Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 18. Chapter 18: Christ Adapting Himself To His Death

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 18. Chapter 18: Christ Adapting Himself To His Death



TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 18. Chapter 18: Christ Adapting Himself To His Death

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C H A P T E R E I G H T E E N

Christ Adapting Himself to His Death

And after this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar, and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and they put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. Joh_19:28-29.

The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

—Mat_27:49.

He gathered his feet into the bed” — that is a way of expressing the death of a patriarch in the Old Testament.

A man who was old and full of days sat upon the bed. He has run the course, he draws up his feet into the bed, greets the world, and meets his God.

Now it is rather difficult to compare a cross with a bed. But the great “patriarch” and Captain of our confession who lived and worked in the strength of Father Jacob-Israel[1] will also die in the strength of Father Jacob. He arranges His feet upon the cross, and dispatches His business well. He cannot, like Moses, mount a hill, in order to give Himself up there to God. He has already climbed all of His mountains. Nevertheless He does a deed which transcends the deed of Moses in its strength. He takes, He demands water of the people, water designed to clarify His thoughts in these last moments, in order that with a clear mind and with a clear voice He may commend His spirit to the Father and stride out of this world to the Father’s bosom. Observe closely. Jesus is drawing up His feet upon the bed. That this is but figurative language is something that you may feel free to forget this time.

[1] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 23, p. 400 f.

You wonder how He was able to surrender Himself so peacefully. The narrative tells us this, The Saviour on the cross was suffering from a parching thirst. That was quite natural, we all say. Yes, indeed; the last time Christ had taken a drink most likely was in the room of the Passover; and the gruesome crucifixion, the preliminary abuse, the scorching sun, the tortures of the cross, the spiritual struggle — all these tell us enough.

But there is another thing which strikes our attention. Not the fact that Jesus is thirsty, but the fact that He says so causes us to wonder a little. Those who stood by heard Him complain. And the question must have arisen: Does He regret that He refused a little while ago? For He refused to take the drink concocted of wine and myrrh. And did He have in mind now to recall His haughty and positive refusal? Look how avidly He drinks now. The reason cannot be the exceptional quality of what has been given Him, for it is not perceptibly better than the other. Myrrh was bitter, but this “vinegar,” this sour, acrid, bad wine of the soldiers is not much better; just some water and some vinegar . . . and yet how eagerly He drinks it. Just a moment ago He could still lift the cup to His mouth with a free hand and then — He did not want to, And can you see now with how great difficulty He bends His head forward in order to keep the sponge from slipping from the reed? Does He regret His former action?

By no means. We shall see that Christ by calling for a drink, so far from indicating regret, was maintaining Himself as previously manifested. But in order to see the harmony of His thoughts as He drinks and refuses to drink we must first of all determine the place which this utterance from the cross occupies m the whole context of things.

It seems that the “thirst” was uttered after the fourth statement from the cross. We know that mockery, while Jesus was being given the drink for which He asked, sneeringly said: Let us see whether Elias will come. The name Elias is a wicked punning on the text of the fourth utterance from the cross: Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani? This makes it plain that Jesus lamented His thirst after the period of the three-hour darkness, the period which was concluded by the fourth utterance.

The Saviour asked for a drink. Thus He returned to the world. You wonder whether this thirst had not caused Him to suffer before. Naturally, but the hellish suffering gone through just now had sunk to a plane so far below that of human suffering, that during the course of those three hours not a single word came from His lips. Then too He thirsted; then not for water, but for the living water, which, when men drink it, they live eternally. That thirst had been sub-human; it conducted Him into the next world. There a cup of water is nothing, is far beyond sight. And Christ’s asking sustenance for His body now is in a certain sense evidence to show that Christ has come up out of the deepest abysses. He is among us again in this peopled world. He feels His flesh again. He can pay attention to the material of the sacrifice again: praise be to God.

However His turning around in order to see the materials of the sacrifice was a work of Christ’s spirit. He becomes aware of His body by means of the spirit. Both of these are necessary for the sacrifice that is to come now. Be quiet, people; the last thing is about to happen.

The Gospel itself points out these things. Christ’s thirst-motivated cry, John says, can only be felt and appreciated if we make a spiritual problem of it. No, we do not mean that this thirsting should be “spiritualized.” By no means. The Saviour is suffering from physical thirst, and He is given the ordinary wine of soldiers; and He gladly accepts this. Why, then, should anyone wish to “spiritualize” this cry for a natural drink? It is not necessary; it is foolishness. For everyone, and also for Christ, in fact, for Him first of all — the spiritual is present in the natural, and God demands to be served also in the natural functions of life. The natural is immediately related to the spiritual. That becomes very apparent from what John says in connection with this story. The fact that Christ’s request for water is not a purely natural expression such as the bleating of a dying animal might be, but is a spiritual problem, is apparent from John’s indication that Christ in His short utterance knew, first: that everything which He had been asked to do was finished; and, second: that He had in mind to fulfill the Scriptures. Now both of these things are two strong achievements of His spirit. He knows something, and He wills something. His knowing extends itself over the whole of His past life, and His willing extends itself over the whole of His coming death; and He has the desire withal in His dying to remain faithful to the course of His life. We said that His knowing comprises His whole life, including the difficult work of this day. He has finished that which was given Him to do according to the Scriptures. As for His willing: He intends to relate the death which is almost upon Him now to His life, by means of remaining faithful to the Scriptures also in His dying. As He dies, He assimilates a Scriptural problem, He follows the direction pointed out in the Scriptures. It is a small indication, hidden, often forgotten, lodged between so many other words. But in that tiny indication Christ’s whole life is opened up for us. For, precisely in the manner in which He died He had ever lived.

Christ knew, therefore, that everything was finished. That is a most significant piece of information. In other words, the content of the sixth utterance from the cross (It is finished) proves to be present in Jesus’ spirit and soul when He utters the fifth. In speaking the fifth one, He is already eager to utter the sixth. Thus He lays all His stones one by one in the walls which He is building by His death. He arranges and rearranges His words: He builds a temple of the Word. The fifth utterance from the cross builds the sixth, the sixth lies concealed in the fifth, and the fifth is explained by the sixth. And not only that, but the fifth statement referred to the fourth and to what preceded that. We have stated already that the fourth utterance from the cross was the turning point of Christ’s dying. In making that statement He arrives at the bottomless abysses, and arrives there as Conqueror. That which must follow now is lighter than that which has gone by. First He suffered the pain of hell, and died the eternal, and the spiritual death. But that has gone by now. All that is left for Him to do now is to surrender the body, to give up the instrument, the tortured instrument in which and by means of which He had faithfully served God. In this instrument and by means of it He also as a spiritual man accomplished His hardest work: namely, the descent into the affliction of hell. The body too suffered in that descent; it did even if we cannot say anything about the manner in which it suffered. And now that the work assigned to Him has been completely finished in the body, it is the most natural thing in the world that He Himself should give up this body to the God who gave it.

But how can He do this? Not according to the law of the former Paradise, in which the body would have developed to a higher form of existence without an intervening death, but by the law of the fallen world in which the curse takes its course. Surely the curse takes its course also in breaking down the body, in segregating and cutting off the soul from the body. The dissolution of the instrument—the body—is also a part of the punishment.

Christ knows that this last part of the penalty has now almost come. He feels that He is to die now.[1] Now the thought contained in the special note that Christ knew that all was finished is evidence to us that He did indeed understand the significance of His own complexes as a Mediator.

[1] We will discuss this presently, chapter 18, p. 439.

In speaking about the darkness of Golgotha, we pointed out that this darkness represented an objective expression of God. It was a humiliating, and at the same time a comforting, intervention; it was an acknowledgment that up to this time Christ had faithfully finished everything.[2]

[2] See chapter 16, p. 385.

Frankly this last observation, even though it gives us a necessary and logical link by which we can relate the darkness to the whole of the passion, nevertheless would have been too bold a contention on our part if it had not rested on this remark of the evangelist John. But John assures us that Jesus as man knew that He had finished everything. His conscience says a good word to Him about Himself.

And when Christ in that darkness felt Himself called upon to begin the last arduous struggle, He entered into the battlefield and He sought out death and the devil in their own home. The result of that? Well, if the advent of the darkness for Christ spells that moment in which God according to justice sends Him into the worst of devastation, then the moment in which light breaks through again, and the darkness recedes, must be an objective testimony to Him that God regards the struggle as having been satisfactorily finished. If the coming of the darkness indicates an admission to the severest examination and trial, then the recession of the darkness indicates the presentation of the diploma of justice which tells Him that He has passed the examination. Jesus descended into hell when it was dark; God Himself draws Him up out of it when He again sends light down upon Golgotha. Again, you see, Easter is here in principle. Above the clouds they are already feeling for the ropes by which to sound the bells to the coming feast. Just as the resurrection of Christ from the dead on the first Sunday morning to follow will be a public, legal acknowledgment of Christ’s being declared acceptable — He and His work and His justification, acceptable to God — so this new advent of the light is evidence to Him that God acknowledges Him as the Worker and Second Adam justified in reference to His last arduous struggle, the passion of the pain of hell.

Accordingly, Christ knew that the suffering of the pain of hell was the severest suffering; He knew that this was the eternal death, the second death. He knew that He had emerged from this second death and He knew that He had not yet been subjected to what the Scriptures call the first death, the dissolution of the body, the silencing of the heart, the withdrawal of that life which one has by virtue of birth. Very definitely a worse time could not be forthcoming any more. The turning point had been reached; the about-face, the upward flight, this time to eternal life, simply could not be prevented any more. There was but one thing to do besides — to die. That which takes place first in the life of men, takes place last in the life of Christ. He had to suffer their “second death” consciously before their first death, if His life here on earth was not to end in vanity. But now that He has suffered the “second death,” now He can die in the body; His death in the body is already being regarded as a conquest of eternal life.[1] Listen to the utterances from the cross still to follow. They will be confessions of life, and of power, and of the deed. This is the first approach to a Passover hymn in the form of a fugue.

[1] By which of course we do not mean to deny that the dying belonged to the sacrifice. Read, for a consideration of the relationship between this and that, chapters 20 and 21.

Therefore everything which is still to happen is to be His praeparatio ad mortem: His preparation for death. The cry: “I thirst,” must be related to this, and derive its explanation from it; so much the reader of John knows beforehand. The Saviour again carries His spirit in His own hands. He is again compos mentis, that is, He is master of Himself again. He has loosened His soul from the clutches of hell. God be praised: the Christ can exert Himself again.

And as He does so the work of religion which He believes is most peculiarly His now is that He devote His full and fine attention to the body and that He care for it. For within a few moments now everything will converge upon that, and everything will end in that. The Christ had done with the spiritual death. Now the body was left. O God, the last act of the Priest must take place now. Therefore provide Him with means which can help Him to make this act perfect and complete before God. O Greatest Majesty, clothe Thy Priest in righteousness. He is performing the last deed. Fill His hands; give Him the material with which to sacrifice; put vinegar in His mouth, and praise, and whatever else is necessary for this last thing.

Do not be too hasty, too hasty. John makes a second comment. He knows so certainly that Jesus by His fifth utterance from the cross was fulfilling the Scriptures and He knows just as certainly that He definitely intended and willed to do this. Literally He says: Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. At least, that is the way our Authorized version puts it.

There are three interpretations. Some think that Christ by means of the words “I thirst” and by means of those alone wished to refer to the Old Testament. According to these interpreters He announced His thirst in order to cause a word of the Old Testament to be fulfilled. For the Old Testament reports that a pious person had also cried because of thirst.

This is an interpretation, however, which has its difficulties. It is not easy to suppose that this very short sentence, a single word in Greek as a matter of fact, was a quoted phrase. Moreover, who will point out the words in the Old Testament which Jesus actually quoted? You can find them everywhere and nowhere.

A second interpretation is that Christ did not wish merely to give expression to His thirst and to nothing more, but that He wanted to elicit from the people all that they did in answer to His cry, in order to fulfill the Scriptures in that way. In other words, the vinegar’s being handed to Him (in answer to Christ’s lament) comes into consideration here. These interpreters point to specific words in the Old Testament; for instance Psa_22:15 :

My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;

And thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

Or to those of Psa_69:21 :

They gave me also gall for my meat;

And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

This second interpretation has something appealing about it. It does indeed establish a relationship between Jesus’ statement and the historical report in all of its implications. To that we must add, besides, that Psalms 69 comes to the fore more than once in the Gospel of John (2:17, 15:25) and that Psalms 22 also required our attention in the account of the passion.

Nevertheless, we have objections to this interpretation also. This kind of “quoting” has too little of quoting in it; it is just a little too mechanical.[1] If this had been the intention we should have expected that John, after reporting that the vinegar had been extended to the Saviour would have written: Thus was fulfilled that which was written in the Scriptures of the Old Covenant. Nevertheless, it is very plain that Christ intended that which He does and says as a means by which He on His own part intentionally and expressly can fulfill the Scriptures. The events here certainly do not indicate a fulfillment of the Scriptures which is unrelated to Jesus’ intention. No, He derives the fulfillment of the Scriptures from the facts, from the events; He does this Himself and He does it independently. He compels the facts to reveal the content of the Scriptures in their fulfilled reality.[2] This is the more convincing because John indicates that Christ knew that up to this time everything had been accomplished. Up to this time: “now.” That makes us ask, naturally: And what is to follow? However, our greatest objection to this interpretation arises from the fact that in this way they regard the Christ as one who Himself elicits the presentation of the vinegar in order in that way to fulfill the Scriptures. Now in its setting in Psalms 69 the presentation of the vinegar is indisputably an act of enmity; it was given with an evil intent. It represented sin and blasphemy. And can we say, then, that Christ elicits something from men in order to accomplish something which at the same moment comes to Him in the form of a sin? Even though He greatly desires to see the Scriptures fulfilled, He cannot intend on His own part to induce men to do a deed which is sinful to His spirit. It is true that He sometimes constrains men to choose what they wish to do, to take a stand on certain great questions raised in prophecy, but that is something very different from eliciting an act which is named a sin in prophecy.

[] If Christ’s statement is to refer to the “literal” vinegar, then the gall is an “annoying” particular; this “gall” plays a “very subordinate role” in the cup of myrrh which Christ did not take (Mat_27:34; see pp. 91-2) but this “gall” is lacking here in Joh_19:28 (just as the allusion to Psalms 69 is lacking in Matthew 27). Moreover the favor of the “gall” and “vinegar” in Psalms 69 is not intended as a favor, but is there an act of enmity. On this occasion the presentation of the vinegar was not in itself an act of enmity; only the ensuing mockery became that.

[2] It is true that the Greek “hina” need not always have the strong connotation of “that” or “in order that.” But this word, too, must be taken in the context of the whole, a context which makes us think as indicated above (see the formulas for the references to the Old Testament; see also the discussion of the “expected” consequence, even when “hina” is used in a consecutive sense; Robertson Grosheide, Bekn. Gramm. op. het gr. N. T., Kampen, Kok, 1912, paragraph 298, 2).

Therefore we choose a third interpretation which rearranges the order of the words in the translation without doing injustice to the Greek text.[3] If we do this, two translations are possible. The first is this one: Jesus, knowing that all things were (now) accomplished, said, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: I thirst. And a second, equally admissible translation would be this one: Jesus, knowing that all things were (now) accomplished (that which He had to accomplish) in order to fulfill the Scriptures, said (realizing that): I thirst.

You see the difference between these two translations. In the first the expression “in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” is related to the utterance of the fifth statement from the cross. If this translation is correct the Saviour intended to fulfill the Scriptures by means of His utterance. In the second translation, however, the expression “in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” refers to the immediately preceding statement which said that Jesus had now accomplished all things. According to this Jesus would have had a clear and strong sense that He on His own part now had accomplished everything which had to be accomplished in order to fulfill the Scriptures.

[3] See Blass, Gramm, d. ntl. Gr., 1902, p. 297.

Now we believe that the solution of the difficulty lies in a merging of both translations. Christ knew that He on His own part had fulfilled the Scriptures by accomplishing what had been outlined in them as the task of the Messiah. He also knew that the great examination had been passed, that the severest trial as the servant of the Lord who is faithful to the Scriptures had been fulfilled.[4] But the work of Messianic suffering had not yet been entirely completed. The act of dying still had to follow. In other words, He orientates Himself perfectly. He knows exactly what point God and His people and He have reached. And in this clear self-determination, and by virtue of the “good conscience” which He has “before God,” Christ now acknowledges that there remains but one thing for Him to do: to present the sacrifice of His body. Here is His body which must be broken for many unto a forgiveness of sins. Here is His pulsing blood, which must be poured out for many unto the forgiveness of sins. Well, since this is so He must prepare Himself for that sacrifice. He must prepare Himself, He must “gather up his feet unto death,” and must accommodate His flesh and blood to the altar. Certainly He is not to enter into this death without knowing of it. Death does not come upon Him unawares. The suffering does not strike Him unconscious. On the contrary, He orientates Himself to His position with a perfect sensitiveness to the very end; this had been His way throughout the day. At all times He is perfectly aware of the lay of the land of each of His domains. He knows that until this time He has lived in conformity with the Scriptures, and now He says, again intending to fulfill the Scriptures: I thirst. Accordingly we would like to give this paraphrase of the text: Jesus, knowing that He had now accomplished everything He had to do in order to fulfill the Scriptures, said (because of that knowledge and with that specific intent): I thirst.

[1] “Already”; see chapter 17, p. 440.

In doing this, we have taken the letter of the second translation, but have preserved the sense of the first. This teaches us how sensitively the evangelist John indicates to us the manner of Christ’s dying. A vessel of vinegar, a handful of soldiers, a sponge, a reed, and the drama has been completed. But there is another thing, the incarnate Word. John presents — quite in accordance with his purpose — that incarnate Word as it manifests itself also in the dying of Jesus. That which seems to be a “cry of nature” as weak as the bark of a thirsting dog, or as the panting of a thirsty land, now becomes a revelation of God’s immeasurable strength. Why does Jesus want to drink? Why does He present a request to God and to the people, why does He appeal to them for a last little modicum of “humanity,” why does He ask whether they will give Him a little water or something else to drink? Because the Scripture makes demands upon Him even in His death, just as it has throughout His life. No, He is not looking for a mechanical, for an accidental, fulfillment of the Scriptures, one which is accomplished without the spirit, when He says: I thirst. Nor is He looking for a fulfillment of the Scripture in which “the detail” of the vinegar receives the whole emphasis. In this the Scripture is being understood as broadly as it is possible to take it. No wonder, people, no wonder: for we are standing on the plane between the second and the first death. Just listen. The Christ who has struggled with all the Scriptures throughout all His days, now seizes on this main idea which He takes out of “all the Scriptures,” the idea, namely, that the Messiah of the promise may not accept His death as His fate but must perform it as a deed. His death must be a gift, a priestly donation. In His last act as Priest, in His last gesture by way of preparing the Sacrifice, He must act with a free will. Certainly He has not been given back His free will for nothing. True, His thought, and in general His voluntary life, has been afflicted, has been driven into a limiting cleft by God Himself, but in His triumph, as He emerges from the depths of the terror of hell, He again keeps His rights before Him, the rights, namely, of the Priest, the Prophet, and the King.

And now, strong in His regained assurance, prepared for the complete service of God and of the people, He demands for that service what is necessary to Him in order to fulfill the last act at the altar in righteousness, He demands water or its quivalent. O God, but He is thirsty! As a hart panteth for the water brooks, so His soul pants for Thee, O God. He would drink something, for He would satisfy the thirst of all those who are to stand around the Father’s throne. He wants to drink something, for He is going to sprinkle the garden of God. He holds His sacrifice in His hand — for He is His own priest, and must therefore be alert when the time for the last act of sacrifice conies. Hence by a royal command He asks for a drink. Vinegar or water, no matter, just so it strengthens for a moment. It is Israel’s God who imparts strength; His are the gold and the silver and the cattle upon a thousand hills, and the vinegar in ten thousand vessels. Now He arises in a spiritual way and draws water from the rocks of the hardest of souls. He will not lose His mastery of Himself. He exerts His effort to command His last powers. Exhaustion is not to put Him to death. The last altar of sacrifice beyond the reach of the arms of nature. She is soullessly amiable, and unreasonably brutal. But today her dementia will spoil nothing. Look, He is drinking. He calls His forces back into play, clears His eye, resembles Jonathan tasting his honey — vinegar is good — in order to fight to the very last. As He does so He sings the psalms of David (“all the Scriptures”) and carries the power of divination within Himself. Moreover He is true to Himself. At first He did not drink, for He did not wish a sedative.[1] Now He does drink, because He does not wish to be dulled.

[1] Chapter 5, especially p, 96.

Ah, angels of God, He will help Himself. In Gethsemane it happened for the last time that an angel came to sustain Him; that also happened in order to prevent exhaustion, in order that He be sustained for the burdens God would put upon Him.[2] Now He must command His own resources and must reinforce Himself. Besides, the question now is not one of a spiritual capacity, but of a concentration of His attention, a physical preparation of the body for the last act. Hence He strengthens Himself by a final drink, in order thereupon to pronounce His two last utterances greatly and sublimely and then to give up the ghost in His own strength.

[2] Christ in His Suffering, chapter 20, pp. 357, 358.

Now it is not necessary to “look up the references” made to the Scriptures wherever these speak of thirst and vinegar, For the whole of the Scriptures bears down upon the soul of Jesus, and the whole history of Revelation is concealed behind a vessel of vinegar.

Now that we have put this emphasis in the foreground, now it strikes us that the arrangement of the events is a fulfillment of the letter. Inasmuch as Christ on His own part wishes to fulfill the Scriptures without looking for particular details about vinegar or gall, the special providence of God is by no means ashamed of details. Now the Spirit and the letter correspond. Scriptures become literally fulfilled in an unexpected way. Yes, Psalms 69 contained a lamentation about those who hated the poet, those who gave him vinegar to drink. But in the case of the poet that was a figurative way of expressing himself. “The vinegar” was the mockery, the defiance. But in Christ His figures of speech become concrete fact, become real history. Here we have a vessel filled with ordinary wine, a sour drink common among the soldiers, a mixture of water, vinegar and eggs. This they give to Jesus. One of the soldiers takes a sponge — perhaps it was used to wipe off the blood of the crucifixion, or perhaps it served to close the vessel of the soldiers — dips it in the liquid, and conveys it to Jesus’ mouth on a reed of hyssop. Thus Psalms 69 was alluded to, in order immediately afterwards to be spiritually fulfilled.

Yes, also to be spiritually fulfilled. For that which the poet had in mind by his use of the figure of vinegar was the mockery. And the mockery is also heaped upon Jesus. But of that later.

I know then that I cannot unctuously and spiritually overlook that vessel of vinegar if I want to know and say something about the Christ who, through the eternal Spirit, sacrificed Himself to God blamelessly. The child lay in swaddling clothes, and was the Word of God. The Man drinks vinegar, and swallows it, and He is the Word of God. The word was made flesh and dwelt near the knapsacks of soldiers. His spirit, the Spirit of God, are absolutely present, and are also active in this manner of drinking and dying. One word still deserves our attention: namely, the word “already.” Jesus knew — we read in the original — that all things had now (already) been accomplished which according to the Scriptures needed to be fulfilled. Quite justly we deduce from this that Jesus was conscious of His approaching end before He asked for the drink. And we may also deduce from it that He assumed this early conclusion to the day and to the manger-cross road as an arrangement of God which gave Him peace at heart. For it is true that the rest of death came to Him quickly. The angels said: Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly. Others had been hanged on a cross who had to suffer for hours, sometimes for days. People who should know assure us that some crucified victims died not because of this brutal punishment itself but because of starvation. Certain it is that death sometimes waited long before it came to a crucified person. In death by crucifixion after all no single indispensable part of the body was directly harmed. But Christ did not have to suffer long. Everything had been accomplished “already” . , . He Himself also seems to be surprised. Is it possible that after the resurrection He Himself whispered the little word “already” to John by way of telling Him how He had sensed the approach of death? We do not know; it does not concern us. All things were accomplished already. That suffices. After He had strode through the depths of the pain of hell, He was surprised at the shortness of the distance He had to traverse. For, from the viewpoint of time, His affliction was almost past; the length of it by no means harmonized with the exceeding great eternal weight of His perdition (1 Corinthians 4). O sublime majesty of the fifth utterance from the cross! He cuts straight through the Word of God in its relationships. In the temporal world it is easy to say “already.” But in eternity — ah, just be quiet: you still remember that those three hours did not suffice to give expression to a single word. Time and eternity, they are two entirely different things. We would not have dared to write such an “already.” But what of that — often what we do clashes with what is of God.

But we must not relate this “already” to any other word. Do we read that Jesus had already been released from the suffering and that He felt He had been released? No, the work had already been accomplished; the Father had already been satisfied. It is that which gives strength to the heart. His “already” does not betray a secret opposition to the passion. It is not intended as an Elijah-statement: May life now quickly ebb away; komm’, susser Tod. On the contrary, He who is here is the Offerer. Gladly He now goes on His last journey, rejoicing as a hero to walk the path of love, grateful that the Father can already dismiss Him in peace, according to His word. For this proves that the eyes of the Father have beheld His own salvation. Already He will enter Paradise ahead of the murderer; He will have His chance to prepare the mansion. Youth returns: because of this suppressed “already” He grew in grace and knowledge with God and with the angels.

We can say, therefore, that He was patient to the highest degree. He had been rejected beyond the pale of common grace. No garment, not a single ray of the sun, was His. But He had hardly returned from His abysses before He asked for His gifts of common grace, and He received a gift, a dash of vinegar. And He immediately converted this gift of common grace into a service of special grace. Yes, He is the sovereign Claimant. Do the angels persist in staying away? No matter, He has His servants, if not above the clouds, in the world of the angels, then under the clouds. Under the clouds, and among the people. He has His servants among the people, for the soldier is a Roman. A Roman hand helped to give the Son of God the last powers which were necessary to Him in presenting His sacrifice for the world. Psalms 22 ends on an international note.

But what of the vinegar of Psalms 69; what of the mockery! We must devote a thought to the mockery which made this “humane” manifestation of a friendly gift of drink a suffering for the Christ, They had heard Him crying: Eli, Eli. Naturally they knew what the word meant. The insipid pun which changes the word Eli into the name Elias could not have been inspired by the Roman soldiers who knew nothing about Elijah, but must have been the invention of the Scribes, certainly of the Jews. They, surely, were well acquainted with the significant position which Elias occupied in the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. They knew also that Elias was expected as a precursor of the Messiah. Accordingly, they knew what Christ’s cry meant: Eli, Eli, my God, my God. They know Hebrew, and they know Aramaic; they know Psalms 22, and they know very well that the Hebrew name for Elias is not Eli, but Elijah, a word which has a sound very different from “Eli,” or “Eloi.” Consequently, no one can suppose that they did not quite understand. Nor are we to suppose that they were moved by a certain fear which, according to some interpreters, mastered these people and prompted the question whether Elias would come with fire and sword to interfere with this violence against the wonderful Nazarene. No, this again was an instance of mockery. It was a mockery which had to serve perhaps to rationalize the secret dread inspired by the darkness. But in any case it served as mockery. It was an admonition to pay attention to Elias in case he should come.

Now this was an excruciatingly painful mockery, for it was designed to break Christ’s Messianic consciousness. This point had been raised (see page 245) also in the mocking speeches they delivered a few hours before. And the lance-thrust of their words consists of the fact that they make the self-vaunted messiah summon a man who must come before the true Messiah. Elias was not to be a messiah, but a harbinger walking on the Messianic path. These mockers simply want to suggest in passing that the brain of this Nazarene is a bit confused: today He is a messiah, tomorrow He will be looking for the Messiah’s precursor.

Yes, this was the gift of the vinegar. Even the soldier who was rather congenially disposed cannot avoid joining in with the others as they break into rocking laughter about the Nazarene and His unfortunate case.

Christ did not reply to the mockery. It could injure Him no longer. The mockery which was heaped upon Him before “the sixth hour” was something quite different from that which accrues to Him now after “the ninth hour.” For this mockery is coming to Him after the great crisis. The first mockery, which took place before the fourth utterance from the cross, was a part of the paradoxical conflict which issued in an all-consuming “why.” But now the Gospel records that Christ knew all things had already been accomplished. His super-apologetic right, His sacrosanct right, is now entirely certain to the incarnate Logos. He has regained all His certainties. Just let them mock. Unshocked, He passes on to His next statement and says: It is finished. Elias has come, and they have done to him what they wished. The Messiah has come, and they have also done to Him as they pleased. But God has fulfilled His counsel by means of their wicked counsel. It is finished.

He was a man thirty-three years old, but He died a death on a plane higher than that of a patriarch. He accommodated His feet to the dying, made His announcement, and went on. For a great anxiety was in His heart; no part of His deed of sacrifice might be sluggishly done, no part of it in a slovenly way. Mark, how He strains to be alert in order that He may do everything according to the example shown Him upon the mount. Both the tabernacle and the temple thought they were altogether too nice for Him, and altogether too dignified. But never was an offer so harmoniously and purely prepared as was this one. We celebrate His Supper, and it is a cause of special gladness to us to know that He gave His flesh and poured out His blood, and that He made careful preparations for this final gift. Careful preparations! And He was faithful to His people and to His God, according to the impervious style of piety and religion.

Do you go on now, and leave me here alone. I want to look at Him long and carefully. But no, I cannot. However, do you stand aside; I want to read my Bible here. I can do that.

I read the eleventh chapter of John. I shall restrict myself to John this time, for he alone told me that Jesus suffered awful thirst and that in His thirsting He announced it with a purpose. With a purpose! He is so punctiliously Scriptural, that my neighbor in the church would shake his head about Him if He had been any other. Yes, I hear the man saying — What? So close to death and still clinging to the letter of what was written. . . . Indeed, He had a purpose when He said that He was thirsty, and I am sure that my neighbor would get a following if Jesus Christ had been a member of our church in our village. Then we would all have found it a little incredible — such extreme “objectivity” to say “I am thirsty,” and to have a purpose, a purpose, mind you, — this is so terribly obvious. . . .

But away with those church members and away with me, and my neighbor. John knows what he is saying. Go away now; I must learn to read the Bible, I must learn to read it alone.

I read the passage again. I hear a cry: I am thirsty, O God and men, I am awfully thirsty, I parch with thirst. This statement was not artificial; it was the simple truth. He was moved. That is the first thing. I read: He was moved.

I read a second truth. He knew, while He was moved, that He had fulfilled all the Scriptures. And this assured knowledge was related to His crying, to His craving for drink. His spirit did not yield to silence because of the parched flesh, His piety did not become Leidenschaft. In all His words of emotion His spirit was one. I read a second thing: He was moved in the spirit.

Be quiet a moment longer, for I read a third thing. He has a purpose as He speaks. My Sister of Mercy becomes angry with me when I say that He is not natural. But did I say that? Does she know a word for it? I can find none. I know only that John says that God, the Holy Spirit, declares that Jesus Christ had a purpose in announcing His thirst. He still wanted to do something in conformity with the Scriptures, for, O the letter of those! Now that He desires a drink, He confesses that He desires it. He decides to speak. His voice vibrates and is an expression of sheer integrity. His voice is the voice of forthright honesty. He is moved, He is under the pressure of emotion, even though He is not exalted. His voice was deep, and it was hoarse. Nevertheless He is absolutely Himself. He moved Himself, He acted on His own initiative. How can I say all these things in a single word? I know no word, and even though I exhaust all the dictionaries and commentaries and psychologies I shall not be able to find an appropriate term for it. I can only circumscribe it as my third point and say: He exerted Himself. It was entirely forthright, and entirely purposeful. It was natural and spontaneous; intentional and conscious. It was not a fabricated thing, but it was absolutely prepared.

Dare I write this on a piece of paper now? Three points. Lord, forgive me, if the statement is very meager, and very sketchy. Three points: He was moved; He groaned in the spirit; He was troubled.

But now I recall what I read in the 11th chapter of this same gospel. When He went to the grave of Lazarus — He was on the battlefield of His powers, someone said — the same thing was written. He was moved; He groaned in the spirit; and was troubled.[1] It was John who wrote it (Joh_11:33). Matthew, Mark, and Luke have other things to tell us.

[1] See Dr. S. Greijdanus, “Eene bladzijde uit het zielelijden van onzen Heiland,” Geref. Theol. Tijdschrift, volume 14, number 3 (July, 1913, p. 112): “He was not passive but active in this perturbance. He was not troubled, He troubled Himself. This was not a manifestation of weakness in Him, but a manifestation of strength. . . p. 114: “This was not merely being affected or moved by something external, but it was a personal response to an external stimulus. Etaraxen (troubled) connotes shock, fright, confusion. . . .” p. 115: “Joh_11:33 does not . . . present a figure of speech; a reality in the Lord’s emotional life is there being described. . .” In this article also the perturbance of Christ as written in John 11 is regarded as enmity against Satan, and as an organization of what was immediately before Him and the whole history of redemption, that is, “and all the Scriptures.”

Thus He returned here to His former strength. He can cause strength to go out of Him. Be careful. Very soon He will cause a “loud” voice to issue from Him.

When Jesus went to the grave of Lazarus in order to battle with death, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled because of an influence which issued from Himself. In that way He conquered at that time.

Now I have peace again. Just come back now, and we will read on together. I have heard it said that when He uttered His Eli, Eli, He had to recall in the presence of everyone and in the presence of the crowd, that which He had spoken and spoken aloud at the grave of Lazarus (see page 418). That was enough for the “proud.” They had understood it perfectly. But who is He internally? Who is He in the spirit? You have the answer on the tip of your tongue: internally He is the same as He was. He is just as strong as when He went out to recall Lazarus from an ugly death.

Surely, if He is just as strong and powerful and self-sufficient as when He raised Lazarus from the dead and knew that God heard Him always, then He is now back in that strength. Listen: He can save Lazarus. In very fact He can save Himself. The only question is: Does He want to? No, for He sacrifices Himself, and this He does by that same will. Hence the fact that He rescued Lazarus from death was much; but the fact that He sends Himself into death is everything. He accommodates Himself to His dying. He knows that the Father hears Him always, for He has just moved through hell. And knowing that the Father hears Him always He asks for a drop to drink. ... Do you think I have understood it now? There was a rich Man. He was rich in mighty works; He could rescue the dead from their graves. This rich Man had been “in the pains of hell.” He opened His eyes in hell, being in torments, having descended into hell. He opened His eyes, felt thirsty, and asked a drink. And Abraham came, the vinegar of a stranger was as sweet as the water of the fountains that flow in Zion. Abraham could refuse nothing to this rich Man who had opened His eyes in torments. Strange — that broad, deep gulf had suddenly disappeared.

My humanitarian sister, piety is not sentimentality here. And, my high-strung brother, piety here is not Leidenschaft. Not unless you want to call Jesus Christ vanity. But He has given us an example. On Golgotha you can find raw materials out of which to construct a religious thirsting, and a dialectic for honest lamentation. [1]

[1] Concerning the position which this fifth utterance from the cross occupies, see chapter 21, pp. 493-96.