Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “cross

Symbols of Christ’s death

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12 images of Christ’s death

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Earlier this year consumer advocate Choice found that dried oregano is being padded with substitute olive and sumac leaves. One product contained less than 10% of the real thing, while other brands had just 11-50%. Dried olive and sumac leaves were a cheaper substitute that looked similar to oregano. Some of the suspect samples came from Turkey.
Other food scandals include imitation honey, horsemeat marketed as beef, mislabelled seafood, and peanuts being mixed into ground cumin. These are examples of bad substitution. Today we are looking at a good substitution by God.

Every good drama, movie or story has at least one climax. The climax is the turning point of the story when the main problem is addressed. Today we are looking at the climax of the bible.

In the introduction of the Bible it describes how our earliest ancestors Adam and Eve rebelled against the God who made them and this resulted in all the problems we experience today like evil, pain, suffering, disease and death.

The climax is when God solves the problem of people’s sinfulness. He does this by coming to the earth and taking the punishment that we all deserve – that’s the substitution. The Bible’s climax has two twists. Firstly, Jesus’ followers believe He is the Messiah, but their hopes are dashed when instead of setting up His kingdom on earth, He is executed as a criminal. So their great expectations are replaced by grief and loss. Secondly, a few days after His burial Jesus miraculously resurrects back to life and the grief and loss is replaced with joy! What a dramatic fluctuation in emotions!

There is a movie called “God’s not dead!”. Well today we are looking at when God died. That’s amazing! How could the God with the power to create and sustain the universe die like a human being? We will see that multiple images and symbols are required to convey the message of Christ’s death and its impact.

The symbols of Christ’s death are categorized below as: people, animals, inanimate things, and religious ceremonies.

People

Abraham sacrificing Isaac

Hebrews 11 says, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Heb. 11:17NIV). When God tested Abraham’s faith about 4,000 years ago, he told him to sacrifice Isaac his only son. At the last minute, God provided a ram to take Isaac’s place. That’s another substitution. This climax in Abraham’s life happened on Mount Moriah, which was also near the place where Christ later died, in Jerusalem (Gen 22:1-14; 2 Chron. 3:1).

Isaac is like Jesus: they were only sons loved by their fathers, and willing to do their father’s will (Gen. 22:2; Mt. 4:17). But there is a difference: Isaac didn’t die as a sacrifice but Jesus did; and Abraham was spared the grief but God wasn’t.

If the death of Jesus is like Isaac bound on the altar, it reminds us of the role of God the Father and God the Son. This symbol also reminds us of how the death of Jesus was God’s plan which depended on Christ’s obedience. It’s all about God.

Jonah swallowed by the big fish

Jesus said, “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man (Jesus) will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40). When Jonah was thrown overboard in a Mediterranean storm in about 760 BC, he was swallowed by a huge fish and he was in the belly of the fish for three days (Jon. 1:17). After this he was vomited onto dry land (Jon. 2:10). Then Jonah preached in Nineveh and when they turned to follow God, the Israelites were relieved of the Assyrian threat.

The Bible says that Jonah is like Jesus: being swallowed by the fish was like Christ’s death, being in the fish for three days was like Christ buried in the tomb and being vomited out was like Christ’s resurrection back to life. It says that “God provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah” (Jon. 1:17). It was God provision. Likewise, God provided Christ’s death for us.

The Bible also says that Jesus rose on “the third day” after His death and burial (Mt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; Mk. 9:31; 10:34; Lk. 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Jn. 2:19; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4). The third day means the day after tomorrow (Lk. 13-31-33). Apparently the Jews counted parts of days as whole days.

If the death of Jesus is like Jonah being swallowed by the fish, it reminds us that the death of Jesus was God’s plan. He provided it. This symbol also reminds us that Christ was only dead for three days and then He rose back to new life.

Animals

Animal sacrifices

Animal sacrifices in Old Testament times were also symbols of Christ’s death. For example, the ram that replaced Isaac on Mount Moriah was like Jesus. An innocent animal died as a substitute instead of Isaac. Likewise, although He was sinless, Jesus took our punishment. He died in our place. Paul said, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. He died for us. And “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a … sacrifice to God” (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 5:2).

And during the Passover, a lamb was killed and its blood put on the door frames of their houses. The lamb had to be “without defect” (Ex. 12:5). This is like Jesus because Peter said, He was “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pt. 1:19). That’s a metaphor saying He’s like a lamb without blemish or defect. God said, “when I see the blood (on the door frames), I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). In this way the Israelites were saved from the death of their firstborn. None of the Israelites died because a lamb had died instead of them. They benefited from the animal’s death. They received mercy instead of judgment. They were protected from God’s judgment. On the next day, in the exodus they were delivered and rescued from slavery in Egypt. After this, the Passover was celebrated annually in remembrance of this great deliverance from slavery.

It’s interesting that Jesus celebrated the Passover on the evening before He died, and He was crucified on the day of the Passover (14 Aviv) – a Jewish day is comprised of a night followed by the daylight hours. Also Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). Another metaphor. So the Passover lamb is like Jesus. It died to save the household from God’s judgment.

John the Baptist called Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The lamb was a sacrificial animal among the Jews. It was killed as a substitute and its blood was sprinkled around. Here all humanity benefits from Christ’s death (it’s for “the world”), not just the Jews.

Jewish animal sacrifices (like the burnt, fellowship and guilt offerings, and the day of atonement) that were required under the law of Moses are symbols of the death of Jesus. In all these cases, innocent animal life was given up to protect human life. The judgment and penalty for their sins were carried out through a transfer of the sin of the people to the animal sacrifice. Forgiveness is possible because the penalty of sin (death) is transferred to a sacrificial animal. The animal was a substitute for the people. The Bible says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). The shedding of blood means death.

A major difference between the animal sacrifices and Christ’s death is that the sacrifices continued daily, weekly, and annually, whereas Christ only needed to die once (Heb. 9:26; 10:1, 11-12). His single death fulfilled the animal sacrifices of the old covenant (Heb. 9:7-28; 13:11-12). So there is no need for animal sacrifices anymore (Heb. 10:18). His death was “once for all”. For all time and for all people.

If the death of Jesus is like an animal sacrifice, it reminds us that Jesus died for us. God died for us! The Creator died for His creation! His creatures! This symbol also reminds us that through the death of Jesus we can receive mercy instead of judgment. This symbol will endure because in heaven we will proclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

The scapegoat

On the day of atonement, the Jewish High Priest put both his hands on the head of a goat and confessed all the sins of the Israelites and “put them on the goat’s head” (Lev. 16:7-10, 20-22). Their sins were symbolically placed on the goat. And the goat was taken away and released in the wilderness to carry all their sins to a remote place. Symbolically it carried away the sins of the people.

This is similar to what happened at Christ’s death. The sins of the whole world were placed on Jesus Christ. Peter said, ‘“He himself bore our sins” in His body on the cross’ (1 Pt. 2:24). And when He died He took the penalty for them – the wages of sin is death. So they were taken away for ever. Aaron laying his hands on the goat symbolizes the placing of our sins on Christ, to be taken away forever. As the goat substituted for the Israelites, Jesus substituted for us.

If the death of Jesus is like the scapegoat, it reminds us that Jesus died for us. This symbol also reminds us that through the death of Jesus our sins are taken away forever.

The heartbroken wife of Alice Springs man Kevin Reid, shot dead in Georgia US recently, has told of how he died protecting her during a robbery attempt. He moved her out of the way and probably saved her life. She said her husband died a hero. That’s an example of sacrifice.

Inanimate things

The bronze snake

When Jesus taught Nicodemus about the source of spiritual life, He said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him” (Jn. 3:14-15). So He referred to an incident when the Israelites were travelling through the wilderness towards Canaan in about 1400 BC (Num. 21:5-9). When they complained about God and Moses causing their poor living conditions, God sent venomous snakes and many died. After Moses prayed for the people, God told him to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole and “anyone who is bitten can look at it and live”. If they looked, they were delivered and healed of the snakebite. God provided a way to save them from death.

Jesus was saying that He must be lifted up on a pole (the cross) like the bronze snake, so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have everlasting life. The next verse says “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). That’s the context of this famous verse. It’s all about how God used the crucifixion to provide a way to save people from spiritual death. The death of Christ was how God loved the world and how He gave His only Son. Like the bronze snake, God has done His part. But we need to do something as well. Just as the Israelites needed to look at the snake on the pole to live, belief, acceptance and trust in God’s act of love is the only way to change our destiny from eternal death to eternal life.

If the death of Jesus is like the bronze snake, it reminds us that His death is the only way to eternal spiritual life. This symbol also reminds us that if we don’t accept that the death of Christ paid the penalty for our sins, we are doomed to eternal spiritual death.

The cross

As Christ was crucified on a Roman cross, the word “cross” can be used as a figure of speech for Christ’s death. For example, Hebrews says, “For the joy set before Him He (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

As Christ’s crucifixion resulted in the good news of salvation, the word “cross” is also used as an extended figure of speech for the Christian gospel. For example, Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 12:18). The “message of the cross” is the good news (gospel) about the death of Christ. It’s belief in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to forgive sins. This is nonsense to unbelievers. But for believers it’s the power of God because God is at work in proclaiming the message and convicting sinners to come to faith in Christ. So both the word “cross” (Gal. 1; Eph. 2:16; Col. 2:13-14), and the phrase the “cross of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:17; Gal. 6:12, 14; Phil. 3:18;) are used to mean the gospel of Christ and all its benefits.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the cross, I’m reminded that there were three crosses. This symbol also reminds us of the impact of Christ’s death. The man on one cross believed that the death of Christ paid the penalty for his sins, while the other man rejected this opportunity.

Blood

The word “blood” is often used as a symbol of death in the Old Testament. And “shedding blood” means murder. Also, blood had a special role in animal sacrifices. The animal’s blood was evidence that the penalty (of death) had been paid. This is summarized in the New Testament, “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed (ceremonially purified) with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). And covenants were confirmed by blood from animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:6-8).

In the New Testament, blood is often a symbol of Christ’s death. For example, Pilate told the Jews, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Mt 27:24-25). And the people replied “His blood is on us and on our children!”. Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). And John said, “the blood of Jesus … purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7). Here the word “blood” means Christ’s death. By the way, Christ’s physical blood had no miraculous power or properties, but was just like that of any other person.

Jesus didn’t bleed to death, but the terms used in the Bible for Christ’s death include: the blood of Jesus, the blood of Christ, the blood of the Lamb, His own blood, His blood, my blood, and your blood. This symbol occurs so often, that it can be called a motif, which is a recurring element in a story that has symbolic significance. In their repetition, motifs emphasize what’s most important about a story. For example, in his most famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. used “I have a dream” as a motif to tie together different ideas such as a quote from the US Declaration of Independence and people who once were at odds sitting down together.

The noun “blood”, is also used as an extended figure of speech for the Christian gospel and all the benefits of Christ’s death. These benefits associated with the figurative “blood of Christ” include:

  • Redemption (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pt. 1:18-19), like being released from slavery.
  • Salvation, like being delivered from danger.
  • Forgiveness ( 1:7), like cancelling debts.
  • Reconciliation, like restoring a broken relationship, and having peace with God (Rom. 1:20).
  • Justification (Rom. 5:9), like acquittal from condemnation and guilt.
  • Adoption, like an orphan finding a new family.
  • Sanctification (Heb. 10:10; ( 13:12; 1 Jn. 1:7), like gaining Christ’s righteousness, being holy and set apart for God. And cleansing from sin, like “takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29); “the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7); “has freed us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5); and “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).

All of these benefits are associated with the term, the “blood of Christ”.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by blood, it reminds us of all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. This symbol also reminds us all the benefits of Christ’s death.

The torn curtain

When Jesus died, the heavy curtain that separated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem into two rooms (Ex. 26:31-33) was torn in half from the top to the bottom (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45). As the ark of the covenant symbolized God’s throne and presence in the Most Holy Place, the curtain separated sinful humanity from a holy God. The only person who was allowed into the inner room (the Most Holy Place), was the High Priest who could only enter once per year on the Day of Atonement after the necessary animal sacrifices had been offered.

As the curtain symbolized Christ’s body, its tearing symbolized His death (Heb. 6:19-20; 10:19-20). The tearing of the curtain signified that through Christ’s death believers have direct access to God (Heb. 9:11-14; 10:19-22). It symbolized a new era of access to God for all nationalities, not just the Jews.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the torn curtain, it reminds us of the beginning of a new relationship with God. This symbol also reminds us that Christ’s death is the only way for people to approach God the Father.

A ransom

Jesus came to “give His life as a ransom for many” and He “gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; 1 Ti. 2:6). A ransom was the price paid to free a slave. Similarly, Christ paid the ransom price of His own life to free us from spiritual death and the slavery of sin. He died on behalf of us all, but not all will accept this offer of freedom.

If the death of Jesus is like a ransom, it reminds us that a cost was involved and God the Father and Jesus made that payment. This image also reminds us of the benefits of Christ’s death for believers – it’s like being freed from slavery.

A gift

John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (as a gift), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. And God “did not spare His own Son, but gave Him (as a gift) up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). And Paul says that Jesus “gave Himself (as a gift) for our sins” as “a sacrifice to God” (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:2).

A gift involves a giver and a receiver. Here the gift is salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. The givers are God the Father and His only Son, Jesus. And the receivers are those who accept God’s supreme gift.

If the death of Jesus is like a gift, it reminds us of the love and generosity of the divine givers. This image also reminds us that we need to accept the gift in order to receive its benefits.

In March this year, Ryan Martin drowned just minutes after saving the life of a young girl near Coolangatta. He was one of a number of people who went to the girl’s aid. He didn’t know the girl, he just saw her in trouble and went to help. She was carried safely to shore but moments later Mr Martin began to struggle against the rough current. Surf lifesavers pulled him from the water but were unable to revive him. A friend said “He sacrificed himself to save the life of a young girl. The act of a true hero”. He gave her the gift of life, when she faced death.

Religious ceremonies

Water baptism

Christian baptism is a public identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-11). People are baptised by being immersed in water. It’s like a short version of Jonah being swallowed by the big fish. But they are under the water for a few seconds rather than three days! Going into the water is like death by drowning. Staying under the water is like burial, and coming up out of the water is like resurrection. It’s a drama that shows we are united with Christ’s death and should no longer be slaves to sin. And instead of being raised like Christ, we have a new spiritual life. Paul said “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Cor. 5:17).

Paul summarized the gospel message as: “what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Christ’s death was the payment for sin. His burial was the proof of His death. And His resurrection was the proof of God the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, and that death is conquered.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by baptism, it reminds us of its power over sin and Satan. This symbol also reminds us of how the death of Jesus can bring a new spiritual life.

The Lord’s supper

At His last Passover, Jesus told His disciples to remember Him regularly like the Jews had remembered the Passover associated with the exodus from Egypt. They were to do it by communally eating bread and drinking wine. The bread and wine were metaphors of Christ’s death. When Jesus said “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Mt. 26:26; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24), He meant that the broken bread represented His broken body. When Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28; Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). He meant that the wine represented blood, which was a symbol of His death.

As the old Mosaic covenant between God and the Israelites was confirmed by blood from animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:6-8), the new covenant was confirmed by Christ’s death.

If the death of Jesus is symbolized by the Lord’s Supper (the bread and wine), it reminds us that His death is the source of our spiritual life. This symbol also reminds us that the new covenant is superior to the old one and to all other religions.

Summary

symbols-of-christs-death-collage-400pxWe have looked at several symbols of Christ’s death from the Bible. They show that: It depends on God the Father and God the Son like Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It’s followed by resurrection like when Jonah was swallowed and vomited out by the big fish. In it Jesus was our substitute like an animal sacrifice – He took our punishment so we could receive God’s forgiveness and mercy. Through it, a believer’s sins are taken away forever like the scapegoat. It’s the only way from spiritual death to spiritual life like the bronze snake. It offers a choice to accept or reject like the choices made by those on the other two crosses. It has many benefits associated with the motif of blood. It began a new relationship with God like the torn curtain. It results in freedom like a ransom. It needs to be accepted like a gift. It gives power over sin and Satan like baptism. And it’s superior to the old Jewish covenant and all other religions like the Lord’s supper.

So multiple images and symbols are required to convey the message of Christ’s death and its impact.

In response, have you accepted God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation? Have you entered into the new relationship with God? Have you transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life? It’s the most important thing we can do. If not, confess your sinfulness like that criminal on the cross, who turned (repented) to trust that through Christ’s sacrificial death he could be reconciled with God.

If we are believers: When we realize what they have done for us, how often do we thank God the Father and Jesus for this great sacrifice? Do we keep meeting collectively to obey the Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25). Do we appreciate the exchange: Jesus took our punishment so we could receive God’s forgiveness and mercy? Are we assured that our sins are taken away forever? Are we free of the slavery of sin? Do we realize the implications of Christ’s resurrection and our new spiritual life? Is our spiritual life evident? And do we appreciate all the benefits associated with salvation?

Written, September 2016

Also see: Blood as a symbol of death in the Old Testament


From the cross to the crown

Suffering comes before glory

At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, events unique to the Christian faith. In this article we will look at what happened after His resurrection, and at four contrasts between His death and heavenly reign.

After the resurrection

After Christ’s resurrection, He appeared to His followers over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3). Then “He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19 niv). Luke reported, “He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11). The disciples were given a promise by two angels that in the future Jesus would return to earth in an event as spectacular as His ascension.

The Bible says repeatedly that Jesus Christ is now at God’s “right hand” – a place of honor, power, dominion and authority. His exalted position was noted by Peter (Acts 2:32-33a; 5:30-31; 1 Pt. 3:21-22), seen by Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) and mentioned in Hebrews (Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Paul added that Christ is above all other powers (Eph. 1:20-21) and that while He is at the right hand of God, He intercedes with the Father on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). Furthermore, believers will reign with the Lord in His coming kingdom: “I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

People sometimes say this was the greatest comeback since Lazarus because Lazarus came back from the dead, but died again because he was still mortal. But the resurrected Lord had a redeemed immortal body. He was the first to be resurrected to eternal life (1 Cor. 15:23). His was a different resurrection because He ascended into heaven to live forever. That’s a much greater comeback than Lazarus. In fact, Jesus went from the lowest place on earth, where He endured the suffering and humiliation of execution as a criminal, to the highest place in heaven, where He reigns over all creation. What a contrast!

Different crowns

Two types of crown are mentioned in the New Testament: a garland worn by a victorious athlete, and a diadem worn by royalty that symbolized the power to reign. Both of these crowns are used in the Bible to describe Jesus. Crowns are also mentioned in respect to His cross and reign.

Crown of thorns. Humanity, by way of the Roman soldiers, gave Christ the crown of thorns (Mt. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; Jn. 19:2-5), a purple robe and a staff in a mock coronation of the “king of the Jews.” Thorns are a product of the curse, which was God’s judgment on humanity’s fall into sinful behavior (Gen. 3:17-19). In Genesis thorns are associated with sin, struggle, sweat and death. At the cross, Christ had a symbol of the curse on His head.

Crown of glory. “We … see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). He was lower than the angels for 33 years. At His death He was the lowest of humanity, executed as a criminal. He came down to the cross and the grave. Now He is crowned with glory and honor, His exaltation a result of His suffering. The cross led to the crown. His glory was the reward of His suffering (Heb. 2:9; Phil. 2:7-9; Rev. 5:12). Seeing Jesus in His glory will give us great joy (Jn. 17:5,24).

Jesus prayed, “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began” (Jn. 17:4-5). Before He came to earth, He lived with the Father in heaven and reigned over all creation as the Creator. He regained this when He ascended, but gained the additional glory of being the Redeemer of the fallen creation. So, at the cross, He was given the crown of thorns, but when He ascended to heaven, He was given the crown of glory.

Different companions

Christ was crucified between two criminals (Mt. 27:38). It was a shameful death and a time of much grief and sorrow (Lk. 23:27-28,48). However, before going to the cross He prayed, “Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory” (Jn. 17:24). At the cross He was in the company of criminals, but in heaven He is in the company of the redeemed and of angels (Rev. 5:11-12).

Different comings of Christ

The Lord was here once, and He’s coming again – the invisible God visibly present on earth. The purpose for His first coming was to die on the cross for sinners like us; to be a sacrifice. The purpose for His second coming will be to reveal His great power and glory (Mt. 24:30; 2 Th. 2:8; Rev. 1:7). It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. At that time, He will wear the crown of authority, dominion, government and sovereignty, judge all evil and set up His kingdom on earth. That is when all the wrongs done on earth will be made right, all crime will end, and justice will prevail.

In His first coming the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey. In His second coming He will be on a war horse: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns” (Rev. 19:11-12). His supremacy is emphasized by His wearing “many crowns.”

Suffering before glory

Although Christ’s suffering and glory were both foretold in the Old Testament, their relationship was not obvious at that time. Psalm 22:1-21 describes the Lord’s suffering. For example, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from saving Me, so far from My cries of anguish?” was spoken at the cross (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46). Psalm 22:22-31 describe His millennial reign over the earth. For example, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:26-27). We see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory.

Likewise, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6) describes Christ’s first coming which led to the cross, while the rest of this verse and the next describes the millennial kingdom established after His second coming: “And the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” Once again we see in the same passage the cross and the crown; the suffering and the glory. Other references to the Lord’s suffering and reign are Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110.

Christ’s cross and crown are keys to understanding the Bible. And aspects of His sacrifice and death for sinners, and His kingdom and future glory can be seen in many passages of Scripture. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). The Old Testament prophets predicted the Lord’s sufferings and the glories that would follow, but they didn’t know that there would be thousands of years between these events.

Christ’s mission was to go to the cross to die for our sin. Now, having paid the price for sin, He is highly exalted at God’s right hand and will come again as King of kings and Lord of lords. His cross had to precede His crown: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11).

Lessons for us

Jesus went from the lowest place on earth (the cross) to the highest place in heaven where He reigns over all creation. What a change there is between His two comings to earth – from crown of thorns to crown of glory, from criminal to the redeemed, from death to dominion, and from suffering to glory.

Because Jesus endured the cross, He now wears the crown and we can have the assurance of eternal life with Him in heaven. For Jesus, suffering had to precede glory. The New Testament pattern of suffering followed by glory applies to us as well: believers suffer now, but will be released into the glory of immortal bodies at the resurrection (Rom. 8:16-25; 2 Cor. 4:16-18). Like the Lord, believers must be willing to suffer and lose their lives for His sake (Lk. 9:23).

Paul wrote, “if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Meanwhile, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

The Biblical pattern is that suffering in this life will lead to an inheritance of eternal glory. We should not be focusing on our present physical situation, but be looking ahead. We are not promised a trouble-free life; in fact the opposite is the case because Jesus tells us that trouble is inevitable (Jn. 16:33). Look at His life as an example, and focus on the One who went to the cross and who now wears the crown.

Published, April 2012

See the other article in this series:
From the Cradle to the Cross


From The Cradle To The Cross

The incarnation leads to God’s presence

On December 25 we remember the birth of Jesus Christ. This central event in history divided the calendar into BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”). He was born to die, His name meaning “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21 NIV). In this article we will look at four similarities between Christ’s birth and His death.

Foretold
Approximately 700 BC Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And “the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel” (Isa. 9:6; 7:14). In the same time period, Micah predicted, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Mic. 5:2).

In about 530 BC Daniel wrote, “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing” (Dan. 9:26). This is a reference to the sudden death of the Messiah. Christ’s suffering was described beforehand by Isaiah: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness … He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteem Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed … He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken” (Isa. 52:13-53:12). So the Old Testament prophets foretold the circumstances of the Messiah’s birth and death.

Where No One Had Ever Been Laid
When Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the census, the only accommodation they could find was in the stable of an inn: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:6-7). So the cattle trough became the cradle for the Messiah! What an unusual place for a baby – the manger would not have been used for this purpose before! This was God’s plan as it was announced to the shepherds. It also shows that He was born a pauper (2 Cor. 8:9).

After the Lord’s death, Joseph of Arimathea placed the body “in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock” (Mt. 27:60). It was a place where “no one had ever been laid” (Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41). This was the fulfillment of the prediction that “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death” (Isa. 53:9). Although the Lord was crucified as a criminal, He was buried in a rich man’s tomb, Joseph being a prominent member of the Jewish Council (Mk. 15:43). As H. A. Berg’s hymn says:

None had been laid in that manger
And none had been laid in that grave
But Jesus the heavenly stranger
Who came wayward sinners to save

Opposition
After King Herod heard about the birth of the King of the Jews “he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mt. 2:3). So he asked the wise men to search for the child and report back to him. When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the astrologers, “he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Mt. 2:8,16). What a drastic measure to take against a potential rival! In the meantime, Jesus and His family escaped to Egypt until Herod died.

The authorities felt threatened and responded with hatred and opposition that continued during the Lord’s ministry until He was condemned to death by the Chief Priests, the Jewish elders, Pilate and Herod. They even persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of the murderer Barabbas and Christ’s crucifixion even though He was innocent (Mt. 27:16-23; Mk. 15:6-14). The title on His cross was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but the Chief Priests protested that the sign should read, “this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (Jn. 19:21).

Signs In The Sky
The astrologers (or Magi, a sacred caste of the religion of the Medes and Persians) traveled to Jerusalem in search of the Christ-child, because they “saw His star in the East.” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed because it stopped over the place where the child was (Mt. 2:2,10). God used a special star to guide these men to a particular house.

We can learn much from their behavior recorded in Matthew 2:2-12. They came to worship Him. This was a genuine desire, not a selfish one like Herod’s. They came with joy and “bowed down and worshiped Him.” They brought gifts of gold (symbolic of a king), incense (a perfume symbolizing the Lord’s sinless life) and myrrh (a bitter herb symbolizing the Lord’s suffering). Do we bring gifts to the Lord for Him to use for His purposes?

When the Lord was on the cross there was darkness “over all the land” for three hours after noon (Mt. 27:45). This would have been incredible – like an extended total solar eclipse1. During this time He bore God’s judgment of the sins of mankind. After this, He chose to die by dismissing His spirit. “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split” (Mt. 27:50-51). So there was an earthquake, and the heavy curtain inside the temple – the door to the Holiest place where God dwelt – was torn in two. This would have been a catastrophe for the Jewish religious leaders because it exposed the most sacred place where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once each year on the Day of Atonement. This was God’s doing, as it was torn from top to bottom, not bottom to top.

The symbolism of this event is explained in Hebrews 10:19-22 this way: “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The curtain represented Christ’s body and through His death all believers can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. It was God’s way of opening the door to a relationship with Him (Rev. 3:20).

Hymn writer Gerrit Gustafson put it this way:
Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavor
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us

You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come

Now by Your grace we come.

May we avail ourselves of this privilege of entering the open door of God’s presence as we celebrate His birth during this Christmas season.

Published: December 2002

See the other article in this series:
From the Cross to the Crown


Four Great Rescues

Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea

Stories about the rescue of refugees from war-torn countries and people from earthquakes and severe accidents appear often in the news media. Last September, the rescue of thousands of people from the terrorists’ destruction of New York’s Twin Towers made news around the world. In this article we will look at four great rescues, three from the past and one yet to come: the boat that saved Noah’s family; the exodus from Egypt; the cross of Christ; and Christ’s second coming. These major rescues are key historical events that bring salvation to humanity. The typical sequence of events for these rescues is: a promise given, the people’s faith, God’s action enabling the rescue, and the thanksgiving afterward.

The Boat
When God told Noah that, because of the wickedness of humanity, He was sending a global flood that would destroy everything that breathed, He promised that Noah’s family would be kept safe in a boat (Gen. 6:18). Before this major disaster occurred God had a rescue plan in mind.

God took the initiative, but also relied on Noah making a significant contribution to the rescue. He gave specific instructions on how to make the boat, including its dimensions and materials used. God designed the boat and Noah supervised its construction. Noah was also told what provisions to store for the first recorded voyage, when to enter the boat, and when to leave it (Gen. 6:14-16,21; 7:1; 8:16).

Because Noah did everything God told him to do, the boat carried its occupants safely through the disaster to re-populate the earth (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). It was a place of refuge for the eight people who were rescued because they believed the warning and trusted God’s promise (1 Pet. 3:20).

After they left the boat, Noah thanked God by offering sacrifices. God responded by blessing Noah’s family and by using a rainbow to signify His promise that there would be no more global floods (Gen. 8:20; 9:8-17).

The Exodus
“Exodus” is a Greek word meaning “departure.” Israel’s escape from four centuries of slavery in Egypt is another example of a great rescue by God. Many years before, Joseph had faith to speak about God’s promise to take the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25; Heb. 11:22). Later, God announced that He would free them from slavery in Egypt, redeem them with mighty power and great acts of judgment and bring them into the Promised Land (Ex. 6:6-8).

Moses “led them out of Egypt” after God used ten plagues to force Pharaoh to let them go (Acts 7:36 NIV). Very detailed instructions were given for the final plague, when each Jewish household had to kill a lamb and smear its blood on the door frame of the house. That night they were to eat a special meal that included lamb’s meat and unleavened bread in preparation for a long journey. They were to stay inside their houses until morning. The Israelites did as they were told, and at midnight the Lord killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians and the firstborn of their livestock. But the Jews were protected by the blood on their doorways.

Pharaoh finally relented after the tragedy of the Passover, and the Jews were told to leave Egypt as quickly as possible (Ex. 12:31-33). When the Egyptians came in pursuit, the Israelites were afraid; but Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch the Lord rescue you. The Egyptians that you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. You won’t have to lift a finger” (Ex. 14:13-14 nlt). Then God miraculously helped them cross the Red Sea while drowning the Egyptian army (Ex. 13:17-14:31).

God also performed other miracles to help two million Israelites get to Canaan: He guided them through the desert by pillars of cloud and fire, provided food and water in the desert, and victory over their enemies (Ex. 12:37; 13:21; 15:22-17:7; Num. 11:31; 20:2-11; 21:1-3, 21-35).

During their journey the people complained about their hardships (Num. 11:1-6). God told them to send spies to explore Canaan, but they reported that the inhabitants were too powerful, and the people complained again and said they wanted to return to Egypt! As a result of their rebellion, God caused them to wander for another 38 years in the desert. When they tried to enter the Promised Land in their own strength, they were defeated.

The Exodus from Egypt was God’s idea and happened under His power. Concerned about the suffering of His people in Egypt, God acted to rescue them and bring them to Canaan (Ex. 2:24-25; 3:7-10). He said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. You shall acknowledge no God but Me, no Savior except Me” (Hos. 13:4). God raised up Moses to bring His people out of Egypt and told him what to do and say (Ex. 3:14-22; 7:20). Moses obeyed God’s instructions and was the mediator and intercessor between God and the people. He was a vital part of God’s plan. The people had to obey and trust God in order to escape from Egypt.

After they crossed the Red Sea, the people sang a song of thanksgiving (Ex. 15:1-21). It began, “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him” (Ex. 15:1-2).

The Exodus from Egypt was the greatest example of deliverance for Israel and undergirded their knowledge of God as the Savior, even though it was later forgotten (Ps. 106:21).

The Cross
After the fall of humanity into sin, God promised that the Messiah would triumph over Satan (Gen. 3:15). There are many promises in the Old Testament about the Messiah. Christ’s mission was to “save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today … a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11). So Jesus saves people from great danger and brings them to a position of safety.

The Bible records that Jesus was executed on a cross. His death and resurrection are the central events of the Christian faith. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). This was God’s greatest rescue in history: “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s provision for us. When the flood came, the boat God provided for Noah’s family was the only means of being rescued; those outside perished. Similarly, personal acceptance of Christ’s work is the only way of being rescued from God’s coming judgment (1 Th. 1:10; 1 Pet. 3:18-21). His death and resurrection are also like Moses who rescued the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

In this case the rescue was planned by God and carried out by Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). “The Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 Jn. 4:14). The Bible also says that God has saved us, not because of anything we have done but because of His grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Only Jesus has the power to save people from the lake of fire. His name is the only one that can save anyone (Acts 4:12). God loved us so much that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

In this case the rescue also depends on an act of faith: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10: 9-10). The thanksgiving song that believers will sing throughout eternity is, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).

The Second Coming
Christ’s second coming has two main parts, the Rapture and the Appearing. The Rapture is the next major scene in God’s rescue plan, marking the end of the Church age and the beginning of the Tribulation period. Like the Church, the Rapture was a mystery unknown in Old Testament times, but revealed in the New Testament (1 Cor. 15:51).

By the Rapture Christ rescues believers from the coming period of judgment called the Tribulation, and by the cross He rescues them from the eternal punishment of their sins (1 Th. 1:10).

When Jesus spoke about heaven He promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:2-3). The Rapture will be a miraculous event when Christ will raise the dead and transform the living. Christian faith ensures participation in this event. Afterward there will be much thanksgiving at the marriage feast of the Lamb. This will be a great celebration for all believers: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

The other phase of the second coming is the appearing of the Lord; it ends the tribulation. After Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives two angels asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 11).

The Appearing, when the Lord comes to the earth in great power and judgment, will be an awesome event (2 Th. 1:6-10). In this life, faith ensures participation in this event, as one of those with the Lord when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Those rescued out of the Tribulation, who pass alive into the Millennium, sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, the latter celebrating the final rescue from Satan (Rev. 15:2-3).

A Great Lifesaver
Rescues that save and protect people from harm and danger are God’s idea. He used a boat to save Noah’s family from the flood, and Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He sent Jesus on a rescue mission to die on the cross to save us from the lake of fire. He has promised to come again to take believers to heaven and return to the earth later to rescue those who trust in Him during the Tribulation. These examples make one thing clear: God has great power to save His people.

Peter reminds us that unbelievers will be punished, but God’s people will be rescued. If God rescued Noah’s family, then we are promised that “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4-9).

Our Response
As God rescued Noah’s family and the children of Israel, He will also rescue those who trust in Him. God has done His part to rescue us from our due punishment, and to restore us back to Him. What about you?

Are you in the boat or out in the flood? Will you be safe or sorry? There are only two alternatives. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but the choice is ours. Those who trust in Christ’s victory on the cross have been rescued from the power of Satan, their sins are forgiven and they are safely on their way to heaven (Col. 1:13-14). Those outside are destined to the lake of fire. Trust Him and He will rescue you for eternity.

As a Christian, are you following the pillars of cloud and fire towards the Promised Land or wandering around in the desert because of your sins (1 Cor. 10:1-13)? Are you on the right road or lost on a side road? We need God’s saving power day by day.

He wants to help us every day and He has given us the pattern which is the same as for the major rescues: God’s promises, plus our faith, followed by our thanksgiving: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Our faith should be continually increasing as faithfulness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (2 Cor. 10:15; Gal. 5:22). We are exhorted to “live by faith” (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7).

He has given us many promises in the Bible and if we trust Him in these, like those saved in the great rescues of the Bible, we will see His power in our lives. We can trust in Christ’s victory to rescue us from the power of sin and Satan (1 Jn. 1:9).

Published: April 2002