JAB We see in this chapter that the suffering and opposition that the Lord Jesus had to bear when He was here was not only from the Jews. We spoke in the reading last week about the Lord Jesus in the high priest’s palace, but now we see Him brought before what is political in Pilate and his military system. This is to remind us that, when the Lord Jesus was here, apart from those who through God’s sovereign mercy responded to His contact with them, He was rejected on every hand. The world system was against Him, the religious, the political world, and the crowd too. It is sobering.
AMB You just feel that: the chapter gives us man in his wilfulness and opposition. Man in his responsibility is exposed. That would agree with what is indicated by the name of the place, Golgotha, the place of a skull. In condemning the Lord in opposition and refusal and cruelty, man proved utterly lacking in any appreciation of Him, but there is one Man in perfection in the midst of it.
JAB He suffered because He loved. He went this way because He loved the will of God, and He loved those whom He was to secure. These sufferings that we spoke about last week in Gethsemane showed how much He suffered there in anticipating His death, and what He suffered in opposition from the Jews; and then what we have in this chapter were all sufferings of a particular kind of which it would be true to say - although I find it very challenging to say it - we can have some experience, not of what was anticipatory on the part of Jesus, but as facing something of the opposition against Him. But it is important to see that, from verse 33, we come to those sufferings into which no one could enter, because they were His alone. Is that what you had in mind in the hymn you gave out as to the cross? What Jesus suffered from the sixth hour to the ninth hour was distinctively different from all the other aspects of Jesus’ sufferings.
PAG Yes, we are told that peace has been made “by the blood of His cross”, Col 1: 20. Elsewhere and rightly, the cross is referred to in a more general way; but do you think “His cross” shows the distinctiveness of the sufferings that you are speaking of? There were persons on other crosses, but this was “His cross”. We deserved to be there; but He did what no one else ever could do.
JAB As to all these sufferings up to verse 32, He bore them - not for us exactly, because our sins were not dealt with then; but He bore them to show His perfection, did He not? I would be glad of help as to the bearing of the first part of the chapter, and then the distinctiveness of verses 33 and 34, which cover so much.
AMW All these things that you mention were part of His sufferings. Speaking carefully, there was what Jesus bore from a righteous God which is beyond us, but you are also bringing out persons’ attitude towards the Lord, their disbelief and the hatred that was shown towards the Lord Jesus.
JAB Yes. As believers, what we have to understand is that the attitude of men towards Christ then, and which hurt Him so much, is still the same. These sufferings would help us in the world through which we have to pass, to take Christ’s side. They should have an impact on our affections, as we think of Him doing all this in love for His God and Father and for us. But there is also the moral challenge, as to whether I actually see that the character of the world is still the same as it was then.
AMW Yes, and as we prove it, we should feel some of those sufferings ourselves, should we not?
JAB Every time the Lord’s name is used as a swear word, it hurts us; that would be one simple example.
ABB Are these first verses part of what Paul speaks of to Timothy as to “the good confession”, 1 Tim 6: 13? We see the Lord Jesus in this time of great pressure, and He says one thing: “Thou sayest”. He is true to what He was in spite of the opposition; and then there is what He said as to being a king. Was the Lord’s confession unique to Him, but can we align ourselves with what the Lord was and is?
JAB You had in mind that “the good confession” involves more than what is said?
AMB Jesus witnessed before Pilate “the good confession”. With the Lord there was in Him and with Him what was absolutely true; He bore witness to the truth. When it came to His own defence, He was silent, but when it was anything concerning the truth of God, He bore witness to that. There is divine perfection in this Man at every turn.
ABB That is good. His perfection shines out; you see the Lord’s moral glories shine out. It has been described as perfect goodness in the midst of all evil. We see that here: they tried to catch Him in His words. You get the sense that Pilate was not willing to damage his own position, although he sought to free the Lord. You see the weakness of the institution. Pilate sought to maintain his reputation, but here was a Man who “made Himself of no reputation”, Phil 2: 7 KJV.
AMB The Lord’s moral glory, perfection in the midst of such evil, also brings out the failure of every other kind of man, including ourselves, does it not? We have to accept that deeply.
CAS There seems to be an urgency here on behalf of the enemy. The chapter begins “immediately”; and then in verse 3 the chief priests accused Him urgently, and then in verse 14, the crowd “cried out the more urgently”. Is it a sign of the whole power of the enemy concentrated against the Lord?
AMB I think that is right. We have been impressed by how every factor in this scene is energised and stirred up by the enemy in opposition to Christ. Do you think that gives us a view of what the enemy thinks of Christ, and what Christ had to go through in this scene? What we are contemplating in this chapter here are the ‘waves and billows’ that hymn 435 speaks of. Everything that could be opposed to Him was against the Lord - even the denial by His own disciple, and the betrayal by Judas. It was all energised by the enemy against the Lord. No other man could possibly stand against it, but Jesus did.
CAS So He becomes a wonderful contemplation for the heart; He “answered nothing”.
AMB We would have answered back, or tried to; He answered nothing in His defence.
AB As to the urgency and the pressure that we spoke of, from verse 12 to verse 29, every verse starts with the word “And”. It is like a cumulation in every verse; they were terrible things and yet the Lord bore them all. We referred to the Lord’s changeless love this morning. You see that here in every verse - “And” - yet He bore it all.
AMB It should always affect us that, in the greatest testing of the Lord which we see in this chapter and in chapter 14, He remains absolutely perfect. It is His perfection that really shines out in the pressure. Every person and every institution against Him, including those who should have been for Him, as Mr Darby says in The Man of Sorrows -
Priests who should plead for weakness
Must Thine accusers be.
The people to whom He was the true Messiah, and He showed Himself to them as such, were baying for His life, and yet He went through in patience. Pilate is so exposed; there was something in him that took account of the Lord, for he says, “What evil then has he done?”. That is all swept up in this time which the enemy was directing. It is a very sober matter to see what the enemy tries to do against Christ. He did that here and he was defeated, but he has not given up, he still works against Christ and those who are loyal to Him. It is a sober matter to be aware of.
PAG Satan’s opposition is constant and unrelenting, and he knows nothing else. It says in the Old Testament, “the hand is on the throne of Jah”, Exod 17: 16. He would overthrow the throne if he could; and in the urgency we have spoken of here - Satan saw what he believed to be an advantage, and he pressed it home as hard as he could. And yet, at the end of it all, the centurion said, “Truly this man was Son of God”. The enemy outwardly had an advantage; but in the souls of those that appreciated Him, there was only one Victor.
AMB It is good to see that we get the confession of the gentile centurion, and also the emergence of faithfulness in Joseph and the women - Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James the less and Joses, and Salome. There was faithfulness brought to light; so the enemy did not gain the victory, neither over Christ nor over those who loved Him.
PAG Nonetheless, at this time we have at least some insight into what is meant when it says in Leviticus, “an offering by fire”; the relentless nature of it, and the destructive nature of it. But Christ was the only offering who could go through the fire.
AMB Yes, and the fire, speaking of the pressure of the suffering, brought out the odour that was supremely sweet to the Father.
PAG Yes, there was immeasurable sweetness for the Father in a perfect Man; but there was no sweetness for Christ. It says in relation to the oblation that there was to be no leaven and no honey, Lev 2: 11. There was nothing to minister to His comfort, nothing to sweeten the blow; all was darkness.
AMB There was no alleviation of any kind. Those who come to light, the centurion and Joseph, did so after the Lord had suffered and given up His spirit.
JAB Why is it that we are told so much of the Lord’s anticipatory sufferings, and His sufferings from the hands of man, and so little in the narrative - two verses - about what He suffered as made sin? I know that the apostles expand greatly on what these two verses refer to, but why is this account so short? Is there something to learn from that?
PAG In one sense, these two verses are the most we could know. We could not really know the depths of the Lord’s feelings, although we can take account of the fact that they were there. For example, it says in Psalm 41: 8, “A thing of Belial cleaveth fast unto him”. There was something so awful that all the writer of the psalm could do was to describe it as a “thing”. It could not really be described, it was so awful, so dreadful. I think the fact that the account here is short is, in a sense, meant to arrest us. This is the culmination of three hours. If you think of the compression of the three hours, every sin was accounted for - those which had taken place, and those that would take place - and they were accounted for individually, named and dealt with, and the penalty fell on Christ in these three hours.
JAB That brings in what we spoke of a little last week about compression. Who can look into it? We speak of compression; it brings home a sense by the Holy Spirit of all that was done then. There is that which man cannot really look into. It was between Jesus and His God.
PAG I think it brings out what you were mentioning earlier: the first part of the chapter up to verse 32 we sometimes refer to as suffering for righteousness, and we can enter into that, but this is suffering for sin and we cannot enter into it. If you or I suffered for sin we would die; that is what would happen to us. There would be no period of time for which we would survive.
JAB That is very helpful, and very sobering too. And yet it is very blessed, because Jesus was able to bear it. And He went there in love.
AMB It is really the valley of Achor as “a door of hope” (Hos 2: 15) that we were speaking about the other night.
AVW There are many titles mentioned here. Jesus is spoken of mockingly as the King of the Jews and the King of Israel, but there is only one person that gives Him a genuine recognition, Son of God, and that was a man who was affected in his soul.
JAB The high priest in the previous chapter put it as a question: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am, and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power”. The title involves power, does it not? And the Lord is, as the hymn says, worthy of every crown that decks His brow, Hymn 343. It is very glorious, that in relation to every title that the Lord has, He is absolutely deserving of every one of them. Would that be part of it, do you think?
AVW Yes. There will come a time when men will look on Him as their King, and have to acknowledge Jesus rightly, but I thought of this man here. He had seen many crucifixions, no doubt, but he says, “Truly this man was Son of God”. There must have been something in that man’s soul to say that.
JAB What you say is good. These Jews, the chief priests, mocking with one another, said, “Let the Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross”. The Jewish nation never saw Him again: the next time they see Him, He will be “Christ the King of Israel” and they will have to acknowledge Him, and we know that they will. That will be different to what is described in these chapters.
ABB The end of verse 31 is affecting: “himself he cannot save”. It is another thing that was said in mockery, but how thankful we are to the One who did not save Himself. We know from another gospel that there were legions of angels, who were no doubt looking on at this time, and what temerity it was on the part of man to do this to the Saviour. It is almost a title we can take up as to Jesus: “himself he cannot save”. The hymn says -
Love’s stream too deeply flowed
JAB And that is totally foreign to the natural man. I have often spoken about a Jewish businessman on a ship with a brother who preached the gospel to him, and he rejected it, saying, ‘I do not want a God who can die!’. It was in dying that Jesus won the victory. The hymn says,
Through weakness and defeat
He won the mead and crown
ABB That is good. There is another hymn we sing at the Supper that refers to Jesus’ love
… that, giving all, secures
The universe for God
That is what the Lord Jesus was doing in these sobering verses 33 and 34. God was dishonoured by sin; He felt it so deeply. We read in the Old Testament that He repented that He had made man, Gen 6: 6. It was at this darkest spot that Jesus was glorifying God in relation to sin. I was thinking of what was said earlier as to the offerings. Although there was great darkness, there was a basis provided for absolutely everything for our blessing; but more importantly, for God’s pleasure eternally, all through this one Man and what He did then.
JAB Yes, that is right. That would be why Mr Darby wrote that the cross is the centre of eternity (Synopsis on John’s Gospel, p361). It is the focal point of everything. For those who reject Him, it is the focal point of their rejection, but for all those who accept Him, and thank God there are millions and millions of them, all that is and will be for God in praise eternally is based on this one sacrifice.
PAG We can understand the comment that Paul makes to Corinth, that “the cross is to them that perish foolishness”, 1 Cor 1: 18. The Lord on the cross did things that men would not do, and also that men could not do. We might say that without the incarnation there would be no salvation, but without the death of Christ there would be no salvation. The scripture says, “becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross”, Phil 2: 8. It was obedience to His Father’s will that took Him there to death; but the Father’s will, the will of God, involved the death of the cross. It had to be such a death in order to redeem us out of the curse of the law.
JAB And that had been ordained from eternity; it was not just a reaction to what man turned out to be, was it? God had all of this in His mind from before time, and Christ did all this for God and for man.
CAS It is good to have that side, what is in the purpose of God. Peter speaks of it: “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”. So we have God’s side, running alongside “ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and slain”, Acts 2: 23.
JAB The Romans thought they were in control here, but God was in control. And that helps to stabilise us if we experience opposition or difficulty of any kind: we know that nothing is outside of the purpose of God. You might ask, ‘How could it be that God would plan that His beloved Son should suffer in this way?’, but there was a reason for it.
CAS We have that scripture in Isaiah 53, “it pleased Jehovah to bruise him”, v 10. We cannot go deeper than that, it is something to contemplate.
AMB It was for us. We can hold on to that in our souls, that these sufferings at the hand of God were for us. And then His sufferings at the hands of man exposed what man is, and what we are according to nature. There is a tremendous depth in the whole chapter. I do not think of it enough, but if I had been there, I would have been with the crowd, or certainly capable of being with the crowd. That is a very important thing for us as believers to come to, that in us naturally there is no love for Christ, no admiration or respect for Him. We have to come by way of judging ourselves in the light of this scene as it is presented.
CAS According to what we are naturally, we would be the same.
PAG Do you think it would help us to see - and this chapter brings it out distinctly - that there is no overlap between what man is after the flesh and what God is. We have that expression, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”, 1 John 1: 5. Why introduce the second point? The first is clear enough, but the fact is there is no part in what man is in the flesh that finds its place in what God does.
AMB Yes, you can see the total opposition to Christ morally, all motivated by the enemy; and that is what we are as away from God, susceptible to the promptings of the enemy in opposition to Christ. None of us wants to be like that.
DEW I was thinking about what God would be feeling here, and you marvel at the continuing love of God towards us. What you just brought in is helpful - that there is no overlap at all between us according to nature and God. It was said in a reading relatively recently that God does not look at us in that way at all; He looks at us as sons, does He not? For those who trust in the Lord Jesus, we are looked at as sons straightaway. It makes you wonder.
PAG That is absolutely right. We have spoken of the purpose of God, and part of that is “that we should be holy and blameless before him in love”, Eph 1: 4. These last two words are really important, “in love”. The love of God may not be on the surface of this chapter, but it is lying behind it right from beginning to end.
AB I was thinking that. These are sober chapters and yet it is still love: “where sin abounded grace has overabounded”, Rom 5: 20. Grace would speak of love.
PAG Yes, grace is love acting in adverse circumstances.
AB We see that here.
ABB Can you say why the original language that the Lord Jesus used at this moment, while under the pressure that we have spoken of, is included here in verse 24? It is quite unusual that we have the original Aramaic, the actual words that the Lord Jesus used in speaking to His Father when communion for this moment had been broken. It is no doubt calculated to further affect our hearts.
PAG We get one or two instances of it, but not many. Jesus came to the man that was dumb, and He said, “Ephphatha, that is, Be opened”, Mark 7: 34. I think it is intended to express the depth of His feelings. We also get the partly translated expression, “Abba, Father” in the previous chapter. Although we cannot enter into these things, I think the Holy Spirit would, as it were, bring us as near as we can come. These words were heard by those who were around the cross. We would have been just like those haters and opposers, but we have the privilege of knowing what the Lord actually said: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”. And furthermore, we know the answer.
ABB Each one of us needs to answer this question. The Lord Jesus was forsaken because of the things I have done and what I am. It was quoted recently, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil”, Hab 1: 13. And the hymn says, “Truly alone!”, Hymn 268. As has been said, this is a moral question for each of us.
PAG One thing to be clear about is that Jesus was forsaken because He was made sin. He “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2: 24), that is one aspect of His sufferings, and He was made sin. He was made the very thing itself, and it was on that account that the forsaking came in in all its reality. Jesus was made the thing that God could not look upon.
ABB “That we might become God’s righteousness in him”, 2 Cor 5: 21. The point that you have made is helpful.
CAS So the Lord uttered a loud cry in verse 37. He exhausted God’s judgment and made a way out. There was never a death like it. The centurion would never have seen a death like this.
PAG Yes, the powers of men fade as they near their death. The Lord was still fully in control of the matter at this point, distinct in every way.
CAS He had authority; He said, “I have authority to lay down my life”, John 10: 18. Because of His perfection, He was not subject to death but He went into it vicariously.
AMB It was His own act; and then He spoke about His taking His life again: “I have received this commandment of my Father”, all part of the deep perfection of this One.
What do we say about the veil of the temple rent from the top to the bottom; “rent in two” - completely separate - “from the top to the bottom”? It was the end of the whole Jewish system, that God might come out on the basis of what Christ had done. And also, I suppose, there was a way into that presence.
JAB In the law, nobody but the high priest, once a year, had a right to go in where the ark was inside the veil. I was thinking of the significance of this opening up. It has often been said that God coming out in grace is symbolised by the rent veil, and we can go into the holy of holies by virtue of the blood of Jesus; there is a way in for us.
AMB And it involves the revelation, the making known of God as Father, the making known of His feelings towards the race, and the way in which those of us who believe in Christ can go in; it is all in Jesus, this One who is presented as the suffering One here, who has made God known and opened the way in for us.
AVW Would it be right to say that in what you have referred to as the veil being rent, there would be the side of testimony? We were speaking about what the Lord could do, and I wondered if there was a testimony here. Earlier on the Lord said nothing, and there was a testimony in that; but I wondered here whether it was a testimony to man? And then we get the centurion: he did not say what he did secretly, but it says that he cried out. And then Joseph goes to Pilate. He might have thought twice about going to Pilate in view of what he had done, but I wondered if there are various instances here of a testimony that shines out towards man.
AMB The blessedness of what Christ has accomplished has a testimony borne to it. The testimony of the rent veil would be particularly to the Jews, something that had never happened before. What happened in the rending of the veil bore testimony to the One of whom they said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save”. Something new was being introduced on an entirely new foundation, a new basis; a Man went into death in power.
DEW Was it at this point that what we call the dispensation of grace started?
AMB Yes, I think so; the Lord’s death gave God the basis to bless. It was the ending of what was Jewish. In the actual working out of it, there was what you might call a provisional time at the very beginning, but I think you are right that the dispensation of grace began here. There was not another dispensation between. We get an impression of how completely the whole scene was changed by Christ going into death as He did.
PAG Would that be borne out by the fact that it says in Romans 3 as to Christ, “whom God has set forth a mercy-seat, through faith in his blood”, v 25. We know that the ark was not literally behind the veil at this time, but one aspect of the rending of the veil, in the teaching of it, was that the ark was behind the veil; and the rending meant that the mercy-seat could be set forth.
AMB How God rejoiced to set Jesus forth as a Mercy-seat. The temple system was a shadow of things to come; these physical artefacts in the Jewish system were shadows of what was to come. But here was the One who was the Man who accomplished everything for God.
PAG Would you say too that the fact that the veil was rent from the top was a demonstration that heaven had remained in control?
AMB I am sure that is right, and it starts to show, in the testimony of the centurion and in the actions of the women and Joseph, that love triumphs.
19th September 2021
Key to Initials
(all local unless shown otherwise):-
Alan Brown; Alistair M Brown; A Barrie Brown; J A Brown; P A Gray; C A Seeley, Glasgow; A M Walkinshaw;
D E Walkinshaw; A V Wraighte