Table of Contents
Part VII: How Did Jesus Die?
The Ultimate Mystery of the Lord's
day some archive of official Roman documents from the time of
our Lord will be found, and it will there be recorded that along
with two other criminals, a certain man, Jesus by name, was put
to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. And we shall quite
properly welcome it as one more piece of archaeological evidence
of the complete historical veracity of Scripture. Yet, would
it really state the truth, or would it merely reflect the judgment
of an unperceiving world which assumed -- and still assumes --
that Jesus was put to death by crucifixion?
1 of 17
It is true that Peter himself told
the Jewish people in no uncertain terms that they, too, had been
guilty of slaying the Son of God (Acts 2:23). Was Peter
also unperceiving? Or was he really speaking only with a view
to attaching the blame and responsibility to the Jewish people,
for an act of wickedness which was indeed a "slaying"
in the sense that this was what they intended it to be. Just
as the man who is adulterous in his heart is condemned as an
adulterer in the sight of God (Matthew 5:28), and just as David,
by contrast, who in his heart greatly desired to build the Lord's
Temple was credited with having built it (1 Kings 8:18), so this
murderous intent was quite properly called murder. Peter was
therefore justified in accusing them of slaying Him.
Yet we know from other Scriptures
that Jesus was not slain at all by the Jewish people.
He said plainly that no man takes His life from Him (John 10:17,18).
The Lord's death was the Lord's doing; yet it was in no sense
a suicide. Nor was it a martyrdom either. Paul suffered martyrdom,
as most of the apostles did, but it will be noted that Scripture
is exceedingly specific in distinguishing between the martyrdom
which Paul anticipated and the death of the Lord. Paul
spoke of himself as "ready
to be offered" (2 Timothy 4:6); of Jesus it is said rather
that "he offered himself " (Hebrews 7:27). Paul's death
was passive, in the sense that although he was undoubtedly willing
and even anxious to go on into the Lord's presence, nevertheless
his life was taken from him by man. The Lord's life was not
taken by man, as He Himself said.
In order to understand why it was
so important that He offered Himself, it is necessary to pause
for a moment to consider what happened once a year when a sacrificial
victim was offered on behalf of the nation. Although on the Day
of Atonement the ceremonies were complex and indeed awesome,
the essential feature was the transfer of Israel's guilt to an
innocent victim which was then ritually sacrificed. Its blood,
the symbol of life, was taken by the High Priest into the Holy
of Holies, into the very presence of God, and was there sprinkled
on the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Tables of Law
representing God's standard of holiness. Before offering the
sacrificed victim, it was first examined and approved as being
without spot and flawless, since the slightest defect could not
possibly escape the scrutiny of God, whose immediate judgment
would then have fallen upon the High Priest had he dared to enter
God's presence with such an unacceptable offering. Thus, the
victim must therefore be first declared entirely free of all
defect and without fault, and then made accountable for the sins
of the people by imputation, a guilt transferred by the ceremonial
laying on of hands of the High Priest.
When the High Priest returned once
again from the Holy of Holies into the presence of the other
officiating priests, all the people of Jerusalem were publicly
informed of his safe return from this awesome ceremony, thus
signalling the acceptance of Israel's sacrifice by God Himself.
Then further trumpet blasts carried the glad news across the
whole land. The people were once more accepted and safe in the
presence of God until the time came for the renewal of the sacrifice
again at the next great Day of Atonement.
There is no question that the spiritually
discerning in Israel saw in this ceremony something far more
significant than the mere sacrifice of an animal. They believed
that one day God would provide for Himself a sin offering who
would redeem men by taking upon Himself the iniquity of us all,
exactly as the goat of the Old Testament ceremony bore the iniquity
of Israel. Undoubtedly this was in John the Baptist's mind when
he received the call to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.
Whether he fully understood that the Messiah and the promised
Lamb were one and the same
person is not absolutely
clear. And in one place at least he seems to have had some doubts,
asking whether the Lamb was indeed the same Person as the Messiah.
For after his imprisonment he sent word to Jesus saying, in effect,
Art Thou the promised Messiah or do we look for another Person?
(cf. Matthew 11:3). It is important to remember that John had
no doubt in his mind as to the identity of Jesus as the Lamb
of God. At the very beginning of his ministry when he went down
to Jordan and began to call the nation to repentance, he was,
like many in Israel, quite certain that the time had finally
come for the appearance of a Redeemer. As each individual came
to him to be baptized, he must have scrutinized them with great
care and concern, and evidently he had asked God to give him
a sign that would allow him to identify God's Lamb among all
those who were flocking to him. So, one day, he suddenly recognized
the One whom God had chosen and he cried out, "Behold the
Lamb of God"! (John 1:29).
It might be asked, Would not John
recognize Jesus as the One born to be King since their mothers
were cousins? Probably not. The fact is that although John was
of the same age, there being only six months difference between
them, Jesus had not remained in His birthplace and quite possibly
John had never seen Him from that time. This is inconceivable
in our mobile society, but in those days only a few people resettled
and most men remained pretty well where they were. And thus it
came to John as a revelation. Here was the Lamb of God! But that
recognition did not at the same time assure John that Jesus was
also the promised King. John did however know that this King,
when He appeared, would do wonderful things (as foretold in Isaiah
35:5,6). This is why Jesus answered him in Matthew 11:4-6 as
He did, drawing specific attention to the precise way in which
He was fulfilling these messianic promises. He did not rebuke
John for lack of faith; He merely gave him assurance.
And so the Lamb of God had come.
Remembering that this Lamb had first to be proven without fault
before the priestly judges, and then to be declared guilty by
the same court, an anomalous situation which in prospect must
have seemed an impossibility, it is wonderful to see how precisely
the requirement was fulfilled in Jesus' trial.
Consider first the proof of innocence.
In Mark 14:53-65 we have a picture of the trial of Jesus. He
is led away to the High Priest, which was precisely what was
done with the lamb for the atonement sacrifice of the Old Testament.
In verse 55 the people who spoke for Israel, the chief priests
and all the council, "sought for witness against Jesus .
. . and found none." This again is precisely what
happened to the lamb
in the Old Testament. The lamb was scrutinized intensively. But
in this case, having no genuine fault that could be pointed to,
they had to seek false witnesses: "For many bore
false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together."
Even those who, in a manner of speaking, were correct in their
use of words -- though not in the ordering of them -- and who
thought they had heard Jesus say, "I will destroy this temple
that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another
made without hands," failed to make a showing, "But
neither so did their witness agree together."
It is interesting to note that
what Jesus had actually said, according to John 2:19, was, "Destroy
this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." In short,
He said nothing about a temple "built with hands."
Matthew 26:61 gives another false version: "I am able to
destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days,"
Evidently the court was becoming
exasperated, since the High Priest (verse 62) stood up and asked
Jesus, "Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness
against thee?" Mark says, "But he held his peace, and
answered nothing." Neither did the lamb of the Old Testament.
Thus in effect He was tried and proven innocent. But then He
was asked a crucial question to which He could not keep silent.
The High Priest said to Him, "Art thou the Christ, the Son
of the Blessed?" And, of course, to this Jesus could not
but reply in the affirmative. And at this point we have the strange
anomaly of an innocent man being declared guilty for stating
a truth. This truth was not acceptable to the court, because
the court itself was so terribly guilty, and so they condemned
Him to death.
Any one of a number of deaths were
possible for a condemned man under Roman law. That they should
choose crucifixion was no accident, since it was one form of
capital punishment wherein a man was not merely put to death,
but was also accursed in the sight of God (Galatians 3:13). In
other words, they forced upon Jesus, who was innocent, not merely
the condemnation of the court, but the condemnation of God also.
Since this form of judgment could
not be carried out by the Jewish authorities under Roman law,
they had to appeal to Pontius Pilate. In the second judgment
which followed, the innocence of Jesus was once again established,
and the words used by Pontius Pilate almost seem inspired: "I
find no fault in this man" (John 18:38). It seems that Pilate,
speaking for the Roman authorities, was really a spokesman for
the civilized world since he was the representative
of a world empire. It
is not without significance, therefore, that Pilate did not merely
announce his judgment once, but three times. In John 19:4 he
said, "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know
that I find no fault in him." In Matthew 27:24 he said,
"I am innocent of the blood of this just person." Mankind
passed judgment upon the Lamb of God as innocent in no uncertain
terms, and then surrendered Him to be destroyed as a criminal.
Consider what all this really means.
It means that an individual who had done nothing in secret, who
had for three years probably been the most talked of public figure
in the country, who had been constantly approached in devious
ways by trained legal minds to trap Him into some error of judgment,
who had been misunderstood by His friends and family and was
often weary indeed -- could without hesitation turn to his worst
enemies and ask (John 8:46), "Which of you convinceth me
of sin?" And no one had anything to say. Power, as Lord
Acton said, corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But not so with this man. He was absolutely without corruption,
though He had all power committed to Him.
Pilate's wife warned her husband
against compromising himself when she said (Matt.27:19), "Have
thou nothing to do with that just man." One of the thieves
on the cross, in spite of his agony and pending death, rebuked
his fellow sufferer saying (Luke 23:41), "This man hath
done nothing amiss." The Roman centurion who was apparently
in charge of the detail of soldiers given the responsibility
of seeing that the crucifixion was properly performed, and after
watching the Lord on the Cross for some hours, was overcome with
a sense of conviction and said (Luke 23:47), "Certainly
this was a righteous man." And afterwards even Judas himself
knew that he had made a tragic mistake: "I have sinned in
that I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4). Paul
said, "He knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21); Peter
wrote, "Who did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22); John, "in
him is no sin" (1 John 3:5); and the writer of the Epistle
to the Hebrews, whoever he may have been, added his testimony
with the words, "yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Never
was such a cumulative testimony given towards establishing the
total innocence of a man. So overwhelming was the evidence in
the end that the Jewish authorities admitted indirectly that
they, too, had made a great mistake (Matthew 27:64).
There is no question, therefore,
that the Lamb was without blemish and without spot by the judgment
of mankind, the judgment of Jew and Gentile alike. And this requirement
having been fulfilled perfectly, He was then condemned to be
put to death, and not merely
to die as one unworthy
to live, but to die accursed of God because of the very form
of capital punishment which was demanded for Him: as it is written,
"Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians
But here we enter into a great mystery.
For whereas, as we have already seen, Paul spoke of himself as ready to
be offered, of Jesus it is said that He offered Himself. In
other words, He was brought as a lamb to be slaughtered (Isaiah 53:7),
but when the time came to die He assumed the position of both High Priest
and Lamb at one and the same time (Hebrews 7:27). In John 19:16 we are
told that Pilate "delivered Him up" to the Jewish authorities
to be put to death, but in John 19:30 we are told that He "delivered
up" His spirit into His Father's keeping. In both passages the verb
is the same, the Greek being
(paradidomi), which means "to hand over without compulsion
as an act of free will and by a personal decision." In these two
verses we have the lamb delivered to be slaughtered, but the same Lamb
making the offering Himself entirely of His own will. The word paradidomi
bears careful examination.
In Scripture a number of words are used
in connection with the act of dying. In the Old Testament these words
imply either the surrender of the spirit or the soul (both words
are used), or the "breathing out" of the last breath. In the
New Testament it is this latter concept of death which is reflected in
the Greek original. Thus of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5,10) it is said
that they "expired." The Greek here is
(ekpsucho) meaning literally "to be ex-souled."
It is a common word, used of the expiration of mortal man. Although in
the older translations it is said of the Lord in His death that He yielded
up the spirit -- as it is said of Ananias and Sapphira that they, too,
yielded up their spirit -- the original Greek in relation to the Lord's
death is, upon one important occasion, completely different.
The Old Testament Hebrew was rendered
into Greek by some seventy Jewish scholars living in or brought
to Egypt about 240 B.C. Consequently, wherever the death of an
Old Testament character is being spoken of, the event being translated
into Greek ought to provide us with the normal terminology for
such an occurrence. And since in New Testament times, the Septuagint
version was very familiar to the Jews, one might have expected
that it would set the pattern for the appropriate terms to use.
Indeed, this is generally the case. But there is one very notable
exception, and this exception is found in the passage to which
reference has been made: namely, John 19:30 which reads, "When
Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished:
and he bowed his head and gave up
the ghost." It is
this last phrase, "and gave up the ghost," which in
the original Greek is worthy of very careful study.
The four Gospels record the moment
of death very simply. The English reader might gather from the
rendering in the Authorized Version that nothing exceptional
occurred at this time. In Matthew 27:50 it is written: "Jesus,
when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost."
Mark records: "And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave
up the ghost" (Mark 15:37). Luke is a little fuller: "And
when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into
thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave
up the ghost" (Luke 23:46). 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 [literally]
dismissed his spirit."
I have always been tremendously
impressed with the carefulness with which those who produced
the Authorized Version in 1611 sought to render the original
with prayerful precision. It is amazing how little modern translations
have done to make the text more illuminating, except insofar
as they have removed some of the older English words and phrases
which modern readers find difficult to understand. Very often
the Authorized Version succeeded in preserving the mind of God
where modern versions have failed to discern it. Moreover, by
the use of italics, the Authorized Version has taken great care
to warn the reader wherever words are being added in the translation
in order to meet the requirements of smoother English composition.
In many modern translations words of an interpretive nature are
added that do not belong in the original and sometimes serve
only to bias the reader, reflecting the theological position
of the translator rather than the mind of God. This would not
be quite so serious if these additional words were clearly identified
by being printed in italics, as they always are in the Authorized
Version. Without this device, the reader who knows only English
and cannot go back to the original, is completely at the mercy
of the translators.
Even in the New Scofield Reference
Bible there are some occasions where the Word of God has been
abbreviated. For example, in Genesis 25:8 the new rendering has
"then Abraham died in a good old age," etc. The margin
quite properly notes that the Authorized Version or King James
Version has "gave up the ghost and died." In view of
the fact that the original uses two verbs and not just one, there
really seems little justification for this kind of abbreviation.
The fact is that in the original the first verb really means
"to breathe out one's
last," and the second
one means simply "to die." It might be thought that
the difference is inconsequential, but further study of the ways
in which these two words are employed suggests that this may
not be so. The first may be that aspect of death which we discern
as the last act of man, the final expiration of breath. The second
verb may indicate the time at which the spirit returns to God
who gave it. I do not wish to pursue this particular point at
the moment because it is not essential to the present thesis,
but I always feel that the Word of God speaks most luminously
to those who pay the closest attention to its smallest detail.
We shall see how one small error like this can lead to another
Reverting, then, to these four records as
we have them in the Authorized Version, it should be noted that its translators
for some reason were not as careful as they might have been to observe
certain rather significant differences in the original Greek as the four
evangelists set forth their record. There are a number of words in Greek
which may be used for the act of dying. Matthew uses the Greek word
(aphiemi); Mark and Luke use the word
(ekpneo); John uses the Greek word
(paradidomi). Two of these words, namely, aphiemi and ekpneo,
are compounded forms, both of which mean simply "to expire,"
i.e., "to breathe out," and so "to breathe out one's last."
The third word, paradidomi, is entirely different in its significance.
In the New Scofield Bible at Matthew
27:50 there is this footnote:
The Greek words used here and
in Jn. 19:30 are unique in the N.T. In fifteen 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 Mk. 15:37, 38 and Lk. 23.46.
But in Mt. 27:50 and Jn. 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 one could take His life from Him except as He was willing
to permit it (Jn. 10:18). Christ chose to die so that we might
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 qualification. 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:
The Hebrew word gava'
Genesis 25:8 Genesis 49:33 Genesis49:33 Job
Genesis 25:17 Job 3:11 Job
Genesis 35:29 Job 10:18 Job
The Greek word
Acts 5:5,10 Acts 12:23 Acts
The Greek word (ekpneo)
Mark 15:37,39 Luke
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 here is aphinui which does indeed mean in biblical
Greek "to send away," "to bid depart," "to
send forth," but it also means "to give up" or
"to 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
apropos 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. . . ." Furthermore,
a similar phrase occurs in the Septuagint rendering of I Esdras
"and with his wife he sendeth away his
soul, etc." In classical Greek also the verb followed by
either the word for "soul" or "spirit" is
used of the death of mortal men, as for 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. It is clear that these parallel passages do not signify
that there was anything supernatural about the passing of those
whose death is being referred to, and one could not,
therefore, argue with
absolute certainty that Matthew 27:50 implies something supernatural
in the Lord's case on this basis alone.
What has been said of Matthew 27:50 applies
with equal force to Mark 15:37, 39, and Luke 23:46. In these three verses
it will be remembered that the Greek word is .
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
However, when we come to John 19:30 where
the Greek word
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. 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 freewill 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 Israelites into the hands
of their enemies. See, for example, Deuteronomy 1:8,21 and 27; 2:24, 30,
31, 33, 36; Numbers 21:2, 3, and 34; Joshua 10:8, 12, 19, 30, 32 and 35;
and so on, almost indefinitely. There is no question of God's surrendering
the people against His will. 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, nor have I been able to find a single instance
of this particular usage in Hatch and Redpath's Concordance to the Septuagint,
which lists 197 passages exclusive of the Apocryphal. There is no question,
therefore, that in John 19:30 we do have a unique situation.
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 the earliest
of the Synoptics. But there is 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 account 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. All 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 was not yet fully
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 the 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 kings, servants,
or men cannot have. (32)
The situation is quite different in the fourth Gospel, for there
the Lord is presented, not in His capacity as the Son of Man,
but as the Son of God, God made Man. Writing later than the others
and perceiving, as they may not have been allowed to perceive
when they wrote, that God who is the source of life could
not simply be slain by the will of man, John was guided to choose
a word uniquely appropriate to describe what happened when Jesus,
in the time of His own choosing, dismissed His own spirit, without
any form of compulsion except that He willed to do it.
I think it is worth repeating again
that in John 19:16 we are told that Pilate "delivered up"
Jesus to be crucified; and this first "handing over"
corresponds to the phrase in Isaiah 53:7, "He is brought
as a lamb to the slaughter." From Jesus' point of view,
He was the passive object in this transaction. But this was as
far as man could go. The second "handing over" came
when Jesus, as an active agent, "offered Himself,"
acting as both Priest and Sacrifice.
In death man is humbled, and as
Ecclesiastes 8:8 points out, he has no power to resist or change
the course of events when that time comes. But Jesus claimed
that He Himself did have the power to lay down His life
(John 10 18), and accordingly it was He who humbled Himself (Phil.2:8).
We are humbled so that death for us is something which we suffer
passively. He humbled Himself so that death for Him was something
which He embraced actively. Since in this last great call we
are by constitution obedient, He differed from us in that He
became obedient (Philippians 2:8), not being constitutionally
subject to death but, rather, being made after the power of an
endless life (Hebrews 7:16), i.e., immortal and not under the
necessity of dying.
It is sometimes said, and I rather
feel that Scofield's note to
32. "The Harmony of Contradiction,"
Part II in Hidden Things in God's Revelation, vol.7 in
The Doorway papers Series
Matthew 27:50 carries
the implication, that all Jesus ever meant when He spoke of the
fact that no one would take His life from Him, was simply
that He would not be put to death until He was ready, until His
time was come -- that He would, to put it in slightly different
terms, submit to them to put Him to death only when He was completely
ready to do so. In short, it is suggested by those who follow
this line of argument that all Jesus really claimed was His right
and power to choose the time of His death. I believe there
is a truth here in part; I believe He did indeed have the power
to choose the time of His death. And many Scriptures in the New
Testament show clearly that until that time came, His enemies
were prevented from taking any fatal action against Him. But
surely this is only part of the truth. The truth is much more
profound than this.
The fact is that because He was
virgin born, He was not subject to natural death at any time;
and because He was God, having life in Himself, He need never
have died -- even on the Cross. (33) He had the power to sustain life indefinitely, even
under those circumstances, had He wished to do so. And, equally
important, He had the power to shorten His life if He
wished, so that He need not have endured the shame of the Cross
for more than a moment if it had not been an essential part of
His work in man's redemption. The fact is that the crucifixion
as a form of capital punishment provided a unique setting in
which, under condemnation of man and under the curse of God,
the Lord Jesus could endure the agony of being made sin for us
entirely without compulsion and entirely as an act of His own
In some way, after an eternity
of spiritual torment of which we can have no conception whatever
and during which our clocks meaninglessly ticked over a period
of three hours, the judgment of God upon the wickedness of man
as assumed vicariously by the Lord Jesus Christ suddenly ended,
and with it the supernatural darkness. The God who had forsaken
Him in judgment re-established His fellowship with His Son, and
the utter loneliness of that eternity of separation was followed
by such an overwhelming sense of restored communion that Jesus
cried out in a loud voice of victorious exultation, "It
And having thus finished the work
for which the Cross was essential, it was now possible for all
His agonies to be ended, both physical and spiritual. Turning
His face toward heaven, and long before the natural time for
such an event in such a circumstance, He
33. "The Virgin Birth and the Incarnation,"
Part IV in The Virgin Birth
and The Incarnation, vol.5 in The Doorway Papers Series.
into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46); and then
He dismissed His life, there being nothing further to be accomplished
on the Cross. He died by an act of will, a sheer and unique triumph
of the spirit over the body. It is surely the very fact that
He was raised without "seeing corruption" (Acts 13:34-39)
that was the final proof of our justification, for this equally
unique historical fact demonstrated unequivocally that His death
was in no way due to the element of corruption that, in our bodies,
renders us mortals and our death the inevitable end to life.
In Him there was no such corruption to accelerate the processes
of decay in death which so afflicts our senses when it occurs.
All this is of a piece, all dovetails in its concordance, nothing
is out of harmony. I do not believe, as Stroud did, that the
cause of Jesus' death was a broken heart. Nor do I believe, as
the note in the New Scofield Bible seems to imply, that Jesus
exercised His will only in the sense of choosing the time
when He would submit to the designs of His enemies. In short,
I am not persuaded that when the time came Jesus merely allowed
some circumstance to effect His death. His death was entirely
an act of will.
And so to bring the essay full
circle and to revert to a statement made regarding the early
Church Fathers in the Introduction, we may note that that view
was essentially that of Tertullian, who wrote, (34) "Christ, when crucified, spontaneously dismissed
His spirit with a word, thus preventing the office of the executioner."
Origen observed that when continued life was no longer needed
"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.'" (35)
Jerome, commenting on Matthew 27:50,
likewise noted that when the centurion heard Him saying to His
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 the miracle and acknowledged
Him to be truly the Son of God. (36) Many others have similarly sought to express this
profound truth, and yet, it seems, only a few modern theologians
It is by no means necessary to
have a theological grasp of these things in order to become a
child of God. We are saved by faith, not by knowledge; not even
when that knowledge is biblical theology.
34. Tertullian, Quintus, Apology, Ante-Nicene
Fathers, edited by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Scribners, New
York, 1918, vol.3, p.35.
35. Origen: see Stroud, William, ref.3, p.64f.
36. Jerome: see Stroud, William, ref.3, p.64f.
But just because the
Gospel can be believed to the saving of the soul by the simplest
mind, we should not suppose that the possibility of saving a
man's soul was made possible by a simple act of self sacrifice.
One of the problems with truth
is that it is apparently so simple. The more complicated we make
the way of salvation, the easier it is apt to be to obtain a
hearing. It offends man's intellectual pride to ask him to give
serious attention to a truth which he is told he has only to
believe without first trying to understand the rational grounds
for it. For this reason, in fact, the simpler among men are more
likely to exercise faith unto salvation. But the apparent
simplicity of the plan of salvation, of the life, death,
and resurrection of the Lord, like all else that God has wrought,
It seems so easy to find parallels
to what the Lord did when, for our sakes, He laid down His life
on the Cross. History superficially presents us with numerous
similar examples of noble self-sacrifice: men in war sacrifice
themselves for one another or for their loved ones. Almost every
day someone gives his or her life to save someone else. In what
way, then, is there a complication here which makes Calvary so
unique? Wherein was this sacrifice entirely unlike any
It is not, surely, in the attendant
circumstances per se. After all Jesus was not entirely
deserted by His friends at the moment of His death, whereas many
men have died alone as martyrs without anyone to mourn their
passing and without any comfort in the knowledge that those especially
dear to them would be cared for. Nor had He suffered more physically
than other men have suffered, like those who, for example, deliberately
chose to be crucified upside down or were crucified only after
enduring the most appalling mutilation of body -- even to virtual
disembowelment. There is no doubt also that there are more cruel
deaths than crucifixion.
I think the uniqueness
of Calvary lies in two circumstances. The first of these is spiritual,
and although it has to do only indirectly with the subject of
this Paper, which is the how of the Lord's death, nevertheless
it does have a bearing upon it and must therefore be considered
In writing to the Corinthians Paul said
(2 Corinthians 5:21): "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who
knew no sin; that we might be made [become] the righteousness of God in
him." In the original Paul uses a Greek verb
(poieo) which has the basic meaning of doing or making,
with a number of extensions of meaning depending upon the words associated
with it. Thayer says that the verb when
joined with a noun denoting
state or condition has the meaning "to
be the author of" or "to be the cause of." (37)
Olshausen in his Commentary on the New Testament notes in connection
with 2 Corinthians 5:21: "It is here evident that
(hamartia) indicates a condition." (38)
In other words what Paul is stating is that in some way the Lord Jesus
on the Cross as the Lamb of God enduring those hours of darkness when
He was under judgment was actually made to be the author and the cause
of sin. He somehow became identified with and held responsible for everything
that is wicked, ugly, hateful, cruel, pitiless, spiteful utterly abhorrent
to God; in short, everything that man has been or done or planned to do
as a sinner. It is not as though He was merely blamed for what had gone
wrong, though undoubtedly this was part of the judgment of God, for God
laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.
He did not merely assume responsibility.
He in effect became identified with the very wickedness itself.
The reason I am innocent in God's sight is that He actually assumed
my guilt. The "identification," the priestly
ritual of establishing identity in which the sins of a whole
people were somehow laid upon an innocent creature, had to be
completed before the victim was slain. The victim's "time"
was not come until that absolute identity had been established.
All this had been symbolic, foreshadowing what was to happen
in due time when God provided Himself a Lamb. This Lamb, unlike
the victim of the Atonement, was not merely a passive participant
that could have no possible consciousness of what was to be the
outcome of the ritual, but he was One who knew from the beginning
of His public ministry -- and perhaps much earlier than that
-- what that outcome was going to be. The agony of soul in the
Garden of Gethsemane must surely have stemmed from this foreknowledge.
The Lord Jesus must have known with fearful certainty that the
Cross was to be a stage, a setting, an occasion, a time in which
the judgment of God would exhaust itself upon Him, in which the
righteousness of God would be preserved and forgiveness made
possible in the process.
We can have no idea of what it
meant to the Lord who had never harboured a sinful thought nor
ever committed a sinful act, to wait as it were on the Cross
in anticipation of the sudden falling of the judgment of God
which was to come upon His soul, the turning away of His Father
as He condemned Him for the wickedness of man and
37. Thayer, J. H., Greek-English
Lexicon, 4th edition, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1961,
38. Olshausen, Herman, Biblical Commentary on the New Testament,
translated by A. C. Kendrick, vol.4, Sheldon, New York, 1866,
at 2 Corinthians 5:21.
judged Him to be its
cause. He must have known in those first three hours that at
any moment that blow would fall. Death would have been a merciful
intervention, something infinitely to be preferred if, by it,
the eternity of judgment could have been evaded. He had the power
to dismiss His spirit and thus to terminate that part of His
ministry in which He identified Himself with man. But He did
not do so.
But after the eternity of judgment
and separation was over, when God had said, in effect, "It
is enough," when the light burst forth once more and the
relationship between the Father and the Son was restored again,
then the Lord cried out triumphantly, "It is finished"!
The Greek word sounds even more like a shout of triumph, "Tetelestai"!
Then, in the very nature of the circumstances, the physical burden
of crucifixion made itself felt once more, and He cried out,
"I thirst" (John 19:28). But there was no need now
for the Lord to sustain life any longer. His work was done, and
in one single gesture which demonstrated His complete dominion
over life itself, He sent away His spirit, committing it into
His Father's hands.
I think it is not without significance
that the Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 53:6, according to the
Bagster critical edition, reads: "All we like sheep have
gone astray: every one has gone astray in his way: and the Lord
gave Himself up for our sins" [italics mine]. In
this version the italicized words are in the Greek the now familiar
paradidomi. Perhaps it is not without significance, on
precisely the same grounds, that in writing to the Galatians,
in what must surely be one of the most revealing of all passages
of Scripture, Paul said: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless
I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which
I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself [delivered Himself up] for me"
(Galatians 2:20). And once again we find the verb paradidomi.
It is clear, therefore, that the use of this word in John
19:30 is not incidental, not merely an alternative to those words
employed by the other Gospel writers. It is a word which sheds
a tremendous light on the nature of the Lord's death and a word
chosen to be used in a number of very important and directly
related passages, as in Ephesians 5:2 for example. This verb
achieved a very special significance.
And the second unique aspect of
the Lord's death lies in the fact that He died on the Cross,
but not because of it. He chose not merely the time to
die, but He chose dying, when He need never have died
at all. He died actively, not passively. He was not humbled in
death as we are, but He humbled Himself. He was not offered as
the lamb was offered (by someone else), but He offered Himself.
He did not
surrender to the tyranny
of death, but He embraced it. He died with a ruptured
heart, but surely not because of it. He was not by nature subject
to the law of natural death as man now is, but rather He became
obedient unto death. His death did not indicate the final
triumph of flesh over spirit, but of spirit over flesh.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Chapter (Part VIII)
In short, He did not "yield
up" His spirit as man is called upon to do, but rather dismissed
His life voluntarily, at one and the same moment committing His
spirit into the Father's hands and passing out of the confines
of incarnation into an entirely new level of existence, made
finally and fully complete with the resurrection and glorification
of His body.
Such, then, though still viewed
very much through a glass darkly, was the how
of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.