Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 24. Chapter 24: Christ’s Last Wonder In the State of Humiliation: The Liberator of Slaves in the ...

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 24. Chapter 24: Christ’s Last Wonder In the State of Humiliation: The Liberator of Slaves in the ...

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Christ’s Last Wonder in the State of Humiliation: The Liberator of Slaves in the Form of a Slave

And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And Jesus answered and said, “Suffer ye thus far” And he touched his ear, and healed him.


WE observed in the preceding chapter that, according to the number-symbolism of the Gospel, the great symbolical “Year of Jubilee” in the history of the world begins with Christ, and that it impinges upon the world at all only by virtue of His strength.

The Year of Jubilee is the year of the slaves. It represents the emancipation of bondmen; first (inasmuch as the shadow-services of Israel are concerned), literally; later (in the New Testament), figuratively. Those in distress and in the darkness of prisons were released from oppression in that year. The sun of freedom must dawn upon the field of the Messiah, must shine upon it for all. Slavery is essentially incompatible with the Messianic kingdom. That realm is peculiarly the Kingdom of Perfect Freedom.

We remind ourselves of this prophecy concerning the Christ, which takes its course throughout the whole of the Old Testament, now, as we watch Christ carefully healing the ear of a slave of a priest. Christ goes about it very tenderly. While the band of Jewish police scream and yell, and while the Roman authorities manifest their cold animosities, Christ devotes subtle attention to doing full justice to one of God’s slaves. In this He is reverently obedient to the law of the year of jubilee, to the law of the right of slaves. Indeed, Christ fulfilled the shadows,

which manifest His image in the Old Testament, on the cross; but He also fulfills these shadows, these symbols, by putting his hand to the ear of one of the slaves of Israel’s priesthood.

The circumstances of the incident as such we know very well. In the dead vast of night a band composed of Jews and Romans moved upon the Nazarene who was tarrying in the garden, in order to take Him captive. They expected to confront resistance, but in this they were mistaken; for Christ who has fought Himself into a state of peace with God is able now to give Himself up to death voluntarily. Unsummoned, He steps towards them out of the darkness and asks: Whom seek ye? The poised majesty of His unruffled figure standing there in the lurid glow of the torches is so astonishing that the ruffians of the Jewish police force and the adamant Roman soldiers fall backwards, overwhelmed by fear.

Thus the majesty of Christ immediately manifests itself. He does not conceal Himself, for He knows neither the sense of guilt nor the sense of fear. Asserting Himself simply as the Son of man, He strikes fear in those who oppose Him. So Gethsemane, at the moment of His being taken captive, figures forth that other hour when He will appear as King, and when every mouth which will dare to oppose Him will straightway be stopped.

But this aspect of the matter really is not the one demanding our attention. We want to speak of what Jesus did for that slave of the high priest.

We are told that one of the group which was sent out to take the Nazarene captive was a man who functioned as the personal servant, as the valet, of Caiaphas. This man must have led a hard life. Slavery is always hard for the slave; and it must have been especially so in those days of decadence. Truth to say, this man — Malchus was his name — led a very tragic life. Every day he had to walk in the shadow of the last high priest to whom the Old Covenant assigned a seat.

Now it is the will of God that this high priest, both as a man and as an official, must also let the light of Israel’s evangelical existence fall upon his slaves. To do that is a priest’s work. He must let the divine, Christological grace, which has conceived of a year of jubilee, glory in an assault upon the judgment which makes the curse of the world and of sin tangible—tangible also in the institution of slavery.

Had Caiaphas been the kind of priest he ought to have been, he would have ministered the love of Israel’s God who sends out His Christ, to this slave; he would have ministered to his personal valet, also, the love which tempers the humiliation of slavery by means of the evangelical light of “God’s friendly countenance”.

Caiaphas, particularly, had good reason to reveal love for his slave. He was a priest by divine appointment, a priest by the grace of God; besides, however, the question of slavery began to be a real issue in his days. The Jewish party-system of that time also included a group who were known as the Essenes. One of the numerous regulations which governed the social conduct of this sect was a rule which did away with slavery. That regulation was the result of ethical studies. The Essenes held that, since love obligates people to serve one another voluntarily, slavery must be prohibited. These Essenes had grasped an idea and had crystalized it into a rule. In one sense the idea was a wholesome application of the teaching of the Old Testament; in another sense it was a dawning of the light of the New Testament, which was to illumine the world in Christ, when slavery should in the full sense of the word disappear altogether.

The fact that such ethics are being taught within Israel’s boundaries certainly should affect the priest, and especially the high priest of Israel. Caiaphas notices that the Essenes are active within his domain, and that they have as one of their theories this principle concerning slavery. Surely, this awareness as well as his own searching of the Scriptures should raise in him a question about what he is going to do with his slaves. He must ask himself how he as priest should reply, should react, to the ethics of the Essenes; how he, the chief priest, and teacher of the law, can in his own way fulfill and reveal the notion of freedom, which the Essenes developed within their own group, and how he can do so in a way consonant with the shadow — prophecy which promised the slaves a year of jubilee.

But Caiaphas gives the matter no thought. Perhaps his proud boast is that he is too enlightened and broad-minded to attach any significance to the pet theories of the Essenes. Hence, he

keeps his slaves. And — we must be fair to him — in this respect he is not more culpable than the others of his time. We are only asking what Caiaphas is doing with their very real question, with that biblical question, concerning the institution of slavery.

Alas! Something tragical intervenes between Caiaphas and his slaves; Caiaphas cannot minister the evangelical light, the Messianic light, the light of the year of jubilee to his servants. He is blind to that light himself. He is standing next to the Messiah, but he does not see Him. Therefore he cannot point to Him who will lead in, and ring in, the jubilee-year of fulfillment, which throws wide open the prison gates of God’s bondmen.

Thus it happens — such is the impelling logic of the fact and of the sin — that Caiaphas lets a slave accompany the band which must take Jesus, the Emancipator of slaves, captive.

How very dark this picture is!

Here are the Jews, summoning the aid of the Romans to take their own Messiah captive. Caiaphas, by asking Roman assistance to put the Messiah to death, thereby destroys the foundations of the Messianic year of jubilee. For in this way the Jews have become the slaves of pagans. Rather than acknowledge the Messiah who promises liberty from every bondage, particularly from that of the curse and of death, they kiss the rod of those who tyrannize over them from Rome. Darkness this, thick darkness!

Ah, but the curse moves in terrible ways. Great Caiaphas himself and his people slink away into slavery by hiding behind the sword of Rome. And it is quite in the spirit of Israel’s slavery for the high priest to send out a bondservant to take captive the Prince of Peace, Freedom’s Hero, the great Emancipator, and to put Him to death. All Israel — the priest and the slave of the priest, the high and the low, the nominally free and the nominally bound — all Israel is itself drawing tighter the noose already lying around its throat.

A priest’s slave is one of the band which comes to bind the Prince of the year of jubilee; this is a fitting, a becoming moment in the somber career of slavery and of death. It represents terrible irony; the priest and his slave call in the assistance of the tyrant of Rome against the Prince of the kingdom of peace; the slave takes captive the Emancipator of slaves.

But Malchus, bond-servant of Caiaphas, is destined to see the light today. The slave of the high priest is going to see a great light. True, he comes to take the light from the candlestick, for it was part and parcel of slavery for a servant, together with his master, to oppose his own emancipation. But the rays of the light of Christ will fall upon his eyes, and the law of the year of jubilee will be revealed to him. The quiverings caused by the birth- pangs of the coming New Testament day will seize upon the withered epigone of the Old Covenant and fill him with amazement, whether he wills it or not. Malchus will have a strange night tonight. The wind of the kingdom of heaven, of the Messianic kingdom, will brush past him; he will hear the sound of it, but will not know whence it comes nor whither it goes.

Unless the slave actually begins to hear.

We spoke of light and of freedom. It is true that in the beginning there was little of either. When the band threatened to take Jesus captive, the grim vengeance of the disciples flared up, and swords began flickering in the night. Peter, too, begins swinging his sword, or his knife — we do not know which. In spite of the admonishings which Jesus gave in the room of the Passover, the disciples oppose external force to external force.

But when Peter’s excitement affects Malchus, and so seriously that the slave’s ear is struck off, Jesus intervenes. He tells the disciples to sheath their swords and to lay their knives aside; they that take the sword in their own strength shall perish by the sword. A stroke of the sword which is made independent of justice will wound and kill the person who wields it. By way of reprimand Christ tells His disciples that they must suffer the company to have its way because the hour of the Father’s will for the Son of man has come.

To this extent Jesus expresses His word in speech.

Judged by human standards, that should suffice for Him. No one could have blamed Him “officially” if He had let the spoken reprimand suffice, and then have abandoned Malchus’ accident altogether.

But Jesus never asks what according to human standards is the least He need do; for Him divine justice determines what is just and right. And divine justice always unites the deed with the word. According to Divine justice a word of reprimand directed to Peter is not sufficient. The Master’s responsibility for His disciples’ conduct obligates Him to the point of deed. The nocturnal hour of Gethsemane is the hour of the great pay-off. The clock of the universe is striking; the sound of the strokes shapes the words: pay off, pay off. Praise God! In the great moment of paying off indebtedness Christ is so imbued with the law of remuneration that He Himself proceeds to compensate for loss. Even though a mere slave is the party involved, He makes good to him the loss he sustained at the hands of the disciples.

Now the light falls upon the eyes of Malchus the bondman.

He is standing midway between two priests: between Caiaphas, the priest who is officially acknowledged as such, and the other Priest, who is denied all rights, but who stands there performing a priestly service, blessing, though all curse Him, healing, though men beat and threaten Him, respecting the blood of a slave, though ruffians draw His own. Had Caiaphas ever done anything of the kind? No, during all these years in which Malchus had served him, Caiaphas has been unable to shed light upon his slave. And this Christ, this uncrowned Priest, has hardly come upon Malchus in the way before he is set in the full radiance of the Messianic sun. That sun rose for him when with great zest he threw up a barrier against the Nazarene.

Jesus of Nazareth does not asy: “It is only a slave, and, besides, it is only an ear”. He does not know what small wounds are; and He does not know what insignificant people are. He steps up to Malchus, concentrates His powers, fixes His heart upon His Father, acts in virtue of the energy of the Kingdom of Heaven, and performs a miracle upon Malchus. He touches him, and heals him.

Now we must not look upon this miracle with the eyes of the world. We, too, are disposed to regard this wonder as a less significant one of those Jesus performed. The spiritual literature of the centuries will prove that this is true. Our first impression also is to turn aside and to say, using the logic of Caiaphas: “He is a mere slave; it is only a matter of an ear”. It would be worth the while to investigate the number of times men have preached and spoken and written about the other miracles of Jesus and to

compare it with the number of times confessors have given special attention to this particular wonder. We would find that the miracle performed upon Malchus has had far less attention than the other signs of Jesus.

Nevertheless, this kind of appraisal is worldly. It judges internal worth according to external manifestation, and hidden significance in terms of visible forms.

We may not promote such standards of appraisal.

A miracle which Christ performs is always a miracle. Whether He removes a mountain to the sea or heals an ear, whether He dams up rivers or blood-vessels, does not affect the quality of the miracle. The force, the energy, the concentration of will, the faith, the spiritual puissance which exercises itself in each instance is altogether the same. Is wind less vehement when it blows a house down than when it twirls a bit of paper from the wastebasket into mid air? And is Jesus’ power to perform miracles less powerful when He calls the dead from the grave than when He heals a gaping wound. The faith of Christ is faith and it remains that; the power of Christ is power, and it remains so. As Mediator He must concentrate His whole soul upon His Father when He lets power go out of Him, and this He must do irrespective of the object upon which He directs His power.

Moreover, we must remember that this miracle is the last which Jesus performed in His state of humiliation. From this time forth men will see no more of His miracles until He has sent out His Spirit. And may we forget, or minimize the worth of, this last miracle? Would that be “edifying”? Does it prove that we have grasped the conception of the drama of Christ’s life? Surely, anyone who has felt anything of the exalted style and divine harmony of the life of Christ knows better. This last miracle represents the culmination and close of His prophetic teaching and self-revelation. This last sign which He adds to His spoken word should be much more accurately written upon our hearts by faith, than it was described in the minutes of the commandant of the company that night. We, especially we, may not say: “He was only a slave, and it was only an ear”. We must confess: “Here is the King, and this is the power — the King and power of the world to come are here revealed. Amen!”

Many a ray of heavenly light is reflected upon this precious act of Jesus by the prism of faith if we look at the matter from this point of view. These rays fall upon the hands of the careful physician of Malchus — our brother, if he and we believe.

In the first place, this miracle represents the fulfillment of the law of the sign of Cain. Cain killed Abel. The seed of the serpent persecuted the seed of the woman. The flesh of Cain drew the word against the Spirit of Abel. And in that day God did not wreak vengeance upon Cain by destroying him, or by declaring him quite free. Instead God protected Cain from arbitrary violence on the part of men. “The Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” Some think this sign was actually visible upon Cain’s body. Others that Cain saw a sign assuring him of the promised protection of God. Irrespective of which view is correct, however, it is certain that the sign upon Cain definitely and emphatically protected him against every sword, even against the swords of the impetuous Peters of that day. The blood of Abel is not avenged by a sword, for that blood has a voice. It has a voice, and that means that the matter is a spiritual one and cannot be settled by the stroke of a blade. Neither the blood nor the voice can come to rest until One comes whose blood speaks better things than Abel’s. His blood, too, will embody a voice, and with it the strength and the right to make itself heard. That One will be able not only to call aloud against Cain, but also for him. In contrast to Cain’s arbitrariness, this One will first of all re-establish justice in the world.

Now that One has come. Christ exerts Himself in Gethsemane to apply and to fulfill the law of the sign of Cain.

Christ applies that law; Gethsemane, too, must witness the power of Cain, of the seed of the serpent, of physical force, as it asserts itself in opposition against the great Abel, who is the seed of the woman in the most specific sense of the phrase. And, although Christ can summon the hosts of the angels to destroy the bonds representing the spirit of Cain, nevertheless He puts a sign upon him. It is a sign which they all can see. It is a sign applied to the body of a hanger-on, a number of the band of Cain. That sign is evidence for the fact that Christ will not let arbitrary impulse battle against Cain and his cohorts. He reserves for Himself the right to open the bar of justice and there to judge of the spirit of Cain and of his deeds according to right. This act of Jesus is just another manifestation of Christ’s active obedience, therefore. As a greater than Abel, He has gained from God the privilege of occupying a judge’s bench, and He has achieved this privilege in part by this very act of rejecting anarchy over-against the band and by ministering holy justice there. Christ vindicated His right to establishing His judgment seat upon the clouds, by healing the ear of Malchus. Nothing in the shadow of Gethsemane is insignificant. Time there becomes eternity.

In the second place, Christ also fulfills the law of the sign of Cain. The first Abel did not himself protect Cain. By no means. Abel merely let his blood cry out against Cain. It was God who set a mark of protection upon Cain. But from Gethsemane where the blood of the greater Abel has cried unto God and still implores heaven — from Gethsemane God withdraws Himself. He lets the great Abel shift for Himself in the presence of the steers of Cain. For this is the hour in which Abel’s superior must move in His own strength. As a matter of fact, He is able to do that. Even though this great Abel is entirely forsaken of God, He will nevertheless continue extending to “Cain” every cup of cold water as long as God Himself includes that “Cain” within the pale of the law of common grace. Even though Christ’s, which is “Cain’s”, mouth, is parched with thirst, and even though His flesh is drying out, He continues handing the water to Cain. He is one who is greater than Abel: see, He who in one person is God and man, Himself takes Malchus’ ear and affixes His sign on the armor-bearer of Cain’s army of enemies to Christ. This He does in order that Cain may not be destroyed by any who might find him. Hence it is not only God who is protecting Cain against the vengeance of Abel’s blood, but “Abel” is now Himself shielding Cain. You may well tremble now, Cain: when in God’s time Abel undertakes to shelter you, you fall into His hands. Tremble, indeed: The cure of Malchus is the beginning of the last day! Dies irae, dies illa . . .

That which is happening here is exceedingly important. The sign which Christ affixes to Malchus’ ear is of much greater moment than that which God once set upon Cain. It proclaims God’s long-suffering to the world, a long-suffering which spares Cain throughout the days in order that he may be preserved (this is a biblical idea) until the day of the great retribution of the greater Abel Himself. The sign set upon the ear of Malchus proclaimed the law of common grace which meted out to Malchus and his company the full measure, renewing his power, regulating his pulse, until the day of Jesus Christ.

A ray of sunlight falling upon a perspiring slave in an eschatalogical phenomenon. When, indeed, does grace come without obligations? When is Jesus’ friendliness not a judgment? “Dies irae, dies illa!’

Yes, when does grace come without judgment? The line leads from Cain past Malchus to the Antichrist, that beast—“whose deadly wound was healed”. In this the law of Malchus’ ear attains fulfillment. “Dies irae, dies illa”

One other element of this event proclaims the glory of Christ to us. In this last miracle which His hands perform before they are bound together He exposes to men the holiness and the Messianic character of His wonders. The miracle performed upon Malchus is a miracle of revelation. It is foolish and offensive to the flesh. The miracles which Christ performs, as He intends them, as they are revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures, are always in essence and effect quite different from any miracles which men devise, and which nebulous phantasy (and “pious” phantasy) ascribes to Christ.

True, men have, in their own fashion, pondered upon the law of the miracle. The apocryphal gospels, for instance, those so- called gospels, written and conceived by men and without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also indicate that their writers have pondered upon the miracles of Christ, and have conjured up many a wonder and sign designed to enhance the apocryphal image of Jesus. Whoever reads these apocryphal gospels, however, is painfully struck again and again by the peculiar daring of human imagination where it interprets miracles. For the miracles ascribed to Jesus in these human creations do not aim at redemption and they do not serve to set free the enslaved. These miracles are merely a dazzling display by which a humanly fabricated Messiah pompously makes his bow as a magician, doing miracles by virtue of himself. These miracles are always done for their own sake, and these signs are always ended in themselves. The miracles of the apocryphal books do not serve a purpose. They do not prophesy. They are not instinct with fervent love, not permeated with an evangelical purpose. He who performs them is simply the chief of the magicians. They are designed simply to set mouths agape. Really they are designed simply to show that the Jesus who performs them is an aristocrat. His dazzling magic is so overwhelming, despotic, arbitrary, that it aids no one. The little ones are not blessed by it.

See now what Christ does for Malchus. He is the Christ of the canonical gospels. His last miracle is due. It is His last miracle. In view of that fact, the apocryphal gospels would say that the pyrotechnics of Jesus’ miracles should end with a dazzling finale. But Jesus, the Jesus of the canonical gospels, does not set off any “fireworks”. He comes to minister, not to be ministered unto. And, irrespective of whether a crowd of five thousand witness it or only one slave, He will bring the invisible forces of God into play in order to do justice also to a pariah among His dying beggar-folk, and so to complete the service of love and also the service of judgment. This miracle accomplishes that. It serves both God and man. It is not an end in itself; it is a means. It prophesies to men; as well as to the friends who must abandon their swords, as to the enemies who must learn that it is beating the world’s Physician, not its Destroyer, to death. This miracle serves a purpose. The Physician of Gethsemane is God’s Liturgist. He exposes the depths of heavenly compassion and of superhuman majesty to an astonished slave. His miracle is not a piece of fireworks; it is a fire which gives warmth and a light which points out and discovers the way. It is fire which consumes the ungodly and a light which blinds the enemies of God. It consists of the perfect obedience of the servant of the Lord. As the servant of all, He is this day assuming the form of a slave. Nor does He say to any servant anywhere: “You, I do not know”. The entire Saviour reveals Himself in this deed performed upon Malchus. And it manifests itself both as a blessing and as a judgment. This healing represents the crisis in the life of Malchus, not the end of it.

Finally, by way of a third emphasis, we want to consider the contrast between Chrises ministering signs as these culminate in this last miracle and the miracles of the Antichrist.

Of the Antichrist also we read that he will perform miracles and show signs. These wonders will be intent upon three things: to lead the world astray; to prove himself the arch-aristocrat, dominating over all of the dwarfs of the world; and thirdly, to conceal the real character of the Antichrist from sight. For Paul names these miracles “lying wonders”. They will be the great masquerade. He will conceal the chaos of sin under an apparent cosmos (“ornament”) of wonders and signs, which he will presently stamp out of an earth which is fast dying. He hides his lie under the false glow of dazzling signs intended to prove real his claims to authority and truth. He drapes the thin disguise of a father’s and shepherd’s kindliness over the wolf-like character of his being. He promises by his signs to change the arid pastures of the sheep into a luxuriant garden. The miracles of the Antichrist are the great ap-ousia of the revelation of the Antichrist.[1]

[1] Read the 13th Chapter of Revelation and the 2nd Chapter of the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians. Ap-ousia means absence and is used in contrast to Par-ousia or apparent presence. The name Par-ousia (in reference to Christ) points throughout to His glorious return. But par-ousia can also mean simply: The appearing.

The Antichrist will end his activities upon earth by means of such false wonders and deceptive apparitions.

Contrast Christ’s last publicly performed wonder upon earth with these. It is not a concealment. It is not an ap-ousia but a par-ousia[1]. He is part and parcel of His deed; He reveals Himself in it just as He is. He acts without hesitation and yet—how often we have seen these two converge—His spontaneous response to what confronts Him is also an entering upon the symmetrical completion of the course of His perfect obedience. Christ, the physician to Malchus, reveals Himself as He is, and by His act pulls the forces of the world to come and of the sacrosanct privileges of the last day straight through the world. This is His conclusion in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The wonder by which Christ, just before He is bound, finishes His public earthly course, does not lead the people astray, but calls upon them to repent. Moreover, this act is not a dazzling emblem of His exalted aristocracy, by which He blinds the eyes of the people. True, He did strike the authorities of Rome and Jerusalem blind, for they fell prostrate before Him. But at this particular moment, His eyes are blind; He washes the blood from Malchus’ face very carefully. The miracle proclaims aloud the character of the entire Christ and does so according to the truth. Men carry chaos to the fore in this night of sin; but Christ reveals God’s cosmos to a slave. Man fell on lies, but Christ preaches the whole truth; His last sign is declared obedient by the accompanying Word.

[1] Read the 13th Chapter of Revelation and the 2nd Chapter of the 2nd Epistle to the Thessalonians. Ap-ousia means absence and is used in contrast to Par-ousia or apparent presence. The name Par-ousia (in reference to Christ) points throughout to His glorious return. But par-ousia can also mean simply: The appearing.

The Antichrist may make an effort in the eleventh hour to change the decaying world into a paradise. Christ while performing His last wonder is moving towards His own curse-laden death, and towards the desert of the sufferings of hell. But He ministers the word and sign of the coming paradise to a slave.

The signs of the Antichrist may lead astray, but Christ’s signs disclose their meaning by the word of preaching.

Finally, Christ is not an enemy who is hiding the character of a wolf under a friendly approach. He is the true High Priest and He whispers this message into the ear of a false priest’s servant: “Am I not He who is willing to deliver you from the bonds of death and from the yoke of everlasting slavery? Listen, my son; listen, Malchus: I am the priest who would become a slave in order to convert servants into lords.”

The Antichrist and the Christ are two, and they prove to be two by their concluding signs and wonders upon earth.

One more beam of light falls upon this miracle, and discovers another important implication.

As we think of this event, we must also think of Jesus’ kingship and of Christ as the Son of David.

Once before, the God who shapes history arranged a drama which at a distance resembled this one in Gethsemane. For on this occasion, the true King of the house of David is in great need. God places Him before a slave and tells Him: Do justice to this slave; let him see the Messianic light; let him observe it unhindered.

That has happened before and in a time of need; and in time of crisis. Some centuries before this, the God of the history of revelation tested the house of David by presenting slaves to it to be reverenced.

Do not forget that such testing was appropriate to the house of David. That house had to be different from the house of Saul. Saul laid waste the kingdom by exercising tyranny and manifesting haughtiness. He sought his own gain and he used his people to enrich himself. Then God took the kingdom away from him. For Israel is a theocracy in which the lesser must be served by the greater, and in which the king, consequently, may not prey upon the slave. On the contrary, the king must function as a Messianic message to the slave; for in this manner, also, the kingship must be an image of the Christ, who is the coming exponent of the year of jubilee and the first and greatest Emancipator of the slaves.

When, in history, it appeared that Saul was treading the theocratic Messianic laws under foot, the action of evangelical grace pushed that devourer of slaves off the throne, accepted David, and gave him the keys of the house of Saul.

In David’s house things at first are acceptable. David dances before the ark of the Lord in the company of his slaves, and does not drink the water which slaves must fetch for him at the cost of endangering their lives. As first, therefore, David’s kingship is in harmony with the Messianic purport of Israel’s theocratic existence, which promises all of the people, including the slaves, their freedom. It leaves room for the law of the jubilee-year.

But gradually decay enters into David’s kingship also. The decay increases, and threatens at last to lay the house of David waste. And the last king of the house of David, King Zedekiah, is finally removed by God Himself, precisely because of an injustice done to slaves. That is not an accidental event. It is a significant moment in the history of special revelation.

Prophetic light falls upon Zedekiah’s downfall from two sides. First in the 17th Chapter of Ezekiel; then, in the 34th Chapter of Jeremiah. In both chapters the prophet proclaims the wrath of God against Zedekiah because he has broken the oath. He treads upon the laws of the oath, and profanes them in reference to the great on earth as well as to the little ones among his people. And his people are God’s people.

Zedekiah first broke the oath in his dealing with the king of Babel. That was one sin. If the royal house of David, in the person of Zedekiah, was chosen to profane the oath in relationship to Babel, that is, to the great enemy, to Cain, to the power of Antichrist, then that same Babel will come to destroy the house of David. Because Zedekiah has broken the oath in his relations with Babel, he himself will die in Babel (Eze_17:16; Eze_17:18-19). That was one term of the sentence pronounced upon Zedekiah, of the verdict read to the house of David.

And that was severe enough, we might be disposed to add. Furthermore, inasmuch as the men were concerned, this was the principal cause of the fall of David’s house. That is all that is written in the records men have kept of it. Zedekiah broke his oath in his dealing with the mighty on earth, of whom Babel was one. Therefore, he fell.

But there is such a thing as a divine record of history and this includes in its account the injustices and infidelities done to and manifested towards the little ones on earth as well as the injustices committed against the mighty. In the sight of God, Zedekiah sinned grievously when he broke his oath in relation to the mighty of Babel and of Cain. But he profaned the oath much worse in his dealing with the little ones of Jacob, that is, of Abel. We read of that in Jeremiah 34. The prophet is there alluding to the fact that King Zedekiah, when in distress because of the approaching war, decided to set free the slaves among the people. For the old and venerable institution of the year of jubilee, which had been established by the law, and which provided that slaves who by reason of pecuniary stress had sold themselves should be given their freedom again after a time — that institution had long been ignored. The royal house of David had played fast and loose with the fetters of servants and with the lives of slaves. But when Nebuchadnezzar threatened, King Zedekiah as a last resort decided to emancipate the slaves, and a decree was issued and covenant made “with all the people which were at Jerusalem, to proclaim liberty unto them; that every man should let his manservant, and every man his maidservant, being an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free; that none should serve himself of them, to wit, of a Jew his brother (Jer_34:8-9).

Yes, when danger threatened, the slaves were set free. The voice of conscience spoke. Apparently it was known that this privilege of the slaves was sustained by God’s own law. But the threat had hardly receded, the Chaldean troops had scarcely departed from the walls, before the covenant of emancipation with the slaves was broken. With the permission of the last king of David’s house, the people broke the oath and the slaves were put in chains.

Is this a trivial circumstance, and are we perhaps putting things together which do not belong together?

Whoever thinks so is foolish.

The prophet Jeremiah himself asserts in the 17th verse (Jer_34:17) that this infidelity to the slaves, including the slaves of the priests, that this breach of faith in corrupt Jerusalem in the days just before the captivity is the principal reason for which the Lord delivers His people, and the royal house of David, and the priests into the hands of the kingdoms of the earth. David’s fall was caused by his stumbling over the lives of slaves, not over the chariots of war sent against him by the mighty powers of Babylon and Cain.

It is not surprising that this breach of faith should be the cause. God had introduced and fixed the year of jubilee into the law precisely because in it a Messianic light fell upon Israel and because by it His people were proclaimed to be a people who in principle were free. When the royal house of David withheld from the slaves the light of freedom, which in Christ would sometime fully dawn, it thereby became like the house of Saul; it profaned the theocracy, robbed God’s heirs of their liberty, offended God’s “little ones” and thus forfeited its right to a place under the sun. Now, three centuries later, and here, in Gethsemane, three parties are again witness to the incident: the slave of a priest, a Roman (Cainite) band, and the uncrowned king of the house of David, Jesus Christ.

The Roman still rules over the house of Caiaphas and of David. He rules by reason of the same judgment which Jeremiah proclaimed in Jeremiah 34. God uses the whip of the Romans to beat the faithless slave-drivers who have stood in the way of the freedom of their bondmen; the whip of Rome is merely an extension of the whip of Babel, which Jeremiah saw coming down upon the backs of the mighty in Jerusalem, upon the backs of Caiaphas’ slave-driving predecessors. That is one side of the tragedy. And this is the other side: there is no one here who sees it. Caiaphas gives no attention to it, and Malchus does not. They kiss the rod of Rome in order to be rid of Jesus. Moreover—homo homini lupus: the priest himself is a slave-driver. What more can sin accomplish?

Here are the slave-drivers of Rome. They are organically related to those of Babel. In fact, they establish a new Babel in the city of the Beast. Here are the slave-drivers whom the Bible almost depicts as the image of the Antichrist, of the great Cain. And there are Caiaphas and his slave, who together, are again the slaves of Rome. And between them stand Christ Jesus. As the true Son of David He bends tenderly over the slave of a priest. He withholds His disciples from violating the rights of bondservants. This king forbids His servants to offend one slave of Abraham voluntarily. Besides, in a positive way, He ministers to this slave the privileges which, in Abraham, are his due and He does that at the very moment in which Rome and faithless Israel are prepared to beat Him. See to this, He tells His church, and Himself first of all, that you offend not one of these little ones. As long as Malchus is incorporated into the body of Israel, he is, according to the covenant and the oath, one of the little ones of Israel. Take heed that you despise not one of these, as Zedekiah did; for I say unto you, that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in Heaven. Yes, Lord — but Thou art the great Angel who dost ever see Thy Father and His slaves. Thou seest God and the slaves at the same time.

We bow our heads in reverence. The healing of Malchus’ ear is as sublime as the coming of the last day. At this moment the house of David in the person of Jesus Christ returned from its last transgression. Christ averted the curse of Jeremiah 34 and Ezekiel 17. For He kept His oath with a slave and remained faithful in His dealing with the power of this world. He did justice to a Roman centurion. He did justice to Malchus in His great obedience. This healing proclaims common grace and also special grace. It vividly presents to us Christ’s just relationship to both the world and His church. The house of David, broken as it was, is restored to continuity by Christ’s grace to Malchus. All the issues of the Gospel, all the ultimata of the last judgment are laid bare before us in this healing. The earnestness of the preaching in this event is inescapable. The roaring turbulence of the waters of God’s justice and grace, the thunder of the coming judgment and of the present plea of grace — these resound in Malchus’ ear.

When, indeed, is Christ not sublime and overwhelming? When does He slight the year of jubilee, and when does He withhold the greatest reward from the least of His little ones?

Truly, such a King is meet for us; for He is merciful, tender, just, and He ever sees the Father and the slave, ever looks into Heaven and over earth, at one time.

O res mirabilis: salutat Dominum pauper servus et humilis.

Who is the slave, pray, who would not greet this King? He heals those in bonds, for such is the theocracy. The greater was served by the lesser. Saul has forever been replaced by the great David.

The people which sat in darkness have seen a great light.