Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 2 - Christ on Trial: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Accused Upon the Royal Mountain

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 2 - Christ on Trial: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Accused Upon the Royal Mountain



TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 2 - Christ on Trial (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Accused Upon the Royal Mountain

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C H A P T E R S I X T E E N

Christ Accused Upon the Royal Mountain

And they began to accuse him saying, We found this fellow subverting the nations, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ, a King.

—Luk_23:2.

WE know then that everything that took place had to lead to Christ’s being lifted up on the cross. Now, however, the question arises: along what avenues, by what channels, does God conduct Christ to this particular kind of death? Just how does it come about that the cross does indeed become the culmination point?

The answer can be very briefly stated. In order to bring Christ Jesus to the cross, God allowed Him to be accused upon the royal mountain. Christ is placed over against Caesar. Caesar has wood and Caesar has nails. He protects his crown and his cup by a series of crosses. In this way Satan goads Caesar on to build his crucifixes. And thus the Lord also provokes Caesar to construct his crosses. For of this circumstance it is also true that although human beings carry it out, although human beings buffet Christ with the cudgel of the kingship He boasts of, it is God Himself who realizes His will through those human beings, and who through their agency directs things in such a way that they achieve His purpose. That purpose, we know, was the cross. It was also the being lifted up, the exaltation on that cross.

Let us note first how the people look upon this matter. Just what are the Jewish authorities doing? Just what have they in mind? Now it is quite in accordance with what went before that the Jews, in their accusation of Christ, bring the element of the kingship into the foreground. When they were together in their own assembly, they charged the Christ with blasphemy, and mocked and despised Him as a prophet. But on this occasion they strike a different chord. From their point of view, there were good reasons for the change. Just what, indeed, could they hope to gain by talking of blasphemy to Pilate?

Not that blasphemy is not a serious breach of law. But as a charge against a prisoner in this case, it certainly had its disadvantages, for blasphemy is a crime committed against the name of Jaweh. And, unfortunate as it may be for them, the name of Jaweh was written only upon the first table of Israel’s law. And the matters contained in the first table of the law are such as the tolerance of rulers is perfectly willing to countenance. What people, we might ask, have not a “first” and “second” table of laws? The first table pertains “only” to religion. It is the second which has a wider relevance and more practical implications. Such is the argument of the world’s usurpers; such is also the argument of Rome. If the Jews report that Jesus is sinning against the third commandment of the law of Jaweh, Pilate can hardly be expected to listen to them. After all, that third commandment concerns the name of Jaweh “merely.” Surely Pilate cannot be said to have much concern about the name of the god of all Jews. That is simply a question of theology, of Jewish theology, you understand.

But what substitute charge is there at hand? If the charge of blasphemy will prove ineffective, what alternative is there? Prophecy, perhaps?

No, prophecy will not do. If they push Christ to the foreground as a prophet, that is, as a prophet in His own estimation of Himself, and if they make that the accusation against Him, Pilate will be as little impressed as if they use the accusation of blasphemy. After all, prophets are perfectly harmless creatures as long as they engage in their nebulous activity of draping the clouds. They become dangerous only when they lay their hands upon the curtains of king’s palaces and of worldly tribunals, in an attempt to arrange and fold these, or to open and close them. No, the self-arrogated prophetic role of the Nazarene, too, will not serve as a suitable accusation. If only these two charges which the Sanhedrin finally have left, those of blasphemy and of prophecy, are to be raised in the debate before Pilate, the action of the Sanhedrin and the politics of the day are, if you will, foredoomed to fail.

No, no, they must draw up a more concrete charge than those. Somehow they will have to pass from the first to the second table of the law. For just as easily as Rome leaves the matters contained in the first table of the law to God and the gods, just so punctiliously does mortal man insist upon the rights set down in the second table as he sees and manipulates them for himself. Especially insistent is he when the matter concerns the commandments of the second table as they are when they are isolated from those of the first. Mortal men understand very well that the case of Jesus must be presented to Pilate very differently from the way in which it was presented to the Sanhedrin.

That is why the fifth commandment is substituted for the third, and is placed in the foreground by these armor-bearers of the law of the Lord. The third commandment makes mention of the name of the Lord and it is that name which Jesus is supposed to have blasphemed. But to tell Pilate this would be to leave him quite unaffected. The fifth commandment, however, deals with the concept of authority, and puts the Son of man into a certain relationship over against the government. Now “government” is a term to which Pilate can easily respond; especially so if the first predication of the second table (the one pertaining to authority) is isolated from the first table of the law. For Pilate regards himself as a ruler, not by the grace of the Supreme Lawgiver of all Jews, nor of their God Jaweh, who wrote the first table of the law of Moses and who allows no Caesar or governor any authority except as it is derived from Him. No, Pilate would be ruler by the grace of his own self-sufficient person, by the grace of Rome, and of its theomorphic Caesar.

Therefore, if Jesus of Nazareth and His cause is to affect Pilate at all, if Pilate is to be moved to act against Jesus quickly, no better charge is available than the one that Jesus is a rebel to the government, is a rebel to the sovereignty of Rome and of all of her subjects. Once the case of the Nazarene has been successfully transferred from the first to the second table of the law, the charge against Him can be formulated quickly. “We found Him,” they say, “forbidding to give tribute to Caesar. Why does He forbid it, you wonder? Because He says that He Himself is ‘Christ, a King’.”

This nicely formulated charge fits into the framework of the deliberations of the Sanhedrin perfectly. Once the case of Jesus has been transposed from the first to the second table of the law, the Jews had to degenerate to this way of “interpreting” the concept of the Messiah. You remember that when the issue of Jesus’ Messiahship had been raised for discussion in the Sanhedrin, it had been explained in terms of these two concepts: the name of God, and prophecy. But now that they have to make the notion of the Messiah vivid and concrete to the mind of Pilate, that same Sanhedrin explains the term as one which refers to those other two concepts: the name of the king and the kingship. Thus did the Bearer of the loftiest conceivable majesty suffer the accusation of having blasphemed majesty. He who was sent out by the supreme authority of the world, and who was clothed in that same authority, is delivered up as a rebel against authority; He is introduced to the secular judge by His own people as a subverter of the nation. He is said to be an enemy of the state and this is their interpretation of the Messiah, mark you, not of Jesus of Nazareth, but of the Messiah as He was essentially. “He says He is the Messiah” they say, and they add, “That implies that He thinks of Himself as a King. Draw your own conclusions, representative of Rome and friend of Caesar.”

We may not ignore this last element. Prompted by a hatred for Jesus of Nazareth, Israel appeals to the sense of authority inherent in a Roman governor, and does not hesitate in its conflict with this bearer of the messianic idea to deny that very idea itself. By so doing, Israel forfeits its innocence; every last bit of it. This proves that it was not an intellectual error but an ethical perversion which delivered Jesus into pagan hands. These are not Sauls, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against Jesus, while continuing to hold high the idea of the Messiah, for these Jews are selling the Messiah without regard to any other forms of revelation in which He might appear. It is plain: A Messiah wants to be king—hence He is a threat to the state. Away with Him: take Him away. Can we say that this is the work of zealots? No, it is that of politicians who know what they are doing. Formally they adhere to their point of departure, yes. In the official session of the Sanhedrin, Jesus had indeed been condemned as one who arrogated the name of the Messiah to Himself. But now that they are in Pilate’s presence, they explain the conclusion they have come to, not in their own theological sense of it, but as it will make its best appeal to Pilate’s political way of thinking.

Besides, they introduce evidence to prove their contention. Observe how they proceed. They immediately strike the formal note. We found—those are their words. After due investigation, they suggest, we are compelled to conclude that this man is a traitor to the state. That is the sense of their charge.

This charge they proceed to substantiate by various subordinate arguments. The fact that Jesus proclaimed Himself to be a king has had two effects, they allege. The first is that He has provoked a tumult among the people (“subverts the nation”). The second is that He has forbidden giving tribute to Caesar. They assert that Jesus, because of His messianic pretensions, stands as an obstacle in the way of the regular collection of taxes. It is worth remarking here that the sense of their accusation is not that Jesus merely excites dissatisfaction among the Jews in the matter of taxation, but that He actually is an obstacle to the collection of taxes.

These were serious charges and are such as directly affect Pilate. Just how cleverly the Jews set this trap appears from the fact that in their reference to “subverting the nation” they use a word in which Israel is described not as a spiritual, religious community, far exalted above other peoples, but simply as a political unit such as those other nations over which the Roman scepter holds sway.[1] They are glad to humiliate themselves before Pilate, to play the role of a condescending province of Rome. They are only a political unit, one which like others enjoys a place in the Roman scheme. They rest in that role gladly, for, now that they deliver up the Christ “an sich,” they also sell themselves. They come with the complaint that Jesus is stirring up the people and that He is interfering with the orderly collection of the taxes. Can you not see, Caesar, that the province is in danger?

[1] Compare Nebe, op. cit., pp. 2, 37, 435.

Now he who sees things spiritually and has an eye for what is going on in the Kingdom of heaven, knows that the passion of Christ in suffering these things was a terrible one. His is a great suffering. Nevertheless God wished it. God’s counsel was realizing itself in this crooked human transaction. We must note that now.

We said that Christ was being accused upon His royal mountain. That is using figurative language, which, as you have surmised, corresponds to that other figurative description which induced us to point to Christ on the prophetic mountain (chapter 9).

We are concerned here with Christ’s kingship, and also with His prophecy. He is not the first king, but He is the pleromatic king of Israel. No, not the first. From Christ’s point of view Israel has had many kings. But He is the pleromatic king. The theocratic kingship was given its pleroma, its fulfillment, in the Christ. He completely fulfilled the law of the office of the kingship in this God-founded messianic state. Completely and genuinely He preserved the real life, the pure essence of the kingly office by means of His messianic work. Moreover, He gave an appropriate revelation to this latent essence. This He did so faithfully and so fully, that He completely fulfills and expresses the law of the kingship.

Therefore we say that Christ is standing on the mountain of Israel’s kingship. He stands on its very peak. But that is something which no one will ever see from a carnal point of view. It is a part of Christ’s passion and obedience that the zenith, as the language of the angels would designate it, is a nadir in human language, that is, in the language of unbelieving men.

We know that the person who can only see the tangible and obvious thinks of the kingship as an office with a great deal of external glamour. To him the king is one who can be seen from a great distance. One of the terms used to designate a king in the Hebrew language gives expression to this external obviousness of the king’s rank.[2] But in Israel, the people of revelation, God, the Sovereign of kings, has said other things, sublimer things, things touching on redemption about the king and his office. In the messianic, theocratic state the essence of the kingship resides in precisely that which is not obvious to the eye. The external glamour—a crown, a throne, a diadem, a palace, a great host of people—is merely the shell, the husk. But the mystery of faith, the great, messianic mystery, the message of revelation, which makes the king a type of the Messiah—these all are the core, the kernel, the fruit contained within the shell.

[2] Nagid, root n-g-d.

Therefore the history of Israel’s kingship, and of the house of David to a certain extent, cannot be written as it should be unless these last considerations are placed in the foreground. Observed from the viewpoint of the flesh, the king is the chosen one, the gracious, the rich, the heavily armed. But from the point of view of the theocratic word and programme the king is the heavily laden one (he comes not to be served but to serve), the oppressed one among the oppressed many, the meek and lowly and defenceless one of whom the prophet Zechariah said such glorious things, that is, poor things.[3] When the flesh essays to write an epic about the Highest King on the royal mountain you will hear the strophes of war resounding in sonorous cadences. You will be presented with a picture of a king at the head of his army, of one who counts his soldiers by the thousands, of one who occupies the preeminent position in the world. The “royal mountain” becomes a king of projection of human size and scope. But when the Spirit sings its songs about the Highest King, as He stands upon the mountain of all kings taken together, the great mystery is revealed. Then it appears that the king of the consummated royal power can achieve His theocratic zenith only if He can and will at the same time pass through His nadir—His nadir as the world sees it. He must be poor, defenceless, servile, heavy-laden. Not that this king will be unable to transcend these: for from now on, from this nadir on, we shall see Him—familiar words[4] —in His power, a power which will also have an external expression in the form of mighty and irresistible works. But. He must experience the kingship first in the dark, deep valley of annihilation—for it is there that victory begins for Him. That is His nadir—that is the offence and foolishness.

[3] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 8, p. 127 f. and 136 f.

[4] This volume, p. 139 f. [Chapter 7, “Christ Vanquishing the Vicious Circle as the Son of Man”]

The important question therefore is whether His suffering, His disrobing, His disarming, is recognized as being His pleroma. Whoever has appreciated the law of revelation in this matter knows that the pleromatic Prince of Israel will achieve His zenith in this way, even though the world says that He has been cast into the pit of utmost limitation. He, however, who does not understand that law reserves a place in the nadir of humility, in the deep abyss of nakedness and ministration, only for the slaves. And He points the way of such a servant to a grave diametrically opposed to those of the hero-princes of the realm of David. Meanwhile, of course, he melts the iron for a chariot of war and also the gold for the diadem of his chosen ruler.

These two lines have crossed each other throughout the centuries. From the time of David to the time of his Son the one line looks for the peak of the pleromatic David—there where the world seeks out and finds its zeniths. That is the first line. The other seeks the zenith in the service, the surrender—for the Spirit calls this nadir the true zenith. That is the second line. The first line follows Saul in his desire to be autonomous; it drinks the blood of God’s faithful priests; or it hurls its spear—perhaps its invectives—at the man chosen by God and by the Word. And the same line, the line of the flesh, follows David as he counts the people, as he compares his rank with the kings of the world, as he measures himself with a worldly yardstick, and weighs himself in a worldly scale—so many soldiers, so many wagons, so many arsenals, so many subjects. That line also took the course of all those, either inside or outside of David’s house who reckoned the worth of Israel’s crown in terms of its gold content, and compared it with the other crowns of leading Asiatic powers of the day. All these have defied Israel, the bride of God, with their eyes, and have degraded the theocratic king. He had to be a friend of the bridegroom, a friend of the Lord Himself. A friend rejoices in and is proud of the fact that the groom has his bride and he himself can reverently recede. The friend comes to serve, not to be served. But here the friend of the groom becomes his enemy: he steals the bride for himself after he has defiled her (see Joh_3:29).

But the second and better line, the line of the Spirit and of the history of redemption, was pursued by Samuel and the prophets. It was followed also by David when he sang those psalms of the King of glory, who comes to the world in poverty, it is true, but also full of grace. It pursues David as he weeps his tears on Ornan’s threshing floor and as he refuses to sacrifice unless he himself ministers the sacrifice.

In this moment of the darkest gloom, then, these two lines bisect each other. Jesus stands at the point of bisection. He must keep His course unimpaired to the end. Commit Thy royal way to the Lord, O Christ, and do not ask whether He shall bring it to pass (see Psa_37:5). Perhaps someone will say that this has happened before. It has, and in this same passion week. The line of the flesh and the line of the spirit have met in enmity before. We referred to it then.[1] This first conflict took place at the time of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem but that occasion and this one are not the same. Then it was Christ who took the initiative and who, by means of a genuine preaching of the true king of meekness, spread the gospel among His strayed and foolish people.

[1] Christ in His Suffering, Chapter 8.

But now this study has reached its second volume. In this one it is a bound Christ who stands over against the government. His is no more the privilege of free speech. No, the occasions are not alike. Then it was the Christ Himself who could and had to unravel the skein of the thought of His “fleshly” people. If He had not done so, He would have had to take the responsibility Himself for the heresy which is nailing Him to the accursed tree.

Today the problem is a more complicated one for Christ. He sees the knot into which the foolish thoughts of all these people have become complicated. He may not leave it as it is. In Pilate’s presence, by means of his active obedience, He must again trace the straight line in defining His kingship—that is, the straight line of prophecy. And this must be done in a manner which not only keeps Him caged in by that skein, but also in a manner which makes Him the sacrifice in the clash between Spirit and flesh which ensues when each represents the kingship in its own way.

Yes, Christ, it is very difficult climbing on this mountain of all the kings of the theocratic realm. Thou hast been pushed very far into the valley of humiliation. So far that now the privilege of taking the initiative — surely a privilege peculiarly a king’s prerogative and glory — is no longer Thine. Dost Thou still remember, O Christ, how blessed that experience was for Thee? To be able to take the initiative, when Thou — it was but a very short time ago — badest the sick to come to Thee and when Thou didst keep the royal feast, the feast of a lowly and defenceless prince, with the miserable ones in Jerusalem.[1] Dost Thou remember? But how forget? Thou thinkest all things, and rememberest all. Therefore taste now, stop and taste now, O Jesus Christ, here on the top of the mountain of Israel’s kings, how bitter are the dregs of this subordination, of this utter restriction. The right of initiative is Thine no longer. Thou canst no longer present Thy problem independently, O Evangelist of Jerusalem.

[1] Christ in His Suffering: “Christ Relating Children’s Games to Universal Prophecy,” p. 144. [9th paragraph from end of chapter]

Yes, all that is past now, all that is gone. Our second volume sees Christ in a different legal relationship than our first saw Him. In these two lines there is much source material for the church and for its dogmatics. Christ stands on the royal mountain, but it is precisely there that He stands in statu servi, in the form of a servant — nay, in the guise of a slave. To the law He is a slave. The clash between the prophecy of His Spirit and the description of the caricaturists of His true kingship sprang from Himself when He triumphantly entered into Jerusalem. That is why we discussed so long and so eagerly the “circumlocution” which He effected there.[2] Yes, He did the deed, Father in heaven. The delight in the deed was His then. But now there is only suffering. The deed, the right to do the deed rests with those who blaspheme God’s holy, prophetic mountain. And now, my Lord and my God, they come to profane the kingly mountain. Father, Father of princes, Thou who dost give kings their office, why dost Thou forsake me? It is dark here, Father, on the top of David’s house, as dark as in the deepest abyss. There is no sun here, save for the sun of truth and of divine justice. Is this what Thou dost call the lamp of David? Are these Thy rays, O Father of heroes?

[2] Christ in His Suffering, “Christ’s Necessary ‘Circumlocution’”

Thereupon a profound voice responded in Jesus. It said that all would be provided on the mountain of the Lord, but that first of all everything must be fulfilled on the mountain of the Lord’s kings. Stoop low, stoop very low. Thine is not the right of initiative. There is nothing for Thee to look forward to now, O Christ, save Thy degradation. That, afflicted Servant of servants, is the only appropriate gift here on the top of Israel’s royal mountain. Didst Thou not know that Thou hadst climbed the mountain where that word is fulfilled which says that the king in the theocracy comes not to be served but to serve? Yes, Thou knowest that. Accept it now. Accept the burden of the royal service. Art Thou the prophet now? Then Thou canst only ask Why. Thou knowest naught Thyself, and canst but ask, but ask. Art Thou the priest now? Then Thou Thyself must be the sacrifice, the bruised one, the empty one. And art Thou the King? Then Thou must be the slave. Thou hast no right of initiative in the world. In the ministration of office every zenith is a nadir — or else God has created the theocracy in vain.

Thy nadir, then. The royal mountain witnesses its most becoming gift: the gift of degradation.

Thus we learn to tremble as we become aware of the perfected law of Christ on the royal mountain. Thus He had to be returned from the first table of the law to the second. This passion had to be His. This pain was a proper part of His suffering. Thus the degradation became complete.

The distance from the Sanhedrin to Pilate was a short one. But much happened to Christ en route. When He was led out of the hall of the Sanhedrin He was still regarded as a transgressor of the first table of the law. An incomparable honor, that. He was worth so much concern that the first table of the law accused Him. Blasphemy: the third commandment: the name of the Lord. The charge read that He had sinned against Jaweh.

But when He appeared before Pilate — could He believe His own ears — He had become much less worthy of concern. He had become that as He labored up His exalted hill. He was counted now as a transgressor of the second table. Disrespect for authority: the fifth commandment: the name of Caesar. He had sinned against Caesar.

Know now that a person is most maligned when he is regarded as least valuable, least worthy of concern. Hence my Saviour is being maligned terribly now. From the defiance heaped upon Him on the prophetic mountain His accusers pass to negation. Presently they will negate Him as He is in the absolute ministration of the office in the kingdom of truth. On the way from defiance to negation, degradation always has a place. The three constitute a gruesome harmony, a mighty conception on the part of Satan, ever great as he is in invention.

But we do not want to conclude this discussion of the royal mountain of all kings by pointing to Satan. God is here; the Anointer of kings is on His holy hill. This too was God’s counsel. The fact that Christ gradually and imperceptibly was led from the higher to the lower plane, from the first to the second table of the law, was also God’s will. Only thus can Christ be disowned essentially and that is precisely what must happen to a slave. Give God what is God’s, Caesar what is Caesar’s, and slaves that which belongs to slaves. To slaves — plural? Yes, a slave is not a single individual — he is but a fragment of this or that mass of perdition. Only thus can Christ be essentially disowned. O church, bewail thy many sins. The royal mountain has looked upon its slave. Only in this way could the law of the great concealment be realized in Christ.

He who is the Author and Sustainer of the law is degraded in the name of the law. And Caesar, it seems, is the last word of that law. For we hear a prayer resounding through the atmosphere: O God, protect Caesar; we, the sons of Abraham, do not want to harm him with the messianic hope. Just what was the phrasing of that line again which said something about Christ as the end of the law? The letter of the text seems very distant, very strange today.

Now, indeed, He is under the law of the great concealment. As they conduct Him from the first to the second table of the law, classifying His “case” in that way, the great truth that every commandment blesses and curses Him in turn is concealed. The truth that He sustains both tables of the law and keeps them together in Himself remains hidden. It is easier for them to rage and to jeer against the Christ than to make Him of less importance, of less concern, than this. But such things happen when one begins measuring and comparing matters in His presence.

Christ before Pilate: this is a new phase. We look back again. When He stood before the Sanhedrin they began with the first table of the law. The result: defiance, the outlaw, Christ insulted on the prophetic mountain; the mocking phrase, “Prophesy unto us, Christ, who was he that struck thee?”

Now He is in Pilate’s presence. Here they begin with the second table. The result: defiance, the outlaw, Christ insulted on the royal mountain, a crown of thorns, the gorgeous robe, the reed; the scornful greeting, “Hail, King of the Jews.”

Again, therefore, Christ must climb the mountain of shame; again He must become an outlaw.

He took account of Himself. He could do nothing else. He took account of Himself and His people. He found that in a single hour He had been terribly degraded. Much had happened since the cock had crowed. He had sunk to the rank of a rebel against the state. A crowned head, somewhere yonder in Rome, had been raised above Him. The man was Caesar. He was surrounded with flowers, and with many women. He lay on cushions — watching a charming dancer. A vial of wine stood beside him. He laughed — steeped in delight.

Oh, the cock’s crowing! Being a malefactor against God’s universe — what a blessedness that is in comparison with being a malefactor to that man in Rome. O Sanhedrin, how you have wounded Him, with your charge of crimen laesae Majestatis, blasphemer of the majesty of the Lord. But here is Pilate with his crimen laesae majestatis, blasphemer of kings. No capital letter here. Caesar has been blasphemed. Degradation, sudden descent of the waters.

But mark how He thanks His Father because everything in the world has a capital letter when God governs it. Blessed sermon on the mount. Caesar, too, represents authority. Authority means: God. Foolish Jews! You will never remove Him from the first table. He is Himself. He who spoke the sermon on the mount, He submit to measurement and degradation? He stands on His exalted hills and remains Himself, hallelujah, amen. Ave Caesar, moriturus te salutat, in the name of the Father and of the uncreated Son and of the Holy Ghost. Caesar, you may keep your capital letter. Jesus will accept it, for there is a crimen laesae Majestatis. There is Authority. The fifth commandment is unthinkable without the first table. The Scriptures cannot be broken. For this purpose He redeemed us. He lifts the slaves up to His royal heights.