Remember my preference

 

Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Appendixes


     

Part IV: Triumph Over Death

Chapter 32

Death By An Act Of Will

No man taketh (my life) from Me,
I lay it down of myself

(John 10:18)

He humbled Himself
and became obedient unto death.

(Philippians 2:8)

     Because man is a body/spirit entity, we suffer two kinds of death and accordingly need two kinds of redemption. Redemption is therefore not merely of the SOUL, but also the redemption of the body which is every bit as necessary for the salvation of the whole man (Romans 8:23).
    The Redeemer must assume man's place by experiencing both deaths. As the Redeemer must provide for the rebirth of the spirit that is dead in SINS, so must He guarantee the resurrection of the body mortalized by SIN. To die for our SINS only is but to half redeem us, and half a redemption is really no redemption at all. The penalty of SIN must also be paid.
    We have now seen how He assumed our SINS. Now we must observe how He assumed our SIN: that basic defect we carry in our bodies which we inherit by natural generation from Adam, and which brings upon us a physical death that was never intended and is wholly unnatural for us. The two transactions are clearly separable, and the termination of each marked by a cry from the cross that was not a cry of despair but a cry of triumph!

     pg.1 of 14     


     When after an eternity of appalling darkness and isolation, the debt of SINS was finally paid, the sun burst through the blanket of cloud and the Father's face shone again upon his beloved Son. Then the Lord Jesus Christ cried out in triumph "Tetelestai" - and the "My God! My God!" of despair became again the "Father" of restored fellowship. This wonderful word, TETELESTI, as Moulton and Milligan have shown from its use in Greek papyri of that day, was precisely equivalent to our PAID IN FULL stamped upon a cancelled debt!* How is it that such a grand truth, widely known for half a century now, is so seldom mentioned from the pulpit?
     It is true that this is a Greek word, and that the Lord almost certainly used Aramaic in ordinary conversation. But such a Greek term could very well have been commonly adopted into Aramaic as a borrowed word, much as we have adopted many French words into English like buffet, valet, cafe, and scores of other words. How better could He have conveyed the note of triumph? The debt of our SINS has been marked in bold letters PAID IN FULL. It is done. It is finished. . . .  And so it was.
     But there remains yet one more redemptive act to be performed. The body, too, must be redeemed. This was his second great act of triumph and it involved a wholly unique dying, a dying of a kind never seen before in history and never to be witnessed again. Let us turn all our attention now to the circumstances surrounding this second dying by which the Lord Jesus Christ completed his sacrifice and perfected our salvation.

     We have already considered what physical immortality means. "Not impossible to die but possible not to die." This was Augustine's description of the constitution of Adam as first created. Adam could have lived for ever without tasting death. If this had been said of any living organism a few years ago, it would have been considered as quite absurd: but today it is recognized among biologists as a simple reality for millions of living things below man. Few if any non-Christian biologists would hold that this might have been true of the first man: but Augustine undoubtedly had rightly interpreted the implications of the Genesis account of Adam's creation.
     And such was the position also of the Lord Jesus Christ. Virgin-born in order to escape the heredity of man's acquired mortal condition and therefore not made subject to the entail of Adam's disobedience and so destined to die as we are, He enjoyed a truly realizable prospect

* Moulton, J. H. and C. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Text: Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-Literary Sources, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1972, p.630.

     pg 2 of 14      

of living on for ever according to the potential of an endless life (Hebrews 7:16). Like Adam, He too could die: for He, like Adam, did die. But He, like Adam, need never have done so: and therefore his death could be a voluntary sacrifice of life made under no compulsion other than his own active will.
     When Adam disobeyed and ate the forbidden fruit, he did not merely shorten his life: he introduced death into human experience as something entirely alien to it. He deliberately rendered himself mortal and in due time paid the penalty of a body mortally wounded.
     It was quite otherwise with the Lord Jesus. For He never surrendered his immortality. But in due course, at a time of his own choosing, He deliberately embraced death, dismissing his life by an act entirely free of any compulsion save that of his own willed intention.
     Unlike ourselves, for whom life is contingent and must be surrendered in due time, the Lord Jesus Christ had life in Himself (John 5:26). The life which He enjoyed was not something borrowed for a limited period to be relinquished when the allotted term had become exhausted. In this respect his body was fundamentally different from ours, not different from Adam's body as created but different from ours as we are now constituted as descendants of a disobedient Adam. From the time we are born we are slowly dying from some kind of inherited poison; even probably from the time of conception. The Lord Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and was holy in Mary's womb (Luke 1:35). It was not so much his birth that set Him apart in this respect as it was his conception. And as the very beginning of his being as Man was supernatural, so was the termination of it on the cross. Conceived supernaturally, He died supernaturally.

     The death of Jesus Christ may be viewed in three different contexts. It was an historical event, it was a moral event, and it was a divine event.
     We have already explored the crucifixion from the strictly historical point of view, its ghastliness, its social function, its mode, its consequences for the individual, its religious significance in the light of Deuteronomy 21:23 and Galatians 3:13 in cursing the dead and, in the case of the Lord Jesus, in providing a unique stage upon which the redemptive process could be carried out.
    It is necessary to start here with its historical aspect because there are many passages in Scripture which seem to indicate that Jesus Christ was in fact killed, executed, in the process and as a direct result of human intervention in his life. And this in spite of his assurance that no man would or could take his life from Him.
    For example, Peter in his first sermon said, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you

     pg.3 of 14     

by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determinate council and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:22,23). And Peter repeated this in his first Epistle: "For Christ hath also 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).
     From which, along with the testimony of such other passages as Acts 5:30 and 10:39 (already examined), we gain the impression that He was indeed "slain." And we may wonder in what sense this could be true in the light of his own assurances to the contrary in John 10:18 which is most explicit.
     So we are driven to the conclusion that there was a moral aspect to his death that was quite distinct from the purely historical aspect, in which actual responsibility for his death was incurred by both Jews and Gentiles alike. From this perspective they are indeed morally responsible and in this sense we can be said to have slain Him. He was executed by the Romans as an expedient and murdered by the Jews because they hated Him.
     Yet from the divine point of view He was not slain at all! No man took his life from Him: He laid it down entirely of his own will. He did not merely choose the time when He would submit to man to destroy Him, a choice which even we might make. He actually chose to die a choice that is never within our power.
     He did not surrender to death as we are called upon to do when our allotted time is exhausted: He embraced death. Death conquers us: He conquered death. It conquers us because it is stronger than our will to live. He conquered it because He willed to die. He did not will to die as the man who is sick at heart may wish he were dead and prays for death to overtake him, or finds some artificial way in which to assist his own demise. Jesus simply dismissed life.
     We are by birth subject to death: He became subject to death (Philippians. 2:8). We are humbled by death: He humbled Himself (Philippians 2:8). We suffer death as a passive experience: He experienced death actively. Death happens to us, but it did not happen to Him. Death is always an accident in man but it was by no accident that Jesus died. There was nothing accidental about it. It was by an act of will that

* It should be noted that the Greek word used here can just as properly be translated "being condemned to death," or "being delivered up to death." The act of slaying may not necessarily be attached to the phrase only the fact of handing over for this purpose. For example, see Matthew 10:21, where the meaning cannot imply actual slaying. [See Rudolph Bultmann, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by C. Kittel, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, vol.III, p.21. So also Bagster, Analytical Greek Lexicon, under].

     pg.4 of 14     

He Himself terminated his life just as soon as He had truly finished the work that his Father had given Him to do as the Lamb of God. Death did not happen to Him, He "happened" it.

     Now we have, of course, four Gospels and each is different in its own unique way since only thus could all the dimensions of the Lord's Person and work be even remotely displayed. Three of these are termed synoptic because they seem to reflect a single point of view. There is a kind of down-to-earthness about them. The life of God-made-flesh is seen largely as man might have seen it. They are divinely inspired but human-point-of-view accounts, as it were. Events are set within a strictly human space-time framework. The fourth, by contrast, reflects another dimension, the timeless aspects of the Lord's Person and work. Accordingly, in dealing with the Lord's death on the cross, Matthew, Mark and Luke in referring to the fact of his actual death all use terms that are common to human experience but John does not.
    There are a number of words which may be used in Greek to describe the act of dying just as in English one may speak of a man as expiring, as breathing out his last, as giving up the ghost, or euphemistically as merely "passing on." And so forth. In Greek we commonly find such words used as: (aphiemi) as in Matthew 27:50 meaning "to give up"; (ekpneo), meaning "to breathe out" as in Mark 15:37 or Luke 23:46. Both of these words are essentially equivalent to the English expire. In the new Scofield Bible at Matthew 27:50 there is this footnote:

     The Greek words used here and in John 19:30 are unique in the New Testament. In 15 other Bible verses, 'gave up the spirit' or 'yielded up the spirit,' is used to translate a single Hebrew or Greek word meaning breathe out or expire. This is true of the description of the death of Jesus in Mark 15:37, 39 and Luke 23:46.
     But in Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30 alone these expressions translate a Greek phrase of two words meaning 'give over the spirit' or 'deliver up the spirit.' The death of Jesus was different from that of any other man. No man could take his life from Him except He was willing to permit it (John 10:18). Christ chose to die so that we might live.

     I have no desire to be unnecessarily critical of a footnote which serves thus to draw particular attention to one of the most wonderful truths in Scripture. Yet this footnote does require to be qualified. First of all, it is true that there are 15 passages of Scripture in which a single Hebrew or Greek word is used which means "to breathe out" or "expire" and which is rendered by some such phrase as "gave up the ghost." Although the footnote does not list these passages, according to my search they are probably the following:

     pg.5 of 14    

The Hebrew word (gava') occurs in:
Gen. 25:8          Gen. 49:33         Job 13:19
        25:17           Job 3:11                 14:10
        35:29                 10:18          Lam. 1:19

The Greek word ekpsucho occurs in:
   Acts 5:5, 10 (2x)            Acts 12:23

The Greek word ekpneo occurs in:
       Mark 15:37,39 (2x)       Luke 23:46

      So far, so good. The point at which the footnote could be misleading is in the statement that the Greek word used in Matthew 27:50 is unique in the New Testament. As it stands, the statement per se is correct: but the implication is not. The Greek word (aphiemi) certainly does often mean in biblical Greek "to send away," "to bid depart," "to send forth," but it also means to "give up" or "surrender." Thayer has a full statement on this verb. I think the implication of the footnote is that in applying this particular verb to the sending away of the spirit, Scripture is singling out the Lord's death as being unique in the sense that He deliberately dismissed his spirit as an act of will.
      I am absolutely certain that this is what the Lord did: but I do not think this truth can be established by reference to Matthew 27:50 because we have in extra-biblical Greek as well as in the Septuagint version occasions where the same phrase is used a propos ordinary human death. Thus in the Septuagint, Genesis 35:18 is rendered:"and it came to pass that in the sending away of her soul, for she was dying. . . ." A similar phrase occurs in the Septuagint rendering of 1 Esdras 4:21,  "and with his wife he sendeth away his soul. . . ."
     In classical Greek aphiemi, where followed by either the word for soul or spirit, is used of the death of mortal men as an example, by Aeschylus in his Tragic Poems written about 346 B.C., and earlier still by Euripides in his Tragic Drama, about 441 B.C.
     Thus, in itself, the wording of Matthew 27:50 does not prove so exceptional, being on occasion employed for ordinary death in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (written about 240 B.C.) and by classical Greek authors. These parallel passages do not by themselves signify that there was anything supernatural about the passing of those whose death is being recorded, and one could not therefore argue with absolute certainty that Matthew 27:50 necessarily implies something supernatural in the Lord's case, on this basis alone.   

     pg.6 of 14     


     What has been said of Matthew 27:50 applies with equal force to Mark 15:37 and 39 and to Luke 23:46. In these three verses it will be remembered that the Greek word is (ekpneo). This word is also used in Classical Greek with or without a noun corresponding to "breath" or "soul" or "life," for the death of ordinary human beings. For example, in his poem Agamemnon (line 1493) Aeschylus uses it; and Sophocles in his play Ajax (line 1026) uses it also.
     However, when we come to John 19:30 where the Greek word (paradidomi) is found, the situation is very different. Neither in Classical Greek nor in the Greek Version of the Old Testament is there ever found any occasion upon which this verb is used in connection with the word "soul" or "spirit" for the act of dying. Moulton and Milligan, in their study of New Testament words in the light of the papyri and other non-literary sources such as inscriptions, etc., have provided numerous examples of the employment of this word with its basic meaning of handing over or delivering, but no instance is given whatever of the word being applied to the handing over of the spirit in dying.*
 The same is true of Kittel and Bromiley in their massive 9 volume theological dictionary of the New Testament in which it is normal to find extra-biblical references listed at some length wherever they are available or shed fresh light on New Testament usage.
     The verb itself has a very specific meaning, namely, "to deliver up," and although this kind of "delivering" is used in a wide range of contexts such as "handing over (a torch)," "handing down (to posterity)," "handing over (to justice)," and so forth the implication is always and without fail a free-will transfer and not a surrender. This is as true in the Septuagint occurrences as it is in Classical Greek usage. In every case someone deliberately hands over something or somebody to someone else, and the thought of surrender is never found in the context. In the Greek rendering of the Old Testament, paradidomi is used, for instance, wherever God delivers the

* Moulton, J. H. and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1972, loc. sit.
Kittel, Gerhard and Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1973, vol.II, p.169.

     pg.7 of 14     


Israelites into the hands their enemies.* There is no question of God's surrendering the people against his will.      This same verb, paradidomi, occurs in John 19:30, and therefore signifies that the Lord's death was in no sense a surrender, as it is with us, but a unique form of dismissal.

     It is clear that in this last Gospel a new aspect of the Lord's death is presented which cannot be positively demonstrated in the other three Gospels. It is customary in certain circles to say that Mark's Gospel is really the earliest of the Synoptics. But there is, I understand, evidence that the order in which the Gospels appear in our Bible is in fact the correct one, and that Matthew was inspired to write his record almost immediately in order to provide the Jews of the Diaspora with an account of what had occurred leading up to the events witnessed at Pentecost when many of them had assembled in Jerusalem. At any rate, it is quite clear that Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their Gospels much earlier than John. Three of them recorded the Lord's death in terms which were commonly used. Perhaps they were not inspired to do otherwise partly because the full significance of the theological aspects of the Lord's death were not yet revealed at that time.
     But perhaps, also, in view of the nature of the four Gospels which present distinctly different portraits of the Lord in the first three of which He appears as an ideal representative of mankind in his role as a King, a Servant, and a Man respectively it was not appropriate to attribute to Him a power in his death which neither kings, nor servants, nor men can have. The situation is quite different in John's account, for the Lord is here presented as the Son of God whose goings were from everlasting and who was the Lord of life. Writing later than the three synoptists, John had more time to reflect upon the events of that terrible day and to see how impossible it is that mere man should presume to put God Himself to death. If the Son of God died, He died "under his own hand" not under the hand of man. On the Day of Atonement the goat of the SIN offering died under the hand of the High Priest. On the day of his dying, Jesus Christ was Himself both victim and High Priest.

* See, for example, Deut. 1:8, 21, 27; 2:24, 30, 31, 33, 36; Num. 21:2, 3, 34; Josh. 10:8, 12, 19, 30, 32, 35; and so on almost indefinitely. In Liddell and Scott's Classical Greek Lexicon, no instance is to be found of the word being used in connection with giving up the spirit or the soul. I have been able to find but one single instance of this particular usage in Hatch and Redpath's Concordance to the Septuagint, which lists 197 passages exclusive of the Apocrypha. The Septuagint of Isaiah 53:6 reads in English: "All we like sheep have gone astray: everyone has gone astray in his own way: and the Lord gave Himself up for our sins" [Bagster's Critical Edition]. In this translation from Hebrew into Greek, the italicized words represent the now familiar Greek word paradidomi.
     Perhaps it is not without significance that on precisely the same grounds, in what must surely be one of the most revealing of all passages of Scripture, Paul wrote, "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 delivered Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). Once again, we meet with the verb paradidomi.

     pg.8 of 14     


     As Paul neared the end of his life, he spoke of himself as "ready to be offered" (2 Timothy 4:6). But of the Lord Jesus Christ we are told rather that "He offered Himself" (Hebrews 7:27). Thus while Paul's death was indeed passive (he was probably martyred in Rome), the Lord's death was entirely active.
     When we become sinners, we become sinners actively, willfully, by choice. It is an expression of our will. On the other hand when we die, it is normally against our will. In the healthy individual it is seldom that death is desired even the aged cling to life.
     By contrast, when the Lord became a sinner in our place, He became a sinner unwillingly: unwillingly in the sense that to do so He suppressed his own will in obedience to the Father's. In Gethsemane He said, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done" (Luke 22:42). This sin-bearing aspect of his sacrifice for SINS was imposed upon Him, and "we esteemed him stricken (passive), smitten (passive) of God, and afflicted (passive). He was wounded (passive) for our transgressions, he was bruised (passive) for our iniquities. . . .  He was cut off [like the scapegoat] out of the land of the living: for the transgressions of my people was he stricken" (Isaiah 53:4,5,8). All is passive. In no way was his encounter with our sins something He sought except in the sense that He set Himself to do his Father's will.
     It is in this sense that we may most properly speak of his assuming the place of the sinner against his will and not because He Himself had the slightest desire to become sinful. Man, on the other hand, becomes sinful readily, almost with eagerness. It is our choice: it was not his. We become what we are because it is really what we want to be until we are born again as a new person with a whole new set of motivations. To sin is natural to us as we mature. To Him it was never anything but abhorrent.
     But in the matter of physical death the situation is exactly reversed. We die quite contrarily to our will, whereas He died precisely when He chose to do so. Even this is not an adequate statement, for we are still likely to suppose it means only this: that while we submit unwillingly to death, He submitted willingly.* The truth is far more profound. Death for us is a surrender, and it is in this sense that we submit, and submit against our will. Jesus Christ embraced death. He did not submit to it either willingly or unwillingly. The use of the word paradidomi in John makes this abundantly clear.

     This is borne out by John's use of the word in John 19:16 and 30. In the first instance we are told that Pilate "delivered up" Jesus to be

* Unfortunately, this is precisely what the note in the Scofield Bible at Matthew 27:50 suggests but it is not the case, fortunately for us.

     pg.9 of 14     


crucified, and in the last instance we are told that Jesus "delivered up" his spirit into the Father's hands. In a beautiful way, these two statements correspond to Isaiah 53:7 "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter," and to Hebrews 7:27, "He offered Himself." The Lord became both Lamb and High Priest: Sacrifice and Sacrificer. As Tertullian put it, "Christ when crucified spontaneously dismissed his spirit with a word, thus preventing [i.e., anticipating and forestalling] the office of the executioner."*  Origen observed that when life was no longer needed since He had now completed the work his Father had given Him to do, "the One who had the power of laying down his life, laid it down when He chose. This prodigy astonished the centurion who said, 'Truly this was the Son of God'."
      Origen was not alone in believing that the extraordinary circumstance of the Lord's actual dying was so manifestly exceptional that it convinced the centurion of its supernatural aspect. Jerome, in commenting on Matthew 27:50, likewise notes that when the centurion heard Him saying "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," and perceived that He immediately dismissed his spirit of his own accord, he was struck with the greatness of what he perceived to be something quite unique: a man commanding his own life to cease.
     The act of dismissal must have been clearly a command rather than a submission. The centurion, standing by, recognized it for what is was. It is entirely appropriate that a Roman who could say to one under his authority, "Go!" and he goes (Matt. 8:9), should now perceive that the Lord was exercising the same prerogative of authority. Thus he exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54). For who else could give such a command in such a circumstance and see it instantly carried out?
      Many others have struggled to find words to express the uniqueness of his death. John Murray wrote:

     [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

* Tertullian, Quintus, "Apology," Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, New York, Scribners, 1918, vol.Ill, p.35.
Origen: See William Stroud, The Physical Causes of the Death Of Christ, New York, Appleton, 1871, p.64.
Jerome: see William Stroud, ibid., p.64.
Murray, John, "The Death of Christ" in Collected Writings, Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1976, vol.I, p.37

     pg.10 of 14     


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, severed the bond.

     James Denny in 1895 wrote:*

     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 not 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, and presented a unique problem to Him. His death is a solitary phenomenon the one thing of the kind in the universe a sinless One submitting to 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.

      Alfred Edersheim sought to express the same profound truth by saying, "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 acts."
     We shall probably never be able to find language sufficient for this supreme event to which the whole of history before it and after it was prologue or epilogue.

     Once the great cry "Tetelestai" had rung out and the "O God!" of the agony of separation had been replaced by the beautiful relationship of the Son to the Father once more, there was no need for the Lord to sustain his life on the cross any longer. It is important to realize that all which had occurred during the past six hours, and the climactic event which was now to occur, was possible only because the setting for it, the stage, was crucifixion and not some other form of capital punishment. Centuries before this, God had been moving in history to set the pattern for a particular form of capital punishment which would provide just such a stage. The Chosen People were not called upon to initiate this cruel form of punishment, for it was not their invention as such. But they were led to adopt it in a different context as a means of desecrating a dead person that he might  

* Denney, James, Studies in Theology, Grand Rapids, Baker reprint, 1976, p.136.
Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, New York, Herrick, vol.II, p.139. He also wrote: "In the language of an early Christian hymn (by Scotus Sedulus, c. 855), "It was not Death which approached Christ, but Christ Death: He died without death. He encountered Death, not as conquered but as Conqueror. And this also was part of His work for us" (p.609).

     pg.11 of 14     


be rendered accursed of God. In due time the Jewish nation found themselves under the domination of a people who adopted crucifixion (not for Jewish reasons but for Gentile reasons) as the vilest form of capital punishment.
     Thus it came about in the providence of God that, historically, the Lord Jesus was crucified and slain, while in Jewish eyes He was crucified and accursed of God made a curse for us under circumstances which yet allowed Him to take upon Himself our sins and suffer in our stead the torments of eternity.
     By any other mode of capital punishment, only a miracle could have preserved the Lord alive as an effective and voluntary sin-offering. As it was, crucifixion became the stage that provided the setting for such a sacrifice. And it was only by a miracle that He died when He did. Even Pilate expressed surprise. . . .
    And so, his work now completed, in one single gesture which demonstrated his dominion over life itself, He dismissed his spirit with the words, "Father into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

     At the risk of being repetitious, let me see if I can draw together this amazing set of antitheses which set apart the action of the Lord in becoming first of all, an offering for SINS for our sakes (by contrast with the way in which we become sinners): and then an offering for SIN for our sakes (by contrast with the way in which death terminates our lives).
     When we become sinners, our sinfulness proves to be an expression of our true nature. As Dostoyevsky said, "Man commits sin simply to remind himself that he is free."* When the Lord Jesus became a sinner, it was not according to his will, but by his Father's will. Sinfulness was in no sense whatever an expression of his nature. What we bring upon ourselves actively, He assumed entirely passively: it was laid upon Him to his utter abhorrence. For three hours (by our misguided clocks) He endured for us an eternity of punishment, utterly forsaken by both men and God in his experience, in order that we might recover the fellowship of God for which we were made. He surrendered the Father's fellowship for an eternity that we might enjoy it for ever.

     It may help to summarize in the form of a series of antithetical statements, the profound difference between the way the Lord Jesus died and the way we die. 

* Dostoyevsky, F. M., Letters from the Underworld, quoted by D. R. Davies, Down Peacock Feathers, London, Bles, 1942, p.10.

     pg.12 of 14     


We are humbled in death:
            He humbled Himself.

We are subject to death:
           He became subject to death.

We are offered in death:
          He offered Himself.

We surrender to death:
         He embraced death.

We relinquish our spirit:
          He dismissed his spirit.

Our death is passive:
         His death was active.

The very best we can do is choose the time of our dying:
         He chose to die.

We can only shorten our lives:
          His life was potentially endless and could never be shortened.

Our death is the final triumph of flesh over spirit:
         His death was the triumph of spirit over flesh.

We are defeated by death:
        He conquered death.

He died on the cross
                          but not because of it.

He may possibly have died with a broken heart*
                          but not because of it.

He disengaged spirit and body in his death
                          and re-engaged them in his resurrection.

His life by his own will was cut off
                          not cut short.

* On this matter, see Appendix VII, "Heart Rupture: A Possible Cause of the Lord's Death?"

     pg.13 of 14   


     The cross itself was no more the cause of the death of the Lamb of God than was the altar the cause of the death of the sin-offering on the Day of Atonement. The cross was the occasion but not the cause of his dying.
     When we die, even by some kind of self-sacrifice, we merely shorten our life. We only sacrifice what remains of our allotment. We cannot speak of his sacrificing what remained of his allotment of life his life was potentially endless. How can one define the sacrifice of what is left of what is potentially endless? He sacrificed life itself.
     In reality, there is really no way in which we can compare his death and ours. We can only contrast them. All that we have surveyed in this study thus far serves only to show in some small measure how the setting for this transcendent event for which the whole order of Nature had been established could transpire as the climactic event of history. It tells us nothing of what really happened when God became Man and, as Man, died that men might live. Only spiritual perception can help us here, and the simplest of God's people may have as perfect an understanding as the profoundest Christian scholar.

     The greater Day of Atonement of which the Mosaic institution was but a foreshadowing was now almost completed. The Lord Jesus Christ, in his own Person, had fulfilled the role of the two prototype animal victims. He had been sent into the wilderness of desolation "for ever" in those three dreadful hours of darkness: and then He had offered Himself as the sin-offering and shed his blood, a sign of his being truly dead (John 19:34).
     Having completed the first work, He cried, "It is finished"! (John 19:30).* When He was ready to complete the second, He gave a great cry and, dismissing his spirit, committed it into his Father's keeping (Luke 23:46).

      One more aspect of this ceremony, however, had still to be fulfilled. Our great High Priest must return to "the congregation" and, by presenting Himself alive before them, demonstrate once for all that the blood of his sacrifice had been placed before the true Ark of the Covenant in heaven and there accepted by God on our behalf. To this final act in the drama of the Plan of Redemption we now direct our thoughts in the two chapters which close this study.

* John H. Ruttan, in his New and Complete Harmony of the Gospel [Toronto, Briggs, 1906, p.177], orders the terminal events as follows: John 19:30a, "When Jesus therefore received the vinegar, He said, It is finished. . ." Then, Luke 23:46a, "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Then Matthew 27:50b, Mark 15:37b, Luke 23:46b, and John 19:30b each of which close with the Lord's expiration.

     pg.14 of 14     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter



Home | Biography | The Books | Search | Order Books | Contact Us