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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 10 of 23
The Teaching of Jesus Christ Concerning His Death
In this lesson we are dealing with the death of Jesus at its historical source. We are not dealing with the theology of His death, but with the historical facts. This lecture would be different if we were treating of what Paul says about His death. And so we are to be occupied with what Jesus taught concerning His death as recorded in the Synoptics. That the death of Jesus was central in His own thinking, and in the thinking of the Synoptists is evident from the large amount of space given to it. All four of the gospels tell the story of His death, while only Matthew and Luke tell the story of His birth and childhood. This is significant in the light of the fact that many theologians are giving us what they are pleased to call, “The Gospel of the Incarnation,” a gospel with the blood deleted—a gospel which is not a gospel. What did Jesus think and teach about His death? Was it something that slipped up on Him, something that took Him unawares, or was it premeditated on His part? Was it the result of a series of mistakes He made in dealing with the authorities, or was it purely voluntary on His part? In this place we believe and teach that Jesus was Emmanuel, God with us, and that He was God before He came to us. And in eternity past He certainly knew what His mission to this earth would be, and that it would be finished by death on a Roman cross. The eternal Son of God came by way of the manger into the human family; born of a virgin without a human father. He was not created, but incarnated; God clothed in human flesh. The incarnation was not the blending of the divine and human natures, for then He would have been neither God nor man. It was the union of the two natures, so that He is both God and man, the God man. The question that now concerns us is what Jesus thought and taught about His death after He came to us from the bosom of the Father. His life on earth may be divided into two periods and studied in the light of certain occasions or historical events. Not much can be known concerning what He thought and said about His death prior to His public ministry. He may have said something about His death at the age of twelve when He astonished the doctors with His understanding. He may have had His coming death before Him when He said to His mother on that same occasion: ...”Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). And He must have known that His Father’s business was a redemptive program involving His death. In speaking of His death as recorded in John 10:18, He said, ...“This commandment have I received of my Father.” We, will now consider His teaching about His death after He entered upon His public ministry.
HIS EARLY MINISTRY
His words at the time of His baptism indicate His intention to die. Why was Jesus baptized? John was baptizing sinners, sinners who confessed their sins. But Jesus was not a sinner, and as Dr. Conner says, did not belong to the sin bedraggled company of men John was baptizing. And yet in His baptism, He was in some way identifying Himself with sinners. His baptism was a pledge to save sinners by dying for them. When John hesitated about baptizing Him, “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him,” (Matt. 3:15). He must have known that to fulfill all righteousness, He would have to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man....For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings....Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people,” (Heb. 2:9,10,17). And so Christ’s baptism in water was a type and pledge of His future baptism in suffering. After His water baptism, Christ spoke of His coming death under the figure of a baptism. “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able,” (Matt. 20:22); “But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38); “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). His temptations in the wilderness were based upon the assumption that He knew He had come into the world to suffer and die for the sins of men. The issue He had to face in the temptations was whether He would build His Kingdom as the suffering Servant of God or get it by an easier method. Satan proposed an easy way, but it was a false way. To save sinners Christ had to destroy the works of the devil, but this could not be done by yielding obedience to him.
THE TIME OF A NEW EMPHASIS
The Lord Jesus knew from the beginning that He was to die, but He did not speak of it in plain terms until the end of His Galilean ministry. The first occasion was when Peter confessed Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. All three Synoptists say that at that time He began to tell His disciples of His approaching death. “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day,” (Matt. 16:21); “And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” (Mark 8:31); “Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day,” (Luke 9:22). This proves that the revelation of His death was progressive in His own teaching, but without subjective development in His own thinking. He had, from the beginning, been thinking about His death, but He could not until now speak plainly of it, for His disciples were not ready to receive it. He wanted them convinced that He was the Messiah before teaching them the truth as to the kind of Messiah He would be. And this was a hard lesson for them to learn. “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ,” (John 1:41). The disciples had confessed Jesus as Christ or Messiah at the time He called them to follow Him. But since He had not gathered an army and set up the expected political kingdom, they must have been somewhat shaken in their belief; just as John the Baptist was when Jesus made no move to deliver him from prison. And now after more than two years in a ministry of healing and teaching in Galilee, He again questions His disciples as to their opinion of Him. “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven,” (Matt. 16:1317). After Peter’s confession, “Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ,” (Matt. 16:20). And why? Because they did not know enough to tell it properly. If they had preached that He was the Messiah, they would have indicated that He was the One who would deliver Israel from their Roman oppressors, and set up His own political kingdom. Such preaching would have aroused false hopes in the multitude who were looking for an earthly king, and thus precipitate the crisis too soon. After telling His disciples to tell nobody that He was the Christ, He explains: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men,” (Matt. 16:2123). The disciples of Christ were personally ambitious, and expecting Him to set up a political kingdom, argued among themselves as to who would be the greatest in that kingdom. They were on their last trip to Jerusalem, and must have thought He would fulfill their expectations soon after their arrival in the city. In reply to the request of Salome for her sons, James and John, Christ explains that His kingdom is not like earthly kingdoms in which the great exercise authority; in His Kingdom greatness comes through service.
It is well for all of God’s people to remember this cardinal truth. In popular present day Christianity, the temptation to personal ambition is terrific. Here is a pitfall to be shunned by every servant of Christ. Our Lord sets Himself up as an example by saying, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). Dr. Conner calls attention to the way Origen and others handled this word ransom. They held that the blood of Christ was a ransom price paid to the devil, for the release of his captives. It simply means that by means of His death He affected men’s release from the bondage of sin. The ransom was paid to God as Lawgiver. “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him,” (Ps. 49:7).
THE LAST SUPPER
Just as baptism at the beginning of our Lord’s ministry pointed to His death, so does the institution of the memorial Supper at the end. Using the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine of the Passover meal as symbols, He takes the bread and says, “This is my body which is given for you.” He then takes the cup, ...“This cup is the new testament (Gk. covenant) in my blood, which is shed for you,” (Luke 22:19-20). This was the new covenant foretold by Jeremiah. “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” (Jer. 31:3134). The blessings under the new covenant ratified in the blood of Christ are spiritual, including regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Under the new covenant there is not a word in Jeremiah or the New Testament about a piece of land or any other material blessing. Let us hear Paul on this matter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” (Eph. 1:3).
THE GARDEN AND THE CROSS
Considering the teaching of Jesus about His death we cannot overlook His prayers in the garden and on the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane He anticipated the horrors of Calvary. “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt...He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done....And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words,” (Matt. 26:39,42,44). This does not mean that Christ was not willing to die for sinners, but it does suggest that death would have been a foolish thing if sinners could be saved without it. The only way God could be true to His sense of justice and holiness and at the same time save sinners was to collect their sin debt from His Son. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings,” (Heb. 2:10). In Gethsemane the Saviour cried, ... “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death,”... (Mark 14:34).
What was it about death that Jesus dreaded? It was not physical suffering, for others have suffered physically as much or even more than He did. Neither was it the being forsaken of His disciples and the taunts of His enemies that he so much dreaded. He had been accustomed to all that. The thing our Lord shrank from and so much dreaded was His being made sin, treated as a sinner, and being forsaken of God. On the cross “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). On the cross He cried, ...“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). In justice God treated His Son as a sinner so that in love He might treat us as sons. God spared not His own Son so that He might spare sinners. This does not mean that God was personally displeased with Christ. As a Father He loved Him, but as a God of Justice He could not spare Him because He was voluntarily taking the sinner’s place and receiving the sinner’s due. What high priced people we are! We are bought with His precious blood and have no right to live a self-centered life.
THE RISEN CHRIST
The crucifixion without the resurrection would have been a tragic failure in the divine plan of the ages. What a change His resurrection made in Himself, in His disciples, and in His enemies! His resurrection caused His death to issue in glory. His humiliation was followed by exaltation. As reward for His sufferings unto death, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” (Phil. 2:911).
The once despised name of Jesus has become a conquering Name. His resurrection wrought a wonderful change in His disciples. They were altogether different men when assured that He was alive. The once cowardly Peter will soon charge the rulers of his nation with the murder of the Holy One of God. The very disciples that had forsaken Him and fled will soon rejoice in being counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name. And years later the apostle to the Gentiles will write “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,” (Phil. 3:10). His resurrection put His enemies on the spot, as it were, and led to the invention of many lies concerning what became of His body. The first lie was the result of a bribe. The guards were hired to say that they went to sleep and that the disciples stole His body while they were asleep. But sleeping witnesses are not very good witnesses. And all other denials of the bodily resurrection of Christ are as absurd as the first lie. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ has been called the Gibraltar of Christian evidence and the Waterloo of infidelity. His resurrection resulted in the great missionary movement which has run through all the centuries. Missionaries of the cross have gone to the ends of the earth with the message of salvation based upon the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25).
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