Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Among the Bandits

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Among the Bandits

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 08. Chapter 8: Christ Among the Bandits

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Christ Among the Bandits

Where they crucified him, and two others with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.


WHEN Christ came into the world He lay amidst the magi and the bringers of gifts, amidst the shepherds who were also men of prayer, and amidst venerable guests of the temple. When He seemed to be passing out of the world, He was in the company of bandits.[1] The gospel tells us that when Jesus was brought to the place of crucifixion, two other malefactors were simultaneously taken there. We cannot say who these two others were. It is true that their names have been mentioned; the apocryphal imagination of men has dared to pronounce them. Thus we have been told that one of them was called Zoathan and the other Chammata. And others claim that the two had definite names, that the one was called Dysmas (or Dismas), and the other Gestes (or Gestas). And there is even a third version of the matter which has it that the two were called, respectively, Titus and Dumachus. That this tradition, which, as you see, contradicts itself, is unworthy of acceptance needs no contention. Just so we know little about how it happened that these malefactors were put to the tortuous death of the cross on the same day Jesus was executed. It may be that the execution had already been fixed for this day beforehand; it may also be that Pilate decided, once Jesus had been assigned to His death anyhow, that these other two could very well be put to death at the same time. We do not know. We may accept with certainty the fact that Pilate wanted to mock the Jews by his action in this matter. He thought it rather a happy idea: the king of the Jews: the sentimental Jesus ought to have the escort of two bandits. We cannot accept the fact that Pilate in the first place wanted to revile Jesus by placing Him on a par with the scum of this nation. His repeated affirmation of Christ’s innocence was too formidable to allow us to think so. He simply had in mind to mock the Jews. They had been such a nuisance to him all day long that now he wanted to avenge himself. How could he do that more strikingly and “proudly” than by sending two varlets along with the self-vaunted king of the Jews to serve as His subjects. Once before Pilate had put all his pride and disdain, mingled with regret, into his ironical statement: Behold, your king.[2] A little later the same disdain, not unmixed with bitterness and sarcasm, was written into the superscription placed over the cross: Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews. Those, then, were two ways in which he had reviled the Jews. They had been prompted by grimness and the boredom of exhaustion. Now we can better fit this sombre procession into this background of the two former acts of Pilate than in any other kind of context. Pilate did indeed want to mock the Jews as a people. Aha! Look! that king of the Jews was nailed to the cross in the company of two “subjects” of the lowest kind. This by way of a delicate and delicious mockery of the poisonous generation of Jews.

[1] This word was selected in agreement with Grosheide, Kommentaar op Mattheus, p. 351.

[2] Christ on Trial, Chapter 29, p. 547.

Thus, however, Jesus as the King of the Jews was being reincorporated into the body which had rejected Him before. The Jewish people are being mocked by the same judge to whom they have catered in their effort to have him carry out their will against Jesus Christ.

However, the important thing is not what Pilate does, but what God does through Pilate. The Gospel according to Mark indicates that this leveling process, this degrading of Jesus, was a fulfillment of the old prophecy which had been made about the suffering Servant of the Lord: He was numbered with the transgressors (Isa_53:12). Some think that this reference to Isaiah, as it appears in the gospel of Mark, was not written by Mark himself, inasmuch as there are other manuscripts which give a different version. Personally, we do not believe that this contention is necessarily sound. In any case, however, the citation of Isa_53:12 is completely appropriate to the historical narrative of the gospel. Christ Himself also stated at the Passover supper: For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among transgressors (Luk_22:37). This plainly is a statement springing directly from Christ’s own Messianic consciousness, and this statement provides the link between what Isaiah wrote concerning the servant of the Lord and what Jesus of Nazareth experienced in the day of His suffering.

It provides the link, but it does more than that. Not only is there unity and correspondence between Isaiah and Jesus, but there is also a fulfillment of the word of Isaiah in the reality of Jesus. For Christ had been reckoned with transgressors before. What still needed doing was the actual fulfillment. The levelling of Christ, I mean of God, with the scum of the street and the outcasts of society still had to be actualized in experience. For Satan still has in mind a nice question, which he means to put to the church. Throughout the centuries he will ask the church: Can it be that God said, He resembles my Son? That question is being prepared today.[1]

For Prophecy is active again; the Word is moving on. Hence it is by no means merely Pilate’s fit of anger or his delicately woven network of sarcasm which is the cause of the fact that Christ in the moment in which He is being lifted up and advertised,[2] is publicly placed on a par with two varlets. No, this was caused by Christ’s own direction, by God’s government, and by Satan’s evil desire. It represents not only the control of God but also a deed of Jesus Himself. He allowed Himself to be numbered with transgressors, “He allowed it to please Him that His people regarded Him as one punished by God for His sin, and as one sent to His death as a male factor.” He allowed Satan to classify Him with the rabble, for He personally dares to ask whether God has ever said: He resembles the Son of God. Presently He will Himself raise the question: homo-ousios or homoiousios: the equal of God, or merely one who resembles God. Hence He must be placed on a par with the rabble and there bring the greatest sacrifice in order that seeing they might not see, and hearing might not understand.

[1] Homo(i)ousios.

[2] See Christ on Trial, chapter 15, especially p. 297 ff.

Again you see the imperious style and the pure will of God interjecting itself into the chaotic transaction of Pilate. Christ had to be numbered with the malefactors. This fact gives expression, from our side, to the wickedness of the world, and from His side, to the severity of His struggle and to the depth of His self-humiliation.

Yes, the caprice of sin is expressing itself through the escort which was assigned to Jesus. Christ continues to be treated by Pilate in the way in which Pilate has abused Him all day. Pilate wants to mock the Jews and the Jewish nation by hanging the scum of the streets next to Him. Three unfortunates, all next to each other, and their pathetic king in the middle — by arranging it so Pilate persists in the attitude which has been his throughout the day. The judge avenges himself upon the Jews but he does so at the expense of the Nazarene. The Jews put Pilate into a bad temper, but Christ has to suffer the effects. God lets the scourging fall upon the back of Christ, and Pilate draws an ugly Jew upon it, a caricature. The man who asked, “What is truth?” persists in ignoring the ethical problem. First of all he sins by placing Jesus on a par with those who have neither any might nor any right. But his second and greatest sin is that he places Jesus on a par with malefactors, and he does that notwithstanding the fact that he himself is willing to acknowledge that a great gulf is fixed between the varlets and the Nazarene.

However, it is not for us to single Pilate out for criticism. His sin is but a recurrence of the old root-evil: the world places Christ in its own light. That is the beginning. Having begun that way, it soon dares to degrade Him to the level of the least of men, to the plane of the misbegotten of civilization, as the world itself describes them in its books. The phenomenon occurs again and again: like Pilate, the world has Christ move around its own arrogant ego.

Accordingly, we can safely say that the caricature which the soldiers had given of Jesus’ kingship continued to be displayed before the eyes of men on the cross. This caricature of the soldiers Pilate pasted on the cross-beam, on the same little placard which bore the “title” of Jesus.[1] But this is remarkable: the two murderers were also subjected to caricature. These poor fellows — they too must suffer because of the Nazarene, just as Barabbas had to suffer.[2] For they would not have had a place in the caricaturing if it had not been for Jesus. Alas, now everyone must be put to shame because of Jesus Christ. Yes, even the Jews are mocked together with Him. He takes them all with Him into His degradation. There are three crosses: that of a self-vaunted king, and those of two other “pretty replicas” of father Abraham. Pilate insists that this threefold chain must by no means be broken, for it serves beautifully as a caricature of the whole Jewish people. Two dead branches and a thicker one which can serve as a trunk. That is the best way to make the tree of Abraham ludicrous. Thus Pilate subjects all the dry branches of Abraham to mockery. He does injustice to the green tree, but a voice sounded from this bush also: if they do this in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Almost at once that voice was fulfilled.

[1] See chapter 10 of this volume, especially p. 192.

[2] See Christ on Trial, Chapter 24, p. 459.

Painful as this caricature was to Christ, He nevertheless had to remain faithful to His labor. He may not despise the people that despise Him. Paul’s great question, Hath God cast off His people? — a question asked when He let them struggle on without grace and the covenant — that question today for the first time lives in Jesus’ soul.

Therefore, we must again speak of a temptation of the Saviour at this point. We know that His own people despise Him. According to the standards of justice, therefore, this people has lost its right to a place under the sun. As a carnal community it is in very fact deserving of death. Now Pilate is mocking this weak and twice-dead people, and is publicly exhibiting its pathetic frailty. Nevertheless as the Son of man, Christ must in His spirit take just as keen an exception to this blunt characterization as He did when He Himself was made the subject of world-caricature by means of the crown of thorns, the reed, and the gorgeous robe. Unless Jesus Christ, even in His severest passion — no, precisely in His severest passion — is just as active about the problem of Israel as His servant Paul under the inspiration of Christ’s Spirit is later on (Romans 9-11), the soul of Jesus, according to the standards of divine justice, will be delighting itself in the sinful manifestations of Pilate’s mockery. Then His approbation will make Abraham’s seed an exlex,[1] precisely as Pilate made Abraham’s great Son that. Then Christ will be degrading Himself to the level of Pilate. Then, indeed, these varlets will be the escort most becoming to Him, for then He will become one of them. Then He will be returning evil for evil; then that part of the sermon on the mount which says, Pray for them that persecute you, will return to Him like a boomerang. For, in this connection the petition means, “Force your way back into the sphere of law from which you have been cast out.” Then Jesus Christ is not being infinitely busy in righteousness with the question Paul is asking, “Hath God cast off His people?” Then the inspiration of the Scripture by Christ’s own Spirit will be lost. Then indeed everything is futile.

[1] Concerning this concept see this volume, chapter 1, and various chapters of Christ on Trial.

Alas, the Man who is like us in all things. Woe to Him if He does take exception to the Pilate who mocks those that mock Jesus. Yes, indeed, now again everything hangs suspended before our frightened gaze by a silken thread. At the same time, of course, everything is anchored in the pure soul of the Son. If Jesus Christ had delighted in, or if He simply had not opposed,[2] the mockery heaped upon the seed of Abraham by Pilate, Christ would have been unfaithful to His Messianic office. Then His own evil soul would have driven the seed of Abraham away from Him in a spiritual sense. Then He, delighting in Pilate, who delights to tread upon the dead branches of the tree of Abraham, would Himself have been chopping that tree down.

[2] By active obedience just as well as by passive obedience.

This He may not do because God still has a future for the tree of Abraham’s seed. God cannot chop down a single tree which He has planted, says Paul. When He plants new shoots He simply grafts these shoots into the old trunk. Woe to Christ if He does not live by this law. God never destroys the old trunk. Woe to Him if He does not live by this law, and if He cannot through the Spirit be the Father of the inspired writer of Romans 9-11.

However, our soul believes in Him and through faith our soul acknowledges that inwardly He wept for the Jews who were being mocked by Pilate. When He had approached the city, He had wept because of it. But that was in the past. When He is being cast out of the city, He still weeps because of it, and says to God: It is not true, my Father, it is not true; the seed of Abraham has not been rejected! I say then: Hath God cast off His people? No, God hath not cast off His people which He foreknew.[1] Father, Father, protect these varlets; put them in their place. That man Pilate, O Father, is taking everything out of its place. My people, O Father, is not what this caricaturist chooses to make them. Father, protect the rights of all varlets. Thou hast never yet created an alms-taking people, heavenly Father, even though Pilate says so a thousand times. I praise Thee, Father, and I praise Abraham, here among the varlets.

Then the angels said to each other: Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be allowed to build up middle walls of partition. Indeed, He was a peace-maker, essentially He was that. He confessed the miserable congregation of Abraham in the presence of Pilate, He who is still willing to confess Abraham’s varlets before the Father, Him will God confess to Himself.

[1] See the beginning of Romans 11.

Consequently, I believe. I believe that this pathetic escort of two malefactors was a temptation to Jesus. I believe that He was conscious of this. The mockery of Pilate comes back upon the head of the Jews, but I, second Adam, may not rejoice in that. I believe that His spirit struggled between the malefactors and Father Abraham to whom God once showed a thousand stars and then, doubling them, said: Thus shall thy seed be, and I the Lord shall not cast them off in all eternity. I believe He upheld Abraham overagainst Pilate, the Beast of Rome. I have no certainty other than the certainty of this faith.

This certainty suffices: faith will not be put to shame. Faith will presently see Him laboring so long, so hard, with such concentration of His spirit that of these two men, who with Him were brought into the caricature of the world, who shared with Him a place on this print of mockery, He will save one for eternal life. Jesus’ sustained struggle for the preservation of that murderer is evidence for us which proves that He did not acquiesce in the ways of Pilate’s sin and in the ways of “all flesh.” When He Himself was made the exlex, He did not multiply the number of those who bore that title. Presently He raised the sound of rejoicing by way of taking exception to Pilate’s mockery. Exuberantly, He shouted: Exlex, my brother in caricature, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.[1] This second statement from the cross certainly is an acknowledgment of Abraham. By this statement He is refusing to chop down the tree of Abraham. From this point on the victory of the Spirit which inspires Paul begins. Here He purified Himself overagainst all Jews and indicated that He did not desire that meager comfort of hell which consists of laughing at the destruction of another.

[1] For further consideration, see the next chapter.

Isaiah, and Ezekiel too, tell us in reference to this comfort of hell that the condemned in Hades mock and disdain each other; that the one delights in the misfortunes of the other. We have the very opposite of that in the Man of sorrows. The great Exlex can derive no comfort from an exlex. The mock-king gets no comfort from the mockery of His subjects, but He labors to save a man who is faltering to death. He struggles to receive a child of Abraham, who like Him, will presently lack everything, into the eternal tabernacles.

This is the Saviour of our heart. We thank Him for the fact that His pathetic escort, so far from being able to tempt Him, could only give Him an opportunity to manifest His true majesty. Fall down and worship Him: He makes friends out of the unjust comedy in order that, when all semblance of truth will be lacking to Him — on the cross — they may recognize Him in the eternal tabernacles.[2]

[2] See Luk_16:9.

The Father praised the cautious, dialectical Master: He had not been fooled by the caricatures. The angels sang of reality and truth. The world did not fall to pieces simply because He could not endure Pilate when he chose bandits as models for a malicious caricature of the Jewish nation.[1]

[1] Material for a sermon on Jewish missions.

The labor of Jesus’ spirit to look upon the mockery of the seed of Abraham theocentrically at this time naturally spelled suffering for Him. Always there is this attention on His part, an attention which may never for a moment subside. And there is always the official obligation to give even though everyone is taking. And there is that severe struggle of the soul to save the seed of Abraham, which does not protect Him against Pilate, — to save it from Pilate in His own soul. And then that levelling process. Lo, this is the hour in which Christ is not only to be the Head of the covenant of Grace, that is, the Head of the lost varlets whom God in Him regards as the “congregation of just men made perfect.” In this same hour Christ is made “common,” is degraded. False appearance, of course! Not only is He placed on a par with the malefactors (negation of His holiness) but He is even denied beforehand the power to make from what is disgraceful and despised a masterpiece of the Spirit of regeneration. For the caricature of Pilate — like all caricature — can only be understood in such a way that the main person in it — in this case the king — who is being gorgeously decked out, is the most deeply mocked and humiliated.

But we do not lament any longer. God still gave His Son a task to do. Before He completely descended to hell He had the heavy task to accomplish for a lost person His great, messianic, world-mission.

If we look upon the matter in this light, we see that the company of bandits in which Jesus was placed was willed by God. From Jesus’ point of view, this company was absolutely inevitable for Him. Not the slightest hint of accident this; the full justice of God places Christ here in the position assigned to Him. This is the true relationship: Jesus among the worthless ones. These are not political prisoners, these are not Barabbases, these are not the sons of eminent rabbis, are not people of whom we know that they have been put in prison for reasons of a political character — no, these are simon-pure bandits. These are the least of the least; they are despised of everyone. And these had to accompany Jesus. God purposely reaches into the lowest layers of that to which sin gave birth — the world of malefactors — seizes two of them, and places them in Jesus’ path, the one to the right, and the other to the left of Him.

Why does He do that? To humble your pride and mine, for we always think we are better than these two malefactors. Nevertheless, according to heavenly prophecy, He is here in the presence of those who are His appropriate company, His fit subjects. Yes, we may say so reverently: this is an instance of the right Man in the right place. Christ among the bandits. God reaches down into the lowest possible layers by way of pointing out that Jesus when He Himself, in this company, answers the question put by Paul and thus labors for life, does not work through culture but through grace, does not ask men to be civilized, but to be penitent. God does this by way of, showing that He does not build up on what is still present in man but on what can give you and me life only in a new creature. He says to the women who weep for Him: What is your glory: are ye Abraham’s seed? I say to you that God even out of these varlets can raise up children unto Abraham.

He says this to us also for we all come from the lowest levels. The bandits who accompanied Jesus had to disclose and exhibit to us the essence of sin precisely by the forms of their despised lives. For the essence of sin is in the last analysis the same in all those who depart from God; the same, and even worse. For even bandits are not an adequate expression of the terrible nature of sin. The locus de peccato is given an inadequate illustration even in their company.

Thus the whole issue is made to converge upon us, upon us “decent” people, for, the moment we have become, not the superman but the sub-bandit, we will have understood a little of it. Then we will say to Pilate: poor fool, you can engage in your levelling processes if you want to, but Jesus Christ can only make confession of the law of election and reprobation. The good pleasure, the eternal and sovereign good pleasure of God, is active here. That good pleasure will place Jesus “in the midst of them,” the two bandits to the right and to the left of Him. Thereupon that good pleasure will command Jesus to reveal in the repentance of the one and the hardening of the other the wonders of election and reprobation, the segregation of Abraham’s sons and bastards.

After this manifestation of naked reality it is no longer a sin to speak of the symbolism of Golgotha. We noted above[1] that the topography of Golgotha had a symbolical significance inasmuch as routes led from it to Zion (the communion), and to Gehenna (the forsaking). Just so this same symbolism is again plastically developed at this place, on this mound of death. Jesus between the murderers represents the way to fellowship and the way to abandonment. On this day there will be two people in one escort: the one shall be taken and the other left. There is no such thing as a levelling process when God has a hand in it. This is always true and is true everywhere. God makes of Golgotha, that dry and evil place on the world’s surface, a cultivated field in which wheat and chaff must be made public according to His good pleasure. That which Pilate would make evil by means of His sarcastic levelling, that God would make good by perfectly realizing the ideas of God in full reality. For who can separate God from the beginning of the counsels of God? Who is to make blunt the knives sharpened by God’s will? And who can avail to make the presence of true varlets such a hindrance to the attention of Jesus that He will cease to be the theocentric Theologian? God has appeared to Him in person. He Himself is God.

[1] See Chapter 4, p. 84.

Thus He goes on His way laden with His curses, but in His soul He sings an idyllic hymn: Pilate would cast this people off but I, I say then: Has God cast off His people? God forbid, Pilate, I am the true Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the seed of David. God cannot cast off the people whom He foreknew. Hence, Pilate, this escort of bandits, is, it is true, together with the whole people, an enemy as far as the gospel is concerned, but as far as the election is concerned they are the beloved for the fathers’ sake. For the gifts of grace and the calling of God are not to be repented of. God has included them all among the disobedient, in order that He might be merciful to the elect. That is now their abundance, their wholeness; this is their true pleroma.

Pilate, does this sound strange and unreal to you? I shall prove it very shortly. Today this bandit here will be with me in Paradise. As for the other? That other one is not a Jew, for His is not the circumcision of the heart. The other is not of the seed of Abraham, for he has not Abraham’s faith. Pilate, the caricature has failed miserably; the devil is honoring you for nothing today. God’s elective mercy is still looking for her children among the Jews whom you despise. Mark this, Pilate: the Judge of heaven and earth is protesting against the mockery heaped upon the seed of Abraham. Pilate, I, Jesus Christ, I do not recognize the exlex, not even among the bandits. My God, my God, have mercy upon the refuse of Abraham. O depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unfathomable are His judgments, and untraceable His ways! They assert themselves even in the reprobation of the man who engages in levelling processes. They reveal the law of election and reprobation, they separate the seed of Abraham from the bastards. What more could Abraham wish? Furthermore, God has never denied Abraham; for of Him, through Him, and unto Him are all things. His be the glory forever, amen.[1]

[1] Compare Rom_11:1-2; Rom_11:28-36.

Thus the Saviour walked among the bandits. Presently He was permitted to call one man to the wedding. Well, it was not surprising that the king should say to the servant: Call in wedding guests from among the varlets, that my house may be filled. But it was surprising that the king stripped the servant who was to do the inviting of his livery and placed him in a bandit-garb. The voice of One crying; but do not regard His clothes. A voice, the Word — that suffices for God.

Thus the Saviour walked among the bandits. He was on the way to the altar. The Priest is on His way to the sacrifice but He so perfectly embodies foolishness and offense, also as Priest, that God gives Him as His companions on this final journey to the altar not two common Levites, but two mean bandits. Yes, indeed; foolishness and offense. All these words are known to God from eternity, and therefore I see, I seek, a significance in them. I do not find it strange to see these bandits around Him. But this journey to the altar; I mean the journey to the altar in the company of bandits, is this not a strange thing? He places His altar in an ugly spot. But never mind, it may be that I understand it already. I think He wants to ask me emphatically once more — the voice of One calling from among the bandits: poor fool, whether is greater, the altar, or the gift that sanctifies the altar (compare Mat_23:19)?[1] Are you still as superstitious as this? Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man, a bandit in Thy presence.

[1] Intentional reversal of the text. In the sacrifice of the Old Testament “the altar makes the animal an offer” (Grosheide, Kommentaar op Mattheus 23:18), but here the offer (the priest of His own offer) makes the place an altar, and consequently the offer and the altar (the place) are necessarily related to each other by the good pleasure of God.

Thus my Saviour walked among the bandits.

When next I see the loafers, and the smugglers of liquor, and the “scum” of society, I shall remember that Christ was among them and that He sang His psalms from the midst of bandits. Wist I not that He had to be active in His Judge’s business? I shall examine myself once more; I must be about my Judge’s business. And in His palace I dare not look to the right nor to the left. In court I lose my sense of rank. I do not look for loafers. Great grace, incomparable grace it will be, if I escape alive — I, varlet, parasite to God.