by Athol Walter
A collection of thoughts centring on the events surrounding the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Subjects include:
The Easter weekend has now passed, and as I was working in the garden, I found myself thinking back over what I heard during the Easter period, and more particularly, what I didn’t hear. I was pleasantly surprised at how much coverage the television programmes gave to church activities over the weekend, and they also featured short messages from the local Anglican and Roman Catholic Bishops.
My wife, Eveline, and I went to a Good Friday service at a Salvation Army Fellowship where we have some friends. We were welcomed warmly, and the message we heard concentrated on the Lord’s work on the Cross, finishing with the challenge that we should always remember we are redeemed people because of that work.
During his message, the speaker mentioned the Lord giving up His spirit and dying, which had a profound effect on the Roman Centurion standing nearby. This caused my thoughts to turn to a point that seems to be almost unknown amongst God’s people. A reason for this may be that our English translations obscure the point.
Each Gospel records the moment of the Lord’s death. These quotes are from the NKJV:
Matthew 27:50: ‘And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.’
Mark 15:37: ‘And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last.’
Luke 23:46: ‘And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”. Having said this, He breathed His last.’
John 19:30: ‘So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.’
Note that Matthew uses a different expression to the other three, and so does John, while Mark and Luke use the same expression. This means that three different Greek words are used by the Gospel writers to describe the Lord ‘breathing His last’. Matthew uses the word apheken and ‘yielded’ is a good translation. Another good translation would be ‘let it go’. Both Mark and Luke tell us that ‘the Lord breathed His last’. The Greek word here is exepneusen and it is not hard to recognise the ‘-pneu-’ part of the word. This is what gives us such words as ‘pneu-matic’ and ‘pneu-monia’, all to do with air and breathing.
John, however, gives us a word that is quite different: paradidomi. This word is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, nor in ancient Greek writing, of someone dying. The root word and its derivations are used 125 times in the New Testament, but John’s use of it in relation to the Lord’s death is unique. Paradidomi is translated by such English words as delivered, gave, committed, recommended, cast, to name only some of them. The thing to notice is that it indicates a positive action, not a passive one. It is never used of surrendering or submitting anything in a powerless way. So a more accurate rendering would be, ‘And He handed up, or delivered up, His spirit’.
The Lord did not meekly yield up His life, or simply expire. Remember that He had previously said, ‘No man takes (my life) from Me. I lay it down of myself’. John 10:18. And when the work of atonement was complete, He willed Himself to die.
But this raised another question in my mind. If the Lord laid down His own life, with no man taking it from Him, how then can Israel be charged with His murder? The answer is found in the type of execution the Lord underwent – crucifixion. Unlike other forms of execution, such as beheading, stoning, or even hanging, in crucifixion the victim usually takes a long time to die. It was not unusual for victims to stay alive on a cross for several days. You may recall that Pilate was surprised to learn that the Lord had died so quickly.
So the length of time between the victim being nailed to the cross and his death, allowed Christ to choose the moment when He willed His spirit to leave Him. But the actions of the leaders of Israel in condemning Him on a trumped-up charge, then changing the charge when they went to Pilate because they did not have the power to execute anyone, clearly demonstrated that they wanted this Man dead. Crucifixion thus gave the Lord the opportunity to die at the moment of His choosing, while still maintaining Israel’s culpability for His death.
Paid in Full – It Is Finished
One other point before we leave Golgotha’s hill. While all four Gospel writers tell us that the Lord cried out just before He died, it is only John who tells us what He actually said. It was the Greek word tetelestai. John 19:30 is translated as ‘It is finished!’ in our Bibles, but some archaeological discoveries of papyrus documents from AD 1 have provided a wonderful variation on that meaning. Amongst the many documents discovered, most of which were written in the same Greek as the New Testament, there were a number of what we would call statements of account. These showed amounts of money people owed. Across these statements was written the one word tetelestai, and it was very obvious that it meant ‘paid in full’.
What a glorious truth! How grateful we should be that, when the atoning work of the Lamb of God had been completed and He could say that it was finished indeed, He used the term that also meant at that time, ‘paid in full’.
Because of my sins, I was under the sentence of death. In a very real sense, I owed God. My life was forfeit. But my Kinsman-Redeemer died in my place, and on the page in God’s ledger, where my sins against the righteous laws of God were listed, is now written the one word, tetelestai. As Paul says in Romans 8: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…’, verse 1, and then, ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?’, verse 33 . The implied answer is ‘no one’, because it is God who justifies us.
Another thought then came to mind. The resurrection of the Lord does not seem to receive the same prominence as His Crucifixion. This is understandable as our Saviour’s sufferings and death on the Cross are extremely heart wrenching. Paul, however, makes it very clear that without the resurrection, we have no hope either in this life or the next. 1 Corinthians 15 is the great treatise on resurrection, and in verses 12 to 19, he forcibly points out that without the Lord’s resurrection, the preaching of apostles and others was empty, and the faith of the believer is futile. He goes further and states that if Christ did not rise, then we are still in our sins! Also, believers who had at that time fallen asleep in Christ have perished, and those believers who remain alive are the most miserable of all men. Sad state of affairs indeed!
Then verse 20 starts with the glorious words: ‘But now Christ IS risen from the dead…’ and this Biblical doctrine is equally as important as the doctrine associated with the death of the Lord. We must never forget it.
We find that, in the wonderful progression contained in Ephesians 2, being raised with Christ has its place, and if it is left out, our ultimate hope of being seated with Christ in heavenly realms has no basis.
The beginning of our journey with Christ starts when we died with Him. This became a reality in our lives when we responded to the Gospel in faith, although in God’s reckoning it happened that day on Golgotha. Then we were made alive in Him. Obviously, the Lord had to be brought to life again before He could leave the tomb. Then we were raised together with Him, and then, when He ascended to the heights of Glory, we ascended there with Him in God’s plan. It is not hard to see that if we take out the resurrection step, we cannot complete the whole journey.
The Day of Atonement
The last thought that comes to mind as I think back on Easter – and it certainly is not the least thought, by any means – is to do with the events of the resurrection day.
Some women came to the tomb to prepare the Lord’s body properly for burial, while it was still dark on that Sunday morning. Of course, they found the tomb empty. Peter and John were called, and after they left the garden, Mary Magdalene remained nearby, standing alone. The Lord approaches her, and she does not recognise Him until He speaks her name. She wants to hold His feet in reverence and love, but He forbids her, saying, ‘Do not cling to Me for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to My father”.’ John 20:17
The significance of these words had escaped me for years, until the truth behind them was brought to my attention by Arthur Custance in his book The Seed of the Woman. The first thing to note is that the Lord had ascended to Heaven quite some time before the disciples saw Him disappear up into the clouds forty days later. Secondly, we must know something of the Day of Atonement as recorded in Leviticus 16 to appreciate what the Lord was saying. And the third thing is that, later in the day, when the Lord appeared to the disciples in the upper room, He stretched out His arms and said, ‘Touch Me’.
So what does it all mean? You will have to know Leviticus 16 to follow what I say now. In preparation for the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to undergo a considerable cleansing ritual, and, until the important ceremonies of the day had been accomplished, he could not be touched by anyone who was not also ceremoniously clean.
The high priest dressed in plain robes for these ceremonies, not in his usual colourful robes of office. After making certain sacrifices, he went into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood from the sacrificial lamb on and around the Mercy Seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant. Then when he had performed all the required duties, he left his plain clothes behind in the Temple and, dressed in His glorious robes, came out and presented Himself to the waiting people of Israel.
I have passed over some details of both the High Priest’s activities and also the type-teaching behind it all, so that we can concentrate on the important point for us at the moment.
As we well know, the Lord fulfilled the meaning of all the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings in His one work of Redemption. He was the true Lamb of God, but at the same time, He was also the true High Priest who presented the offering on the altar of God. And it was in His capacity as High Priest that He had to say to Mary that morning, ‘You mustn’t touch Me, Mary, for I have not yet ascended to My Father’. If Mary had touched Him, He would have been made unclean, and would have been unable then to enter the true Holy of Holies in Heaven to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial Lamb, His own blood, on the heavenly Mercy Seat. And that was what He did that day, I believe, between the time He revealed Himself to Mary, and when He returned later that same day, and showed Himself to the disciples.
But when did the Lord come forth in the glorious robes to reveal Himself to His people? That does not happen until His return to earth, when His feet touch down on the spot from where He left. That spot is on the outskirts of Jerusalem in Israel. That is when Israel’s King, Messiah, Redeemer and High Priest, reveals Himself to His people, and, at long last, they recognise Him and accept Him in true repentance. May that wonderful day not be far away!
Down from His glory, ever living story,
My God and Saviour came, and Jesus was His name.
Born in a manger, to His own a stranger,
A man of sorrows, tears and agony.
Without reluctance, flesh and blood His substance,
He took the form of man, revealed the hidden plan,
O glorious mystery, sacrifice of Calvary,
And now I know Thou art the great I AM.
O how I love Him, how I adore Him,
My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!
The great Creator became my Saviour,
And all God’s fullness dwelleth in Him.
(From the song written by William-Booth Clibborn.)