Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 07. Chapter 7: Christ Isolating Himself in the Catastrophic Curse

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 07. Chapter 7: Christ Isolating Himself in the Catastrophic Curse



TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 07. Chapter 7: Christ Isolating Himself in the Catastrophic Curse

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C H A P T E R S E V E N

Christ Isolating Himself in the Catastrophic Curse

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

—Luk_23:34 a.

THE words of Christ Jesus constitute a deep abyss. This is true also, and that not in the least, of the seven utterances on the cross. These are well known, and have made a deeper impression on many souls than have the other words of Christ. Who would dare to deny that this fact represents a weakness in Christian thinking? But those were the words of a dying man, I hear someone say, in explanation of his attitude. We reply that this is not true; they are the words of the dying man. Yes, he adds, but nevertheless they are the words spoken by Him when He was dying. To which we answer: He told Paul beforehand: I die daily. Who, therefore, can dare to think more highly of one of His utterances than of another?

Nevertheless it is a fact that the words of the Dying One have been better remembered than the words of the Living One. Children learn them by heart; the teacher numbers them. Moreover, think of the literature. The seven words on the cross have been included in the literature of the middle ages and of later times as well as in the critical commentaries of all times at the expense of the other statements of Christ. The detrimental effects of such a disruption of the words of Christ soon became apparent. Men forgot themselves and forgot Him in such exegesis. Human fantasy was fond of weaving a cover which it might throw over the light shed by Jesus’ seven last lamps, inasmuch as obscurity pleases the human heart. And, again, the words which He spoke from the cross were segregated from the momentary condition in which the second Adam then found Himself.

It is unnecessary to assert that the Scriptures themselves do not wish to take this direction. True, the seven words on the cross spoken by the Saviour constitute an architectural whole, but that is just another reason for which we should not consider them without actual and unintermittent reference to everything He is thinking and experiencing and doing on this day. Besides, these same seven utterances are much more than a natural and immediate “reaction” to what He is experiencing at the moment. They are at the same time a genuine revelation of the heavenly reality, of the divine depths of His spirit.

This holds true also of the seven words as a unit. Even the sequence in which they were uttered pleads for the truth of that predication.[1] Whoever pays close attention to the order in which the utterances were spoken will see that Christ was gradually isolating Himself on the cross, and that the seven words which He uttered plainly delineate and circumscribe the several phases of that process of isolation.

[1] We are sometimes, and that quite rightly, pointed to the fact that the sequence of the seven words on the cross cannot be determined with absolute accuracy on an exegetical basis. We grant the truth of this. If we, in spite of this fact, assume that the sequence ordinarily accepted is the right one, we do this— very frankly—because of a certain predilection, a certain assumption, which is also enjoined upon us by the Scriptures. It is the assumption that Christ always has a harmonious plan in His discourses, and that even His spontaneously uttered speeches manifest the general logic and style of the whole of His genuine being. Christ’s spontaneous responses are just as artistically and authentically constructed as our artistic mosaics.

Just follow the process for yourself. First the large, inclusive circle of the whole of human life still enjoys His attention. The first utterance on the cross mentions the soldiers and the Jews who are urging them on. To both of these He says, Father, forgive them. The second word on the cross circumscribes a narrower bourne. It is addressed to a murderer who has come to the faith. In this statement Christ is entering the domain of His church. In the third word on the cross He addresses Himself to His family and to the intimate friend, to His mother, and to His disciple, to that disciple “whom He loved.” In other words, this is not the church, but the intimate group within the church. Mark the marvellous unity of the sequence. First, man in general, then the man of the church in particular, and finally the ones inside the communion of the church who, both according to the law of blood and according to the law of the spirit, were most intimately related to Him. Only then, after the circumference of attention on the part of His active and alert life had gradually narrowed itself — the scope of attention of any dying person gradually narrows itself in this way, and such is also the case in the last judgment — only then, we say, is the fourth word on the cross uttered. In this fourth statement Christ calls Himself forsaken of God, and thus He relates the stress of the moment to the spiritual world, the fact and actuality of which He had known before but had not experienced completely until now. When He utters that statement, therefore, He is alone with God, and it is inside the circle of those two, of God and Himself, that His last three statements are made.

Christ’s seven words on the cross, consequently, do constitute an architectural whole. Moreover, we discover with astonishment the process of isolation to which we alluded a moment ago. We discover it with astonishment, but also with gratitude. We do not want to get along without that word any longer. Our first volume[1] ended with the isolated Christ. Our second volume[2] continued the discussion of the isolated Christ. And the isolated Christ must also have a place in our third volume.

[1] Christ in His Suffering.

[2] Christ on Trial.

But with God the sequel is always richer than the precursor; therefore our third volume can relate greater wonders than could our first and second. Now, for the first time, we can plainly and sharply see that the isolation into which the Son is hurled by men and God and Satan is not only a fate which makes Him suffer and before which He bows, inasmuch as it is inevitable now, but it is also a circumstance in which He rises up to His own full strength, girds up His loins to do His own deed, to carry out His own isolation. He does it Himself. He isolates Himself. He Himself prays fervently for His isolation.

Yes, He prays for it. We shall see presently that Christ’s first utterance on the cross is a prayer by means of which He isolates Himself. As we notice that, we shall also see that precisely by means of this prayer He by His own deed appropriates the great fact of the day: namely, that Christ is to be alone, absolutely alone overagainst the universe. He is to be alone in the catastrophic curse. There will not be so much as a voice asking Him:

What art thou doing here, Elijah? There is no whirlwind, there is no earthquake, no fire, no terrible calm. But the prophet Elijah nevertheless has found a Greater than he here. Elijah complained about his isolation but Christ prays for it. And Moses, also, has found a Greater. He was allowed to climb the mount of His death, knowing that God was awaiting Him in love. But Christ knows that God as His Judge is isolating Him in the curse, and Christ nevertheless prays for that isolation. Moses and Elias, He is reversing the roles. Now He is coming to you to tell you of His departure, of His decease, at Jerusalem.

Our task now is to point out that all these considerations are warranted by the Scriptures. Let us follow our text carefully. The sound of the words we are considering now has a familiar ring: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. The words are no less than a prayer of Christ. This prayer issues from His lips as the hammers fall and the soldiers swear. Horror and anxiety make every spirit captive on this hill of death and suppress every voice. But there is one voice which gives forth a clear sound, a sound full of confidence. It is the voice of Jesus, it is the prayer. He asks the Father to forgive His murderers because they do not know what they are doing.

Just who are those for whom the Saviour is praying? Who are to share the blessing for which He now prays the Father? The Romans? The Jews? Both of these? Are they those who are of the elect, and over whom the sun of Pentecost will presently arise? This question has often been asked, and some think it is absolutely necessary to assert that Christ is praying for no one not included in election: They arrive at this conclusion by dogmatic rather than exegetical routes. They think it strange that Christ should ask a good thing for those whom He would have to call enemies and haters of God. They know that grace is particular, and that intercession also is that. Others, however, who proceed along exegetical rather than dogmatic ways, say to themselves that the obvious and the simple sense of the words is that Christ is praying for that group of people there, for the group as it is and as it led Him to His death.

Everyone will have to admit the truth of the last remark. For those who would read what is written, it is plainly stated that Jesus was praying for the people who stood there and who were nailing Him to the cross. The sense of the statement is not that Jesus was praying only for the soldiers because they were being used as the passive instruments of the government. For His words refer to the entire group of those who are responsible for this sinister business The Saviour meant the Jews as well as the Romans. The Romans are carrying out the sentence, but the high priests are in command. Now Christ asks that His Father forgive all these, because they do not know what they are doing. They cannot fathom the implications of His act nor see the extent of its consequences.

And, indeed, there is good reason for asking whether Christ, our High Priest, is praying for a mass of people. Grace is particular in character. And Christ, as a human being, cannot desire that which would be opposed to the being, to the will, and to the work of the God of election. Now if the high priestly prayer of Christ is sent up to God for the benefit of a mass, for the benefit of a crowd of people, who give no evidence at all of wishing such grace, it does seem that He is opposing the God of election.

We appreciate this consideration, but we would add to it another difficulty. If the word “forgive” as used in this prayer of Christ has reference to the same tremendous benefit of grace which Christ as High Priest has achieved for all the elect of God, and by means of which the sinner is justified freely, how could we harmonize this word with what we read at other places in the account. How could we do that if the will of Christ should here be reaching itself out to the highest possible priestly function, a function which gives redemption and which saves the sinner from the condemnation of His sin for all eternity. How, then, can we understand Him in His other statements? Had not Christ shortly before hurled His word of condemnation into the throng? Had He not Himself announced to the daughters of Jerusalem that condemnation would overtake them, and not them alone but also the community of the city and of the people? The announcement was an instance of the extreme service of the Word, and it had threatened, had threatened. And would Jesus’ first reaction to the last service of His Word be unfaithful now to His preached word? Would His last preaching issue sounds of thunder, and His first preaching after that be a playing on a mellow shepherd’s lute? Is Christ one who can jump down from the thundering cloud to the soft moss where the children are playing with justice and truth, not knowing what they are doing? Can it be true that the first word which Christ spoke on the cross conflicts with what He Himself told the Sanhedrin when He said: Hereafter ye shall see the son of man in his glory? By that statement He had raised Himself up above all, and had said, My blood cannot be darkened in the world. And would He write the sentence of His death in sand today, suggesting that His red blood may also be buried and covered in it? There are questions enough, you see, and just as many improbabilities.

Nevertheless the solution is easy. Again in this connection we must, in order to find the solution, read the passage very carefully. The word used in the original and translated “forgive” in our version, gives us the key to the solution. We know that the forgiveness of sins is described in the Bible by varying words. The Greek language of the New Testament uses various shades of connotation in speaking of it. It will be unnecessary here to name all those Greek words individually and to give the meanings of each. Suffice it to say that the word “forgive” as it is used here in our text can mean: to release someone, not to put the charge or sentence against a person into execution at once, not yet to effect the penalty which the transgression according to reason and right probably deserves.

Hence there are two kinds of forgiveness. There is a forgiveness which, on the basis of law, says to someone: I shall cancel that which you have done amiss. The legal issue has been carefully considered, the verdict of the court has in no sense been postponed, nor its effect mitigated; but we have found a legal basis according to which the letter and spirit of the law sets you free forever from the persecution of the law. Such forgiveness has a place, among other things, in the justification of the sinner. But there is also a forgiveness which consists solely of a temporary suspension of the charge or of the sentence. With or without a legal sentence someone whose breach of law has been alleged or proved can temporarily be freed from the persecution of law. Two possibilities for the future arise from such a temporary dismissal of action: later the man who was temporarily dismissed from the course of law can be arrested and condemned anew; or, in the interim which ensues, a legal basis may be found by means of which he definitively and strictly according to the requirements of law is forever acquitted.

It was such a detention of the execution of law, preliminary and incidental, which Jesus had in mind. This detention is not a plea for the justification of the sinner, and is not a plea against justification; it simply desires that God will temporarily withhold the terrible punishment, the catastrophic annihilation which must necessarily follow the condemnation and cursing of the Prince of life by this generation of vipers. May it please God not immediately to let the powers of the last judgment break through against these. May it please God to wait and not to send the storms of the last judgment into this scene. May it please God, “not to make any work of it,” today, not to make any work of what is being done by human hands, by Adam and his generation today. In this prayer Christ manifests a very strong Messianic self-consciousness. And He makes the implications of that consciousness relevant to God. The Saviour is, also as a human being, so thoroughly permeated by the thought of His own universal significance and of His Messianic righteousness before God, that He, even when He must raise His head up to the storm clouds of absolute condemnation, associates the most terrible of judgments with the sin of His murderers. If the Judge is to do what these deserved, the flood will be but a shadow in comparison with what will take place here. Then the abysses will at once have to open and swallow up these people.

Surely, this is a pronounced self-disclosure of a Messianic spirit which is very conscious of itself. No, indeed, this statement is not a denial of what Jesus said in the presence of the Sanhedrin or of what He said in the last service of the Word, as it seemed to be a moment ago, but it is a confirmation of these things. He knows He is the Messiah, and He knows that the righteousness of His “case” is perfect before God.

But as the Messiah He also wants to make Himself effective in His prayer. He knows very well that God is much concerned with the Messiah whom He has sent out. Hence the condemnation which must accrue to the murderers of the Saviour cannot be meted out unless He Himself acquaints the Father with His will in the matter. This is a strange contrast. He who is accursed, and who knows that God has cursed Him, nevertheless knocks at God’s door and says: I have a desire, and I shall not put aside my feeling of freedom to make My desire known to Thee. I pray Thee, Father — My prayer rests in a confident sense of My own worth — that Thou suspend the judgment for a time. I ask forgiveness for these sinners. I would leave some room, some room for the future. I would leave room for the justification by faith of all those who are present here, and are included in the election. And I would also leave room for my living Word to become effective, so effective and so persistent, that the measure will presently be full and the judgment can come.

We can deduce from this that Christ by no means in His thinking is opposed to the good pleasure of God. He is not pleading for acquittal where the sovereign good pleasure did not choose to grant it. No, there is another element here. Christ adds to His plea: They know not what they do.

But what further? There is a saying which has it that ignorance of the law is no excuse. And ignorance, certainly, is no excuse for sin. The failure to appreciate all of the consequences and implications of one’s evil does not take away the guilt of sin. We would reply that this is quite true. But we would add that Christ is not asking for forgiveness in the narrower sense. The fact that these people do not know what they are doing is not an argument for their eternal salvation, but a basis for suspending the judgment. Time must come when they must know what they are doing. Golgotha must be explained by the Word; and may God grant the time necessary for those fisher-folk, who will be apostles later, to preach that word to the world. The world must know what is happening here, in order that the hearing of the preached word may bring the one to true repentance and faith, and may aggravate the responsibility of the other, if he does not subject himself sincerely to Him who speaks on Golgotha.

Hence Christ is not praying for a cancellation of the execution, not even for a postponement of execution, but for the suspension of the judgment of wrath which is sure to come in any case. Christ is praying for a period of time in order that, on the one hand, all those souls who would seek acquittal in the execution of Christ might seize on grace to that end, and in order that, on the other hand, an even profounder legal basis may be placed under the condemnation of those who are here condemning their God in Christ. Father, the Mediator’s voice cries out, The world must pass away, but keep back Thy catastrophes for a period, and let Me stand alone in My catastrophic curse. Father, there are many branches on Israel’s tree. According to right and reason all these dead branches must be broken off by the storm of the last judgment at once, and the whole tree be cast into the fire. But do Thou withhold Thy four winds for a time, Father; let the tree of Israel stand today in order that there may be occasion for grafting new shoots to the old trunk, and in order that thereafter the dead branches may by a more conclusive gesture be thrust into the oven.

Accordingly, it would be a vain task if someone should attempt to “play off” this New Testament word of Christ against the Old Testament imprecatory psalms. These psalms, surely, cannot be in conflict with the spirit of Christ, the crucified Intercessor. For those imprecatory psalms were also given us by the Logos. They can be explained only by the Logos which has been made flesh. No, but on the contrary, Christ is uniting Himself with these psalms of Israel. Christ’s soul is becoming one with them. At the same time, however, His soul is very eager to have the wrath consumed by love. Christ’s mellow statement which asks forgiveness for His murderers here may not be placed overagainst the imprecatory psalms of the Old Testament.

For the New Testament carries these psalms straight into heaven. You remember the prayer of the “souls under the altar,” who asked God, who cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them? Now the link which unites the Old Testament with the New Testament prayer of vengeance is this first utterance from the cross. For Christ would also have time enough for Himself in which to let His work ripen, to avenge His blood, and to provide the service of atonement in His blood. He does not curse the furious horses of the last judgment, He does not restrain them; He merely prays that the Father may withhold them for the present, in order that His hand may presently take the reins. Father, let them go today, for the whole of judgment must be made the prerogative of the Son. Do not dismiss Him, Father, before the time has come.

Christ, accordingly, appears here in His full length. As the Messiah He asks that the privilege be given Him to lay His own hand on the wheel of the world. Thus He fastens His cross to the last, to the final day. Thus the cross becomes a link.

But there is more to say. He also reaches back to the first day. This is the second link. As the Son of God. who continuously remains identified with the man Jesus, even though He is cast into the catastrophic curse which brings the last and final judgment very near Him, He nevertheless is doing the work of God as that work was done on the first day of the advent of sin into the world.

The first day? The very beginning? Yes, indeed. We shall not repeat here what has been said before about the will of God who interjected history between the first advent of sin into the world and the realization of that sin in the form of the curse. We shall not repeat here what was said then about the circle of earthly life. We have said more than once that God interjects history between the moment of the first sin and the final and absolute curse, in order to make room for the Christ who would make both the blessing and the curse effective in the world. We shall not allude to that again.

We recall it here for a moment simply because it must point out the direction which we must take in pondering Christ’s first utterance on the cross. Remembering that, we can go farther. Now we can say with reverence, as we look upon the cross: Behold, He is doing perfectly that which God did in Paradise. At the first advent of sin, when the “day of the Lord” dawned, when the sun of grace arose, God said to Himself: I “forgive” them their sins, for they know not what they do. Even that was not the complete justification of Man and Woman, but it was an expression of the strong, divine will, which restrained the curse, and which kept the thunder of God shut up in its treasure-rooms, by way of restraining the explosion of hell.

Then it had been morning: the beginning of the “day of the Lord.” Now it is high noon of that same day of the Lord. The clock of the “day of the Lord,” the “jom Jahweh,” is at the moment pointing to twelve o’clock. And again the voice is heard: Forgive them, they do not know what they do. This was said twice, therefore. The first time in Paradise, the second time on the cross. The first time the Logos pronounced these words before the incarnation; now He announces them in and by means of the incarnation. The first time He spoke them as the eternal God, who, however, stood ready to be the servant; and now He speaks them as the servant of the Lord but as one who in the form of a servant perfectly preserves and vindicates the will of God which is also His own will. Tremble, O Pilate; and shudder all ye facile caricaturists. He remains faithful to all His ideas.[1] He is God and man in one person.

[1] Christ on Trial, Chapter 27, pp. 519-522.

We also must tremble here. For, the first time the Logos prayed that the Father forgive them, He wrought the possibility of general history, He wrested that possibility from the abyss of God’s justice and truth. Now He prays a second time — it is midday — but now He is struggling for the preservation, for the maintenance, for the continuation of general history, in order that special history whose incipient triumphs had been achieved in the Old Testament, might flourish in the full energy of the New Testament, by means of the feast of Pentecost and of the formation of the church. Christ is praying that God give His chosen vessel, a certain Paul, his opportunities; He prays for that commander-in-chief of the Roman soldiers, whose name is to be Constantine the Great. He prays for Luther and for Calvin. He prays for us. He was as universal as possible; Father, forgive “them,” — this perverted crowd. But it is His sublime, blessed, and exacting manner of prayer never to let a general statement fall without causing it to have a most special effect.

Listen: Jesus Christ is praying. Praise God, for He indeed is praiseworthy. He manifests His strength in the skies and above the clouds. No matter how profound the need, God sends out His Son in order that He may slay the enemy. He is given all power in heaven and on earth.

What more can we do now? We must try to find the connection between these things. We must bind into a synthesis the main idea of our preceding chapter with this chapter, with this first word on the cross. In our preceding chapter we said that Christ was living under the tension, under the pressure, and in the oppressive atmosphere of the last day. We pointed out how He is experiencing on the cross the suffering of the night of the day of judgment, the night of the “jom Jahweh.” To His ears the strokes of the hammer came with the sound of thunder. The nails and the hammers of the soldiers were as the lances of God to Him. Too sweeping, you say? By no means, for His eye never once “armed” itself with a magnifying glass.

Now it is high noon. He has the evening and the night in His thoughts. And He has just returned to His morning prayers. Therefore our soul must testify of this Worker of God’s one day, this Worker of the “day of the Lord,” that again He has suppressed nothing. This Servant of God, my Lord and God, experiences in every successive moment the organic interrelationship of the whole season of God, This is the hour of Golgotha: this is high noon. He is referring for the moment, however, to the morning and is experiencing the catastrophes of late evening. Thus He vindicates all prophets. The prophets also saw the day of the Lord as one great, unbroken, single day, though as comprising many centuries. Christ’s first word on the cross is the apology of all prophets. Take Golgotha out of the picture, and these all are psychopathic cases, overwrought personalities. But Golgotha is their apology. They made no mistake; the “jora Jahweh,” the day of Golgotha, is the burning day of centuries. Christ experiences this in the vehement pulsing of His own blood as it is poured out and also in His passionate yearning for His spoken word. The Word has become flesh. This is its sublime message, in His flesh. He is suffering the pangs and the woes of the one “day of the Lord” but also as the Word of God, as the uncreated Logos, He shares in all the hours of the one “day of the Lord.” Thus does God enter into our distress. The first word on the cross looks like a mellow prayer, innocent and meek as the wafted fragrance of a blossoming flower-garden. But in the presence of this first word spoken from the cross we also say with profound reverence: In all our afflictions He was afflicted. For He experienced the “jom jahweh.” And it happened that at the end of the day (the catastrophe) it was noon (the struggle for the continuation for the world); yes, and also morning (the affirmation of His prayer of Paradise: Father forgive them).

Consequently that: which Christ is praying here must always be distinguished from the prayers of others, even though they use the very same words. True, there was Stephen (Act_7:60), and he also said later: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And there is Paul, who said: Being persecuted we suffer it, being reviled we bless (1Co_4:12); and again: All men forsook me; I pray God it may not be laid to their charge (2Ti_4:16). But can you believe that these and other persecuted followers of Jesus Christ were standing on the same sublime heights as Jesus was? That which they asked was but the fruit of His prayer. Because of that prayer Stephen could say in His terrible death: I see Jesus standing. And Paul could say that Christ’s Spirit itself made intercession for him with groanings that could not be uttered. When other people address God by means of the words, Father forgive them this sin, there are only two possibilities. If they use these words prompted by the Spirit of Christ, their prayer is the fruit of Jesus’ praying. And if they segregate their will to love from the love and justice of Christ, then their petition for mercy is in the last analysis a praying against Christ. For the prayer of Christ is not expressive of rebellion against the justice of God, but it is a struggle to give both God’s justice and His love their fruition in a world which presently will have become ripe. Christ who, after His final and personal service of the Word in the state of humiliation, pronounces this first word from the cross by way of application to it, was asking God for the permanent service of the word, in order that He might thus cause the world to ripen, the world and its “clusters of the vine of the earth” (Rev_14:18).

In other words, Christ as God and as man is busy asking for a continuation of what we called “the vicious circle.” Not that, in doing this, He is recalling what had been His glory in the presence of the Sanhedrin: namely, to indicate that He Himself was vanquishing the vicious circle.[1] It is precisely because He has conquered the vicious circle, that He takes the reins of the world’s cyclical movement into His own hand from now on. All power is given Him in this hour. The word spoken before the ascension, “All power is given to me in heaven and earth” is a powerful paean of rejoicing in which the Conqueror stretches out His arms, fills His lungs, and exclaims: God be praised, My first prayer on the cross has been heard. The Father could not but hear.

[1] Christ on Trial, Chapter 7, especially pp. 143-144.

And for that reason, O man, this word spoken on the cross has a direct significance for you. For if it is true that this petition uttered on the cross is a prayer for the prolongation of the vicious circle of world history, we cannot but think of the Ecclesiast of the Old Testament again, for it was he who spoke of the vicious circle. Well, he also observed how the people, slaves as they are of the passion of their own sin, and foolish in spirit, seem to build their life upon the cyclical movements of nature. Hear what the Preacher says: Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil (Ecc_8:11). He is saying that because the catastrophe of the judgment has not yet exploded, because Good Friday does not strike the planes of our life with lightning. Therefore the world is willing to settle down comfortably even at the scene of Golgotha. Even at the cross, men play at roulette and never dream of condemnation. Soldiers raffling garments next to the cross — such is the keynote struck for the following ages. Because Jesus’ first petition on the cross was heard, the heart of the children of men is fully set in them to do evil. So we may translate Ecc_8:11. Christ’s cross breaks the circle of the history of the world only for those who have faith. It was His will that this should be so. He prayed that the merry-go-round of this life might continue to whirl, and that the merry-go-rounds of God continue to turn as slowly as they had before. Hence the course of sin was prolonged, and the struggle of faith and unbelief was continued also. May the church tremble, for the church has named the mystery of God’s relationship to sin by means of the designation: active permission.[1] But in this petition on the cross the active permission becomes human as well as divine: here it is not only a secret of God but also of Christ Jesus our Mediator. He let the world go on; that is permission. He prays that it may continue: that is activity. In the one, the first petition on the cross, He heals the ears of all the Malchuses of the world. He guarantees Cain and Malchus that they will have a place on the earth until the last day. At noon His voice said to God: Father, do not let the evening come earlier than usual; let the afternoon gradually move towards the night. Therefore the heart of the world is still full of the desire to do evil. Christ will presently and throughout His days fall into the skeins He Himself has woven, because those who mock at the foot of His cross continue their reviling. Why? Because His prayer has been heard. Satan can still battle against “the remnant of the seed of the woman” (Revelation 12).

[1] Christ in His Suffering, Chapter 25, p. 436 f.

But this does not take away your heavy responsibility, O son of man. Precisely because Jesus at mid-day of the “jom Jahweh” acknowledged and in the last analysis asked for the justice of God to make its appearance in the evening, therefore His mid-day prayer naturally becomes weaker in sound, less audible in tone, as evening approaches. Remember, His great argument is this one: They know not what they do. But each new day, each new dawning and sunset spreads further the knowledge of God in Christ through the world. Gradually people will learn to know what they are doing. The word of the cross is preached: the crisis is made a conscious one. The Antichrist will know perfectly what he is doing. And the more the world runs to the end of its course, the nearer the Antichrist comes with his false prophet, the better will men know what they are doing.

As soon, therefore, as the day will have come in which, according to the Biblical statement, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,” Christ’s mid-day prayer will no longer be heard. This will be the end; then evening will come; evening and a silent Christ who can find no more words in which to couch His first petition on the cross. The moment He closes His mouth and no longer assumes responsibility for the content of His uttered prayer on the cross, it will be evening, the evening of the “jom Jahweh.” Then the catastrophe will break loose, the same catastrophe in which He is now isolated according to His own will. Then all the sluice-gates of God’s floods of vengeance will be flung wide. Consequently every service of the word, and every deepening of theological thinking, is an eschatological thing: it makes more blunt the sharpness of the modifying clause in the first petition from the cross. For, so much is plain, “They know now, what they have done.”[1] Judgment comes, and the innocent voice which seemed to whisper the words Father forgive them, grows into a veritable tornado:

[] Therefore the church which makes dogmatic thinking as broad and as deep as possible is the Maranatha-church. An institution which presents the Maranatha-message but ignores or does not plumb the depths of dogma is less eschatological than a church whick is faithful to dogma. The church which makes the deepest and broadest confession is always busy eschatologically.

Day of Judgment, day of wonders,

Hark! the trumpet’s awful sound Louder than a thousand thunders Shakes the vast creation round!

How the summons

Will the sinner’s heart confound!

But to those who have confessed,

Loved and served the Lord below,

He will say: Come near, ye blessed,

See the Kingdom I bestow,

You forever

Shall my love and glory know.

The last thought provides a resting place for our poor heart. We should want the courage to wait for the judgment if we could not at the same time confidently speak of His priestly love. But be of good cheer: He is our Priest. Simon, you isolated Him, and you still remember that, you remember the curses and oaths which you swore. But be of good cheer, disciple, weeping bitterly, for today He is isolating Himself. Father, He says, I am stepping into the dark, but give them the full light of the sun until the last day. I want to be in the catastrophe alone. Father, the seed of the woman is being wrenched away today; the word has a catastrophic connotation. But give the remnant of the seed of the woman a further place in the world. Reserve, prepare, a place for them in the wilderness;[2] I want to be alone in the catastrophe. Thus Christ wrests the catastrophe, into which He Himself has been thrown, from the soldiers, and from the priests, and from the temple, and from Caesar. And the Batavians on the west coast of Europe can divide their loot in the evening, and wait for Boniface because Christ prayed this prayer. Be of good cheer, ye disciples, and you also, you who flee anonymously.[3] All of you have isolated Him but a short time ago; but now He isolates Himself. He is not the object but the subject of His own isolation.

[2] Revelation 12.

[3] Christ in His Suffering, Chapter 27, especially p. 460.

This is a miraculous thing: He is isolating Himself. Note carefully the fact that He did this by means of a prayer. The prayer must not be regarded as an accidental particular which we may with impunity overlook. For prayer, being divine, means to make the will of God our will. In prayer the commandments become our food and drink. The person who prays is uniting himself with the will of the Lord by his own deed. Prayer is not an unconscious expression of life, is not a naive self-expression, but is a deed done by the spirit of man, which unites itself with the familiar commandments and burdens of its God.

And Christ prayed “Father forgive them.” He prayed, and by His prayer, by the strongest assertion of His deed, He isolated Himself in catastrophic death. Thus His priestly soul by means of its active obedience completely acquiesced in the destiny pointed out to Him: namely, to be isolated from the whole world. By praying He completely embraced the command of isolation which God had given. He suffered alone, He stood in the thunder and lightning of the last day alone. Not only because He had to, but also because He wanted to. Yes, He had to. Fellowship, company, is a concept appropriate to planes. The vicious circle is a plane. Social life is possible on a plane. But the breaking through of a circular plane can take place only at a certain point; it creates a kind of vacuum. Now one is always alone at a point of bisection; a vacuum can offer nothing but a descent into isolation. What, therefore, is more natural than the isolation of Christ in the moment of the breaking through of the circular plane of life. Indeed, He could not but be isolated. But God be praised: He wanted to be isolated also. He prayed that He might be alone in the catastrophic curse; He prayed for His isolation at the time of His descent into hell. He prayed: that is, He attracted the isolation to Himself. His name be praised; but give the praise very cautiously. He had to and He wanted to.

These two may never be separated. He is being isolated, yes, but not only because He wanted to. Had that been the case, He would have been guilty of suicide, of forsaking God and the Church. Again He is isolated not only because He had to be. Had that been the case, His isolation would have been His fate, and His abandonment would then have lacked redemptive power. But now that He must do what He wants to do, and wants to do what He must, everything is right.

No, we may not overlook this prayer contained in the first utterance from the cross. The specific prayer-form into which this word of isolation comes to us fulfills the preaching of isolation as pointed out in our first and second volumes; it amplifies God’s message, and imparts a new depth to our own praying. For the true humanity of the Son of man as He was even in His catastrophe gives our prayers body and depth and genuine humanity which, at the same time, through Him is compatible with the true essence of God.

Now this day is a miracle to me. The sun arose this morning and I looked upon my day. It came from Him; He did not hinder me from doing my work because I had crucified Him. Christ, great in mercies. Pia anima. O holy heart of Jesus.

Christ, the catastrophe is upon Thee, Thy heart is beating wildly because of it. Thou sawest that the world was oppressed by the heavy burden which God sent upon it because of Thee, and Thou Thyself didst say that He would forsake Thee. Those were two truths, and they supported each other. Thou sawest both of them in Thy spirit, and Thou didst profess both of them without reservation. The harmony of the two is a melting together of paradoxical reality. What have I left but the Word, but Thy authority? But let me know, Lord, that Thou by reason of Thy own will didst descend into the curse which is catastrophic in character alone. A Christ who has isolated Himself in the curse by His own deed teaches me to number my days. Moses also asked that we learn to number our days (Psalms 90), but he could not recite the text while standing beside the cross. The pagans teach me the phrase, “Carpe diem,” in vain; they cannot translate the first utterance on the cross from the inside. I can do that if I believe, for if I believe, I have myself been present at the cross. Lord, teach me to number my days at the cross of Golgotha in order that I may become wise at heart, and realize Thy own work in Thy servants. Father, forgive us, for only at the last day shall we be fully able to see what we have done here . . . Brother, mark the day. Have you noticed how His voice has weakened already? Each day He speaks less loudly of the people who know not what they do. A speaking Jesus is terrible: a silent Jesus far more terrible. I dare not sleep. As I turn the leaf on the calendar I know that His voice speaks more softly than it did yesterday. He knows how much I know. This is the dogma of the Church — and He Himself taught it, for He greatly desires His judgment day. He calls the counsel together in Nicea, He is present at Wittenberg, in Geneva, and in Dordrecht, for He is eager that we should know. Could you suppose that His judgment day has been infinitely postponed? He spoke the prayer from the cross, you say. Yes, but postponement is not cancellation. He hastens to the fulfillment of His judgment day, provided that it come in the right manner. Jesus’ mild prayers are prayers of steel. Only if I am in Him can I fall safely asleep beside my dear Lord. On Patmos He summoned me by His Spirit to amplify His first word from the cross — amplify, mark you, not contradict — by that final prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly. The first word on the cross certainly must be one of those things which is sweet in the mouth — the first contact — but bitter in the belly — the further amplification and fulfillment.

Go where it is quiet now. It was morning, and it was noon: the first day. Sun, never stand still over Gibeon, and thou Moon, over the vale of Ajalon. It seems that the second Joshua prayed the prayer of the first Joshua together with him. But in reality the prayer of Jesus Christ transcended that of Joshua. This was His privilege, His right. Come, Thou great Joshua, come quickly. And for the rest — the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, amen. Otherwise ... no, let me be still at last in His presence