Jesus: the Man of Destiny
We have reason to expect that an ordinary man would have survived the ordeal of crucifixion had he been removed from the cross after only six hours. But, remarkably, Jesus, after only six hours on the cross, announced with a strong voice that this was the very moment of his death, and immediately he died!
The Destiny of Death
One of the most remarkable aspects of the historical Jesus was the power of control which he exercised over his own life, as well as the entire society of Palestinian Jews, in order to bring about his death by crucifixion. The extraordinary quality of this unusual phenomenon is highlighted by the following facts: Jesus stayed alive and at liberty while circulating among the Jews who were attempting to arrest and kill him, his death by crucifixion was in fulfillment of his claims that he would die in that particular manner and in spite of earlier Jewish efforts to kill him by other means, and the time that he spent dying on the cross was much shorter than the killing time normally required by crucifixion. When ordinary men are placed in these same circumstances, we expect to see them lose control. Amazingly, Jesus controlled the direction of his life and manner of his death in fulfillment of his claims.
Such power can only reasonably be attributed to God. Therefore, these historical facts form a strong and reasonable case for believing that Jesus possessed the power of God and that he was here in fulfillment of a certain divine destiny.
EXAMINE THE CLAIMS
Jesus Claimed That He Would Die by Crucifixion
Throughout his life, there were a number of attempts to kill him by means other than the cross, but they all failed. The reason which both Jesus and John assigned to these unsuccessful attempts was that Jesus' "hour had not yet come" (John 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). To Jesus, this "hour" was evidently a predetermined assignment for the future which he had been sent to fulfill. Later he explained that this particular moment was the hour of his death, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit. He that loveth his life loseth it… . Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour" (John 12:23-27). On the eve of his crucifixion, he told his disciples clearly that the hour of his destiny was the hour of his death. John prefaced the going forth of Judas to betray Christ with the statement that Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world unto the Father (John 13:1). Such a departure could only mean death. But Jesus was careful to point out that the manner of that death was to be a crucifixion. Matthew records that"he took the twelve disciples apart, and on the way he said unto them, Behold we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him unto the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify" (Matthew 20:17-19). He said to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14). At the moment when he declared that his "hour" was imminent, he assigned that he would be "lifted up" on a cross: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself. But this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die" (John 12:32-33).
It is conclusive that Jesus viewed his death upon a cross to be an unalterable part of the divine destiny.
Jesus Claimed to Have the Power of Divine Providence
Jesus stated in John 10:17-18, "Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again."
Few words, even in the Bible, lay claim to so broad a compass. These words actually embrace the concept of divine providence, which is that prerogative of God when he exercises his sovereign power to overrule and to interfere in the historical framework of men and nations to bring to pass his own desired goals. Inherent in Jesus' statement that no one could take his life from him is his claim to that kind of power. It was another way of saying that he was in control of those circumstances which touched both his own life and those of his enemies who were seeking a way and an opportunity to kill him.
Jesus came to die, and the Jewish leaders wanted him dead. But the battle at this point between them was the time and manner of death that Jesus wanted versus the time and manner of death the Jews wanted. Jesus came to die only by crucifixion and at the fixed place (outside of the city of Jerusalem, Hebrews 13:11-13) and at the fixed time, which the Father had predestined. The Jewish powers, on the other hand, were seeking any opportunity to rid themselves of their tormentor which they could manage without creating an uproar against them from the multitudes of the common people. It was in the heat of this conflict, when both sides were taking measures and counter-measures, that Jesus claimed that he had the power to keep anyone from taking his life. He had a certain destiny to fulfill and no power from hell or on earth could alter it.
When Jesus was taken before Pilate, the Roman procurator, unable to prod him as some ordinary criminal into the kind of fearful response he thought his official dignity required, in exasperation said, "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to release thee, and have power to crucify thee?" But Jesus replied, "Thou wouldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:10-11). As far as Jesus was concerned, there was no power against him which could effect a change in the course of his divine destiny. Therefore, Pilate's decision to crucify him was less his own doing than God's. It was Christ's decision to accept the death at Golgotha as a part of his own prearranged plan. Pilate, Jesus claimed, was but an unwitting part of the plan.
Jesus Was Not a Victim of Circumstances
In this view of the forces which combined to bring about the death of Christ, we cannot accept the nonhistorical view of Jesus Christ, Superstar, which makes him out to be a victim of circumstances which he could not control. According to the historical accounts of Jesus' claims and the outcome of the whole matter as confirmed in the resurrection, Jesus himself was in control of every circumstance during every step of the way. Later, the apostle Paul would write that Jesus, the incarnate God, in obedience to the Father's eternal purpose, humbled himself to die on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). He was not a victim of circumstances beyond his control, nor was he humbled by superior powers which finally succeeded in killing him. To the contrary, he controlled the direction of his life, in the midst of opposing forces, as to the time and place of his own choosing and humbled himself to the deadly desires of the ruling Jews, laying down his own life, on schedule, according to plan.
Jesus Claimed That He Had Power to Lay Down His Life
Examine his statement closely. He said, "I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again." This is distinct from his claim to have power to keep his life and to choose the manner of his death. In this instance, Jesus claimed the ability to die at any given moment, to give up his life's breath at any time he wished. As we will see, this power would have been highly desirable to anyone who had been unfortunately sentenced to suffer the inhuman torture of death by crucifixion.
These claims and the power to accomplish them, as already mentioned, can reasonably be attributed only to God. The proposition of the New Testament writers is that Jesus made good on those claims and that their accounts accurately record the facts in the case which bear them out.
EXAMINE THE FACTS
The claims for Christ having been made, we turn now to a consideration of those facts touching his life and death which will reflect the truth or falsity of those claims.
No One Could Kill Him
From infancy, Jesus was under the threat of death. When Herod the Great, true to his murderous character, heard that Jesus was born to the messianic throne of David, he ordered the death of all the male children in and around Bethlehem up to two years old. But Joseph and Mary took Jesus and scurried to Egypt when they were forewarned of Herod's intentions (Matthew 2). At the outset of his ministry, his messianic claims infuriated the members of the synagogue at Nazareth, who thereupon, Luke informs us, "cast him forth out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way" (Luke 4:28-30). Luke does not attempt to explain Jesus' escape method; he only recorded the fact that Jesus passed through their midst and went his way (not "away," but "his way," indicating his own chosen way as opposed to theirs). This is commensurate with the Lord's claims to have the power of divine providence and the consequent inability of another to take his life from him.
At one point in his ministry, officers were sent from the ruling Jews to arrest him. Even this effort was aborted. The officers returned and testified as to the reason for their failure to carry out their commission: "Never man so spake!" (John 7:32, 45-46). The impact of the doctrine of Christ was often said to be astonishing (Matthew 7:28; Mark 1:22; 6:2; Luke 4:32, etc.). Inherent in the answer of the officers is a confirmation of that claim.
Any number of attempts to kill Jesus by stoning also failed (John 8:59; 10:31, 39). His entire public ministry was threatened by attempts to kill him one way or another (Matthew 12:14; John 5:18; 7:1,19, 25; 8:37, 40; 11:47-53), yet they all failed. Be cautious about comparing Jesus with today's criminal who eludes the efforts of law enforcement agencies until finally he is caught. The criminal is on the run, hiding, making every effort to stay away from those pursuing him. But, to the contrary, Jesus walked openly in their midst and taught publicly in their temple and attended the feasts. This caused the multitudes of the people who observed these things a bit of consternation. They wondered about it and John reported that "Some therefore of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? and lo, he speaketh openly, and they say nothing unto him. Can it be that the rulers indeed know that this is the Christ?" (John 7:25-26).
The futility of their attempts upon his life, for whatever reasons may be supposed, nevertheless, confirmed his claim to have power over his life and over theirs to the extent that they could not kill him though they tried.
Jesus Died Voluntarily
The fact that Jesus died of his own volition and at the very moment of his own choosing, not by the effects of the crucifixion, has not received the attention that it warrants. Yet this amazing fact has been stated clearly enough by all four of the gospel historians. Perhaps this is because crucifixion, as a means of execution, is so far removed from our modern frame of reference that none of the effects or requirements upon the one being crucified are generally known. That is very possibly why the unique circumstances accompanying the death of Jesus on the cross are not recognized, even by the great mass of Bible readers. If this is the situation, then, the following few considerations should be far in excess of mere academic interest, especially since the death of the historical Jesus, as set out in the New Testament, has never been seriously challenged.
Killing Time on a Cross
The death of the crucified victim was brought about either by starvation or by exhaustion, but not by loss of blood. If he was tied to the cross, nothing more was done and he was left to starve to death.(49) If he was nailed to the cross, an improvised saddle of wood was made for him to rest his body on to prevent his wounds from tearing apart as his body sagged from exhaustion. This may have produced some insignificant bleeding, but not fatally so. Death rarely resulted before a day and a half to three days, depending entirely on the constitution of the individual.
This explains why the Jews broke the legs of the thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus. The day following the crucifixion was a Sabbath day, and the Jews wanted the victims taken away prior to that time; thus, their legs were broken to accelerate their deaths by preventing them from supporting their bodies in order to breathe (John 19:31-33).
49. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, pp. 761-762.
Jesus Died in Six Hours!
Mark tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third, hour,(50) about nine o'clock in the morning, and that he died at the ninth hour, about three o'clock in the afternoon (Mark 15:25-37). The importance of this fact cannot be overstated. Had Jesus remained alive on the cross for the length of time it ordinarily took to die by crucifixion, there would have been no evidence that he had exercised his divine power to lay down his life by an act of his own will as he had earlier claimed. It would have appeared that he had died like any other man on a cross. It was therefore necessary for death to ensue early, while yet the strength of life was surging through his body,. We have reason to expect that an ordinary man would have survived the ordeal of crucifixion had he been removed from the cross after only six hours. But, remarkably, Jesus, after only six hours on the cross, announced with a strong voice that this was the very moment of his death,and immediately he died! (Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
50. The alleged contradiction between Mark's record of the time of the crucifixion and John's is without merit. John's statement that it was the sixth hour when they led Jesus out to be crucified (19:14-16) is accommodating Gentiles to whom he wrote his book. The Jews' counted time from 6 PM to 6 AM. The Gentiles counted time as we do from 12 AM to 12 PM. Thus John is in perfect agreement with Mark.
This explains Pilate's surprise when slightly more than six hours had lapsed before Joseph of Arimathaea requested of the governor that the body of Jesus be given to him. Mark says that "Pilate marvelled if he were already dead," and called for the centurion of the execution squad to confirm the Lord's death (Mark 15:43-45). Pilate marvelled inasmuch as it was too soon for the normal expectation of death by crucifixion.
Jesus Died Voluntarily!
It is stated with clarity in all four of the Gospel accounts that Jesus died by an effort of his own will. Matthew states that "Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50). Mark said, "And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost" (Mark 15:37). Luke has it that, "Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the ghost" (Luke 23:46). And John wrote, "he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (John 19:30). Luke refers to Christ's death as an accomplishment (Luke 9:31).
The death of Jesus was the result of giving up his life-spirit. His loud proclamation just before death proves that he had much physical strength yet in him. There is no indication that he was anywhere near death at that time. His life did not ebb away; it was voluntarily given away while he was still very strong physically. He did not pale away into unconsciousness, nor did he go into a coma. He was not exhausted, as were ordinary men who had fought the cross for thirty-six to seventy-two hours. He simply reached the point in time when he decided to die. He pronounced his work finished, commended his spirit to the Father, bowed his head (showing his head to be upright to this point and his physical strength still within him), and immediately gave up his life-spirit. He died by an act of his will at the precise moment of his own choosing.
Paid in Full
In the Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the words "It is finished" is only one word, tetelestai. That word means that a debt has been paid in full. When this meaning is placed together with the claims of Christ to give his life a ransom for us (Matthew 20:28) that we might have eternal life and with the fact that he died immediately after saying, "It is finished," a harmony of his doctrine and death is revealed which can hardly be explained as coincident. He claimed he would give his life to buy us back from the death penalty. Then he died immediately after saying that the penalty had been paid in full! The doctrine of his death and the fact that his death followed immediately after his claim that his work was finished-that he had paid the ransom-could not have been mere happenstance: too many things had to transpire harmoniously in one brief moment of time.
The Roman Centurion Was Made a Believer
The entire matter of Jesus' death was contrary to the agony of death by crucifixion, which they had naturally expected. How could he have died with his strength still in him? How could he possibly have known the moment of his death if he were only human? The fact is he did. For this reason, the centurion who "saw that he so gave up the ghost … said, Truly this man was the son of God" (Mark 15:39), and glorified God further by saying, "Certainly this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:47). The centurion, could see that Jesus' death was not at all like any crucifixion he had ever witnessed or knew anything about. Matthew refers to all these things that were done and offers them as the reason for the centurion's great fear (Matthew 27:54).
The question is: Can we expect a mere man to have the kind of power and control over his own life and the lives of many others, as Jesus apparently did, especially when opposed by the power and intention of the ruling Jews to force him another direction? Whence came the power that Jesus had to preserve his life against what we would consider to be superior forces and overwhelming odds? Can we reasonably expect a mere human being to be able to give up his life after only six hours on a cross, contrary to the nature of slow death by crucifixion? Certainly not. How, then, could we possibly explain the entire matter of Jesus' life in the face of death, his claim to die a particular death for a particular reason, and the fact of his death at the very moment he spoke it, if he were no more than human?
The facts surrounding the life and death of Jesus and his claims in regard to that life and death are such that they lend great credibility to his claim to be the son of God. Attempts to either capture of kill him prior to the time of his choosing were defeated one after the other. His death on the cross was too soon to be expected of the normal procedure. His death by crucifixion, not another means of death, fulfilled his claims to die in that particular manner. All of this, plus his confidence throughout his life to the moment he died that he would accomplish his purpose as he foretold it, should be sufficient to convince an honest person of this century that Jesus Christ was in control both of this life and the lives and circumstances of all those that were about him.
On the basis of these facts, it is reasonable to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God, that he came to us on a mission of redemption according to the Father's foreordained plan, that Jesus was a man of a certain destiny, and that he fulfilled it at the cross.