The last verse in the gospel of John describes something in the short 3½ year timespan of Jesus’ ministry that most pass right by. John, the beloved apostle, said:
And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25, NKJV)
With the four gospels that we have been given, we have just a sampling of what happened in those very short years of Jesus’ ministry on this earth before He was crucified. Several times in Scripture it says that Jesus healed everyone that came or was brought to Him. There would be no end to the books that could have been written about His short journey planet Earth.
Everything He said and did led to His death on the cross, and ultimately to His resurrection three days later. It is because He rose from the dead as He had promised that our faith in Him and the things He taught are of eternal value. We will take a look at the resurrection a little later in this study.
The death of Jesus by crucifixion was not such an unusual event in the first century. What is unusual is that it was foretold centuries earlier in the Old Testament, long before crucifixion was ever used as a form of capital punishment. Contrary to what many believe, it was not the Romans that invented the crucifixion. History records Persian King Darius 1 crucifying 3,000 political prisoners in about 519 B.C.
Psalm 22 was written by King David roughly 1,000 years before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and in this Psalm there are numerous descriptive statements made that were prophetic. Below is a sampling:
My God, My God,why have You forsaken Me? (verse 1)
All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shootout the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (verses 7-8)
Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; you have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones, they look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. (verses 12-18)
This is an amazing passage of Scripture! Verse one shows the agony Jesus went through by His separation from the Father. Jesus, the Son of God, was hung on the cross for the sake of the human race. As He took the sins of the world upon Himself, the Father had to turn His face away from the Son. There was a separation that happened at that point that God, the Three in One, had never experienced.
A simple short definition of the Triune God might be in order at this point: There is one eternal being of GOD—indivisible, infinite. This one being of GOD is shared by three co-equal, co-eternal Persons, the Father, the Son (or the Word), and the Spirit.
Christians are sometimes accused of being pantheists (believing in multiple gods), but this is not the case. There is only one God. His Triune Being is composed of three distinct personages and Jesus is the Second Person of this Triune God, completely united and co-equal with the Father God and Holy Spirit. It is a difficult, perhaps impossible, concept for humans to understand. But not being able to fully understand how God, who is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (every-where present), can be a triune being does not allow us, the created ones, to deny what is impossible for us to fully grasp, or to redefine GOD in a way that brings the Infinite Eternal GOD down to our limited, finite, human understanding.
It is this very flaw in our prideful human arrogance that has led to so many different religions and sects around the world which all deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. The fact that there is such a colossal conflict against accepting the divinity of this man should give us enough pause to beg the question, “Why?”
The true depth of what happened on the cross is impossible for us as human beings to fully comprehend. Jesus, the Son of God, the “Word” of God, experienced a separation from the Eternal union of the Godhead, the Father turning His face away from the Son, condemning Him to die for the sins of the world. Rather than the world having to face the full fury of God’s wrath against sin, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man, took the full brunt of the wrath of God! In that most horrid moment, the second person of the Trinity was abandoned, causing Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Complete innocence took on the combined sin guilt of the whole human race! Incorruption took on corruption!
The prophet Isaiah provided the most detailed description of what the life of Jesus and His death on the cross was all about. Isaiah 53 is included here. I suggest a slow, deliberate, thoughtful reading of this passage. I pray that the Holy Spirit of God touches the soul of each reader with these words which foretold what was to come centuries after they were written.
But, Oh, how few believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal His saving power? In God’s eyes He was like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. But in our eyes there was no attractiveness at all, nothing to make us want Him. We despised Him and rejected Him—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way when He went by. He was despised and we didn’t care.
Yet it was our grief He bore, our sorrows that weighed Him down. And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God, for His own sins! But He was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was chastised that we might have peace; He was lashed—and we were healed! We are the ones who strayed away like sheep! We, who left God’s fold for our own. Yet God laid on Him the guilt and sins of every one of us!
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He stood silent before the ones condemning Him. From prison and trial they led Him away to His death. But who among the people of that day realized it was their sins that He was dying for—that He was suffering their punishment? He was buried like a criminal in a rich man’s grave; but he had done no wrong, and had never spoken an evil word.
Yet it was the Lord’s good plan to bruise Him and fill Him with grief. But when His soul has been made an offering for sin, then He shall have a multitude of children, many heirs. He shall live again and God’s program shall prosper in His hands. And when He sees all that is accomplished by the anguish of His soul, He shall be satisfied; and because of what He has experienced, my righteous Servant shall make many to be counted righteous before God, for He shall bear all their sins. Therefore I will give Him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because He has poured out His soul unto death. He was counted as a sinner, and He bore the sins of many, and He pled with God for sinners. (The Living Bible)
This ancient prophecy goes into great detail about what the mission of the Messiah was to be. The Jewish people were looking for a powerful Messiah who would challenge the Roman Empire and set them free. Jesus did come as the Messiah, but they had not distinguished between the first coming of the Messiah from the second coming of the Messiah. Jesus came to confront a much greater enemy than the Roman Empire the first time around. Jesus came to provide the only acceptable sacrifice that could set mankind free of sin and death. In the process of doing this, He was not recognized for Who He really was, and so was disdained by most. Even right at the very end, when He was about to release His spirit to return to His Father, He had others on His mind more than Himself. When He was enduring some of the most excruciating pain imaginable, He recognized the need of His mother. With her son gone, his mother Mary would need someone to care for her. From the cross Jesus asked His disciple John to take her into his own home as if she were his own mother. Jesus also responded to the thief on the cross who recognized His real identity, and He promised him that he would be with Him in paradise. Then, as He was breathing His last, He asked the Father to forgive His killers, saying that they really did not know what they were doing!
Jesus was the one who had explained what the greatest commandment was, and He demonstrated it right to the very end. He loved the Father with all of His heart, mind, soul, and strength…and His neighbor as Himself—even His killers. His holiness and love for the Father, and compassion for mankind was what controlled His actions until all had been completed as God had planned. Then, Jesus said, “IT IS FINISHED!” After these words, He released His spirit and died. The crucifixion did not kill Him; neither did the Roman soldiers. He died of His own accord because His task was completed. God the Father, God the Holy Spirit were present at the scene of the crucifixion, as God the Son, gave His life for the world.
There were some miraculous things that took place at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus that help to answer the question, “Why Jesus?” The crucifixion account is given in each of the Gospels, but let’s look at what Matthew, the former tax collector-turned disciple, had to say about the scene at the cross just before Jesus died:
Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after his resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54, NKJV)
Several unusual things took place at the time of Jesus’ death. Most people read through this account and of the extended period of darkness the world experienced without realizing how unusual an event this really was. Scientifically, this cannot have been a lunar eclipse! A lunar eclipse only darkens the sun for about 3½ minutes or so. The Biblical account says there was darkness over the entire land for three hours. This sudden three-hour darkness was substantiated by many witnesses, including historians of the time. There is only one object that can cause such an effect. The sun was blocked by another cosmic body other than the moon! An unknown planetary body passed between the earth and the sun at the very time when Jesus was hanging on the cross, causing this anomaly. I am convinced, from Old Testament history, and by scientific evidence, that a number of historical epochal events throughout history have likely been caused by the passage of cosmic intruders. We know that the solar system is composed of more than the known planets and their respective moons. Our solar system also has what is called the Kuiper Belt, Asteroid Belt, and the Oort Cloud. Within these vast areas there are multiplied trillions of comets, meteors, meteorites, asteroids, space rocks, and collision debris. God is in complete control of all these objects, their orbits, their collisions, and their use for His purposes. God can—in fact, does–use them for His own purposes, including judgments. As we read the Apostle John’s vision of the Apocalypse, it is clear that many of the recorded judgments will be caused by some of these objects colliding with the Earth. I believe as history unfolded, God timed the passage of this very large cosmic object to pass by the Earth at the precise time of Jesus’ death.
There were other unusual miraculous events right about this time as well. There was a major earthquake which caused severe damage. At the time of Jesus’ death the veil of the Temple was torn in two. This veil was a specially woven item which was sixty feet tall, thirty feet wide, and 4-6 inches thick! The significance of the veil having been torn at this very time is that the “Holy of Holies” was now accessible to all of humanity, not just the special priesthood. The price Jesus paid in full when He spoke the words, “It is finished”, eliminated the need for the animal sacrificial system that had been in place since Moses’ law had been instituted. Jesus had become the perfect “Lamb of God”! Man can now come boldly before His presence, the blood price paid, and with no veil to separate us from Him. Praise God!
There was however even another oddity that happened at this time. Historical records confirm that this earthquake did great damage in and around the whole area, shaking the ground and splitting rocks, causing great damage to structures and so forth. Some of these historical records speak of many tombs and graves that were torn open by the quake. After the resurrection of Jesus, many Old Testament saints and had been in these graves were resurrected by the power of God and appeared to many within the city of holy city of Jerusalem.
So, as you can see from this short summary of events at the cross, Jesus could not possibly just have been just a man. Neither was He just another great teacher or prophet. He was the Son of God and was recognized for Who He was, even by many of those that watched Him die. It is the strange phenomenon they saw surrounding this most unique event that they would react to it all by saying, “Surely this was the Son of God!”
In Part 4, the conclusion of this series, we will look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His imminent return.