Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 21. Chapter 21: Christ Passing Out and On

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 21. Chapter 21: Christ Passing Out and On

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 21. Chapter 21: Christ Passing Out and On

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C H A P T E R T W E N T Y - O N E

Christ Passing Out and On

And having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

—Joh_19:30 b; Luk_23:46 b.

THEN The Saviour entered into His death. He had drawn up a careful covenant with death. When His hour should sometime come, it had said, then death should take Him. When death proved unable to do this, He took Himself, and made a careful covenant with Himself. The hour had come; it was high time. He had asked His God: What next? And the answer had been: Let the body be broken, for so it is meet for Thee to fulfill all righteousness. And then: Thereupon enter in as the perfectly faithful servant; enter into the joy of Thy Lord.

Two emphases, therefore. The first is that Christ’s dying was His duty; the second, that, in case He fulfilled that duty, His dying would be the entering into His glory.

Accordingly, it was a matter of necessity that He die. We do not wish to discuss that at great length now, inasmuch as we have formerly analyzed what place in our estimation the shedding of the blood of Christ and the disruption of the body takes in the whole of the history of revelation.[1] There are only a few things, therefore, we would still touch upon.

[1] See especially Christ on Trial, chapter 21, pp. 410-420.

The first thing that strikes us is that we do not know what it means to die. Death is a riddle, and it remains a riddle even at Golgotha. Just what Jesus’ death was is not definitely indicated; it is pictured to us only from one side. Twice His death is called a “giving up of the ghost.” With that we must be satisfied. He surrendered Himself according to the spirit. He surrendered Himself together with what His manifestation in history determined and together with the self-revelation which this historical manifestation implied. In other words, He surrendered Himself essentially. He gave Himself up completely. In the book of Ecclesiastes dying is called the returning of the spirit to God who gave it. This is also the thing of primary importance in the death of Christ. However, there is this difference now: His returning was His own deed. He did His returning in the spirit. His spirit moved Him to return. We cannot explain this, we cannot describe it, we can suggest nothing further about it. We must simply accept it in faith, just as His having been born by His own deed is an article of faith to us.

He caused His spirit to return. By this act His task as a servant was completed. His death was determined by His own act. He allowed death, the great robber, to come upon Him, and He hated all forms of robbery. But the Father had said that it was necessary, Surely, nothing is more an act of the servant, than to give the spirit into the Father’s hands without reservation, By this act, man returns to the origins of his life; he allows himself to be dissolved. As long as we have not surrendered the spirit to Him, we have not surrendered ourselves. Hence Christ completes His life as a servant by placing His spirit into the hands of the Father again. He risks it with His God; He lets Himself be led back to the elemental beginning of all things. He undergoes the great re vision; His determinants may be changed. God must begin and may begin assigning these to Him anew. He risks, because he who is convinced of his innocence, knows no “risk” (see chapter 19, pp. 452-453).

This surrender of the spirit, this placing oneself at the disposal of the Father once more, is a reference to His descent into hell. When He suffered the pain of hell, He was fundamentally disrupted, He was shattered within, and completely ruined without. He preserved His body, yes. But that was neither a favor, nor a victory. It was simply an obligation. That body had to keep Him as a living and working being within the bounds of time (see chapter 1: pp. 24, chapter 6: 112, chapter 17: 399-400, chapter 18: 431-433) Then He tasted of death in the flesh. Then He tasted death as complete man. And then He experienced that being in the body is by no means the same as being alive.

At that time, therefore, Christ had been dead. He had also endured this death in His body, for His whole human existence suffered the affliction of hell. The flesh, too, had been consumed in God’s anger, and forsaken. How? That we do not know. The things of hell are unknown to us. But now that He in His entire humanity has tasted of death as the “Second Adam” and has arisen from that death again, still aware that His body is with Him, now He also gives that body to the Father in order that in this way He may entirely submit Himself to the Judge. The ruination must be complete. First He was completely organized and united in His entirety; now He is completely scattered and disrupted. First He tasted of death; now struggles with it.

Accordingly, it is the time now to leave that body by surrendering the spirit. Before this it was not His privilege to do so. If Christ had desired the “first” — for Him the last — death before the “second” — for Him the first — He would have withdrawn Himself from the pain of hell, from the essence of punishment. Then such a longing to leave the body in order to escape from the affliction of hell would in principle have been the equivalent of the cry of the unwilling: mountains fall upon us; hills cover us. For such will be the cry of that man presently, to whom God does not give the instrument in which the eternal plague must be endured. But Christ did not want to surrender His spirit while suffering the pain of hell. He did not summon the robber against the will of God, the God who beat and buffetted Him. He continued to bear His flesh, even under the pangs of hell. But now that everything is finished He gives up the ghost and dies at the right time. Thus He is the perfect servant who completely puts Himself at the disposal of God. He kept His instruments together when He had to work with them. Now that the work is done, He turns them in. There are no trophies today. O Father of heroes, man does not hold his spirit in his own hands. The Father says: Now it is time to return to me who have sent you. And He simply answers: It is well. In this sense, the dying of Christ is the natural consequence of His entire death (the suffering of hell), and of His whole life of obedience. It represents a continuation of the task. It is the extreme form of self-humiliation. For he who has thoroughly conquered the enemy, and who then still allows that enemy to beat and buffet him before the public eye. he certainly has absolutely humiliated himself. But that is what Christ did in His death.

Nevertheless everything which Christ does actively is at the same time a passive surrender to the force which masters Him. The active obedience (disposing Himself to His death) immediately becomes converted into a passive obedience (being disposed of). Thus the death of Christ becomes a sacrifice. We shall not repeat here that it is impossible to look upon the death of Christ in the body as a sacrifice as long as we pay attention to His dying alone. Behind the moment of giving up the ghost lies that whole long course of His eternal death, and the whole of His pulsing, conscious life. Only in terms of that can we, and may we, speak of His dying. But after His conscious deed of surrender, and after His persistent decision to surrender Himself, a decision which He maintained overagainst every temptation and trial, the disruption of His flesh in bodily death becomes the completion of the passion, regarded now as a sacrifice. This does not mean that the surrender of His spirit in the moment of death is the whole offer or the essential part of the offer. No, we do better to regard it as the crown of the offer, as the last act of the sacrifice.

Now we are touching upon a problem which has great significance. What is the significance, the legal significance, of the death of our body? Is the essential part of the punishment, speaking generally, contained in this physical death which God exacts as a penalty for sin?

We shall do well to calmly ask ourselves: Where do you read that this is so? The question itself makes us look up Genesis 3, the chapter in which the first sin and its punishment is described. Read in that chapter about God’s penalizing utterance, and then ask yourself with what the penalty of “returning to the dust” is compared. What other penalties are of equal importance? You will find, if you limit yourself to human life, that this is the case. The death of the body[1] is there named the equivalent of the travail of a mother at the birth of her child, and the anxiousness of the father in the struggle for existence (the thorns and the thistles) (Gen_3:16-17; Gen_3:19). Now no one will say that this is the very heart and core of the punishment of sin. Look into the outer recesses of hell and you will at once confess that there the essence of punishment takes place. As compared with the punishment of hell, the travail of a mother, and the perspiring of a father amounts to nothing. Nevertheless, those two are made the equivalent of the death indicated by “returning to the dust.” Is it not for this reason as simple as the day to remark: Surely, then, the returning to the dust cannot be the essential climax of the punishment. That is not the unique essence of the penalty. The essence, the reality of it, is hell. The reality of it is death in the fullest sense, the death which in general is threatened in Gen_2:17 : In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

[1] This means something different from “being dead” even in the body, for that is the punishment of hell.

You see then that according to the Biblical trend of ideas the “separation of soul and body”[2] is not an essential part of the penalty of sin. True, the necessity of this separation exists as long as the utterance of Gen_3:19 is in force according to God’s direction. But this separation is not absolute; it is relative; it is not inherent; it is accidental; it is not a demand of punishment as such, but only of the later more specifically described manner of God’s exercise of punishment. Separation of the soul and body belongs to today, but is an injunction which may be lifted tomorrow.

[2] We are following here the familiar expression, plain to all, which however does not lay any claim to scientific accuracy. This is not the place to insert a treatise on the concept of “the soul.”

If we admit, nevertheless, that the threat of death indicated in Gen_2:17 also includes the eternal death,[3] death in its fullest import, complete death,[4] then it follows that if this penalty had been meted out immediately, fallen men would be condemned according to soul and body, would be given up to “eternal death.” Then they would have fallen, not spiritually alone but bodily also into the same affliction which hell will manifest after the final judgment.

[3] Dr. J. Ridderboe, “De boom des levens,” Geref. Theol. Tijdschr., March, 1919, p. 385.

[4] Dr. H. Bavinck, Geref. Dogm., volume 3, pp. 159, 160.

However, something else is the case. No one can deny that after the fall the threat of complete death was not immediately realized. “An element intervened between these two by means of which this penalty was tempered and postponed.”[5] Immediately afterthe fall grace intervened, and this now dominates history. God is busy realizing the plan of redemption; and in order to make the fulfillment of this possible, He postpones the complete realization of His threat, until such time as the process of redemption has completed its course in the consummation of the ages. Only when that consummation has come will that condition be realized which in Gen_2:17 is pointed out as the complete death.

[5] Dr. H. Bavinck, ibid, p. 159.

Regarded in this way the announcement of the penalty before the fall takes on the character of an announcement of the one great penalty of sin, whereas all prediction of punishment after the fall must be regarded and explained in the light of the fact that God now indicates in what way He plans to accomplish His end in history. In other words, the essential punishment was indicated before the fall; the accidental punishment was indicated after the fall. Before the fall the theme; after the fall the realization of it in history. Before the fall, the penalty (complete death) was announced, nothing more. But after the fall the revelation of the postponement of the real sentence was announced and hence everything which is said after the fall must be seen in the light of and explained in terms of that postponement.[1]

[1] Dr. H. Bavinck says: (volume 3, 160) “Sin deserves nothing short of the complete death. All other penalties which actually entered in, and which were announced after the fall . . . assume . . . that God still has another plan in mind for humanity and the world, and that He therefore allows these to exist in His long suffering.” And: “All the penalties which enter in after sin have ... a twofold character. They are not purely . . . penalties, . . . but also means of grace.”

This interpretation puts the statement “to dust thou shalt return” (Gen_3:19), which is often thoughtlessly quoted, in quite a different light. The statement was made after the fall. This, too, therefore is an item on the program of the history of the world, as that history will be “in the sign” of long suffering and grace.

If the threat of death were contained in Gen_2:17 (before sin) we should have to regard the “returning to dust,” the disruption, the breaking of the body, as a real part of the quintessential punishment, the punishment in itself. Now, however, we cannot regard the destruction of the body in temporal death as anything other than an act of God which intervened later. It is a condemnation, of course, to those who are not in Christ. But for God it serves only to make it possible for that complete penalty to realize itself in the new bodily existence so many centuries after the first announcement. That will take place when history has been completed and redemption perfected. That will take place when it is possible to apply it to complete human beings. It is an act of God which opens the way for the battle of God in Christ against sin and against death; and this, in turn, is a battle which makes death an onward march to (eternal) life for those who are born again.

Surely he who can agree with the statement[1] “that Gen_3:19 does not announce the complete realization of the threatened penalty but tempers and postpones it,”[2] cannot regard the “separation of soul and body” as anything else than a “temporal severance of the bond between soul and body which intervened for the sake of grace in Christ,” necessary only in order to present all people, and these in the body, before the judgment seat of Christ simultaneously. “Dying the death” (Genesis 2) is the descent into complete punishment. “Returning to the dust” may be compared to a person’s entering the reception room until such time as the judge opens the session at which the real execution of punishment will take place. This interim will have lost its purpose the moment the judge has ascended His throne, and stands ready for the final act of judgment after the ripening of the history of the world.[3] As soon as Christ will have completed His Messianic work of grace the reason for maintaining “temporal death” will be gone. Hence the people who are still alive at the last day will not die, but will be changed in an instant of time and will be transplanted to “the other world” in a moment. They will immediately be withdrawn from the “forms” of temporal existence. These will not experience the curse “death.” For the real, the essential, punishment of sin is the “second death.” It is the suffering of the relentless wrath of God in body and in soul, the suffering of hell.

[1] Dr. Η. Bavinck, op. cit., volume 3, p. 188.

[2] Dr. A. Kuyper, Locus de Peccato, p. 97. Dr. Kuyper cannot agree with this interpretation. According to him Gen_2:17 was immediately fulfilled by the spiritual death of Adam. Surely, however, the concept “death” in Gen_2:17 is broader than that.

[3] See my article, “De ondergang van den Antichrist,” Geref. Theol. Tijdschrift, Vol. 21, 2.

Now there is one question which will not be suppressed. If the disruption of soul and body — the so-called “first death” — does not belong to the essential nature of punishment, why did Christ, after He had already in body and soul suffered the essential penalty and the pains of hell, still have to undergo that temporal death? Would it not have been possible for Him too, to have been transformed in a moment, and in that way have been instantly transported to the heavenly blessedness, instantly withdrawn from the earth without the preliminary breaking of the body?

Various reasons may be given to indicate that this would have been impossible. In the first place we must proceed in this matter on the assumption that the dominant idea here is the idea of the offer. The offer consists of two elements: first, that of the breaking of the body; and, second, that of the voluntary breaking of the body.

It is the second element which provides the explanation in this case. Plainly we cannot deduce the inevitability of Christ’s dying in temporal life from the law according to which the holy sacrifice had to be broken, if we do not introduce other factors into the discussion. If seen in the proper light the suffering of the affliction of hell is in itself a living in a condition of brokenness according to the body. Even though no one can speak specifically about the suffering in hell, we can deduce from what is told us in the Bible that lost man also suffers in the body, suffers death in the body. The body of the lost creature in hell is also a basis of operation for the devastating wrath. His whole life there represents personal disruption; the wrath penetrates everything, saturates his whole life, and every single form of his existence. Hence when Christ endured the affliction of hell, in Gethsemane first and upon Golgotha later — during the three hours of darkness — He also allowed His flesh to be broken. By that we mean that then also He suffered in the flesh, was disrupted in the flesh, and offered Himself there in the flesh, with the flesh, and by means of the flesh.

However this did not suffice. The offer as a sacrifice had not yet fully realized itself in this way. For the suffering of the affliction of hell had been compulsory. Perhaps someone will say that this also holds true of the death of His body in the moment of His dying. That is quite true but for that reason we must add that the suffering of the affliction of hell came with an overwhelming coercion. Christ could not do anything about it even if He had wanted to. When God forsook Him He was oppressed by a burden which weighed more heavily than His human strength could sustain. It is for this reason that the church confesses that His divinity had to support Him. When He suffered the affliction of hell a force accrued to Him which struck deeper wounds, and which permitted severer torments to come to Him than His human knowledge could understand and assimilate. It is for that reason that He Himself in the life of His confession becomes involved in the great impasse — witness His authentically honest “why.” This was too much for Him; He could not master it. In this most terrible hour He had the courage no longer to say to Himself, and certainly not to the others: I can pray to the Father, and He will send me twelve legions of angels to support me. The affliction of hell was more than His naturally human life could master either by an act of knowledge or by an act of the will; it was more than He could bear, more than He could fathom. The coercion, the inevitability, became a consuming compulsion; an irresistible force. At this time the balance between His having to do the thing and His willing to do it was destroyed. Not in the sense, of course, that His will was opposed to it; not that in the least. But this was true in the sense that His having to do it gained the mastery over His willing and knowing it. He was being broken in these moments, but His free will had not been able to express itself with an equally great degree of activity as the force which passively had been able to express itself in devastating Him.

Nevertheless the offer must be entirely voluntary. The Saviour of our souls must not be taken by compulsion, by an overwhelming God, He must not be taken by surprise, but must give Himself to His people. His love must always be willing to take sole responsibility for the complete act of sacrifice; and this love must take that responsibility gladly, without any sense of regret, even after the sacrifice has passed. Love must delight to give the gift, before as well as after the giving.

Now it is this last consideration which explains the necessity of His physical death to us. Have we not heard the voice of Christ lamenting and crying, and demanding: I thirst? This is the last time we shall refer to that. By His “I thirst” Christ with a completely free will and with a perfect knowledge based on experience assumes the burden of the affliction of hell. Throughout His life He had done all that the Scriptures said; the fifth utterance from the cross was saying nothing new. But there was this to add: He had now experienced what the Scriptures wanted. He had learned a terrible thing. He had never known that God could be so terrible, that God could do such a thing. That which had been mere knowledge before now became experience: namely, the affliction of hell.

Now when God wishes to try a person, He asks not once but twice: Do you wish to be obedient? Do you want what I want? He asks this the first time when the man is still facing the experience of suffering. Then man answers in the affirmative. But it might very well be that this puny human being after he has experienced how terrible and how austere his God can be, would make this confession: I did not know that it was so bad. Now that I know it, and have experienced it, now my soul shudders at it. I certainly would not make the same choice today, if I were given an opportunity to do so. And it is then that God asks a second time: Do you want what I want? Does your free will in your inclination towards your God acquiesce in the burden which He gives you to bear?

At such times there are people who resemble Abraham. They resemble not the real Abraham but the Abraham of a certain person’s imagination who gives this picture of him: “Silently he arranged the wood for the fire, bound Isaac to it, and drew out the knife; thereupon he saw the ram, which God had appointed. This ram he offered, and then went on his way . . . After this day Abraham became old; he could not forget that God had made this demand of him. Isaac grew up rapidly as before, but the eye of Abraham became dimmed; he felt no joy any more.”[1]

[1] Kierkegaard.

Now this image of the father of the believers is based upon unsound thinking, but even if we accepted it, we could say that Christ in no respect resembled it. When He had experienced what God can demand of a son of man, when He had felt what no one before had ever felt, when God proved to Him to be the most terrible of all in His punishing, and when He could find a ram nowhere in the bushes, He said: I thirst. And He said this in order that He might fulfill the Scriptures. He did not reject those terrible words, this terrible utterance from the Scripture, after experiencing the harshness and terribleness of God’s judgment. And He did not suppress these words. He immediately appropriated them.

In that way He assumed all that the Scriptures asked of Him with a free will which had itself been enhanced by the experience of its own selection. He assumed the condition of brokenness, the state of being broken, in the perfectum damnationis[1] of the afflictions of hell. But that was not enough. It did not suffice for God nor for the people whom He sought in His love.

[1] Completed damnation: the eternal, infinite affliction of hell. See by way of discussion of this perfectum as an expression of infinite worth, chapter 19, pp. 461-2.

It is not enough to suffer death in the perfectum.[2] He must suffer death in the aoristus.[3] His body He had submitted to be broken, and consequently He had not cursed God; but He must also voluntarily suffer death in the immediate moment, in the second of disruption. In the case of others the brokenness comes after the disruption; the condition of complete death follows upon the moment of dying. Thus it is with those who die the natural death on earth, or with those who are transformed in an instant of time. In both cases there is a moment of immediate transition to the other world, of acute removal from the world which held us and to which we clung, and there is a sudden return to the basic forms of our existence, a basic being snatched up, vehemently, violently, catastrophically, before God, the Creator and the Judge.

[2] Perfected death.

[3] An abruptly impinging moment of death.

And this moment of dying which precedes the condition of brokenness in all others, had to follow upon that condition in the case of Christ. We have repeatedly indicated why this was necessary for Him.[4]

[4] See pp. 24 (Chapter 1), 112 (Chapter 5), 377 (Chapter 20), 399-400 (Chapter 21), 486 (Chapter 25).

Now we observe that everything is again governed by the accommodating hand and accommodating spirit of Christ Himself. The cry “I thirst,” inasmuch as it assumed the burden of the Scriptures after the experience of hell, was an act of free will overagainst the condition of brokenness. And to the extent that this cry proved to be a command according to which He wished to be bruised in the body in the moment of death, it was also an act of the free will in view of this coming dying moment.

Thus He assumes the sacrifice completely. Not only the being sacrificed, but also the becoming sacrificed; for there is a distinction here to the subject who wills it. Not only the condition of death, but also the moment of death. Not only the being slain, but also the slaying. Not only what the accursed human being must suffer outside of the gates of time, but also what he must endure inside those gates. Christ passed through all our gates. He passed through the entrance by His birth; He passed through the exit by this acute dying. And there was besides that which intervened between these two: the extended human life which He lived on earth. To which we must add, again, that which was suffered as the affliction of hell quite beyond the bourne of time.

Hence we can say that the moment of dying is a natural part of the sacrifice precisely because the sacrifice is voluntary. It is a presentation, an offer, in the basic sense of that word. He allows Himself to be led back to His origins now. He allows Himself to be placed a captive on the chariot of God which is hurrying where God pleases. This is what is meant by dying in a moment. He had His “moment” just as each one of us must experience it. This point of time would have come sooner or later for the man of Paradise also, for, even though sin had not intervened, man would at a certain point of time have arrived at that other mode of existence in which He could live eternally, irremovably, and steadfastly before His God, and could do it without eating, without drinking, without marrying, without sexual relationships. Now this particular point of time, this moment of transference to the other world-order, to the new world-scheme — this every human being suffers in his dying hour. And those people who will still be on earth when Christ returns will also experience their “moment” in the immediate transformation which will withdraw them from this world and transplant them to the other.

In this way Christ broke His body before God in an instant of time. Nothing human was alien to Him.

How the free will of this act of sacrifice dazzles in its glory! When life could be endured again after that affliction in hell, when the burdens were diminished, when the condition of brokenness existed no longer, when light returned to caress His body, when His flesh no longer was the field of operation for the devastation of wrath — then He had to present the sacrifice, had to give the offer. He had to disappear in natural death, He had to commit Himself into the hand of Him who had stricken Him. He gave Himself thus, and in this way performed the extreme act of willingness.

How perfectly He loved God and the people! He surrendered Himself to the one who was devastating Him. The devastation was fundamental, elemental; His surrender is also that. His was a radical surrender. It was the thorough-going gift. He omits nothing, no line, no point, no hour, no minute, no circumstance, and no incident. Ah, how He dazzles now as a sign in the center of all epochs! If the institution of temporal death, as we observed, was indeed punishment at bottom, but also grace, then the punishment reaches its final culmination in Him, and grace the point at which it breaks through. For there had to be a moment of reversal in history. The moment had to come in which the vicious circle should be cut by a vigorous life, conquering as it marched on. Now that point of history has been reached. It is nothing if taken out of its context, if separated from what went before and from what follows. But it is unique in its significance also and is indispensable to its context.

Now we can go further. We can say that penalizing justice and life-giving grace meet each other in this instant of time.

The penalizing justice makes its appearance in the moment of time which is punctuated by Christ’s physical death. For we see Christ now as one in whom death represents complete penalty. Elsewhere death in the last analysis is always a kind of preparation for Christ; if not for the dying person himself, in the event that he is opposed to God, certainly it is that for the church of humanity. For it has become obvious that the temporal death must clear the way for Christ and His spirit, in order that the curse of eternal death should not come before its time. But He was the One in whom death could completely and satisfactorily realize itself. The way had been cleared so that the second Adam might be cast out of “every gate” (see pages 379-383). O God, but this instant of time is significant! It is very painful, for the descent into the affliction of hell must still become a descent into Hades. He must still permit Himself to be broken on that border-line of the world which can be seen.

Again we say that this is a penalizing justice. It demands humiliation, and this truth gives us a new subject for consideration. The necessity for humiliation makes His entrance into heaven without the moment of dying impossible. It is a part of that humiliation that the mark of shame be impressed also upon His body, upon His remains. Yes, this had taken place already when Christ suffered the pangs of hell. But no one had been a witness to that. Now that He has awakened again and been brought into the light out of those three hours of darkness, He must visibly carry the disdain of His own in the signs of His body, and be completely humiliated. He must be publicly humiliated.[1] Men must be able to see that Christ has died. His death in hell had been witnessed by none. So much the more reason for which His earthly dying must be seen by every eye.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 15, pp. 297-300: being lifted up; also see the present volume, p. 82.

For the dying of Christ is also revelation. It represents payment and compensation, yes, but it is also a revelation of the law which demanded payment. We know that revelation speaks to men in its concepts, in its forms, in its symbols, and in events which Christ sees before Him in the ordinary things of life daily. If Christ had not died as every other person dies, the terrible preaching of death as the curse of sin would not have been intelligible. After all, death is visible to men only in the form of the bodily dying. No one sees the essence of death. To be really dead means, on the one hand, to be sinner, and on the other hand, to be wholly forsaken, to be the victim of the robbery of hell. But sin is a robbery which no one sees,[2] and being forsaken in hell is also a robbery which no one living in the world today has ever seen. So we say that this disintegration of the body is the only thing that men see of death. That is another reason for which Christ had to die in the body. He had to manifest death to the world. Surely, we are taking the wrong course when we say that His dying was solely a preaching of death, that it was a naked expression of such preaching. For, as we have stated before, the dying of Christ was also necessity; it represented compensation, payment. In addition to that, of course, it was also an announcement. It was an announcement of the guilt of sin. God’s harsh sermon did not correspond with the sermon on the mount, with Christ’s discourses about the fire of hell, and about that death which consists of being a sinner. No, God struck Him down in the presence of men; Christ had to die the death in the very body in which men had known Him.

[2] The essence of sin: to be distinguished from the work which sin performs.

Having arrived at this point, our thoughts turn upwards. There is in the instant of Christ’s death also the breaking forth of quickening grace. For now that Christ has completely finished the course of obedience by permitting His body also to be broken, now Paradise must receive Him in His glory.

Obediently He had permitted everything He had to be taken away from Him, His seasons and also His moments. With all the instruments He had, with His soul and spirit and body, He performed His service for God. Therefore the angel who guards the gate of Paradise must stand aside when He impressively approaches. The angel draws back the guarding sword in favor of a coursing justice headed by the second Adam; he says to himself that this man must enter. That is the most natural thing in the world once the covenant of works became of force. For that covenant had attached the reward of blessedness to perfect service.

Therefore Christ now surrenders His spirit. He does not give it away indiscriminately, but gives it to the Father. He addresses Himself to Paradise. From the fact that He gave God His spirit we may infer His obedience and His sacrifice, His offer. But that He could address Paradise as He did is evidence to us of His faith; it represented the certainty of His reward. He was asking for that reward; He was asking for the reward of the Passover. The Passover has its beginning in Good Friday. The Saviour enters into the other world, is instantaneously withdrawn from the bourne of time and space, enters into captivity, for all this is implied in dying. Nevertheless He moved about freely in God’s universe. He is the man who has fought His way to freedom. The binding which accrues to Him in this instant of time really represents an unbinding.

We do not mean to say that His possession of Paradise is already complete. His own condition, and the justice He has in mind for His people, will constrain Him to come again. He Himself is still in the intermediary condition, the condition of the “unclothed soul” (see 2 Corinthians 5)who is in Paradise without his body. And intermediary conditions are never desirable in heaven to the extent precisely that they are an intermediary condition. In heaven everything is impelled in the direction of the conclusive, of the completed, of the perfectum of blessedness. Christ, too, is not satisfied with this intermediate position. From now on He will be constantly crying: How long, how long, O Father (see Revelation 5)? He thirsts for perfection, for the perfected things. Hardly has He by death obtained release from the hunger and the thirst of the earth before He begins to hunger and thirst in heaven for His own return. Thirsting can be of various kinds. The hungering and thirsting in heaven does not represent need, but a passion for life. As such it represents desire and deep yearning. Hence the intermediate condition, interim as it is, cannot represent His full peace; as far as His rights are concerned He continues to be humiliated. His name is honored in heaven, but on earth His flesh still bears the mark of shame impressed upon it by the penalty. The angels regard Him as glorious, also as glorious in His humanity; but on earth they are preparing a grave for Him. The stigma of shame still attaches to Him. For His own sake, too, He will labor hard for His Passover-victory in order that the stigma of shame attaching to His body may also be erased. Thus, as a matter of fact, He is still struggling every day in order to arrive at His last return, in order that His good name may no longer be a source of mockery in the world. However, it is not for His own sake alone, but for the sake of His people also, that He will from now on hunger to return to the earth and to arise from the dead. For He would gather His church together, draw them unto Himself, and make His power manifest in them.

This is the reason for which we called His dying the point at which God marches on through Him. All His struggles for obedience to God, and for the glorification of Himself, and for the exaltation of His people, now converge upon the act of His death.

Accordingly, we do not like to speak of a Jesus who has “fallen asleep.” “Asleep in Jesus” — that is a word which, we hope, may appropriately pertain to us. But in reference to Him we must use the phrase: He gave up the spirit. His will performed an action. To cry aloud with a great voice is an item hardly compatible with the gentle phrase “falling asleep.” Rather than to use that, we would abandon all figurative language. The Saviour gave up the ghost, and did this by reason of a strong desire and will to march on from the manger past the cross to the hall of the Passover, the hill of ascension, the deed of Pentecost, and the last judgment.

Now be quiet, for the Saviour is dying. Be quiet, just as you must always be quiet before Him, also when He is busy at work. Is Jesus exhausted? Yes, in a certain sense He could not go any farther. However, He did not want to go any farther here below, for here the work has been finished. Hence He could not go on, and hence His heart could not go on. Is Jesus exhausted? Just say yes and no; for you will be touching on the truth only if you combine those two in a transcending unity. His strong will addressed death and said: I do not want you. And when the time had come, He said: I have summoned you. Must we again appeal to His “divinity” in order to explain this? As when we say that by an act of His omnipotence He broke His own heart? It is much simpler than that, and hence it is far more complicated. By an act of — human — obedience He permitted His heart to be broken, and gave it up to the Breaker.

And thus He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost. Saint Augustine said that He bowed His head, as though He were offering His face to us for a kiss. This is too pretty a fancy. He bowed His head because He could no longer hold it up. God Himself bent it low. No one was present to close His eyes. The angels did not look back upon His body; they had other work to do. They praised Him reverently; their voice echoed behind Abraham’s chair. Heaven witnessed a miracle. For the first time heaven caught a glimpse of the Word which was made flesh. Heaven saw the second man, the second Adam, but such a one as there had never been before. Heaven saw, and had to believe, that this was the Head of the Church. A page of God’s Book was turned over, and Adam, our father, said: He must increase here, and I simply cannot decrease; how could this come to pass, O God of miracles?