Crucial Issues of the Cross
By Fred O. Blakely
"If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him"(Mt.27:39-42).
In this satanic reviling and challenging of the dying Christ, the chief priests, scribes, and elders, with the passersby, confronted Him with His last and seemingly one of His most-trying and potentially most-disastrous temptations.
The Tempting Element. The trying element of the solicitation stems from the fact that Jesus undoubtedly could have responded to it. He could have come down from the cross, and so delivered Himself from death. That situation is implicit in His assertion that no man took His life from Him, but that He laid it down of His own free will (Jn. 10:17-18). It is also required by the fact that He could have asked for "more than twelve legions of angels," who would have been sent to deliver Him (Mt. 26:53-54).
For an ordinary man the taunting demand would have posed no temptation at all; but not so with the Son of God. It also must be considered that His humanity cried out, fully as much as ours would have done, for Him to yield to the adversaries' summons. That is, it craved release from the agony of the cross with all of its both seen and unseen involvements. That is made clear by His previous prayer in the garden for deliverance from the shame and suffering that then lay before Him (Mt. 26:38-46).
What, then, kept our Lord on the cross, if He could have come down from it, and His human nature cried out for Him to do so? In that question's answer is demonstrated His steadfast love for and unswerving devotion to His Father, and His divine love for and unflinching devotion to the world of lost humanity which He came to save. We do well, indeed, to consider that demonstration, together with the related issues at stake in His mockers' reviling and challenge.
The Issue of Obedience. The first demonstration appears from John 10:18. Christ there declares that He had a commandment from the Father to lay down His life as a sin-offering for men. For that very cause He came into the world, as He indicates in John 12:27. In other words, Jesus' principal mission to earth was to die for the world's sins; that was what the Father sent Him to do (I Jn. 2:1-2; 4:9-10, 14).
For Him to have yielded to the call of His enemies, and have come down from the cross without dying, would have constituted disobedience to the Father. It would have been for Him to have rebelled against God, and thus to have sinned against Him. In such yielding, He would have refused and failed to carry out the mission assigned to Him by God. So would the tragic sin and failure of Eden's garden have been repeated, with the second Man falling victim to Satan's seduction as the first one had done.
The first issue in the situation, then, was that of obedience to God or self-gratification from the earthly and temporal view. That was essentially the nature of the temptation presented to our Lord at the outset of His ministry, it will be recalled (Mt. 4:1-10). Clearly, the Devil was adhering to his established line in the warfare against the seed of woman (Gen. 3:1-7; I Jn. 2:15-17).
The Self-corruption. Such betrayal of His trust would, in turn, have barred Christ from reentry into heaven, since He would have been corrupted by sin. He who, up to that time, had known no sin (II Cor. 5:21), would have become a sinner, and disqualified as the sin-offering for mankind (I Pet. 1:18-20). There could have been no reception "up into glory" for Him, as was anticipated and described by David (Ps. 24:7-10).
The whole redemptive plan of God, devised and foreordained before the world began, accordingly, would have been foiled by Satan, and the Divine counsel and rule thrown into utter disarray and confusion. So would this last assault of the evil one against the Son of God have accomplished what the others had failed to do.
The Father's Condemnation. Closely related to that situation is the state of condemnation in which Christ's coming down from the cross would have left the holy Father. It will be recalled that the eternal purpose was for Him to die in vindication of God, or for His justification, in having previously "passed over" men's sins, or to show God's righteousness in doing so (Rom. 3:21-26, ASV; cf. Heb. 9:15). The Divine "forbearance" had been extended in anticipation of Jesus, in the fullness of the appointed time, dying for sins.
Had the Savior come down from the cross, failing to so die, God would have been left unjustified in the forbearance of sin that He had shown. That unthinkable situation would actually have implicated the holy God in sin. Hence, Christ, who came to honor the Father and justify Him before men and angels in His reception of sinful men, would have wound up condemning the God who sent Him.
The Loss to Christ and Us. The personal loss to the Savior Himself would have been inconceivably and indescribably great, had He succumbed to this last temptation. He could not have become the world's Redeemer, which experience was a large part of "the joy that was set before Him" as incentive for endurance of the cross (Heb. 12:1). Neither, as we have said, could He have gone back to heaven, much less have reassumed the glory which He had with the Father "before the world was" (Jn. 17:5). Indeed, the Son would have been forever alienated from the Father, with no prospect, as Adam had, of a coming Savior to rescue Him from His lost estate.
Finally, the condemned world would have been abandoned to everlasting exclusion from the presence of God and from the glory of His power, had Jesus come down from the cross. Had the Captain of our salvation so succumbed to the solicitation to yield to the yearning for fleshly relief and present benefit, He would have sold His birthright and humanity's eternal well-being for that "morsel of meat" (Heb. 12:16). The tragic case of profane Esau would, thus, have been repeated, infinitely compounded in its tragedy by the universal implications it would have involved.
The Exemplary Devotion. It can be taken for granted that all these issues, and no doubt others not here mentioned, were clearly before the mind of our blessed Lord as He rejected the Devil's taunting summons and remained on the cross. In that view of the situation, we can perceive something of His devotion to the Father, to His mission, and His great love for us and devotion to our welfare.
It is, thus, apparent that the revilers' taunt had more truth in it than they knew or intended. "He saved others; Himself He cannot save," they said. Because of His devotion to God and us, He could not save Himself. Here was the Divine demonstration of the principle of esteeming others better than oneself (Phil. 2:3), or of putting their welfare above one's own present benefit. Christ could not save Himself, not because it was literally impossible. The impossibility of Self-saving in this instance was moral, not physical.
In the perception of that situation, our conclusion and determination should be like that of Paul. That is, since Christ so committed Himself to God and so loved us, we should love and unreservedly commit ourselves to Him (II Cor. 5:14-15; cf. I Jn. 4:19).
In further personal application of these considerations, a very timely observation is essential. We, too, are on a cross in our union with Christ, being crucified with Him (Gal. 2:20; cf. ch. 5:24), it must be remembered. And Satan, through his emissaries, continually urges us to come down from it, or to reassume a life-style after the flesh.
For us to do so is to give up all the blessed benefits provided for us by our Lord's sufferings, and our union with Him in them. "Whosoever doth not bear His cross, and come after Me," said He, "cannot be My disciple" (Lk. 14:27). It is only "he that endureth unto the end," it will be recalled, that "shall be saved" (Mt. 10:22; cf. Rev. 2:10).
"Let us go forth, therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach," as we are urged to do (Heb. 13:13). Just as surely as God raised Him from the cross and the grave to which it consigned Him, to eternal glory, so will He do with us. In "due time," He will certainly do that, if we resist the satanic temptations, and go on suffering with Christ our Lord (I Pet. 5:6). If we "suffer with Him," we shall "be also glorified with Him" (Rom. 8:17). "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (II Tim. 2:11-12). But only so.