that degree is reached a person faints and loses consciousness; he has reached his limit. There are agonies of pain he does not know, because there came collapse. It is so with temptation. We collapse before temptation; but Jesus went to our stage of temptation and far beyond it and still did not collapse. It is true to say that He was tempted in all things as we are; but it is also true to say that never was man tempted as He was” (The Letter to the Hebrews, p.38)

  1. We can call upon God—boldly. But note two things.
  2. God is sitting upon a throne, the seat of authority, power, honor, glory, respect, and reverence. Therefore, we are to approach Him in respect and reverence.
  3. God is sitting upon the “throne of grace.” Grace means that God is love, and He longs to shower His love and blessings upon man. But how could God, who sits upon the majestic and glorious throne of the universe, be so gracious to man? How could God care for man, care for a creature who is such a small part of so vast a universe? Care for a creature who has cursed, denied, ignored, and rebelled against the Sovereign Lord of the universe? Because of Christ Jesus. Christ is there in the throne room of God, and He is seated there as the Savior of the world, as the Ideal and Perfect Man who sacrificed His life for the sins of the world. He is there pleading our case before God. And the one thing God does is listen to His Son. Whatever Jesus asks, the Father does. Jesus Christ is our Representative, our Intercessor, our great High Priest before God’s throne. He has turned the throne of God from a throne of judgment into a throne of grace. Therefore, “let us come boldly before the throne of grace.” We have the right, so let us do it. Let us approach God through Jesus Christ, and God will do whatever we ask through Christ. God’s throne is now a throne of grace; it is now opened up for any person to approach, no matter how bad and terrible a life he has lived. God will receive him through Christ Jesus.
  4. We can now obtain the mercy of God. We need God to have mercy upon us because we have sinned against Him.

God will forgive our sins; He will have mercy upon us. But we must come to the throne of grace and ask for mercy. We must acknowledge that mercy comes only through Christ Jesus, the great High Priest. He and He alone knows our need for mercy; He and He alone bore our sins and paid our penalty and condemnation. He and He alone can represent us before God.

  1. We can now find grace to help in time of need. What a glorious promise! Help is now available to carry us through life. No matter what confronts us—trial, trouble, tribulation, temptation—help is available, the very help of God Himself. God will pour out His marvelous grace upon us—all of His strength and blessings. God’s grace will strengthen us to walk right through the trial and trouble. His grace will help us conquer and triumph over all circumstances and situations. But remember why God is able to do this: because Jesus Christ has suffered the same experience. He has been upon earth Himself, suffering through the very same trial. Therefore, He knows how to walk through and conquer the trial and suffering. All we have to do is come boldly before the throne of grace and ask Him.
  2. 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…

TEMPTATION Used in KJV to refer to testing, trying, and enticing to evil. When the KJV was translated in 1611, “temptation” meant all of these, but the word has narrowed in meaning in modern times. Modern translations use “testing,” “proving,” “trying,” and “tempting.” Four distinct uses of the Hebrew (nsh) and Greek (peirazo) words for trying or tempting are:

God tests the loyalty or disloyalty of persons. “God did tempt (nsh) Abraham” (Gen. 22:1). God “tested” Abraham’s loyalty to God when He told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Hebrews 11:17 says: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.” In Deuteronomy 8:2 Moses said: “God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove (nsh) thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” (Compare Ex. 20:20; Judg. 2:22.) Christ also tested the loyalty of persons. Jesus asked Philip a question “to prove (peirazo) him: for he himself knew what he would do (John 6:6).”

Jesus’ enemies tried Him to get something to use against him. “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting (peirazo) desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven” (Matt 16:1). (Compare Matt. 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mark 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Luke 11:16; 20:23; John 8:6.)

Persons are tempted or enticed to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted (peirazo), I am tempted by God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” Both the Old Testament and New Testament make it clear that God does not entice persons to sin, but both indicate that God allows human beings to be tempted. (Compare 1 Chron. 21:1; Matt. 4:1, 3; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2, 13; 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Thess. 3:5; Rev. 2:10.) These passages refer to the temptation as coming from the “tempter,” “devil,” or “Satan.” In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul said: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” James 1:14 says that “every man is tempted, when he drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Persons are thus tempted from without by the tempter or from within themselves. Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). Since God does not entice to sin, this is a cry of the soul for help in the midst of temptation.

Persons are not to test God. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 when He said: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7). People did put God to the test. (Compare Ex. 17:2, 7; Deut. 6:16; 9:22; Num. 14:22; Acts 5:9; 15:10; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 3:8-9.) When the apostles and elders from the Jerusalem church came to Antioch and questioned the admission of the Gentiles into the church, Peter said that the Holy Spirit had been given to the Gentiles: “Why tempt ye God?” (Acts 15:6-11). (by H. Page Lee and the Holman Bible Dictionary).

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Posted by on April 11, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Where Is God? Have you looked at Calvary?

“Where is God?” inquired the mind: “To His presence I am blind. . . .I have scanned each star and sun, Traced the certain course they run; I have weighed them in my scale, And can tell when each will fail; From the caverns of the night I have brought new worlds to light; I have measured earth and sky Read each zone with steady eye; But no sight of God appears In the glory of the spheres.” But the heart spoke wistfully, “Have you looked at Calvary?”  – Thomas C. Clark  (Quoted by John Gilmore in Probing Heaven, Key Questions on the Hereafter, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 97)

If we would know the power of truth we must emphasize it. Creedal truth is coal lying inert in the depths of the earth waiting release. Dig it out, shovel it into the combustion chamber of some huge engine, and the mighty energy that lay asleep for centuries will create light and heat and cause the machinery of a great factory to surge into productive action. The theory of coal never turned a wheel nor warmed a hearth. Power must be released to be made effective.

In the redemptive work of Christ three major epochs may be noted: His birth, His death and His subsequent elevation to the right hand of God. These are the three main pillars that uphold the temple of Christianity; upon them rest all the hopes of mankind, world without end. All else that He did takes its meaning from these three Godlike deeds.

It is imperative that we believe all these truths, but the big question is where to lay the emphasis. Which truth should, at a given time, receive the sharpest accent? We are exhorted to look unto Jesus, but where shall we look? Unto Jesus in the manger? on the cross? at the throne? These questions are far from academic. It is of great practical importance to us that we get the right answer.

Of course we must include in our total creed the manger, the cross and the throne. All that is symbolized by these three objects must be present to the gaze of faith; all is necessary to a proper understanding of the Christian evangel.

No single tenet of our creed must be abandoned or even relaxed, for each is joined to the other by a living bond. But while all truth is to be at all times to be held inviolate, not every truth is to be at all times emphasized equally with every other. Our Lord indicated as much when He spoke of the faithful and wise steward who gave to his master’s household “their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42).

Mary brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. Wise men came to worship, shepherds wondered and angels chanted of peace and good will towards men. All taken together this scene is so chastely beautiful, so winsome, so tender, that the like of it is not found anywhere in the literature of the world. It is not hard to see why Christians have tended to place such emphasis upon the manger, the meek-eyed virgin and the Christ child. In certain Christian circles the major emphasis is made to fall upon the child in the manger. Why this is so is understandable, but the emphasis is nevertheless misplaced.

Christ was born that He might become a man and became a man that He might give His life as ransom for many. Neither the birth nor the dying were ends in themselves. As He was born to die, so did He die that He might atone, and rise that He might justify freely all who take refuge in Him. His birth and His death are history. His appearance at the mercy seat is not history past, but a present, continuing fact, to the instructed Christian the most glorious fact his trusting heart can entertain.

This Easter season might be a good time to get our emphases corrected. Let us remember that weakness lies at the manger, death at the cross and power at the throne. Our Christ is not in a manger. Indeed, New Testament theology nowhere presents the Christ child as an object of saving faith. The gospel that stops at the manger is another gospel and no good news at all. The Church that still gathers around the manger can only be weak and misty-eyed, mistaking sentimentality for the power of the Holy Spirit.

As there is now no babe in the manger at Bethlehem so there is no man on the cross at Jerusalem. To worship the babe in the manger or the man on the cross is to reverse the redemptive processes of God and turn the clock back on His eternal purposes. Let the Church place its major emphasis upon the cross and there can be only pessimism, gloom and fruitless remorse. Let a sick man die hugging a crucifix and what have we there? Two dead men in a bed, neither of which can help the other.

The glory of the Christian faith is that the Christ who died for our sins rose again for our justification. We should joyfully remember His birth and gratefully muse on His dying, but the crown of all our hopes is with Him at the Father’s right hand.

Paul gloried in the cross and refused to preach anything except Christ and Him crucified, but to him the cross stood for the whole redemptive work of Christ. In his epistles Paul writes of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, yet he stops not at the manger or the cross but constantly sweeps our thoughts on to the Resurrection and upward to the ascension and the throne.

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), said our risen Lord before He went up on high, and the first Christians believed Him and went forth to share His triumph. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).

Should the Church shift her emphasis from the weakness of the manger and the death of the cross to the life and power of the enthroned Christ, perhaps she might recapture her lost glory. It is worth a try.

The Cross Jesus Had in Mind

When Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,” it was the same as saying, “Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.” He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind—the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution.

The New Cross

“From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life; and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique—a new type of meeting and new type of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as of the old, but its content is not the same, and the emphasis not as before.

“The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into the public view the same thing the world does, only a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

“The new cross does not slay the sinner; it re-directs him. It gears him to a cleaner and jollier way of living, and saves his self-respect…The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

“The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere, but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.

The old cross is a symbol of DEATH. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took the cross and started down the road has already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life re-directed; he was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise; modified nothing; spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely, and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with the victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

“The race of Adam is under the death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear, or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him, and then raising him again to newness of life.

“That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world; it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life to a higher plane; we leave it at the cross….

“We, who preach the gospel, must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, or the world of sports, or modern entertainment. We are not diplomats, but prophets; and our message is not a compromise, but an ultimatum.”  – The Biblical Evangelist, November 1, 1991, p. 11

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Posted by on April 7, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Jesus – Lamb Led To Slaughter and a Man of Sorrow” Isaiah 53:1-12

A closer look at prophecy and what it means to our coming Lord.

Isaiah 53: This chapter could not better describe the suffering of our Lord at Calvary if it were written after the fact. It also argues for the divine inspiration of the bible.. .for the odds that all these events could have been otherwise predicted were 10 to the 17th power.

It has become evident through this prophecy that Someone is coming. That dim and shadowy Figure which appears occasionally in the opening chapters is emerging ever more clearly as we move through this book. Here in the 53rd chapter the Messiah steps out into full and glorious view.

It is hard to understand how anyone can read this great chapter and not see Jesus in it. We have already commented on the fact that, through the centuries, Jewish people have held that it does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth, but rather that the nation of Israel is the “Servant of Jehovah.” The primary reason for their feeling is that they expected a different kind of Messiah.

The Jews had done like many of us do with Scripture — they had selected verses that appealed to them and formulated from them a vision of a Deliverer who would come with military might and power. He would overcome the Roman tyrants, they thought, set Israel free, and fulfill the promises of God to make it the chief of the nations of earth. Because our Lord did not fulfill those promises, they have maintained that this prophecy does not apply to him. Yet here in this great chapter it is clear that God’s suffering Servant is brought before us.

The passage actually begins in the closing verses of Chapter 52, which belong with Chapter 53. Taken together with it, these verses constitute five stanzas that depict various foreviews of the work of the Messiah, each one bringing out a different aspect of his work and life.

Beginning in Verse 13, Chapter 52, we have God himself announcing the presence of the Servant.

Behold, my servant shall prosper,   he shall be exalted and lifted up,   and shall be very high.
As many were astonished at him —   his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the sons of men — so shall he startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. {Isa 52:13-15 RSV}

This section, which describes the remarkable impact that the Messiah would make upon mankind, opens with a declaration that he would be successful in all that he did: “Behold, my servant shall prosper.” That success would be accomplished in three specific stages, described here: “He shall be exalted; he shall be lifted up; he shall be very high.” Commentators see in this the events that happened to Jesus after the crucifixion:

First, in the words, “He shall be exalted,” there is a reference to the resurrection. Jesus was brought back from the dead, stepping into a condition of life that no man had ever entered before. Lazarus had been resurrected, in a sense, but he merely returned to this earthly life. Jesus, however, became the “firstborn from the dead,” {Col 1:18}. He was thus exalted to a higher dimension of existence.

Then, “he shall be lifted up.” After his resurrection, Jesus took his disciples to the Mount of Olives and while he was speaking to them he ascended into the heavens until a cloud received him out of sight. So he was physically and literally “lifted up.”

Thirdly, the passage says, “He shall be very high.” The Hebrew puts it rather graphically: “He shall be high, very.” We cannot but recall the words of the Apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, he says, “Wherefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” {Phil 2:9-11}. Thus by his resurrection, his ascension, and his kingly exaltation the Messiah has made tremendous impact upon humanity.

Further, it is said of him here that “many were astonished at him.” This happened in two different ways. First, as Verse 14 implies, many were “astonished” at his death: “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men.” This is descriptive of the face of Jesus after he had endured the terrible Roman scourging, the beatings, the blows to his face with the rod, which the soldiers mockingly called a king’s scepter, and the crushing of the crown of thorns upon his head. By the time he was impaled on the cross, his face was a bloody mess. This is what the prophet sees: our Lord’s appearance was so marred that those who passed by were “astonished” at his visage.

But Verse 15 describes another form of astonishment: “so shall he startle many nations.” This refers to the tremendous accomplishments he achieved, not only during his ministry, but through the intervening centuries since. Many have commented on the remarkable achievements of Jesus.

Kenneth Scott Latourette, a well known historian, has said,

As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by his effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet.

G.K. Chesterton has written,

There was a man who dwelt in the East centuries ago, and now I cannot look at a sheep or a sparrow, a lily or a cornfield, a raven or a sunset, a vineyard or a mountain without thinking of him. If this be not to be divine, what is it?

Truly, our Lord has made an astonishing impact upon our world. He is the Man who cannot be forgotten.

  Verses 1-3: (As Men Saw Him).

(Isaiah 53:1-3)  “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? {2} He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. {3} He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53 describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ (vv. 1-4), His death (vv. 5-8) and burial (v. 9), and His resurrection and exaltation (vv. 10-12). The theme that ties the chapter together is that the innocent Servant died in the place of the guilty. When theologians speak about “the vicarious atonement,” that is what they mean. We cannot explain everything about the Cross, but this much seems clear: Jesus took the place of guilty sinners and paid the price for their salvation.

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3), and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37-40).

The Servant is God, and yet He becomes human and grows up! The Child is born—that is His humanity; the Son is given—that is His deity (Isa. 9:6). In writing about Israel’s future, Isaiah has already used the image of a tree: Messiah is the Branch of the Lord (4:2); the remnant is like the stumps of trees chopped down (6:13); the proud nations will be hewn down like trees, but out of David’s seemingly dead stump, the “rod of Jesse” will come (10:33-11:1). Because Jesus Christ is God, He is the “root of David,” but because He is man, He is the “offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16).

Israel was not a paradise when Jesus was born; politically and spiritually, it was a wilderness of dry ground. He did not come as a great tree but as a “tender plant.” He was born in poverty in Bethlehem and grew up in a carpenter’s shop in despised Nazareth (John 1:43-46). Because of His words and works, Jesus attracted great crowds, but nothing about His physical appearance made Him different from any other Jewish man. While few people deliberately try to be unattractive, modern society has made a religion out physical beauty. It is good to remember that Jesus succeeded without it.

Once they understood what He demanded of them, how did most people treat the Servant? The way they treated any other slave: They despised Him, put a cheap price on Him (thirty pieces of silver), and “looked the other way when He went by” (Isa. 53:3, tlb). They were ashamed of Him because He did not represent the things that were important to them: things like wealth (Luke 16:14), social prestige (14:7-14; 15:12), reputation (18:9-14), being served by others (22:24-27), and pampering yourself (Matt. 16:21-28). He is rejected today for the same reasons.

In this paragraph, the surpassing glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is hidden behind obscurity, poverty, humiliation, misery, and shame; and this is the great example that “God’s thoughts and God’s ways are as much higher than those of men as the heavens are higher than the earth,” as Isaiah would more fully elaborate in Isa. 55:8.

In Isa. 53:1, the language suggests that “no one” believed the report, or hearkened to the Word of God; but the apostle Paul’s word shows that the statements here are hyperbole; for he said, “Not all hearkened to the good tidings” (Rom. 10:16). Those who hearkened were the apostles of the New Testament Church and those who followed their leadership. Nevertheless, the very small percentage of the Old Israel who believed and obeyed the Son of God fully justified the hyperbole. A similar use of this figure of speech is seen in Luke 7:29-30, as compared with Matt. 3:5.

“As a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground … “ (Isa. 53:2), Here are given the conditions of Jesus’ earthly environment which seem to be revealed as the reason why he had no comeliness or beauty that would cause him to be desired by men.

We cannot believe that the physical unattractiveness or ugliness of the Son of God are meant by the lack of beauty or comeliness on his part. The tremendous attractiveness of Jesus for the great women of that era who knew him absolutely denies any denial of the power and magnetism of his personality (Luke 7:37, 38; 8:1-4, etc.) Likewise the appeal that Jesus had for the rugged fishermen of Galilee, and the authority of his strong right arm with the whips when he drove the money changers out of the temple; none of these facts will harmonize with an unattractive countenance or any form of personal “ugliness.” No! What is meant is that none of the trappings of wealth, office, social status, or any other such things which are so honored among men, belonged to Jesus.

“As a root out of dry ground … “ (Isa. 53:2). What is the “dry ground” here? “This refers to a corrupt age and nation, and the arid soil of mankind.” Both the nation of Israel and all of the nations of the pre-Christian Gentile world were at this time judicially hardened by God Himself; and nothing could have seemed more impossible to the citizens of that dissolute age than the fact that God’s Holy Messiah would be born to humble parents in some obscure village, and that the salvation of all the world would be available through that Child alone!

The lack of beauty and comeliness spoken of here has been the occasion of all kinds of derogatory statements about Christ. For example, Wardle stated that the passage means: “He was despised, pain-stricken and diseased, so that men turned away from him in revulsion.” No word in all the Bible justifies such a statement as this. The emphasis upon the lack of beauty and comeliness refers not at all to the physical appearance of Jesus except during those terrible scenes of Holy Week, during which he was denied sleep, beaten unmercifully by a Roman chastisement, mocked some six times in all, crowned with a crown of thorns, tortured to death on the Cross, compelled to carry the cross till he fainted, being struck in the face with a reed, reviled and spit upon! This was the time when his visage was marred, and the last vestiges of his physical beauty perished under the venomous, inhuman treatment of Satan and his sons who put him to death.

“Despised and rejected of men … “ (Isa. 53:3). Archer rendered this as, “Lacking men of distinction as his supporters.” This harmonizes with the fact that a tax collector and common fishermen were among his apostles, whereas distinguished persons like the rich young ruler turned away from him. “Men still persist in avoiding facing the ‘real Jesus,’ preferring what they call ‘the historical Jesus’ who would not trouble them with the Cross.”

The first three verses of Chapter 53 describe the Messiah’s strange rejection. These words express the feelings of the repentant nation when at last they recognize him at his return.

These remarkable words are felt by any person who comes to Christ and remembers how lightly he regarded him when he first learned of him.

Here the nation asks, “Who has believed our report, that which we have heard. The arm of the Lord was revealed to us, but we did not understand who he was.” Looking back, they can see how he fulfilled these words.

He grew up before Jehovah as a “young plant.” That speaks of the hidden years at Nazareth when, in the obscurity of the carpenter’s shop no one knew who he was except his Heavenly Father. He was the “root out of dry ground.” We have already seen Isaiah’s prediction that a root would rise up from the stem of David, from whom Joseph and Mary were both descended. But the House of David had fallen on evil days. The royal line had become impoverished and no one recognized its claims to leadership within Israel. When our Lord came he was indeed a root out of very dry ground.

The passage continues, “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Again, these are words that refer to our Lord’s appearance as he hung upon the cross. He was a pitiful figure to behold, hanging naked, blood covering his face, worn and shattered by suffering. Indeed he had “no beauty that we should desire him.”

He was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” There is no record in Scripture that Jesus ever laughed. I think he did laugh, for you cannot read some of his parables, or some of the things he said to his disciples, without sensing a smile on his face or hearing a chuckle in his voice. But there is no account that he ever laughed. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

We must remember that all through his boyhood, and even into his manhood, he was pursued by nasty cracks about his birth, inferring that he was an illegitimate son, born to a faithless maiden who had broken her vow of betrothal. His brothers misunderstood him and did not believe in him. They were embarrassed at some of the things he said and did. It was not until after the resurrection that they believed in him. He was called a drunkard and a glutton, and was said to be possessed by a devil. He was called a Samaritan, a disparaging term. He had no home to go to.

He said himself, “Foxes have holes, birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” {Matt 8:20, Luke 9:50}. Sometimes his disciples left him alone to go about their business, but he had to go out to the Garden of Gethsemane and sleep alone beneath the o lives trees. He became at one point “Public Enemy No. 1.” In the weeks before his crucifixion the Pharisees offered a reward to anyone who would turn him in. Surely he was rejected of men! In the words of the Apostle John, “He came unto his own, and his own people received him not,” {John 1:11 RSV}.

It’s written in the predictive present tense. if the Servant has come, been rejected, slaughtered, and the people of Israel are looking at it in retrospect!

And we remember that Jesus (John 12:38) and Paul (Rom. 10:16) each quoted from this prophecy to express similar shock to the blindness of the Jews.

Jesus lacked the credentials they were looking for in a Messiah . A tender, green plant in dry parched ground is regarded with skepticism as to its origin and its it was with Christ.

He was just a carpenter’s boy… and nothing “good’ came out of Nazareth! There was nothing in his physical appearance that would draw men to Him… He didn’t physically meet the “qualifications” of one who would be a king.

Verses 4-6 (As God Saw Him).

(Isaiah 53:4-6)  “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. {5} But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. {6} We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is the heart of the Song of the Servant; here we learn why Jesus suffered, that it was not for himself but for us that he suffered. Note the emphatic recurrence of the word “our,” as in our griefs, our sorrows, our transgressions, our peace, and our healing. “The atoning significance of the suffering is expounded here.”

Right here is the vital heart of Christianity: The case of Adam’s race was hopeless. All had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The penalty of sin is death, and the justice of God required that the penalty be paid; otherwise all of the human race would have been lost forever. But there was no one who could pay it. What was the solution? God Himself stepped into the human race; and, in the person of his Son, paid the penalty himself upon the Cross! Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! No wonder that Satan executed every cruelty possible upon Jesus; because without the sacrifice of Jesus in paying the penalty of human transgressions, Satan would have achieved his purpose of the total destruction of Adam’s race.

The words “borne our griefs” in Isa. 53:4 in the Hebrew are literally “borne our sicknesses”; but this is not a reference to Jesus’ suffering from all our sicknesses, but to his healing all diseases. It was to make this point clear that the translators rendered the word “griefs.” Thus, “The rendition griefs is justifiable.”

“We did deem him stricken of God, and afflicted … “ (Isa. 53:4). There is an inadvertent condemnation of the whole human race in this. No tendency among men is any more prevalent than that of attributing all the sorrows on earth to the fault and sins of the suffering people. This unhappy trait of men is often noted in scripture. The parents of the man born blind, asked, “Who sinned this man, or his parents, that he should have been born blind?” (John 9); and the citizens of Malta attributed Paul’s snakebite to the supposed criminality of the apostle (Acts 28:4). This indicates that the terrible and unlawful punishments, even death, that befell Jesus were considered by the people as being the natural result of the sins of Jesus. How wrong and misguided were the people!

“Chastisement … “ (Isa. 53:5). Little did Pilate know, when he ordered the chastisement of Jesus that his command caused the fulfillment of this specific prophecy of the Christ. That the chastisement was indeed for “our sins” and for “our peace” is certain; because the Roman Procurator declared upon the occasion of his command that it was not indeed for anything that Jesus was guilty of; and he declared him innocent on that very occasion!

“Stripes … “ (Isa. 53:5) is another reference to the chastisement; and modern treatment of criminals has no indication whatever of the terrible and sadistic brutality that accompanied such “scourgings.” Excavations of the old judgment seat of Pilate have discovered the very truncated pillar upon which our Lord might have been chained, while two Roman soldiers, standing one on each side, with the brutal whips made lethal and bloody by small pieces of bone or glass chips attached to the cords of the whips, applied the awful punishment, first to the back, and then after turning the victim over, to the chest and face, each soldier smiting the victim with all his strength, and taking time about with their blows, tortured the victim within an inch of his life. No wonder the Lord fainted under the weight of the cross. After that chastisement, Jesus presented such a pitiable spectacle, that Pilate actually thought the Jews would declare that he needed no more punishment; and so he brought Jesus out and presented him to the mob, saying, “Behold the Man”! How pitifully wrong was Pilate’s underestimation of the sadistic hatred of that Jewish mob screaming for his crucifixion!

“Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all … “ (Isa. 53:6). No greater declaration from Jehovah was ever given than this affirmation that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins of all men. The perfect, sinless life of Jesus was a sacrifice sufficiently adequate to atone for the sins of all mankind.

Note here that the prophecy states that Jehovah laid the sins of all men upon Jesus. This corresponds with Paul’s statement that “God set forth his son to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood” (Rom. 3:25). Thus the initiative lay with God in the sufferings of Jesus upon the Cross. (1) God so loved the world that HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. God was not the only one, however, who had a part in Jesus’ sacrifice upon the Cross. (2) Satan did indeed bruise the heel of the Seed of Woman. (3) Christ himself engineered his death upon Calvary (Luke 9:31). (4) The Jews crucified him. (5) the Romans crucified him. (6) The human race crucified him. (7) Every man crucified him. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? See the extensive discussion of these seven under the question, “Who Crucified Christ?” in Vol. 6 (Romans) of my New Testament Series of Commentaries, pp. 117-122.

Jesus took our place. As Peter puts it, “He bore our sins in his own body upon the tree,” {cf, 1 Pet 2:24}. He took our sins and paid the price for them. He had no sins of his own and Scripture is very careful to record the sinlessness of Jesus himself. He was not suffering for his own transgressions, but for the sins of others.

One writer has put it rather well,

It was for me that Jesus died, For me and a world of men
Just as sinful and just as slow to give back his love again.
And he did not wait until I came to him. He loved me at my worst.
He needn’t ever have died for me If I could have loved him first.

That is the problem, isn’t it? Why do not we love him first? Why is it that we can only learn to love our Lord when we have beheld his suffering; his excruciating agony on our behalf? Why is it we find such difficulty in obeying the first commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul, and all thy strength,” {Deut 6:5 KJV}. It is because of our transgressions, as this passage declares. They have cut us off from the divine gift of love that ought to be in every human heart.

Sin is a disease that has afflicted our entire race. We cannot understand the depth of human depravity until we see the awful agony through which our Lord passed; behold the hours of darkness and hear the terrible orphaned cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” {Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34 KJV}. All this spells out for us what we really are like. Most think of ourselves as decent people, good people. We have not done, perhaps, some of the terrible things that others have done.

But when we see in the cross of Jesus the depth of evil in our hearts we understand that sin is a disease that has infiltrated our whole lives. Man, who was created in the image of God and once wore the glory of his manhood, has become bruised and marred, sick and broken, his conscience ruined, his understanding faulty, his will enfeebled. The principle of integrity and the resolve to do right has been completely undermined in all of us. We know this to be true. No wonder, then, this verse comes as the best of news: He was wounded for our transgressions. The bruising that he felt was the chastisement that we deserved, but it was laid upon him.

There is no way to read this and fail to see that our Lord is the great divine Substitute for the evil of the human heart. We can lay hold of this personally by the honest admission stated in Verse 6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” How true that is of each of us! Who can claim anything else? I grew up in Monta-a-a-a-na, and I know something about sheep. Sheep are very foolish and willful creatures. They can find a hole in the fence and get out, but they cannot find it to get back in. Someone must go and get them every time. How true are the words, “We have turned every one to his own way.”

Frank Sinatra made a song popular a few years ago, “I Did It My Way.” When you hear that it sounds like something admirable, something everybody ought to emulate. How proud we feel that we did it “our way.” But when you turn to the record of the Scripture, you find that that is the problem, not the solution. Everyone is doing things “their way,” so we have a race that is in constant conflict, forever striving with one another, unable to work anything out, because we all did it “our way.”

The way to lay hold of the redemption of Jesus is to admit that “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way”; and then to believe the next line, “But the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” One Christian put his testimony in a rather quaint way. He said, “I stooped down low and went in at the first ‘all,’ and I stood up straight and came out at the last.” Notice that this verse begins and ends with the word “all”: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” This man said, “I stooped down low and went in at that ‘all.'” In other words, “I acknowledged that I, too, was part of that crowd that had gone astray.” Ah, “But I stood up straight and came out at the last ‘all.'” He understood that “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He bore our punishment and took our place.

Unusual pain, sorrow, and grief were equated with unusual guilt in the ancient world. Job’s four friends provide the best example of that attitude for us today.

Jesus corrected this concept in Luke 13:1-5, when He said that those upon whom the tower of Siloam fell were not worse sinners than others, but that all calamities were warnings to the world to repent.

His suffering was vicarious: “taking the place of another.”

While His death was painful and violent, it brought healing and peace.

Verses 7-9: (As Christ Saw Himself)

(Isaiah 53:7-9)  “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. {8} By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. {9} He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

This stanza is a return to the theme of suffering on the part of the Servant, stressing in the first verse (Isa. 53:7) his silence in the face of accusers, mockers, and the “judges” of the tribunals before which he was arraigned.

“The Septuagint (LXX) renders part of this passage, as follows: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away; who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth: because of the iniquities of my people he was led to death.”

It is evident at once that the declarations of our version (American Standard Version) and the Septuagint (LXX) vary considerably. Isa. 53:8, for example, in the Septuagint (LXX) states that it was Jesus’ judgment of innocence pronounced by Pilate which was “taken away” through mob violence and the humiliation of Jesus; but in the American Standard Version it is Jesus who is taken away. We believe that both renditions are correct, because both are true. When Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:29ff), the portion of Isaiah which the eunuch was reading and which formed the basis of Philip’s preaching Jesus unto him evidently came from the LXX.

“As a lamb that is led to the slaughter … “ (Isa. 53:7). This is an agricultural simile based on the truth that a goat slaughtered in the traditional manner responds with blood-curdling cries that can be heard a mile away; but a sheep submits to the butcher’s knife silently. The same phenomenon occurs when the animals are sheared. Jesus submitted to the outrages perpetrated against himself, offering no more resistance than a lamb, either sheared or slaughtered.

“In his humiliation … his judgment was taken away … “ (Isa. 53:7, as in LXX), The verdict of Pilate was one of innocence; but, swayed by the yells of the bloodthirsty mob, Pilate took away his judgment and ordered his crucifixion.

“His generation who shall declare?” (Isa. 53:7, LXX). There are two understandings of this, both of which may be right, for both are true. (1) “Who shall declare the number of those who share his life, and are, as it were, sprung from him? i.e., Who can count his faithful followers?”

(2) Bruce, however, rendered the passage, “Who can describe his generation?” Who indeed could describe that wicked generation which despised and murdered the Son of God? What a crescendo of shame was reached by that evil company who resisted every word of the Saviour of mankind, mocked him, hated him, denied the signs he performed before their very eyes, suborned witnesses to swear lies at his trials, rejected and shouted out of court the verdict of innocence announced by the governor of the nation, and through political blackmail, mob violence, and personal intimidation of the Procurator, demanded and achieved his crucifixion? Who could describe the moral idiocy of a generation that taunted the helpless victim even upon the cross, that gloated over his death, and that, when he rose from the dead, bribed the sixteen witnesses of it with gold to deny that it had indeed occurred? Who indeed can describe that generation?

Bruce further stated that between the times of Isaiah’s promised “Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14) and Daniel’s “Son of Man” (Dan. 7:15), and the personal ministry of Christ, “No one identified the Suffering Servant of Isaiah with the Davidic Messiah, except Jesus.”

Christ did indeed identify himself as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. “A Servant … who would give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “How is it written of the Son of Man, that he should suffer many things and be set at naught”? (Mark 9:12). “How indeed, unless the Son of Man be also the Servant of the Lord”? Thus Jesus Christ himself affirmed that the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant are one and the same!

In our opinion, Isa. 53:8, as in the American Standard Version is much weaker than the Septuagint (LXX); and that may have accounted for the fact of the New Testament quotation’s following the LXX. In our version, Isa. 53:8 becomes a rather long sentence, stressing the fact that Christ died instead of the Old Israel, to whom the stroke was due. Of course, this is true enough; but if this indeed is the correct rendition, why was not the vicarious nature of Jesus’ death stated in the previous stanza? It is the “sufferings” which are discussed here? We may read it either way; and it is true either way!

“And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death … “ (Isa. 53:9). This is the most amazing prophecy in Isaiah. The significant fact is that the word “wicked” here is plural, and the words “rich man” are singular.

“Those who condemned Christ to be crucified with two malefactors on the common execution ground, ‘the place of a skull’ meant his grave to be with the wicked (of course, that is the reason why so many soldiers were assigned to the task of crucifixion; they would dig the graves. – J.B.C.), with whom it would naturally have been, but for the interference of Joseph of Arimathea. The Romans buried crucified persons with their crosses near the scene of their crucifixion.”

This does not prophesy that Christ would be buried in two graves, but that “they” would make two graves. There is no way that this prophecy could have been fulfilled by one grave; two are absolutely required!

There is a great deal more than appears in the lines here. Jonah also, the great Old Testament type of Jesus, being the only one of the Old Testament specifically cited and identified as a type of Himself by the Lord, had two graves. There is hardly room in a work of this kind for a full account of that; but the reader is referred to Vol. 1 (Joel, Amos, Jonah) in our series of commentaries on the minor prophets, pp. 345-347.

A servant is not permitted to talk back; he or she must submit to the will of the master or mistress. Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62-63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21-23). This is what impressed the Ethiopian treasurer as he read this passage in Isaiah (Acts 8:26-40).

Isaiah 53:7 speaks of His silence under suffering and verse 8 of His silence when illegally tried and condemned to death. In today’s courts, a person can be found guilty of terrible crimes, but if it can be proved that something in the trial was illegal, the case must be tried again. Everything about His trials was illegal, yet Jesus did not appeal for another trial. “The cup which my Father hath given me. shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11 kjv)

The Servant is compared to a lamb (Isa. 53:7), which is one of the frequent symbols of the Savior in Scripture. A lamb died for each Jewish household at Passover (Ex. 12:1-13), and the Servant died for His people, the nation of Israel (Isa. 53:8). Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, nkjv), and twenty-eight times in the Book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lamb.

Since Jesus Christ was crucified with criminals as a criminal, it was logical that His dead body would be left unburied, but God had other plans. The burial of Jesus Christ is as much a part of the Gospel as is His death (1 Cor. 15:1-5), for the burial is proof that He actually died. The Roman authorities would not have released the body to Joseph and Nicodemus if the victim had not been dead (John 19:38-42; Mark 15:42-47). A wealthy man like Joseph would never carve out a tomb for himself so near to a place of execution, particularly when his home was miles away. He prepared it for Jesus and had the spices and graveclothes ready for the burial. How wonderfully God fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy!

Once again, Scripture preserves carefully the sinlessness of Jesus himself. He was without sin, but he bore the sins of others. That is why he did it in silence. He had no interest in defending himself, so he never spoke in his own defense. It is a striking thing that in the gospel accounts of the trials of Jesus he never spoke up on his own behalf or tried to escape the penalty. This amazed both Pilate and Caiaphas.

When our Lord stood before the High Priest, he was silent until the High Priest put him on oath to tell them who he was. When he stood before Pilate, he was silent until to remain silent was to deny his very Kingship. Then he spoke briefly, acknowledging who he was. When he was with the soldiers, they smote him and spat him and put the crown of thorns on his head, yet he said not a word. Peter says, “When he was reviled he reviled not again,” {cf, 1 Pet 2:23}.

Truly, “As a lamb before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” When he went before contemptuous, sneering Herod, he stood absolutely silent. He would not say one word to him. He was returned at last to Pilate because Herod could find nothing wrong with him.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. {Isa 53:6a RSV}

It is very apparent to anyone reading the gospel accounts that the trials that Jesus went through were a farce. The Jewish trial before the High Priest was illegal. It was held at night, which was contrary to the law. Pilate several times admitted that he could find no wrong in him, and yet he pronounced upon him the sentence of death. How true are these words, “by oppression and judgment he was taken away.”

He was “stricken for the transgression of my people.” Remember that as the crowd was crying out, “Crucify him, crucify him,” they added these significant words, “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.” Thereby they acknowledged that he was indeed “stricken for the transgressions of my people.”

But when at last the deed was done and he cried with a loud voice, “It is finished” {John 19:30}, his friends came to take him down from the cross. No enemy hands touched his body after his death, only those who loved him. As they removed his bloody body, the dear lips were silent, the wondrous voice was stilled, the light had gone from his eyes, and the great heart beat no more.

But instead of throwing him on a rubbish heap, as the authorities intended, they “made his grave with the rich,” just as Isaiah had predicted written 720 years before the event. Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, offered to put the body of Jesus in his new tomb that had never been used. Someone has put that rather remarkably, “He who came from a virgin womb, must be laid in a virgin tomb.”

Then in the last stanza his ultimate triumph is pictured. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great; and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

The Satisfied Servant (Isa. 53:10-12)

“He shall prolong his days … “ (Isa. 53:10). For one who was indeed put to death, this is undeniably a prophecy of his resurrection from the dead. By no other means, whatever, could it be said that of one who had poured out his soul unto death that he would “prolong his days.” As Christ himself stated it: “I am the first and the last and the Living one; and I was dead, and, behold, I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rev. 1:18).

This stanza points to the glorification which God appointed for the Suffering Servant after the sufferings ended, constituting the problem that remained insoluble for the pre-Christian prophets. See 1 Pet. 1:10-12. Added to the exaltation prophesied in the first stanza, the eternity of The Lord Jesus Christ is clearly visible.

This last stanza makes the worldwide success of Christ the marvel of all ages. He shall see his seed, i.e., number his followers in the countless millions; he shall prolong his days, i.e., be raised from the dead; the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand, i. e., righteousness shall prosper in the world; he shall justify many, i. e., countless millions shall be saved from their sins through him; I will divide him a portion with the great, i.e., Jesus Christ shall attain worldwide and perpetual “greatness.” In connection with this it should be remembered that all history falls into A.D. and B.C, and that more great and beautiful buildings have been constructed and dedicated to his glory in a single century than were ever erected and dedicated to all the kings and potentates who ever lived in the previous millenniums of human history, etc.

“He was numbered with the transgressors and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12). This prophecy was fulfilled by the Saviour himself when he prayed for those who nailed him to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Once, as this writer traveled southward on the Missouri-Pacific from St. Louis to Little Rock, a Unitarian noticed my reading the New Testament; and he said: “You Christians have your arithmetic all wrong. How could the atoning sacrifice of one man wipe out the sins of billions of men'”?.

The reply was: “Indeed, you are right. The sacrifice of one man would not even wipe out that one man’s sins, much less the sins of all men. Your mistake, Sir, is in your failure to see that Jesus Christ was in no sense whatever only one man. He was and is The Son of God, God manifested in the flesh; and that Holy Being’s atoning sacrifice was more than sufficient to wipe out the sins of all the myriads of men who ever lived.” This answer left the questioner without reply.

The prophet now explains the Cross from God’s point of view. Even though Jesus was crucified by the hands of wicked men, His death was determined beforehand by God (Act 2:22-23). Jesus was not a martyr, nor was His death an accident. He was God’s sacrifice for the sins of the world.

He did not remain dead! “He shall prolong his days” (Isa. 53:10 kjv) means that the Servant was resurrected to live forever. In His resurrection, He triumphed over every enemy and claimed the spoils of victory (Eph. 1:19-23; 4:8). Satan offered Christ a glorious kingdom in return for worship (Matt. 4:8-10), which would have meant bypassing the cross. Jesus was “obedient unto death,” and God “highly exalted Him” (Phil. 2:8-10).

Another part of His “reward” is found in the statement, “He shall see his seed [descendants]” (Isa. 53:10). To die childless was a grief and shame to the Jews, but Jesus gave birth to a spiritual family because of His travail on the cross (v. 11). Isaiah’s statement about Isaiah’s natural family (8:18) is quoted in Hebrews 2:13 and applied to Christ and His spiritual family.

The Servant’s work on the cross brought satisfaction (Isa. 53:11). To begin with, the Servant satisfied the heart of the Father. “I do always those things that please him [the Father] (John 8:29). The heavenly Father did not find enjoyment in seeing His beloved Son suffer, for the Father is not pleased with the death of the wicked, let alone the death of the righteous Son of God. But the Father was pleased that His Son’s obedience accomplished the redemption that He had planned from eternity (1 Peter 1:20). “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The death of the Servant also satisfied the Law of God. The theological term for this is “propitiation” (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). In pagan religions, the word meant “to offer a sacrifice to placate an angry god,” but the Christian meaning is much richer. God is angry at sin because it offends His holiness and violates His holy Law. In His holiness, He must judge sinners, but in His love, He desires to forgive them. God cannot ignore sin or compromise with it, for that would be contrary to His own nature and Law.

How did God solve the problem? The Judge took the place of the criminals and met the just demands of His own holy Law! “He was numbered with the transgressors” and even prayed for them (Isa. 53:12; Luke 22:37; 23:33-34). The Law has been satisfied, and God can now graciously forgive all who receive His Son.

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (See Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5.) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1-2 and Rom. 4:1-8.)

On the morning of May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mt. Everest, the highest mountain peak in the world. Nobody has yet “conquered” Isaiah 53, for there are always new heights to reach. The important thing is to know personally God’s righteous Servant, Jesus Christ, whose conquest of sin is the subject of this chapter. “By his knowledge [i.e., knowing Him personally by faith] shall My righteous Servant justify many” (v. 11).

“Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, niv).

The Hebrew in Verse 10 is rather remarkable. Our version says, “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him,” but the Hebrew literally says, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him. He has put him to grief.” The question comes, “How could it please God to put his Son to death, in the agony and torture of a crucifixion?” How could God find any pleasure in that?

When the question is asked, “Who is responsible for the death of Jesus?” the world rather blatantly answers, “It was the Jews who put him to death.” That is true. The Jewish rulers did deliver him up to be crucified. But it is also true that the Gentiles crucified Jesus.

Pilate, as the representative of the supreme government of earth at that time, put him to death, so that both Jew and Gentile are responsible. But that still does not exhaust the matter. We must go beyond that to this mysterious statement, “It pleased Jehovah to bruise him. He has put him to grief.”

When we face the question of why and how could God the Father ever take any delight in the death of his beloved Son, the only clue we have is that remarkable promise in Verse 32 of Romans 8, “He who spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all, for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” As hard as it is to believe, we must understand that God loved the lost race of mankind more than he loved his Son, and was willing to deliver him up to death that our race may find a way out of the disease and death of sin. That is all we can say on that.

Perhaps one of the hymns puts it best,

On Christ almighty vengeance fell, That would have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race, And thus becomes our Hiding Place.

Verses 10 and 11 describe a resurrection, and the satisfaction that Messiah feels when he sees what his sufferings have accomplished. We are told, “He shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days.” That cannot be said of any human being who dies. How can a dead man see his offspring? How can a dead man prolong his days? But clearly, after death, after he has “made his grave with the wicked,” here is One who shall “see his offspring and prolong his days.” Resurrection is clearly in view.

“He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” What a remarkable statement! Nothing else could satisfy Jesus than to see the redeemed brought to his Father. Nothing else could do it. This was the relentless desire that drove him through pain, tears and death-hell itself-to achieve what he always wanted: a world freed from pain, torment, death and injustice; a world of men delivered from crying, sorrow, sadness and heartache; a world in which men and women would live in peace and in power, fulfilling the tremendous possibilities that God incorporated in man when he made him in the beginning.

This is what he is after, and nothing can satisfy him but that. As the writer of Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame thereof,” {cf, Heb 12:2}. This will at last bring satisfaction to his heart.

Verse 12 summarizes all this: “He will make many righteous and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great and he shall divide the spoil with the strong.” This is a reference to Paul’s word in Romans 8, that we are “heirs with Christ” {Rom 8:17}, and that we will share with him the inheritance that he has achieved. It is for those who “out of weakness have been made strong” {Heb 11:34} by faith in his death and life. So the chapter ends, “Because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

This is a love story. What kind of love is this that awakens within us a response of deep and abiding gratitude, a willingness to admit that we need help? Our only adequate response is found in the words of a hymn,

Oh, love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer fuller be.

All His suffering was borne without a word of protest or complaint.

His sacrifice would bring Him reward (vs. 12) and He poured out His soul (vs. 12).

Verse 10:  the Hebrew word “khaphetz” means “delighted, or desired” and indicates that the death of the Messiah involved more than a sterile, unfeeling, deterministic plan of an unfeeling God.

While it’s difficult to understand, it pleased God that His Son die.

Christ lives on.. .and carries out the work of atonement, redemption, justification, sanctification, and intercession.. for US.

Isaiah’s Portrayal of the Servant of the Lord: Summary and Conclusions

The “suffering servant” song is clearly one of the most significant and hotly debated passages in Isaiah, if not the entire Bible. Because Christians understandably see Jesus throughout this passage, every effort has been made in the commentary to this point to consider all of the servant songs solely within the context of Isaiah. The time has come, however, to consider the servant songs in the larger context of Scripture, including the New Testament identification of the servant with Jesus.

In the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah, God applies the designation “servant” to Isaiah himself (20:3), to Eliakim (22:20), and to David (37:35). In chapters 40-48 the label is applied to Israel in a collective sense, frequently in parallel with terms such as “chosen” or “witnesses” (cf. 41:8-9; 43:10; 44:1, 21, 26; 45:4; 48:20). Unlike Isaiah, Eliakim, and David, however, Israel collectively has miserably failed in its role as God’s servant. Isaiah has pointed out Israel’s failure from the beginning of the book, and in 42:19 this failure is explicitly connected to the servant image: Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the Lord?

Isaiah 42 also introduces the first of the “servant songs” (vv. 1-7) that present the ideal servant, the one who faithfully and effectively accomplishes God’s will. In the first song he appears as one who is gentle and compassionate, yet empowered by God so that he “establishes justice on earth” and functions as “a light to the Gentiles.” Chapters 40-48 emphasize the sovereignty of God and the way he delivers Israel from Babylonian exile through Cyrus. Since the servant theme in these chapters highlights Israel’s failed servanthood, 42:1-7 might be initially understood to anticipate a time when Israel will more faithfully fulfill its role as God’s servant-witness.

The focus shifts significantly in Isaiah 49-57. These chapters say nothing about Cyrus, but instead move the servant to center stage. In fact, after the final servant song (52:13-53:12), Isaiah does not mention the servant again although God’s people are designated by the plural “servants” several times in the rest of the book (cf. 54:17; 56:6; 63:17; 65:9, 13-15; 66:14).

Isaiah 49 opens this section of the book with the second servant song. In verse 3 Israel is paralleled with the servant for the last time. This point is significant because here the servant songs begin to distinguish between Israel and the servant. In verse 5 the servant functions “to bring Jacob back” to God, and in verse 6 “to bring back the preserved of Israel.” The one who restores Israel also assumes the role assigned to servant-Israel in the first song as “a light for the Gentiles” in order to bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The third servant song (50:4-9) implicitly contrasts the servant with Israel by portraying him as one who is receptive to God and thus obedient and thoroughly instructed. In what might appear to be a strange combination, this song also introduces the servant as one who receives abuse. In spite of this abuse, the servant is determined to remain faithful, confident that God will vindicate him no matter what man attempts to do against him. Although the notion of the ideal servant’s suffering might be surprising, many other faithful servants of God, including the prophets, have also experienced violent rejection.

The final servant song (52:13-53:12) brings together the distinction between the servant and Israel and the theme of suffering, taking each to a higher level. The servant suffers because of Israel’s failures and on behalf of Israel’s failures. Isaiah has made it clear from the outset that the reason for Israel’s failure to enjoy the covenant blessings and to fulfill God’s purpose toward the nations is sin. The downward spiral of Israel’s rebellion has descended so far that prophetic messages and acts of discipline will not suffice. The earlier chapters of Isaiah juxtapose analyses of Israel’s seemingly hopeless spiritual condition with scenes of a glorious future (cf. 1:2-9 with 2:1-4; 3:8-9 with 4:2-6; and 5:1-7, 25-30; 6:11-13; 8:21-22 with 9:1-7). Although Isaiah accounts for this transformation by saying, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (9:7), he never explains how God will overcome the problem of sin. The final servant song roots the explanation in the person of the servant.

The servant will suffer, even to the point of death. Yet because he is innocent and righteous, his death can bring peace and healing to the guilty ones for whom he suffers. In 1:5-6, Israel is portrayed as a person beaten and wounded from head to toe as a result of sin. Much of the language from that passage reappears in 53:4-5 as the blows and wounds are laid upon the servant. By taking Israel’s sins upon himself, the servant makes it possible for Israel’s relationship with God to be restored and through Israel for God’s saving power to be revealed to the nations. God thus begins his work of restoration by returning his people from exile through a powerful pagan king, but he accomplishes a greater work of restoration through a suffering servant. Because in his death the servant accomplishes God’s will, God also vindicates him and gives him an exalted future.

Who, then, is this servant? As noted above, Israel would seem at first to be the obvious answer. As Isaiah’s portrait of the servant unfolds, however, Israel becomes an object of the servant’s ministry, along with the nations who need to “see the light” that sinful Israel has actually obscured. Isaiah clearly seeks both to identify the servant with Israel and to distinguish the two at the same time. This point favors identifying the servant as a group or individual within Israel through whom God restores his people and accomplishes his outreach to the nations. The faithful remnant certainly suffered as a result of the sins of the nation as a whole. Their very existence can be considered redemptive in that God spared the nation for their sake (cf. 65:8; the results of the failure to find such a “remnant” in Sodom and Gomorrah). On an individual level, righteous persons like Jeremiah suffered at the hands of—and in a sense on behalf of—the nation (cf. Jer 11:18-20).

There is no doubt some measure of appropriateness in identifying faithful individuals with the ideal servant. In Isaiah 65:8, however, God says he will not destroy the entire nation because of his servants. As noted above, the exclusive use of the plural after the final servant song appears deliberate. In every age faithful believers serve God as they bear witness to him. The New Testament repeatedly labels Christians “servants/slaves” (εὐαγγελίζω). When Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, he says, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.” The opening verses of Revelation describe John as a “servant… who testifies to everything he saw.” Both of these individuals suffer greatly in fulfilling their calling.

Attempts to identify the servant of Isaiah’s servant songs with such individuals fall short, however, because of the climactic elements in the final song. The servant’s suffering occurs not merely because of his association with the covenant people (cf. righteous individuals like Daniel in the exile), or on behalf of the covenant people (serving as a preservative element), or because of the hostility of the covenant people (cf. Jeremiah). The serious problem of Israel’s sin requires a suffering with a greater meaning than any of these possibilities, as does the sacrificial language of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Sin is the obstacle that lies between Israel as God’s covenant people and Israel as God’s witness/light to the nations. The servant must be able to remove that obstacle if the will of the Lord is to prosper in his hand (53:10).

The New Testament identifies Jesus with the servant in numerous passages. Jesus’ healing ministry is cast as the fulfillment of the first servant song (Matt 12:15-21). Jesus exhorts his disciples to recognize that the greatest among them must be their servant (Matt 20:26), even as he has come to them “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). It is in this role as “ransom” that Jesus is most closely linked to the final servant song. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Ethiopian eunuch is reading about the suffering servant when God sends Philip to him to explain that the prophet is speaking about Jesus, leading to the eunuch’s conversion (Acts 8:26ff.). Peter calls Christians who suffer for their faith to look to the example of Jesus who, though sinless, silently accepted mistreatment and in the process “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:21-25).

Jesus’ nature, the New Testament claims, uniquely qualifies him to bear the sins of others. Hebrews stresses his special relationship to the Father as the foundation for his fulfillment of the ideals of sacrifice and priesthood. In him alone the righteousness of God has been revealed so that, even though all have sinned, God can remain just and still justify those who turn to Jesus (Rom 3:21-26).

The New Testament also presents Jesus as the messiah, raising the issue of the relationship between the servant and the messiah. Parallels between the servant songs and the messianic texts in the earlier chapters of Isaiah have already been pointed out. In 55:3 God speaks of an “everlasting covenant” based on his “faithful love promised to David, and in the next verse refers to David as a “witness to the peoples.” It is inappropriate, therefore, to draw a complete line of separation between the messiah and the servant. It is more accurate to speak of a shift of emphasis from the more customary Davidic messiah in the earlier portions of Isaiah to the servant in the later portions of the book while retaining lines of continuity between the two.

The historical bridge in Isaiah 36-39 points to a significant reason for this shift of emphasis. Although messianic texts such as 9:1ff. and 11:1ff. have implications beyond Israel’s immediate future, God does deliver Israel from the Assyrian threat (chapters 1-35) through one from the line of David (Hezekiah). Isaiah 40-66, on the other hand, considers Israel’s future in light of the Babylonian exile. The line of David survives, but never resumes its place on an earthly throne with political and military power. Isaiah’s servant songs mark another step in the progress of God’s revelation. Through them God makes known (and history confirms) that a better future and the inclusion of the nations in the covenant relationship will not come about through political power but through redemptive suffering.

If it was God’s intention to prepare his people for a redemptive sufferer, centuries of Jewish bondage to a succession of conquerors seem to have undermined that intention. When Peter first publicly confesses Jesus as the messiah and Jesus responds by speaking of the necessity of his suffering and death, Peter cannot harmonize the two ideas (Matt 16:16ff.). If Jesus’ closest disciples struggle to grasp this concept, how much more would the crowds who longed to be free of foreign rule?

Little if any evidence exists for a Jewish expectation of a suffering messiah by the first century, especially one whose death provides atonement. Some have detected such an expectation among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the case is tenuous at best. An interesting response to a suffering messiah appears in the Targum Jonathan on Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The date of this Targum is debated, so it is not clear if it is written in response to Christian teaching. The Targum interprets this passage from Isaiah messianically, but it attributes only the triumphant elements to the messiah. The suffering it applies either to the Jewish people or to the Gentiles who are punished by the messiah. For whatever reason, this interpretation obviously resists associating suffering and death with the messiah.

In time Judaism did come to embrace the notion of a suffering messiah. The failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt (a.d. 125-135), which had raised hopes of a messianic overthrow of Rome, may have opened the door to consideration of this concept. Once again, no atoning significance is attached to the death of this messianic figure. Since the Middle Ages, however, at least partly in response to Christian teachings, “the prevailing exegesis among the Jews [has] regarded the Suffering Servant as being the Jewish people itself, whose sufferings were regarded as atoning for the sins of the world.”

Given the atmosphere of the hunger for political freedom in the first century, how culpable were the first disciples of Jesus for failing to recognize a place for the suffering and death of the messiah according to Scripture? Jesus’ words to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27) are pointed:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 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.

Apart from the servant passages, the evidence appears to be meager for such an understanding. The language Luke uses to describe Jesus’ instruction to the disciples, however, obviously consists of more than the listing of a number of proof texts. Perhaps he draws their attention to the consistent way God has worked through that which is weak and insignificant by human standards. Perhaps he points to the initial decision by David’s family not even to bring him before Samuel as one who might be God’s anointed, or to David’s many hardships before he is vindicated as king. Perhaps he leads them to consider the many laments in the psalms. The classic lament, Psalm 22, demonstrates how God is glorified when he vindicates the righteous sufferer. Given the significant passages in Isaiah and the larger context of the Old Testament, a messiah who triumphs through suffering and death should not have been such a surprise.

The major argument against identifying the servant ultimately with Israel or the faithful remnant or righteous individuals is that these identifications fail to do justice to the atonement language of 52:13-53:12. The system of atonement through animal sacrifices revealed most fully in Leviticus affirms God’s holiness, the disastrous effects of alienation from God because of sin, and the death penalty for sin that the animal substitutes pay. This system communicates powerfully, yet is fundamentally flawed because of the limitations of the human priests and the animal sacrifices. The New Testament claims that the suffering and death of Jesus as the Son of God provide atonement for sin once and for all. Any alternative that denies the need for atonement or holds that sinful human beings by their own righteousness can provide this atonement fails to do justice to the very foundations of the Old Testament, not just to a single passage in Isaiah.


– VICARIOUS: He died in our place.

— VOLUNTARY: We should serve Him willingly every day.

— VICTORY:  His victory made it possible for us to have victory.

“To this day, the fact remains that when a man is brought face to face with Jesus Christ, he must either hate Him or love Him; he must either submit to Him, or desire to destroy Him.  No man who realizes what Jesus Christ demands can possibly remain neutral. He must either be His lover or His foe.”

Which will we choose, today?

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Posted by on April 4, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: The Passion of Christ

Rene Lacoste, the world’s top tennis player in the late 1920s, won seven major singles titles during his career, including multiple victories at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the French Open. His friends called him “Le Crocodile,” an apt term for his tenacious play on the court.

Lacoste accepted the nickname and had a tiny crocodile embroidered on his tennis blazers. When he added it to a line of shirts he designed, the symbol caught on. While thousands of people around the world wore “alligator shirts,” the emblem always had a deeper significance for Lacoste’s friends who knew its origin and meaning.

The cross, an emblem of Christianity, holds special meaning for every friend of Christ. Whenever we see a cross, it speaks to us of Christ’s tenacious determination to do His Father’s will by dying for us on Calvary. What a privilege to know Him and be included in His words to His disciples: “No longer do I call you servants,…but I have called you friends” (Jn. 15:15).

I can picture a friend of Lacoste seeing the little alligator on someone’s shirt, and saying, “I know the story behind that emblem. Lacoste is my friend.” And I can picture a friend of Jesus seeing a cross and doing the same. – DCM Our Daily Bread, Sept.-Nov. 1997, page for October 5

The word passion now means “sex lust,” but back in the early days it meant deep, terrible suffering. That is why they call Good Friday “Passion Tide” and we talk about “the passion of Christ.” It is the suffering Jesus did as He made His priestly offering with His own blood for us.

Jesus Christ is God, and all I’ve said about God describes Christ. He is unitary. He has taken on Himself the nature of man, but God the Eternal Word, who was before man and who created man, is a unitary being and there is no dividing of His substance. And so that Holy One suffered, and His suffering in His own blood for us was three things. It was infinite, almighty and perfect.

Infinite means without bound and without limit, shoreless, bottomless, topless forever and ever, without any possible measure or limitation. And so the suffering of Jesus and the atonement He made on that cross under that darkening sky was infinite in its power.

It was not only infinite but almighty. It’s possible for good men to “almost” do something or to “almost” be something. That is the fix people get in because they are people. But Almighty God is never “almost” anything. God is always exactly what He is. He is the Almighty One. Isaac Watts said about His dying on the cross, “God the mighty Maker died for man the creature’s sin.” And when God the Almighty Maker died, all the power there is was in that atonement. You never can over-state  state the efficaciousness of the atonement. You never can exaggerate the power of the cross.

And God is not only infinite and almighty but perfect. The atonement in Jesus Christ’s blood is perfect; there isn’t anything that can be added to it. It is spotless, impeccable, flawless. It is perfect as God is perfect. So Anselm’s* question, “How dost Thou spare the wicked if Thou art just?” is answered from the effect of Christ’s passion. That holy suffering there on the cross and that resurrection from the dead cancels our sins and abrogates our sentence.

Where and how did we get that sentence? We got it by the application of justice to a moral situation. No matter how nice and refined and lovely you think you are, you are a moral situation—you have been, you still are, you will be. And when God confronted you, God’s justice confronted a moral situation and found you unequal, found inequity, found iniquity.

Because He found iniquity there, God sentenced you to die. Everybody has been or is under the sentence of death. I wonder how people can be so jolly under the sentence of death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20). When justice confronts a moral situation in a man, woman, young person or anybody morally responsible, then either it justifies or condemns that person. That’s how we got that sentence.

Let me point out that when God in His justice sentences the sinner to die, He does not quarrel with the mercy of God; He does not quarrel with the kindness of God; He does not quarrel with His compassion or pity, for they are all attributes of a unitary God, and they cannot quarrel with each other. All the attributes of God concur in a man’s death sentence. The very angels in heaven cried out and said,

“Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.

And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous

are thy judgments.” (Revelation 16:5, 7)

You’ll never find in heaven a group of holy beings finding fault with the way God conducts His foreign policy. God Almighty is conducting His world, and every moral creature says, “True and righteous are thy judgments…. Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne” (Revelation 16:7, Psalm 89:14). When God sends a man to die, mercy and pity and compassion and wisdom and power concur—everything that’s intelligent in God concurs in the sentence.

But oh, the mystery and wonder of the atonement! The soul that avails itself of that atonement, that throws itself out on that atonement, the moral situation has changed. God has not changed! Jesus Christ did not die to change God; Jesus Christ died to change a moral situation. When God’s justice confronts an unprotected sinner that justice sentences him to die. And all of God concurs in the sentence! But when Christ, who is God, went onto the tree and died there in infinite agony, in a plethora of suffering, this great God suffered more than they suffer in hell. He suffered all that they could suffer in hell. He suffered with the agony of God, for everything that God does, He does with all that He is. When God suffered for you, my friend, God suffered to change your moral situation.

The man who throws himself on the mercy of God has had the moral situation changed. God doesn’t say, “Well, we’ll excuse this fellow. He’s made his decision, and we’ll forgive him. He’s gone into the prayer room, so we’ll pardon him. He’s going to join the church; we’ll overlook his sin.” No! When God looks at an atoned-for sinner He doesn’t see the same moral situation that He sees when He looks at a sinner who still loves his sin. When God looks at a sinner who still loves his sin and rejects the mystery of the atonement, justice condemns him to die. When God looks at a sinner who has accepted the blood of the everlasting covenant, justice sentences him to live. And God is just in doing both things.

When God justifies a sinner everything in God is on the sinner’s side. All the attributes of God are on the sinner’s side. It isn’t that mercy is pleading for the sinner and justice is trying to beat him to death, as we preachers sometimes make it sound. All of God does all that God does. When God looks at a sinner and sees him there unatoned for (he won’t accept the atonement; he thinks it doesn’t apply to him), the moral situation is such that justice says he must die. And when God looks at the atoned-for sinner, who in faith knows he’s atoned for and has accepted it, justice says he must live! The unjust sinner can no more go to heaven than the justified sinner can go to hell. Oh friends, why are we so still? Why are we so quiet? We ought to rejoice and thank God with all our might!

I say it again: Justice is on the side of the returning sinner. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Justice is over on our side now because the mystery of the agony of God on the cross has changed our moral situation. So justice looks and sees equality, not inequity, and we are justified. That’s what justification means.

Do I believe in justification by faith? Oh, my brother, do I believe in it! David believed in it and wrote it into Psalm 32.

When we talk about justification, it isn’t just a text to manipulate. We ought to see who God is and see why these things are true. We’re justified by faith because the agony of God on the cross changed the moral situation. We are that moral situation. It didn’t change God at all. The idea that the cross wiped the angry scowl off the face of God and He began grudgingly to smile is a pagan concept and not Christian.

God is one. Not only is there only one God, but that one God is unitary, one with Himself, indivisible. And the mercy of God is simply God being merciful. And the justice of God is simply God being just. And the love of God is simply God loving. And the compassion of God is simply God being compassionate. It’s not something that runs out of God—it’s something God is!

*Anselm (1033-1109), a Benedictine monk, became a great philosopher and theologian of his day.

 All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell is terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning. – Oswald Chambers

  1. The cross: God’s way of uniting suffering with love. – Georgia Harkness
  2. The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The cross is the lightning rod of grace that short-circuits God’s wrath to Christ so that only the light of His love remains for believers.


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Posted by on March 31, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Psalm 22 -The Sufferings And Glory Of Christ

If a “Time Machine” existed, which could take you back to any time and place in history, my first choice would be to go back to a Sunday a little over 2,000 years ago, to a dusty road between Jerusalem and a village called Emmaus. There two men were walking on the day of Jesus’ resurrection when the risen Savior appeared to them. Not recognizing Him at first, they explained to Him their confusion about the events of the last several days.

Luke 24:25-27 (ESV) And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

If there had been tape recorders then, I would trade the hundreds of books in my library to obtain a tape of Christ (in English!) explaining what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself! I’m certain that in that tape you would hear Him explain Psalm 22. It speaks of Christ’s suffering (22:1-21) and His glory (22:22-31).

On one level, the psalm refers to some event in the life of David, probably when he was being pursued by Saul. But there is no situation recorded in Scripture where David went through trials to the degree the psalm describes.

David is going beyond himself, applying things prophetically to Christ. Thus to do justice to the psalm, we must leave David’s experience and focus on how it applies to the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. It describes a death by crucifixion hundreds of years before that mode of execution was known. The details of the psalm were fulfilled by the Son of David, Jesus the Messiah, about 1,000 years after they were written.

We are standing here on holy ground. If you’ve ever wondered what Jesus actually said in the Garden of Gethsemane as He wrestled with bearing our sins (the gospels only give a brief synopsis), you probably have it here.

I always feel inadequate to preach, but I feel especially inadequate to speak on a text as profound as this one. We see here something of what our salvation cost the Savior. Though His sufferings go far beyond anything we can ever comprehend, we get a glimpse of the agonies He endured for us. The only proper response is to bow in worship and to submit ourselves afresh to do the will of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

  1. Christ suffered on the cross for our salvation (22:1‑21).

The first section consists of three cycles of complaint and confidence:

First Cycle: 22:1‑2 = Complaint (to God)                    22:3‑5 = Confidence (in God)

Second Cycle: 22:6‑8 = Complaint                            22:9‑11 = Confidence and Petition [v. 11]

Third Cycle: 22:12‑18 = Complaint                           22:19‑21 = Confidence and (mostly) Petition

By looking at the complaint sections we can see with prophetic clarity something of Christ’s sufferings on the cross. As we think about the fact that “Christ the mighty maker died for man the creature’s sin,” our hearts should well up in thanksgiving for what He endured for us.

Note what happened to Christ on the cross:

A. He was forsaken of God (22:1).

When Jesus was crucified, darkness fell upon the land from about noon until 3 p.m., when Jesus cried out the haunting words of Psalm 22:1: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

We enter at once into the most unfathomable mystery of the gospel. No one can really know what was involved in God’s forsaking Jesus during those three hours of darkness. We know that Jesus bore God’s curse upon world’s sin and that somehow God in His holiness was forced to turn His back upon His Son while He bore that sin.

Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). He bore God’s wrath which we deserved. Thus He was forsaken by God the Father.

So while the physical agony was terrible, the spiritual agony was infinitely worse. We can’t understand, because we have not enjoyed perfect fellowship with the Father from all eternity as Jesus had. Not sharing His holy nature, we can’t imagine what it was like for Jesus to become sin. But that’s what happened on the cross.

B. His prayers were not answered (22:2).

He cried for deliverance from death; that, if possible, this cup should pass from Him. Yet He was not delivered from death or spared the cup. Instead, He went through death and was delivered in the resurrection. How awful it must have been for Him who enjoyed unbroken fellowship with the Father to cry out to Him, only to have Him not answer!

C. He was despised and mocked (22:6‑8).

He calls Himself a worm and not a man. A worm is an object of weakness and scorn. (Can you imagine a sports team calling themselves the “Worms”? We have the Giants, Bears, and Broncos, but no “Worms.”)

The worm referred to is the cochineal, which produces a scarlet color used as a dye when it was crushed. It was used in the Tabernacle to dye part of the coverings and veils (Exod. 26:1, 31, 36).

Jesus was crushed so that His blood might cover our sins. But from man’s point of view, He was scorned and despised. Verses 7‑8 describe the exact actions and words used by Jesus’ enemies when He was on the cross (Matt. 27:39‑43)! They mocked His own claims of trust in God.

D. He was overpowered by ferocious men (22:12‑13).

His enemies are likened to ferocious animals–bulls, lions, and dogs (22:12, 13, 16). (Bashan [v. 12] was an area noted for its well‑fed bulls.) I read about a man who was attacked by pit bull dogs and I’ve heard of David Livingstone’s being mauled by a lion. I’d rather not go through either experience!

That was what Jesus felt like as He hung upon the cross while the Jewish rulers snorted their ridicule and false accusations. Even though He could have called 10,000 legions of angels, the Savior chose to suffer silently.

E. He went through the physical and emotional agony of crucifixion (22:14‑18).

Verses 14‑18 are amazing prophecies of Christ’s crucifixion. I think they prove the divine inspiration of the Bible, since this was written hundreds of years before crucifixion was known to man.

Crucifixion arose as a means of torture somewhere in the East, perhaps with the Medes and Persians. Alexander the Great seems to have learned it from them and brought it West. The Romans learned it from the Phoenicians through Carthage and perfected it as a means of execution reserved for the worst criminals.

It was a brutal, torturous, humiliating means of execution. Note the psalmist’s description, which goes far beyond his own experience:

“Poured out like water” (v. 14) points to the excessive perspiration caused by the suffering plus the feeling of weakness as life slowly ebbed away. This was reflected in Jesus’ cry, “I thirst!”

“Bones out of joint” (v. 14) not literally, but the feeling of being stretched out by the arms as He hung on the cross.

“Heart turned to wax and melted” (v. 14)‑‑the heart struggling to supply blood to the extremities.

“Strength dried up like a potsherd, tongue sticks to roof of mouth” (v. 15) weakness as His life ebbed from Him; extreme thirst as His body was dehydrated.

“Dust of death” (v. 15)‑‑He is all but dead.

“Surrounded by evil men” (v. 16) at the scene of the cross as His enemies waited for His death.

“Pierced hands and feet” (v. 16) the vowel pointing (added by Jewish rabbis in the Christian era) of some Hebrew manuscripts renders it, “like a lion,” but it is difficult to make any sense out of that meaning. Calvin argues that the rabbis changed the text to escape the obvious reference to the cross. The LXX (200 B.C.) translates the Hebrew “pierced.” Two other Old Testament passages (Isa. 53:5; Zech. 12:10) refer to Messiah being pierced.

“Count all my bones” (v. 17) from being stretched out naked on the cross.

“People stare” (v. 17) a public crucifixion.

“Divide my garments and cast lots for my clothing” (v. 18) a specific prophecy of the activity of the soldiers around the cross of Christ.

That’s just a glimpse of Christ’s suffering as seen prophetically by David 1,000 years before Christ. His great suffering shows us our great salvation and how we should respond.

How should I respond to Christ who suffered for me? 

I should see both the greatness of my own sin and the greatness of Christ’s love. My sin put Jesus on the cross. His love made Him willing to go there. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

The famous Dutch artist Rembrandt did a painting of the crucifixion. The focus of the painting, of course, is  the Savior on the cross. But he also painted the crowd gathered around the cross. Standing there in the shadow at the edge of the picture, Rembrandt painted himself! Rembrandt, a participant in the crucifixion!

Rembrandt’s Painting

If you were to look at Rembrandt’s painting of The Three Crosses, your attention would be drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then as you would look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, you’d be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God.

Finally, your eyes would drift to the left edge of the painting and catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.

 How true that is! We need to join Rembrandt by putting ourselves there. We need to make it personal. It was my sin which put Jesus on the cross! I was raised in a Christian home and never did many of the gross outward sins that many commit. It’s easy for me to think that I’m not as bad a sinner as others.

But the more I grow as a Christian, the more I discover how much I also needed the love of Christ on that cross. Even good moral people are sinners in need of a Savior!

The way to holiness is not thinking more highly of myself, but rather, realizing more how sinful I am which drives me to cling more tightly to the cross, where I receive God’s mercy.

It’s not popular in our day to emphasize our sinfulness. We want an upbeat message that glosses over sin. Our hymn book has even changed the words of Isaac Watts’s great hymn, so that instead of, “Would He devote that sacred Head for such a worm as I?” it reads, “for someone such as I?” We’re too good to call ourselves worms!

A lady once told me in a Sunday School class, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to call myself a worm!” I explained that Watts took that line in his hymn from Psalm 22 and said, “That’s what Jesus called Himself when He bore our sins. Don’t you want to be identified with Him when He did that for you?”

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to be careful not to exalt ourselves against the Lord. If you think that you’re a pretty good person and that God just had to give you a little boost to get you into heaven, you won’t love Jesus much. “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).

But if you recognize the truth, that you were lost in your rebellion against God and that He saved you from hell in spite of your awful sin, forgiven much you will love Him much.

As Spurgeon put it, “He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed” (C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography [Banner of Truth], 1:54).

So this glimpse of the cross should impress upon me the greatness of my own sin along with the greatness of Christ’s love.

(2) I should submit to and trust Him who ordains suffering to come into my life.

Note 22:15: “You lay me in the dust of death.” The Hebrew verb for “lay” has the nuance of ordain or appoint. Although evil and godless men crucified the Lord Jesus, they did it in accordance with the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23; 4:27‑28). And so in one sense it was the sovereign plan of God which put Christ on the cross.

The confidence sections of the psalm (22:3‑5, 9‑11, 19‑21) show Christ’s response to the Father. Did He malign God or shake His fist in God’s face for ordaining this awful suffering? No!

  • He affirms the holiness of God and uses it as the basis for His plea (22:3).
  • He recalls God’s faithfulness with others in the past and in His own past experience (22:4‑5, 9‑10).
  • And He calls out in faith to God for deliverance (22:19‑21).

How do you respond when trials come into your life? The author of Hebrews says that Jesus “learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).

Not that He was disobedient before; but you don’t know obedience experientially until you suffer. If you’re going through a hard time, learn to obey by submitting and trusting.

Later, the same author tells us, “For consider Him, who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3). Jesus endured by entrusting Himself into the hands of a loving, sovereign God. So should we!

(3) I should trust God when my prayers go unanswered.

Jesus prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t answer Him‑‑at that point. God did answer in the resurrection. But Jesus had to go through crucifixion and death before He received the answer to His prayers. And yet He continued to call God, “My God” (22:1‑2, 10) and “My Help” (22:19).

Sometimes God will answer our prayers in a better time and a better way from His perspective. But we may not understand it. But we have to trust Him as our God even though we don’t understand. I’ve had times where I’ve prayed diligently for something that I believed to be God’s will, but it seemed as if things couldn’t have gone any worse if I hadn’t prayed at all! It’s easy to begin doubting God when you pray and He doesn’t seem to answer.

At such times, come back to the miraculous prophecies of this psalm, and let them bolster your faith. If God’s Word could accurately describe a crucifixion hundreds of years before that mode of death was practiced, and predict the specific details of Christ’s death, even down to the words His enemies would say and the gambling of the pagan soldiers for His robe, it’s solid evidence that you’re dealing with a supernatural Book!

There are dozens more such prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Christ. So you can trust in God and His Word, even if you are going through trials and your prayers seem to be unanswered.

So verses 1-21 show us how Christ suffered on the cross for our salvation. But the psalm doesn’t end on the defeat of the crucifixion. It goes on to the victory of the resurrection and the glories which follow.

2. The glories of Christ’s resurrection require proclaiming God’s great salvation to all peoples (22:22‑31).

The psalm doesn’t say in black and white that Christ arose, but several things indicate that the resurrection took place between verses 21 and 22. First, at the end of verse 21 most scholars translate, “You have heard” or “You have answered” (NASB, NIV margin, New KJV). There is a sudden note of confidence.

Second, in verse 22, Messiah says, “I will declare Your name to my brothers.” Jesus never called the disciples His brothers before the resurrection. But immediately after the resurrection, He told Mary Magdalene, “Go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17; see also Heb. 2:11‑12).

Third, the results described in these verses are things that resulted from Christ’s resurrection. They obviously go far beyond David’s personal experience. They are:

(1) Fellowship (22:22)‑‑We’re His brothers. He declares God’s name (= His character and attributes) to us.

(2) Praise (22:22‑23)‑‑If Christ only suffered and died, there is no room for praise. We would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). But Hallelujah! He is risen! We can praise Him!

(3) Testimony (22:24)‑‑God did not abandon His holy one to the grave (Psalm 16:10). He listened to His cry and raised Him from the dead. Now we can testify to God’s deliverance in raising Christ from the dead.

(4) Thank‑offering (22:25‑26)‑‑These verses picture a Hebrew thank‑offering. When God answered his prayers, a worshiper would offer a thank‑offering at the temple. The poor would be invited and there would be a feast giving thanks to God.

The worshipers would greet one another with, “Let your heart live forever!” (22:26). In the same way we have a feast of thanksgiving, the Lord’s Supper (eucharist), where we gather to offer thanks and praise for God’s gift to us in Christ and the del+iverance we have from our sins through His death and resurrection.

(5) World‑wide evangelism (22:27, 30‑31)‑‑The good news of the risen Savior will be proclaimed beyond the Jews to all peoples, and to succeeding generations. There is no good news if the Savior is dead, but there is salvation if He is risen. The message applies to the poor and rich alike (22:26, 29), to all who acknowledge their need.

(6) Kingdom Rule (22:27‑28)‑‑This part has not yet been fulfilled, but it will be soon. He will return bodily to crush all opposition and to rule the nations with a rod of iron in His millennial Kingdom. Every knee shall bow before Him. Just as the other prophecies have been fulfilled, so this one will be. You can count on it!


So the message of Psalm 22 is: Because Christ suffered on the cross for our salvation, we must proclaim it to all nations.

  • Put the cross at the center of your walk with God. When I focus daily on the cross, my heart is filled with joy and thankfulness for God’s priceless gift to me. The cross also keeps me aware of my own sinfulness, so that I don’t trust myself, but cling to Christ. Focusing on the cross helps me resist temptation as I remember that I was redeemed with nothing less than Jesus’ blood. How can I sin against Him who so loved me? We tend to forget the cross, which is why Jesus ordained that we come often to His table in remembrance of Him.
  • Put God’s heart for the lost as the bottom line of your walk with God. He wants all the ends of the earth to turn to Him and worship Him (22:27). That means that if I’m not actively focusing on world missions, I’m too self-focused. I’m not in tune with God’s purpose to be glorified in all the earth. We have His command to go and His promise that “all the families of the nations will worship” the Lord (22:27). How can they worship Him if they’ve never heard? How will they hear if we don’t give, send, and go?
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Posted by on March 28, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Christ Died for our sins

The Word For The Day — Christ died for our sins according to the...

1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. {2} By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. {3} For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, {4} that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”

There it is. Almost too simple. Jesus was killed, buried and resurrected. The part that matters the most in the world is the cross. No more and no less. The cross.

It rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond. Its tragedy summons all sufferers. Its absurdity attracts all cynics. Its hope lures all searchers. And, according to Paul, the cross is what counts.

What a piece of wood! History has idolized it and despised it, gold-plated it and burned it, worn and trashed it. History has done everything to it but ignore it. That’s the one option that the cross does not offer.

No one can ignore it! You can’t ignore a piece of lumber that suspends the greatest claim in history. A crucified carpenter claiming that he is God on earth? Divine? Eternal? The death-slayer? No wonder Paul called it “the core of the gospel.” Its bottom line is sobering: if the account is true, it is history’s hinge. Period. If not, it is history’s hoax.

Dying is a dreadful thing from the human point of view; no amount of beautiful music or kind words can soften the blow.

We might work to camouflage the pain and deny the reality of it, but it is a grim, harsh, ugly, inescapable fact with which to reckon.

What is true for us today was true for our Lord when He faced the facts in His day. Being fully human, He did not relish the ultimate end of His earthly life: a crucifixion death.

But He accepted it. Isaiah 53:7: “like a lamb that is led to slaughter.”

Further background

Corinth was a Greek, city, and the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. When Paul had preached at Athens and declared the fact of Christ’s resurrection, some of his listeners actually laughed at him (Acts 17:32). Most Greek philosophers considered the human body a prison, and they welcomed death as deliverance from bondage.

This skeptical attitude had somehow invaded the church and Paul had to face it head-on. The truth of the resurrection had doctrinal and practical implications for life that were too important to ignore. Paul dealt with the subject by answering four basic questions.

Are the Dead Raised? (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

It is important to note that the believers at Corinth did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so Paul started his argument with that fundamental truth. He presented three proofs to assure his readers that Jesus Christ indeed had been raised from the dead.

Proof #1their salvation (vv. 1-2). Paul had come to Corinth and preached the message of the Gospel, and their faith had transformed their lives. But an integral part of the Gospel message was the fact of Christ’s resurrection. After all, a dead Saviour cannot save anybody. Paul’s readers had received the Word, trusted Christ, been saved, and were now standing on that Word as the assurance of their salvation. The fact that they were standing firm was proof that their faith was genuine and not empty.

Proof #2—the Old Testament Scriptures (vv. 3-4). First of all means “of first importance.” The Gospel is the most important message that the church ever proclaims. While it is good to be involved in social action and the betterment of mankind, there is no reason why these ministries should preempt the Gospel. “Christ died… He was buried… He rose again… He was seen” are the basic historical facts on which the Gospel stands (1 Cor. 15:3-5). “Christ died for our sins” (author’s italics) is the theological explanation of the historical facts. Many people were crucified by the Romans, but only one “victim” ever died for the sins of the world.

When Paul wrote “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3) he was referring to the Old Testament Scriptures. Much of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament pointed to the sacrifice of Christ as our substitute and Saviour. The annual Day of Atonement (Lev. 16) and prophecies like Isaiah 53 would also come to mind.

But where does the Old Testament declare His resurrection on the third day? Jesus pointed to the experience of Jonah (Matt. 12:38-41). Paul also compared Christ’s resurrection to the “firstfruits,” and the firstfruits were presented to God on the day following the Sabbath after Passover (Lev. 23:9-14; 1 Cor. 15:23). Since the Sabbath must always be the seventh day, the day after Sabbath must be the first day of the week, or Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. This covers three days on the Jewish calendar. Apart from the Feast of Firstfruits, there were other prophecies of Messiah’s resurrection in the Old Testament: Psalm 16:8-11 (see Acts 2:25-28); Psalm 22:22ff (see Heb. 2:12); Isaiah 53:10-12; and Psalm 2:7 (see Acts 13:32-33).



The shadow of the cross stretched more deeply across His path every day of His life. He had no other option except to face this premature death at about age 33, a time when most of us are just entering career paths and beginning to smell success in the distance.

His goal was to accomplish the mission of redemption… that He go to a cross and be nailed to its splintered surface… that His blood be poured out and that the cross-death be the answer for uniting man with God.

Luke 10:10: “For the Son of fan came to seek and save what was lost.”

Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Han did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Luke 9:28-31: (at His transfiguration: notice what they were talking about).

“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. {29} As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. {30} Two men, Moses and Elijah, {31} appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”


Matthew 16:21-23: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. {22} Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” {23} Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.””

Having declared His person, Jesus now declared His work; for the two must go together. He would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die, and be raised from the dead. This was His first clear statement of His death, though He had hinted at this before (Matt. 12:39-40; 16:4; John 2:19; 3:14; 6:51). “And He was stating the matter plainly” (Mark 8:32, nasb).

Peter’s response to this shocking statement certainly represented the feelings of the rest of the disciples: “Pity Thyself, Lord! This shall never happen to Thee!” Jesus turned His back on Peter and said, “Get behind Me, adversary! You are a stumbling block to Me!” (literal translation) Peter the “stone” who had just been blessed (Matt. 16:18) became Peter the stumbling block who was not a blessing to Jesus!

What was Peter’s mistake? He was thinking like a man, for most men want to escape suffering and death. He did not have God’s mind in the matter. Where do we find the mind of God? In the Word of God. Until Peter was filled with the Spirit, he had a tendency to argue with God’s Word. Peter had enough faith to confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but he did not have the faith to believe that it was right for Jesus to suffer and die. Of course, Satan agreed with Peter’s words, for he used the same approach to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:8-10).

Today the cross is an accepted symbol of love and sacrifice. But in that day the cross was a horrible means of capital punishment. The Romans would not mention the cross in polite society. In fact, no Roman citizen could be crucified; this terrible death was reserved for their enemies. Jesus had not yet specifically stated that He would be crucified (He did this in Matt. 20:17-19). But His words that follow emphasize the cross.

He presented to the disciples two approaches to life:

deny yourself live for yourself
take up your cross ignore the cross
follow Christ follow the world
lose your life for His sake save your life for your own sake
forsake the world gain the world
keep your soul lose your soul
share His reward and glory lose His reward and glory

To deny self does not mean to deny things. It means to give yourself wholly to Christ and share in His shame and death. Paul described this in Romans 12:1-2 and Philippians 3:7-10, as well as in Galatians 2:20. To take up a cross does not mean to carry burdens or have problems. (I once met a lady who told me her asthma was the cross she had to bear!) To take up the cross means to identify with Christ in His rejection, shame, suffering, and death.

But suffering always leads to glory. This is why Jesus ended this short sermon with a reference to His glorious kingdom (Matt. 16:28). This statement would be fulfilled within a week on the Mount of Transfiguration, described in the next chapter.

Further comments

Following the incident in which Peter acknowledged Jesus as being the Christ, Jesus began preparing his men for His imminent suffering, death, and resurrection.

Peter’s response: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You” Jesus said: “Get behind He, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in nind the things of God, but the things of men.”

16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.NIV The phrase “from that time on” marks a turning point.

In 4:17 it signaled Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of heaven. Here it points to his new emphasis on his death and resurrection. The disciples still didn’t grasp Jesus’ true purpose because of their preconceived notions about what the Messiah should be. While they may have understood that he was the Messiah, they needed to prepare to follow him and to be loyal to him as he suffered and This cross saved and converted the world, drove away error, brought back truth, made earth Heaven, fashioned men into angels. Because of this cross, the devils are no longer terrible, but contemptible; neither is death, death, but a sleep.

John Chrysostom


died. So Jesus began teaching clearly and specifically what they could expect so that they would not be surprised when it happened. Contrary to what they thought, Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. He would not be the conquering Messiah because he first had to suffer many things . . . and . . . be killed. For any human king, death would be the end. Not so for Jesus. Death would be only the beginning, for on the third day, he would be raised to life.

Jesus’ teaching that he must suffer corresponds to Daniel’s prophecies that God’s plan for redemption could not be thwarted by any actions people might take: The Messiah would be cut off (Daniel 9:26); there would be a period of trouble (Daniel 9:27); and the king would come in glory (Daniel 7:13-14). The suffering also recalls Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. His rejection looks back to the rejected “stone” in Psalm 118:22.

Jesus knew from what quarters the rejection would come: the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law (also called “scribes”). The “elders” were the leaders of the Jews who decided issues of religious and civil law. Each community had elders, and a group of them was included in the Council (or Sanhedrin) that met in Jerusalem. “Chief priests” refers not only to the present high priest, but also to all those who formerly held the title and some of their family members. Teachers of the law did just that—taught the law. They were the legal experts. These three groups made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court that ultimately sentenced Jesus to be killed (27:1). Notice that opposition came not from the people at large, but from their leaders—the very people who should have been the first to recognize and rejoice in the Messiah’s arrival.


“Triumphalism” is a word that describes the kind of Christianity that seeks political prestige, social recognition, and temporal power. It forces itself on populations and begins to dictate on matters far removed from Jesus’ word. It says, “God will not let us lose because God cannot tolerate loss.” It presses toward victory by any means. It likes success. It is modern Christianity mimicking Peter’s advice to Jesus when he tried to talk him out of his mission.
But Jesus describes the path of faith in much humbler terms: injustice, misunderstanding, suffering, and death. These terms typify true faith for Jesus more than black-tie banquets celebrating multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaigns. When you think of what faith means, focus on Jesus, not on brochures, media presentations, or hyped-up public relations press releases.

16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”NIV This was too much for Peter. Having just confessed his heartfelt belief in Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God” (16:16) and having been given great authority in Jesus’ kingdom (16:18-19), Peter certainly found it most unnerving that the King would soon be put to death. His actions show that he really didn’t know what he was saying. If Jesus were going to die, what did this mean for the disciples? If he were truly the Messiah, then what was all this talk about being killed? So Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. The word for “rebuke” is a strong term meaning that Peter was rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of the Messiah as a suffering figure.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and devoted follower who had just eloquently proclaimed Jesus’ true identity, sought to protect him from the suffering he prophesied. But if Jesus hadn’t suffered and died, Peter would have died in his sins. Great temptations can come from those who love us and seek to protect us. Be cautious of advice from a friend who says, “Surely God doesn’t want you to face this.” Often our most difficult temptations come from those who try to protect us from discomfort.

16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”NRSV Peter often spoke for all the disciples. In singling Peter out for rebuke, Jesus may have been addressing all of them indirectly. In his wilderness temptations, Jesus had been told that he could achieve greatness without dying (4:8-9). Peter, in his rebuke of Jesus’ words about dying, was saying the same thing. Trying to circumvent God’s plan had been one of Satan’s tools; Peter inadvertently used Satan’s tool in trying to protect his beloved Master. Although Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, quickly he turned from God’s perspective and evaluated the situation from a human one. This would be a stumbling block to Jesus. Peter was speaking Satan’s words, thus Jesus rebuked Peter with the words, Get behind me, Satan! This didn’t make sense to Peter, who, Jesus said, was setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. This accusation provides us with an important principle for following Jesus today. We know, from God’s Word, Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son, but it is so easy for us to limit his impact on our life when we are preoccupied with earthly goals. It is so natural and comfortable for us to set our minds on human comfort, security, success, and prosperity that we forget our divine call to sacrifice and service. So we can see that Peter’s perspective was wrong. God’s plan included suffering and death for the Messiah. Jesus would fulfill his mission exactly as planned.


(John 14:1-3)  “”Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. {2} In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. {3} And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

This section opens and closes with our Lord’s loving admonition, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1, 27). We are not surprised that the Apostles were troubled. After all, Jesus had announced that one of them was a traitor, and then He warned Peter that he was going to deny his Lord three times. Self-confident Peter was certain that he could not only follow his Lord, but even die with Him and for Him. Alas, Peter did not know his own heart, nor do we really know our hearts, except for one thing: our hearts easily become troubled.

Perhaps the heaviest blow of all was the realization that Jesus was going to leave them (John 13:33). Where was He going? Could they go with Him? How could they get where He was going? These were some of the perplexing questions that rumbled around in their minds and hearts and were tossed back and forth in their conversation at the table.

How did Jesus calm their troubled hearts? By giving them six wonderful assurances to lay hold of, assurances that we today may claim and thus enjoy untroubled hearts. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you may claim every single one of these assurances.

You Are Going to Heaven (John 13:36-14:6)

Jesus did not rebuke Peter for asking Him where He was going, but His reply was somewhat cryptic. One day Peter would “follow” Jesus to the cross (John 21:18-19; 2 Peter 1:12-15), and then he would follow Him to heaven. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified, though he asked to be crucified head-downward because he did not feel worthy to die as his Master died.

Just as Peter was beginning to feel like a hero, Jesus announced that he himself would soon become a casualty. The message not only shocked Peter, but it also stunned the rest of the disciples. After all, if brave Peter denied the Lord, what hope was there for the rest of them? It was then that Jesus gave His message to calm their troubled hearts.

According to Jesus, heaven is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination or the result of a psyched-up mentality, looking for “pie in the sky by and by.” Heaven is the place where God dwells and where Jesus sits today at the right hand of the Father. Heaven is described as a kingdom (2 Peter 1:11), an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), a country (Heb. 11:16), a city (Heb. 11:16), and a home (John 14:2).

The word Father is used fifty-three times in John 13-17. Heaven is “My Father’s house,” according to the Son of God. It is “home” for God’s children! Some years ago, a London newspaper held a contest to determine the best definition of “home.” The winning entry was, “Home is the place where you are treated the best and complain the most.” The poet Robert Frost said that home is the place that, when you arrive there, they have to take you in. A good definition!

The Greek word monē is translated “mansions” in John 14:2 and “abode” in John 14:23. It simply means “rooms, abiding places,” so we must not think in terms of manor houses. It is unfortunate that some unbiblical songs have perpetuated the error that faithful Christians will have lovely mansions in glory, while worldly saints will have to be content with little cottages or even shacks. Jesus Christ is now preparing places for all true believers, and each place will be beautiful. When He was here on earth, Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). Now that He has returned to glory, He is building a church on earth and a home for that church in heaven.

John 14:3 is a clear promise of our Lord’s return for His people. Some will go to heaven through the valley of the shadow of death, but those who are alive when Jesus returns will never see death (John 11:25-26). They will be changed to be like Christ and will go to heaven (1 Thes. 4:13-18).

Since heaven is the Father’s house, it must be a place of love and joy. When the Apostle John tried to describe heaven, he almost ran out of symbols and comparisons! (Rev. 21-22) Finally, he listed the things that would not be there: death, sorrow, crying, pain, night, etc. What a wonderful home it will be—and we will enjoy it forever!

Further comments

After predicting Peter’s denial (13:38), Jesus spoke to the deep concerns of the disciples. They were confused; he encouraged them to trust. They needed to anchor that trust in Jesus. He indicated that he and the Father would prepare a place for them while he was gone, but that he would return to gather them.

The disciples could not comprehend Jesus’ comments about leaving. Their question about his destination enabled Jesus to identify himself not only as their eternal companion, but also as the very means for them to see the Father. He claimed to be the unique and ultimate resource when he said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6 niv).

Characteristically, the disciples responded to Jesus’ revelation with a question that reveals how inadequately they grasped Jesus’ divine nature. In answering them, Jesus described four aspects of his unique identity: (1) Jesus and the Father share characteristics in such a way that anyone who has seen one has also seen the other. (2) Jesus and the Father are united in such a way that Jesus could speak of either of them being “in” the other. (3) Jesus gives special abilities to those who trust him to accomplish even greater signs than the disciples had already seen. (4) Requests to God made in Jesus’ name will be answered.

After this intimate opening dialogue, the Last Supper discourse began. The next several chapters have been among the most treasured of those who follow Jesus. They not only draw us close to him; they also give us compelling reasons to invite others into that fellowship with our Savior. By recording this private discussion between Jesus and his disciples, John hoped to attract all people to Jesus.

14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled.”NKJV In the Greek, the pronoun your is plural; therefore, Jesus was speaking to Peter (whose denial of Jesus had just been predicted—see 13:38) and to all the other disciples. According to Luke, Jesus had told Peter, “Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat . . .” (Luke 22:31 nrsv). All of the disciples must have been troubled about Jesus’ predictions of betrayal, denial, and departure. After all, if Peter’s commitment was shaky, then every disciple should be aware of his own weaknesses.


Jesus did not want his followers to imitate Peter’s impulsive self-confidence. Potential weaknesses and possible failures trouble us. So we don’t like to think about them. Peter denied his own frailty and claimed more faith than he had. Jesus’ solution for troubled hearts requires us to trust in him. Trust does not mean pretending we are strong; it means recognizing our weakness and need for God’s help. If we believe for a moment that we can follow Jesus in our own strength, we will fail as miserably as Peter.

“Trust in God; trust also in me.”NIV Jesus urged his disciples to maintain their trust in the Father and in the Son, to continue trusting through the next few very difficult days. Jesus later told the disciples why he gave them glimpses of the future that would soon follow: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (14:29 niv). They would not need to be afraid because all that he promised would come true.

14:2 “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”NIV The traditional interpretation of this phrase teaches that Jesus is going to heaven to prepare rooms or “mansions” (nkjv) for his followers. Based on that imagery, entire heavenly subdivisions and elaborate “mansion blueprints” have been described. Many commentators think that Jesus was speaking about his Father’s house in heaven, where he would go after his resurrection in order to prepare rooms for his followers. Then he would return one day to take his believers to be with him in heaven. The day of that return usually has been regarded as the Second Coming.

The other view is that the passage primarily speaks of the believers’ immediate access to God the Father through the Son. The “place” Jesus was preparing has less to do with a location (heaven) as it had to do with an intimate relationship with a person (God the Father). This interpretation does not deny the comfort of heaven’s hope in this passage, but it does remove the temptation to view heaven purely in terms of glorious mansions. Heaven is not about splendid accommodations; it is about being with God. The point of the passage is that Jesus is providing the way for the believers to live in God the Father. As such, the way he prepared the place was through his own death and resurrection and thereby opened the way for the believers to live in Christ and approach God.

According to this view, the Father’s house is not a heavenly mansion, but Christ himself in whom all the believers reside. By expansion, the Father’s house is Christ and the church (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:20-22; Hebrews 3:2). The believers don’t have to wait until the Second Coming to live in this house; once Christ rose from the dead he brought them into a new, living relationship with God (see 20:19-23). He would be the means whereby the believers could come to dwell in the Father and the Father in them. As such, the promise in 14:2-3 relates to the corporate fellowship that would be possible through Christ’s departure and return in the Spirit. In this view, the “many rooms” would be the many members of God’s household. Christ went to prepare a place for each member in God’s household (1 Chronicles 17:9)—the preparation was accomplished by his death and resurrection.

When we face troubling times we often feel overwhelmed by fear, doubts, grief, and conflict. Our outer resources may evaporate and our inner strength may prove inadequate. Though faced with possible or certain failure, we have assurances in Jesus’ words to remain calm and hopeful:
l God is trustworthy, and he has sent Christ, who is also trustworthy, to us. No one else deserves our trust.
l God has a gracious welcome and plenty of space in his “house.” We need not fear exclusion or separation from him.
l Jesus spoke the truth. His description of the future was realistic. He has never been proven wrong. We can rely on both Jesus’ teaching and his promises.
l Jesus did exactly what he said he would do, return to the disciples after the Resurrection. In so doing, he guaranteed our entrance into God’s presence and our place in God’s house.
l Jesus is always with us, and someday we will be face to face with him. Whatever the future holds, Jesus promised to be our companion. We know who Jesus is and how much he loves us.

The Greek word for “rooms” (monai) could be better translated “abodes” because it shares the same root as the Greek word for “abide” (meno). It simply means “a dwelling place.” The word mansions in the nkjv is misleading because it connotes spacious, luxurious houses. Incidentally, early in church history Origen made popular a similar belief that Jesus was speaking of “stages” or levels of heaven, through which believers advanced as they continued to “develop.” But Jesus’ words imply no value judgment between “rooms.” The “prepared place” is with Christ.

“If it were not so, I would have told you.”NKJV Jesus’ words give us great encouragement. Throughout his life he had warned the disciples of opposition (see 16:2). He never held back the truth from them. Because he always told the truth, we can trust him with our future as well.

14:3 “I go and prepare a place for you.”NKJV According to what has been discussed in 14:1-2, there are two ways to understand this statement. Either Jesus was speaking of preparing heavenly dwellings for the future life of the believers, or Jesus was preparing the way for the believers to live in God. Of course, the two views are not mutually exclusive. Now, we live in God because of our living relationship with Christ; in eternity we will live with Christ in the glory he shares with the Father. Eternal life begins in Christ now, not just at some future date when we get to heaven.

In either interpretation, Jesus offers spiritual comfort that begins immediately when we believe. And his Father’s many-roomed house represents gracious welcome and provision for us as we live in union with him.


There are few verses in Scripture that describe eternal life, but these few verses are rich with promises. Here Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and “I will come again.” We can look forward to eternal life because Jesus has promised it to all who believe in him. But we can actually begin to enjoy eternal life now, for it became ours the moment we believed in Jesus. We can live today with a new destiny in mind. Although we do not know all the details of eternity, we need not fear because Jesus is preparing us to share with him the eternity that he and the Father have prepared for us.

“I will come again and receive you to Myself.”NKJV There are three ways to understand this: (1) Jesus’ coming again to the disciples would be realized in a short while. This is confirmed by 16:16, “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (nkjv)—note the similar use of again. When Jesus said, “I will come again,” that coming again occurred on the day of his resurrection. (2) Jesus’ “coming again” is the Second Coming. (3) This “coming again” refers to both the Resurrection and the Second Coming—the former foreshadowing the latter. Those who hold this view, therefore, extract a double meaning from Jesus’ words in verses 2 and 3; they say the passage speaks both of the believers being brought into the risen Christ as the many “rooms” in the Father’s house, and of the believers being brought by the returned Christ into the Father’s house in heaven. It does seem that both meanings merge. Christ has us completely in his care.

  1. HIS ARREST AND TRIALS. (Matt. 26:36-46).

(Matthew 26:36-46)  “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” {37} He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. {38} Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” {39} Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” {40} Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. {41} “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” {42} He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” {43} When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. {44} So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. {45} Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. {46} Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!””

26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”NRSV After eating the meal, the disciples left Jerusalem and went out to a favorite meeting place (Luke 22:39; John 18:2). This gardenlike enclosure called Gethsemane, meaning “olive press,” was probably an orchard of olive trees with a press for extracting oil. The garden was in the Kidron Valley just outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem and just below the Mount of Olives. Jesus told eight of the disciples to sit down and wait, probably near the garden’s entrance, while he went farther in to pray. The disciples must have been physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to comprehend what would transpire. Instead of watching, however, they gave in to their exhaustion and fell asleep.


When pressed with a difficulty, what’s your first instinct: blame your mom? blame your kids? call 9-1-1? Jesus prayed.

When you’re sick with grief, worry, or guilt, prayer should be first on the list. In prayer, you settle things with God, and God strengthens you. It takes the sting from an emergency. It shares the burden with a big-shouldered friend. Pray first, especially when trouble is close at hand. Pray with others. There you will find strength and support.

26:37-38 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”NIV Jesus then took the other three disciples, his inner circle (Peter, James, and John), farther into the garden with him. To these closest friends, Jesus revealed his inner turmoil over the event he was about to face.

Jesus was sorrowful and troubled over his approaching death because he would be forsaken by the Father (27:46), would have to bear the sins of the world, and would face a terrible execution. The divine course was set, but Jesus, in his human nature, still struggled (Hebrews 5:7-9).

His coming death was no surprise; he knew about it and had even told the disciples about it so they would be prepared. Jesus knew what his death would accomplish.

He also knew that the means to that end would mean taking upon himself the sin of the world, alienating him, for a time, from his Father who would be unable to look upon sin: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 niv).

Jesus bore our guilt by “becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13 niv). As the time of this event neared, it became even more horrifying. Jesus naturally recoiled from the prospect.

Early in Jesus’ ministry Satan had tempted him to take the easy way out (4:1-11); later Peter had suggested that Jesus did not have to die (16:22). In both cases, Jesus had dealt with the temptation soundly. Now, as his horrible death and separation from the Father loomed before him, he was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.

So he asked Peter, James, and John to stay with him and keep watch. Jesus knew Judas would soon arrive, and Jesus wanted to devote himself to prayer until that time came. Jesus also wanted them to stay awake and participate with him in his suffering.

Spiritual vigilance is a vital part of discipleship and a key theme in this book. Jesus wanted these disciples to understand his suffering and to be strengthened by his example when they faced persecution and suffering.

26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”NKJV Jesus went still farther into the garden to be alone with God. His agony was such that he threw himself on the ground before God in deep spiritual anguish, praying that if possible let this cup pass—in other words, he was asking the Father to let the mission be accomplished some other way not requiring the agony of crucifixion, when he would become sin and be separated from the Father.

In the Old Testament, “cup” stood for the trial of suffering and the wrath of God (Isaiah 51:17). So Jesus referred to the suffering that he must endure as the “cup” he would be required to drink. Yet Jesus humbly submitted to the Father’s will. He went ahead with the mission for which he had come (1:21).

With the words “let this cup pass from Me,” Jesus was referring to the suffering, isolation from God, and death he would have to endure in order to atone for the sins of the world.

We must not think that it was the fear of death that made our Lord so agonize in the Garden. He did not fear death, but faced it with courage and peace. He was about to “drink the cup” that His Father had prepared for Him, and this meant bearing on His body the sins of the world (John 18:11; 1 Peter 2:24). Many godly people have been arrested, beaten, and slain because of their faith. But only Jesus experienced being made sin and a curse for mankind (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). The Father has never forsaken any of His own, yet He forsook His Son (Matt. 27:46). This was the cup that Jesus willingly drank for us.

Jesus was not wrestling with God’s will or resisting God’s will. He was yielding Himself to God’s will. As perfect Man, He felt the awful burden of sin, and His holy soul was repelled by it. Yet as the Son of God, He knew that this was His mission in the world. The mystery of His humanity and deity is seen vividly in this scene.


In times of suffering, people sometimes wish they knew the future, or they wish they could understand the reason for their anguish. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him, and he knew the reason.

Even so, his struggle was intense—more wrenching than any struggle we will ever have to face. What does it take to be able to say “as God wills”? It takes firm trust in God’s plans; it takes prayer and obedience each step of the way.

This is the heart of true prayer and should be our basic response to trials. Trust God that his way is best, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

God did not take away the “cup,” for the cup was his will. Yet he did take away Jesus’ extreme fear and agitation. Jesus moved serenely through the next several hours, at peace with God, knowing that he was doing his Father’s will.


Some people believe their troubles are caused by bad people, bad germs, or bad luck. But Christians know that God rules, so we rightly make our appeal to his will, which

  • takes the bitterness out of the cup we may face, though it doesn’t always remove the cup. God’s will for each of us includes some pain, some loss, some struggle;
  • never breaks us or makes us feel hopeless or abandoned;
  • always assures us of God’s presence and care; and
  • ever promises reunion and relief.

Take comfort in God’s will for you. Pray sincerely, “Your will be done!”

Jesus was not only asking that they pray for him, but also that they pray for themselves. Jesus knew that these men would need extra strength to face the temptations ahead—temptations to run away or to deny their relationship with him.

“Enter into” could also be translated “fall into.” Jesus wanted the disciples to pray that their faith would not collapse. The word “temptation” can mean testing or trial. Jesus wanted his disciples to pray for strength to go through the coming ordeal. The disciples were about to see Jesus die. Would they still think he was the Messiah? The disciples would soon face confusion, fear, loneliness, guilt, and the temptation to conclude that they had been deceived.

“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”NKJV Many have interpreted “spirit” to mean the “human spirit.” Thus, it would mean that while their spirit might be willing, their flesh would be weak. Their inner desires and intentions would be, as they had previously boasted, to never deny Jesus and to die with him. Their relationship with Jesus had made the disciples eager to serve him in any way possible. Yet their human inadequacies, with all their fears and failures, would make it difficult to carry out those good intentions. A willing spirit (see Psalm 51:12) needs the Holy Spirit to empower it and help it do God’s will.

Jesus used Peter’s drowsiness to warn him to be spiritually vigilant against the temptation he would soon face. The way to overcome temptation is to stay alert and to pray. This means being aware of the possibilities of temptation, sensitive to the subtleties, and morally resolved to fight courageously. Because temptation strikes where we are most vulnerable, we can’t resist alone. Prayer is essential because God’s strength can shore up our defenses and defeat Satan.

26:42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”NKJV Jesus left the three disciples and returned to his conversation with the Father (26:39).

26:43-45 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.NKJV Jesus came back once again to the three disciples and found them asleep again. Despite his warning that they should be awake, alert, and praying not to fall to the coming temptations, their eyes were heavy, and all three went back to sleep. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.NKJV Jesus continued his conversation with his Father, as before (26:39, 42). During these times of prayer, the battle was won. Jesus still had to go to the cross, but he would humbly submit to the Father’s will and accomplish the task set before him.

Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”NRSV Jesus went away to pray a third time, only to come back and find the disciples still asleep. After much time in prayer, Jesus was ready to face his hour, which conveyed that all he had predicted about his death was about to happen (see John 12:23-24). The disciples had missed a great opportunity to talk to the Father, and there would be no more time to do so, for Jesus’ hour had come. Thus, Jesus did not again tell them to pray. Jesus had spent the last few hours with the Father, wrestling with him, and humbly submitting to him. Now he was prepared to face his betrayer and the sinners who were coming to arrest him. “Sinners” was the term used for Jews who did not live according to God’s will and for Gentiles, who were viewed collectively as sinners because they didn’t live by God’s law. Jesus probably used the term to refer to the priestly authorities who were disobeying God in their treachery, and to the Romans who were participating in Jesus’ arrest, mockery, and death.

26:46 “Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”NIV Jesus roused the three sleeping disciples (and perhaps the other eight as well) and called them together. His words “rise, let us go” did not mean that Jesus was contemplating running. Instead, he was calling the disciples to go with him to meet the traitor disciple, Judas, and the coming crowd. Jesus went forth of his own will, advancing to meet his accusers rather than waiting for them to come to him. Jesus’ betrayer, Judas, had arrived. Judas knew where to find Jesus and the disciples because Gethsemane had been a favorite meeting spot (John 18:1-2). It was to this quiet garden in the very early hours of the morning that Judas brought a crowd to arrest Jesus.

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Posted by on March 24, 2022 in cross

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