THE DIVINE ARCH OF HUMAN REDEMPTION (15)
In our considerations so far, we have been concerned with showing how the atoning work of Jesus is intertwined throughout the pages of the Old Testament. It was a work which we believe all the faithful men and women of those far off days looked for in eager anticipation: “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sins” (Gal 4:4-5). We must now, therefore, turn to the New Testament and follow through the record to see how this marvellous work was accomplished.
THE CONCEPTION OF CHRIST
In the opening chapter of the gospel of Luke, we have recorded the announcement by the angel Gabriel of the conception and birth of Jesus and it is important in relation to our subject to carefully note the narrative. It reads:
“in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel come in unto her and said, Hail thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear no Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb and bring forth a son and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:26-35).
Here is a beautifully expressive, yet simple record of a delicate and unique event in the affairs of men. For God to act in this way is surely a most remarkable thing – remarkable not only in His personal, intimate involvement, but the reason which necessitated it.
After all, God had created Adam from the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he had become a living being. Why not therefore in the creation of Jesus repeat the process? Or why not utilise, under Divine supervision, the existing reproductive processes as between man and woman? But the record is careful to make clear that man had no part in the matter. The birth of this child was the direct result of the operation of the power of God upon a chosen daughter of Adam – the handmaid of the Lord.
A DUAL PARENTAGE
Following conception, it then followed through a natural course common to all mothers. God was his Father, Mary – a virgin – his mother. Why was this necessary? There must have been a reason. The answer lies in the work to be accomplished – a work which no other man could do, but which his parentage made possible. We know that children inherit characteristics from their parents – physical and mental. From his mother he inherited a body of flesh and blood made exactly the same as that of all men. A body which was under the condemnation of sin and death (for the two go together), having the same power within it, as we shall see, enticing it to transgress. From his Father, he inherited spiritual moral qualities which were potentially capable of development to a degree beyond that of ordinary men; which could give him the power of control over his mind (and therefore actions), so that every thought could be to the obedience of his Heavenly Father.
It will be noted that in respect of these qualities, we use the words “potentially capable of”. For, as with any child, his faculties had to be developed and he too was endowed with free-will to choose his course of action. So that the life that he lived, the manner of it – and in his case, the laying down of it – was to be the result of conscious, deliberate and responsible choice.
THE TEACHING OF SCRIPTURE
Let us look at some Scriptural passages which give evidence for these statements. In the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 17-18, we read: “wherefore in all things it behoved 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. For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted”. Here is a clear statement that in respect of the atoning work of Jesus and what would follow, it was needful that he should be made exactly the same as those he should redeem, having the same physical constitution in all it’s elements, “for we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
Indeed, in respect of those temptations of Jesus, some of which are recorded for us in Matthew’s gospel, (Chapter 4), we find that, though different in kind, they were alike in content to those confronting our first parents in Eden. There was a stimulating appeal to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.
With Adam and Eve that subtlety of the serpent mind became the cause of their transgression. With Jesus, the mind of God as stated in His Word was the paramount consideration, and court of appeal at all times and in all things.
The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans, Chapter 8:3 wrote, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Again the message is the same. The word “like” in Hebrews 2:17, and the word “likeness”in this reference are from the same Greek word, meaning sameness.
In respect of Christ’s personal freedom of choice, it is recorded of him “who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered” (Heb 5:7-8). There is the suggestion here of an innate propensity of resistance to God’s will which had to be conquered. It was the cause of agony and suffering and was with him to the end, as the events in the Garden of Gethsemane bear eloquent testimony.
THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
We can in measure enter into the agony of mind which he experienced by recalling some scriptural phrases which describe it. Knowing what lay before him, and the manner of his death he said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with (significant words) and how am I straitened till it be accomplished (Luke 12:50). Again, we read that: “When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). One can sense the steeling of his nerves necessary to go forward to the work that he knew lay before him. Or again, “my soul is exceedingly sorrowful even unto death … and he prayed saying O my Father if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will but as thou wilt” (Mat 26:38-39).
The sheer willpower, the mental trauma, the quite dreadful ordeal is summed up for us in the words of Luke: “being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:44). There was ever a choice to be made, and we note the source of the strength which gave him the power to choose aright at all times.
He himself said, “therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power (Greek exousia = liberty, freedom of action) to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my father” (Jno 10:17-18). In the course of his ministry – in the constant effort of it all – we know that he suffered fatigue, to be ravenously hungry, to know sorrow and pain. Indeed, the scripture is careful to emphasise that in all these matters, his nature in its reactions to specific experiences were identical to our own.
DIFFERENT FROM US
But he was no mere man. There were differences which again the scriptures are careful to make plain. He was different from the generality of mankind in so far as his spiritual discernment and capacity was concerned. In these particulars, Jesus was a spiritual prodigy, revealing his paternity. There was no other way for these essential traits to be obtained in the necessary degree and kind other than by inheritance. At twelve years of age, he was found in the Temple in Jerusalem astounding the learned Doctors of his day both by his questions and answers to the deepest matters concerning the Law of God. We have there an insight into the bent and capacity of his mind. When that capacity came to early maturity by continual exercise in his experiences of evil in all its forms, he kept under absolute control his every thought (and therefore actions), so that he was without personal transgression. He did always the will of his Father and was never guilty of sin in action, the only man ever to reach that perfection of control. So that Jesus was not only a prodigy, he was also a paragon.
In the letter to the Hebrews, we read “and being made perfect (after the discipline of suffering) he became the author of salvation unto all men that obey him” (Heb 5:9). Now it is evident that in respect of sin in the sense of personal transgression, there was no cause of death in him. That is an undeniable fact. But he had received of his Father a request to lay down his life as we have seen. Superficially there appears something unjust about so radical a command. But this cannot be. We have stressed throughout these studies that God is never arbitrary in his requirements of men, still less in respect of his only begotten Son. He is not unrighteous or unjust in His actions. He is a perfect, absolute Being who cannot deny Himself. All His attributes are always in perfect inter-play – and moreover are seen to be so. Why then did God require Jesus to die, and why did Jesus voluntarily lay down his life without impugning the character of God? He was certainly no substitute for us, for even the idea is patently unjust. To answer the seeming paradox we must briefly pause to recapitulate.
We have seen that the wages of sin is death; that is in respect of men the two go together, the one thing being God’s judgement on the other. That is the edict of God. We have seen that there are two acceptations of Sin described for us in the Scriptures; the one being a progressive corollary of the other. We have seen that Jesus was never a sinner by personal transgression. We have seen that, as we sometimes sing, “God is just in all his ways”. This leaves us with the only conclusion that Jesus had possession by inheritance from his mother, of that sin described by the apostle Paul in Romans 7:17 & 20, to which we have already made reference – that sin which dwells in men, and is by its power the cause of transgression.
THE INHERITANCE OF DIABOLOS
Is this – can this be true of Jesus? If he did not, then it is not true that he was ‘made in all points like unto his brethren,’ which the scriptures categorically insist that he was. If he did not, then it is only a step away from the conclusion that his flesh was different from that of other men; call it by what name you will. If he did not, then the answer of Job 14:4 to the question, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? – not one”does have an exception, and that God did it in Christ. If he did not, then he never took it away.
But away with these surmisings; we are not left to human speculation or our own predilections. Let the apostle who wrote plainly to the Romans be listened to as he wrote these words in his letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 2, verses 14-15. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy that having the power of death, that is, the diabolos; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”.
Here we have again emphasised that Jesus, in his physical constitution was made exactly the same as those he came to release from the bondage of sin and death. The very phraseology is careful to give emphasis to the fact. But the vital necessity for his being the same flesh and blood is stated, namely, that through death (that is his own death) he might destroy that having the power of death. It is quite clear that the shedding of his own blood in sacrifice was first of all, for himself.
What has the power of death? There is only one answer – Sin, alias the devil, or diabolos. Where was this sin? In his body, as in ours where it is entrenched. Hence the command of God to destroy it in death. The evidence for all this, if it is not already sufficiently patent, is seen when we consider the devil Jesus destroyed. The original Greek word for “devil” is diabolos, and left in its meaning is comprehensive of all that we have exposed.
Let the student at this point reach down the first volume of Eureka by Bro John Thomas. Let him read the section headed “The Diabolos” which in my edition commences at page 241. The analysis, with all the scriptural proofs concerning the manifestations and outworking of the power of sin, is illuminating and masterly. Let him read through to page 249, and take careful note of the definition of the word diabolos there presented. We take the following extracts: “Why doth Paul style sin ‘diabolos’? The answer to the question will be found in the definition of the word. It is derived from diabollo, which is compounded of dia, a preposition which in composition signifies across, over, and answers to the Latin – trans; and of bollos, to throw, cast. Hence, diabolos is to throw over, to cross, to pass. This being the signification of the parent verb, the noun diabolos is the name of that which crosses or causes to cross over …”
Bro Thomas goes on to indicate that the word has secondary meanings. “It signifies to traduce, to attack character, to slander, to deceive, mislead and impose upon. All of which takes us back to the Garden of Eden, and the power of the Serpent-mind, which being imbibed by our first parents, became the cause of transgression, for, as the word means the, by it’s influence, crossed over the point fixed by God, namely ‘of every tree thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not”. So far, therefore – no further – and they went! All the meanings of the word diabolos primary, secondary and ternary all are wonderfully expressive of the reality of the situation.
THE POSSESSION OF SIN
The question is asked again. Did Jesus possess this Sin – this diabolos? The answer is in the affirmative. All the facts of the case demand it. But there was a significant difference between Jesus and all other men. The diabolos never possessed him. Although the power was there by inheritance, he never succumbed to it. It never caused him to cross over – to transgress. Not only did he overcome it whilst he was living in that he supplanted its power by a greater, he obtained complete victory over it by nailing it in his body to the tree in his crucifixion. This he did voluntarily in full recognition of God’s righteous judgement in its condemnation. In so doing, he honoured, magnified and restored to it’s rightful place, that which was denied in Eden – the supremacy of God. He condemned and destroyed sin – real and actual – in the very nature that had produced it, so the mercy of God could be exercised.
But there are other scriptural references which we must consider, all impinging upon and confirming our understanding of this vital doctrine. We turn again to the letter to the Hebrews where in the tenth chapter, verses 4 and 5 we read: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he (Christ) cometh into the world he saith, sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou (God) prepared me”.
The marginal rendering of the last phrase better expresses the meaning – a body hast thou fitted me. So that for the purpose of reconciliation there was evident design on the part of God in the manner of begettal of the Saviour which would thereby befit him for that work, for he was the “only begotten of the Father” – a unique man for a unique work. He was the one for whom the Psalmist in his pleading to God for deliverance exclaimed: “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself” (Ps 80:17).
All of which is in harmony with the words of Isaiah. “And he saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness, it sustained him” (Is 59:16). So that the Redeemer was provided by God and the manner of the provision was an essential element in the accomplishment of the work.
BEARING OUR INIQUITY
For the seed of the woman to bruise the seed of the serpent in the head, it was needful for him to be fitted for the task in being strengthened. Though of our sin-stricken mortal nature by reason of his maternity, his moral spiritual strength and capacity derived from his Father were such that he was able in the struggle against sin and it’s power, to first overcome it whilst he was alive, and then destroy it in his own body in his death. It is with these facts before us that we understand the words recorded by the prophet Isaiah concerning him: “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 52:6).
Or again, ” … he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is 53:12). We may well enquire what was the iniquity laid upon him? What was the sin that he bore? The words are in the singular, and evidently relate to an important element in himself necessary in his work of redemption, seeing that this is the subject of the chapter.
The words are in accord with the statement of the apostle Paul when, concerning the atoning work of Jesus, he wrote “for he (God) hath made him to be sin who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2Cor 5:21).Again, the word Sin is in the singular, and again we ask, to what does it refer?
THE SINFULNESS OF HUMAN NATURE
If it be replied that the words have reference to our mortal nature that he bore, then let us be sure that we understand that nature, as Scripturally defined. It is, as we have seen, our nature that has within it that which is the cause of transgression – and, therefore death, which makes it mortal because of God’s judgement upon it. It is this understanding which makes the sin-offering of Jesus perfect for the purpose of atonement. Without it, the offering would have been ineffectual and Jesus would have failed in a vital element to be our representative.
If there be still any doubt on the matter, then let it be dispelled by the consideration of still further evidence. Writing to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote: “wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at the time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and being without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace who hath made both one and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph 2:11-16).
Here the apostle, in making reference to the sacrifice of Christ, indicates that the great divide between Jew and Gentile which had for so long distinguished these races of men was brought to an end. The idea that Jews, by reason of natural birth were alone of men the recipients of God’s favour and promises was no longer valid. In point of fact, it was never valid, in spite of the boastings of the natural seed of Abraham. Only those who intelligently rendered that obedience of faith which the laws and commandments of God enjoined and which (as this whole series of studies has been at pains to expose) directed their minds to Christ had hope of salvation, among whom were faithful Gentile men and women adopted into Israel.
But for the most part, the Jew was unbelieving and rebellious as their whole history bears testimony. Though they were privileged to receive the Oracles of God, in faith and practice they were little better that the Gentiles whom they despised. The predominating characteristic among them, as indeed with all men, was and is an antipathy to – a hatred of all things divine. Their failure to keep, their lack of perception of and indeed rebellion against, The Law given by God made the blessing it offered null and void. But so it has been from the beginning in every age and generation after the fall.
It is surely evident therefore that for God’s purpose in the inclusion of all faithful men and women of whatsoever race or station in His eternal blessings, this natural enmity common to all, had to be destroyed. This was effected in Christ by the shedding of his blood, as the apostle declares. To appreciate how this was accomplished we must again go back to Genesis and to the Garden in Eden.
BACK TO GENESIS
We have noted how that the mind of the serpent, with it’s falsehood, deceit and enmity against God, left it’s impress by its subtlety upon the minds of Adam and Eve, resulting in the transgression of God’s law. That impress, that enmity, that serpent-mind, is our common inheritance and we have no need to be reminded of it’s force. It’s power and influence is suffused through all the thinking and activities of men throughout history, the pages of which amply testify to the fact. Men then as now, even if they had the desire to resist, are powerless against it.
But Christ, being “made strong” for the task in the manner we have described, conquered it. He did so by first overcoming it’s power in himself whilst he was living and then abolishing it by slaying it in his body by the cross as the Apostle declares. By so doing, he brought reconciliation with God and man by the removal of that which is the cause of all the discord, disharmony, hatred and transgression, so abhorrent to his and our Heavenly Father. He bruised the serpent wherein it’s power lay – in the head.
CURSED BY THE LAW
In the process, he fulfilled the law given by God to Israel through Moses. Yet it cursed him for it’s edict was “cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree”! In doing this to a completely righteous man, it did two things. Firstly, it demonstrated that it was ineffective to bring life – it was indeed a ministration of death upon sin. Secondly, it made clear that eternal life must be granted upon some principle other than by the handwriting of ordinances that was against us because of the flesh. Yet, paradoxically, as it may seem, the first was necessary before the second could be made manifest.
The apostle Paul writing to the Philippians, again speaking of the sacrifice of Jesus states, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 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” (2:8-10).
What irony there is here. Jesus had to be lifted up in death before he could be uplifted far above all principalities and powers and endowed with eternal life. We do well, therefore, to enquire what was so significant about the manner of our Lord’s death to make possible so exalted a position. It was evidently no accident. The answer is found in the consideration of what was thereby accomplished. Jesus in speaking to Nicodemus concerning the means of salvation said, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life”(Jno 3:14-15). Not just believe that he lived and died, but the meaning of it all. We have stated elsewhere in these studies that God, in teaching men the Truth in all it’s aspects not only speaks in plain words, but to avoid any misunderstanding uses other forms of transferring the same thoughts and ideas. So here.
ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS
The circumstances surrounding the incidents concerning Israel in the wilderness are well known. Having been delivered from death in Egypt with a “mighty hand and a stretched out arm”, it was not long before they showed their hostility towards Moses and God their deliverer. Although all their needs were miraculously satisfied in the provision of water, manna and quails, still they went on murmuring. The innate antipathy which comes to the surface when the natural man is confined and restrained is made manifest.
The record in Numbers 21 states: “And the people spake against God and against Moses. Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and much people of Israel died”.
In accordance with their request, God provided deliverance, for, acting on Divine instructions, “Moses made a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of Brass, he lived”. What lessons are here, teaching exactly the same things, in a graphic way, as the other scriptures to which we have referred! There is a relationship between the speaking against God and Moses, the loathing of Divine provision and the serpent that had a fatal bite. These things connected, as they were meant to, in the minds of Israel. They went to Moses and said, “We have spoken against the Lord and against thee, pray unto the Lord that he take away the serpents from us”.
This whole episode is a parable of our true estate as dying creatures. Men are astray from God. Though he provides for their needs, sending his rain upon the just and on the unjust, yet they turn away and worship and serve the creature more than the creator. The poison of the serpent-mind permeates their system individually and collectively and in its outworking brings pain and suffering and death.
Salvation is found when men acknowledge their malady, their own impotence to remedy it and turn to God for help. Brass in Scripture represents the flesh. The brazen serpent lifted up upon the pole was therefore typical of the One who, in possession of that flesh with the cause of death in it, alias the serpent – the diabolos – should impale it upon the tree, thus showing to all who were drawn to it, what had to be done in it’s removal before salvation from death could be achieved.
So Jesus said, just prior to his crucifixion, “Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said signifying what death he should die” (Jno 12:31-33). The prince of this world, it’s present ruler is the diabolos. His power was destroyed in Jesus, who is returning shortly to the place of his great victory to be crowned as King, hang his ensign upon the walls of Zion, and rule therefrom for the Aion of the Aions.
The teaching of the Scriptures relative to our subject is all in perfect accord. In the evidence we have given of the reality both of and in the Atonement we stand in awe and marvel at the outworking in Christ of the Divine Scheme of redemption, its perfection, justice and harmony. There is no room for mere legal niceties, or wrong ideas concerning the fleshly constitution of Jesus. He was made exactly the same as ourselves. The vital difference related to the quality, capacity and holiness of his mind. Because of that it is not proper to ascribe to him adjectives which apply to us, but not to him.
Though identical in nature, he was not a “child of wrath”. We compound our sin by transgression not once, but many times. The spirit that is in us lusteth, conceives, and brings forth sin in action – and goes on doing it. With Jesus, it was never allowed to conceive, let alone fructify. Though, undoubtedly, the power was there as we have shown, he was not responsible for it’s presence, so that any reference to the wrath of God in his case is quite inadmissible.
Jesus was the word made flesh. He, as a matter of conscious choice emptied himself of all personal ambition. It was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father. He filled his receptive mind with everything Divine. All that he did and said was from that standpoint. He was the manifestation of God in flesh. Given the Sprit without measure, it enabled him to make manifest the power of the Deity, in the mighty works, the miracles he performed, to be en rapport with his Father, to speak his words for they were one in heart and mind, to bring to perfect remembrance all the Scriptures.
Yet at the end, when none of these could no longer be actively made manifest, when this Divine life was ebbing away, the Spirit left him. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken men”? Could there have been anything more poignant, more heart-rending than that cry? It is there recorded for good reasons. All that was left was flesh – sin’s flesh under condemnation, and it was not possible for God to be identified with it in death. Jesus acutely felt the moment of parting – hence the bitterness of the cry. But he was not forsaken. It was a necessary part of the Atonement, fitting perfectly into the Divine mosaic.
It remains for us now to demonstrate how this great sacrificial work affects us, for at present Jesus alone of the sons of men is alive for ever more, having obtained eternal redemption. This we will endeavour to do in our next study.