Most of us don’t think about it all the time. Overemphasis on it may lead to depression. Too much concern about it can cause us to stop accomplishing anything in our lives. I once had a doctor tell me “None of us are going to get out of this alive.” I had an aunt who had terminal cancer and she spent the last year of her life obsessing about it, planning every detail of her final moments on earth. What I am talking about, of course, is death.
We will all have to go through it. None of us can avoid it. It is a fact; we all have to die.
Jesus was no different. He knew He was going to face death. But then again, Jesus was different; Jesus was God. Christians believe He had divine powers, extraordinary insight, a sense of purpose for all that He did in His life. In the post “Looking Into the Mind of Jesus”, I summarize John Stott’s argument that Christ knew He had a purpose for His life and that purpose centered on His crucifixion. Stott even tried to make the case that Jesus intended the cross to be the central symbol of Christianity. That idea was in Christ’s mind from the beginning.
That may be, but some would say that is a bit far-fetched. How could anyone plan for a religion to adopt a symbol that represented a horrific method of execution? How can Stott write an outrageous sentence like “the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus Himself.” Others might say that of course Jesus could have done that; He is all powerful. He is God.
Whatever one chooses to believe about this matter, let’s put this centrality of the cross debate aside and deal with more practical matters about the imminent death of Jesus Christ. Stott states that there were three “earthly” factors that led to the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very aware of these factors, in fact some would say He did very little to avoid His death. He knew that Jewish national leaders hated Him, He knew that Biblical Scripture predicted His death, and there is evidence that He made very deliberate choices which led to His death.
Can we argue about the centrality of the cross as a plan in the mind of Jesus?
Can we argue that Jesus was surprised that He was going to die a horrific, violent death?
Jesus knew that Jewish leaders were actively trying to find a way to have Him killed. Christ did not have a rigid attitude toward the Law, especially the Law regarding The Sabbath. When Jesus encountered a poor man with a shriveled hand in a synagogue on Sabbath day, He did not hesitate to help the man. He healed his hand. The Gospel writer Mark comments that the “Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” [Mark 3: 6]. Christ knew this and He also was well aware that other important prophets had already been persecuted. Essentially, Jesus threatened the power structure of the day. Stott recounts Jesus’ interpretation of Isaiah 61 in the synagogue when He expressed a “divine preference” for Gentiles. As recorded in Luke 16-30, the Jews in attendance drove Jesus out of town, took Him to a hill and were ready to throw Him down a cliff. Jesus walked away from this threat, but He knew that eventually they would succeed in their mission to kill Him.
Furthermore, Jesus Christ knew the Scriptures. It was foreordained that the Messiah would have to suffer, would have to die, would be resurrected and would experience God’s glory. Stott comments on Jesus’ Old Testament references about His fate but for me the strongest forecast of His death comes in Isaiah. As a novice Christian, I was not an avid reader of the Old Testament, but when I had to read Isaiah as part of a Bible study at church I marveled at the words from the Eighth Century B.C. Prophet. Yahweh is “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” He was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” He is “raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” The thoughts of Isaiah influence so much of what Jesus said in His last days. When He commented that He “must suffer many things” and has “not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” His thoughts allude to Isaiah 53. Stott comments: “It was from this chapter more than any other that He learned that the vocation of the Messiah was to suffer and die for human sin and so be glorified.” It all makes sense when Jesus turned to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and said “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” Christ knew the Scriptures; He knew He had to die for mankind.
Finally, one can analyze Jesus’ choices that led to His death. I have always wondered why Jesus did not summon Angels to save Him from the suffering He had to endure. I have always wondered why Jesus had to answer Pilate’s query about Jesus being king with “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth My voice.” He could have just said “No!”.
He was the Son of God; He had the power. He had a mind and could make choices; He did not have to condemn Himself.
Yet He did…
Stott writes that Jesus was determined “to fulfill what was written of the Messiah, however painful that would be” . It was not due to a sense of fatalism or a desire to be a martyr for the faith. He believed the Old Testament Scripture and was determined to do the will of His Father. “Father, if You are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done, not Mine.” The human side of Jesus knew that He was headed for great suffering but He chose to accept the will of His father over the dread of the pain ahead. He did not have to go to Jerusalem for Passover, but He went. In His last days His language changed. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected. What has been written about Him must be fulfilled. When He did not appeal for Angelic help it was because God’s strength must shine forth in His weakness. “It was not because He was the helpless victim of evil forces arrayed against Him or of any inflexible fate decreed for Him, but because He freely embraced the purpose of His Father for the salvation of sinners, as it had been revealed in Scripture” [Stott, 37].
Without a doubt, Jesus knew His days were numbered as He travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate His last Passover. It was clear to Him that the people who hated Him the most were the ones who had the most power. It was clear to Him that the Scripture foretold that He would have to suffer many things and He would have to give His life as a ransom for many. It was also clear that He had to make hard choices in order to bring about His Father’s will. He was a man on a mission and His own death dominated His mind. He knew that He had come to save mankind, to suffer us from our sins.
He was not surprised by His death, in fact He knew it was coming, He knew when it would come and how it would come. This foreknowledge does not compare to my knowledge that I will die one day; it is much more. He did not ask to be delivered from death because that is the reason He came to earth, for He knew His death was “glorification”…
We know why He came to earth, for in His death we are saved.
“For I have not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
“God made Him who had no sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”*
*2 Corinthians 5:21