Part IV: Triumph Over Death
Though He were a Son,
yet learned He (the meaning of) obedience
by the things which He experienced,
and being made perfect
He became the author of salvation
unto all that obey Him.
brought to view man as God planned him to be. Adam was created
for that kind of manhood. And this potential, which in the First
Adam was lost, was fully realized in the Last Adam. He not only
made that manhood a reality, but by his sacrifice of it, made
our recovery of true manhood possible. This is the "apprehension"
Paul was striving to achieve (Philippians 3:12). It is this "image
of the Son" to which the Christian is to be conformed (Romans
The perfection of the Lord Jesus
as Man is the indispensable prerequisite for our redemption.
Unless He is MAN, He cannot be our substitute: and only
if He is perfect can He BE a substitute: otherwise He must bear
his own guilt. The perfection pertains equally to his spirit
as it does to his body. The perfection must be total. In Him
we see the potential of man realized fully ‹ physically,
spiritually, morally, intellectually. The character of the Lord
Jesus Christ as He walked across the stage of human history is
entirely uninventable. It is simply not possible to fashion such
a figure out of human imagination. As someone has put it, "The
creation of such an individual would be a greater miracle than
the fact itself." And Renan, skeptic
though he was, admitted
frankly that it would take a Jesus to forge a Jesus.
especially, but the whole of the New Testament also, are full
of illustrations or allusions to the sinless perfection of the
Lord Jesus Christ. Peter, who was the activist among the disciples,
could say with characteristic enthusiasm, "He did no
sin" (1 Peter 2:22). Paul, who was the thinker, could say
reflectively, "He knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).
John who seems above all to have loved the Lord so deeply (John
13:23 and 21:20) exclaimed with adoration, "In Him was
no sin" (1 John 3:5).
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He was without spot or blemish,
a Man among men, blameless in everything He did. In the presence
of the elite intellectuals of the times, He was flawless in all
his thinking. In a day when society in the Roman world was falling
as low in its moral standard as it had ever been, He displayed
a purity in Himself that was almost terrifying in its luminescence.
Added to this extraordinary spiritual quality of his nature was
his personal "presence." Men were awed by it. So powerful
was it that He could in righteous anger drive out the entrenched
and hardened moneymakers in the Temple precincts, overturning
their tables and spilling their greedy wealth on the ground ‹
and not one of them had the physical courage to oppose Him (John
Yet his humanity was perfectly
natural in its development. There was nothing of unnatural progress
in Him: He was first the child and then the man. He learned by
the experiences of life, and his understanding kept pace with
his years. Thus as a child we find Him being subject to his parents.
As a youth He learned his trade and knew the satisfaction that
comes from a thing well done. He knew that the yokes He made
would not be burdensome in themselves. Thus even as his bodily
development was perfectly natural, so was his character entirely
human in its expression according to his age.
When He reached manhood, his character
was tested in two ways: He knew the pressures that come from
the vulnerabilities of human flesh (weariness, hunger, thirst)
and the temptations constantly requiring one to choose the right.
"In all points" He was tempted, though always from
without, never from within.
At the very beginning of his public
ministry, after a particularly wonderful event when the heavenly
Father had audibly announced Him to be his beloved Son, came
a severe trial. For forty days He was tempted by Satan to use
"worldly" methods to fulfill his mission. We presume
that as Man He did not know exactly what was involved
in obedience to his Father's will. His temptations were real.
We are told that He "learned obedience by the things
He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Satan was vanquished in the
wilderness but he only departed "for a
season" (Luke 4:13).
Every situation presented a choice: and in every situation He
demonstrated complete obedience.
It was as Man that He displayed
perfect obedience. In the First Adam the experiences of life
had turned innocence into guilt and knowledge: in the Last Adam
the experiences of life had turned his innocence into virtue
What stands out in the Gospels
particularly is the unfailing demonstration of his moral and
intellectual perfection: in a word, his wisdom. For wisdom is
by nature a combination of intelligence and purity (James 3:17).
We are constantly amazed at his
extraordinary skill in dealing with the traps that were set by
his enemies as they sought to undermine his authority and neutralize
the exposure of their own miserable behaviour. They sought again
and again to place Him in what can only be described as "impossible
situations." And it must be admitted that they were very
clever about it. Yet He seemed always able with ease to turn
the tables upon them and discomfit them utterly. But, be it noted,
never by evasion of the real issues at stake and never by the
sacrifice of a moral principle.
Consider, for example, how He dealt
with the question of whether tribute money should be paid to
the Roman authorities or not (Matthew 22:17ff.). "Is it
lawful," they asked, "to pay tribute unto Caesar?"
They reckoned that if He should say, "No," they would
be able to accuse Him before the civil authority and thus have
Him arrested and put out of action. If however, He said, "Yes,"
they would turn at once to the crowds who were eagerly listening
and say: "See! He believes we must continue to be subservient
to these taskmasters who oppress us! Can such a man possibly
be our promised King?" He was, in short, on the horns of
a dilemma. This was not a matter of private decision to be wrestled
with in secret and answered later, or solved perhaps by a subterfuge
which might serve for the moment. The answer was demanded at
once in the full hearing of bystanders who stood ready to publish
And what did He say? He turned
to his detractors and asked them to show Him one of the
coins they used as tribute money, a coin indeed of Roman mintage
which was their accepted means of commerce. And when they produced
one, unsuspectingly, He asked them a simple question: "Whose
image and superscription hath it?" They replied, still not
realizing the trap they were getting themselves into, "Caesar's."
"Then," said Jesus quietly, "render unto Caesar
the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are
God's." How wonderful! How simple his answer, but how complex
its implications: and what a perfect rejoinder it was.
another example. As the end of his ministry drew near, He had
entered the Temple and for a second time cleansed it of the commerce
that continually blighted its spiritual mission. The authorities
were infuriated but really helpless to intervene, for what He
did was right ‹ and they knew it! So later on, they cornered
Him and challenged Him, saying, "By what authority doest
thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?" (Matthew
21:23ff.). And Jesus answered them, "I will also ask you
one thing, which if you tell me, I will in likewise tell you
by what authority I do these things. . . . The baptism
of John, whence was it? From heaven or of man?" And they
reasoned with themselves saying, "If we shall say 'from
heaven,' He will say unto us, 'Why then did ye not believe him?'
But if we say 'of men,' we fear the people; for all the people
hold John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus and said,
"We cannot tell." And He said unto them, "Neither
tell I you by what authority I do these things." A greater
than Solomon was here.
Consider one further illustration
which so impressed some of the bystanders that they never asked
Him any more such questions. In Luke 20:27‹40 is an account
of an incident in which the Sadducees (who did not believe in
any resurrection) came to Jesus and said ‹ and here I am
abbreviating this rather long passage ‹ "A man is required
to take upon himself the duty of husband to his brother's wife
if he should die prematurely. Suppose one brother after another
dies, after each has taken over this duty for the same childless
widow who has survived them all, whose wife will she be in heaven?"
Jesus said that there is no need
of marriage in heaven ‹ so the question is meaningless. Then
He added, "But touching the matter of resurrection, ye do
err. If there is no such thing as resurrection, how could God
be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which you yourselves
admit He is? He is not the God of the dead but of the living
and therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must be alive!"
It was then, we are told, that certain of the scribes observed,
"Master, thou hast answered well." What a tribute this
was from a group among whom were some of his bitterest enemies.
And we are told that after that "they dared not ask Him
any questions at all."
Never once had He failed to put
his detractors to flight ‹ not by ridicule nor by evasion,
but by what the Greeks would surely have called a sweet reasonableness
and an appropriate seriousness . . . their definition of the
ideal temperament in perfect man. They had to admit that He had
beaten them at their own game, effortlessly.
Perhaps the most crucial test of
all was that of which we have the details in the disputed passage
of John 8:1‹11. Admittedly, it is not merely prejudice but
scholarship that has, today, put a question mark
against these verses.
But surely, if there is any place in Scripture where we ought
to be guided by the spirit of a passage rather than its disputed
history in deciding whether it belongs in the canon of inspired
writings or not, it is here. It seems to me that the whole atmosphere
and feeling of this beautiful incident is so perfectly concordant
with all that we know of the Lord's dealings with men that it
should be included unless the reasons for its exclusion cannot
possibly be gain-said. And in this matter, we do know that the
reasons for its exclusion in some of the older manuscripts was
because of the feeling that adultery was being condoned. But
surely this is not so.
The passage is luminous with the
beauty of the Lord's Person, with the reflected graciousness
of God's mercy. And it provides us with such an unequalled example
of the meeting of righteousness and peace (Psalm 85:10) where
circumstances otherwise seem to stand so completely against it,
that it has the strongest possible claim upon our acceptance
It is hardly necessary to set forth
the details. A woman, taken in the very act of adultery and therefore
by Mosaic Law explicitly worthy to be stoned to death at once,
is brought before the Lord. "Moses said that she must be
stoned," they pointed out, "but what do you say?"
What could He say? There seemed
only one answer possible. She was proven guilty; she was not
denying it; she ought indeed to be stoned, there and then. But
can you imagine the Lord standing by while a woman, contrite
enough neither to deny her guilt nor to ask for mercy, was mutilated
to death (how else can one describe it?) by stoning, before the
very eyes of Him who was everywhere recognized for the quality
of his mercy? Yet how could He possibly consent? To consent would
be to deny mercy, even though unsought: to forbid was to undermine
the Law of Moses, divinely given and everywhere honoured ‹
even if only in the breach of it ‹ as the standard of God's
Jesus stooped down, we are told in verse
6, and with his finger began writing in the dust. What did He
write? Perhaps the names of her accusers? Jeremiah 17:13 may
possibly tell us something about this, for there it is written:
"O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall
be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in
the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain
of living waters." And was He not already identifying Himself
as that very fountain?
Consider the Lord's position here.
With men, forgiveness is the plainest of duties for we are all
in the same position of needing forgiveness ourselves. Not one
of us is "without sin." The righteousness of the law
does not rest with us and is not therefore in danger when we,
who are unrighteous,
overlook the unrighteousness of other men. But with God forgiveness
is the profoundest of problems. How can God forgive the
ungodly and still sustain the moral fabric of the Universe? How
can He be just and yet justify the deeds of the unjust (Romans
3:26)? How can He wink at any one sin without in that instant
destroying the whole basis of morality in every other area? To
forgive once merely as an act of mercy and without in
some way requiring the payment of a penalty is to destroy righteousness,
to abandon moral truth, to justify the unjustifiable, and to
remove all restraints against wickedness. What, then, could Jesus
do without betraying everything for which He had come to give
his very life?
Straightening Himself up He acknowledged
their verdict, for He said to them, "He that is without
sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." And
then He again leaned down and continued to write on the ground.
It is important to recognize that his words had a precise meaning
to the woman's accusers, for it was required by law that the
official accuser be the one to cast the first stone. Not
one person could bring himself publicly to claim the sinlessness
which the Lord had now made the sole justification for casting
this first stone. And so, one by one, as He continued writing
on the ground, they unobtrusively left the threatening circle
of men surrounding the woman, from the oldest to the youngest,
until not one of them remained. She was left alone in the midst
of the disciples and the curious crowd.
Jesus again straightened up, and
when He had looked around, He said, "Woman, where are these
thine accusers? Hath no man accused thee?" She replied,
"No man, Lord." And Jesus said unto her, "Neither
do I condemn thee: go and sin no more."
Surely here is a most beautiful
example of the extraordinary presence of mind of the Lord Jesus
Christ in a situation which must have appeared to the disciples
a moral impasse. In reflecting upon these wonderful demonstrations
of wisdom and moral courage, we have to remember that they represent
but a tiny fragment of what must have been occurring every day
of his active ministry. Whether it had to do with political relations
with Rome, the economics of the Temple services, doctrinal matters
among the religious parties, or with moral issues in society,
all were handled with complete propriety and superb finesse.
And, be it noted once again, never by evasion of the real issues
nor the sacrifice of a moral principle. Was there ever such a
man as this in human history! Was there ever a man so qualified
to be called upon in due time to judge the world?
We turn now to the matter of his personal
relationships which demanded not merely intriguing or clever
or intellectually satisfying
answers in the crucial
moments of human encounter, but righteous answers as well. And
not merely righteous answers but righteous responses. There
must be no excess but no waste either, no indifference but nothing
inappropriate to the occasion either: nor must there be any contradiction
in the over-all pattern of response. It must be all of a piece.
Our goodness is piecemeal, there is no consistency or wholeness
to it. It is always a patchwork. As Isaiah 64:6 puts it so accurately,
"All our righteousnesses (plural) are as filthy rags."
This is our way. By contrast, the righteousness of God, which
was perfectly expressed in the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of
truly human behaviour, was a garment woven in one piece. He is
"the Lord our righteousness" (singular: Jeremiah 23:6).
Look, then, at the moral glory of this Lord as witnessed
in some facets of his daily circumstances by the beautiful balance
and harmony of his judgments.
We see it in his relationship with
his mother. He knew when to acknowledge her claims upon Himself
whenever they were appropriate (Luke 2:51), to resist them when
they were sought inappropriately (Luke 8:21), and to recognize
them unsought when it became Him to do so (John 19:27).
In every need He perfectly suited
his response, rebuking any appeal that resulted from a lack of
faith (Matthew 8:25); but instantly meeting the need of a man
whose faith encouraged him to say, "Lord, if thou wilt,
thou canst make me clean," and He said at once, "I
will . . . be thou clean" (Matthew 8:2,3). He knew perfectly
when waste was justified and when it was not. With reference
to Mary who expended a costly ointment to refresh his feet, He
said, "She hath wrought a good work on me. . ." (Matthew
26:10), while rebuking those who suggested her devotion was wastefully
misplaced. But with reference to the thousands who had been miraculously
fed, He said, "Gather up the crumbs that nothing be wasted"
(John 6:12), where men would otherwise have taken no such steps.
He asked men to watch with Him,
as though to underline the reality of his humanness (Matthew
26:38): but never to pray for Him, as though He had need
of an advocate with the Father. Nor did He ever ask forgiveness
of anyone. But how could this be unless He never offended unrighteously?
The best of men are always those who are most conscious of their
own unworthiness and their need of forgiveness. We do not like
people who do this too often, perhaps because it reminds us that
we, too, ought to be asking forgiveness of one another. So in
a manner of speaking, confession of the need for forgiveness
is evidence of an inherent goodness. Never to ask for forgiveness
could be a sign of total PERFECTION ‹ or of total
DEPRAVITY. The verdict of history tells us that it was not total
depravity but perfect goodness in the case of the Lord Jesus
Christ. He never at any time showed
the slightest evidence
of pangs of conscience or the least awareness of having done
anything unworthy. Either He was perfect or He was unbelievably
evil. But we know that in the end, although men did their very
best to find whereof to accuse Him, they utterly failed in their
He never permitted anyone who was
unworthy to bear Him witness (Luke 4:41). This is a telling circumstance,
for the very best of men suffer from a certain prideful awareness
of their own public reputation and cannot resist accepting the
compliments of the less worthy. Were it not so, hypocrisy would
disappear, for hypocrisy is only the compliment which vice pays
to virtue and which the most virtuous among men, unfortunately,
are not unwilling to accept. The Lord Jesus never accepted
it unless those who proffered it also acknowledged his true identity
He never excused his actions, no
matter how badly misunderstood, even by his friends. When He
slept in the boat and a great storm arose to threaten its other
occupants, they cried out, "Master, carest thou not that
we perish?" (Mark 4:38). But He did not apologize to them
for sleeping: He merely rebuked both them and the storm, to their
utter amazement. When the crowd pressed closely around Him and
a woman with faith and a desperate need touched the hem of his
garment, He asked, "Who touched me?" His disciples
asked Him how could He possibly raise such a question in the
circumstances, but He did not answer them (Mark 5:30-32). When
upon another occasion, they found Him talking to a woman of Samaria,
a woman apparently of doubtful virtue, they did not dare to ask
Him why He was talking to her alone ‹ nor did He offer any
explanation (John 4:27).
When Lazarus died while He delayed
his coming, He made no attempt to explain his "failure"
to come to their aid in time, though Mary's observation ‹
"Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died"
(John 11:32) ‹ was certainly a pretext for just such an explanation.
One supposes that He might at least have satisfied her with some
"excuse" if only to give her peace of mind. We would
have done so, no doubt, even if we had to tell a lie. He did
not. He remained silent as to his reasons for delay. Yet He shared
Mary and Martha's grief very deeply (John 11:34, 35), even though
He knew He would be undoing the tragedy within the next few minutes.
The picture which emerges from
such silences is not, strangely, a disappointing one. It leaves
one only in amazement and wonder, and it reminds us so forcibly
of our own eagerness to excuse our actions because they border
so frequently upon the inexcusable, and we are insecure. This
was not true of Him.
We cannot hope to exhaust the testimony
of the inspired record which is like a treasure chest out of
which God is constantly allowing
his children to extract
new gems, and we know for a simple fact that the record itself
is only a tiny fragment of what might have been written had it
been the intention of God to make the record complete. As John
says at the very end of his Gospel, the earth itself could not
have contained the volumes which might have been written (John
21:25): while Luke said of his Gospel account that it was, after
all, only a beginning (Acts 1:1).
We have been
talking here about the Lord Jesus Christ as Man. His wisdom,
his power, his miracles, everything about Him as He walked among
men, was the unfolding of the potential wrapped up in and acted
out through truly human capacity. I think it wonderfully opens
up the record which we have of the Lord's doings in the Gospels
to bear in mind that so much of what He did was done as Adam.
He did not of course forgive sins in his human capacity,
but as God. But many of his miracles ‹ indeed, perhaps all
of them ‹ were the work of a Person who was acting as a perfect
man, and would have been possible for Adam (and his descendants)
to have done equally, if sin had not entered.
We know this from many passages
of Scripture. Nothing would have been impossible to perfect man
with a correspondingly perfect faith. It is our faith that proves
the barrier. This is clear enough from such broad statements
as Matthew 17:20; 21:21; Luke 10:19; John 14:12, and other parallel
passages. We could move mountains (literally) did we have perfect
faith. We simply do not know what a perfect man with a perfect
faith might have achieved ‹ we have only an inkling from
what we witness of the activities of the Lord. C. S. Lewis
rightly says, "Whatever may have been the powers of unfallen
man, it appears that those of redeemed man will be almost unlimited."
* It is true that man as he now is, even when he has been redeemed,
has powers far beyond what he displays. The trouble is that he
has not the faith "beyond imagining" which is prerequisite
to this greater display.
Does this sound
absurd? Well, consider Peter's experience of defying gravity!
In Matthew 14:22‹34 we have the account of the great storm
that overtook the disciples when the Lord had sent them on ahead
across the Sea of Galilee to return to Gennesaret after the feeding
of the five thousand on the opposite shore. As they toiled to
keep afloat, Jesus suddenly appeared through the blown spray
and the roar of the waves, walking on the water. They were naturally
afraid, for in such a situation a figure calmly riding out the
* Lewis, C. S., Miracles, New
York, Macmillan, 1947, p.140.
visible means of support
must have seemed like a ghost. But the Lord called to them above
the wind and reassured them while yet some feet from the boat.
Impetuous Peter, at once recognizing
his Lord and seeing the "impossible" being done, said
"Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water."
And the Lord simply said, "Come!"
Now the wonderful thing about this is
that Peter, in perfect faith, stepped over the side of the boat
and walked on the water also! By faith he, too, defied gravity.
But only so long as his faith was perfect. The moment he had
doubts, gravity began to take over and, being (like so many other
fisherman then and since) unable to swim, he cried out for help
as he began to sink. The Lord Jesus immediately stretched forth
his hand and caught him . . and rebuked him for his loss of faith.
Once his faith had failed, even the Lord could not help him except
physically by carrying his weight. He did not therefore
say to Peter, "Float, man, float!" It had to be Peter's
faith, and Peter's faith had collapsed.
Does this mean, then, that Peter
and you and I could, in an emergency, walk on water? Yes, I believe
it does, if we only had faith ‹ just as we could move a mountain
into the sea if we only had perfect faith. But, realistically,
we do not have that kind of faith as normal to our daily walk,
and we have therefore learned our limitations and, sadly, come
to accept them and live with them. But had Adam never sinned
. . . what wonders might we do, yet without surprise!
Consider the significance of another
somewhat similar event recorded in Matthew 14:15 f., just prior
to Peter's experience of walking on the water. Here we have the
story of the feeding of the five thousand. Notice how this miracle
was prefaced. First, we have the situation of several thousand
people far from any source of food and long after mealtime. The
disciples, for some reason, were anxious to have them sent away
before it was too late and the shops were closed. But Jesus said,
"They need not depart; GIVE YE THEM TO EAT"!
What a challenge. . . . But
they did not rise to it. The feeding of such a multitude was
clearly beyond their resources which were composed of five loaves
and two fishes. What they did not have were the resources
of faith. But I think that if they had really understood the
Lord's meaning and acted as Peter later acted in stepping out
of the boat onto the water at the Lord's command, they would
have performed the miracle which the Lord then performed for
them in multiplying their physical resources. For there is surely
no question that the Lord Jesus performed the miracle, not in
his role as God, but in his role as perfect man exercising
a perfect faith. Such faith is clearly creative.
Later on, in Acts, many such miracles
of healing as the Lord had
performed were indeed
performed by the disciples, too. Although for reasons which may
not merely reflect a diminishing faith, such signs and wonders
gradually declined as the years went by. Whether this was due
to a certain shift in the economy of God or merely a growing
coldness among God's people, is a point hardly to be considered
here. But certainly so long as the main thrust of the presentation
of the Gospel was to the Jewish people such signs and wonders
accompanied their preaching. Redeemed man obviously has residual
powers of which we have little experience. What of unfallen
man? To this potential of unfallen man we have the witness
of the life and work of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord Jesus
Christ was indeed Adam restored to view: not only as Adam, but
even as his descendants might have been if he had not fallen.
The humanity of the Lord Jesus had been tested in the crucible
of daily experiences in all kinds of circumstances ‹ but
He had learned perfect obedience. He could say
truly, "I do always those things which please my Father"
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Three times we are informed that
God was pleased with his Son, the Man Christ Jesus. When He was
twelve, at the time of the Passover He had stayed behind in Jerusalem,
and for two days Mary and Joseph anxiously searched for Him.
We read that, returning to Nazareth, He "was subject unto
them" and that as He grew in wisdom and in stature, He also
grew "in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:51,52). Thus
long after He had reached the age of accountability, He still
had not displeased his heavenly Father.
When He was about thirty years
old (Luke 3:23), He entered into his public ministry which was
initiated by his baptism. Once more, God declared that He was
well pleased with Him (Luke 3:22), attesting to the continuance
of his perfection.
Almost three years later, when
his public ministry had been tried to the full, Jesus one day
took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain top where, before
Moses and Elijah, the heavenly Father again affirmed that He
was well pleased with his Son (Matthew 17:6). He was now ready
for "graduation" into glory without experiencing death.
In Him, then, was Manhood as planned,
Man perfected to maturity, human nature finally and fully expressed
as God intended it to be in the first place. What the First Adam
might have become in an unfallen world, the Last Adam did become
in a fallen one. The innocence of the First Adam was destroyed
and his manhood lost by his disobedience. The innocence of the
Last Adam was turned into virtue and his manhood was made perfect
by his obedience. He was indeed a MAN altogether approved of
God (Acts 2:22).