Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Meaning of His Death

Of all our thirteen lessons this quarter, this one is the most profound.

It’s easy to trivialize the subject, as millions do. Putting a cross on a church roof or hanging it around one’s neck or on the living room wall, is not what Jesus meant by His phrase about “bearing the cross:”

“He said to them all, If any one will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it”(Luke 9:23, 24).

Profound words, but what do they mean?

1. First, we must understand what kind of death Jesus died: here is where Seventh-day Adventists have a great contribution to make to the spiritual life of professed Sunday-keeping Christians everywhere. “Babylon” does not, cannot, understand what happened on that cross of Jesus. And it is not their fault primarily, for they have inherited a pagan misconception about the death that Jesus died.
2. As He hung on the cross, the kind Ladies Aid Society women of Jerusalem offered Him a sponge filled with a deadening narcotic. (They probably did this for all victims of the horrible Roman–invented death by crucifixion; it was just an expression of their womanly kindness and sympathy with human suffering; thank God that He created woman!)
3. Being human as well as being divine, Jesus would have loved to bite down hard on that sponge and drink down the narcotic and simply go to sleep, as the two thieves who were crucified with Him doubtless did. The believing thief died happily, trusting the promise of Jesus that he would be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43; put the comma in the right place, because neither Jesus nor the believing thief were in “paradise” that day!). That one believing thief will simply wake up in the resurrection. Then is when he will eternally be thankful that he was privileged to be literally “crucified with Christ”—the only human on earth so privileged!
4. Moses had long ago declared that any criminal who is sentenced to die on a tree is automatically “accursed of God”(Deut. 21:22, 23). Everyone believed what Moses had said—even of Jesus; and we can be sure that the hate-driven scribes and Pharisees who cried “crucify Him” slapped each other on the back in triumph when they saw Jesus was hanged on His cross. “See? We’ve been right all along to reject Him,—He cannot be the Messiah, look, He’s hanged on a tree!”
5. But they had not thought about what Isaiah says of Christ’s crucifixion: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. ... We esteemed Him not” (53:3).
6. Doubtless Isaiah’s message brought great comfort to believing, repentant victims of Rome’s cruelty. As Jesus had “compassion” on suffering people of His day, so God has all along had compassion on Rome’s many victims of crucifixion.
7. The death of Jesus was not like the death of any other person in all time. The only death that any humans have ever suffered is the “first” death—the common lot of all descendants of fallen Adam.
8. Not one person, no matter how wicked, has ever as yet endured what the Bible calls “the second death” (cf. Rev. 2:11; 20:14); with the sole exception of Jesus.
9. The second death will come only at the end of the thousand years (“millennium”). When it happens at last, there will be “silence in heaven” for a “space” of time (cf. Rev. 8:1), God and the holy angels grieving for the death of all who have chosen to end their existence by the second death. Yes, they have chosen it!
10. Ellen White declares that at the end, the lost will welcome their death by the Lake of Fire—so the common picture of the lost being cast screaming and yelling in protest while being thrown in is incorrect. Let us look:
11. “A life of rebellion against God has unfitted them for heaven. Its purity, holiness, and peace would be torture to them; the glory of God would be a consuming fire. They would long to flee from that holy place. They would welcome destruction, that they might be hidden from the face of Him who died to redeem them. The destiny of the wicked is fixed by their own choice. Their exclusion from heaven is voluntary with themselves, and just and merciful on the part of God” (The Great Controversy, p. 543; emphasis supplied).
12. The Lord Jesus Christ has done something for every man, woman, and child in the earth:
He has died the second death of everyone! “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9).
13. That “death” that Jesus “tasted” cannot be the first death, which is only a dreamless sleep. Therefore, it can mean only the “second death.”
14. That’s why the Samaritans said that Jesus is already “the Saviour of the world,” and Paul says that He “is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). That’s two ways that Jesus is “the Saviour of all men”—He is practically, literally, the Saviour of those “that believe.” But in a judicial sense, He is also “the Saviour of the world” in that He has died the second death of every man.
15. This is made clear in Romans 5:15-18: “God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to the wrongdoing of that one man [the fallen Adam]. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many [everyone], its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. ... The judicial action, following on the one offence [of Adam], resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace [of Jesus], following on so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal. ... It follows, then, that as the result of one misdeed [of Adam] was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act is acquittal and life for all” (NEB).
16. There can be only one response from us if we have honest hearts that can appreciate the agape of Christ: “henceforth” we are totally dedicated to Jesus, His love (agape) ever constraining us to bear our cross with Jesus, the cross whereon self is crucified with Him!

—Robert J. Wieland