And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
THE hour has now come in which the Son of man is to be crucified. Come, ye Jews, feel free to break down the temple, as He Himself has said. Come, Romans, break down the temple; you have done it before and you will do it again. For Christ the moment has come. He has refused the sedative drink, and it may be that the refusal caused the soldiers to drive the nails somewhat more forcefully through the body of the Son of man. Someone was hissing between his teeth: obstinate fool, he refuses the sedative, does he? Come then, we will show him.
We must say at once that there is no unanimity of opinion about the manner in which the crucifixion took place. One commentator supposes that, according to the usual method, the cross was first laid upon the ground, and that the person to be crucified was nailed upon it as it lay in that position. Others think that they may infer from historical records that the cross was first set up vertically in the ground and that the condemned person was then nailed upon it. Even then, however, opinions differ about the further details. Some maintain that the soldiers lifted the one to be crucified up and that one or two others then stood on a ladder in a position to drive the nails through the hands. Others again entertain the notion that the condemned man was compelled to jump up on a stile prepared for the purpose, in order to place his body in the desired position. A third group hold that they tied him to the crossbeam with ropes, that they also tied his trunk and legs, and that then the nails were driven through the flesh of the hands. Whether the feet also were impaled is another question about which opinion differs. Some think that the feet were allowed to dangle freely but others assert that these as well as the hands were nailed to the beam, both feet together or each foot separately. And again there is a difference of opinion about the position of the feet. According to some the sole of the foot was pressed against the beam. If this were true the knees would first have to be bent into a position which allowed for that; but others believe that the legs were stretched out to their full length and that the nails were driven through at the bottom of the foot. It would be to profane reverence if we were to make any attempt to choose one or another of these possibilities. The choice has been made innumerable times, both in classic art and in the written and the spoken word. But we shall not commit ourselves to any one position, for we lack certainty. We do believe that we are justified in inferring from Luk_24:39 that the feet of the Saviour also were impaled. But for the rest we lack an accurate designation of the particulars concerning the crucifixion of Jesus.
Let us honestly admit at once that we do not regret this fact. We believe that God Himself threw a veil over the naked body of His lost Son. Ours is not the prerogative to remove this veil. At this point we return to the thought we entertained before, when we pointed out the fact that the place of the crucifixion cannot be exactly pointed out. We revere the will of God Who does not allow us to fix our thoughts upon unrevealed, historical particulars, but Who wants us to fasten them upon the idea, upon the prophecy, upon the revelation-concept which comes to us in the martyr’s death of Jesus Christ. We can say, of course, that the crucifixion itself, however it may have taken place, was a terrible punishment. All kinds of enthusiastic and arbitrary spiritualization of the event, all kinds of falsely mystical imaginations or bloodless symbolism have, it is true, attempted even to take the sting out of this worst of terrors. But Scripture points us in a different direction. It forbids us to follow that method of argumentation, common in ancient representations of the event, which sees in the extended arms of Moses, as he prays in the battle against Amalek, the sign of the cross; or that which sees in the bisection of the vertical beam by the crossbeam the bisection of the “horizontal line” by the “vertical line,” the bisection of the eastern-western line, the horizontal line, by the northern-southern line, the vertical line. The cross of Jesus and its unknown form does not lend itself to a game of words. It does not want to be a symbol but a reality which concerns us directly.
That reality, we may be sure, was very terrible.
“The extent of the physical suffering has been described by a physician in the following terms: The unnatural, constrained position of the body with its arms spread outwards for so long a time must have been a torture which cannot be described in words. This is especially true because not the slightest movement could be made without causing unbearable pain to the whole body but particularly to the impaled hands and feet and to the back, made raw as it had been by the scourging. The nails had been driven through the body at precisely the places were numerous sensitive nerves ran together. Some of these were excited, and others suppressed, a situation causing the severest pain, and one which must gradually have increased. The irritated parts of the body, gradually exposed to the influence of the air, must slowly have become swollen and bruised. The same result must have taken place in other parts where the liquids of the body were held back by the tremendous tension and consequently were frustrated. Now the pain of the inflammation in these parts could only increase from moment to moment. The blood which is carried to all parts of the body through the arteries by the left auricle could not find room enough in these badly inflamed and swollen parts, and consequently would have to flow to the head in greater proportions than usual, would have to distend and press hard on the arteries there, and thus cause ever increasing headache. However, because of this hindrance in the circulation of the blood the left auricle would be unable to send out all of its blood, and consequently would be unable to receive all of the blood coming to it from the right auricle. There was, therefore, no free circulation of the blood in the lungs. This would cause the heart itself to be oppressed; all the arteries would necessarily feel the added pressure; and an unspeakable sense of oppression had to result.
“Add to these considerations the fact that the person could never turn or adjust himself amid all his pain, inasmuch as the head alone was free. The body was persistently in an unnatural position. This meant that a gradual stiffening of nerves, arteries, and muscles had to result Nor must we forget that a burning oriental sun beat down upon the condemned man. There was not a blade of grass to cast its shadow upon the cross. Fiendishly annoying insects hummed around him, and settled upon the open wounds, aggravating the pains.”
 See P. Biesterveld, Van Bethanie naar Golgotha, pp. 357-358.
Pardon the long quotation. We insert it because of an attempt to restrict the matter to what is definitely known.
It is terrible enough.
We must look upon these things in the light of our faith. The cross takes on significance for us when it is regarded not as a symbol, but as a bloody reality, which was inevitable for Jesus Christ because the great Judge wanted to minister the curse of sin to Christ solely through the cross. The crossbeam was not an accident, a circumstance which gives a sort of perspective to Golgotha, but which might also have been lacking. It is not a “tragic feature,” or coincidence, for nothing in the trial of Christ deserves that name. True, the cross of Jesus Christ, just as the whole of that fatiguing trial, does arise very gradually and naturally out of the life of His time and out of the usages of that time, and, to this extent, it is completely human. But from God’s point of view the cross of Christ is the form by which we human beings were instructed in the ministration of curse to the Surety and Mediator. Of all possible operetta of curse and death, God chose this particular operatus for the Surety.
The question, consequently, arises: Just why the cross, and why no other form of punishment?
We have previously indicated that the cross, inasmuch as it was a Roman and not a Jewish mode of execution, gave expression to a definite idea of God. The Christ had to be lifted up, we said. By means of that exaltation He had to be raised above the particular sphere of the forms of Moses’ religion and law. Consequently Christ had to die according to the verdict of the world empire which was then extant. This is one consideration: the cross is international in scope. But this is not the only consideration. The form, the manner of the crucifixion, is also the particular one which God chose to express the idea that the Mediator had to be publicly exhibited. This public display is indeed a Biblical idea, and that is something which cannot be said about the too facile and hardly poetic expression which talks about “swaying between heaven and earth.” Heaven does not want the crucified One, and the earth can endure Him no longer. But all these notions, and others similar to them, are the products of a false imagination. Let us be very cautious here at the border line of hell, and let us listen to the Bible. God chose the form of crucifixion which required that the condemned person be raised above the common lay of the land: the emphasis had to fall on the public exhibition.
These, then, are the two perspectives given us. First, God willed the crucifixion because He wanted to lift Christ up before the world. Second, the crucifixion was willed by God because by that means Christ could be publicly displayed before men. The first perspective deserves the amplification that not alone did Christ have to be raised before the world, but that He also had to be lifted up before the world. Again we think of the analogy between the brazen serpent and the Son of man both of which were lifted up, in order that anyone whose eye looked forward to what could redeem his life, might look upon this life-giving wonder. To these two considerations we must add a third.
In the death by crucifixion the curse achieves its confirmation. We want to point out the fact that hanging on a tree is a form of punishment which must also be seen in the light of the law of Israel. The form of the cross speaks a language known to all men. The legal definition of the cross is laid down by Rome, and the theological exegesis of it is contained in the law of Israel. Nothing is accidental, neither the form of the cross, nor Roman power, nor the law of Israel, to which Christ was still conscience-bound. He was not permitted to separate His cross, not even His cross, from the law of Moses; He was not allowed to look upon it solely in the light of Rome, for then He would have been unfaithful to the law which He was not to break down but to fulfill. No, He might not break down that law, even though it was breaking Him. All of those Romans together were not permitted to keep Jesus from seeing the ghost of Moses, for Jesus was dying within the domain of special grace. This, too, God had willed. Moses’ book of law could not be pushed aside by Roman law in the consciousness of Jesus. Just as the law book of Rome was being read to Him by devils, and angels, so the law of Moses is being recited in His soul by the eternal Spirit. Moses says: The curse, it is the curse which is expressed by crucifixion. Cursed is everyone that hangeth on the tree.
The curse . . . yes, the curse. We have spoken of that before. We saw then that the curse which ordinarily came to the condemned man after his death, had to be consciously assumed by Jesus before His death. We saw that for this reason He had to be hanged upon the tree not after but before His death.
 Chapter 1, pp. 20 ff.
In this circumstance we see a wonderful confluence of the streams of the providence of God. We see that the God of history has given Israel its law book throughout the centuries by means of inspiration and theophany, thus arriving at the Christ. But we also see that the same God for the sake of the coming Christ had already pointed the Roman book of laws, and the Roman jurisprudence and the Roman history throughout the centuries in that direction which would enable it to realize this curse in Jesus. General history exists for the sake of Christ. Roman antiquity had to meet Mosaic antiquity at noon of the Lord’s day of revelation. Both of these have their task and function. Roman law had to determine the time of Christ’s hanging upon the tree; Roman law had to see to it that He was hanged before and not after His death. In this God permits the law of Rome to impinge upon the ordinance of Moses in order that the Surety bear the curse before His death. But Rome cannot suppress or push aside the spirit and the exegesis of Israel’s theocratic law. Hence Jesus can find the exegesis of His own hanging upon the tree only in the law of Israel. He knows that law; He knows very well that to hang upon the tree means to be accursed. Thus the God of the centuries, the Potentate of Potentates, lets the legislative avenues of His Spirit which come to Christ through the Holy Scriptures of Israel meet with the legislative ways and avenues of the existing world empire, in order that the cross might stand at the place of their bisection. This makes the cross the result of the foregoing century. The cross arises out of the fruition of the realms of culture and of grace. These two, the unbound word of Israel’s inspired law book and the binding words of Rome’s unsanctified tyranny are both taken into God’s service today. They must bring Jesus as the Surety and Mediator to the place where He is to suffer the curse, and to suffer it before His death. As we see the ways of Rome’s military power and of Israel’s Word-power crossing each other here in order to enable Jesus to suffer the curse in the right way and at the right time, we get a new glimpse of the almighty, and ever-present power of God which we call His providence. The God of the world not only descends to the earth from the Mount of Horeb but also from the seven hills of Rome. We are given a new motif for the preaching of God’s providence. This is a new knot in our confused, but also unravelled thinking of faith. We will be profoundly awestruck in the presence of the crucified One, for God will be coming to us from all directions. The world will be full of God and full of the ludicrous. The world will be full of God and full of scandal, full of God and full of folly and arrogance. Alas, to think that the Saviour can understand the cross only in this way. His thinking is far superior to that of all poets. His thinking is genuine and is true.
But does this exhaust the content of the Biblical thoughts contained in the crucifixion? He is foolish who supposes that it does. If what was said above is true, we may not say: Well, it was very tragic; now let us stop thinking about it. Instead we say to ourselves: Now it begins. If Christ sees God coming down upon Him from all sides, the God of history, the God of Horeb and of the seven hills of Rome, then it is God Himself who is hanging Him upon the tree. It is God, the God who buried Moses, Who slays the Lamb.
There is another matter which attracts our attention in the cross. This is the violence of the breaking down of the body. Hands and feet were torn apart by nails; hammers wrenched the flesh asunder. This too deserves notice. To ignore this particular would make us poorer than the poets and painters and musicians who have been fascinated by this terrible, tortuous death, and would keep us from attaining to the overwhelming riches of thought contained in the Scriptures and the Church. For the Scriptures emphatically point us to the nailing on the cross, to the drawing of the blood, to the breaking of the body. And the Church, accordingly, has in her liturgical forms preserved the memory of the breaking of Christ’s body in the breaking of the bread at the Holy Supper, and of the pouring out of the blood in the pouring out of the wine. Obedience to the Scriptures and fidelity to the Church consequently teaches us emphatically to ask for the significance of revelation in the violent treatment inflicted upon the body of Christ by the crucifixion. We have observed that Christ more than once concealed a maschil in the word which spoke of the breaking down of His temple. By that maschil He wanted to present His body as a temple of the Spirit. This should suffice to induce a heart given to reading the Bible to say: A cry issuing from the highest temple is, if seen in a prophetic light, as awful as is the falling of a star. Precisely the fact that the body of Christ is a temple gives so profound a significance to the violence with which the nails are driven through His flesh and to the vehemence with which the temple in which God’s spirit lived unreservedly is broken down. Just as the narrative of the creation of the first Adam out of the dust of the earth, and the breathing upon it of the Almighty, definitely affects all basic problems of philosophy and theology, so the violent breaking down of the body of the second Adam, as it is recorded in the Bible, directly affects Christian philosophy and theology. In the last analysis, the life-and-world view of thinkers who are faithful to the Scriptures must reverently bow to it.
 Christ on Trial, pp. 80 ff. (Chapter 4), 102 ff. (Chapter 5), 363 ff. (Chapter 19), and 403 ff. (Chapter 21)
Accordingly, we must attempt to appreciate the theological significance of the cries issuing from Christ’s broken flesh, from His torn body, from His driven blood, from the gruesomely and tortuously constrained limbs. Doing that we feel we must say that Christ in the moment of His crucifixion felt Himself being cast into the catastrophic curse! 
 The scourging was a different thing; it was an interlude, (see Christ on Trial, Chapter 27, pp. 508 f., 519 f.) and besides, it was not until after the scourging that Christ was thrown “without the gate,” a step which must be regarded again as a separate one in Jesus’ way of suffering (chapter 1, this vol.).
What do we mean by the catastrophic curse? Let us attempt to define it. In our preceding chapter we observed that the curse is one curse, but that in its manner of expression it may and always does adopt two forms. In its beginning the curse, as well as the blessing, is “merely” a principle. But observe the use of the little word “merely”— for we are using that word in a human sense; from God’s point of view, the word is nonsense.
The curse, then, is a principle. Now principles are realized gradually, perhaps, but certainly. They work to the inside of things first; there we call them energy. Afterwards they work to the outside; there we call them explosion. At first principles become effective slowly, causing neither break nor schism, neither violence nor explosion; they move gradually and slowly along certain lines. Principles must be believed before one can see them in their expression, but if, after the preliminary influence, the expression begins to realize itself, when the principle, in other words, attains to its “par-ousia,” then that par-ousia is something sudden, something mighty, something explosive, something overwhelming. Now the curse, just as the blessing, begins very unobtrusively. It comes into the world unperceived. It is a power of death which seems hardly alive. But the curse ends in violence. It ends with cloudburst, with tornado, with earthquake, with stars falling from their courses — in short, with catastrophic things. A well-known paper once wrote an article about “the apparatus of the last judgment.” The terminology of the caption was inexact to the extent that the person using the words thought that the last judgment was something introducing a new element into the world, an element not there before. And the terminology was inexact also to the extent that the person who wrote it thought that something new was being introduced into the world by a means of abrupt acts of mechanical violence. Behind every explosion of wrath in the last day lies a persistent energy of forces which have been gradually growing throughout the centuries. These forces and this energy give expression to death in its function of disintegration. These are forces which unobtrusively but persistently exert themselves in the world. The Scripture tells us that wrath is being reserved. To this extent the language which refers to the “apparatus of the last judgment” is not Biblical. But it contains an element of truth inasmuch as it suggests that judgment will come with catastrophies, with quakes, with mighty phenomena.
 The Nieuwe Rott. Courant.
These considerations will become more concrete to our imagination, and will become more vivid and vital to us, if we ponder once more what we said about the so-called vicious circle. We shall not repeat what we said about that before, but for the sake of clarity we want to summarize it in order to find room in this scheme for what we have to say about the curse of the crucified Saviour.
 Christ on Trial, Chapter 3, p. 52 ff.
Originally — we observed — the whole world, the world before the fall, seemed destined to a gradual development, to an evolution, an unfolding of the life which had its origin in creation. This evolution which God first had in mind and which He ordered, would have brought the first man and the world created around him gradually to a state of perfection in which not only the energies of nature would have attained their extreme fruition, but also all faculties and potentialities of the human spirit, of body and personality, would have reached full and perfect development.
Now if sin had not disturbed the scene, that evolution of life would have been reached without any new intervention, without any return to the beginning, without any “new” creature, without any invasion of new forces. This evolution would not have placed the crown upon Adam’s head from above, but would have allowed it to issue out of His own flourishing, “organic” life. An imposed crown, a super-added crown is suitable to a fallen world, but in a world undisturbed by sin that crown comes naturally, just as the crown of a flower or a tree grows out of a tender shoot “of its own accord.” However, when sin invaded God’s created world, things changed. Then the world had deserved the curse, had deserved absolute death; and this absolute death would have annihilated the world and that catastrophically and at once, if God had not introduced a hiatus, a moratorium, by which the curse was tempered, and a state was introduced in which God — according to the plan He had conceived before — made it possible for a new life-principle to flourish, a principle known as re-creation. Thus God introduced into the world that circle of human life which to a certain extent kept the life of creation from developing gradually along the courses of evolution upon which it had originally been placed, but which also tempered the activity of the curse until the day of Jesus Christ. Now the corollary of this, naturally, is that the new life of re-creation which thrusts its foundations under the life of creation can reach its purpose only through Christ.
 The factor of God’s providence (sustenance and maintenance) is not being neglected here, but is not the issue in these contrasts.
Therefore we can say that since that time the world has been placed — if we may use the term — “in the sign of” the new creation. “The Lord hath created a new thing on the earth” Such, from this time on, is the peculiar language of prophecy. No longer is there that gradual evolution, but there is a spasmodic eruption of the “new” day and of the “new” creation and of constantly “new” redemptive events. This series of spasmodic eruptions from now on characterizes the course of history. Something “new” is introduced into the earth, and this new thing constantly comes in the form of an invasion. It is the invasion, the constantly new invasion of God’s irresistible power which spasmodically and not gradually brings the life of re-creation to fulfillment in Christ. It is along this line of activity that such a miracle as personal regeneration (the new creation, the quickening of the dead, the laying of a new life principle, without any “cooperation” on our part, in each one of God’s elect) has its place. Along this line also the sudden, instantaneously effected, perfect sanctification — spasmodic also! — of the soul in the dying hour (immediately taken up to Christ its Head); thus also the — catastrophic — renewal of the earth, the instantaneous mutation, the resurrection of the body from the dead, in short the “restoration of all things.”
On the other band, however, the curse also is realized in the same catastrophic manner, for now the curse also comes spasmodically. This could not be otherwise: the ways of the curse are dependent on the ways of the blessing and of life. The curse may again and again be restrained in the world, but such postponement for those who do not share in the life of re-creation does not mean a dismissal. Even though the sun continues to shine in its friendly way, even though the course of life may roll smoothly on, even though the heart of man may be full of inclination to evil because judgment does not come at once upon the evil deed, nevertheless the curse will eventually break through in the form of an explosion of the power of death, a sudden and violent invasion of the essence of death. And there are a number of things which are appropriate to this line of activity also. These are found in those who remain outside of God. The outright hardening of a human life, sometimes in a sharply delineated crisis of life (think of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit); the complete sinking away into a state of unrestrained sin and ungodliness (think of the dying hour in which even the “decent” impenitent immediately sinks away into the demonic); and also the change “in the twinkling of an eye,” the coming before judgment, the casting of men and of devils into hell and of the Antichrist into the pool of fire and of sulfur; the acute, catastrophic annihilation of the sin- erected “Babylonian” tower, the ejection of the children of Babel from their own palace, the last day, and the thunder of the last judgment. These all again denote the invasion, this time the invasion of death, of the curse. This is the explosion, the catastrophe.
 Compare the “immediately” with the words Christ assumed; see above- mid compare the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22.
This acute, spasmodic, abrupt breaking through of life (the blessing) as well as of death (the curse) again and again is a dominating moment in the “day of the Lord.” He comes in woes, He comes in the pains of travail, it is true, but in pains nevertheless. They are the pains of death also. “The first woe is passed? But the second comes apace.” Such is the law of catastrophic things. And the last catastrophe is the eschatological culmination of them all. Whether it be in personal life, or in social life, or in the life of the whole world, the circle of time, of today and tomorrow, will be broken, and this disruption will be the conclusive triumph of the newly created life, a life which transcends the restraint and tempering of common grace and the common judgment. But overagainst this triumph of the new life there is the equally conclusive and catastrophic breaking through of the forces of perdition which are to annihilate the world.
Think now, after this necessary digression, of the Christ of God. As Mediator and Surety He is the second Adam. As such He has been placed under the law of the catastrophic curse unto death, and under the law of the spasmodic evolution unto life.
Yes, He must endure the catastrophic curse, for that curse must break through today in perfect righteousness. The curse must be satisfied now. If the Mediator is really going to redeem, He must now endure the very same curse which would without Him have plunged the lost souls in an infinite duration of misery, and of the ministration of punishment. He must exhaust this immeasurable curse in a given point of time. Hence the curse must break through Him today with the portentousness of the last judgment, that most catastrophic of days. It is a part of our faith in the God of revelation and the history of redemption to believe that if, say, the eighteenth day of March, 1939, was the dying day, the curse day, the death day of our incarnate God in the humanity of our second Adam, then on the eighteenth of March, 1939, the powers, the catastrophic powers of the last day, broke out upon Golgotha against the incarnate God. On that day Christ Jesus, not as apocalypticus, but in concrete experience felt the reality of the seven seals, of the seven trumpets, of the seven souls, of the seven thunderings, of the storming horses which drew the chariots of death, of the four winds which are loosed, of a breaking world and a devastated temple. In short, in this historical and actual moment of time He experienced the judgment and the woes of — catastro- phies. That is why He can later have John write about these things on Patmos. The Primary Author of the Revelation of St. John is the Spirit of the Christ, and that Christ knows, has experienced, and can never forget what He felt upon Golgotha. All this has been stated in the Book of the Revelation written by John. Behind the Apocalypse lies an experienced Golgotha.
 Christ on Trial, Chapter 29, p. 545.
 In fact, Golgotha as experienced by Christ was far more terrible than the word of revelation as given in the last book of the Bible. This last book was written in language we can comprehend, and consequently reveals less of reality than He Himself experienced.
Here, then, is Golgotha. The curse comes and takes with it its deeds of violence. It comes with its convulsions. True, the curse has accompanied Jesus Christ throughout His whole life. Christ heard God’s voice in the form of the curse always. But He also knew — and this makes Him weak and strong at the same time — that until His hour had come, the curse had been tempered because it had been introduced into human life such as that life was being lived in His days. That life was organized on the basis of certain laws of existence, of certain potentialities for development, was organized on the basis of common grace. But in agreement with this knowledge which He had, He now assumes the necessity of experiencing the catastrophes, the quakes of the irresistible judgment. For now He has come to the end. That judgment must explode into His life now. Today He must experience the impact of the last judgment. His soul admonishes itself: Dies irae, dies ilia. O my soul, do thou bow low; why art thou disquieted within me? This is the catastrophic curse; this is acute death.
By this means He is able for the first time to take the blessing upon Himself acutely. Now the feast of the Passover will become the invasion of the new power which places His life in the firm frame-work of eternal youth, a new power which will make the life of His body thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a thousand-fold — spasmodically, you see, — more glorious than it is on earth. This is a power which suddenly, abruptly, spasmodically again, places Him in heaven, and thus glorifies Him. This is also the breaking through of His life. It follows its course. This comes spasmodically. This much the Church has understood, for the Church speaks of “steps” of exaltation. The Passover is much, the ascension is more, the exaltation at God’s right hand is an even greater fruition, and the influence of His might over the world afterwards will cause Him to flourish more and more. Finally the evolution of His life will be perfected in his par-ousia, His abrupt appearance before our eyes on the Last Day.
All this God has in mind for Him, for Him who is called the second Adam. If Christ is to earn that right of the breaking through of His life, He must first submit Himself to the law of the breaking down of His life in His death. If ever He is to reach the high-water mark of the “day of the Lord” He must go down to the low-water mark of that day of the Lord on this occasion. Steps of exaltation? Then steps of humiliation also. Leaps, spasmodic leaps into life? But leaps down into death also. Leaps these are. He is not being shoved. He cannot push Himself gradually into death, because He cannot push Himself gradually up to life. If the Passover is to be an invasion, a sudden breaking in, a leap, an acute manifestation, a violent bursting forth of life, then His death now must also be a leap into death. He must be driven in, acutely, catastrophically, with all the violence of the excited madness of the last judgment. The catastrophe belongs to these things; the vicious circle of human life simply has to be broken through by the Christ. The work of breaking up, of tearing into pieces, is catastrophic work.
The harmony here is a perfect harmony. The order is a holy order. Now we see one of the reasons for Christ’s crucifixion on the cross. The cross, and the breaking to pieces represented by the cross, makes the chronic suffering of Christ acute. Suffering and death were chronic with Him at first. He tasted of them throughout the years of His life, even though He knew that the curse was tempered. But in His last days the curse comes in leaps and bounds. Gethsemane, grief, the tortures of hell, the judges, the scourgings, the cross, the beams and the nails. The nails are lances of God, the wedges of the day of judgment. The nails represent the catastrophe. They represent the breaking in two, the splitting. Oh God, my bowels are severed, and catastrophe has come. God has come. God has torn the clouds in two, and caused the mountains to melt. Dogs and bulls and the whole catastrophic series cited in Psalms 22 are here. Must this be, my God? The nails, the hammer and the world passes away; but it passes away in my person. Soldiers and whores remain erect, but I, I am the world, and I am destroyed. I have been given up to devastation. The chronic breaking to pieces has become acute now. My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth. David spoke of broken fragments and of bulls and of dogs. But how mild were the words He used. He said, “Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” But today God is breaking me into fragments, is casting me into the deep abysses of death and perdition.
Now shudder, O son of man. The catastrophe was inevitable. The last judgment has struck in the body and the soul of the second Adam. This is the breaking through of the vicious circle. This is great joy, immeasurable grief. This is disorder — chaos.
Nevertheless there is an order and a harmony in the thought of this: God “thinks His thoughts.” And we can detect the order and the harmony. For us, too, every historical particular given here has its appropriate place in the ensemble of Biblical ideas. It is possible to look upon the crucifixion of Jesus simply as a more or less accidental execution by the Romans, an execution which Pharisees happened to witness. We can stand alongside the cross and say: Alas, this must have caused grievous pain. And when we go to our homes again, we go there without having understood anything. But if the extended arms of the soldiers become the eternal arms of God as we see them with our mind’s eye, and if the nails of the Romans become the lances of the day of judgment, and if the flickering eyes of perspiring soldiers become filled with the threat of the angels of wrath whom God will some day send out, then we can hear the thunders rumbling, then we will read to our brethren at church the chapters which tell of the seven seals, of the seven trumpets, of the seven thunderings, and the seven vials; then we will read to them the chapter about the pit of hell which burst, and say: Now the curse of the vicious circle has broken out and is having its effect; it is taking the form of its catastrophe; now common grace no longer exists for the second Adam.
Indeed, common grace no longer exists for Him. The robe of Christ will presently be raffled away. God’s sun will presently disappear. Now these things assume their proper places for us, for in this way we can see God who is withdrawing His common grace from the second Adam. In this the curse attains its catastrophe.
Jesus Christ, now it is necessary for Thee to make amends for Thy exalted statement. Thou dost remember Thy proud, Thy exalted statement in the presence of the Sanhedrin a moment ago; Hereafter . . . hereafter. That was the word which represented the catastrophic power; that was the word by means of which the Almighty introduced His “chedasjah,” His ever “new” creation. From now on — those were the words of Thy paean of victory, by means of which Thou didst announce that Thou hadst broken through, that Thou hadst penetrated all. This day is the day of breaking through, and here, O Prophet of Nazareth, here is the breaking through, for here are the nails, the thundering storm, the whirlwind, the explosion, the being hurtled into death. All Thy temple walls are tumbling down; ha, ha, break down this temple. Hereafter — thus He Himself has said.
Accordingly the hour of the crucifixion of Christ, of the violence with which He was afflicted is indispensable to the history of the world. It is indispensable because it fulfills the sacrifice. Sacrifices and offers are catastrophes. The knives of the priests come to rest in the spikes and the nails. Every sacrifice of blood throughout the centuries had been an act of violence. Today this violence is being fulfilled before our eyes. Throughout these centuries the sacrifice exhibited Christ, and Christ throughout the centuries to come will represent the last judgment. His nails and hammers are an anticipation of the judgment of the last day. Thus the cross of Christ comes to explain and to fulfill the sacrifice and the offer.
However, no one will see the offer in this event unless he sees it by faith. The knife of the sacrifice had always been manipulated by the hand of a priest. These spikes, however, are being driven through His flesh by the firm hand of the accomplices of Cain. Nevertheless, this is the offer. The whole of Christ’s own work lies behind the act of the soldiers. He Himself led the process of events to this point; He Himself arranged His feet upon the accursed wood; in the last analysis He Himself manipulated the nails and the hammer. He is the priest, therefore; He has nailed Himself to the cross. He has slain Himself. That is why the Lamb, after a while, can “stand as the slain,” hallelujah!
God’s hand, therefore, strikes most terribly at the Son of man. God breaks Him into pieces. God alone can make and break. Fear Him who cannot fail to kill the body when He must kill the soul, the soul of Him Who has been made sin. Fear Him in this portentous hour Who up to this time has withheld all His nails and lightnings in order that they might strike the Son of man now. God can only despise Jesus; God must turn His ear and eye aside from His supplication. God sees very plainly that it is I who am hanging there: God must despise me, and must turn His ear and eye from all my supplications.
I have been to Golgotha. I saw Adam in exile, and immediately afterwards a cloudburst. I saw a flood, I saw a stroke of lightning. Men said: How firmly He strikes the nails, how steadily the spikes go in! The world quakes; there was the day of judgment. And all these things constitute a single thing; they are all the day of the Lord.
Spikes, and hammers, and a distorted mouth. I have reference to the soldier. And God nods at me, and says: Watch this. But I cannot see it; I can only read epistles and gospels. Lord, I thank Thee for having thrown a veil over the nakedness of the second Adam, who has quickened me to life, and that Thou art willing to teach me of Him through the Word. Lord, I know no particulars, I know only that there is such a thing as sin, as the curse, as the catastrophe, and I pray that I may not in all eternity become a Shem, one who lifts the veil, when he should lay it down, or leave it lie.
My language is a frail language, and I believe that Thou wilt regard me as a lost man if I fabricate words on this occasion. The generation of Shem also knows the art of articulating sounds together, but judgment is proclaimed upon the children of Abraham. And who can stand in this day!
The nails, the hammer . . . but every spike is but the apparatus of an eschatological judgment. Judgment begins in the house of God: break down this temple!
This is the judgment; this is the judgment upon Israel; this is the judgment upon man and nature.
This is the judgment upon Israel. Jesus says: My flesh is a temple. He means that His flesh, His body, inasmuch as it is the temple of the Spirit, is the temple of Jahweh. His flesh is the flesh of Abraham. Hence He who breaks down Abraham’s richest temple is letting the Spirit of God recede from the people of Abraham. Thus does the communion of Israel as a fleshly people place the wedge of disruption into the temple of Abraham. Thus the spirit is driven from Abraham’s natural posterity. Praise Him, all ye heathen.
But dare the heathen praise God? Alas, they immediately grow quiet again. They are shocked; they fear, because they remember that Abraham was of Adam and lo — Adam is also being broken. When Jesus Christ says that He is a temple, that His body is a house of God, He does not mean only the broader but also the narrower implications of the figure. Hence He is not only the temple of Jahweh in Israel but also the temple of God in man and nature. His body came from Adam, and in that sense also God dwelt in Him. That temple of His humanity is also being broken down. The whole world witnesses the breaking and says: Clap your hands and rejoice and thank God with rejoicing. Yes, nature does not hide her face before Him. Hence the Spirit is being withdrawn from the whole of the human race and from the whole of nature.
This my God does by means of a hammer and a few spikes. For the rest, we have the Spirit and also the Word. This is the way they treat the Temple. And where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? All that is dust and nature and man and Israel is consumed by the curse. The wedge which Adam drove into the world, Golgotha drove farther. This is the catastrophe. The sun stands still, the moon goes no farther, the world whirls about in space. And all flesh must see and acknowledge that only on the other side of the broken vicious circle of life is there the straight line which leads to the life everlasting. Beyond the vicious circle lies the life which is in Christ. For nature there is this life. The whole creation groans, expecting the day of His perfect evolution, an evolution catastrophically achieved and continued perpetually. For man and for humanity there is this life: the Christ whom the vanity of the world broke in two by means of the nails exhibited the true man to us once more. And for Israel there is this life. Abraham again recognizes all the children who have been born of this one Son . . .
I hear the hammer’s stroke again. And I despise myself because I am able only with the greatest difficulty to hear something of the thunder of the last judgment in the falling strokes of that hammer.