Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 12. Chapter 12: Christ’s Paradoxical Plague and His Forgotten Chapter

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 12. Chapter 12: Christ’s Paradoxical Plague and His Forgotten Chapter

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SUBJECT: 12. Chapter 12: Christ’s Paradoxical Plague and His Forgotten Chapter

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Christ’s Paradoxical Plague and His Forgotten Chapter

And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross ....

He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.

He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.

—Mat_27:40; Mat_27:42-43.

And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

—Luk_23:36-37; Luk_23:39.

WE return once more — and hope to do so again —(Chapter 13) to what we discussed in our preceding chapter. We return to the subject of Christ as He suffers the mockery of hell. In that awful hour of mockery He felt the terrible plague of God, the Just One, bearing down upon Him. He was the incarnate Logos, He was filled with the Spirit, He was bruised by His people. As such He felt hell’s mockery weighing down upon Him. Consequently we cannot pass lightly over this theme. We must devote our attention once and again to the plague of paradox which accrued to Jesus, to the grief which the paradoxical motifs of His plagued thoughts placed upon Him from the outside.

Someone may feel inclined to ask: Why all this discussion? Has not enough been said about these things? Has not the mockery of all those people been sufficiently discussed? Permit us to answer that the question is stranger than any possible reply which we could give to it. We have pointed out in our previous chapter that we should not devote our attention to those mockers but to Christ, that it is because of Christ and not because of those who railed against Him that this moment of mockery upon Golgotha is so terrible as it is and that it deserves its own, unique place in our considerations.

But that is not the only reason. There is another reason which compels us to linger longer over this spiritual conflict of the expressed thoughts of men against the repressed thoughts of Jesus Christ. We must not forget that in this matter we are standing overagainst the greatest riddle that was ever given in the world. We allude to the riddle which God presents to us in the fourth utterance from the cross in which Christ laments: “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” It is to that fourth utterance from the cross that our ponderous thoughts would now proceed. We must go there. We must go through that fourth utterance. We must pass underneath it. But the moment we sense a little of the significance of this fourth statement from the cross it at once becomes a crystallized mystery to us. There is not a single riddle in the world which conceals so many unexplained things as this unique statement uttered by Jesus at this time, Why? Why? Is this the mystery that on the day in which He whose office it is to explain God Himself calls for an explanation? It is. He, the One, who was sent out to put all those who are asking their “why’s” at rest, cannot find rest Himself — that is the mystery. By His “why” He leaves all those who would have an illuminating “therefore” in embarrassment. That is the great mystery, the embarrassing circumstance in which Christian thought here becomes confused.

The “why” coming from the mouth of the highest prophet really is the blind alley in which all Christian thinking seems to run against a wall; it is the great den of lions of Christian wisdom from which no one can escape by the ladders of his own thinking. That is why we consider it very important that Christ seems to us to be caught in paradoxes. He who is ensnared in the lassos of the paradoxically frightening God must perforce ask his many “why’s,” and he cannot escape from them unless he should leave God outside, God and the problem, God and the soul-rending paradoxes. But because Christ cannot relinquish His hold on God in all eternity He must progress from the many “why’s” to the singular “why.” He must utter the single “why” which raises the basic with all the paradoxical experiences and troubles which fiend- problem. Therefore Christ must continue to struggle, to battle, ishly accrue to His spirit today. These paradoxes are at enmity with Him; they are antithetic to Him in the holy war in which the incarnate Logos has become involved. Can you suppose now that it is “superfluous” to linger long over the Christ while He is ensnared in these paradoxical complications? No, we have not the qualifications to analyze His “why.” The abyss of this acknowledgment of impotence which He is constrained to make, the abyss which stands at the very center of the world’s primary conflict, and in which the paradoxically plagued Mediator confesses that He is defeated, is an abyss which no one will ever completely fathom. Hence, our only purpose is the hope that by the great grace of God, we may, if we believe, discover the lines which the Scriptures have laid down in delineating the manifest character of His revelation. We would discover these lines also on the campus paradoxalis upon which Christ has been smitten down, and on which He seems to be the plaything of the winds of the Spirit, beaten to the ground, as He is, by the efflux of hell, stifling under the venomous vapours which are belched from so many cesspools. What has Christ to say to us? Or if in the mystery of His paradoxical hour He has nothing to say to us, even if in this mysterious period He experiences a paradoxical confusion of thoughts which reciprocally consume each other — good, let it be so — what then has God to say to us? What has God to tell us by means of the Scriptures? The Prophet holds His peace. God refused to let Him speak in the world without the Scriptures. Hence ours is the task of carefully and discriminatingly following Him in His paradoxical confusion, by way of preparing ourselves thus to meet the plagued Christ later in that deepest nadir in which the fourth utterance from the cross must necessarily confront us.

In studying these things, three considerations demand our attention. This is the first one. Just what is it that those people who are madding around His cross have against Him? Yes, we know they are merely the loafers running about in the market-place of the spirit, but we know also that, in spite of this, they have proved to be instruments of the mockery of hell. Consequently, our first consideration must be: Just what is it that these people are saying to the Christ? And this is the second issue of importance. What are we to think of what these people say? What basis of criticism can a Biblical approach give us for appraising the content of their raillery? And the third and last important question is: How, both negatively and positively, does the soul and spirit of Christ respond to all these things? What effect has the mockery upon Him; or, to put it better, what does He, from His side, place overagainst their reviling? We shall consider each of these points in order.

Just what is it that these people are saying about the Christ? What charges are they making against Him? If we compare the several narratives of the Bible as we find them spread out before us in the gospels, and if we lay these several accounts next to each other, we see that they are raising six counts against Him. First of all there is that well known maschil which we discussed frequently in our second volume. The meaning of that is clear to us now. The maschil was the inciting word of Christ telling them that they could break down the temple and He would rebuild it in three days. Now they hurl the words back at Him: let Him begin this miraculous building, they say (Mat_27:40; Mar_15:30).

In the second place these mockers at the foot of the cross raise the issue of the miracles which Christ had performed. They unmistakably acknowledge that He has saved others. Perhaps they mean that He has rescued them from the general distress of life. And it may also be that they are thinking of that master-stroke by means of which He as a worker of miracles robbed death and the grave of their loot. Lazarus! Hah! Let Him repeat that Lazarus-miracle! There are three crosses here; He has a triple chance to repeat it (Mat_27:42; Mar_15:31; Luk_23:35)!

The third count they raise against Him concerns Christ’s self-announcement as a King; it deals with the message of His royal qualifications. If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross (Mat_27:42; Mar_15:32; Luk_23:37)!

The fourth subject which has a place in their raillery is Christ’s personal faith in God and the mystical communion that has united Him with God. Yes, He has trusted God, has He? Then let God, if that trust means anything, give Him answer now and rescue Him, for he who is not a priest of Baal need not send up the prayer of Carmel in vain (Mat_27:43). Observe this: they seem to be able to step into the atmosphere of Carmel in a moment; Carmel is not far removed from the sermon on the mount.

The fifth issue they raise is the theme of Christ’s Sonship before God. He has said that He is the Son of God. That is at least what our translation states. But it may be better to take a different translation and to agree with the general observation, which asserts that these mockers really said: He said that He was a child of God.[1]

[1] See Grosheide, Kommentaar op Mattheus, pp. 352, 353; and see also what we shall say later about the centurion, and his utterance: Truly, he was a Son of God (Mat_27:43).

And the sixth and last charge which they have against Him is that Christ said He was the Messiah. At least He announced Himself as such. Now if He is really that let Him draw up His festive procession, and come down from the cross! We will gladly form a part of it (Luk_23:35; Luk_23:39)!

If we compare these various argumentations with each other, we must naturally begin by agreeing that they are all confused with each other. We detect several groups of mockers: the one group says this, the other that. The several groups are specifically named. The members of the Sanhedrin contribute, the soldiers make sure to add their part. Then there are those who are chance passers-by and happen to look upon the spectacle. These, too, add their bit. And even those who were crucified with Christ chime in with this well supported choir of hellish mockers and revilers. We believe that we would be going too far if we should, as some wish to, assign each specific piece of mockery to a specific group. On the contrary, we may accept as a fact that these six points mentioned by the Bible were confused with each other, and that the one group took up the cry of the other. This is the course the mockery of hell takes. This is the false appearance of solidarity; it is the caricature of solidarity.

We know that these mockers represented various stages of cultural development. The one had attained a more complex level of general or theological development than the other. The one had a better familiarity with the concrete events of the day and of the outstanding moments of Christ’s public life and ministry than the other. Consequently, it is remarkable that all of these groups can agree among themselves about these specific points. We want to point out three counts on which all of these mockers agree in their mocking.

In the first place, they all acknowledge that Christ has done miracles. They concede the fact that the man who is hanging on the cross has performed wonders. They do not deny that forces coming from “another world” — “another world” is a handy term for unbelief, that is, for an unbelief which refuses to call it by its real name—have been loosed in His life and that those wonderful potencies have come to expression in specific effects which took the form of miracles. The registration-book in which the wonders of Jesus of Nazareth were written has lain open to their investigation for some time — they speak pedantically of unusual events.

In the second place they all characterize their raillery and typify their own spirit by asserting that the conclusive miracle is still lacking, and that this one — alas — simply has not yet been registered. Yes, the Nazarene has exhibited various powers, and there are several entries of miracles in His journal. And, a person might investigate them and find that they were authentically reported. What of that? One wonder is still lacking. He has not yet saved Himself. That is the one thing which should still take place. Imagine, if you can, a crucified person, imagine this crucified person, coming down from his cross. If he could achieve that, it would indeed represent the acme of miraculous activity, and it would clear up all that which is still of a disputable character in his previous wonders.

The third point on which all these railers agree is that they can boldly demand that this last wonder be performed now. They suggest that if he does this needful thing, they will “believe” him.

But they suggest also that as long as this particular miracle is lacking they propose to reserve the right also to investigate those other miracles critically, and to think of them accordingly. They know all about it, they suggest. Beelzebub can also do tricks. There are those who in disturbing times perform miracles through Beelzebub, the chief of devils. And you need not think that good theologians are going to have the fleece pulled over their eyes so easily.

So much by way of a reply to the first question which we put.

The second question was this one: What must we think of these charges, these counts raised against Christ? What evaluation must a mind guided by the Scriptures place upon these revilings? In answering this we do well to bear in mind that we can give our attention both to what they say and to what they do not say.

What must we think of what these mockers dare to say? In answering this question let us first reckon with the opinion of those who think that an ethical seriousness still characterized these people who mocked the Saviour. And also with those who believe that an unfortunate and pitiable misunderstanding was responsible for their mockery. For there are some who hold that this was the case.

Some believe that the Jews at the foot of the cross were thinking of a passage taken from an apocryphal book, the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, or at least that a passage of that book is applicable to these Jews. The designated book is clothed in the form of an admonishment, artistically put into the mouth of Solomon, and directed to the pagan empires and pagan world-rulers. In this admonishment the learning of Wisdom is glorified. The book itself was not written by Solomon inasmuch as it has a later date. Opinions about the date of this composition differ greatly. Some think it arose in the time of the Ptolomies; some think of a more recent date; a few even adhere to the opinion that it was written after Christ. The conjectures vary between a period extending from 150 A.D. to 40 B.C.[1] You see that nothing has been definitely ascertained. Hence it would be quite unwarranted to suppose that the Jews at the foot of the cross were thinking of the Wisdom of Solomon.

[ See R. H. Charles, D.Litt. D.D., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, volume 1, Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1913, p. 521. According to the argument of this book, Paul was familiar with the Wisdom of Solomon and alluded to it in his letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians (p. 519).

Nevertheless there is another possibility. It may also be that the content of the book inadvertently in one way or another runs parallel to or has a point of connection with the spectacle of mockery which we are witnessing on Golgotha, and, indeed, this apocryphal literature does touch on the mockery of hell which grieves Christ on Golgotha. The passage which is usually related to this panorama on Golgotha can be found in Wis_2:12-20. There the issue of the relationship of divine wisdom to profane wisdom is raised. In the Book of Wisdom a polemic is conducted against certain Jewish, philosophical free-thinkers of the time in which it was composed.[1]

[1] E. Kautzsch, Die apokryphen und pseudepigraphen des A.Τ., volume 1, Tubingen, Mohr, 1900.

First their argumentations and manner of conducting themselves is delineated (Wis_1:16-16); then a portrait is given of those eminent but decadent Jews whose picture is also delineated in the Book of the Maccabees. These same Jews, we know, again and again are the theme of the writers of the psalms also. In general, then, we can say that the first part of this book outlined the battle which divine wisdom must carry on against the wisdom of the world.[3] It is in the midst of this peculiar entourage of this aprocryphal piece of writing that a very remarkable passage occurs. In chapter 2, verse 12, the wicked freethinker himself is made the speaker. In fact the company of these decadents is seated in council. They arrive at a kind of conclusion. They propose to keep a close watch upon “the righteous” because he is always standing in the way of these free-thinkers, and hindering them in their work. As a counter-stroke to the discipline which “the righteous,” the law in his hand, always wants to exercise against the wicked (verse 12), this group proposes to subject him to a kind of judgment of God. The passage reads:

[3] Ibid, p. 483; see also 1Ma_1:53-54; and then again see the reference on Chapter 20, page 483, both to Psa_22:9 and to Mat_27:43; and also p. 478.

He professeth to have the knowledge of God; and he calleth himself the child of the Lord.

He was made to reprove our thoughts.

He is grievous unto us even to behold: for his life is not like other men’s, his ways are of another fashion.

We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness: he pronounceth the end of the just to be blessed, and maketh his boast that God is his father.

Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen in the end of them.

For if the just man be the son of God, he will help him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies.

Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness and prove his patience.

Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for by his own saying he shall be respected.

You detect it at once: in this peculiar language which the author of the apocryphal book puts into the mouth of a wicked coterie, mention is indeed made of a certain judgment of God; according to the proposed test the righteous if indeed he is righteous will prove to be righteous by the outcome. But if he cannot by a miraculous escape from his distress prove that God is befriending him, his pretensions to being a child of God will be proved vain. Then the shameful degradation of such a person who is righteous in his own eyes will serve to these people as a gift of God. It will give them permission to go on in their careless way.

Some think that the problem raised in this passage in the Book of Wisdom was in the minds of the mockers at the foot of the cross. These interpreters graciously conclude that, especially among the scribes, a certain ethical and theological seriousness characterized the raillery they heaped upon Christ. Might they not in their own way have put the problem of the judgment of God here?

However, we said that another attempt was made, and that this one tried to ascribe the brutal and uncouth mockery to a certain misunderstanding which existed between Christ and His enemies. We are thinking in this connection of a book which appeared not long ago, and which speaks in detail of these matters. It is the work of a theologian who belongs to the so-called religious-scientific school. This theologian maintains[1] that Christ’s familiar statement about the destruction and rebuilding of the temple was really a kind of protest against the temple made of stone. This is asserted on the supposition that the temple in Jerusalem was far too beautiful to suit Him.

[1] By reference to Act_6:13 ff. (Stephen), and Amo_9:11; see also Act_15:16.

Accordingly, Christ’s maschil was intended to be a kind of plea for a simple, unadorned tabernacle, which, so far from being a display of splendor, might serve as a spiritual dwelling place of God among His people.

Does anyone feel like asking how such a singular paraphrase of Christ’s statement could possibly arise in the mind of this theologian? Well, according to him that other explanation, familiar to us, which the Bible itself gives, and according to which Christ meant His body by “this temple,” is a Pauline, allegorical “distortion” of Jesus’ statement. The writer referred to thinks that to the Jews it would have been a strange and unacceptable idea to believe that the body of Jesus could be acknowledged as a dwelling place of God, as a temple. On that basis, he argues that Jesus meant something quite different by His riddle than is the usually accepted interpretation. According to him, Christ wanted to protest against the temple as such in Jerusalem. The assumption is that the building of the temple of Solomon was a sinful transgression against God and the fathers. Christ in reference to those fathers would, according to this interpretation, have preferred to limit Himself to the statement: God does not dwell in a house made with hands and this, in turn, is taken to mean that God does not dwell in a house made of stone, but in a tent, a tabernacle. Christ, then,[1] was by means of the well known maschil condemning the proud temple with its splendid adornment and exalted dome. Instead of it He wanted to return to a tabernacle. The old tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness was as simple as the temple was extravagant. Now, as this interpreter sees it, Christ wanted to return to that tabernacle within three days. For Moses had also asked that Pharaoh grant them three days for the exodus of Israel into freedom and for the sacrificial feast in the wilderness (Exo_8:27).

[1] According to this argumentation, a more or less conscious difference of opinion must have existed between the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus and the Saviour Himself. The Jews, deriving their argument from Exo_36:8-38, appeal to the unusual beauty of the old tabernacle, and wanted even more splendor and adornment in the temple of God (now extant, or built by the Messiah), but Christ over against this desire for greater splendor wanted to adopt the line indicated in Amo_9:11-15, and to deduce from it that the ideal temple of the future should not be a proud and splendid one, but a simple and unadorned tent. The God of the fathers had not lived in so formidable a temple but in a tabernacle. What Jesus, then, had wanted to build in the desert during the three days which elapsed between the feast of the Passover and the exodus into freedom was a tent, for the worship of God by the faithful ones of the future.

Might it not be that the obscurities of the temple maschil partly provoked the misunderstanding upon the part of the people and were a contributing cause of the conflict with the official leaders of the people? May we not suppose that behind the sarcastic word of the scribes this theological controversy lurked? That is the question they ask.

Inasmuch as this issue touches our subject, we want to linger a moment over this example of exegesis. We believe what follows will suffice to rule it out of consideration. If the interpretation cited above were the correct one, Christ in opposition to the Jews, who wanted to make their present temple even more beautiful and dazzling, was entering a summons to return to the simple dwelling place of God such as had been given the fathers in the form of the tabernacle during their journey through the desert. We deny the justness of this “explanation.” For good reasons, we believe.

Christ was not taking exception to the temple as such. He did not come to destroy the temple, but to fulfil it. Moreover, Christ never stood in the way of the progress of the vehicle of the history of revelation. Hence He never advises a return from the temple to the tabernacle. That tabernacle had its place in the wilderness, but that does not mean that the temple was not a desirable house, nor that it might not be richer and more beautiful than the tabernacle in the wilderness could be. Just as Christ had no objections to supplanting the tabernacle when the time came for it, by the temple, so He has many objections to returning to a tabernacle after the temple has been built. The work of Christ never goes backward. Besides, it is unwarranted to say that a plain exegesis of Christ’s maschil, an exegesis given by the Bible itself — saying that “the temple” is to be taken as His own body — is nothing but a “distortion” in the manner of Paul of a statement made by Jesus. Such an interpretation is in conflict with what we regard as the truth in reference to the Holy Scriptures.

We shall let that suffice, and shall not discuss other ideas which might be raised in refutation.[1]

[1] This consideration, for instance, that the “fulfillment” of the shadows of the temple by a worship “in spirit and in truth” rules out the forms of the tabernacle as well as it does the beautiful dimensions of the temple.

Moving as some of the alien interpretations may be, they cannot alter our opinions. Even in full view of the objections raised, it seems to us that there is nothing in the mocking and reviling on the part of the enemies of Christ which can be characterized by an ethical seriousness or by a theoretical “misunderstanding.” The mere fact that the mockery which they indulge serves to unite the most diverse human types, and that the genteel members of the community as well as the ordinary folk poured out the last remnant of their humanity upon the crucified Nazarene, goes to show that the commentary to be written about this occasion must not be drawn up on the grounds of humanity. We saw that there were various groups here. There were passers-by. These, in passing, could, hear only a few words, but once they heard them they immediately joined in the chorus. There were the soldiers. A stray sound occasionally reached their ears also, a rumor about a kingship which the crucified one had arrogated to Himself. But they also take an eager part in the railing. How little of seriousness there was in their bearing (even though they as a group are placed on a par with all the other mockers in the gospel account), becomes obvious from the fact that they in a quasi-spontaneous manner offered Him vinegar[2] without: by any means wishing to quench His thirst,[3] No, we cannot speak of ethical seriousness in reference to them, and not even of the most superficial sympathy. And we have seen before what we ought to think of the attitude of the Sanhedrin.

[2] Some think that this item in this connection (Luk_23:36-37) tells us something which anticipates what is separately reported in Mat_27:48, Mar_15:36, and Joh_19:29. Personally we believe, however, that this is not a just interpretation, and agree with the opinions of others, among them Nebe, who defend the attitudes presented in this study.

[3] The Greek can also be translated to mean: They came to offer him vinegar; they came bearing vinegar with them.

No, we cannot agree with the interpretation of those who would mix the “clear water” of genuine humanity with the filthy wine of demonic passion. The language employed by the mockery and the defiance today is too terrible for that. Frankly, is it not terrible to notice how they manipulate the word “faith” in their reviling? “Come down from the cross, and we will believe you!”

They cannot succeed in getting beyond that point. They want a miracle and preferably one which corresponds to their improvised stipulations. Without having weighed the norms of the concept of a miracle, they at once definitely stipulate the exact shape in which the greatest of wonders (greatest and primary in their estimation) ought now to take place. And, they claim, the moment they see this stipulated miracle, they will believe. But the true faith which is the essence of religion and which unites men with God, and through Him by means of love bears fruit, is completely ignored by those theologians and their disciples.

As long as these mockers are in a position to get no further than an opportunistic theory about the wonder and power of the miracle, they will always be able to escape from their own snares, when they are unexpectedly caught in them. For before this time they also explained Christ’s miracles by assigning them to Beelzebub the chief of the devils. That they can do again if He should actually perform the miracle, for the Nazarene has for days and years spoken to them about the miracle and its source. The moment He had chosen to perform their miracle, the discussion would immediately have begun anew. Even if Christ should come down from the cross, they will not believe, and will prefer to assert themselves by characterizing this last wonder by the Nazarene as the deftest show which prince Beelzebub has yet presented.

Moreover we can see how little of theological earnestness was in them by noting from the whole complex of argument which they present that in their estimation the true king of Israel cannot be humiliated. If Jesus is the king of Israel, let Him come down from the cross! So they concoct a kind of dogmatics which leaves no room for faith in a king of Israel who is in a state of humiliation. But their own literature has very frequently referred to a Messianic King who achieves His glorification only through the experience of humiliation. Their own literature contains references to it, but it is necessary to state that the problem there is put much differently than it is in the letters of Paul, and in the whole of the Scriptures themselves.

Go on now, and you will touch on even deeper abysses of sin. We have already stated that spitefulness reminds us of Psa_22:7. In that psalm also the poet complained about mockers who “shake the head” and say: He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him; let Jahweh deliver him, for Jahweh delights in him!

The question might be asked whether on this occasion there is a conscious quotation or allusion to Psa_22:7-8. Certainly it is foolish to think that each of these gapers at the cross could literally have remembered Psalms 22 or have quoted from it. But what of the scribes? They knew how to quote Bible texts, and how to apply them in their own manner. Indeed we may accept the fact that among these there were some who knew that in Psalms 22 a righteous person is speaking to whom the wicked say that he must go through a judgment of God if he is to prove his conscience clear. And these scribes know also that according to the logic of that psalm this tormented righteous man cannot perform a single external sign by which to externally demonstrate his righteousness before God. If these scribes were thinking of this text, that is just so much more proof of their demonic mockery; then indeed they are playing with fire; then they most certainly demonstrate that they are tearing the psalm apart and are recalling only that part of it which will not incriminate them at once in the eyes of those standing by. But if they had known what it means to tremble at the Word they would have dreaded a flippant game of words as men dread death, especially a game of words in which the role of the wicked is delineated. They would have found it just a little too “risky” to put the words of the poet of Psalms 22 into the mouth of the Nazarene, for that poet, although he was plagued and forsaken by God nevertheless was a classic example of one who was righteous before God but whose apology would not be effective until it was presented in heaven. And yet David was used as an exordium of a salutary influence and life on an earth which simply will not understand.

In touching on this point we come to the second question which, as we said originally, requires our attention: What standards of evaluation does the Bible give us for appraising these mockers and their mockery, with a view to what they do not say. Why do they obscure the issue in Psalms 22? How does it happen that these fine heads can tear all problems into bits today? The reason is not unrelated to the general truth of the day: namely, they have no eye for Christ’s priesthood. Their thoughts persistently ignore the great question of the ministration of reconciliation, of the idea of the offer, of the ministration of satisfying, compensating love. We can say that God is being wounded anew in His soul because no one of all those who are shouting so loudly ever touches on the subject of His “forgotten chapter.”

Just what was that — that “forgotten chapter” of Christ? What do we mean by that phrase? We have used it before. We referred to it in so many words in the second volume of this work, but we alluded to it also in the first volume. In our second volume, you remember, we discussed Christ exlex and His forgotten chapter. We noticed that this “forgotten chapter” was the priesthood[1] of Christ; it was the law of satisfaction, of reconciliation with God by means of a satisfying sacrifice. Throughout the trial not a single word was devoted to that subject. The kingship, yes, and the prophetic office of Christ were referred to, but the priesthood was not once raised in the discussion. But in our first volume also we already confronted the tragedy of the “forgotten chapter.” It was necessarily a part of the chapter which bore the title, “Christ Welcomed— and Travestied,” There too we notice that the people who are madding around Jesus like to glory in His might and His wonders, are perfectly willing to linger over the concept of His kingship, but refuse to devote a moment’s attention to His priesthood, to His will for reconciliation by satisfaction.

[1] Christ on Trial, Chapter 23, p. 428 f.

The same theme returns now. Read those speeches of mockery again. There are references in them to Christ’s prophetic office, for those who mock acknowledge that the wonders are signs, and the prophet becomes manifest in the sign. They also allude to the kingly office of Christ, for they acknowledge that His wonders are ‘powers”; and it is the king, the bearer of might and force who is manifested in these “powers.” But there is no one who thinks of Christ as a priest; no one even alludes to the idea of the priesthood; no one thinks of the miracles as a gift, as a gift in the absolute sense, as gifts of a sovereign love, whose giving is always absolute, and whose receiving therefore is impossible. No one thinks of the fact that in the wonders of Christ a love is coming to the fore, a love which gives, a love in which influences of healing are given expression, influences of healing which will presently consume the physician himself. For if they had thought of that, their defiance would no longer have been significant. Then all their fabricated learning or banal ignorance would have become immediately apparent; then all could have seen at once that they were miles away from the real problem of the day.

Surely, this was a tragic omission. For now we can point to three moments in which Christ was publicly placed overagainst the people, and in which the issue of His priesthood proved to be His forgotten chapter. These three moments have been assigned to each of the three volumes respectively. The first of these was that of the entry into Jerusalem. Then the crowd spoke of Christ’s deeds and powers,[1] but not of His priestly sacrifice. On that occasion we saw Christ glorious — and His forgotten chapter. The second moment took place when in our second volume we saw the rulers and the people together speaking of Christ as the eventual King and Prophet, but being deathly silent upon the subject of His priesthood.[2] There we saw Christ exlex — and His forgotten chapter. And so we come to our third volume and find Christ ensnared in the paradoxical riddles, find that He is being mocked even unto death, that He is being cast into the mockery of hell, and that He is mute among all these people who speak of everything save His priestly love. This is Christ paradoxalis— and His forgotten chapter.

[1] Christ in His Suffering, Chapter 8, p. 121 f.

[2] Christ on Trial, Chapter 23, p. 428 f.

Well, if the whole mass of Christ’s executors completely deny His priesthood then it is apparent that the defiance, the proud mockery which they heap upon Him does not even touch the essence of His own problem. We knew this beforehand: now it becomes obvious also. Mockery could never be as shallow as it is here, never as stupid and ridiculous as it is now. One step farther, and we would indeed touch on the hellish; and one definition of what hell is can be said to be this: the acme of the ridiculous. We are not trying to write exciting literature, but have wanted to contribute an answer to the second of the three questions we originally asked.

In the last analysis, of course, we are not here to judge these people. A better question —- our third question — demands an answer: How did Christ respond to all these things, and what was His reaction to them? The answer to this huge question is this short reply: Jesus held His peace. No, this time we are not citing a “bible text.” We do not find those words actually written. The fact that we do not find it seems remarkable to us at first. In the account which the gospels gave us of the course of the trial we hear it said again and again: But Jesus held His peace. And as often as we paused to consider these words, we noticed that they contained a profound significance. And it is not surprising that we should at first expect to find this characteristic comment included in the narrative of Golgotha also.

But it may be that the Bible this time purposely omits mention of Christ’s holding His peace because — here upon Golgotha, “without the gate” — His silence may be taken as self-evident.

Yes, indeed, the silence of Christ during the mockery which He suffers in this dark hour is self-evident. That becomes apparent if we simply pause to appreciate the conclusive significance of this particular moment, and the difference between His legal status before and after His passing “through the gate.” For what is more “natural” than the silence of the exlex, of the man who has not the right to present an apology? The first thing to excite our marvel was Christ’s silence in the presence of His judges. We wondered at that. Why? There He still had the right to speak; in fact, He was expressly asked, summoned, to speak. But here, upon Golgotha, Christ sinks to a plane beneath that other one; the question about whether He may or may not speak is no longer a disputable issue. He is sinking down into “bottomless” slime, He has become for us a lost person who, precisely because He endured the mockery of hell, no longer has the privilege of free speech, inasmuch as He no longer can think freely and thus set up His self-defense. Pro domo — that is the most useful term with which to describe a person who would speak for himself. But how can Christ pronounce a pro domo here? He is here in the stead of all His people, and inasmuch as His people in their lost condition cannot but be silent as they listen to the charge of God’s vehement wrath, Christ also stands mute. This is the hour and the power of the children of hell; these are bringing Him the deserved wages of sin, the anti-social power of death. [1]

[1] Christ on Trial, Chapters 7-9, pp. 142-194.

Christ is silent; He leaves the mockery of hell unanswered. In so doing He is revealing His passive obedience, His endurance of God’s ministration of punishment. Unhesitantly He spurns self-defense. His thoughts which have been frustrated in their course do not even conceive of an apology, or think of entering one where none belongs: the place of absolute excommunication. He reads all the proverbs of the Scriptures, also all those which shut off every avenue of escape from one who is hanged upon a tree on the other side of the walls. He does not contend with the world, and does not begin at the beginning. He has just performed His “extreme service of the Word.” Now He comes to the Judge who has been basically maligned by His own, by His mystical body.

Christ’s silence therefore means something different now than when we saw Him stand mute before. His silence before His judges proved to us, in our second volume, to be a legal act. It was an insistence upon the maschil,[1] that is, a prolongation of the judgment of separation, of sifting, set loose by the Word, and a calm re-authentication of all the obligations which Israel and all its colleges of law, and in another sense Pilate also, had not yet satisfied. His silence was an act of authority[2] as long as He stood before the judges. In His silence He condemned them more firmly than they Him; within Him He was conceding the same thought which, some day, having arrived at the end of the revelation of the Scriptures, He would say, He would inspire in Rev_22:11 : He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy be filthy still, and he that is righteous be righteous still; and he that is holy let him be holy still. Such was the law of separation; such was the eschatological law of sifting.

[1] Christ on Trial, Chapter 5, p. 104 f.

[2] Ibid, pp. Chapter 5: 104 f., Chapter 5: 112 f., Chapter 19: 357 f., Chapter 19: 364 f., Chapter 21: 399 f., and Chapter 21: 403 f.

But the situation is different now. Christ’s silence upon Golgotha was a vital and powerful and significant appropriation of the curse. He who as an accursed person no longer had the right to apologize, refuses to take that right now by stealth. His silence now is an expression of conscious weakness. It is judgment.

Weakness — this is a word which we easily misunderstand. Therefore we wish to add at once that in using it we do not refer to a weakness of “character” (if we may set this theological piece of folly down on paper); it was not a subsiding of courage; it was not a disheartened relinquishment of a struggle which seemed to be “useless anyhow.” For this kind of “weakness,” this kind of defeatism, would immediately have thrust Christ outside of the possibility of fulfilling His messianic task. No, in calling His silence weakness we mean by that to refer to the absolute helplessness of one who in very justice bears the judgment of God. It is God who fetters His lips and who forbids and practically hinders Him from speaking out against God on the basis of the right of His nature, His human nature, as if these had any rights at all outside of their connection with law and justice. His human nature is not a phenomenon “an sich.” For today Christ must speak and maintain His silence purely in terms of His office, an office which was instituted by justice and circumscribed by justice, an office which has delineated and delimited Him in all His movements, including the movements of His spirit. Everything He is still to say after this time, all those utterances from the cross, all those explosions in the spiritual world, will have to be uttered by force of an inner convulsion and uttered before the tribunal of the Chief Lawgiver. Every privilege of free speech which He is to exercise after this, beginning at once in the second utterance from the cross, must be expressly earned.[1] It must be a Samson’s burden for which He must struggle with God. And hence Christ may not antithetically make Himself as He is in His naive “nature” a sort of focal point for a group of accidentally congregated spectators who in that specific little spot of the world, under a given constellation, raise the question of the Nazarene and His peculiar “case.” Golgotha is not “a specific little spot” of the world, for Christ now is in hell; and the moment of Golgotha is not “a given moment” in the history of the world but it is high noon of the one day of the Lord, the Day of Jehovah; and the group at Golgotha is not an accidental conglomeration of people who raise the case of a historically conspicuous Jesus in their discussion. What we have here is simply and solely the great dialogue between God and creature, between God and man, between God and the covenant- breaking communion, between Him whose privilege it is to demand and those whose duty it is to comply.

[1] We shall discuss this and the power to earn this privilege in the next chapter.

If that is the situation, “a certain Jesus” has nothing to say, for “a certain Jesus” does not exist; He who is here is the second Adam, and He is arriving at the critical point of the workday of the world. Consequently, the “historical Jesus” has nothing more to say; that is, no “specific” word, no “specific” expression, no “specific” datum, no “specific” count, no “specific” action which might become the subject of discussion among such a chance aggregation of people. But one thing is in order here; and there is but One who draws up the program of speakers, and who assigns the roles of speaking and of being silent. That One is God; He is in charge of everything; and He opens no discussion which would be an unrelated “part” of the whole.

Therefore Jesus is silent as these mock Him. It was self-evident. For these people talk about a certain text, about a certain allegation, and about a certain remarkable predication which has struck their dull attention. These they have gleaned from the discourses of the Nazarene. If Christ were to respond to such mockery after He had ministered the last service of the Word, now that He was in the curse, He would be speaking out of order. Then He, now that the great, fundamental problem of all thinking and living and speaking is being discussed, would have been acting like someone who takes a specific subpoint from the periphery of a problem, and accentuates it as a way of distracting attention from the main issue. Then Christ would immediately have departed from the imperious style of the hour. Hence Jesus holds His peace. This becomes so clear to us, that after His last service of the word, He did not once address a direct, antithetical condemning speech to men. In this He appropriates to Himself the right of God who is transacting everything, that is, the one thing, in this hour of His condemnation. He is so essentially silent, that mention is not even made of the fact.[1] Never was anyone so essentially mute; not even He Himself at any other time. We know, then, that Christ did not give a single detail of His messiahship to the argumentative people for discussion. Neither antithetically nor by way of predicated thesis did He raise any one of the six “points” they named. Formerly, when He was their teacher, He always traced everything back to the main issue, and now that He wants to be our Surety He maintains His silence in reference to that same fundamental major issue. Now these people are forgetting that “chapter” of His office which is called the priesthood. They are forgetting the idea of the sacrifice, of God’s will to minister, of the Messianic self-surrender prompted by burning love. And having forgotten that, nothing they may say besides concerning Him can have any worth. Therefore Christ assumes the burden of His destiny, He assumes the denial confronting Him, and bows low under the misery of the punishment of hell. And a rule of hell is that the people who understand the secret, the mystery, of no one have the most to say about everyone.

[1] Before someone raises a question about it, we wish to remark that in a later chapter we hope to speak of the place and the mutual relationships of the other utterances from the cross, the statement to the murderers, to Jesus’ mother and disciple (in which the “particulars” of daily and personal life are also given their place).

By assuming the burden of this silence Christ became the Man of sorrows in the strongest possible sense of the word. We said before that as a proposer of His maschil He had to become entangled in the skeins of His own yarn.[2] Now this is being fulfilled in its most terrible sense. For Christ has fatigued the people with His riddles, has, in the form of a servant been wandering around with the Chief Wisdom, and by presenting the problem of the three-day restoration of the temple has incited the animosity of all theologians by profession. Today, on Golgotha, is the day of the reckoning. Now all those riddles are turned against Him. He must experience the fact that even that small suggestion of respect which all proposers of riddles generally may count on does not exist for Him, inasmuch as He has made a “great mistake” in the estimation of the people. He did not increase the number of the riddles, He did not solve one problem by presenting another, nor cover up one mistake by another, after the fashion of the interesting proposers of problems belonging to the school of false prophecy. But He always forced these poor ponderers and pedantic professional people back to the one problem which was not yet solved. He raised the maschil about the temple again and again as a problem throughout these years. Who had ever seen so arbitrary a master of riddles? Away with Him!

[2] Christ on Trial, Chapter 4, pp. 92-94.

Now the masses avenge themselves after their own fashion. The crowd knows nothing, and therefore acts as though it knows everything. The man on the street without any investigation whatever poses as though he knows all about it: there are six counts against Him! But He assumes His fate, He accepts the profoundly human grief of this suffering, the suffering of being travestied and mocked in the most peculiarly personal intent of His life. He stands silent overagainst those people, because He is so essentially mute overagainst God. Whoever has entered into the great dialogue with God does not have to cover his ears against what those who are standing next to him are muttering; for he has an ear only for God.

This is the passive obedience!

But this silence is also characterized by an active obedience. How shall we describe the task of this active fidelity? Perhaps we can visualize it best by thinking of what the Bible calls “committing himself to Him that judgeth righteously.”[1] Yes, we are all familiar with that text: “Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” But do we give enough attention to the power, to the activity of this act of “committing Himself?” Well, If we read tills word in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in the light of what in our “sensitive moments” we regard as edifying for ourselves, then this essentially powerful word “committing,” even though it is used here in reference to Christ, takes on a prosaic and frail significance. So frail does its connotation become that it communicates nothing to us but a kind of dull resignation, a kind of “letting it go at that.” Then it means nothing more than to do nothing, to be passive, to be inactive. But if we look upon the word from the viewpoint of Christ (the right method!), “committing” means a definite act, a deed, a deed which is persisted in, and is repeated again and again.[2] Committing may be taken to mean “giving oneself over.” Well, the act of “giving” is indeed an act; hence that of “giving over” connotes a conscious surrender, it suggests going to the judge, begging audience from him, and then purposely presenting our case to him. Whoever “commits” his case in that way cannot remain passive, for a passive person remains at home and does not try to obtain an audience with the judge. The active person, on the other hand, does something. He calls on the judge, and declares himself incompetent, he achieves the active deed of “committing.”

[1] See 1Pe_2:23 (imperfectum); active deed.

[2] Dr. S. Greijdaanus, Kommentaar op de brieven van Petrus, etc. (Amsterdam, Bottenhurg); see comments especially on 1Pe_2:23 (persevere in perfectum).

Hence we can say that Christ is busy. Precisely because He is “without the gate,” and because He acknowledges the punishment of God which allows Him no privilege of free speech, He goes actively upon the way of the incompetent, the way to the only Judge. Step by step He goes, actively, in His thoughts. He is actively obedient and in being this reckons with the time and manner of it. His thoughts have been driven into their narrowness; this was His paradoxical plague. His thoughts were not allowed to go on; He finds Himself in the one, in the absolutely real dialogue; God has entered into the crevice and he who has become a Balaam cannot get through the passageway. But He has seen God and the sword in time, and He does not strike at the dumb beast, or at anything or anyone in the world. He is silent and does the deed. He puts the case into the hands of the judge. He has pondered all these things, and speaks to God so basically that He does not say a single word audibly; because of that it is that He can be so essentially mute overagainst these people.

In this obedience He separates Himself from all the children of hell who in their mockery wish to annihilate Him, that is, who wish avidly and eagerly to entice Him into their circle. But it is just the fact that He gives His case into the hands of the Judge which does not hold true of these children of hell. If only there were one soul in the realm of eternal darkness who would put the case of the revilings and mockery into the hands of the Judge, then at that point the bottom of hell would be split wide, and a human being would begin to be rescued from the claws of Satan. That would be the case even if he were to do nothing more than to say something opposed to the mockery of the others, something desperate about the disruptive influence of hell, that great and wrecked community. That is, of course, if a beginning and a “becoming” were still possible there. But no one there will ever do what Christ is doing here.

That, then, is one thing. Christ isolates Himself from the children of hell. In the second place, He also vanquishes them by that means, He overwhelms them, He purchases for Himself the jurisdiction over their coterie. By actively giving Himself, together with the world, over to the righteous Judge, the Servant of the Lord, the second Adam allowed God to remain the Judge over the whole world. And this kingship of God He acknowledged precisely in the spiritual world: there the principles of the fundamental law are being maintained or denied. In that spiritual world, where it was most difficult, He transferred to God and the Father the right to rule. This He does before He plunges into eternal death, just as He will do it again before He conducts everything into eternal life.

Now this active obedience again, as ever, merges with the passive obedience in a single act. We said before [1] that Christ isolated Himself in the catastrophic curse. The bitter fruits of this self-isolation He assumes now in the moment of this silence both in its active and its passive side. He eats that which is His; He eats His own food. At bottom there is no such thing as real isolation, save only among the lost. To be the object of the mockery of hell — that is to be isolated. Reverence Him now: He began the isolation of His curse in the form of prayer: Father, forgive them. Now He has completed it by actively committing all that was His to the Judge of heaven and earth. Thus He persevered in prayer. In His silence, also, He persisted in the prayer of the first utterance from the cross. He prayed perfectly, for prayer at bottom is committing oneself to God. It is actively proceeding towards the prayer which will constitute His last utterance from the cross: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Prayer is to acknowledge in faith (an active deed therefore), it is to acknowledge God as He is in exercising the right of infinite or [2] of the elemental election, of the prime decision. Prayer is an active self-expression to the Father and a simultaneous, conscious attachment of the self to the Judge. To pray is to put oneself in the right position overagainst God, and therefore involves accepting the consequences. For Christ it means that He be given the privilege to put all things in the right position overagainst Himself. Thus Christ was isolated in the curse, as He prayed the “messianic” prayers of the servant. He was alone. And He who stands alone is silent.

[1] Chapter 7.

[2] In this connection these two are the same.

May the church now praise its Surety, who held His peace in hell and there recognized God as the Judge. Now we dare to speak of the “Suretyship”; now we know that in our stead He suffered the mockery of hell. When His spirit was driven into the one, unique, and utter[1] narrowness, when He suffered the conflict of thoughts, and the inhibition of the stream of His thoughts, He consciously bound Himself to the ideas of God. At this time He did not dare to pronounce His maxims aloud unless God Himself had written them upon His conscience as the articles of the Constitution of the Kingdom. In this we see the Christ as one who dared to transcend His own confusion only by the grace of God. He had been cast into the paradoxical confusion. He wants to transcend this, He is eager at heart to conquer it. But only in obedience. The “Satz des Widerspruchs” could not, as a quietistic argument which would distract His thinking from God, comfort Him for one moment. He was not permitted to find peace in a self-determined sabbath. God was His sabbath and for the remainder — there was only the plague of His suffering.

[1] Eschatological.

In a separate chapter we shall in fear and trembling try to say how He conquered this plague of suffering. We shall not discuss that now. Today we wish to ponder but one thing. We want to see that Christ in the plague which came upon Him because of the paradoxical strife entertained the forgotten chapter of the love of His Suretyship in His own soul and spirit, and preserved it there for Himself and His people. Today it suffices for us to know that He did not in order to cling to it have to look upon the idea of Suretyship according to which God determined His priesthood, and His priestly sacrifice, and the opening of His heart to all that was lost, antithetically. He did not have to look upon that idea of Suretyship antithetically in order to preserve it overagainst the people who reviled Him. Instead He grasped that idea anew, struggled with it again, clung fast to it, and reorientated Himself to it in His own personal struggle. This He did first before God and then before the people who were bound to His spirit. “Set me as a seal upon thy arm,” says a soul who is looking for a bride’s comfort. “Put your name upon my back as the mark of a burning brand,” said the Slave[1] who was here exercising religion before God. His saying was first, His saying counted.

[1] Christ “in the form of a servant” (Philippians 2); in spirit also.

How glorious is He who by means of His own human[2] spiritual faculties always kept clearly before His mind that which every one forgets; He kept it before His mind constantly, unintermittently, continuously, permanently.[3] Is He not the most Beautiful of the children of men? Wholly different — as far as sin is concerned?

[2] This will be discussed further in the following chapter.

[3] Imperfectum; see 1Pe_2:23 (imperfectum); active deed.

For we human beings if we are honest must acknowledge that the man who rails against us, and persecutes us, that the man who mocks and defies and pursues us with his ugly caricature, very frequently is as necessary to us as bread, inasmuch as he in spite of himself often does us a great service.

Does us a great service? Yes, for there is such a phenomenon as “ressentiment”[4] in psychology. We shall not enter upon the question of whether those who in our days talk about this most[5] are leaving things in their proper positions. But in general it is true that many people raise a given subject again and again in the presence of others or in their own minds simply because the oppositions they encounter in their enemies, or the mockery which clever caricaturists employ lingers in and incites their mind to constant defense. There are people who can cling to a subject only so long or can elaborate their pet thesis, or can furbish their playthings or their instruments of battle only so long as their spiritual property meets with opposition. They are active in these things only when some other person actually or, as they imagine, takes up a position directly opposed to them, or contradicts them, or puts their thesis in a false light. Here is a man, for instance, who ardently defends the “Christian activity” when a real or supposed enemy thwarts his path. There is another who can pursue an ideal so long only as another stands in his way. The moment the opposition weakens the zeal wanes. Over there we find still a third who propagates the positive demands of the kingdom of heaven, the Christian school, Christian politics, a Christian “radio” and other Christian movements, solely because Christianity still has to conquer these things by means of an active struggle. It is not a pleasant truth, but we must say it nevertheless: the existence of “the world,” and much talking about “the world” is very necessary to a weak church because it incites activity, keeps people alert, and serves again and again to raise schemes for consideration which our apathy, in case there were no active struggle, would rarely touch on. The entire history of the church, and also the history of Christianity in our own day, is proof of this. And he who is honest and is willing to trace the concept of sin down to its deep source, will have to admit that many Christian voices in the world would immediately be silenced if the world itself did not make so much ado.[6] It is a fact that there are many in the camp of Christ who would immediately cease following Him if there were not an Antichrist and a Pseudo-Christ.

[4] This can be defined in one way as a constantly recurring, negative, emotional, often unconscious response to another person or to something else.

[5] Nietzsche, E. Duhring, A. G. Hubener, and especially Max Scheler.

[6] The opposite is also true.

This is not the place to discuss this further;[7] here it is our duty to put in the foreground the fact that we will not have our reward if we must be incited to “act” in the kingdom of heaven on the basis of such a negative stimulus. In such a case we are not driving our own steeds, but are letting Satan bridle and conduct us.

[7] Naturally the instances cited are not sufficient to typify the phenomenon being discussed. It takes other forms also: criticisms of the vices of others, for instance, because one regrets that he cannot participate in them himself; a glorification of specific ideals, in an attempt to escape from the imperative of other ideals, etc. That which people are discussing recently on this theme tends more and more to become a part of the doctrine of suppression; the conflict becomes an inner one, the antithetic attitude to the outside world does not become as conspicuous then as in the examples cited above; but we chose those examples advisedly for this connection. See Max Scheler, Vom Umsturz der Werte, volume 1, 1919.

But enough of that. Overagainst all this apathy, negativism, and decadence by which we, especially in our “busiest” moments, must seem very poor and meager and ridiculous in the eyes of the angels, we have need of keeping the High Priest of our confession before us. Look closely upon Him. Presently, right after this, He will give the love of His Suretyship to the “murderer” and thereby prove that He is burning with love even in hell; and He will prove also that He has ignited the fires of His love Himself, that He has blown it