Part IV: Triumph Over Death
Death By An Act Of Will
No man taketh (my life) from Me,
I lay it down of myself
He humbled Himself
and became obedient unto death.
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
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
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
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
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.
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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
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,
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
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:
The Hebrew word
(gava') occurs in:
Gen. 25:8 Gen.
The Greek word
ekpsucho occurs in:
Acts 5:5, 10 (2x)
The Greek word
ekpneo occurs in:
Mark 15:37,39 (2x)
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
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
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.
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
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
* Moulton, J. H. and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary
of the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 1972,
† Kittel, Gerhard and Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,
1973, vol.II, p.169.
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.
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
* 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.
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
[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,
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.
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
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
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
* 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).
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
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
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.
We are humbled in death:
We are subject to death:
became subject to death.
We are offered in death:
We surrender to death:
We relinquish our spirit:
dismissed his spirit.
Our death is passive:
The very best we can do is choose the time of our dying:
We can only shorten our lives:
life was potentially endless and could never be shortened.
Our death is the final triumph of flesh over spirit:
was the triumph of spirit over flesh.
We are defeated by death:
He died on the cross
not because of it.
He may possibly have died with a broken heart*
not because of it.
He disengaged spirit and body in his death
re-engaged them in his resurrection.
His life by his own will was cut off
* On this matter, see Appendix
VII, "Heart Rupture: A Possible Cause of the Lord's
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.
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).
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.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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