Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 14. Chapter 14: Christ Confronting the Dead Judas With the Dead Scoundrel

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 14. Chapter 14: Christ Confronting the Dead Judas With the Dead Scoundrel



TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 14. Chapter 14: Christ Confronting the Dead Judas With the Dead Scoundrel

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C H A P T E R F O U R T E E N

Christ Confronting the Dead Judas With the Dead Scoundrel

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.

—Luk_23:42-43.

IN OUR first volume, and again in our third,[1] we alluded for a moment to a legend of the Middle Ages according to which the Saviour was likened to a “nightingale” which sings a song of pure “love” in the May-tree of the cross. And we did not neglect to deny every attribute of genuine beauty to such a “vision” because the true significance of the crucified Christ and the power of His love is denied in it. Will it still be necessary for us, after the immediately preceding chapters, to develop our objections to such a legend further? We do not think so. We pay attention now to the second utterance from the cross;[2] it was directed to the scoundrel who was hanging beside Christ. That singer of the Middle Ages also gave attention to this theme:

The nightingale is singing

Out of the thorny tree;

His heart is full of loving,

He sings for you and me.

The rapist cried, Peace I pray,

And he was given the prize.

The nightingale sings on: Today

With me in Paradise.

[1] See Christ in His Suffering, chapter 12: p. 269; also this volume, chapter 13: p. 296.

[2] We shall not discuss further the “verily” of verse 43, inasmuch as chapter 13 dealt with that.

But we shall not contend against this any longer. We merely repeat that the love of Christ was not a natural emotion seeking an outlet in self-satisfaction; it is official, personal religion. His is not an uncritical love, but one which very critically distinguishes and separates the various relationships.

The love of Christ is a distinguishing, a discriminating love. For Christ, hanging between the two malefactors, accepts the one and not the other. Two condemned shall be dying on the hill of a single cross: “The one shall be taken, and the other left.” You see that there is distinction, selection here. Christ who is today being confronted by the dead Judas[1] in the other world, presents Himself at the beginning of the session of the gods[2] of the universe in the company of a dead scoundrel. He asks the privilege of speaking first and He takes that privilege. He says: Give me Judas; I confront the dead Judas with this dead bandit. And He let all the gods hold their peace. A hand wrote an awful word on the wall: the sovereign good pleasure. The devils grimly suppressed their wrath; they had no apology to present.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 12.

[2] See Psalms 82.

Well, then, for the sake of Christ, we shall consider first the scoundrel and his embarrassed questioning.

I hear someone say: Be very careful in your treatment of that brother-scoundrel. He mingled fragrant incense with the stinking vapors of hell; into these he introduced the sweet incense of prayer. However we must say that the offering he gave was exceedingly meager. Thoughtful Christians may not make the prayer of this man more beautiful than it is. Those who say this are quite right, and it is to be hoped that they really wish what they say. We may not forget that this time the nard was contained in an ugly vial; the bottle had not been rinsed before it had been filled. Unclean thoughts. Confused ideas. Inadequate elaboration of saving grace. The contents are none too good.

But there is the form! God likes beautiful forms. But in this respect, also, everything is equally meager. The voice is a crude voice, the face is distorted, the spirit giddy, and the hands are not even folded. One almost feels like joining in with the Pharisees who, a few days before His death,[3] asked Jesus whether He was actually going to be charmed by the prattle of children. “Hearest Thou what these say?” they ask in disgust. And, adopting their manner, we at first sight would ask: “Hearest thou what that fellow says? It is but the grumbling of a scoundrel. Say now, canst Thou take the man seriously?”

[3] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 9, p. 133 ff.

And that is but the form of the prayer. But alas, the content, the essence of the prayer! Is it really prayer? Yes, someone hastens to say, I am sure that it is; for his approach is very beautiful. He calls Jesus: Lord. In saying this, one, however, forgets that there are manuscripts which have the word “Jesus” instead of the designation “Lord.” In these we read: “Jesus, remember me, when Thou comest into thy kingdom.” But the mere use of this name and nothing more does not warrant the inference that this speaker thought through the salutation of the prayer by a sound logic and in fidelity to the revealed truth.[1]

[1] Even this reading (punctuation) is not definitely ascertained.

Yes, someone now adds, but the man certainly shows unusual courage by confessing Jesus and by asking a favor of Him. Surely, by putting his body and soul into Jesus’ hand he was acknowledging to the judges and the people that he found Christ beautiful and good. He blesses the One whom they curse; he calls aloud to Him as to the lord of a definite kingdom, to the very One whom the Jewish authorities have thrown outside of the gate. Can it be that such a protest against these judges is not a virtue? Is it not an act of faith on his part to choose against his people, and to oppose the man who is hanging crucified with him by asking him why he does not stop reviling Jesus?

Thus there are some who wish to infer from all these things that the prayer of this man was truly a prayer. In response to this we must reply that these particulars as such by no means constitute evidence for the ethical quality of the murderer or for his piety and religious sense. This man had lived for years by way of protest against judges, against a majority, against the half plus one. Very likely the man was one of the many rebels against the Roman authority; in any case, he was one who had never taken very nicely the attitude of the majority and of the intent of the government. As a matter of fact, he had always been among the objectors. Hence the fact that he is opposing the people at the foot of the cross by no means constitutes evidence of a sincere repentance. Jesus had better be careful, we would almost anxiously advise Him: there are so many people who agree with Thee simply and solely because they like to disagree with others. Who, consequently, can infer from his opposition that this murderer appreciated the mystical union?

We know that the man asks Jesus to remember him when He has come into His kingdom. With respect to that, we would say that if we write the text on a little piece of paper and then examine it carefully without thinking of Christ Jesus who replies to it, what it says tells us nothing about the soul of this murderer. It might very well have been selfishness which induced him to say a good word for Jesus, or to ask for a safe place.[1] We know them all too well — the people who during their lives have no regard for the rights of others and then when their own hour is at hand are extremely anxious for themselves. Try to imagine Jesus’ answer as not extant, and you will be able to exploit the question of the embarrassed rascal by writing a gripping chapter of a book, entitled: De mortibus persecutorum. Being interpreted, that means “Those who let blood” — and how anxious they sometimes feel when approaching their death. But, yes, take the favorable position that the man had good intentions and that he really wanted to honor Christ and not only safeguard himself. Even then the thing that motivates him may merely be an “impression” and an impression received at the last moment. What a moment to receive an impression! Jesus, mother Mary — we still know the exclamations — and do we not all have reasons for mistrusting that man? We read that both of those who were crucified with Christ when they first were hanged reviled Jesus[2] just as did the others. These murderers also asked the question pertaining to might: they also inquired whether Jesus would be able to give freedom. And now — is that one murderer changing sides? He keeps back his reviling; he takes thought; he ponders the question concerning the might of Jesus; and finally comes out with a servile question in which that same issue of Jesus’ might is again lurking around the corner. There is to be a kingdom, and the ruler of that kingdom will be able to hand out good positions. Strange, is it not, that it is again the consideration of might which comes to the foreground? What about considerations of justice? Christ, remember Thy forgotten chapter.[3] Yes, we know, the man is praying a prayer. To pray, according to the Greek, means to ask, but according to the Greek text all that we know is that the man said something. The account could not possibly give a more neutral impression. Can it be said in any sense that the man’s request has the earmarks of virtue? Be careful, people! In any other case you would shrug your shoulders and at best leave the matter in God’s hands. We know that the time in which the murderer might have proved the integrity of his prayer was not allowed him. Very soon he must believe in a dead Saviour, we said.[4] But even now all generations must believe in the life of the dead murderer.

[1] We shall consider the question itself presently.

[2] In our opinion Mat_27:44 when compared with Mar_15:32 does not admit of a different interpretation.

[3] The priesthood; the satisfaction: see Christ on Trial, chaptee 23: p. 428 f; also this volume, chapter 12: p. 256.

[4] J. van An del, “De Avondster.” p. 172; see also this volume, chapter 13: p. 278.

The matter becomes even more dubious when we pause to consider the words which the man spoke. He is talking about a kingdom, about a kingdom of Jesus. What can he possibly mean by that? The disciples for three long years were willing to open their ears to the words of Christ and, nevertheless, after that time they still had such foolish and impossible ideas about the kingdom of Christ. That being the case this man certainly will have very strange notions about the nature of that kingdom. He sees something very vaguely at a distance. But a clear recognition of the reality God has in mind and is even now busy creating, the man did not have. This becomes specially evident from the fact that of all the questions about Jesus the one point he raises first is the very same which has been in the foreground throughout. During the process of the trial of Jesus, to the extent he heard of it on the way to the place of crucifixion and afterward, he has repeatedly heard the issue of Jesus’ might spoken of; we have referred to that before. Can He, or can He not? That was the question. He is called a king; then let Him come down from the cross. The charge against Him was suspended over Jesus’ head. That, too, contained a reference to the alleged kingship. There was not a man who believed in it. At first he himself did not, and now that he finally does believe it, he, like a typical man (it Isaiah 19 centuries ago), thinks — well, perhaps a case of arrogant rebellion against the majority. Very likely the man was one who claimed time and again that right belongs to those who are rejected by the majority. All rebels and revolutionaries begin their speeches that way. But what, concretely considered, is the kingdom of which he is talking in the dire stress of his death? We do not know. We do know that one important word is not mentioned here. The word “priest” is not named. The priest-king[1] of Zechariah 6 — that is far, far beyond his sight.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 23: pp. 429-432.

In addition, the man speaks of “remembering.” Jesus, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. What is the significance of that word? We can say this to begin: he makes the “remembering” indefinite, does not limit it to a specific time. Even if he had been thinking of a messianic kingdom he would not have dared to look for its coming until Jesus after many miracles would have arisen over his cross-knolls and king’s graves and Caesar’s thrones. When that will be? He prefers to leave the time indefinite. Moreover the use of the word “remembering” warrants the suspicion that his notion of the Lord Jesus Christ was still very vague and confused. For it does seem that the request to “remember” him may mean a prayer for a “good” position in that new kingdom.[2] In that case we could make this the point of connection to which to fasten the contention that he saw the Messiah, and not merely one of the harbingers or saints — in Jesus. But if it was intended so, we should certainly think that he was beginning to dicker for an honorary position a little too abruptly and early; then his longings would immediately have soared in a flight which is hardly appropriate to his embarrassment. Moreover the prudence we ascribe to this man can be appreciated better as a request for intercession. The word “remember,” then, must be regarded rather as a petition for a “good word” than for a “good position.” Something of the concept of intercession shines through his petition. Jesus must serve as his intercessor with God, for he has nothing to lose any more save that one thing which men call everything. But what are the implications of that? We know that many Galilean mothers brought their children to Jesus in order that the rabbi of Nazareth might place his hands on them and bless them. These women proceeded on the assumption that Jesus was able to put in a good word with God.[3] Now this request that He intervene between God and them, amounted, of course, to a virtual ignoring of Christ’s own authority as the Messiah to forgive sins and to take over the kingdom. Just so, now, this malefactor in his confused thinking may have looked upon Jesus as an upright man[4] who because of His pure life and unusual holiness enjoys the special favor of God. Such a Jesus, then, could serve as his intercessor. But that he recognized the Messiah in Jesus, the Messiah who in virtue of His own justice and merits governed the keys of the kingdom is a fact which is by no means evident from the words which he speaks.

[2] Think of the familiar question put by Salome in the interests of her two children.

[3] Dr. F. W. Grosheide, Kommentaar op Mattheus, p. 228.

[4] “This man hath done nothing amiss.”

What we want to say, therefore, is that the prayer is by no means perfect. Even though it is possible to discover the essence of true prayer in the words, we must also say that Christ was able to detect the bad odors of sin in the fragrant incense of the petition. Remnants of the old man, the foolishness of a diseased theology (if indeed a “theology”), and the earmarks of human misunderstanding characterized it. Now if anyone, whether somewhat angry or not, should ask us why we choose to emphasize all this so pronouncedly, this would be our reply: It is not our intention to take anything pleasant out of the picture. But we must ask what the source of the pleasantness is, and how we can discover it. Phantasies are not pleasant on Golgotha. If the account is to become very dear to us, we must not let the embarrassed bandit say what we want to hear. That which the man asks might — if I simply exegete his own words — have been asked just as well by an unconverted man. His prayer, taken simply as it stands, does not contain a single bit of proof to show that this poor fellow who cannot even express himself in the vernacular of the visible church is a living member of that church, and a true believer in the Christ.

Only when we have told ourselves plainly that we cannot prove the virtue of this prayer by pointing to its own forms will we get something pleasant in return for that which was first subtracted from the picture.

Now it is our turn to explain. Fortunately, we cannot derive a bit of evidence from the malefactor himself for saying that his prayer was real and genuine; for the evidence lies in Christ. Not the unconfident word of a crucified malefactor, but the confident statement, the absolutely binding promise, of the Messiah is conclusive evidence for us that this corrupt son of Abraham was the object of the favor of grace. Christ accepts him. This means that Christ recognized him as His heir, and that is proof positive that the truths of eternal election have germinated here. Such fruit cannot be determined on empirical, psychological grounds and cannot be inferred from a prayer. This must be accepted on a basis of faith, and be believed on the basis of Christ’s word of promise. Not a religious psychology, but the words, the promise, the statement of the Messianic awareness of the Saviour, provide the constructive answer to our problems. The amen of the answered prayer provides the exegesis to the amen-relationship of this praying malefactor who has not the amen-formula,[1] that gives the explanation of this bashful and embarrassed man who seeks refuge with a Jesus who has been put to shame. Be quiet, embarrassed brother; we believe the integrity of your prayer not because of you, but because of the Lord. We believe that Christ, under the paradoxical confusion of the developments of God’s decrees ever and again, as He speaks of the decrees of the God of election, finds the sure bottom of His sovereign good pleasure. And we believe that on the basis of that He assigned you a place in Paradise. He gives His admission tickets to Paradise, only with the stamp of the foreordination of God on them. We learn nothing about this admitted applicant by following the bypaths and avenues of a psychological route; we learn everything along a theological road. This more than suffices us.

[1] See for an explanation of this “amen” and for the concept of the “amen- relationship,” p. 273, 275.

And now that we have discovered and acknowledged this new brother as a member of the mystical union of the second Adam, now, on this basis, we know that at bottom his protest against the people who reviled his king was not an assertion of his old nature, but a revelation of his new one. Now we know that although his prayer may have been mixed with the elements of a diseased theology that prayer also was in essence a true prayer. We know that he was broken by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and that his diseased brain would even “today” be given healing, the moment his pulsing heart had been silenced. Now we know that his exception to the people surrounding the cross included in itself a self-accusation; we know that although he did not “understand” Christ he did “know” Him, he accepted Him in faith as He truly is. We know that in the roots of his being he did not allow himself to be guided by the false light of his confused thinking, but that he vanquished such thought. He surrendered himself. To whom? To Christ. By what means? By the hearing of the preached word. Small bits of the revelation of Christ Jesus had fallen into his “heart.” Was it not a beautiful thing that he joined himself with the very last things which he himself heard and saw in Jesus? Christ Himself, as intercessor, has revealed Himself as such in reference to His enemies, and His revilers, in His utterances from the cross which had immediately preceded this one. True, the malefactor understood very little of the eschatological and history-making significance of Christ’s intercessory prayer. But so much he understood: a host of mockers and revilers on the one hand, and the vital and living energy of the intercession on the other. O God, he himself had been one of those who had reviled.[1] But God had placed the intercessor next to him, had given him spiritual support, spiritual sustenance — how shall we say it — God had looked upon him. And now he reflects upon the most recent revelation. At once he takes the initiative and lets himself be heard. At one leap he stands head and shoulders above the theologians of the nation. Thou, who art the intercessor for Thy murderers, I too am a murderer, I too. Be mine, also be mine. Give me the crumbs, Lord. They are still falling from the table of the children, are they not? Remember me, Jesus,[2] when Thou comest into Thy kingdom some day. Can it be that this man is thinking about Jesus in much the same way as Joseph thought about the butler when he asked the butler to remember him when he should presently be serving Pharaoh again? Ah, ask no such questions. There is such a thing as coming to God through Christ with our human heart. The man believed God and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.

[1] Both Matthew and Mark report that the two crucified malefactors reviled Him: only of the one who hardened himself do we definitely read that he blasphemed (Luke).

[2] The translation “Jesus” named possible in the discussion above is not being set down here with absolute certainty; see Nebe, Leidensgeschichte, volume 2, 1881, p. 266.

Was he converted, you ask? Surely, he is converting himself. When he first came here, he himself sanctioned that cry of the blood:[3] save thyself and us. A rude question, an unbelieving question, that. Now he speaks a different language. The great miracle must accrue to him now, not on this side of death but on the other side. The Christ must not help him down from the cross, but must bear him, cross and all, into His kingdom. See, he is already coming out of his byways and alleys and he will leave the matter of getting suitable clothing for the banquet to the King himself. He is going along at once, just as he is. Surely, this is progress, this is gain, this is development, and it comes all in a moment. This is to take refuge in the mediator of God and of murderers, this is to accept Christ just as He has revealed Himself. Can it be that he is exalting himself above his spiritual kin? Has he suddenly become too “important” to count himself a murderer? How can we say that? He is asking for nothing more than he knows Jesus is willing to give to — murderers! For he has understood the first utterance from the cross. That first statement from the cross was a prayer for the murderers, and now he is simply asking to share in the blessing which Christ had for murderers. Who can say, now, that he is nurturing pride? He is not denying his kin, for he takes his stand as one of those bloodthirsty ones, of those murderers. He does not choose a lofty vantage point, from which he, as a spiritual new-comer, arrogantly condemns others; and he is not active now, as we first deemed possible, in his old negativistic role. No, he just takes his place at the table of the condemned; he is satisfied to have Jesus give him something of that which He gave to those who crucified Him.

[3] “Of the blood”: Nebe points out (p. 258-259) “that (see our present volume, p. 151) the execution of these two may have been advanced somewhat, because they were eager to put Jesus to death quickly. In that circumstance it was for His sake that they now had to die, unexpectedly. This is a possibility with which we must reckon, inasmuch as it makes the reviling of both easier to understand and less demonic in character.”

Yes, the answer recognizes the question. Prayers have been conceived and born. Prayers, for, according to the Greek text, the poor fellow prayed repeatedly. Jesus, Jesus, art Thou not listening yet; may I be in Thy kingdom? Dost Thou say nothing,

Jesus? I wanted to ask, wilt Thou be my intercessor there? Jesus, Jesus, Thou canst be mute so long, and, alas, I have deserved nothing; but wilt Thou remember me in Thy kingdom? Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews, I know very well, I can plainly see that Thou hast too much to be anxious about, but alas, pray for me too! Wilt Thou speak for me in that kingdom to which Thou didst allude?

The man persisted in prayer. That goes to show that Jesus allowed him to persist. He knew when to be silent, and He did not disturb the birth of prayers. But when the man who prayed had eventually opened his soul entirely, and when his hoarse voice had finally exhausted the last word in his distorted mouth and he could go no farther, the Mediator of God and of murderers raised His sublime voice and said: Amen, I tell thee, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise. And from this we know that not only Jesus’ kingship but also the idea of Christ’s Mediatorship as a priest seized on this broken heart. The man understood the core of the matter; he said: Remember me, remember me.

His faith removed mountains. It believed and embraced an intercessor who presently was reduced to asking His “why’s” And that was even more wonderful than the acknowledgment of the dead intercessor, for, in order to return to His kingly power,[1] Jesus — and he knew this very well — first had to be submerged. No, it was not the physical but the spiritual death which frightened the man, if, indeed, he was still in a condition to experience fright. But there were mountains for him to move: he was to be in Paradise; the fourth utterance from the cross did not put him to death.

[1] “En”; not “eis” (Greek).

Enough of this man now. What is there to see in the Saviour on this occasion? We begin with the general truth. In this we see Christ’s strong faith. Christ opens Paradise to the man in His communion. Paradise is the name used here for life in blessedness with God, such as awaits those who fear Him, after their death. Well, the Saviour is absolutely certain that He will enter Paradise; He also takes upon Himself the right of introducing others there. He has faith in God and in Himself.

To this we must add that Christ’s response to the malefactor is a pedagogical reply. It serves to purge the imperfection in the questioner. The man asks something about the kingdom; in answer he gets a promise about the Paradise. The kingdom is an “institution,” the Paradise an “organism”; the kingdom (in the fallen world) is a luxury which has been achieved by struggle; the Paradise is a restoration of natural grace. The human in Christ is glorified in the kingdom; the divine with all its glamor and blessing is again returned to the human in the Paradise. The kingdom of “Jesus” comes at the very end of Christ’s struggle as Mediator, but the Paradise of “God” was at the very beginning of God’s creative campaign prompted by His will to peace. The kingdom (of Jesus), the “murderer” says, is an anticipation of the end of time; Paradise (the Paradise of God, for such the Saviour intends it) is a recalling of the elemental beginning of time. The kingdom is a representation of Christ at the end; Paradise is the manifestation of God at the beginning. Because the word “Paradise” refers to the beginning, to the beginning of creation (the period which preceded that of the re-creation, the conquest of the kingdom by “Jesus”), it refers also to the new world which is to harvest the fruits of Christ’s service as Mediator. Presently Paradise will refer to the communion of the blessed and of God; in that communion the renewed mankind will be allowed to enjoy the luxury and the riches of presence with God in a restored order of life. Paradise — as long as history has not yet come to an end — is a name to indicate the condition of rest which is reserved behind the clouds of the ever “becoming,” the ever developing kingdom of heaven which must still experience its struggles here on earth under the clouds. Hence, when the murderer asked for the intercession of Christ in His kingdom he was attaching himself to the person of Jesus. He says: Remember me; that is: Reserve a little place for me, behind you. But in His answer, Christ uses the word: With me; thou shalt be with me in Paradise. Not Christ, but the eternal God, is the First and Last here. Jesus must “decrease,” but God must “increase.” Thus He who gives puts Himself on a plane with the one who receives, the Lord sits next to the servant, the One who takes the lead places himself on a par with the one who follows. “With me in Paradise.” In this promise Christ does not subordinate the one who prays to Himself, but co-ordinates the petitioner with Him. Brother, he says in effect, together we shall go — to God. The king in Christ takes a position behind the servant of the Lord. The Mediator does not put Himself on display, proudly parading in His kingly robes; He gives all the honor to God.

Therefore this word is also a true utterance from the cross; it faithfully preserved the style of the cross. The Mediator is present in it, but in a position of concealment. He does not exhibit Himself or parade until God expressly gives Him the privilege to do so. But just now God is busy with Jesus in the matter of justice, and God will not break up the clouds which cover His glory before the time has come. “With me,” not “behind me.” Yes, that is true, but that is putting it very neutrally. By adopting this manner of speech, the Most Beautiful of all the children of men goes into humiliation and concealment. He says nothing about “remembering,” or about His most peculiar kingdom. He speaks very calmly, and clings so firmly to the veil which God has on this day thrown about His beauty, that He, the General, chooses a word as simple as the language of His privates. And is it not true that every simple, pious person who lives by grace can say the same word to everyone who, he believes, is also God’s, should they both die on the same day? No, Christ is not expressly referring to His priestly intercession here; nor is He quoting Dan_7:13, as He did, directly or indirectly, in the presence of the Sanhedrin.[1] He does not manifest Himself as the Son of Man who is to enter into His power at the right hand of His Father. On the cross He makes use of a vox media. He leaves to God the glorification of His Son and tells the murderer precisely as much as is necessary to unite the man with Christ, yes, but especially with God, and to put the murderer in obligation to Him for all eternity.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 7: 140 f.; see Dr. J. Ridderbos in De Bazuin, 78th volume, number 31 (August 1, 1930).

From this, Christ’s word proves to be extremely obedient. He has gained new spoils. Someone is coming up behind His chariot of victory but that chariot has not become to Him the stately coach of Satan. He did not, because of His rejoicing over these spoils forget His cross or the struggle of justice which He is suffering. He simply gave the spoils to His Father; He was a mighty hunter, but always before Jahweh (the Lord). The second utterance from the cross did not profane the style; this one, just as was every other, was an instance of revelation in concealment. The will awakens; the sovereignty assures itself of itself; but that which is heard besides is so lowly, that my age-ravaged grandmother can say it on her death-bed to every old person who together with her enters upon death in God’s name. The word is so peculiarly an act of concealment, that “Hopeful,” the character who supports “Christian” in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as they together wade through the dark waters of the Jordan of death, can literally repeat it if he wishes to.

Learn of Him, for He is “meek and lowly.” No one will ever enter Paradise unless He has pleaded for the guest. He is still using the language of the guests, and not that of the Lord of the banquet or of the Paraclete of the guests. He says nothing about sitting to the right or to the left of Him, as He did when He was still “within the gate.” He does not manifest the bearing of one seated upon a throne, but that of one who takes His place “with” the least at the table of God. “With me, with me,” you and I, we together. O God, He still remembers: the language suits His place, it is spoken outside of the gate. When God has taken all adornment away from Him, He will not put Himself on display crowned with a Mediator’s crown. The figurative customary language which very facilely refers to the “pearls” in the crown of the Mediator — He made no use of that as He stood at the gate of hell. He selected no adornment for His crown, for He simply did what His office required. He has no time to turn the coin around and to see that the other side of the burden is the delight. The private in the vanguard of His camp should listen closely to Him now; this servant on the great day of days will say precisely the same thing to the least of God’s poor, when the Antichrist kindles the fires against both, or when God will draw both upwards into heaven.

Plainly, He who does not parade His words, is a perfect man. O Christ, Thou who (lost not insist upon Thy rank in the state of the curse, and who dost not make a display of the pearls in Thy crown! O Servant who risked a maschil on this child but newly born in the house of Thy Father! For it was the language of the riddle, of the maschil. It said enough, but it concealed and kept covered more than enough. That is what we would say; we are fond of saying verse at a death-bed.

Yes, today thou shalt be with me in Paradise. Now because of the concealed sublimity we love the words. We had to struggle a long time before we[1] could sense the awful struggle of ideas lying behind it. Now follows the “amen,” great and full of energy; but the self-announcement of the Archegos[2] of our salvation is so small and restricted as it can possibly be. He went through His paradoxical mountain passes; finally He climbed His height and spoke His first word. That word could not have been simpler. In fact, it can very well teach us to make our words few.

[1] See the immediately preceding chapters; especially the one concerning the “amen.”

[2] “Chief Leader.”

Therefore Jesus’ second utterance from the cross is His own and our salvation. Our salvation — that means the salvation of murderers.

Yes, it was His justification. If Jesus had by an untimely display of majesty inappropriate to the authentic style of Golgotha impaired His self-concealment He could have saved neither Himself nor the murderer. But now, inasmuch as He obediently remained concealed behind the veil of humiliation, He achieved His glory.

Moreover, He achieved His apology, not in words this time, but in facts. There are times when words do not suffice to defend a person. Blessed is he who at such times is justified by facts. It is in that way that Christ Jesus is justified by the fact today. Not by words. We have already given much space to the consideration that on Golgotha, when burdened by the mockery of hell, the right of apology had been taken away from Him: He had to suffer without the gate. That was the first line of thinking. Just now we discovered the continuation of that line: As Mediator He pronounced a word which is indeed a wonder as far as the consciousness of the speaker is concerned, which is quite unique in the world,[3] but which as far as its external form goes, was so ordinary that everyone who believes can say it to any other believer. It is matter for rejoicing to us to discover this glorious harmony between what we learned in the foregoing chapters and that which confronts us now. Our thinking of that can point out the way we should take next.

[3] The “super-paradoxical amen” chapter 13.

In the calm deliberativeness which characterizes the second word from the cross we honor the pure response of Christ’s spirit to His legal status at the moment. Just as it always does, so each word which Christ speaks now stands in immediate relation with what accrues to Him from God. The Mediator, although called upon as the Mediator, nevertheless is quite silent about the honor and name which as the Mediator is justly His. He does not announce what He is doing, or what He is going to do, or what He can do, but only what is to accrue to Him together with the murderer. The answer which He gives, in short, is not that which eternally distinguishes Him from the man who petitions Him, but that which He will eternally have in common with the man. True, His statement gives expression to the triumphant certainty that Paradise is awaiting Him, but this very assurance serves but the more to amaze us because of His controlled silence about His status as the Mediator.

We cannot recover from our amazement until we see the Christ as a Mediator who is governed completely by the legal relationship of things, by the legal status of everything which accrues to Him here. Christ’s glory as a Mediator is so cautious, so pure, in singing its own praise because it would not play with a crown in the moment in which God is taking His splendor away from Him. No, His glory would not even play with a crown constructed entirely of words.

Strange, mystical confusion this; strange manifestation. They exchange garments: the Saviour, and the man who has been rescued as a brand from the burning. The murderer hopes that Christ will plead for him, will witness for him before God, but Christ bears this murderer as His vindicating witness into heaven, and feels free to present the man there as such. Does not this strike you as strange? The soul of the servant Jesus, did not despise the benefit of a good witness. His complete subjection, felt to the very marrow and bone and reins, to the compelling logic of the authentic fact that He Himself really is the accused, the one accused in the whole universe, becomes apparent from the fact that He did not despise having a witness, when this witness justified Him by fact In this He could rejoice as a child rejoices. If it does not gladden Him, He is but playing a role. That man, hanging there in his pitiable misery, and nevertheless soon to be a guest of Paradise — he is in very fact a witness for our accused Advocate and Paraclete, for our great Witness, Christ Jesus. Was His not the right to present an apology? Well, if He must hold His tongue in check, let the facts speak. Here is a man who was burned by the flames of the same fire which drove Judas Iscariot into a spiritual death. But look at the result. Judas hardens himself, and by means of his obstinate death — probably at this same moment — accuses Christ as an impotent redeemer before God; this “murderer” stands up on the other side as a witness for Christ. And he comes to declare that Jesus of Nazareth can not be the cause of misfortune, of perdition, of misery in any man.

May no one be surprised to see that we allude to Judas again at this time. We are not resurrecting him from his grave, for he is just stumbling into it. God sees the crosses standing right next to where this happened to Judas. We have already observed[1] that on the day of Christ’s death the trial of Christ Jesus caused a disturbance in the world of departed souls. On the same day as that of Jesus the soul of Judas passed over from the visible world into the invisible, and concerning the complications of life on earth this last infallible sentence was uttered. And that immediately.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 12: pp. 239-259, especially pp. 244-249.

Now there is a third soul here. This soul will be with Jesus in Paradise today. This soul was also greatly perturbed because of Christ. It is the soul of this praying bandit, of this broken-hearted rebel. On the one hand, then, even as it is to Christ’s own consciousness, the Saviour is confronted by the dead Judas. But, on the other hand, He can confront Judas with this converted murderer, coram Deo, before the great white throne, around which are the souls, both living and not living (Rev_20:4-5; Rev_20:11).

There were points of similarity and points of difference between Judas and this “murderer.” The point of similarity is that both of them took offense at Christ. Judas took offense eventually, and the other man at first sight,[2] of a Messiah on the cross. Moreover, and it is this consideration which invites the comparison, both made the kingdom of Jesus the problem of their life. The kingdom is the great concern of the last hours of both, and greatly perturbs both. In addition, we can say that both ponder the “kingdom” at the cost of “Paradise.” The kingdom, the immediate, visible, externally effective power, the reliable institution, the imposed force[3] — it is that which interested Judas, for which he yearned, it is that which he would rather have had today than tomorrow. But this man who prays from the cross keeps referring to the kingdom also by his last words.[4] Last words are weighty ones; you can see how anxious he is about that kingdom. But neither Judas nor the crucified malefactor gave an equal amount of attention to the Paradise, and to the concept of Paradise. Judas preferred not to indulge any fancies about the “next world” as men foolishly say; he disliked the fact that Jesus was always referring to that “other world” and seemed always to want to solve his problems by referring to it. As for the “murderer”— he too, apparently, had breathed very little of the atmosphere of Paradise. The “other world” could not charm him either. Hence Jesus’ benediction contained a silent protest for him. He was straining hard to reach a kingdom, and he finds that he is standing on the border-line of Paradise. This had never occurred to him; Jesus’ carefully selected word makes him think about it. Is it not true, then, that there are several points of similarity between Judas and this malefactor as far as their questioning goes?

[2] Both murderers reviled.

[3] It will not do here or elsewhere to oppose the concept “kingdom,” as the New Testament speaks of it, to the concept “empire” as if to say that “kingdom” refers to a voluntary organization of people naturally drawn together by ties of culture, birth, race, or similar interests, and “empire” to a form of external force which artificially and artistically creates and forces national unities. The Greek language employs the word “king” even for the most autocratic despots, tyrants, or world dictators.

[4] The word “kingdom” takes on richer meaning when we remember that the man persisted in his petition (see chapter 14: p. 323).

A further point of similarity inheres in the fact that Christ opposed them because He had to. Just as Christ opposed the murderer— see what we have just said above — so He took issue with Judas. Making His appearance in this world, and maintaining His prerogatives of God as God, He did not hesitate to oppose Judas and He said that this world cannot be rightly seen nor rightly placed unless there is a preliminary acquiescence in God’s holy order, an order which must still struggle in this world to penetrate the chaos but which has already created the blessed condition of a beautiful Paradise behind the clouds. He did not hesitate to point out to Judas that one can achieve the kingdom only if one begins at Paradise. Consequently there was no antithesis for Jesus Christ between the concepts “this world” and “Paradise.” God would govern both, would join the two together, and would be served in both. But Judas had fixed an antithesis between two “worlds.” He knew of but two types of people: zealots of the kingdom or idiots of Paradise. This is no idle fancy; the word “idiots”[1] means those who have no office, idlers, good-for-nothings. So Judas regarded things. He who fought for the kingdom, had nothing to do with a Paradise “today.” For the kingdom demanded actual and visible effort here on earth. But those confused people who mumbled things about a Paradise did nothing either constructive or productive and therefore amounted to idiots. Thus spake Judas Iscariot. That citizens of the kingdom could possibly think that they were colonists of Paradise[2] and could derive the inducements for constructive labor in the kingdom from that fact was a thing he could not understand. So Judas thought and lived and so the murderer also thought and lived. If the murderer was in very fact a rebel, a revolutionary, this is even truer of him. Thus they together took offense at Jesus and opposed Him. That which Jesus had against Judas, that which He wished to charge against him as the total of things opposed during the three years of contact with him, is epitomized in His answer to the praying recruit who would enlist in His service. Both, Judas and the malefactor, raised the problem of the kingdom; this problem was not stricken from the agendum but Jesus says that the problem of Paradise comes first. Such was His protest. It had most important consequences, for both Judas and the malefactor looked only to the hand and to the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth for action. This Jesus had to accomplish the great deed. He had to make history. But Jesus recedes in the presence of God. My son, give God the honor. This is His answer: God himself has been proclaimed as the End and Goal of all things, and also as the Beginning, and as the Maker of history. Jesus enters into the evolving kingdom, but He leaves the completed Paradise (1Co_15:24; 1Co_15:28). This Judas did not understand; he had no patience for such things. Jesus took His place with the simplest in the visible world; He used the language of “Hopeful” in His critical, fundamental moments, He went about (as with this murderer) with defenceless ones in Paradise, and He referred everything to the Father. These were precisely the things that fatally offended Judas. And these were the things which were given the “murderer” as the hard and unalterable truths. Was there similarity between the two? We see the problem of Judas returning in the murderer. Judas’ obstinate opposition to Jesus continues. The man goes to hang himself; but his plaint is still vague here, anew, at the cross. That man simply will not die; his demon seems to have entered into a crucified bandit; plainly the bandit has a piece of it in his throat. The kingdom, O God, the kingdom. A former lesson in catechism and now this recent Jesus! But does this Jesus fit in these lessons in catechisms? He talks of Paradises, It almost seems as though Satan, who has been driving Judas and has just now most actually realized his work in him, would now inoculate the error of Judas into the murderer, in order that he tempt the Saviour with the problem of Judas. And if not, perhaps the man, grim and stoical, like him of Kerioth, will turn aside from this unreal guest of Paradise.

[1] According to the Greek (also the Greek of the New Testament).

[2] “Our conversation—our politeuma—is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour” (His “coming” from there “into” His kingdom: “En”; not “eis” (Greek). Php_3:20).

That raises a question. Will Satan really place Judas next to that murderer? Will it really be true that on one day in Hades two witnesses will rise up in judgment against the Nazarene? No, that will not be the case. A great gulf of difference is fixed be­tween Judas and the murderer. The points of similarity between the two were many and striking; but the difference is incomparably great. Judas took refuge in himself when he faced these problems and he suffocated in the stench of his own contaminated atmos­phere, but the other went to Jesus. What he understood of the Messianic concept, he used. His problems were the same prob­lems, but his attitude was different. He, too, — especially if it is true[1] that he. joined in the reviling first — had to struggle in con­flict with the Idea of a kingdom which saw its Sovereign pass over the hill of the cross. But the problem did not destroy him. That which destroys man is not this or that problem; it is his unbelief.

[1] See pp. 274 (chapter 13), 317 (chapter 14), 322 (chapter 14).

And now the fundamental difference between these two finds expression in their fruits, Judas wanted to see that which he de­sired at once, “today.” In the morning he said: Jesus, today I would be with Thee in Thy kingdom. But he gets nothing today. And tomorrow — alas, let us say nothing of the morrow. But this late-comer, who, unlike Judas, had the patience to wait for a distant future,[1] gets his reward today. Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.

[1] Chapter 14, page 331.

This then is the apology of Jesus Christ. The facts spoke a conclusive language about Him even in the hour when His thought and His words and deeds were bound. Living history vindicates Him in every complication. Two witnesses rose up in judgment against Him. One of them, Judas, we might have called a “sympathetic” witness. But for the other no man has any respect. Judas at least struggled for three long years in the company of Jesus; and he gave others much of what he himself possessed.[2] But that murderer asked for something for himself alone; he had neither time nor room for anyone else, at least not in the kingdom of — Jesus. But in the world in which the law of Paradise has been restored, and in which the sequence of God very naively unfolds itself in the transparent facts, the “sympathetic” Judas will prove to be a false witness, and the frightened murderer will be declared acceptable as a true witness.

[2] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 8, p. 168.

He will say many good things about Jesus there, for Jesus Christ saw the same sin in him that He saw in Judas, and He had meant the same to both originally, and He ministered the same Word to both. Moreover, He lodged the same protest against each. Now the one who charges Him with idleness is sent away from Him empty because of his own perverseness. He is turned away; he is sent away without office, an idiot against his will, from the eternal bliss of Paradise. But the other who allowed Christ to speak until He had spoken out completely, and who surrendered his soul to Him, was redeemed eternally by that same Saviour. He became an office bearer; he was given a crown in the kingdom which became Paradise after Christ’s return.

Thus Christ entered into the gate of Paradise. His case could not be adjusted in terms laid down by men. But they understand Him readily in Paradise. Mark how joyously He raises His voice, a glimpse of gladness in His eyes. Amen, together we will go to Paradise. Not a word too little and not a word too much. An angel supported Him in Gethsemane and then left Him alone again. A human being comes to Him at Golgotha, a witness, and this one accompanies Him later, and will say good words among the angels about Jesus Christ. The Advocate of all souls is grateful for this gift. God who comforts the lowly, gave Him close attention in order to determine whether He was lowly, so lowly that He would allow Himself to be comforted by the advent of this poor creature. Now He rejoices, for simplicity of heart is still His. Come, speak, brother-stutterer, speak right out, and firmly, and say something good about Jesus. Do not be embarrassed by the angels; just leave that to Him. As for you, the angels are very eager to read your heart. Present your testimony about the Son of man very simply here in Paradise. There they will at once conclude that this Jesus has done nothing amiss, that He simply proclaimed the Word and that He, for the rest, did not disturb the fundamental law for the life of the world, the constituency of the sovereign good pleasure.

Now, as far as we are concerned, we can not be present when the books are opened in the world behind the clouds, when Judas is to be confronted with the murderer by the strictly constitutional Prince whom he reviled as a rebel.

What, then, shall we do for edification? We shall read His Word, and confess to ourselves that everything will remain uncertain here, under the clouds, unless we believe His Word. Yes, indeed, if we abandon our hold on His Word, everything will remain unsure and infirm. Then everything will be a prayer which cannot be proved to be a prayer. Then we will have a repentance which is not fundamentally distinguishable on the basis of human argumentation from hardening of heart. There will be a confessing person who might very well be the most flagrant of egoists. There will be an election which represents too closely the other object of reprobation. So much for the outside, for the external. Who can prove, by any other means than by Christ’s own word, that one murderer is any different from any other one? Take Jesus out of the midst of them, and the two outside crucified persons immediately become kin and remain kin, and both equally obstinately will deny Jesus the right of self-explanation. Take the word of Jesus out of the picture, or refuse to believe it unreservedly and the three crucified persons together will constitute a lugubrious society of death, a sterile college of babblers.

But if you begin on the basis of Jesus’ Word, and if you let His light fall upon all, you will see at once that Christ is one who judges between the living and the dead, between the elect and the reprobate, between faith and unbelief, between repentance and hardening of heart. Again it is His Word, and His Word alone, which proves that the dying of these three is not a conjuncture of nature achieved within the circumference of the vicious circle, of interplay of death and life, of righteousness and unrighteousness, of zealotism and idiotism, but a product of that mysterious decree of God, eternal election and eternal reprobation.

Surely the comforting word of Jesus is more than the music of natural love. This is what Calvin calls the mysterium tremendum; this is a concealment which should cause us to quake before it.

No man hath seen God at any time, but the Only Begotten Son of God who stoops to the heart of a murderer, He it is who has explained God to us, and has recognized God in it. Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man. Stay near us, Lord, for the night is falling, has fallen; it is getting very dark here. Remember me, Jesus, now that Thou hast come into Thy kingdom.[1]

[1] A short poem of Anna Bijns, included in the original, is being omitted in the translation.

He will hear, and He will say to His little ones: With you. And they, answering, will say: Behind you. Yes, a preposition is an annoying thing in the sensible and intelligible world. My Catechism knows all about it, but does not solve it.[2] Nor is that necessary: He does my thinking for me, before He has come into His kingdom.[3]

[2] Lord’s Day 13.

[3] In an incidental way we discussed the self-revelation of Christ in saving the malefactor on chapter 8, page 158. The comments made there are related to what was treated in the immediately preceding pages, but we shall not discuss the matter further at this point.