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Vol. XX. MAY 15, 1899. No. 10.
The Lord Betrayed……………………………115
The Great High Priest
The “Good Confession” before
“He Was Numbered with the
Conventions the Coming
A “Pilgrim” in the West………………………114
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SUBSCRIPTIONS AND BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS
WATCH TOWER BIBLE & TRACT SOCIETY,
“BIBLE HOUSE,” 610, 612, 614 ARCH ST., ALLEGHENY, PA., U.S.A.
SUBSCRIPTION PRICE, $1.00 A YEAR IN ADVANCE.
MONEY MAY BE SENT BY EXPRESS, N.Y. DRAFT, MONEY ORDER, OR REGISTERED.
FROM FOREIGN COUNTRIES BY FOREIGN MONEY ORDERS, ONLY. SPECIAL
TERMS TO THE LORD’S POOR, AS FOLLOWS:—
Those of the interested who, by reason of old age, or other infirmity or adversity, are unable to pay for the TOWER will be supplied FREE, if they send a Postal Card each December, stating their case and requesting the paper. We are not only willing, but anxious, that all such be on our list continually.
CONVENTIONS THE COMING SEASON
It is urged that we have a Convention of WATCH TOWER friends this year in Indianapolis, Ind., during the session of the Epworth League in that city in the latter part of July; and another in St. Louis, Mo., in October, during the time of the St. Louis Exposition.
It is proposed that these conventions shall last for about three days each, and be rather local than general. At the dates chosen there will be specially low railroad fares to these cities.
This is merely a preliminary notice. Particulars later.
WORK FOR THE UNEMPLOYED
Brother C. A. Owen desires that any of the friends out of employment be directed to write to him at No. 623 West Michigan Ave., Indianapolis, Ind. All such should remember the colporteur work also.
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A “PILGRIM” IN THE WEST
Friends in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa who desire a visit from one of the “Pilgrims” will please report to us at once that we may make up the route accordingly.
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ALLEGHENY CHURCH MEETINGS
Preaching and divine worship every Sunday afternoon in Bible House chapel, No. 610 Arch street, at 3 P.M.
Cottage meetings for prayer and testimony on Wednesday evenings; and Dawn Circles for Bible Study on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings—various localities, Pittsburg and vicinity—inquire at WATCH TOWER office.
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THE LORD BETRAYED
MAY 14.—JOHN 18:1-14.
“He is despised and rejected of men.”—Isa. 53:3.
AFTER the Last Supper, and after his discourse to the disciples respecting the Vine and the branches, came our Lord’s beautiful prayer recorded in John’s 17th chapter. Then, probably about midnight, Jesus, with the eleven, passed outside the gate of Jerusalem, crossed the little brook called Cedron, and on the farther hill above it entered the olive orchard known as the Garden of Gethsemane: perhaps it was a public garden, or possibly the property of some one friendly to our Lord. What purports to be its site is now maintained as a garden, and has been for centuries. It is in charge of monks who take pleasure in receiving visitors to view it. There are about six or eight very large and evidently very old olive trees in this garden at the present—they give evidence of being at least one thousand years old, but possibly are much older.
While talking with his disciples and praying for them our Lord seemingly was full of good courage: while exhorting them that their hearts be not troubled evidently his own heart was not cast down. But as the little company wended its way to Gethsemane we may well suppose that a great weight fell upon our dear Redeemer’s sensibilities. We can imagine him saying, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Matt. 26:38.) The present visit to Gethsemane, therefore, was evidently very different from previous visits. Some appreciation of the momentous occasion was no doubt inspired in the hearts of the Apostles by the Master’s dejection, and yet they probably but slightly comprehended what was about to come to pass.
Arrived at the Garden, we glean from other Evangelists that our Lord left eight of the Apostles near the gate, taking Peter, James and John, his closest companions, a little farther with him, and cautioning them all to watch and pray, because it was an hour of special trial. Going a little farther by himself, he communed with the Father in secret. His feelings were not and could not be shared even by his beloved disciples; they could not appreciate the trial through which he was passing; they had not yet been begotten of the spirit. Thus in his most trying hour Jesus was alone—”Of the people there was none with me.”—Isa. 63:3.
It is difficult for the majority, even of Christian people, to appreciate the true character of our dear Lord’s trial, which in this instance so wrought upon his nervous system as to produce a bloody sweat. Many compare our Lord’s course with that of some of his martyr followers who have gone forth into death with remarkable courage, and in contrasting matters they are inclined to wonder why our Lord, who was perfect, should have endured so much more a passion of suffering than his imperfect followers. To grasp the true situation it is necessary that several things be borne in mind:—
(1) For our Lord, who had a perfect right to life, to lay it down in death, was a very different matter from the laying down of a forfeited and impaired life on the part of those who could not hope to keep it long anyway. (2) Our race, already nine-tenths dead, has but a feeble appreciation of the great value of life—all of its experience having been in connection with dying, it has come to regard death with equanimity. But not so our Lord, the “prince of life,” who had been with the Father from the beginning, and by whom all things were made—he realized life as a very precious boon, privilege, enjoyment. To him, therefore, death must have been much more terrible than to us who are already nine-tenths dead, and correspondingly blunted in all of our sensibilities. True he had the Father’s
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assurance that if faithful unto death he should have a resurrection, and unquestionably he believed the Father’s promise—all of his course in life gives abundant evidence of his implicit faith in the Father. And yet in his case this must have been a crucial trial to faith, much more so than with us. As we have only a shred of a forfeited life to lay down, so we have on the other hand, not only the Father’s promise of a future life through Christ, but we have the example of the Father’s power in the resurrection of our dear Redeemer: but our Lord Jesus had no such evidence of the divine power; he himself, according to the divine promise, was to be the “first-born from the dead,” a first-fruit unto God of his creatures.—Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:20.
But all this had already been counted, weighed and accepted from the very beginning of his ministry. He had already informed the disciples that it was necessary that he should lay down his life for the sheep, and that he was about to do so. (John 10:15.) We are not to assume, therefore, when our dear Redeemer prayed, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me,” that he meant if it were possible he might escape dying. He well knew, and had already explained to the Apostles, that the drawing of the world could not take place except he were lifted up as the sin-offering—that it was absolutely necessary that he should die for our sins and enter into his glory.—John 3:14; 12:32.
The cup which he prayed might pass from him, if possible, we must therefore suppose to have been the shame and ignominy of arrest as a law-breaker, a public trial and conviction, and subsequent crucifixion as a malefactor. It was one thing to die for our sins, as men generally die, without special shame or contumely; it was another thing that he should die with such extreme shame, dishonor and contempt. Quite probably in the Father’s wisdom this last feature was kept more or less hidden from our dear Redeemer until just about the time of its accomplishment. And apparently our Lord Jesus did not see any absolute necessity for his suffering more than the sinner suffered, in order to pay man’s ransom price. Hence his prayer for a time was, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The Apostle also notes this distinction, saying, he “became obedient unto death,” and then adds “even the death of the cross.”—Phil. 2:8.
The death of the cross, with its attendant dishonor, reproach, etc., so far as we may be able to judge, was not necessary as our ransom price, because the penalty did not read, In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die with public reprobation and dishonor by crucifixion. Since the penalty was death (Gen. 2:17), we may suppose that our Lord’s death by any means would have fully paid man’s ransom price. However, the additional features were deemed necessary by the Father, and the “cup” did not pass. The Father required this extreme of obedience as a test, a proof not only to himself but before all his intelligent creatures of the absolute loyalty of heart of his “well beloved Son,” upon whom he designed shortly thereafter to confer the great blessing and high exaltation of his own divine nature and joint-heirship in his Kingdom. And the loyalty of our dear Redeemer was fully attested, as the Apostle declares; he “despised the shame,” that is to say, the shame was as nothing in his sight in comparison with the accomplishment of the Father’s purposes, the pleasing of the Father. (Heb. 12:2.) So long as he thought there was a possibility of the elimination of the shame feature, he was nervously anxious to have it so, if possible; but as soon as he realized that this was not the Father’s will his heart instantly responded, “Not my will but thine be done.” Decision respecting the Father’s will immediately brought strength; he was now prepared for any experience, “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”
Meanwhile Judas, who some days before had engaged with the high-priest to betray Jesus, and who left the upper room immediately after the Supper to carry out his nefarious plan, had received of the chief priests and Pharisees a band of men, with a person in charge as an officer, whose mission it was to arrest Jesus in the night and to secure his execution before the Passover. We must wholly disagree with the common thought that this “band” consisted of an army of three to six hundred Roman soldiers. They certainly acted very differently from soldiers ordinarily under such circumstances. Besides, the record by all of the Evangelists is that this band was sent, not by Pilate nor by Herod, the Roman representatives, but by the chief priests and Pharisees, who we know had no command whatever of the Roman garrison. To our understanding this band which apprehended Jesus was very similar to the one mentioned in John 7:32-46.
It would appear that the Jewish Sanhedrin exercised a certain amount of authority in respect to religious matters, and were permitted to make arrests, but not to execute criminals without the consent of the Roman governor. We remember that the apostles were arrested on several occasions by such officers of the Jews.—See Acts 5:17,18,22,25-40.
Both Matthew and Mark speak of this aggregation, under officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, as a “multitude,” and our Lord’s words indicate that they were armed with sticks and swords such as were common to the people in general, and he does not mention spears, which would probably have been a part of the armament of a band of Roman soldiers. This
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thought is further emphasized by the fact that it was
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the high priest’s servant who evidently made the first assault upon Jesus, and received a blow from Peter’s sword. If Roman soldiers had the matter in charge the high priest’s servant no doubt would have been less officious.
It is presumed, and apparently on good grounds, that this company seeking Jesus, under the guidance of Judas, went first to the upper room which our Lord and the Apostles had left probably less than an hour before. Finding that Jesus and the eleven were gone, Judas knew that he would be most likely to find them in the Garden of Gethsemane, for “Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples.” John’s account omits the particulars of the betrayal given by the other Evangelists: possibly the loving disciple felt so much ashamed of the facts that he preferred not to mention them. Certainly very few acts of treachery ever paralleled this one, and all mankind, even in their perverted condition of mind, seem to realize that the position of traitor is amongst the most despicable on the calendar, and such treachery as that of Judas, against such kindness and love and goodness as that of his Master, we may be thankful is not so very common. And yet there are correspondencies in the experiences of the Lord’s people, “in perils amongst false brethren.” It behooves us each to look to it that we permit nothing akin to the spirit of Judas to rankle in our hearts. Our Lord puts the “members of his body” in such matters on a plane with himself, and assures us that whoever shall injure one of the least of these his brethren, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.—Matt. 18:6.
Of course there will always be a motive, good or bad, back of every deed done to the under-members of his body as well as to the Head. To find strong motives is not to find valid excuses for treacheries. So far as our experience and judgment go, the lesson is that such treachery from “false brethren” usually has its spring in covetousness, lust for influence, power or position, and the desire to glorify such unholy ambitions cannot fail to corrupt any heart which entertains them. As one has said:—
“Sow a thought, you reap an act;
Sow an act, you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, you reap a character;
Sow a character, you reap a destiny.”
Judas had been doing some of this sowing of evil thoughts for a considerable time before his thoughts took outward shape in evil acts. He was covetous of wealth and of influence; he became the treasurer of the little group of disciples, and the intimation of the Scriptures is that he purloined to his own private uses a portion of the contributions. As usual, his love for money increased the more he exercised it, until he was willing to betray his Master for thirty pieces of silver—equivalent to about twenty dollars of our money, tho representing in value of labor a much larger sum. It would seem, too, that Judas was looking forward to the promised Kingdom, and probably anticipated a high position as royal treasurer of that Kingdom.
It is quite possible, indeed probable, we think, that Judas was seriously disappointed in respect to the result of his betrayal. Apparently he expected that our Lord would deliver himself by miraculous power from the hands of his enemies. This is the most charitable view we would know how to take of his treacherous conduct: it relieves the blackness of the act only a very little, however, for he who would be willing to despitefully use his best friend, even temporarily, for a money consideration, gives evidence of having prostituted every good and noble sentiment of his being to his love of money. Indeed, the love of honor may have had considerable to do with the matter, for he may have hoped by bringing about this crisis that our Lord would be compelled to set up the long-promised Kingdom, or else to own that all his claims and promises were fraudulent.
Judas surely did succeed in expediting matters, and in bringing about the installation of the embryo Kingdom of God; but not in the manner he expected, nor in any degree to his own honor or advantage. Thus it must be with those who receive the truth and who profess discipleship under it—not in the love of the truth, but in the love of honors hoped for, either present or future. Let us all who have named the name of Christ take heed and watch and pray lest there should be in any of us any of the elements of this vile character. And let us remember that there are various secret ways, as well as the more outward ones, in which we may betray the Lord and the “brethren.”
The evangelist declares that Jesus knew in advance all things that would come upon him. We are elsewhere told that while he prayed, “There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22:43.) This ministry may have consisted in informing him of the Father’s will in respect to what things he should suffer, and how they were to be expected, and this knowledge that the matter was settled, and the assurance that the Father would overrule it all, strengthened his heart and gave him the great calmness which we observe in all his subsequent course.
The “band” sent to apprehend him evidently expected that they might be obliged to seek for him in the shadows of the trees, etc., and hence they were provided with torches and lanterns. Unquestionably
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they were greatly surprised that our Lord, instead of fleeing from them, advanced to them, and inquired whom they sought. Quite possibly some of those in the “band” had previous knowledge of the Lord—of his miracles, power over devils, etc., and this may have been the reason for their manifestation of weakness in retreat and falling to the ground. Or it is possible that our Lord exercised over them a superior mental power which produced this effect, for the purpose of showing that he had full power to resist them if he had chosen to use it.
The same lesson, we believe, is taught by Peter’s use of the sword upon the high priest’s servant. We are to remember that one of the Evangelists records that our Lord instructed the apostles to take swords with them, and that when two were found he said, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36,38.) Our Lord had no thought of having his disciples war a carnal warfare on his behalf, as he subsequently stated, “If my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” (John 18:36.) The two swords were sufficient to show that our Lord’s apprehension was not because there were no means of defence, nor because of cowardice on the part of his disciples, but merely because of his submission—knowing that his hour was come, and that thus it behooved him to suffer for our sins and to enter into his glory.—Luke 24:46.
After this one manifestation of power, as indicating his full ability to cope with that multitude, and indeed his power to have more than twelve legions of angels to defend him, had he so desired (Matt. 26:53), we find our Lord fully submitting himself to capture, merely making condition that the disciples might go their way. How grand the character which at such a moment, under such trying conditions, could so fully forget self and feel interested merely in the welfare of others! How like what we should expect of Him!
“That the saying might be fulfilled which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me I have lost none.” We understand the writer to mean that here again in the Master’s course we find an exemplification of his care for his disciples, as enunciated in his prayer just before leaving the upper room. While the thought of his prayer was chiefly in respect to their spiritual interests, that none of them should be lost, we do well to notice this as a corroborative illustration of our Lord’s care of the physical interests of all who become his disciples. Not a hair of their heads shall fall; nothing shall be permitted to injure them—every event and affair of life will be overruled for their highest good.—Matt. 6:32,33.
It was probably when Jesus began to be bound that Peter drew his sword in his defence; perhaps he remembered the Lord’s words of a few hours previous, to the effect that his followers would all forsake him, and his own promise, “Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.” (Mark 14:29.) Noble, zealous Peter! We love him for his noble expression of sentiment, and for his heroic defence of the Master with the sword against superior numbers. It is the custom of many to decry Peter’s action, as another of his rash errors. We are to remember, however, that the Apostles had not yet received the holy Spirit and therefore could not clearly appreciate the fact that the Kingdom to which they were called is a spiritual Kingdom. Besides, as we have seen, he was merely following the Lord’s counsel in taking the sword with him, and evidently also carrying out the divine purpose in using it. We see nothing to blame, everything to commend. It was a sign of larger import than Peter and the others there realized.
But having permitted the matter to go thus far, our Lord restrained Peter, saying, “Suffer yet thus far. Put up thy sword into the sheath; the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” And so saying he touched his wounded enemy and healed him. The disciples were to see, understand, be fully assured, that our Lord, in delivering himself to his enemies, did it voluntarily, and hence the proceedings were so pantomimed as to enforce this lesson.
How the grace of humility shines out in all the little affairs of our dear Redeemer’s ministry; even at this moment of his surrender to his enemies he does not boast that his course is a voluntary one, nor seek praise as a martyr! He declares the simple truth,
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that the Father required this of him as an evidence of his personal loyalty to him. He confesses himself a servant of God, a son who learned obedience by the things which he suffered. “The cup which the Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Indeed, this was the strength of his victory—his will was fully submitted to the Father’s will, and his faith grasped the fact that the Father permitted no unnecessary evils to come upon him, but only such as he could and would overrule for good.
There is a valuable lesson here for all who are seeking to walk in the footsteps of the great High Priest,—for all the Royal Priesthood. We also are to remember that so long as we abide in Christ, and seek to walk in his footsteps, all the trying experiences of life are carefully measured for us by the Lord—that he does not pour into our cup of sorrow and trial any bitter experiences that are not needful to us, and that will not subsequently work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. (2 Cor. 4:17.) With these assurances, and with the evidences of the Father’s faithfulness to our glorified
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Master and Forerunner, we indeed may have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to the hope set before us in the Gospel.—Heb. 6:18-20.
The healing of the smitten ear, our Lord’s last miracle, was most beautifully illustrative of his character and teachings. It exemplified his words, “Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you.” It showed that he was filled with the divine love which his teachings inculcated, and that he had no bitterness toward those who despitefully used and persecuted him.
The binding of our Lord seems to have been entirely unnecessary, except as the “band” might desire to make an exhibition of their prowess to those who had sent them. Our Lord seems to have remonstrated in respect to this, as per the account given in Mark 14:48,49: “Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves, to take me? I was daily with you in the Temple, teaching, and ye took me not. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” It was then that the eleven forsook him and fled. Judas continuing with the band went to the house of Annas the priest, who doubtless had bargained with Judas, and no doubt it was at this time that the thirty pieces of silver were paid over, Judas having now shown a fulfilment of the contract. Poor wretched man! The Son of man indeed went to death, as it had been written of him, but this made none the less horrible the treachery, the covetousness and murderous spirit that delivered him up to his enemies. So with the members of the body of Christ: it must needs be that offences come—it is a part of the divine plan that the body of Christ should fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of the Head (Col. 1:24)—but this makes none the less sinful the conduct of those who have to do with such betrayals—especially if they be “false brethren” who have enjoyed some knowledge of the truth. In every instance, however, it will be observed that altho the trials worked out blessing for the Lord and will do so also for all the faithful who suffer with him, the rewards of unrighteousness sought by those who take Judas’ course never yield them the honors and blessings they coveted, and for which they sold themselves to work evil.
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THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST ARRAIGNED
—MAY 21.—JOHN 18:15-27.—
“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”—John 1:11.
ALTHO it is declared that all the disciples fled, John points out that Peter and himself followed at a distance. Their deep interest in the Master would not permit them to go to their homes; they must keep him in sight, and note how things would go with him to the very last. They were powerless to assist him against such great odds, and in the face of his own refusal to be assisted, but they were not powerless to love still. John, it seems, was somewhat acquainted at the high priest’s palace, and readily gained entrance, not only for himself but for Peter.
But these favors and privileges became tests to Peter, and led to his denial of the Lord. And so it is with some of the Lord’s followers of to-day. When they are by themselves, or with others of like precious faith, they are bold and courageous to confess the Lord and to serve him, but if perchance they get into palaces or amongst the servants and officers and high priests of nominal Christianity they are ashamed of the Master and fear to confess him, lest they should be cast out of the privileges enjoyed in the society of those who have not yet recognized the truth. Far better would it have been for poor Peter had he openly declared, “Yes, I am one of his disciples, and since I presume that none such are wanted here I will go out.” How much so honorable and proper a course would have reflected to his credit in the eyes of all just persons, and how much blessing it would have brought to him!
Peter’s failure to take the proper course brought him later to a still more trying situation, when a kinsman of the man whose ear he had cut off asked him point-blank the question, “Did not I see thee in the garden with him?” Matters were getting pretty close for poor Peter. It was more now than a question of leaving the fire and the privileges and honor of the high priest’s court: it was now a question of his identity as the one who had defended Jesus with a sword, and hence a question of his own arrest and trial at the same tribunal with the Master. One false step leads naturally to another; to have now declared for Jesus would have been a public testimony that he was a liar, in addition to leading to his apprehension, and so Peter concluded that in self-defence he must not only repeat the lie, and again deny the Master, but to make the matter more strong before his accusers he began to curse and to swear that he knew not Jesus.
Poor Peter! Truly, as our Lord told him, Satan had desired to have him, to sift him, and surely he was being severely sifted at this time. It seems almost a miracle that he recovered his balance and repented and found forgiveness for his sins. It would seem that our Lord’s prayer on his behalf operated through his previous announcement to Peter of this denial, for after he had thus denied, and after he had noticed the cock crow, Peter remembered the Lord’s words, “The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice.” With feelings better imagined than they can be described, Peter hastily left the High Priest’s apartments now of his own accord, going out into the shadows of early morning, that he might weep bitterly and entreat the Lord’s forgiveness.
There is a lesson for us in the fact that Peter’s failure was along the very line of his strength. He was naturally courageous, had boasted of it, and yet
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failed for lack of courage. “When I am weak then I am strong,” implies that he who feels himself strong is really weak, as in Peter’s case. Let us all learn to specially guard our supposedly strong points of character, remembering that we have a wily foe. We are to realize our weakness, our vulnerableness at any point, except as we keep watch at every point and rely upon the great Captain of our salvation to assist us.
John does not tell the whole of the story; he omits reference to Peter’s cursing and swearing. His love for Brother Peter evidently influenced him to omit that portion of the narrative not absolutely necessary to confirm the Lord’s prediction. The account of the cursing and swearing is given by Mark, whose Gospel record is supposed to have been indited by Peter himself, Mark being in a large measure Peter’s amanuensis.—Mark 14:66-72.
Jesus was examined of the High Priest: that functionary, however evil and murderously disposed at heart, felt bound to at least preserve the forms of justice, altho from the records elsewhere we know that himself and his associates amongst the priests and Pharisees had already determined that Jesus must be put to death because his influence amongst the people was inimical to their own;—because his teachings cast theirs into the shade and exposed their hollowness, bigotry and hypocrisy. Our Lord answered his questions accordingly; refusing to make any specific explanations he merely referred to his teachings, appealing thus to his rights as a Jew. His answer was the perfectly proper and legal one; he had been arrested without just cause, and the judge was now seeking to find a cause. Our Lord merely pointed out that the cause for the arrest must be shown to have been something which preceded the arrest.
It is not necessary for us to suppose that the officer who struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, and reproved him for improper language toward the Chief Priest, was intentionally unjust in the matter. Rather we may suppose that, influenced by his desire to appear zealous in support of the High Priest’s position and judgment, this accentuated his mental unbalance as a fallen man, and led him to imagine evil where there was none. This circumstance, however, gives us the opportunity for discerning just what our Lord meant by his expression in the sermon on the mount, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:39.) Our Lord did not literally turn the other cheek to the man and ask him to smite that also, nor did he even receive the smiting
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in silence. He was not willing that his good conduct and proper language should be evil spoken of without at least a proper endeavor to correct the matter. Hence he asked his smiter to point out wherein he had spoken evil, and suggested to him that if he could not point out the evil he should acknowledge his wrong in having improperly smitten for an evil which could not be pointed out.
In the light of this illustration the Lord’s people are to understand the command, to turn the other cheek, to mean simply that they are not to resist evil with evil; rather, they are to receive more evil than return it in kind. On the contrary, however, they are to resist evil with good; they are to expostulate with evil-doers, as the Master did, endeavoring with kindness and gentleness to have them see the right and the wrong of the questions in dispute.
It would appear that our Lord’s trial by the Jews was held before Caiaphas, the acting High Priest, the son-in-law of Annas, the proper High Priest according to the Jewish law; and the fourteenth verse identifies Caiaphas as the one who had previously declared, “‘It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.’ And this spake he not of himself, but being High Priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”—John 11:50-53.
Here is an illustration of how a great truth may be seen from two opposite standpoints. The prophecy of Caiaphas was strictly true,—in strict accord with all the declarations of the Lord’s Word, and was sent through one of the channels which the Lord had been in the habit of using (the High Priest’s office) yet the person occupying that office, being out of heart-harmony with the Lord, was out of harmony also with the various features of the divine plan, and became an instigator and cooperator in an evil work, which nevertheless was working out in harmony with the divine foreknowledge and program.
There is a lesson in this also for all of the Lord’s people in respect to every feature of divine truth. It is not sufficient that we see certain facts; it is necessary also that we be in heart-harmony with the Lord, else we might, like Caiaphas, aid in fulfilling the Lord’s plan but nevertheless taking a wrong position may be bringing ourselves, with others, under a curse, while still cooperating in the fulfilment of the divine plan. Let all who are of the light, and who have received the truth, seek more and more to walk in the light and in the Master’s footsteps, carefully avoiding the evils which we see illustrated in the cases of Judas, Peter and Caiaphas.
The trial before the Jews was of three parts:—
(1) The examination before Annas the legal High Priest which was wholly unofficial. He sent Jesus bound to Caiaphas the official High Priest of Roman
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appointment, and as such the President of the Sanhedrin, whose court room was probably in the same palace, across the corridor, where Peter stood warming himself.
(2) The preliminary trial before Caiaphas is supposed to have been held between two or three o’clock on Friday morning—the members of the Sanhedrin or Jewish Court having been summoned by messengers as soon as Jesus was apprehended. This hearing was preliminary in the sense that it examined Jesus and formulated and decided upon the charges on which it would convict at the formal meeting at dawn, about five o’clock. For the Jewish law forbade a trial by night.—Luke 22:66-71.
(3) The formal trial before the Sanhedrin at dawn was merely a ceremony—a farce. The determination to kill Jesus having been reached long before his arrest, the matter of his condemnation was rushed through for two reasons. (a) The great Jews feared the common people would defend Jesus against their trumped up charges, which were the only ones even they could formulate. (b) The Passover was at hand and they wanted him killed before it. Ah! how little did they realize that they were being permitted of God to exercise the evil desires of their hearts and thus to fulfil types and prophecies to the very day.
A lesson on this for God’s people is, that it is not sufficient that we go through a form or ceremony of justice; nor is it sufficient that we know in advance that we cannot circumvent the divine plan or hinder its fulfilment. Many will find in the day of reckoning and revealing, that they have served God’s purposes without honor or profit—in a manner that brought upon them condemnation instead of approval. Even the great Adversary Satan will ultimately find (but not in any degree to his credit or blessing) that all his opposition to God, to Christ, and to “the brethren,” has been overruled by divine wisdom and power for good, by him who “maketh the wrath of man to praise him.”
It is all-important then, that we have more than forms of justice, of righteousness; we must have the spirit of righteousness, a love of righteousness,—a sincere desire to know and to do God’s will, else like as the Jews condemned and killed the Just One we might with forms of justice condemn and injure his “brethren.” And to have the desirable condition of love for God and for righteousness implies a full consecration of heart to the Lord. Thus every examination of the subject brings us back to the fact that full consecration to the Lord, full self-surrender to his will as revealed in his Word, is the only proper and only safe course for any to pursue if they would hope to hear the Master’s words, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.”
It was during the interim between the 3 A.M. examination and the 5 A.M. formal conviction of our Lord by his influential enemies, that he was subjected for two hours to the mockery and insults described by three of the Evangelists. (Matt. 26:67,68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:63-65.) These insults were committed by the “servants” and well illustrate the fact that low minds delight in the misfortunes of those whom they realize to be their superiors. These servants manifested the same spirit as their masters—the chief priests and Pharisees—their methods were ruder because they were more ignorant and coarse. The spirit of Christ, the spirit of love, on the contrary, whether in the educated or in the ignorant, is a spirit of love, of gentleness, of sympathy, of kindness. By their fruits both spirits may be known. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ he is none of his.”
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THE “GOOD CONFESSION” BEFORE PILATE
—MAY 28.—JOHN 18:28-40; 1 TIM. 6:13.—
“I find no fault in him.”—John 19:4.
PILATE, the Roman governor of Judea, had in his hands the power of life and death. The Jewish Sanhedrin was permitted to govern the country in a religious way, according to Jewish law and custom, but had no power to order public execution. Apparently they did have the power to stone to death for blasphemy (the charge on which they condemned Jesus) as in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:58); and hence we may suppose that they had such a power in respect to Jesus, but failed to exercise it lest the people should resent the injustice. Moreover, quite possibly they realized the wide influence already attained by his teachings, and desired to make his execution as public and as disgraceful as possible—to the intent that his followers might be chagrined and humiliated, as well as himself, because few would care to confess themselves disciples of one who had been publicly executed as a criminal,—condemned by both civil and ecclesiastical judges. Thus they hoped to nip in the bud the new system of religious teaching, which, if it continued, would evidently entirely subvert their own influence with the people. Thus unwittingly these evil-doers were carrying out the very arrangements foreordained of God—and doing so in the full exercise of their own evil volition.
As already noted, the formal condemnation of our Lord before the Jewish Sanhedrin occurred at dawn, five to six o’clock, and immediately they hurried him to Pilate’s judgment hall, intent on getting him into the hands of the Roman soldiers for execution at the earliest possible moment, so that the multitudes might realize his case as beyond the power of their intervention. Nor had the Jewish rulers any particular reason to suspect that Pilate would hesitate at all to order an execution. Pilate seems to have had a reputation for cruelty. Philo speaks of “his corruption, his acts of insolence, his habit of insulting the people, his cruelty, his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending and most grievous inhumanity at all times—a man of most ferocious passions,
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very merciless as well as very obstinate.” Apparently the rulers of the Jews had frequent cause to appeal to Pilate to be merciful, and generally without effect; they seem to have taken for granted that if any prisoner were brought to him with a request for execution
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he would take pleasure in complying.
We are reminded of our Lord’s words to the Pharisees, “Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity,” when we read that these very persons who murderously were scheming for the destruction of the Just One would not enter into Pilate’s judgment hall, “lest they should be defiled,” and thus be hindered from celebrating the Passover. How wretchedly inconsistent and hypocritical they were! They feared that Pilate’s judgment hall, being under jurisdiction of the Gentiles, might have in it some leaven (a symbol of sin), and realized not that the real leaven of sin had permeated and thoroughly saturated their own hearts—anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife.
What a lesson the Lord’s people have here: for we are to remember that these heart-corrupted conspirators were the professed holiness people of their day and church. While it is not in the power of any to-day to crucify the Lord and put him to an open shame, it is within our power to put to shame, to crucify, his “brethren”—the members of his body. And we fear that some to-day are doing this with as much self-deception as was exercised by these chief priests and Pharisees who secured our Lord’s crucifixion. True, the Pharisees knew not what they did, as Peter says, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.” (Acts 3:17.) And so likewise to-day any who put to shame the members of “the body of Christ” probably are ignorant of what they do. Nevertheless they put themselves under the Lord’s sentence, “It were better that a mill-stone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea.” (Luke 17:2.) Let us each therefore beware, and keep the heart, out of which are the issues of life.
Had the hearts of those Pharisees been in proper condition, full of love of righteousness and truth, and appreciative of whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, they could not have made the mistake of rejecting and crucifying the Lamb of God. Similarly, those who have the spirit of love for the brethren will be hindered from becoming in any manner their persecutors. Only such can properly eat of the antitypical Passover.
The Roman governor, knowing of the peculiar custom of the Jews in respect to their Passover time, accommodated himself to their theory and had his chair of state brought outside the judgment hall to what was known as the Place of the Pavement, an elevated platform. Jesus was called up on this platform for examination, while the Jews standing outside of the unhallowed ground made known to Pilate their accusations. They evidently expected that the mere presentation of Jesus as a prisoner for crucifixion would be sufficient. Apparently they had not even expected to be required to make an accusation; hence their answer, “If he were not a malefactor [evil-doer] we would not have delivered him up unto thee.” Some have suggested, in harmony with the character of Pilate and his probable disrespect for the Pharisees, that his question rather was, “What accusation do you bring against him?” as tho he would give the implication that Jesus rather had ground for making accusation against the Pharisees—which of course was the case. The hardened Roman no doubt had become an expert reader of human character, and could readily see that there were no criminal features in our Lord’s countenance, and many in those of his accusers.
To the surprise of the priests and Pharisees, Pilate turned Jesus over again to them, saying in substance, This is some petty religious quarrel with which I care to have nothing to do; take the prisoner and do with him according to your own laws and customs—imprisoning him, or causing him to be beaten, or whatever you may think proper, according to your law. But, thirsting for our Lord’s death, his persecutors revealed their real condition of heart, saying, “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.”
Hard, cruel, unmerciful tho he was, Pilate realized the true situation—that the guilty were pursuing the innocent to death. That he might have the better opportunity for thinking quietly, and also for hearing what Jesus would say in self-defence, Pilate left the Jews and called Jesus unto him into the judgment hall, where they conversed. There must have been something very striking in our Lord’s personal appearance to have caused Pilate to consider for a moment the rejection of the demands of the Jewish Court or Sanhedrin, for altho he had full power of life and death it was incumbent upon him, as his first duty, to preserve the peace and tranquility of his dominion; and this implied that in a general way at least he must keep on the popular side, especially when the popular side embraced the chief men of the province, and particularly when those chief men desired the execution of one whom they denounced as a disturber of the peace. Pilate’s position was in many respects a delicate one: he must please the government at Rome, and he must avoid unnecessary disputes with the local authorities, who in the present instance were evidently so determined that they would have created a general disturbance
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rather than that their evil scheme should come to naught. The fact is that six years later these people did send to the Roman Emperor such complaints against Pilate as secured his removal.
Alone with Jesus, Pilate’s question was, “Art thou King of the Jews?” The Jews had not made such a charge against Jesus; indeed, they were far from wishing to acknowledge the Galilean as King of the Jews, or as being thus recognized by any number; they had thus far merely charged that Jesus was an evil-doer, an insurrectionist, whose death was necessary to the peace of the nation. It would seem therefore that Pilate had previously heard from some quarter about the riding of Jesus on the ass, and as being hailed by the people as the Son of David a few days previously. That this was not part of the accusation of the Jews seems evident from our Lord’s reply to Pilate, “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?” Are you an interested inquirer after the truth on this subject, or are you merely calling up a matter of which you have heard? Pilate’s reply, “Am I a Jew?” was tantamount to saying, What do I know about your Jewish hopes and expectations? I am the Roman governor, and if you are a king it is your own nation and its chief representatives that have delivered you to me. What have you done, if you are their king, that makes your subjects thus disloyal to you? Apparently there is no great danger of your exercising any power against the Roman empire; you are meek, gentle, lowly, unresisting yourself, and your people are crying out against you. King of the Jews, explain this peculiar situation!
Then Jesus explained that his Kingdom is not of this order of things, otherwise he would have servants to fight and to defend him, and would not be as at present, at the mercy of his enemies; and that his kingdom had not yet commenced. Astonished, and perhaps with some degree of sympathy for a great ruler under such humiliating conditions, Pilate asks, Do you then claim that you are a king? Our Lord answers, “Thou sayest,” that is, Your statement is correct; I am a King. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
This was the good confession which our Lord witnessed before Pontius Pilate, to which the Apostle refers. (1 Tim. 6:13.) He confessed his kingship and its divine authority. We are not to wonder that Pilate was incredulous of our Lord’s claims to kingship, and that he probably thought him a fanatic. We are rather to remember that remarkably few of those who have heard of Jesus have recognized the truth of this statement that he is a King. How few, even amongst professed Christians, recognize the kingly office of our Lord! Many who realize that Jesus was indeed the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, and some who realize that he died for our sins, have never yet seen that he purchased not only man but the empire originally given to the first Adam. Many can realize our Lord in the attitude of Priest who fail to realize that he is also to be a King, and that throughout the Millennial age he will be a Priest upon his throne, “after the order of Melchizedec,” his Church and Bride being associated with him and sharing in both his priestly and his kingly offices.
The priestly office speaks mercy, forgiveness and grace to help; but the kingly office is no less essential to the world’s salvation—men must be delivered from the bondage of sin and death—and must be ruled with the iron rod in order to develop them and fit them for life everlasting; and all of this work belongs to him who redeemed us with his own precious blood. It is well that we remember, too, that a very large proportion of our Lord’s parables related to the Kingdom in its various stages—now embryotic, by and by to be set up with full power and authority to overthrow evil and to bring in everlasting righteousness.
This Kingdom is to be a Kingdom of truth, of righteousness and of love, working well for its subjects, and our Lord’s mission at the first advent was to lay the foundation for that Kingdom by witnessing to the truth—the truth that God is both just and loving, and is willing to receive back into harmony with himself all who love truth and righteousness. It was our Lord’s faithfulness to the truth that brought upon him the opposition of those who were blinded by the Adversary, hence his statement that he came to bear witness to the truth is a brief statement of his mission. It was his witness to the truth that cost him his life, and it was the giving
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of his life in defence of the truth that constituted the redemption price. Similarly all of the Lord’s followers are to bear witness to the truth—the truth in respect to God’s character and plan—the features of that plan accomplished at the first advent in the redemption of the world, and the features of that plan yet to be accomplished in the second advent, in the deliverance of the world from the bondage of sin and corruption. It is such witness to the truth that is to cost all the true followers of Jesus their lives in presenting themselves living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God through Christ Jesus. Let each one who hopes to be a joint-heir with the Prince of Life in the Kingdom witness to the truth—a good confession respecting the Kingdom, its foundation and ultimate superstructure in glory.
A very short discourse on such a text was quite sufficient for Pilate. He had no desire to enter into a theological discussion, which could only reflect unfavorably upon his own past record. He broke off the conversation suddenly, saying, “What is truth?”—as
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tho he would say, Who is truthful? Where is absolute justice to be found, absolute truth, absolute probity? And without waiting for an answer he left Jesus in the judgment hall, went forth to the Place of the Pavement, and addressed the waiting Sanhedrin and their multitude of servants and hangers-on, brought with them to give evidence of popular clamor.
Pilate announced his decision, “I find in him no fault at all.” Then the Jews, fearing that their prey was about to escape, began to bethink themselves of charges to be formulated. They did not mention the charge on which they themselves had convicted Jesus, falsely, namely, blasphemy; for this would have been no crime whatever in the eyes of the Roman governor. Instead, they made three charges, viz., (1) sedition—agitation of the people against the existing order of things; (2) that he interfered with the collection of taxes, teaching the people that it was improper to pay tribute-money to a foreign power; and (3) that he made claims of being a king.—Luke 23:2.
But now learning that Jesus’ home and principal ministry was in Galilee, Pilate thought to relieve himself by referring the entire matter to Herod, who had charge of the province of Galilee, and who was then at Jerusalem, at a palace not far distant. This was the Herod who had caused the death of John the Baptist. Luke tells us (23:8) that Herod was very glad to see Jesus, for having heard much respecting him he hoped also to see some miracle performed by him. Herod questioned our Lord with many words, but received no response whatever, while the chief priests and scribes grew the more vehement in their accusations, seeing that Jesus denied nothing that they said, and that thus they were not called upon for proofs.
Herod no doubt was piqued as well as disappointed by our Lord’s conduct, and unable to gain entertainment from him as expected, he and his guard took sport in mocking the Redeemer’s claims of dignity and kingship.
But with a desire to return Pilate’s compliment, and perhaps with some little touch of remorse of conscience in respect to the beheading of John the Baptist, Herod disposed of his responsibilities in the case by returning our Lord to Pilate. It was after our Lord’s return to Pilate’s judgment hall that the latter, apparently as a final effort to appease the Jews, to preserve the peace of the country, and yet to let go one whom he clearly discerned to be innocent, announced that in view of the clamor against Jesus he would cause him to be scourged, altho he found no fault in him. He evidently hoped that by the infliction of the scourging (whipping) and incidental humiliation, that the spirit of malice on the part of the accusers would be satisfied, and that they would peaceably agree to his release. Apparently the scourging was done in some interior apartment by the Roman soldiers; and probably with the full consent of Pilate a cast-off royal robe and a crown of thorns were put upon our Lord. Evidently this proceeding would furnish amusement to the unsympathetic soldiery, and so much shame and contempt cast upon our Lord might at least satisfy his persecutors, if it did not awaken sympathy.
Acting in harmony with this thought, Pilate came again before the Jews, and caused our Lord to be led forth, weak, exhausted and miserable-looking, from the trying experiences of the night, supplemented by the painful and weakening influence of the scourging just received. With his crown of thorns and soiled purple robe he must have been a pitiable sight indeed, and yet the noble outlines of his perfect manhood must still have been striking, and no doubt suggested the words of Pilate which have echoed down the centuries since, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5.) Pilate evidently was impressed with our Lord’s personality; never before had he seen so splendid a specimen of the human race. He was such an one as any people might have been glad to honor as their king. He evidently hoped that some impression would be made upon the clamoring throng which accused Jesus. But he was mistaken; they clamored so much the more, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Meantime Pilate’s wife had heard of the trial and had sent Pilate word respecting her dream, and advice that he have no part in doing injury to this just person.—Matt. 27:19.
Pilate immediately said to the Jews, Take him and crucify him, if that is your law. But altho thus assured that the Roman governor would not interfere in the matter, the Pharisees hesitated about accepting the proposition; they much preferred that the crucifixion should be in the hands of the Roman governor and his soldiers, lest the friends of Jesus and the multitudes who had been healed and taught by him should come to his assistance and overpower them; hence they answered Pilate that according to their law Jesus should die, because he made himself the Son of God. They perverted the truth in their endeavor to uphold their course, for the Law did not prescribe death as a penalty for the claim of being the Son of God. Had our Lord claimed to be the Father he would have come under the terms of the death penalty for blasphemy, but there was no such penalty, nor was it blasphemy, to call himself, as he did, the Son of God.
When Pilate heard of this he was the more alarmed. The features of Jesus were impressive of themselves, but if one possessing such features made the claim of relationship to God there certainly was some ground for fear. Pilate still withstood the Jewish clamor, and sought to release our Lord. Then the Jews, as a last
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resort, threatened Pilate by implication, crying out, “If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.” They thus intimated that if Pilate frustrated their designs, and refused to crucify Jesus as they demanded, they would report him to Caesar as an enemy of his empire, a succorer of seditious persons, a fosterer of rival kings in the empire. Pilate could not stand against this argument, and washed his hands in the presence of the multitude, saying by this act, as well as in words, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person; see ye to it.” And when the Jews cried out, “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” Pilate delivered him to be crucified.—Matt. 27:24,25.
We are not of those who condemn Pilate; he was a servant of the empire, charged with doing everything reasonable to preserve peace in his dominions, and only a clearly enlightened and fully consecrated saint could have been expected to do more than Pilate did for the release of Jesus. Our Lord in no sense intimated guilt on the part of Pilate. The responsibility was assumed by the Jews, and surely its penalty has rested heavily upon them and upon their children for the past eighteen centuries, and even yet their cup of anguish is not filled to the full. “Jacob’s trouble” will be no unimportant one in the great time of trouble that is just approaching; but we thank God on their behalf that deliverance is nigh for them, as well as for all others of the groaning creation. How blessed the thought that when they shall look upon him whom they pierced, and wail because of him, it will not be with tears of hopeless sorrow; for the Lord “shall pour upon them the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his first-born.”—Zech. 12:10.
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“HE WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS”
—JUNE 4.—JOHN 19:17-30.—
“The Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”—Gal. 2:20.
CRUCIFIXION was the horrible method of execution in olden times for the vilest of criminals—its severity being intended to intimidate and deter evil-doers, rather than as a gratification of cruel sentiments. Farrar says of it:—
“Death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds—all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed.”
As already noted, the envious and murderous chief priests and doctors of Judaism desired just such a public denunciation of the great Teacher who so fearlessly had exposed their hypocrisies and inconsistencies, and who was fast making an impression upon the common people. For them to have stoned him to death as a blasphemer they probably feared would leave him a martyr in the eyes of many, while to have him publicly executed as a criminal, sentenced by the Sanhedrin and executed by the highest civil power in the world, would, they hoped, brand Jesus, his teachings and his followers, forever with infamy. We may imagine, therefore, how their evil hearts exulted, when finally they had coerced Pilate into signing the warrant for the execution of Jesus.
According to Mark’s account (15:25) the death-warrant was signed by Pilate about nine o’clock in the morning—the trial of Jesus, and Pilate’s various attempts to secure his release from his enemies, having occupied three hours. At once they started, the two robbers bearing their crosses, and Jesus bearing his cross, taking the place of Barrabas, who was to have been executed, but who was released. It was the custom in olden times to compel the convicts to bear the instruments of their own torture. Nor were the crosses so large and heavy as they are generally illustrated in modern paintings. On the contrary, the evidence is that the feet of the crucified were usually only twelve to eighteen inches from the ground. Altho small, these crosses constituted a good burden for a reasonably strong man; but our Lord, after passing through his Gethsemane experiences and the night of buffeting and scourging, and his further scourging by Pilate’s orders, was sick, exhausted, weak, sore. Apparently even the hardened soldiers took pity upon him, and meeting Simon the Cyrenian on the way, they compelled him to relieve Jesus.
We know nothing respecting Simon, except that Mark relates that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, which gives the suggestion that these, his two sons, may subsequently have become the followers of Jesus and well known amongst the disciples. In any event Simon himself enjoyed a great privilege which thousands since have almost envied. How the apostles, Peter, James and John and others, must have regretted the fearfulness of heart which kept them all at a distance, and hindered them from proffering their aid to the Master in his trying hour! John, we know, was not far off; probably the others were near also; but what an opportunity they missed!
And very similar opportunities are still with us all—opportunities to serve the Christ—opportunities for serving the members of the body of Christ. As everyone who follows the Master’s footsteps must needs have some Gethsemane experiences, so also each must have a taste at least of all the Master’s experiences. Let us not forget, then, to look about us for opportunities for serving the “brethren,” the “little ones,” the
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members of the body of Christ. Let each be careful not to add to the reproaches that must fall upon all the followers of the Lamb, but on the contrary to offer words of sympathy, and to help bear each other’s crosses, difficulties and trials by the way. Thus can we best show to our Lord and Head how we would have appreciated the opportunity of helping him bear his cross on the way to Calvary.
The place of crucifixion was called Golgotha, the Hebrew word signifying a skull, the Latin name for a skull being Calvary. This name was given to the locality probably because the general contour of the hill, which was just outside of Jerusalem, closely resembles a skull when viewed at a distance. It was on the way to this place, Golgotha, Calvary, that some of the charitable women of Jerusalem, according to their general custom, offered the condemned ones sour wine mixed with bitter myrrh—a draught which had a tendency to stupefy the nerves, thus rendering the execution the less agonizing. The two robbers quite probably drank of the potion, but Mark (15:23) declares that our Lord refused it—having learned that his experiences were the Father’s will, he would do nothing whatever to hinder himself from receiving them to the full.
Probably Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, the mother of James and John, and Salome, the wife of Cleophas (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40) and others of the friends of Jesus, by this time gained courage and mingled with the women who offered the wine and myrrh, so that Luke says, “There followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”—Luke 23:27,28.
Thus, and with other words recorded, our Lord foreshadowed the great time of trouble coming upon the Jewish nation. By the expression, “If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” he implies that, altho the nation of Israel had been given up only five days previously, when he exclaimed, “Your house is left unto you desolate,” if their rulers could sanction such injustice and lawlessness while their greenness, freshness and religious vitality remained, what might be expected in the future, after the religious vitality had dried out and the nation as a whole had become ready for the great “burning” of their day of trouble, which was designed to, and had been prophesied should, utterly consume their polity. And how literally our Lord’s prophecy was fulfilled: Josephus, without a thought of corroborating this testimony, tells us with explicitness of detail of the terrible sufferings which came upon the women and children during the great time of trouble which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.
When we reflect upon the prophecy, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12), and then consider the terrible persistency with which the leading Jews pursued the dear Redeemer to secure his execution, it furnishes us fresh evidence of divine foreknowledge which, without interfering with the free moral agency of any man, is nevertheless working all things according to the counsel of God’s will. We see afresh how God causes the wrath of man to praise him, and to testify to his wisdom and foreknowledge.
It was customary to have four soldiers attend each prisoner to execution; foremost went one who bore a white board on which was written the crime for which the prisoner was to be executed, and which was fastened above his head on the cross; then followed three soldiers with the hammer and nails, etc., and these all were under the command of a captain or centurion. The board placed above Jesus, on the cross, declared him to be the King of the Jews, and was written in three languages—in Hebrew, the language of the country, in Greek, because it was the language of the visitors and of the educated from all quarters, and in Latin, because it was the language of the empire and of the soldiers. There is a slight difference in the statements of the different Evangelists respecting the words used on this tablet, which may be accounted for by supposing that the words differed slightly in the different languages, and that the Evangelists quoted from the different originals.
Little did Pilate comprehend the great truth which he set before the world in the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Few yet realize the truth of this statement that Jesus is a King; comparatively few have yet rendered him allegiance, bowing the knee of their hearts in sincerity and truth: and yet so surely as the Lord has spoken it, the time is coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess him Lord, Master, King, to the glory of God the Father. And to this end it shall come to pass that after full knowledge of the matter has been given to all, he that will not obey this Prophet shall be cut off from among the people in the Second Death. (Acts 3:23.) He was indeed rejected of the Jews, but nevertheless the full elect number for the twelve tribes of Israelites indeed shall yet be found, who, as the Seed of Abraham, shall accept Messiah as King and, faithfully serving him in the present life, and laying down their lives in his service and for the brethren, shall be accepted of him as joint-heirs in his Kingdom. Since there were not enough of the natural Israelites to complete these twelve tribes of Israelites indeed, God is completing the number by adoptions from amongst the Gentiles during the past
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eighteen centuries. Ultimately the entire number shall be completed.—Rev. 7:4-8.
The Jewish Doctors of Divinity were willing enough to have Jesus condemned as the King of the Jews, but were quite unwilling to have this sentence publicly recorded, and thus to imply that they had so feared his claim and influence as to seek his death. Pilate’s refusal
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to amend the charge was a just one; if there was no merit in the claim, why should they have feared him, and why should he have been crucified? If there was enough merit in the claim to lead to his crucifixion, the matter should be plainly stated.
The division of the spoil was customary at every crucifixion, and gave evidence of the indifference and hard-heartedness of the soldiers in the presence of suffering. The raiment divided consisted of headdress, outer robe, girdle and sandals; the garment here called a “coat” and “vesture” was an undergarment which reached from the neck to the feet. It was evidently of fine quality and texture, as indicated by the fact that it was woven throughout, seamless. The casting of lots for this robe marked the fulfilment of a prophecy to which John calls attention. (Psa. 22:18.) The seamless robe appears to symbolize the righteousness of Christ, which can be appropriated only as a whole; it is of one piece, and may not be marred. Whoever may get it, gets a most valuable robe, and whoever may fail to get it, fails to obtain the righteousness which is of God in Christ. But not by lot or accident or chance does this robe come to the Lord’s people. As the scriptures clearly point out, it is obtained only through the exercise of faith, and held only by the obedience of faith. We might perhaps consider it a symbol of the wedding-garment which falls to the lot of one class only, a little flock, who through faith and perseverance shall inherit the Kingdom as members of the body of Christ, covered by his seamless and spotless robe of righteousness.
The Apostle John had grown bolder as the day advanced, and while our Lord was crucified he drew near and was within speaking distance—quite possibly encouraged by seeing “the wife of Cleophas,” who is supposed to have been a relative. It was a sorrowful gathering for these whose hearts went out with sympathy for the Master whom they loved but were powerless to comfort or relieve. They were weeping and sorrowing while others jeered and taunted, saying, “If thou be Messiah, come down from the cross”—thinking doubtless that our Lord’s crucifixion by his enemies was the best possible proof that his claim to Messiahship was a fraudulent one,—proving that he was an impostor.
With the members of the body of Christ it has been true at times also that the Father has permitted experiences to come to them in such manner as might imply that they did not have his favor, and were really impostors. But as the true disciples had a heart-union with the Lord, which outward circumstances and misfortunes could not break, a love which adversity could not chill, so with all his “brethren,” those who are in heart-harmony, in oneness of spirit, will be found faithful under the most trying circumstances and adversities, because they have one spirit, a spirit of love for the brethren, by which they are enabled to identify one another as members of the one body.
How it gives us an insight into our Lord’s sympathetic nature, to find him thinking in the interest of others at the very time when he himself is overwhelmed in trouble! His own agony did not hinder him from thinking of his mother, and making provision for her comfort, commending her to the care of the loving disciple John. We thus see exemplified in the Master the teaching of the Scriptures that each should seek to make provision for his own dependent ones and, as the Apostle says, “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim. 5:8.) “The faith” includes thoughts of love, sympathy, interest and care for others, especially for them of the household of faith. We note the choice of John: it was doubtless because, first of all, of his loving tender disposition; secondly, his zeal for the Lord and the truth, and thirdly, his courage in pressing near to be with his dying Master in his closing hours, at the risk of his own life. Let us note these characteristics, as being those which the Lord approves, that noting them we may cultivate them in ourselves, and be granted special opportunities for service by this same Master.
It was about the close of our Lord’s agony that he said, “I thirst,” and this gave opportunity for the fulfilment of the prophecy which declared, “They gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psa. 69:21.) This was not the ordinary vinegar, but more properly sour wine, the common, cheap drink of the soldiers. The sponge filled with the sour wine, and reached up to our Lord’s mouth on a hyssop branch, served to moisten his lips and tongue, and was evidently intended as an act of kindness, mercy.
The different accounts give altogether what are known as “The seven words on the cross.”
The first word from the cross: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) While these words undoubtedly represent truly our Lord’s sentiments as respected his enemies, nevertheless it is proper here to remark that the oldest Greek MSS. do not contain these words.
The second word from the cross: Our Lord’s message to the robber, “Verily I say to thee to-day,—Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:43.
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The third word from the cross: “Woman, behold thy son! … Behold thy mother!”
The fourth word from the cross: “My God! my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34.) Of this expression a noted theologian has said, “In the entire Bible there is no other sentence so difficult to explain.” Yet the meaning of this, and the reason for it, are very easily seen when once we have the correct view of the ransom. From this standpoint we see that the Logos became a man, “was made flesh,” in order that he by the grace of God might taste death for every man. (Heb. 2:9.) We see also that the death penalty upon father Adam was the one which Jesus must experience in order to the satisfaction of Justice and the release of Adam and those who came under condemnation in and through Adam. As the penalty against Adam was death in the fullest and most complete sense, so Christ died for our sins, suffering the Just for the unjust, that he might release us from the death penalty and make possible a resurrection of the dead. As the penalty against Adam included his isolation from the Father as a condemned rebel, so it was necessary that our Lord Jesus, in taking Adam’s place, should experience (if only for a short time) the full meaning of a sinner’s separation from God.
Very mercifully, the Father did not permit this feature of Adam’s penalty to rest upon our Redeemer throughout the entire period of his sacrificial ministry, but only at its very close. It was the fact of his communion with the Father that permitted Jesus to pass through all the trying experiences of that day and the preceding night with such great courage, but now, when the Father’s sustaining grace and fellowship and communion of spirit with him were withdrawn, and our Redeemer, with all his fine sensibilities, was utterly bereft of solace from his dearest friend, it led his breaking heart to cry out these words of anguish. Evidently it had been hidden from him up to this time that he must suffer this phase of the punishment of Adam’s transgression.
The fifth word from the cross: “I thirst,” we have already considered.
The sixth word from the cross: “It is finished,” suggests to us that our Lord’s earthly mission had been accomplished. He came to die, to redeem the death-condemned race of Adam, to purchase it with his own precious blood, his life. He had consecrated himself to this work in harmony with the Father’s plan, and with his dying breath, expiring, he could say that he had finished the work which the Father had given him to do. How it rejoices us to know that our dear Redeemer did complete the work, that he did not resent the taunts of those who said, “If thou be Messiah, come down from the cross;” “Save thyself!” We rejoice to think that since the great sacrifice has been finished (and especially in view of the fact that the Heavenly Father subsequently declared that it was finished acceptably), we may realize that there is now, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.—Rom. 8:1.
But altho the sin-offering was finished eighteen hundred years ago by the sacrifice of our Lord, the Lamb of God, there is another part that is not yet finished; but in harmony with the divine plan our Lord is waiting for the Church, which is his body, to “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” (Col. 1:24.) And looking all about us, in the light of the Lord’s Word, we may say that this work is almost finished too. Very soon the last member of the body of Christ will have suffered with the Head for righteousness’ sake: then the entire work of sacrifice apportioned for this Gospel age, or Day of Atonement, will be ended, and the Millennial age of glory and blessing, ruling and uplifting, will begin; ushering in for the world of mankind the great blessing, the purchase-price of which was finished at Calvary. Let each dear follower in the Master’s footsteps keep patiently and perseveringly on in the way of self-denial until his course shall be finished—until the Master shall say, It is enough; “Well done, good and faithful servant. Thou has been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”—Matt. 25:21.
The seventh word from the cross: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46.) These our Lord’s last words were a quotation from the Scriptures. (Psa. 31:5.) In other words, it had already been declared of him that thus he would commend himself to the Father’s grace and truth. Our Lord was finishing laying down his human life a ransom
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for many sinners, but the Father had promised him a new life on a higher plane, as a reward for his faith, obedience and sacrifice. This new life, or life as a “new creature” was reckoned as begun at the time of our Lord’s baptism when he received the holy Spirit; this new life was reckoned as continuing and growing during the years of his ministry while he was daily dying according to the flesh; the outward man was perishing, but the inward new creature was being renewed day by day. Now the outward man was about to cease entirely—fully surrendered, the sacrifice finished.
Our Lord’s interest in and hope for a future life looked forward, in harmony with the Father’s promise, to the new or resurrection life; the new mind or spirit reckoned as begun at the moment of his baptism and consecration, having the divine promise of being perfected in a resurrection, in a spirit-body suitable for and in harmony with the new mind, the new will. But this change could not take place instantly: the divine law had arranged that not until the third day could he be quickened as the new creature of spiritual body. He must take this by faith; no one had ever passed this way before: yet with full confidence our dear Redeemer looked up to the Father, and full of faith declared that he committed all of life and all of these blessed hopes for the future to the Father’s love and to the Father’s power,—to be provided in harmony with the Father’s plan and Word. And so must we, as followers in our Master’s footsteps, look forward with faith, and in our dying hour commit all our interests to the keeping of him who has manifested his love for us, not only in the gift of his Son as our Redeemer, but all our journey through,—in his providential care, as well as in the exceeding great and precious promises which go before us and surround us and give us strength, comfort and assurance.