Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Exlex in the Darkness: Christ Outside of the Gates of God

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Exlex in the Darkness: Christ Outside of the Gates of God

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 16. Chapter 16: Christ Exlex in the Darkness: Christ Outside of the Gates of God

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Christ Exlex in the Darkness: Christ Outside of the Gates of God

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.


IN ONE of his books Nietzsche has his hero Zarathustra say: “There many suns are cavorting in space; their rays have a message for all that is dark, but to me they are silent. Ah, such is the enmity of light against everything which itself gives light!” These are well turned phrases, but phrases in which the arrogance of the speaker is evident. Regarding himself the while as a bearer of light, he glories in the fact that the world’s bearers of light have nothing mere to say to him, and by way of self-glorification (perhaps it would be honest to say by way of an unconscious attempt at self-vindication) he creates the fable of the jealous suns.

How very different is Christ Jesus. He who Himself is the Light, calls for light. He avidly accepts the luxury of light which the mount of transfiguration offers Him, and even after that He cries aloud for a ray of light, for a kiss from heaven.

Redeem me and give me a trace,

Of the light of Thy comforting face.

Hence for Him it was suffering and not the cause of a false glorification when light was taken from Him for the space of three hours on Golgotha. Now all the generations may rejoice because of that darkness and say: “In Thy light we see the light.” Hence we must follow Him into the darkness.

The context of the story is well known to us. When Christ, while hanging on the cross, has suffered the first affliction, the acute act of the crucifixion, He enters upon the second phase of His suffering. From the catastrophe of the crucifixion He enters into the passion of being crucified. Gradually but certainly His blood ebbs. Gradually His wounds become swollen; these pained Him grievously; His blood congeals because it cannot course freely; fever consumes His body. The work has been done; the social act, save for the extreme sacrifice, has been finished. The intercession for the soldiers, the opening of Paradise to the murderer, and the assignment of the mother to John — these have taken place.

When this work had been completed, God said: The preparation is finished; now follows the essence of the sacrifice itself; now He must enter upon the darkness of night. After the six preparatory seals the pre-emptory seventh seal of the book of death and the curse is broken. A hand intervened in the clouds; it hung a veil before the sun and receded again.

Then it was dark. It was dark and that was all. Silence everywhere. A drop of blood fell to the ground. The centurion plainly heard it falling. It was quiet and that was all. That and the passion. And silence everywhere. Silence above, and silence below. The mockers dared go no farther. The tumult subsided. The chest of the murderer was heaving audibly; they in the back rows of the spectators — no, of the bystanders — could hear it.

What shall we say of it, you ask? Not too much learning, perhaps, and nothing, surely, that can serve to “explain.” Attempts at an “explanation” of this darkness have been undertaken, but they mock themselves. There are people, after all, whose pet ambition it is to “explain” by natural means what God does by miraculous means, — as if God and nature were antitheses, as if nature were not as miraculous as a miracle. But let that be. People of this temper have said: Very likely it was an eclipse, a very ordinary eclipse. No, all alarmed believers hasten to reply, glad that for once they can boldly take issue, that is impossible. Easter, they say, coincided with the full moon, and when there is a full moon an eclipse is impossible, the moon is then directly opposite to the sun, a circumstance which cannot make an eclipse. True, others admit, but are quick to add: Then the darkness must have been caused by an aggregate of particularly dense clouds, or by a sudden rising of mists from the earth. These point to the fact that each year in Jerusalem, especially in the month of April, dark days frequently occur, usually called “black siroccos,” during which the atmosphere is hot and full of dust. In fact, Origen committed himself completely to this supposition.”[1] However, although we do not regard this possibility as being excluded “in itself,” we believe that the word “darkness” has been too strongly accentuated to warrant such a natural explanation.

[1] P. G. Groenen, op. cit., p. 512.

In any case this at least is of the greatest importance to us: that we must see an intentional and direct influence of God in this intervention of darkness.[2] Or, if we want to put it that way, we can say: This was a wonder. God spoke objectively.

[2] We may call attention in passing to the fact that various testimonies which men have tried to glean from sources other than the Bible by way of confirming this historical datum of the Bible, can contribute nothing to explaining this darkness. Men have appealed to the letters of Polycarpus and Apollophanes. References have also been made to Phlegon, to Thallus, and to others. We shall pass over all these things without consideration, inasmuch as they do not affect the gospel account, and inasmuch as these testimonies are quite superfluous to the believer.

Naturally, God is first of all speaking about and speaking to His Son, the Surety of our soul. For this is “the hour and the power” of darkness. He said so Himself, and consequently He must experience it as such. Hence God comes to express this truth which in its essence touches on the invisible world, in visible forms also. In Bethlehem night was once converted into day; on Golgotha day is metamorphosed into night. In Bethlehem there are many angels whose light dispels the darkness. On Golgotha there are many devils who — as it seems — gain a triumph in the conquest of darkness over light.

How could we possibly see the proper relationship of these things except in terms of Christ’s descent into hell? The darkness in which Christ now hung suspended accrued to Him, impinged upon Him, in that second of time in which His sorrow became so aggravated that it finally had to give expression to the statement: My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? He was suffering the pains of hell. What God wanted to say to the Son was this: Have you desired to suffer the passion of hell? Then you must do so fully aware that you are doing so.

Therefore we can say that the Father, as Judge, now continues what the Son, as Accused, has begun. When Jesus first came to the hill of death, He refused the drink of wine mingled with myrrh. He did not want to be dulled by the sedative. He chose to look the Father full in the face, even while the Father thrust Him aside.[1] Now God keeps Him to the course He Himself chose at that time. He who would be alone with God and would feel the eye of God burning down upon His own, must be in the dark. Where else can one see God, save in the dark, at least in that which the people of today call the dark? Was not the night always reserved for the prophets and the poets who were taken away from God and forsaken of Him? Now Christ comes as Prophet and Surety. He enters upon the extreme penalty. Consequently, the night is meet for Him.

[1] Chapter 5, page 96.

It could not and it might not be otherwise. True, it is possible for God to give someone the privilege or the imperative of looking into heaven or hell on a brilliant day, but when this happens, it happens only in an instant of ecstatic transport. Such a transport immediately dims the eyes. When God takes Paul, and gives him a vision of the third heaven, Paul is experiencing a trance-experience. When John is given the imperative on Patmos of looking into the second heaven, he does so on a brilliant day, but while he is “in the spirit. ” When Abraham is called upon to see God on the day when God wants to disclose the history of the future to him, Abraham also is in the spirit.[2]

[2] Genesis 15 : The light in the smoke.

Consequently, God could have showed the terrors, the realities, of the other world to Christ Jesus upon a brilliant day, if only Christ had been “in the spirit,” if only He had been in a state of ecstatic trance. For then, too, Christ would have been attentive solely to the things of heaven or of hell.

But that is not the manner in which things must take place for Him. Trance experience, and the condition of being “in the spirit,” makes a person passive; it excludes his own activity. Christ may not be passive merely; and He may not be that merely in relation to the things below. No, He must remain active to the very end; He must be busy personally, must keep Himself in suspense, must continue seeking for His God, and must descend to Satan by His own act. He must not, like John, Paul, and Abraham, be made attentive solely in a passive way, but must by an act of His own cause His eyes to penetrate every obscurity, seeking out God and the devil. His ears have been “opened.”[1] He can listen very attentively, He can be very alert, and must faithfully accept the calling of being that now. By an exertion of His own effort and not by a mechanical compulsion He must receive the sounds coming to Him from the other world. An ecstatic Christ cannot redeem us. If the Saviour had been “in the spirit,” His activity would have been lost in compulsion. Then the unity of His work would have been broken. Then He would have been a servant who because of His limitation could see only that which had been placed before His eyes. That is the condition of those whom God puts “in a trance.” They do nothing themselves; they draw nothing to them, neither God nor devil. If Christ had been like them He would not have descended into hell by virtue of His own energy, but would merely have been forced past it. Or, to put it more strongly, then hell in its various aspects would merely have passed by Him. Such would not have been an act of redemption. Such is not to see God or to see the devil. That causes nothing more than a mechanical convulsion, one which can take the body and soul captive, but which cannot by means of body and soul permit Him to take captive the devil and his straight-jacket, and God and His sublime book of law.

[1] Psa_40:6 : Mine ears hast Thou opened.

Hence the reason for which God now puts His Son in darkness is to keep Christ faithful to His own work in the office of His Mediatorship, and to try Him as such. The second Adam may in no sense enter into a coma. The covenant of works has just been placed upon the table. The dialogue is beginning. God and He are to stand overagainst each other. Now the curtains must be drawn; God can be spoken to only in the dark. Light serves to unite people living on a single horizontal plane, but it cannot unite men with the other world. Light is a medium of intercourse, it is “social.” But God is not our socius; He is the Other. He can be found in the dark — the others must step aside then. And what, pray, can Christ do in the cleft of the rock in which He is to meet God and the devil, what can He do there with a medium of intercourse employed among men? Thus far He has done His work among men. He has dealt with and dispatched the last point on the “social” program of the day.[1] Light does not make sense to Him any longer. There is nothing to do now, except to achieve the great sacrifice. As far as He is concerned, He has been shut out of the range of communion. The Mediator who comes to achieve His most unique function no longer needs an intermediary. The light is a means of communication; what can one do with it after the great excommunication?

[1] See chapter 15: pp. 366-67 (the first three utterances from the cross); see chapter 7: p. 130.

The last question forms the transition to a second consideration. The darkness gives expression to the burning of the curse which is accruing to Christ. He has been robbed of the light; affliction suffered in the dark is more. Affliction in a night which has been “made,” which has been intentionally made for Him at mid-day — that is everything. Things cannot go any farther on earth. The darkness creates possibilities for the severest suffering possible, and accordingly is an expression of the extreme curse.

We know that light was the first gift of God’s preparatory[2] creation. This very first gift — which was still the privilege of everyone after the fall — is now withheld from Him. “God causes His sun to shine upon evil and good.” But He does not cause it to shine upon Him who as the Surety and Mediator is “less than evil.” Even this world has no garment which would fit Him, for the best it can do is to oppose common grace to the common judgment, and hence it cannot isolate the Surety in the absolute judgment. Accordingly, God brings a portentous sign to bear upon Him: He takes the light away from Him in order to indicate by this act of stripping the Surety that the Surety is sinking beneath the level of the first of God’s gifts and media. The person whom God has robbed is cut off from access to the primitive gifts. Today He is that man. He is made the equivalent of a Thief. The curse is coming, and it is coming with catastrophes.[3] Three days of darkness in Egypt, and the first-born die, the first fruits of Egypt’s might. Three hours of darkness, and the first-begotten dies, the first-born of the power of God.

[2] There are two kinds of “creative” activity: the making, the constructing of the world (Gen_1:1), and the preparing or furnishing of the created earth-world (the work of the six days of creation).

[3] See chapter 6: p. 114 f.

But the advent of this strange darkness affected not only the nature but also the degree, the intensity, of Christ’s suffering. We must know that the intensity of His passion is a separate problem. For — as we pointed out previously — the Mediator confronts the humanly impossible task of suffering an infinite burden of penalty in a finite period of time. Time, and an hour of time, must necessarily have an end. Else that moment will never come, that point of time, in which the historical process of God’s work of grace can be transformed from suffering into triumph, from cross to crown. And then the “payment” of the Surety cannot mean a cancellation of the debt. Nevertheless, the burden of the suffering must necessarily remain infinite; for the burdens which God’s unrestricted, and “unrestrained” wrath brings to bear upon those who are outside of Him is infinite. The Mediator is being required to suffer, not for something else, but for the same guilt which sin has deserved, a suffering beyond human computation.

Now the suffering of Christ receives its infinite value first of all from His Person. His human nature is related to the Person of the uncreated Son of God. However, this suffering must be characterized by an intensity which exacts the utter extremities of His capacity for awful tension. Just as the successive periods of time (three hours) must be subordinate on this occasion to the intensive suffering, everything depends upon the fact that this intensity wholly consume the Man of sorrows.

And is it not true that in this world the hour of darkness is peculiarly the time of intense experience? The daytime and the daylight speak to us in successive, in quantitative language; these count out their hours and their minutes, and permit us unintermittently to measure time and space. But darkness and the night, and especially the strange darkness, the artificially created night, suppress the succession of moments from the active consciousness (to the extent that they can) and permit the influences being brought to bear on us to have their full effect of intensity (to the extent that they can). Counting is the work of the day; weighing is the work of the night. The night puts the concept of depth in the place of the concept of length.

Now, precisely because in Christ’s burden of suffering length must give way to depth, and intensity is more than a passing of time, night and darkness take on significance. The burdens of His spirit are infinitely heavy upon Him. Therefore God thrusts Him into the dark. He must experience what is meant by the term “outer darkness.” This was one of His own teachings: outer, extreme, darkness, a darkness unknown on earth. He had always genuinely and purely exposed the content of this doctrine. Today He must experience it, and the experience of darkness demands a medium of darkness.

Indeed exegesis must go hand in hand with experience for Him. Once John the Baptist testified of Him: He may teach us about heaven; for when He tells us of the house of light, He is talking about something which He has seen and heard; for He was in the house (John 3). In other words, the exegesis which as a man He gives of heaven, is one and the same thing to Him as the experience which is His as the Word, as the Logos. Today this word is being changed into its opposite. Does He, as the Logos, wish to learn of hell? Would He present the exegesis of this sombre concept through His Word? Good, but then His “teaching” of the hell, house of darkness as it is, must become a teaching of that which He has seen and heard. He must have been in the house of hell. The exposition of hell, which He gives as the Logos of the Scriptures by means of the apostles and prophets, must be made His experience which He must undergo now as a man. He must experience the darkness.

Say nothing, pray; He is experiencing it already. He is experiencing what chaos is. He is caught in the caesura of that inclusive “day of the Lord” which circumscribes and comprises the history of the world. God brings darkness on at twelve o’clock. By this means God proclaims that the normal condition of a lost world would be just such abandonment, such desolate suspension in unfathomable darkness.

Thus Christ experiences the absence of any comfort. Once one of the prophets had said: At the time of evening it shall be light. A comforting word, indeed, but now He confronts the exact opposite: at the time of light, at twelve o’clock noon, it shall be night. In the “day of the Lord,” it is noon, it is twelve o’clock, the time for a chaotic interference with the cosmic scheme. Just as the spikes and the hammers of the soldiers were by Him placed between the beautiful beginning and the chaotic ending of the world, and just as He, when He prayed for the soldiers, consciously took up His position between the first day of the world-harmony and the last day of its chaotic disruption, so He is here. The Son hangs suspended in darkness at midday. At midday, you understand, not of one specific “date,” but of the history of the one day of the world. Thus His attention goes back to the beginning and to the departure of the history of the world. It goes back to the beginning first of all. In the beginning of the great “day” God opened the doors of the world by creating light. And these doors He left open, even after the fall of devils and men. But that which was in the beginning and remained afterwards, is denied to the Son. He feels and He knows that history is being made here, that God is doing something new (chedasjah), and that He is permitting the Son to be swallowed up of it. For this darkness is also pointing ahead to the evening of the world. Listen to the voice of Joel (Joe_2:10): The sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining; it is the day of the Lord; therefore the Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake (Joe_3:15-16). Again listen to the voice of Isaiah (Isa_13:9). Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, for the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And again (Isa_50:3): I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering. And in all this the Lord hath kept from me the tongue of the learned, and I must lament: why, why? I know that I am not in the place of God; I am the brother of the blind and of the cruel. Day of the Lord, day of days: It shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day (Amo_8:9). Christ in the catastrophic curse! He stumbles — there is a fall; the abyss of outer darkness confronts Him. He has stepped over the border-line; He has no valid passport.

The “day of the Lord” has been in Christ’s soul. He did not count the years in their succession, nor, looking back upon them, reckon them, but these years weighed down upon Him, and He experienced the tension of history in all of its gravity. Just as a dying person, according to the opinions of some, sees the panorama of his life’s history flitting past in a second, and just as a seer intensely experiences what the daily people merely pass through extensively, thus Christ experienced the whole of the history of the world and of the history of redemption, and each moment was equally present in His attention. With this addition: for Christ it was not a dream, and it was not an apocalypse. He awoke in the dark, and He worked, and He felt Himself being thrust outside of all God’s gates. The gate of Jerusalem had suddenly grown as wide as the whole world.

For — to elaborate the last point — the darkness affects not only the nature or intensity, but also the legal significance of Christ’s suffering. That moment in which Christ was driven outside the gate, a moment we have discussed so often, now takes on a universal significance. The sentence becomes reinforced and at the same time is declared effective for the whole universe at this time. Without the gate of Jerusalem — that now became the equivalent of: outside of all gates, not only of the gate of Jahweh, the gate of the covenant and of redemption, but also of the gate of God, the gate of creation, the gate of light.

Yes, indeed, this darkness has something to say about Christ’s relationship to the law, His struggle with the law, and the fulfillment of the law. God barred the way along which the Son was passing. Every alley and every bypath was closed to Him. Personally and absolutely, God closed all His gates to Him. God now calls in a loud voice over Jerusalem, over Judea, over Palestine, over this world, and presently over all the stars and all the world: Is there a gate anywhere; then let it cast Him out. Now the scapegoat which was sent away really suffers. This is the great day of atonement; the day in which the scapegoat must be sent into the wilderness. And can we say that there is any real wilderness in this world that we know? Wilderness, faithfully translated, means hell. Accordingly, Christ must be cast outside of the gates for He deserves to descend into hell.

We must return for a moment to the beginning of this volume. There we spoke of the legal significance of Christ’s being cast without the gate as an exlex. There we emphasized the fact that in Israel, among the people of revelation, the casting out of a condemned person, and the rejection of such a person from the domain of legal activity, of legal words and deeds, to the extent that men could see that domain, contained a confession within itself. It was an acknowledgment that human words and modes of punishment were insufficient to give adequate expression and application to the essence of the punishment and of the sin committed. Neither the words nor the legal execution of guilt completely reached the fullness of God’s justice and wrath. Even the revealed law, even the materials of punishment that had been drawn up after the example displayed on the mountain of the lawgiver, were not adequate to execute the full measure of the law. For human beings there is an inexhaustible remnant of divine wrath; this appeared to us to be the great assumption underlying and also the clear confession contained in the institution of the exlex who is hanged before Jehovah without the gate (page 20).

This wrath which could not be expressed in human language now accrues to Christ. The darkness has something to say to Him. It gives Him its extreme message. It is the form in which the Lord gives expression to the wrath of hell. It is also the ministration of that wrath; it belongs to such materials of punishment as human beings have no access to. Darkness is that, certainly is that, even though it is not that alone. The inexhaustible remnant of wrath now descends upon the Christ. Human beings can make a cross; but this is mere child’s play when compared with the materials of punishment which God now applies. He lays His hand on the suns. His taking away the light is an extension of the worst that human ingenuity can devise for an accursed person. The language which God speaks by means of this darkness is so absolutely devastating, disarming, stripping, erosive, and consuming that the legal sentences of Pilate and the Sanhedrin, and the mockery of Golgotha, are as nothing as compared with the language of God which places the exlex in the dark. Yes, we know that Christ had by the act of His own thinking, and by His personal “fear of the Lord” transposed all these human methods into a hellish and eternal intensity. But now God makes His approach from the other side. The Son had transposed the penalties of man, but now He is confronted by the impositions of the Judge, by the inexhaustible remnant of wrath, by the unutterable puissance of wrath, by the super-earthly, by the extra-mundane, by the infernal in the language and deeds of the irate Judge. This, and this coming from Him, now accrues to Christ. The darkness coincides with the descent of the Son into hell. It is a form which God’s unmitigated wrath chooses of all things created to make Himself known and to satisfy Himself. God molests the Christ by means of the possibilities for molesting which His human nature and the whole of created things offer Him as the Judge. For the rest, who shall say what the body of Christ suffered? Who shall say what was going on in His soul, in His spirit? Who can say to what points His thoughts were stretched? In this way Christ was thrown outside of every gate, outside of every sphere of life, outside of every world. We hear Him say that this is to be forsaken. And from that we infer that this act of the darkening of the sun has a negative as well as a positive influence of devastation. It presents the Christ as one who is brought to justice in an extra-mundane, that is, in an infernal way. Extra-mundane: that means that no single “world” may receive Him. A “world” is a thing which belongs together and which remains together. It is an organism. But He, the Great Sinner, can find no place in any organism. Adam is passing through all the worlds, and heavy darkness surrounds them all. Consequently Adam sinks down; the exlex becomes an exile; He has no ground under his feet any more. He passes out of time, yes— even though His heart is still beating in time. He has been thrown outside of space, even though the cross is still standing, its beam still planted in the ground. And now that He knows that He has been cast out of all organisms, now He descends into hell. That is the simplest because it is the only result. It is the opposite side — we might say it is the translation of “not being acceptable to organic constituencies.” That is by no means saying just how it is, but is at best suggesting how it is not. There is no light, and there is no sun; there is the absence of God’s first and greatest gift: namely, the light. But to the struggling spirit of Him who immediately gives all things a covenant name, a religious name, this negative element immediately indicates a positive act. It is not as a king but as a recruit, not as the head, but as a man, not as rabbi, or prophet, but as apprentice and proselyte to the angels that He is being degraded before the universe; and so essentially degraded that the first gift given to all, the gift of light, is taken away from Him. This is extra-mundane suffering.

And this is converted into the positive, into the infernal, into the hellish. No, beyond this point we cannot go, because we can not write of hell unless we have been there.[1] We shall not strain to find words, God forbid. We cannot get beyond the word He used in His own teaching: outer darkness. Now the Saviour has been completely disarmed.

[1] The next chapter will discuss this theme further.

We human beings think it is something to see the eye being “broken” in a dying person. Well, presently Jesus’ eyes also break. But before that takes places, His eyes are made useless. Is He blinded? No, it is much worse than that. Seeing, He sees not, and hearing, He understands not. He had frequently spoken of that Himself. There is concord between the eye and the light, and life sustains the harmony. But here this concord is broken, not because life fled, but simply because God said: He has been made sin. Thus God spoke to all angels: Cut off every thread connecting Him with other things; leave no avenue open to Him. The conduits, the aqueducts[2] of nature lead everywhere but to Him. No longer need He pray to God that the avenues of grace be opened to Him.

[2] Ezekiel 31 : The waters under the earth, that nurture the trees; see chapter 3, page 57. The darkness as an answer to “Christ’s extreme service of the Word.”

No, no, He need not pray for that any longer. For it is precisely when He lets Himself be made sin, and curse, and pollution, when He lets Himself be truly made that (2Co_5:21), all “conduits” have been cut off from Him. The world always depends upon these conduits. But now there is no access for Him to any good, not even to common grace. Now He has been excluded from everything, even from the benefit of dying from exhaustion. Not long ago a book appeared in which someone who had been tortured — in Russia — in a dark prison, told how it had been possible for him not to cry aloud under the impact of the most terrible tortures, and not to lose consciousness. He decided — at the suggestion of another — to keep a point of light steadily before his eye, a lamp, a shining thing, something of copper or of brass, or the like; so long as he could keep that point of light within the focus of his eye, he could remain himself, not lose himself, nor be crazed by the pain. No one who reads the book can say how much of truth there is in it. But even this last resort was not availableto Jesus Christ. His was not the privilege of light, nor the privilege of sight; O God, how can He preserve Thee and Himself?

Nevertheless a very clear light has been kindled in this darkness for us. For Christ performs His service as Surety; and God admits Him to the weightiest of all service. Those are two separate considerations; we must study each in turn.

The Christ is performing His service as the Surety. We know that the extra-mundane suffering, which released itself infernally upon Him, is the suffering which we have deserved. Today Adam is taking his own place.

Why do we preach, and why do we think, ten times, no, a hundred times, about the transfiguration on the mount to once about the darkening on Golgotha? Is it not self-evident that we should put these two contrasting moments into relationship with each other? You remember that the great theological problem which was raised on the mount of transfiguration[4] was this: Where is the possibility, where the reality, where the legal basis for an unhampered progress of the “kebood Jahwe,” that is, of the glory of the Lord? The greatest representatives of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, had experienced the glory of the Lord in themselves, but could not give it to others, could not pave a way for it in Israel. They could not provide the route by means of which the “kebood Jahwe” might pass on to the people of revelation, to the people of the covenant. Therefore they came to Christ on the top of a high mountain, and asked whether He could do that. They asked Him whether He could let God’s people partake of the illuminating “glory of the Lord.”[5] The light of heaven which could find no passageway under Moses and Elijah, could find no route along which to pass to Israel, that right Christ had to provide for all the world, and that effectively and justly.

Thereupon Christ swore with a precious oath upon the mountain that He would do this, and that He would lay the legal basis for this. Now this oath is being exacted from Him. He must confront it now. Therefore He sinks to a plane lower than that of Moses and of Elijah, and is deprived of the light. This is an antitype of what happened to Him on the mountain of transfiguration. Then the night was made day,[6] but here the day is made night. He hears a voice saying to Him: “See to it that Thou doest it all in terms of the promise Thou gavest on the mountain; see that Thou doest this even though God is changing the pattern shown Thee on the mount. See to it that Thou purchasest the privilege of light by entering into outer darkness Thyself. Make sure that Thou canst cause the “kebood Jahwe” to go out from Thee, by first of all radically choosing it Thyself.” Then the mist fell; it could not be penetrated. He is not asked what the people asked Moses. No one asks Him to cover the glory of His face, for the eyes of none ever suffered pain because of Him. True, a veil is thrown over His countenance, not because He is too beautiful but because He is too terrible. He is too much for the eye not because of super-abundant light, but because of ghastly death. His dulness became unhuman, became sub-human. But when the bearer of the light had been denied by the light, He gave us both light and life. The glory of the Lord receded, the light returned to its source, the foundations were removed, He was bound to the pale horse, and the first preparatory act of creative providence was withheld from Him. Thus our Surety earned the right to a beam of light. To a beam of light, and to the line of a psalm: God’s friendly countenance beams, in joy and light.

[4] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 2, and especially chapter 6.

[5] Ibid, chapter 6, p. 91 f.

[6] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 1, p. 26.

Joy! And light! For, in the second place, we must make the point that the Surety was admitted to the severest of possible examinations. Up to this time He had been acknowledged as Surety. The sound of rejoicing echoed through the air. Certainly, admission of any person to the heaviest possible service, is official proof that up to this time He has passed his course with good success. Thus we can say that the darkness takes the form of a kind of honorary diploma for the thirty-three years of Christ’s ministration and activity on earth. For it was not Christ who caused the darkness; it was God. From Jesus’ point of view, and in the way Jesus sensed it, this darkness came upon Him mechanically.[7] By means of this wonder the Judge acknowledged that the curtain can be raised for the last act. He Himself summons Christ to carry out the severest and the last examination. This is God’s approval of the thirty-three years. Christ gets His credentials. The Son of man has carried out His work satisfactorily. This means that three of the seven utterances from the cross have also been accepted as good utterances. And inasmuch as these three statements spoke to us of His relationship to men, God is by this act testifying that Christ has dealt justly with all men. Now the final question must be asked, the final examination given. He must prove His merits to God, and the Judge will say, thereupon: It is enough. Now that God is personally ushering Him into the torture chamber of the universe, God is saying to Him: Up to this point the service was perfect. Rejoice all ye heavens, and be glad, for, although a curtain was placed before the sun, the light of the Passover is already breaking through. The time remaining is but a short time, for we are now to witness His last act. With one hand God strikes the heart of this man, but with the other He puts the hands of the world’s clock to one minute before twelve, the turning point of “the day of the Lord.”

[7] See chapter 13, pp. 305-9.

In this matter the simplest Christian is wiser than the Greek philosopher Diogenes. Of him they tell the tale that when a usurper of the world asked him what he wished, he answered: “Only that Your Majesty be pleased not to stand in my light.” Diogenes thought light was his best gift. Well, this choice of one of God’s gifts was inadequately motivated and not entirely sincere. But that does not concern us now. Let us transcend his wisdom and learn after Golgotha to look upon a ray of light as a gift of grace. The sun shines each day for Christ’s sake. Christ’s first utterance from the cross was a petition not to stop the sun’s course. Christ proved to be the great Joshua, who caused the sun and the moon to stand still for the sake of the battles of the Lord.[8] In fact, Christ took the position above that of Joshua. But now He is a lesser than Joshua. As far as the sun is concerned, Christ has been robbed of the privileges which every armour bearer and officer’s valet may call his own. Now that He has borne this, the sun of His grace sings a song. Psalms 19 is an intensification of His hymn of joy, sung after the “twelfth hour” of the great Good Friday; and Romans 1 is its threat.

[8] Chapter 7, page 147.

We know, of course, that this sun cannot say a word without Him who explains it. The sun can make its language intelligible to us only if we have read the Word. God does not want to have His Christians instructed by speechless suns, but by the living proclamation of His Word. No, the sun is not disclosing its own pauper. The children of the Samaritans and of the Batavians kept on playing on Good Friday. We know that the darkness did not cover the whole earth,[1] but only the (Jewish) “country” only this particular “region”; it is hard to translate the original otherwise. In other words, no intentional mission was entrusted to the sun. That mission was reserved for the Spirit of Pentecost, by that Spirit Himself.

[1] See Grosheide, Kommentaar op Mattheus, p. 353, 354. There are some who are eager to cling to the interpretation that “earth” is the proper translation, in order to think of it as a striking symbol of the fact “that the whole world” is suffering convulsion because of the “murder” of Christ. They regard the universal scope of this darkness as one of the travails of the last judgment. However, we cannot accept this thought. Up to this time, only the people of revelation had been addressed; for confirmation, consult the text. Moreover, the concealment is as apparent in the suffering on the cross as is the revelation, and the domain of the one constantly defines that of the other. Moreover, the interpretation is in conflict with the history of revelation, for it would see catastrophic events affect the whole world before the spirit of Pentecost has completely become effective, and it would accept a sign, when a sign is unaccompanied by the word. We could with equal justice contend that the light on the eve of Bethlehem has to illuminate the whole world. Or that the metamorphosis on the mount of transfiguration had to be a public spectacle. No, the issue here, is not a garment of mourning which God wishes to throw over the whole world, but the imposition of judgment on the Christ. The share that men have in this must be considered but must also remain secondary.

Nevertheless, God does have something to say to those people who are gathered here. He leaves the pagans at rest for the time being, but speaks only so much more eloquently to the people of revelation which has gathered in the holy city for the feast. It was enough that God spoke to Israel; for the veil over yonder had not yet been rent and Israel still enjoyed its privileges as the people of God’s covenant and revelation. God addresses the children of Abraham and gives them what was promised: “the sign of Jonah the prophet.” This He gives them in the last act. This He gives them as He sinks out of sight in the depths, in the darkness.

But even this sign will not be intelligible without the Word. The rule still applies: “In order that seeing they may not see.” And in this case, the statement may be reversed: “In order that seeing no more, they may nevertheless not doubt that they are seeing rightly.” The great question remained: If the darkness was a sign of wrath, who is being admonished by it? If God by placing His hand on the sun and the Son, wants to threaten, who is it He wishes to threaten? The Christ or His judges. Is this eclipse of the sun a confirmation of the sentence passed upon Joshua of Nazareth or does it call down judgment upon that sentence? That is a question no one will answer except by means of the Word. The Scriptures alone can answer it, “all the Scriptures.” Presently the Nazarene Himself will complain that He has been forsaken of God. Then all the judges can breathe freely again: Look, they can say, He certainly is taking it hard; He knows very well that the Father of lights is opposed to Him. It is not impossible that in the evening someone defended capital punishment on the score that execution sometimes succeeds in moving a person to repentance at the last moment.

But, if we read the Scriptures, we see in the darkness that God is addressing Chrises murderers. Say now, you beautiful priests, is Easter the great feast of Egypt’s fall? Once it was dark in Egypt, and Goshen was lavished with light. But today it is very dark around you; as for Goshen, well, where was Goshen?

Ask no more questions. They did not repent. They said to each other: Be quiet; let us see whether Elijah will come. They suppressed all their questions, and acted brave and confident.

But what of those who believe? Has the Lord something to say to them? Yes, indeed. Everything which the Suretyship preaches to them about the content of faith. But not that only. He wishes to tell them also of the method of faith, something about the way by which one can attain to faith. When Christ suffered the pain of hell no one saw Him. Not in Gethsemane, for He stood at a stone’s throw away. Not on Golgotha either. No man saw what terrors distorted His face, or how the affliction of hell entered into His body. God attracted His children of Pentecost to Him by the thousands, but He attracted not one of them by means of a “glance” at the wound. He allowed no one to look into hell.

Accordingly, we return to the mountain of light, to the mount of transfiguration. There also we saw light playing around the head of Jesus. On that occasion, the last word which God spoke to men, and to the candidate Pentecost-preacher, to Peter, was this word: Hear Him, hear Him. Hearing was the sine qua non. The thing that mattered was not seeing, the light, or not seeing the light because of the darkness, but the hearing of the preached word. Therefore feel free to step out of the darkness, feel free to open all the shutters, and to light your lamps at night. Light is a good thing if enjoyed with thanksgiving. Open your Bible, and explain this intermezzo on the day of the Lord in the light of all the Scriptures, and of the dogmatics of the heavily laden Paul. Then come and recite your psalm. Now, however, you can sing on earth: God’s friendly countenance gives light and joy to all. You can be sure that the voice of Christ in heaven is saying to the Father at this hour: One day in Thy house is more than a thousand without Thee. For He had been in hell. One cannot keep the count there. For the accursed exlex there the thousand days are as a fragment of one day, and three hours are as a thousand days. Hence He lived separated from God a thousand days. Nevertheless the house of the covenant is opened and the watchers at the gate are approaching. Meanwhile a certain Paul is learning at the feet of Gamaliel. He is learning to decline the noun light in all of its inflections, in order that he may presently write an epistle which will extend far beyond the country of Judea. The content of that letter will be distributed farther than the rays of the sun; it will contain a mystery about the inheritance of the saints in the light. When they read John, the narrator, those who listen to him will say:

My heart sinks within me

At this eight.

Who would think this of thee

O eternal light! (Justus de Harduyn)

But when Paul, the exegete, will have done speaking, these same auditors will add: The people who sat in darkness, and who therefore did not notice the darkness, have seen a great light: the light in the dark. Such was the order; thus everything was in order.[2]

[2] We shall not discuss the part taken by the darkness in the suffering on the cross as an organic whole at this point. Concerning that, see pp. 305-9.