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The Death of the Cross Duncan Heaster  
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1-1-1 The Background To The Crucifixion

This study begins with the moment when the crowd chose Barabbas, upon which the Lord is flogged and handed over for crucifixion. The four gospel records only occasionally all record the same incident. The following table makes this apparent. When they do all mention the same thing, it seems that the Spirit intends us to see an especial significance in this. The fact that the crowd chose Barabbas rather than the Lord of glory is one of those aspects of the Passion which is recorded by all four writers. There is much information given about Barabbas, emphasizing the kind of criminal he was (Mt. 27:16; Mk. 15:7; Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:40). That men would reject the righteousness of God, the Spotless Lamb of God, for such a man...this is the tragic story of our race and our nature. And it was the ecclesia of those days which made this dastard choice, and crucified the Lord Jesus. The same nature, the same blindness, is in us all. A going through of the whole process of trial and crucifixion should make us revolt at our own nature, to the point of being ashamed we have anything to do with our own race. Such intensity of repulsion is probably far too rare in our spiritual experience.

The Possibility Of Avoiding The Cross

It was probably inevitable that the swaying back and forth of Pilate's opinion as to whether to release Him, had some effect on the Lord Jesus. Our study of the background to the crucifixion must bear this in mind. Any bearer of human nature would have held some kind of bated breath, in case he did suddenly release Him. This is made all the more potent in the Lord's case because all the Old Testament types pointed to a last minute deliverance. It is even possible that " Eloi lama sabachthani" was an allusion to the ram caught in the thicket (see later); as if to say: 'Why have you entangled me as the ram, and not saved me as Isaac was saved at the last minute?'. If the Lord even considered the possibility of a last minute deliverance, which He evidently did at least in Gethsemane, the tension within Him was so much greater. He must surely have been tempted to pray those words again as the trial progressed: " If it be possible, let this cup pass..." . But perhaps instead His prayers were simply that the Father's will would be done; and He knew what that was. And yet the Lord must have considered that Pilate's release of a prisoner at Passover was a custom requested by the Jews in order to represent the freeing of Israel from certain death in Egypt by the Passover lamb. This must have gone round in the Lord's mind. He was the lamb, as well as the symbol of the people to be saved. Will I be released as they were and would be? But surely I'm the lamb, and the lamb must die before this actually happens? " My God, why hast thou forsaken / entangled me?" , His request for the cup to pass... these are proofs enough that the Lord hadn't got it all neatly sorted out in His mind when it actually came to the crisis of impending death, even though beforehand He had it clearly worked out. The fact He was an intellectual genius, devoted to the study of the OT (one of His phrases can contain eight or more allusions, in perfect context, to the OT), would have meant that He agonized for the right interpretation and foreknowledge of His death experience. He was aware that Psalm 22 was prophetic of His sufferings, and yet the popular Jewish idea at the time was that it was a midrash / commentary on the story of Esther. The intention at that time had been to hang / crucify the Jews, they cried out as to why God had forsaken them, and a way of escape was found, to the extent that it was their enemies that were crucified.

The Lord had foreseen how He must be like the grain of the wheat (note the articles in the Greek) which must fall to the ground and die, and then arise in a glorious harvest (Jn. 12:24). But soon after saying that, the Lord fell to the ground (same Greek words) in prayer and asked the Father if the cup might pass from Him (Mk. 14:35). It seems to me that He fell to the ground in full reference to His earlier words, and asked desperately if this might be accepted as the falling to the earth of the grain of the wheat, i.e. Himself, which was vital for the harvest of the world. Don’t under-estimate the amount of internal debate which the Lord would have had about these matters. The spirit of Christ in the prophets testified Messiah’s sufferings “unto Christ" (1 Pet. 1:11 RVmg.), but He still had to figure it all out. And this enabled an element of doubt, even though in the end He knew “all the things that were coming upon him" (Jn. 18:4). To doubt is not to sin. Another Messianic Psalm had foretold: “In the multitude of my doubts within me, thy comforts delight my soul" (Ps. 94:19 RVmg.). This aspect heightens the agony of His final crisis, when He unexpectedly felt forsaken.

A theme of the whole record is that Christ gave His life of His own volition. This must be remembered as we reflect upon the background to the crucifixion. His refusal to answer Pilate meant that Pilate had to pronounce Him guilty (Mk. 15:4)- hence his marvel at the Lord's silence, as if the Lord was willingly allowing Himself to be condemned.

We will often have cause to remark that the Lord was intensely intellectually conscious throughout His sufferings. His mind was evidently full of the word, He would have seen the symbolism of everything far more than we can, from the thorns in His mock crown, to the hyssop being associated with Him at the very end (the hyssop was the fulfilment of types in Ex. 12:8,22; Lev. 14:4,6,49-52; Num. 19:6,18). Often it is possible to see in His words allusions to even seven or eight OT passages, all in context, all relevant. Reflect how His response to Pilate “thou couldest have no power against me" (Jn. 19:11) was a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 8, about Rome becoming mighty “but not by his own power". Or how His crucifixion “night to the city" (Jn. 19:20) connected with Jerusalem thereby being guilty of His blood (Dt. 21:3). Or how the mocking “behold the man..." would have been seen by Him as a reference to Zech. 6:12, where He is foreseen as a Priest crowned with silver and gold, introduced to Israel with the same phrase: “Behold the man...". The Lord would have taken encouragement that in the Father’s eyes, He was crowned there and then in glory, as He magnified His priestly office. But it would have seemed so, so different in the eyes of those mocking men. He was an intellectual genius without compare, and He applied His genius to the Father's word. He would have been conscious of all these links, and so much more. This way of His didn't seem to leave Him in His time of dying. And His awareness would doubtless have been a tremendous encouragement to Him. God likewise can control our trials so that we take strength from them in accordance with our appreciation of His word. It is inevitable that to someone of His intellectual ability as the Son of God, to a man with His sense of justice and with His knowledge of the Jews and their Law, everything within Him would have cried out at the protracted injustices of His trials. He had the strong sense within Him at this time that He was hated without cause, that the Jews were " mine enemies wrongfully" (Ps. 69:4). " Are ye come out as against a thief...? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me" (Mt. 26:55). " Why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me...If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" (Jn. 18:21-23). All these indicate a keen sense of injustice. It must have welled up within Him when He saw the servant come with the bowl of water for Pilate to solemnly wash his hands in. Yet His response was one of almost concern for Pilate, lest he think that the guilt was solely on him (Jn. 19:11; cp. His concern for Judas’ repentance, Jn. 13:27). The Lord did not just passively resign Himself to it with the sense that all would have to be as all would have to be. He struggled with the injustice of it all. Some form of anger even arose, it would seem. This fact must have pushed Him towards that dread precipice of sin. His possession of human nature and the possibility of failure meant that there were times when He was much nearer sin than others. But He didn't just keep away from the precipice, as He didn't spare Himself from being tired and tested by the crowds and thereby drawn closer to the possibility of spiritual failure. He came into this world to show forth the Father's glory, and to do His will was His meat and drink. This hangs like a tapestry to the background to the crucifixion.