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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII


Part IX


Part VII: How Did Jesus Die?

Chapter 3

The Ultimate Mystery of the Lord's Death

     PERHAPS ONE 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?
     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

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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

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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

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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," they quoted.
     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

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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

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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 3:13).
     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

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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

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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 error.
     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 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 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:

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    The Hebrew word   gava' occurs in:

Genesis 25:8 Genesis 49:33          Genesis49:33          Job 13:19
Genesis 25:17 Job 3:11                 Job 3:11                  Job 14:10
Genesis 35:29 Job 10:18               Job 18:10                Lamentations 1:19

     The Greek word (ekpsucho) occurs in:

Acts 5:5,10 Acts 12:23                    Acts 12:23

     The Greek word  (ekpneo) occurs in:

Mark 15:37,39                                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 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 4:21:


"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,

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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 1026).
     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 

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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

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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 free will.
     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 is finished"!
     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.

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said, "Father, 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.'"
     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 acknowledge it.
     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.

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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, is deceiving.
     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 other?
     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 briefly here.
     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

     pg.14 of 17     

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, p.524.
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.

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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 

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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.
     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. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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