Having considered the cause of the death of the Lord Jesus, we began last month to look at the character of His death, and we saw that it was voluntary. This month, we will remind ourselves that it was:
A Violent Death
This fact is well known, even by people who never open a Bible. From Gethsemane to Golgotha, the Scriptures depict the cruelty shown to our blessed Lord and Savior.
We can ponder the physical violence against Him in the hours leading up to the cross. They came to take Him in the garden, threateningly, “with swords and staves” (Matt 26:47). In the high priest’s palace, they blindfolded Him (Luke 22:64), spat upon His face, and struck Him on the face with their hands (Matt 26:67). Pilate scourged Him (Matt 27:26). When He was condemned to be crucified, the soldiers did all manner of degrading deeds against Him (Matt 27:27-30). He bore His cross (John 19:17), and, finally, they crucified Him, with all that that entailed, both at that time and during the ensuing hours.
Then we can think of the verbal maltreatment that He received. He was insulted in Caiaphas’ house (Matt 26:68) and by Herod and his men (Luke 23:11). He was cruelly mocked by the soldiers when Pilate had sentenced Him (Matt 27:29, 31). Much verbal abuse was directed at Him when He was on the cross – by the soldiers (Luke 23:36-37), those passing by (Matt 27:39- 40), the religious leaders (Matt 27:41-43), and the thieves crucified with Him (Matt 27:44).
This would have been unspeakably cruel, even if those carrying it out had felt that the victim deserved it. However, the record of the Scriptures is that they did it knowing He was not guilty. At the initial hearing in the high priest’s house, false witnesses testified against Him (Matt 26:59-61). They falsely accused Him before Pilate (Luke 23:2, 5) and before Herod (Luke 23:10). Pilate sentenced Him to death, even while protesting His innocence several times (Luke 23:4, 14-15, 22).
It was a great enough travesty of justice that this was done against One innocent of the crimes of which He was accused – that He was not only innocent, but totally sinless, makes the crime all the greater. Peter succinctly expresses it when writing of His sufferings at the hands of men: “Who did no sin” (1Peter 2:22).
Nor was He without the means to avoid this mistreatment. At His arrest, while willingly submitting to being taken, His words to those arresting Him, “I Am,” caused them to go backward, and fall to the ground (John 18:6), showing very clearly where the true power lay. When Peter tried to defend Him with the sword, the Lord told him that, at that very time He could pray to the Father, Who would give Him “more than twelve legions of angels” (Matt 26:51-53). When Pilate boasted of his power to crucify or release Him, the Lord calmly replied, “Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:10-11). Yet He allowed men to do it all. The commentary, written years later by the one who had used the sword in the garden to try to defend Him, is beautiful: “Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (1Peter 2:23).
Why, in this article, have we taken the time to go over these things, which we know so well? There are at least four reasons.
First, many of us would admit that we do not appreciate as we should what the Lord went through in those hours. We need to remind ourselves of it. While we know that our salvation was not brought about by what men did to Him, we should remember that it was part of God’s plan to bring it about. And, as we call to mind what He was willing to undergo that we might be saved, our response should be greater thankfulness to Him, and greater love for Him.
Second, when we think of the cruelty that was meted out to Him, we are given a salutary lesson as to the true nature of “this present evil world” (Gal 1:4). If we are ever tempted to think that the heart of man is not really all that wicked, or that this world is not all that hostile to God, His Son, and His people, then a read through what was done to the Lord Jesus, in any or all of the four gospels, will soon disabuse us of any such notion. The world that did that to Him has not changed in its character, and we are not part of it.
Third, while consideration of what men did to Him brings into sharp focus the attitude of men toward God and His Son, it also brings forcibly to us the attitude of God and His Son toward men – their great love for mankind. That God was willing to give His Son, to suffer such ill-treatment at the hands of those whom He had made, and that the Lord Jesus allowed them to do it, shows the great love of divine Persons towards us. Mrs. Gilbert put it well in her lovely hymn: “What was it, O our God, led Thee to give Thy Son …? … What led the Son of God to leave His throne on high …? … ‘Twas love, unbounded love to us…”.
Fourth, how He responded when He suffered at the hands of men is the supreme example for us to follow, in any suffering we may endure on account of godly living. To quote from 1 Peter 2 one last time: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (v21). It is of immense practical relevance to us today.