Table of Contents
Part II: Embodiment: and Redemption
The Dying of Jesus Christ
Animal die NATURALLY by design,
Man now dies UN-NATURALLY by execution,
Jesus Christ died SUPER-NATURALLY by an act of will.
Man dies two
The Saviour of man must therefore also
suffer two deaths, first by dying spiritually as man dies
spiritually, and then by dying physiologically as man dies physiologically.
For such a Saviour both deaths are substitutionary, unique as
to their nature and cause, and unique as to their effect. If
the actual nature and cause of either death was the same for
the Saviour as it is for us fallen men, they cannot be
substitutionary because in our case both kinds of death are proof
of personal guilt.
Both dyings are acts of separation:
the separation of the soul or spirit from the divine presence
(which is spiritual death), and the separation of the spirit
from the body (which is physical death).
Let us consider these two dyings
of the Saviour in order that we may see how the Word of God makes
them entirely distinct and opposite in both character and effect
to the spiritual and physical dyings of man which have resulted
from Adam's disobedience.
I. The Spiritual Dying
of Jesus Christ
When man sins,
he does so by choice and he thus commits spiritual suicide. It
is an act of freedom: he elects to do it, and pays the price
accordingly. "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezekiel
18:4,20). Thereafter he is, spiritually considered, a dead man:
dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), dead towards God
whom he must now face not as his heavenly Father but as his Judge.
He no longer has the immediate access that he formerly had, and
as he matures in his fallen state the sense of God's presence
gradually declines, to be replaced by a surrogate god after his
own image and compatible with his own nature because of his own
From the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ he has effectively cut himself off, separated
himself as Isaiah 59:2 puts it until he becomes aware
not only of his isolation but also of his comparative indifference
to the loss. Paul describes this spiritual death as "eternal
destruction from the presence of the Lord"
(2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revised Standard Version).
But it may be asked, When did this
kind of dying ever happen in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The answer is, On the cross in those three hours of darkness
as indicated when He cried out in his extreme isolation
and agony of soul, "My God, My God! Why have You forsaken
Me?" For in becoming an offering for our sins, He had suddenly
experienced for the first time in the eternity of his being "destruction
from the presence of the Lord," a destruction which for
all He knew was final. It happened not by his choice (as it is
with us) but by imposition when He was made sin, when He became
guilty by imputation of all the horror and frightfulness of man's
wickedness since history began with the murder of Abel.
When this judgment fell upon Him,
it was as though the murder, the torture, the rape, the mutilation,
the degradation, and the utter cruelty of man towards man, became
in effect his responsibility. When all the diseased conditions
of man due to sin were laid upon his soul, He
assumed the responsibility
for them, being afflicted with our afflictions. It was a cup
He had anticipated with such horror in Gethsemane that He cried,
"Father, if You aree willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless,
not my will but Your will be done" (Luke 22:42).
Herein we observe the first fundamental
difference between his experience and ours. We become sinful
by choice: He, entirely against his will, willing it only in
the sense that He surrendered to his Father's will that
He should assume the burden of it. Thus every reference to this
experience of separation from the Father because of sin is described
by the use of the 'passive voice', signifying not a doing of
his own but something done to Him. It was imposed upon Him, not
assumed by choice, only by resignation.
Isaiah 53:4, 5 and 8 hammers this
home: "We esteemed Him stricken [passive], smitten of God
[passive], and afflicted [passive]. He was wounded [passive]
for our transgressions, He was bruised [passive] for our iniquities
. . . . He was cut off [passive] out of the land of the
living: for the transgressions of my people was He stricken [passive]."
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He was made a sin-offering for us,"
once again reflecting the same passivity.
And so it goes: always it is passive. In no way was his involvement
in our sins something He sought as though it might be pleasurable,
for pleasurable they can certainly be to us (Hebrews 11:25).
Whereas man becomes engaged in sin with a kind of eagerness,
the Lord faced the prospect with stark abhorrence. And when the
pall of guilt fell suddenly upon his soul, He cried out in desolation,
yet no longer to his Father but to a righteous God who now stood
as his Judge. When the darkness of sin enveloped Him as He bare
our sins in his own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), his cry
of despair was a cry of one totally forsaken. He was indeed cut
off, though not for Himself (Daniel 9:26), cut off out of the
land of the living and counted among the spiritually dead.
cannot really have the slightest conception of what this experience
meant to One who was completely without sin. It was a sudden
total defilement. We ourselves are already sinful and when we
compound the evil by further sins we feel little shame because
we are inured to its effects. To Him it was truly his first personal,
and only personal, experience of guilt.
Now I know that any illustration
from my own life will not really help here. Nevertheless I once
experienced the impact of sudden contamination in a small way.
At the time, I was comparatively "innocent" in the
sense that any grown man may be innocent who has not yet had
opportunity or occasion to be much else. I do not believe I had
ever committed any "great" sin up to that time. My
conscience was free, and inwardly I felt clean. I had been the
Lord's child for some years and had an active ministry with young
people which, I may add, continued for many years after this
But as a consulting engineer I
had been unduly charmed by a member of the administrative staff
where I was working. One lunch time, I found myself alone with
her in my part of the building and in a moment of idiocy I kissed
her. I may say she was quite unresisting. It would, I'm sure,
have been viewed as a very small thing by many of my friends,
certainly by my worldly ones. But I immediately fled from my
office and out of the building and walked quickly along back
streets in an attempt to be alone. It was lunch hour, and I had
to escape. I felt utterly, utterly sick and inwardly defiled.
I was appalled at what I had done. This is simply how I felt
about it. I felt diseased, contaminated, self-condemned.
I cannot put into words how the
shame and sense of sinfulness flooded over my soul. It was springtime
outside, but in my heart it was a cold, miserable gloomy day:
the sun seemed to have gone in, the buildings looked drab and
empty, the world was cloudy and hostile. I walked with my head
on my chest and my spirit broken. I felt sick
enough to vomit on the
street. I was truly appalled and felt certain my future was ruined,
my job in jeopardy, and every man must be ashamed for me. I felt
a terrible need to tell someone what I had done, to confess and
weep over it all. I cannot fully express today the darkness in
my soul for the next hour or so until gradually my sense of the
Lord's presence was recovered and I went back to my office a
sober and a chastened man.
Somehow the Lord graciously covered
it all. In a fallen world such an act would hardly cause a stir,
I suppose though for me it had been a devastating experience.
It all happened so quickly, unplanned, unpremeditated, unexpected.
It was like being plunged suddenly into icy cold water.
If a man, already fully aware of
his own fallen nature, can be so devastated by such an act, what
must have been the effect of the defilement of sin upon the Lord
Jesus in view of his matchless perfection and purity and holiness?
Any first scratch on a new car, any first mark on a new cabinet,
any first water stain on a new wall or ceiling, is distressing
in a special way. What would the first impact upon his soul be
as sin was laid upon Him? When He suddenly became identified
and responsible personally for all the sins of human history
in their total appalling immensity, the effect must have been
I think that when we are told He
bore our sins, we are to understand that He really in his own
heart and mind became consciously guilty as though He had really
committed these things. The effect of such a consciousness would
be multiplied infinitely by the very sensitivity of his nature
and his ability to identify so immediately with the effect of
sin in the world around Him.
When the blow fell, his Father
turned from his beloved Son and forsook Him in the darkness of
his hell while the very light of day failed and plunged the world
around Him into unnatural darkness. And for how long? For three
hours? No, surely not, but for an experienced eternity.
clocks ticked on for three hours of
course, but the passage of time for Him was swallowed up in the
now-ness of the intensity of that suffering. All sense
of the passage of time, all that might have signalled to his
consciousness that the end was near, must have been eclipsed
entirely. What was experienced began to occupy an eternity.
As Luther put it, with his characteristic
bluntness, "Christ was accursed, and of all sinners the
greatest. My sins caused Thee, dear Lord, to bear the wrath of
God and become a curse, to taste the anguish of hell and to endure
a bitter death. . . . Christ had to feel in his innocent
tender heart God's wrath and judgment against sin and to taste
for us eternal death and damnation, and in a word, to suffer
all that a condemned sinner has deserved and must suffer forever."
Jonathan Edwards wrote about the
matter thus: "Sin must be punished with an infinite punishment
. . . the majesty of God requires this vindication. It cannot
properly be vindicated without it, neither can God be just to
Himself without this vindication." (121) Satisfaction for sin demands equal penalty, and not
until that penalty had been paid in full did the Father turn
his face to his beloved Son again.
It has been found that the Greek
word which we recall so well in the translation "it is finished,"
was written across the bottom of Statements of Account in ancient
Greece, and clearly meant PAID IN FULL! (122) This cry, "Paid in full!" was therefore
a cry of triumph, marking the end of his spiritual dying, an
end which He could not possibly have foreseen so long as He was
locked into the agony his suffering entailed. And because no
end had been foreseeable, it had been effectively experienced
as an eternity. *
was all over. The sun broke through the gloom, the fellowship
of the Father was his again; and the
120. Luther: quoted by A. B. Macaulay, The
Death of Jesus, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1938, p.138.
121. Edwards: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Edward Hickman,
London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, vol. II, p.565.
122. Tetelestai: see J. H. Moulton & G. Milligan,
Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament: Illustrated from the
Papyri and Other Non-literary Sources, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,
* How a mere three hours by our clocks could for Him be an eternity
is explored is depth in the author's Journey Out of Time.
"My God!" of
that black night became the "My Father" of his last
spoken words from the cross as He commended his spirit into his
Such was the spiritual death that
the Lord Jesus Christ experienced as Man and for man,
that the way might be opened for the forgiveness of man's sins.
All that is asked of the sinner now is that he believe this and
accept this spiritual death of the Saviour as a full, perfect
and sufficient sacrifice and satisfaction for his sins.
In this death, He had died for man's SINS. There yet remained
a dying for man's SIN. *
II. The Physical Dying of Jesus Christ
We have observed that when man dies spiritually his
death is the direct result of an action deliberately undertaken.
To act sinfully is pleasurable, at least in anticipation. Sometimes
it seems almost as though this would be the definition of what
is sinful "that which gives pleasure"!
Whatever the form our particular sins
happen to take (and for each individual they differ according
to personal preference!), sins are freely engaged in even though
we may sometimes persuade ourselves that we are "doing it
against our will." We all die spiritually or better,
we all destroy ourselves spiritually, by active choice.
Spiritual death for man is indeed a form of suicide because it
* As man lives two lives, So he dies two deaths.
In both realms, the physical and the spiritual, the effect of
the Fall was to introduce death. SIN brings death of the
body: SINS, the death of the spirit. SIN is now the cause of
physical death, and it is the root of SINS of the spirit. SIN
is to be taken away (John 1:29), put away (Hebrews
9:26), and cleansed (1 John l :7), but not forgiven; whereas
SINS are forgiven. Accordingly, on the Day of Atonement
two goats were "sacrificed," the one as a SIN
offering (Leviticus 16:9), the other (the scapegoat) for the
SINS of the people.
In the theology of the Epistles, the distinction
is constantly being assumed. John Calvin recognized this and
commented on it succinctly (Institutes, Bk. 2, ch.1, sect.
5). Peter Lange in his Commentary on Holy Scripture (Romans
vol. x, Zondervan reprint, p. 176, col. a.) has a most useful
excursus on the subject. Griffith Thomas points out that "The
Bible distinguishes between SIN and SINS, the root and the fruit,
the principle and the practice; and Article II of the Thirty-Nine
Articles teaches that our Lord's atonement covers both
of these" (Principles of Theology, Baker reprint,
On the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ became involved
in our sins with a perfect hatred, so fulfilling Psalm 139:22
in its deeper sense. For Him it as a far more dreadful involvement
than the experience of physical death because spiritual death
is a kind of continuous dying whereas physical death is normally
a once-only experience.
For Him spiritual death was a totally
unwilling involvement, something undertaken with horror. For
Him it was an execution. But now He must also undertake to experience
the "tasting" of physical death in order to
complete his work.
Here we have a total reversal.
For men, spiritual death is a form of suicide but physical
death is clearly an execution. For the Lord spiritual
death was clearly an execution, whereas his physical death
was effectively a kind of suicide. Such is the contrasting
position of the two Adams in their two kinds of dying. Let us
look at the evidence for this statement.
First of all, we have to bear in
mind that while, by reason of his Incarnation He had made Himself
vulnerable and could therefore have been killed by accident or
by human hands at any time had this been allowed of God (see
Matthew 4:6 and John 19:11), He had nevertheless by his supernatural
conception escaped the mortogenic factor that we all inherit
which brings us inevitably to the grave. He was, therefore, truly
in the position that it was quite possible for Him never to have
experienced death at all. After being transformed on the Mount
of Transfiguration, He might have gone on into glory without
ever passing through death and never have returned to his earthly
life. Instead, He came down from the Mount, and did so specifically
that He might taste of death.
But to what extent does the New
Testament support the view that his physical death was wholly
without compulsion, a dying of active choice and not merely a
willingness to be put to death, a deliberate dismissal of life
without any external or circumstantial constraint
in the process?
The New Testament witnesses to
this extraordinary fact in a number of remarkable ways that have
largely remained unrecognized in commentaries of the past century
or so but which were clearly perceived by the earliest of the
Church Fathers and by not a few of the earlier Reformers. Perhaps
the reason for this comparative silence on the matter today is
that it is difficult to state the case with clarity and precision
without labouring the point, and to labour such a truth has something
of impropriety about it. Perception of the truth has to be left
largely to the reader.
are three points of view from which his death can be considered:
1. as an HISTORICAL fact: 2. as a MORAL fact: and 3. as a THEOLOGICAL
fact. These three conceptual points of view can be treated quite
separately and are so indicated in Scripture.
The HISTORICAL View.
In the simplest terms, Jesus Christ was crucified
and slain. It may seem rather unnecessary to
emphasize the order of these two words, crucified and
slain, since it seems so obvious that crucifixion was
a mode of capital punishment. But in point of fact the phrase
is rarely found in Scripture in that order, since in Jewish practice
condemned men were not crucified and slain, but slain
first and then crucified afterwards. Crucifixion was performed
by the Jewish people for the sole purpose of shaming the dead
and never as a mode of execution.
Crucifixion is generally considered
to have been a Carthaginian invention, and was used there as
a form of maximum punishment, inflicting death with the greatest
possible cruelty. Not the least element of cruelty was the extraordinary
time of survival on the cross before death overtook the victim
and freed him from his agony. Both men and women have endured
crucifixion for up to nine
days before death has
set them free. In some cases men so crucified have remained there
alive long enough for birds to peck out their eyes; and they
were of course totally unable to defend themselves. It was a
truly awful form of execution.
The Romans had adopted this form
of punishment for treasonable offenses and for even lesser offenses
among commoners. But in Palestine they had been persuaded by
the Jewish authorities to make a concession. It became permissible
to kill the victim before the end of the Jewish day (which came
at 6 p.m.) in order that the body might not be left on the cross
beyond sunset. The Jewish people had long practiced crucifixion
or as the Old Testament has it, "hanging on a tree";
but the Mosaic Law had forbidden the retention of the body on
the cross after sundown in order that the land be not defiled
(Deuteronomy 21:22, 23). Burial of some kind was required before
the day's end. As a consequence, the victim's death had to be
ensured before sundown and this was carried out by the simple
device of breaking the legs presumably to induce a form of suffocation,
the whole weight of the body being thrown on the shoulders and
However, the Jews themselves never
once crucified men alive as far as we know. For them, it was
never a form of execution, though it had been practiced for centuries
all around them. Prior to the Roman occupation, it had always
served the sole purpose of desecration of the dead. *
The order of events is always the same: first slaying, and then
In their view, and according to
Mosaic Law, any person thus "hung on a tree" was doubly
cursed: cursed by society, and cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23).
And in the Lord's case, there is no question that the Jewish
* This fact is amply borne out by reference
to such passages as the following: Joshua 8:29; 10:26; 2 Samuel
4:12; Genesis 40:19 (from Egypt); and in the New Testament, Matthew
the common people to
see that Jesus, by the very fact of his crucifixion, had been
accursed of God thus effectively undermining any
claim He might have made as their Messiah. The very fact of crucifixion
totally invalidated any such claim.
But there was another very important
reason why crucifixion was necessary for the Lord, and why no
other form of execution would have served God's purposes. He
had to die TWO kinds of death, and his execution had therefore
to be sufficiently prolonged that He could fulfil both while
in this position of condemnation. Just as there had to be two
goats on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus16) in order that these
two kinds of death might be accomplished one the "sending
away" to the wilderness of the scapegoat which foreshadowed
the hours of darkness on the cross, the other the shedding of
the blood of the second goat which foreshadowed His physical
death on the cross so there had to be time for the
accomplishment of these things on Calvary: time for both kinds
of dying of the Saviour.
In any one of the then current
Jewish forms of capital punishment (strangling, beheading, stoning,
etc.), only a miracle could have kept the Lord alive to
perform these two functions of the Atonement, occupying as they
did several hours. As it turned out, it was only by a miracle
that He died when He did and this solely because He
was condemned to be crucified. No other setting for his
dying could have accommodated these things which were essential
to make his total sacrifice truly an offering for SINS and an
offering for SIN; and in that order.
It was not, therefore, the crucifixion
that really ended his life. He died ON the cross, but not FROM
crucifixion. The cross was the occasion but not the cause of
his dying. He was dead within less than six hours, a circumstance
almost unheard of. The minimum time to death by crucifixion has
been established by some writers of that time as about 32 hours,
or over five times as long. It is therefore no wonder that the
centurion in charge of the crucifixion
detail was so amazed
(Mark 15:39), and that Pilate also was incredulous (Mark 15:44)
that He was so soon dead. Both were Romans: both probably had
had considerable experience in such matters. To them it was a
most exceptional circumstance.
The MORAL View.
How, then, does the New Testament describe this extraordinary
situation? Partly, as rather frequently in Scripture, by the
use of contradictory statements in order to arrest the attention
of the dedicated reader.
Thus when Peter preached his first sermon dealing with the Lord's
death, he accused his contemporaries of having by wicked hands
crucified and slain the Lord (Acts 2:23). But when he preached
his second sermon he again accused them of the same crime by
saying "whom you slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30)
this time, it will be noted, reversing the order. First
they had crucified and slain the Lord: now he tells them that
they slew and crucified the Lord.
In the first instance he
was stating what was historically the order of events
but in the second case he was giving the moral order of
events, which was in fact much nearer the truth of the matter.
For these same Pharisees had indeed already slain Him by the
time they demanded his crucifixion. They had hated Him and
in their hatred had effectively murdered Him, for hatred
is murder (1 John 3:15).
In fact, crucifying Him was not,
in their minds, to secure his death but rather to totally discredit
Him. Simply to have had Him deliberately put to death by Pilate
would have made Him a hero or a martyr. They may even have believed
that if He did die on the cross He would indeed have been proved
an impostor and thus their bringing Him to justice would turn
out to their credit.
With respect to Peter's transposition
of the words "crucified and slain," some versions have
passage in a way which
appears to contradict the sense of the King James Version. It
is translated "whom you slew by crucifying Him," thus
reconciling the second sermon with the first one. It is a possible
rendering. But it is actually contradicted by what we know about
the Jewish attitude towards crucifixion. They did not slay by
It will be noted that this reversal
of order is also to be observed in Acts 10:39. Here Peter again
contradicts his first sermon, placing death before crucifixion.
Yet to place death before crucifixion is simply to affirm what
is said elsewhere throughout Scripture of the order of events
in such a case. In Peter's hearing, the Lord Himself had said
that they themselves would be killed and crucified (Matthew 23:34).
From all of which I think it is fair to say that Peter's perception
of the matter had been sharpened as he had later reconsidered
some of the very specific statements the Lord had made to the
effect that no man was going to take his life from Him, but rather
that He was going to lay it down of Himself.
And so we come to the third aspect
of the crucifixion.
The THEOLOGICAL View.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke present their record of events
with little or no theological comment. John's Gospel is quite
different in this respect. It is in John's Gospel that we find
the words of the Lord, "I lay down my life for the sheep.
. . . Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down
my life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from
me, but l lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down
and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received
of my Father" (John 10:15, 17, 18).
The Greek of these verses is so
clear and straightforward and simple that it would make a beautiful
exercise for any beginner studying the language. One of the most
striking things about it is the repetition of the words, "I
lay down my life." This phrase occurs in verses 15 and 17
in verse 18. It is doubtful
if the Lord could have placed greater emphasis upon anything
He ever said to his disciples than He does by these simple words
"I lay it down of myself."
As I read these words, I see the
Lord trying to impress upon his disciples that in no way is his
life going to be taken from Him. He is going to die but it is
going to be his act. He will not die as other men have died under
compulsion. Nor will He merely choose the time when He will allow
other men to put Him to death. In the simplest possible terms,
the very act of dying will be his choice, regardless of
When John in his Gospel came to
record the Lord's death, he used a word never elsewhere used
in classical or biblical Greek for the death of any other man.
In John 19:30 we have these words: "When Jesus therefore
had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished, and he bowed
his head and gave up the ghost."
The impression one has from this
is that He yielded up his spirit under the pressure of circumstance,
even as Ananias and Sapphira are both said to have yielded up
their spirits. But the Greek word for "gave up" which
John employs in this instance is not at all the normal word used
for expiration. It is the word paradidomi * which means
not to surrender but to DISMISS. But
the other Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all employed
words which were commonly used in Greek to describe man's passing,
and indeed so did Peter in Acts. By contrast, Paul uses this
word paradidomi on a number of highly significant occasions
when speaking of the Lord's death, as will be seen by reference
to Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 4:19; 5:2 and 25.
When the Lord said He had power
to lay down his life, He made his point clear by adding, "and
I have power to take it again." It is obvious that while
any man may commit suicide i.e., has power to terminate
his own life,
* A full discussion of this point will be
found in Seed of the Woman.
it is equally obvious
that he does not have power to take it up again. The Lord had
the same power both to lay down and to take up or to put
the matter slightly differently, He was entirely in charge of
the process, both ways. He dismissed life by an
act of will, and by an act of will later re-engaged it.
Thus in his exercise of absolute
authority over his own life He did not give up his spirit in
the sense that other men give up theirs. He deliberately dismissed
it, and the transformation of his body from a living organism
into a dead body was so immediate that the centurion was amazed.
No wonder, therefore, that it was
a man in authority who could say to one under his command, "Go!
and he goes," who suddenly perceived that One far mightier
than he had been able to say to his own spirit "Go!"
and it obeyed immediately. Thus had this Man died, at his own
command and in no sense in obedience to a summons from any other
authority. He cried out in triumph, "It is paid in full!",
commended his spirit into his Father's hands, and deliberately
"blew out the candle." When the time came, it all happened
in a matter of minutes.
He had thus accomplish the
work his Father had given Him to do, partly in an eternity,
and now finally in time.
Thus, historically considered, Jesus was crucified
and slain. From the moral point of view, they slew Him
by their hatred and sealed it by a crucifixion. Theologically,
the cross was only a stage upon which the Lord Himself voluntarily
became his own executioner. These aspects of the crucifixion
which are so seldom spoken about in modern commentaries, have
been recognized from the earliest times.
Tertullian (c. 160 c. 215)
wrote that when Christ was crucified "at His own free-will,
He with a word dismissed from Him His spirit, anticipating the
executioner's work." (123) Two hundred years later, Methodius, Bishop of Olympas,
observed: "Christ chose death to which He was not subject,
that He might
123. Tertullian, Apology, chapter 21
in Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, Cleveland
Coxe in Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by alexander Roberts
and James Donaldson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, vol.III,
deliver them which were
the bondslaves of death." (124)
In 1886 Alfred Edersheim put the
matter this way: "His death, his resurrection let
no one imagine that it came from without! It is his own act.
He has power in regard to both, and both are his own voluntary,
sovereign, and divine act." (125)
In 1895 James Denney wrote a little
more extensively, saying, "If death was precisely the same
problem for Christ that it is for us, then the New Testament
way of speaking about his death is simply incomprehensible. If
the first Christians had been of this mind, the phraseology we
find in every page of Scripture could never have arisen. But
they were not of this mind. They believed that Christ was sinless,
and therefore that death, although included in his vocation,
had a unique significance . . . his death is a solitary phenomenon,
the one thing of a kind in the universe a sinless One,
submitting to [I would have said embracing ACC] the doom
of sin. It was his death, certainly, for He had come to
die; but it was not his, for He knew no sin; it was for us, and
not for himself that He made death his own." (126)
Fifty years later, John Murray
underscored what we have been saying as follows: "[The death
of Jesus] was unique because of the way in which He died. No
other died as He died. How can this be? All others die because
forces other than their own wrest life from them and sever the
bond uniting body and spirit. Not so Jesus on the accursed tree.
He was indeed crucified by others: He did not crucify Himself.
But when He died, He dismissed his spirit, He laid down his life:
He, in the exercise of his own agency and by the authority given
Him, severed the bond." (127)
between his dying and our dying can be illustrated by a series
of short antithetical statements, which can be documented from
Scripture either in the actual wording or as clearly implied.
They may be tabulated, though over-simplified, as follows:
124. Methodius: "Some Other Pragments
of the Same Methodius," Sect. III, translated by William
R. Clark, in Ante-Nicene Fathers: Fathers of the Third century,
edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, New York,
Chrales Scribner's Sons, vol.VI, 1911, p.401.
125. Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,
New York, Herrick & Co., 1886, vol.II, p.193.
126. Denney, James, Studies in Theology, Grand rapids,
Baker reprint, 1976, p136.
127. Murray, John, "The Death of Christ" in Collected
Writings, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, vol.1, 1976,
| We are subject to death .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . He became subject to death
| We are humbled by death .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . He humbled Himself
| We, like Paul, are "offered"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . He offered Himself
| We surrender to death .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He embraced it
| We relinquish the spirit .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He dismissed it
| We may choose the time to
die . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . He chose to die
| We can only shorten our lives
. . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . He
merely suspended his life, only to
re-engage it at will
| A few have raised the dead
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
||. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . He raised Himself
| Our death is passive,
something we suffer . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .
|His death was active,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . something He commanded
He died on the cross but not from it.
He may even have died
a ruptured heart,
not because of it.
things were both possible and meaningful because, in Augustine's
words, while it was "not impossible for Him to die,"
it was "possible for Him not to die." And these conditions
of his life in no way disqualified his nature as truly Man, because
these same conditions of life applied to Adam before he fell.
The significance of the miraculous conception is that by this
means Jesus Christ escaped the physiological consequences of
Adam's disobedience, namely, the inheritance of physical mortality.
Unless this had happened, the Lord's
death could only have been premature and not in any way vicarious.
He would have been, as some have even suggested, merely the first
Christian martyr. But his potential physical immortality certified
that his death was vicarious. And yet his body was still
truly a human body and He truly a representative of Man as the
Last Adam. There is a circle here of cause and effect which cannot
be broken and the organic unity of the Christian Faith
is critically involved in it.
Furthermore, He must not merely
be Man, He must
*In the light of 1 Peter 3:18. it might reasonably
be argued that He was "put to death in the flesh,"
making his death as passive as our death always is. If so, we
indeed have a contradiction of all the evidence to the contrary.
However, it is important to note that the Greek word thanatoõ
here rendered "put to death," can mean and is frequently
translated "condemned, or delivered up, to
die." It is so viewed in Mark 14:55 and Romans 8:36.
be God-made-Man. For
whereas one man may die for another man on the principle of balanced
compensation, were He only man no matter how perfect
He could not have substituted for more than one man. Only by
being more than man, and yet man nonetheless, could He make in
Himself a sufficient sacrifice not only for my sins but
for the sins of any man who will avail himself of it.
Moreover, the first man must not
only have enjoyed the potential of physical immortality but he
must also have possessed "original righteousness,"
by which is meant true moral freedom. The First Adam need
not have sinned even as he need not have died, and
thus the Last Adam was truly Man even though He never sinned.
Besides these things, Adam must
have had a sense of moral accountability which made him a unique
creature with a conscience towards God and the full capability
of recognizing the nature of sin and the rationale of judgment.
On these foundations was built a species, every member of which
is capable of redemption and able to perceive the rationale of
salvation as it applied to himself. Man is such a creature that
he can by grace recognize his need of salvation when fallen and
can embrace it by exercising the necessary saving faith.
These theological aspects of the
biblical record of what happened to the two Adams, both as to
their origins and their deaths, cannot be rationally integrated
into an evolutionary world view applied to man.
Whereas it is true that the
application of the redemptive process to the individual
depends on the nature of man's spirit, it is also true that the
manner of man's redemption has hinged upon the nature
of his body. For this body was originally such as to permit the
Son of God to be made Man in order to redeem man by his substitutionary
death while at the same time in no way violating or surrendering
his own divine nature. In short, man's sense of need originates
in the unique properties of his spirit, and his redeemability
hinges upon the unique properties of his body.
The theory of evolution applied to man makes a shambles
of this Plan of Redemption. As Kirtley F. Mather observed in
an article contributed to a volume of papers entitled Science
Ponders Religion which were edited by none other than Harlow
Shapley, "When a theologian accepts evolution as the process
used by the Creator, he must be willing to go all the way with
And I venture to say that no one can accept the evolution of
man and still hold firmly in a truly rational way to the Faith
once for all delivered to the saints.
very essence of its internal structure, the theology of redemption
is challenged by evolutionary presuppositions and any satisfactory
"wedding" of the two is logically impossible. The rationale
of the Plan of Salvation is based entirely on the concept of
balanced restitution, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, human life
for human life. This simple fact lies at the very root of biblical
H. G. Wells was perfectly
correct when he wrote in 1920: "If all the animals and man
had been evolved in an ascendant manner, then there have been
no first parents, no Eden and no Fall. And if there has been
no Fall, then the entire historical fabric of Christianity, the
story of the first sin and the reason for the Atonement upon
which the current teaching bases Christian emotion and morality,
collapses like a house of cards." (129) Such was the persuasion of a man who had no Christian
convictions, but was more perceptive than many who have.
In a similar vein James Orr
observed, "I do not think it can be sufficiently emphasized
that Christian truth forms an organic whole has a unity
and coherence which cannot be arbitrarily disturbed in any of
its parts without the whole undergoing injury. Conversely, the
proof that any doctrine fits in essentially to that organism
and is an integral part of it, is one of the strongest evidences
we can have of its correctness." (130) As will be seen in Chapter 18, it is a great pity
that a number of other stalwarts of the Faith have not
128. Mather, Kirtley F.,"Creation and
evolution" in Science Ponders Religion, edited by
Harlow Shapley, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1960, p.37.
129. Wells, H. G., Short History of the World, edited
by Raymond Poatgate, new enlarged edition, New York, Doubleday,
130. Orr, James, God's Image in Man, Grand Rapids, Eanimans,
applied this test in
their own thinking about the matter.
For many devout Christians today
who have adopted evolution in place of creation, the problem
lies in their unwillingness to extend the consequences of their
broadened faith. They can only live with the substitution of
evolution for creation because, while their knowledge of biology
is often profound in many respects, their understanding of the
organic unity of the Christian Faith has not been adequately
worked out and they are unaware of the real nature of its logical
structure and how impossible reconciliation really is.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Next
A single Old Testament
passage sometimes foreshadows a whole series of events in the
New Testament in a truly remarkable way. Thus in Exodus 12:57
we have the following words: "Your lamb shall be without
blemish . . . and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel
shall kill it in the evening . . . and when I see the blood I
will pass over you."
Accordingly, we have the Lamb identified
as "the Lamb of God" in John 1:29, brought to the bar
in John 18:30 and declared de facto "without fault"
in John 19:4 and 12, having been brought by the whole assembly
(Acts 4:27), and then "slain and crucified" (Acts 5:30)
"in the evening": and finally, the blood sprinkled
(Hebrews 9:1115) that the judgment of God may pass over