Chapter 2: Under Pontius Pilate (continued)

The condemnation of Jesus by the world was the judgment and condemnation of the world.

Thus the Lord had spoken a few days before he stood before the Roman governor, delivered by His people, to be tried by that representative of worldly justice: “Now is the condemnation of the world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” John 12:31. And there can be no doubt about the fact that he spoke these words with a view to his own condemnation and death. What was historically, as men view the events of this world, the trial and condemnation of Jesus by the world, was in reality, and according to the purpose of God, the trial and judgment of the world.

This is to be understood, not as a figure of speech, but in the literal sense of the word.

The world, the whole of sinful humanity as it reveals itself and develops in the present world, the world in its ethically evil sense, with its lust of the flesh, and lust of the eyes, and pride of life, was tried, weighed in the balance of God’s justice, exposed as corrupt and found wanting, and condemned, when it passed judgment upon Jesus the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh. It is true, Scripture teaches us that there will come a final day of judgment, a day when the ever righteous judgment of God shall be revealed, and when all that is implied in the judgment of the cross shall be openly and clearly manifested, but that does not alter the fact that nineteen hundred years ago the world stood in judgment before God, and was condemned in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

And in that hour of judgment the world was well represented.

This was necessary. For in and through those that were present at and took an active part in the trial and condemnation of Jesus, the whole world of all ages, from the beginning to the end of time, is judged and condemned by God. There may, therefore, be no room for complaint on the part of the world that it was not well represented. Its representatives must belong to the very best the world is able to produce. Not a tribe of ignorant savages, or a band of criminals from the lowest strata of society, not men whom the world itself draws into its courts to judge and condemn them, may kill the Christ of God. Not on the outskirts of the world, far from the pale of civilization may this judgment take place, and the cross of Christ be erected. Not in a period of darkness and ignorance, when human culture stands on a low level, is the anointed of the Lord tried and condemned by the world. On the contrary, in the center of the world, in the very heart of civilization, in the fullness of time, Christ is judged, and in that very judgment the world is condemned. The center of the world, and of history, was in Jerusalem in the year thirty three of our era. There, indeed, the whole world in all its culture and civilization was present. There were the representatives, not only of culture and philosophy and human justice, but also of the world of religion, as it had been enlightened by the law and the prophets. There were the leaders of the Jews, the theologians of that day, teachers of Moses, sitting on Moses’ seat, proud of their knowledge of and keeping of the law. And there was also the Roman court of justice, famous for its knowledge of what is right and true among men.

That world was tried and exposed as evil through the trial and condemnation of the Christ of God.

By that trial it was very really called before the bar of divine justice, examined, and exposed in its corruption, its hypocrisy, its worthiness of damnation. It was forced to cast off its mask of goodness and nobility, of justice and love of the truth, in order to become manifest in its inner wickedness and rottenness, its love of the darkness rather than the light, its constant suppression of the truth in unrighteousness, its enmity against the living God.

For this purpose, the world must judge the Christ, God’s Son, the holy child Jesus. And in this judgment they must give an answer to the question: what think ye of the Christ? Mark you well, they must give an answer to this question not in the way of theological contemplation or as a result of philosophical thought, not m a disinterested, impersonal way, but as a revelation of their ethical worth, of the intents and imaginations of their inmost heart. The question was a searching one. It was a question of life and death. It was intended to reveal whether they loved or hated the truth, whether they were in harmony with or opposed to the will of God, whether they were children of God or children of their father the devil.

Hence, it must become very plain that Christ represents the light, and that they are perfectly aware that there is no darkness in Him at all. He had gone throughout the land doing good, and revealing the Father. He represented the light in a world of darkness. And in that final hour He stood before the world without power and without defense. Freely, without fear of human might or revenge, the world could express its judgment, reveal its inmost heart, and in judging the Christ of God principally answer the question: what will ye do with God, His truth, His righteousness, and holiness, if He is represented by a weak and helpless man? And the answer they gave with one accord was: Then we will kill Him!

To that world also belonged the power of the State, the sword power as instituted by God for the punishment of evil-doers and the praise of them that do well.

And the sword power, the institution of the State of all ages was well represented at the time by the Roman world power.

And the representative of that Roman sword power in Jerusalem was Pontius Pilate.

He, too, therefore, must be confronted with the question: what wilt thou do with the Christ of God?

No, he was not the sole representative of the world that judged Christ and was itself condemned. Judas had given his answer to the question. So had the Church institute, represented by the Sanhedrin, Annas, Caiaphas, the leaders of the Jews. So would Herod, “that fox”, face and answer the question, when, by way of an intermission in the trial by the Roman governor, the Lord was sent to him. So did the soldiers, the representatives of Roman might, give an answer to the same question, when they made Him the object and victim of their ribald and cruel mockery. And so did the Church as a congregation, when they voted in favor of a murderer, and demanded that the Christ of God be crucified.

And yet, whether in the Apostolicum the words “under Pontius Pilate” are intended as a mere temporal qualification or not, the Confession touches the very heart of the matter in this phrase. For Pilate ultimately was the representative of the highest worldly tribunal, without whose verdict Jesus could not have been crucified.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate!

Simple words, but tremendous in their significance, when, we consider that in the judgment of Pilate the whole world is finally tried, and condemned.

One of the most remarkable and striking features of this trial, as reported to us by the gospel writers, is that the judge repeatedly and most emphatically declares that Jesus is innocent. He makes it very plain that he is perfectly convinced of Jesus’ righteousness. He finds no fault in Him. When he finally renders the verdict that is to send Jesus to the death of the cross, his sentence is not the result of a misunderstanding. Nor is he finally convinced that Jesus is guilty. On the contrary, to the very list he emphasizes that the Lord is innocent. His original judgment is never changed: “I find no guilt in him at all!”

Yet, even so the way is open for the Roman judge to answer the question: what wilt thou do then with the righteous Jesus, the light in darkness, the revelation of the Father? And an answer he must give. He represented the sword power of the world. And he is very deeply conscious of the fact that he has power to release Jesus, and power to send Him to His death. But in this particular instance he does not like his position, is not well pleased with his power. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have revealed little or no hesitancy to send the innocent to his death. And even now it was not love of truth and righteousness that caused him to waver. But he was afraid. Caring little for truth and justice as such, he was anxious about his own position. On the one hand he was afraid of Jesus. He probably had heard of Him. His calm and majestic appearance must have impressed him. And his wife’s report of her dream, and her request that he would have nothing to do with this righteous man, increased his anxiety and trouble not a little. On the other hand, he was afraid of the Jews, and above all of Caesar. By all means, he must remain Caesar’s friend. Tossed to and fro by these various motives and circumstances, he repeatedly seeks a way out, and tries to release Jesus. Desperately he attempts to avoid a definite answer to the question: what wilt thou do with the perfectly righteous? He places the people before the choice between Barabbas and Jesus. He tries to rid himself of the troublesome case by sending Jesus to Herod. He has Jesus scourged, and brings Him out to the people, perhaps to evoke their pity. But all these attempts fail.

Pilate must give the answer to God’s question.

And the answer he finally gives: I have no regard for the righteous and for righteousness, let the blood of the righteous be shed!

He suffered under Pontius Pilate! That means, indeed, that He was innocent and yet condemned by the worldly judge, in order that, as He voluntarily submits to this judgment, and willingly goes the way of the cross, we might have a strong assurance that He bore, not His own, but our transgressions on the tree.

But it also was the condemnation of the world, our world, the world of men. And its blood-guiltiness and condemnation can never be removed, unless its guilty stains are washed away by the very blood that was shed on Calvary.

For them that are thus washed the judgment of the cross is removed by God’s verdict in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

For He was delivered for our transgressions, and raised for our justification.

Chapter 3: The Death of the Cross

In the Apostolic Confession the fact that Jesus died the death of the cross receives special mention. Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified”. . . .

And to the meaning of this death by crucifixion the Heidelberg Catechism calls our attention in question and answer thirty-nine: “Is there anything more in his being crucified, than if he had died some other death? Yes, there is; for thereby I am assured that He took on Him the curse which lay upon me; for the death of the cross was accursed of God.”

The Scriptural reference here is to Deut. 21:22, 23 as interpreted in Gal. 3:13. In the former passage we read: “And if any man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that the land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” The reference is, not to capital punishment by hanging, but to the hanging and public exposure of the bodies of those that had been put to death by the sword, or by stoning. Such a public hanging was considered an intensification of capital punishment. It was, therefore, the hanging itself, and not the death by hanging, that was an abomination, and that caused the hanged one to be accursed of God. And the entire passage in Galatians is as follows: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them, But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for the just shall live by faith. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” 3:10-13.

Now, the quotation in vs. 10: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” is from Deut. 27:26. And the context of that passage is remarkable, in as much as it shows how really “as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse.” Moses gave commandment to the people of Israel that when they shall have crossed over Jordan into the land of Canaan, half of the tribes shall take their position on mount Gerizim, and the other half on mount Ebal. And then the Levites shall read to them the curse and the blessing, and the people shall respond by a solemn Amen. The reading of the curse was to be as follows: “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen. Cursed be he that setteth light by his father and mother. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife; because he uncovereth his father’s skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that lieth with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that lieth with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that lieth with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbor secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that taketh reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen. Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.”

From this it is evident that all that were under the law, not only were actually under a curse, in as much as no one could keep the law of God perfectly, and the people of Israel in the course of their history had trampled the law of God underfoot a thousand times; but also that they had solemnly covenanted on mount Ebal to take this curse upon them. Did all this mean, then, that the promise had been made of none effect, seeing that the law and its curse had been, superimposed upon it, and that no one could fulfill the demands of the law, nor bear the curse and remove it? How is it possible that the heirs of the promise could thus be made subject to the law, and that, too, as a condition unto life? And how could the curse they assumed on mount Ebal ever have any other result than that it made the promise for ever impossible of realization?

The answer is in the thirteenth verse.

To be sure, all that are under the law are under a curse. And Israel as such, by itself, could never bear that curse and live. It could never work its way through the curse, so to speak, unto the promise, and unto the inheritance of eternal life. It would seem to have been nothing short of sheer recklessness on their part to assume responsibility for the curse at all. But in Christ they could assume that responsibility. Christ was in their loins. And that Christ was able, and would bear the curse for them, in their behalf and in their stead, was demonstrated to them daily by their sacrifices. And in the fullness of time Christ did come. He, too, came under the law. And with the people, His own, the heirs of the promise, he also came under the curse, though by a voluntary act of His own. He, so to speak, took up His position on mount Ebal, and to Him, too, the curse of the law was read. And He, too, responded by a solemn Amen. And He was able to assume that responsibility, and to fulfill it. For He was the holy Child Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh. He could bear that curse in such a way that the demands of the law were satisfied, so that it would no longer curse the children of the promise. He could work His way through the curse to the promise, through death into life, through hell into eternal glory. And this He did. Figuratively speaking, His cross was planted on mount Ebal. And there He fulfilled, once and for ever, the curse of the law. For Christ became a curse for us, as it is written: Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.

It was principally Christ that covenanted with God on mount Ebal to assume responsibility for the curse of the law.

And it was Christ again, this time on the real mount Ebal of Calvary, that fulfilled that responsibility, and, becoming a curse, removed it forever.