Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1999
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Chapter 4: The Death of the King
Lesson 133 – Death of Christ – Isaiah 53, James 4:13-15
11 Nov 1999
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ve reviewed one of these verses, Hebrews 11:3, and that’s a basic verse because everything in our lives is under the sovereign counsel of the will of God and that is something that the author of Hebrews wants us to keep in mind. I’d like to introduce another promise in that same motif. What we’re trying to do is make practical the central teaching of Scripture regarding who God is, and who we are as creatures. We go back again and again, for repetition, to the Creator/creature distinction. We can’t get enough of that because that is the essence of the entire council of the Word of God. Turn to James 4. We’re going to review a simple promise before we get into the main lesson. This continues the theme that the Christian thinks God’s thoughts after Him. We do not invent truth; we discover truth that He has already created. There’s a world of difference between the Christian following Biblical lines of thinking and the unbeliever following lines of thinking of the flesh. The unbeliever, or in our parlance, the pagan way of thinking is to be entertained with the notion that man invents truth, whereas Scripture says that God has created the truth and man discovers it.
The Christian is said to think God’s thoughts after him, at least that’s the ideal. We start with the Creator who has preexisting thought, language and meaning. All vocabulary words, all meaning comes about by the context of history, and history is driven by the sovereignty of God. God has ordained every moment of history, every atom, every electron, every proton, not that He has destroyed free will, not that He has excluded human responsibility, but that all of history including human responsibility is under His sovereign design. Because of this, all of man’s thinking is a derivative; man has a derivative nature, so our meanings, our thoughts, our vocabulary is dependent upon God’s thoughts, God’s vocabulary, and the meaning that God has invested in that.
In James 4 we have a very practical application to ordinary business decisions that James was addressing to the Jewish readers, wherever the place was that James wrote to. Practically speaking, thinking according to Scripture, we take our plans and we submit them to God. That’s the position that James is taking about in verse 13. He says, “Come now, you who say,” in other words, there are people in that congregation who were planning their lives as though the Creator/creature distinction never existed. He says now look, you’re saying this, here’s how you’re planning, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go into such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” That’s a business plan, that’s the essence of a good business plan, it could be a vacation plan, it could be any kind of a plan, but the idea is this is how we plan. He says okay, you’re saying that we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.
Verse 14, here’s where he introduces the Creator’s sovereign will, cutting across our plans. “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” I’m sure you’ve been in a work place where you’ve had a person who you worked alongside of and then one morning you come to work and they’re dead. That happened to me at the Proving Ground. An engineer, 41 years old, all of a sudden he didn’t show up one morning and he had dropped dead. So that’s the extreme version of getting your life plans vetoed, but the idea here is that we have to live … it doesn’t say don’t make plans because he’s going to show in verse 15 the alternative. Verse 14 is a warning, just like a sandwich. Verse 13 is the plan as though we would do it in the energy of the flesh, thinking in terms of categories that ordinary people, regenerate or unregenerate would think about, and that’s one line of approach. Then verse 14 challenges the content of verse 13. Verse 13 is the plan, verse 14 he says “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” So what he’s doing is he’s going back to the finite limited mind of the finite creature. You don’t know what your life is going to be like, you’re just a vapor. Now he goes on, not only do we not know what tomorrow brings, but we also know that our lives are very tenuous and can disappear very quickly.
Verse 15 is a corrected version of verse 13. Verse 15 is planning as unto the Lord, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” He’s not saying every time you open your mouth you say if God wills, if God wills, if God wills, ad nauseam, being an idiot about it. What he’s saying in verse 15 is if God wills, that’s just understood, in other words, God has veto power, and it’s simply a recognition of His sovereignty, that’s all. It’s a recognition of His omnipotence; it’s a recognition that whatever we plan down here is very, very tenuous and can’t be executed unless it fits with what’s up there, at the Creator level. So he says, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” Please notice verse 15 ends with a plan; He is not saying do not plan. Some people read this and say oh, well we don’t plan tomorrow. Wrong, a failure to comprehend verse 15. The last part of verse 15 is just a repetition of verse 13, it says do this or that, in other words, go ahead and do you plans but have your plans understood in your mind that they’re subject to His veto.
What that does, it relieves a lot of frustration because if you don’t work that way, if we persist in trying to plan it the way we’re doing it, we wallow around in this mess where we’re trying to get unity and order in our lives, and we have everything planned out and then I can or I will, and we make these inflexible plans, whether it’s business, spiritual life, family or church. It’s just a personal version of a totalitarian political state, except in this case we have our own little zone that we’re rolling like totalitarians. It just mirrors a spirit of dictatorship, a spirit of the autonomous creature. What happens? We get frustrated, and then once God interrupts our plans and the whole thing falls apart, then we come over here, I failed, I did this and it’s a mess, and total depression. This oscillation goes on back and forth when we approach life this way. So the promise in James is a nice one because it’s rooted in a very practical, easy to see situation. Remember James 4:13-15 because it’s a good practical illustration of what we’re talking about.
We’re going to move further into the study of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before we do that there are a few things we want to understand. I’m going to quickly go over pages 76-77 because on those two pages of notes there are four links between the blood atonement and the Messiah. What we’ve said so far is that just as every event in Christ’s life… let’s review the events in Christ’s life: His birth, his life, we studied that last year, now we’re coming to His death, and why are we approaching it this way? Because words and meanings are set by their context. The context is history, and the Bible gives us history. One of the unique things about Bible Christianity, and there’s no other religion in the world except Old Testament Judaism that has this feature, is that it is historic religion. We’ve quoted Dr. Albright who was basically the father of American archeology. He taught many years at Johns Hopkins and after studying the ancient east and all these ancient religions came up with this interesting observation. He said that nowhere, NOWHERE in all of history can you find an example of a people who made a written contract with their God, not one continent, not one language, not one people group, never! There’s only one people on the face of this planet who ever had a written contractual agreement with their God. That’s the Jews. It’s an amazing feature.
It’s because God, who is the God of the Jews, the God of the Scriptures, this God speaks and He writes. All the other gods are phonies, they don’t reveal verbally and they don’t write. So it’s obvious that only the God of the Scripture writes contracts, and He holds Himself to terms of the contracts. This is why often you get so frustrated reading Scripture and you get into the begets and the begots and the history of this and the history of that and you say what is all this? It is a historical record to show the faithfulness of God to the contractual terms of these covenants and the unfaithfulness of His people to those same contractual terms.
In the birth, life and death of Christ we have further chapters in God’s faithfulness. Each time there’s a great event in history truths are revealed about God. It’s learning about these events and associating with the truths that fires our imaginations and gives us the ability to think through what He’s talking about. The birth, the critical doctrines that are taught in the birth of Christ are the doctrines of God and man, with a few other doctrines thrown in. But you can’t understand the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and the incarnation unless first we have an understanding of who God is and who man is according to Scripture.
Then we came to the life of Christ; one of the great doctrines here is the doctrine of revelation, that God reveals Himself. God reveals Himself through Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ is man. It is the only time in the history of the universe where the Creator of the entire universe incarnated Himself, not as a Martian, not as somebody in Galaxy 552 somewhere. He incarnated Himself in a creature that He made in whose image? He created man in the image of God. He didn’t create dogs in the image of God; He didn’t create apes in the image of God; He didn’t create dolphins in the image of God. He only created one entity, called the human being. He created human beings in the image of God. Why did He do that? Because centuries and centuries after Genesis there would come a time when God would have to prepare a body and have to enter this world and walk the face of this planet. In the incarnation of Christ and in this revelation He accomplished what all the radio telescopes NASA has in the southwestern United States can’t do, and that is contact extraterrestrial life. Not only contact extraterrestrial life, but contacted the God of the universe’s life. That’s the tremendous truths that come out of the incarnation of Christ.
Now we come to the death of Christ and it’s the same thing. The death of Christ is going to show us a lot about God’s justice, a critical component of the gospel missing today, because in many so-called gospel presentations all we hear is Jesus Christ is going to help you. Jesus Christ is going to straighten out your life, Jesus Christ does this, Jesus Christ does that, all those may be true but that’s not the gospel. Those are the results of the gospel. The gospel is that sinners, people who are under the just condemnation of God, can be reconciled to Him. You may feel good about it, you may not feel good about it, it has nothing to do with human emotions. It has all to do with God’s character. People can come to Christ in an utterly unemotional way and other people have great emotions. Sometimes what happens in religious circles is that people with a lot of emotions start condemning people who don’t show a lot of emotions, and saying those people aren’t spiritual. It has nothing to do with that.
The issue is whether God accepts each one of us; the issue is whether God accepts me, whether He accepts you, that’s the issue. And that is a legal issue; that has something to do with His character. That has to do with His justice, and throughout the death of Christ and everything we’re going to talk about and associate with this, this word will come up again and again because unless God’s justice is satisfied, we have no salvation. God’s justice has to be satisfied; no matter what He does on the cross. What He does on the cross has to meet His justice, otherwise God would change. We said God is immutable; He changes not. He is the God who has passed sentence that the sinner shall die. That’s His sentence, He can’t reverse His sentence. That’s undoing truth. Since God has ordained death for sin, He’s got to come up with another way of coping with it, such that the original sentence isn’t violated and the justice behind the original sin isn’t violated.
A lot of people have screwy ideas today. We’ve come to the end of a century, basically 100 years in this country when the Word of God has not seriously been taught and not seriously been studied apart from a few minority groups. The mainstream of so-called Christendom has not been faithful in the 20th century to articulate a strong view of Scripture. Therefore they have a very sloppy gospel, and the result is that today you can go out on the sidewalk and talk to people and they think that God is going to forgive them for their sin and pat them on the head and everything’s going to be fine. God does not forgive sin unless He can do so with justice. This is never compromised. It’s so ironic that people think this way because we also live in a generation that’s always talking about justice and human rights. We’ve got human rights for everything from the ant on up to the elephants, everything that is except the unborn fetus, no justice for it. But we have all of this talk about rights and justice by the very generation which when it turns around for a relationship with God never even thinks of justice or rights.
We want to show that justice throughout history, prior to Jesus Christ was tied in with blood sacrifices. Sometimes pagan religions, taking that as a basic truth inherited from Noah, have distorted this. There have been people like the Aztecs and the Incas in the western hemisphere who have slaughtered their babies, who have slaughtered each other on stone altars because of blood sacrifice. That’s not what we’re talking about, that’s a distortion of the truth. What the Scripture says from Genesis 3 onward is that God is saying since justice demands death and justice is inherently restitutional, i.e., what is violated must be paid, must be paid back; that’s the biblical concept of biblical justice.
The problem is that Adam and Eve, at the point that they sinned, had no merit, and they had nothing within themselves, because they now have died spiritually, they haven’t got life to replace the life they lost. How under a restitutionary system of justice is restitution going to be made when there’s no source for the restitution? So very quickly in the Garden, God, after He announced the gospel to Adam and Eve and they believed and showed their faith, at that point God slaughtered the first animal. With all due respect to animal rights groups, God was the one who killed the first animal. He killed the first animal in order to provide a picture of salvation for the human race. So Adam and Eve had to stand there, they’d never seen this before, they were living in a perfect environment, there was never any death, they had fallen, now they looked and here came God walking in the garden, and He grabbed an animal and slaughtered it in front of their eyes, tore the skin off the carcass and made clothes and gave them a set of leather clothes.
So every time Adam and Eve put on their clothes, what did they think about? They thought about the source of that leather; they had to think about the animal that had to be slaughtered in front of them. So in order to be covered they had to wear this leather tunic, day after day after day, every time they put it on they would remember the source of death, the death that caused that. So that’s restitutionary justice.
The issue on pages 76–77 is that the concept of a blood sacrifice restitution for violated justice is not only taught repetitively in the Old Testament but it is aligned with a whole stream of prophecies about the coming Messiah. In the Garden of Eden God said to Eve, very strange in the original language, He says to this woman, Your sperm will be against the sperm of Satan, and the very vocabulary tells you there’s something odd about this one. That’s the original language, that’s what it says. How can God speak about sperm from a woman? It’s because He’s talking about the virgin birth. That sentence would make no sense; throughout the centuries of the Old Testament people would strain to understand that.
To see that turn to 1 Peter 1:11 because here the apostle Peter tells us a little bit about the mind of those Old Testament people that would read these kinds of things and have a hard time trying to understand them. He’s talking about the salvation context, verse 10, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry.” Who’s the subject of the sentence in verse 10? The prophets, and who are the prophets? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel, all the people who basically were the writers of Scripture. These are the guys that produced the Old Testament. This is a classic reference in verse 10. Has your curiosity ever led you to think about, well gee, I wonder what these guys did when they wrote the Scriptures, what were they thinking about, were they listening to a dictating machine, did they conjure this up, did they have dreams and visions, what was going on.
We can’t know all of what was going on but we have verses like this that tell us how they thought about themselves when they were involved in generating the Old Testament because verse 10 says they had the ideas, the ideas came from God, God spoke to these people. The Word of God, the Word of Yahweh came to the prophets, and to show you…, in contrast to the liberals, because the concept of the liberal is that you have the ideas of Scripture, and you have history over here. These things are purely from man; man experiences history, he has ideas about it, the ideas are wholly human. That’s the liberal view of the Bible; it was written out of human experience of history.
But in verse 10 we have something that cuts across that thought and challenges it, because what Peter is saying is that the prophets who prophesied of the grace, in other words, here they are, they’re writing Scripture, the ideas aren’t coming from them, the ideas are coming from God and they can’t understand what it is they’re writing. He says “as to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry,” they were thinking about this, they were praying about this, this was on their minds. What was on their minds? Verse 11 is a participial clause that amplifies what they were doing, “seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them,” there’s the source of the Old Testament, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, but it’s called spirit of Christ here because the theme of the Bible correctly understood is the Lord Jesus Christ, “seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ with them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”
The thing that deeply troubled the Old Testament prophets was this: how could the Messiah suffer and die, and then also how could He be the glorious king? That is a $64,000 question of the Old Testament. They never got it together. The apostle says the best of the Old Testament prophets never could come to grips with this. All they knew was that there were two apparently contradictory themes in the Scriptures; that the Messiah on the one hand was prophesied to die, He was prophesied to suffer, and on the other hand He would be the glorious king who would live forever.
There are four things we want to review on pages 76–77 linking the suffering of the substitutionary blood atonement over to the Messiah. The first one is Genesis 3:15, circle that because that’s one of your key references; that is called by scholars the protevangelium, i.e., the first evangelism or the first announcement of the gospel, a classic passage. The second thing is that every one of the covenants, the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinaitic Covenant, required a blood sacrifice prior to the inauguration. In other words, the Old Testament covenants demanded a blood sacrifice on the front end. It was as though God, the holy God, the holy Creator, reaches down with a piece of paper, it’s like you get a mortgage note from your banker or a contract for your car for an installment payment or something, that same idea, contract. So here God would reach down with His contract, but He is holy and He is just, so before we can pick the other side of the contract up, see He’s got it in His hand, He’s holding it in His hand, man reaches out to touch that contract but He can’t touch it because God is holy and righteous. Therefore before man can contact the covenant what has to happen? There has to be a blood sacrifice to show that the Holy Spirit God can come into covenant agreement with man only on the basis of the shed blood of Christ. Only by grace can an agreement be made between God and man.
We’re going to have deal with the implication of this later when it comes to what are the ramifications of the atonement of Christ for the unbeliever, who goes eventually to hell? How does the blood of Christ affect the one who eventually dies in rejection of the gospel? How does the blood of Christ affect the material universe? How does the blood of Christ deal with angels? All these are questions, there’s a big, big expanse of stuff associated with what happened on the cross outside of the city of Jerusalem and it’s not all just because of believers.
The third thing that links the Messiah is that the substitutionary blood atonement, the role of Messiah, was most prominent in the great judgments and salvations of Old Testament history. In Old Testament history do you remember the two events that both involved a tremendous judgment on God’s part and liberation of a saved group of people, a public salvation and judgment? One was the Noahic flood, the other was the Exodus. Those are two events, we can think about them, and if you think about these you will correct any kind of tendency to get wobbly here on what judgment/salvation means. In both these cases we have judgment and we have salvation linked together. You don’t have one without the other. You can’t have salvation without judgment. Because God is gracious, every one of His judgments involves salvation, up until a point.
Both of these involve a covering. The ark of Noah, that big boat, was said to have covered, and exactly the word for “atonement” is used for whatever the pitch was that was covering the lumber that was on the outside of the ark. It was all pitched over. That’s the word kaphar in the Hebrew. In Exodus what was on the doorposts? Blood, blood, and blood, showing virtually the sign of the cross, and what did the angel do when he saw blood on the door? Did he say well, if there are good people in there I’ll let them alone, if they’re bad people I’m going to come in there anyway? The decision of passing over or judging was made strictly on one thing, nobody’s scintillating personality; it was based on whether there was blood on the door. Every person who headed a household, had to make a decision, are we or are we not going to trust. If we put blood on the door we trust Him; if we don’t believe God we’re not going to do it, and suffer the consequences. It has nothing to do with the kind of personality, there could have been religious people who didn’t believe, and they were damned, they lost the first-born sons. There could be irreligious people who did believe and they were saved, it didn’t matter about their background, it mattered only as to whether they personally trusted in Jehovah’s promise to them, no human merits, no human gimmicks, it was strictly on the basis of God’s provision against His own judgment.
That was what was happening and this whole idea of judgment/salvation was wrapped up for the Jewish people in what ceremony that is still observed in orthodox Jewish homes and a lot of other Reform Jewish homes also? The Passover, every April—or March—depending on the calendar. What was Jesus doing on the night in which He was betrayed? He was celebrating Passover. The Messiah dies on Passover so He fulfills the Passover.
The fourth picture is found in Isaiah 53, halfway through the Old Testament, one of the most famous passages in all the Old Testament about the suffering Messiah that was to come. This is the most controversial passage in Jewish and Christian relations today, where those relations center on Scripture. There’s a lot of debate over this passage. This has caused more people more problems for more centuries in the Jew/Gentile controversy than anything I know of, other than the attempted genocide that Gentile politicians have tried against the Jewish people.
Let’s look at Isaiah 53:1–2, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” By the way, the arm of the Lord is a Messianic term; it refers in the Old Testament passages to the Messiah. Do you know why? Because the arm was what held the sword, and it was the sword who gave victory and deliverance, so it became an emblem of the Messiah. “… to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed,” who is going to be the one who frees?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him. Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
Verse 2 is the closest verse you will ever read in the Bible as to what Jesus looked like. If you have artistic inclinations and you want to paint a picture of Jesus, lest you paint some fossil from the 60s, this is what the real Jesus looked like. He has no appearance that we should be attracted to Him. The only other reference I can think of in Scripture as to what He looked like was a reference made by His enemies when He was in a debate with the Pharisees and they said, huh, you’re not yet 50; Jesus was 30, so He probably looked older than He was. That’s the hint that you get in the New Testament, this is the hint that you get from the Old Testament. He was a very, very ordinary kind of person. He wasn’t some Tom Cruise or something.
Verse 3, “He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
Verse 4, “Surely our griefs,” and here’s the key passage that is so controversial, right here, “Surely our griefs He himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” In other words, He carried our griefs upon Him and the human race who witnesses Him, or will witness Him, witnesses Him as One who Himself is cursed of God. We’ll deal with that truth later, but the idea is people look upon the Messiah when He’s suffering and interpret His sufferings as Him being cursed by God; He is a cursed person.
Verse 5, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” Here’s the Messianic passage, and the question of all questions down through Jewish history has been to whom does Isaiah 53 refer? It was always taken to mean the Messiah up until, on page 77 of the notes, please follow where I quote the history of this passage. You need to know this as Christians because someday you’re going to be called upon in conversation, somewhere some time, the Lord can put you in a position where you’re going to have to know this.
“Evidence abounds that first century Jews interpreted this passage messianically.” Today you will hear it said that oh, no, the standard Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53 is not the Messiah, it’s the nation Israel. So Israel as a nation replaces the Messiah in the modern Jewish thought. But is modern Jewish thought the same as ancient Jewish thought? That’s what we’re working with in this paragraph. “Not until the Middle Ages did the rabbis shift to what is claimed today as ‘the’ Jewish interpretation, namely, that Isaiah 53 speaks of the nation Israel alone, not of an individual within the nation.” Now how many centuries after Christ were the Middle Ages? Nine or ten centuries. In other words, it’s interesting that no one even thought of interpreting Isaiah 53 this way until nine plus centuries had gone by of debate between the gospel and unbelief.
“Some Gentile Christian scholars, however, insist that first-century Jews did not recognize any vicarious suffering of the Messiah in this passage. (By ‘vicarious’ we mean “suffering in place of others,” that is the content of verse 4, “another way of saying ‘substitutionary atonement’.) These scholars are opposed by most Hebrew Christian scholars.” And by the way, if you’re not aware of it, there are probably percentwise more Jews have believed in the Messiah out of the total Jewish population than there are non-Jews that believe in the Messiah. You say oh no, I don’t believe that. How many Jews are there in the world? Fifteen, twenty million. In your fraction, the numerator and the denominator, if you’ve got a small denominator you don’t need a big numerator to get a high percent. But how many people total in the whole world? Big denominator, so to get the same percent you have to have a big numerator. That’s an interesting point of history, that the percent of communities and people groups that believe is probably as high in the Jewish community as anywhere else.
By the way, they have made some of the finest Christian scholars. If you read CBD or whatever the book place is, and you want a neat two-volume set on the Messiah, it’s Edersheim. Alfred Edersheim was a Jewish person. The man who taught many years Old Testament at Dallas Seminary and who went and founded Talbot Seminary on the west coast, Dr. Feinberg, was an orthodox Jewish rabbi who accepted Christ, and he was one rigorous professor. He really required every preacher-boy to know the Hebrew language inside and out, and many were the men who flunked his class, because Feinberg was a no-nonsense man in the classroom.
So there are a lot of Hebrew Christians. Today one of the most articulate who goes around the world the most is Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a personal friend of mine. I’ve known Arnold for years, we went to seminary together. Just to put salt in the wound Arnold figured when he wanted to get his PhD he looked around, and the way he picked out where the university was to get his PhD was where the most Jews were getting PhDs, so he picked out New York University, and he went to New York University and got his doctorate, and spent his entire graduate period of training arguing with rabbis in New York City.
If you want to watch an argument, you watch a Hebrew Christian go at it with a non-Messianic Jew. If you think you’ve seen arguments, when I watched this kind of debate and argument go on I think wow, no wonder Paul, the apostle, almost got stoned, because it must have been the same kind of torrid atmosphere. They go at it, you talk about two boxers going at it, you watch a Hebrew Christian go after a non-Messianic Jew, they’ll lock in on passages and debate the Hebrew text and this and that, the Messiah and what the rabbis said and what the rabbi didn’t say, etc. It’s amazing to watch.
“Dr. Fruchtenbaum, for example, notes that the Zohar, written about AD 110,” before or after Christ? After Christ! “… the Zohar, written” after the Lord Jesus Christ, “preserves an old first-century Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 53:4:” and here it is, quote, “ ‘Were it not that [Messiah] had thus lighted [sickness, pain, chastisement] off Israel and taken them upon himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel’s chastisement for transgression of the law.’ ” Clearly whoever wrote that was interpreting Isaiah 53 as referring to the Messiah and not the nation Israel. “Surely, there is the element of vicarious or substitutionary Messianic suffering in this non-Christian, Jewish first-century tradition. Furthermore, Fruchtenbaum points out, this interpretative tradition of Isaiah 53 continued,” continued after AD 110, “in Jewish circles well into the Christian era, occurring in remarkable places such as the Yom Kippur Musaf Prayer written around the seventh century AD.” Now we’re talking six centuries after Christ, here’s the prayer, “ ‘Messiah our Righteousness is departed from us. … He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression. … He beareth our sins … that he may find pardon for our iniquities.’ The allusion to Isaiah 53 is unmistakable.” Obviously Isaiah 53 is on the mind of this person in the seventh century.
The point is that the Messiah is linked to suffering and He is linked to the substitutionary atonement. On page 78 of the notes we want to study how the New Testament presents the cross. These are only highlights because we have four of these highlights to examine. The first one is in Galatians 3:13. I said in Isaiah 53 there was that little statement about we “esteemed Him stricken of God.” It’s a prophecy of how people would interpret the cross and the death of the Messiah. Maybe if I say it this way, it will be more clear. In thinking about the Messiah dying, if you were an Old Testament person looking forward, you might have thought well, if the Messiah has to die, the only way He can die is die an honorable death from a cause, like soldiers.
Today is Veterans’ Day, and we forget that it was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month that World War I ceased, one of the most horrible wars the world has ever seen. Thousands and thousands of soldiers walking into machine gun fire, with military tactics and strategy that were borrowed from the Civil War because the generals who fought World War I studied the techniques, strategies, and tactics from the Civil War of America. The Civil War in America is looked upon as one of the classic wars of all time. It’s taught all over the world, military academies in Russia, France, England, they all refer to the tactics, particularly of General Lee, because Lee was a master strategist and tactician. This is why there were so many union generals that got fired and replaced, because they had a problem. Do you know who Lee was? He was their professor at West Point. Lee taught most of those union generals when they were students 21 years old. You can imagine, here you are up against your professor on the battlefield, the guy who taught you how to fight. So it’s a little intimidating.
To get a flavor for this, when Harry Truman fired MacArthur after World War II in the Korean War, keep in mind that for a long time, for about a year before MacArthur was fired, he was covered for by the Pentagon. Who was in the Pentagon? The people who were studying at West Point when MacArthur was Commandant. MacArthur had retired before World War II started… [blank spot] …these men have intimidating presences because they’re so great, they’re so good.
That’s how Messiah would have been conceived. If He had to die it would have been an honorable death, a death on the battlefield, leading the armies of Israel in victory against Rome. But how did He die, this Jesus? He died like a criminal. That’s the problem. We don’t understand this because we come to Christianity all comfortable. We don’t live in the first century, we don’t live part of that community, and the New Testament people struggle with this. How could the Messiah die in such an unglorious way? I mean, it’s like He’s incarnated today and He dies in the electric chair. Why did He do this?
In Galatians 3:13 we have the apostle’s explanation and it does not set well because remember when Peter heard that the Messiah was going to die he tried to fix it so it wouldn’t happen, and you remember what the Lord Jesus’ remark was to that. “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Peter really must have been hurt by that kind of a response. The Lord looked right at him and said he was basically going along with Satan. Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having”, watch the language here very, very carefully in light of what I just said, this is the kind of the death of the Messiah, the death of the Messiah was not glorious, not what you would think of the coming Triumphant King, leading His armies in battle to victory, Galatians 3:13 says He “redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree’—” where is that quoted from? Deuteronomy 21:23.
So guess what we’re going to do? We’re going to go to the Old Testament and look at Deuteronomy 21, part of the criminal code of the nation Israel. What we’re doing is we’re looking at these features in the death of the Messiah because it’s out of these features that we will understand the gospel. I don’t want to get to the doctrine yet; all we’re doing now is paying attention to, “What does the text say?” What do the New Testament authors say about this cross? In Deuteronomy 21:22 it says, “And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you [will] hang him on a tree,  his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God) so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”
I have to laugh at the context. All of you who have raised teenagers will get a chuckle out of this one. In verse 18 was how they dealt with the teenage problem, they had juvenile delinquents in Israel, notice what it says. “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,  then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town.  And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’  Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear.”
Oh, isn’t that horrible … yeah, how many bombings have they had in their schools? There’s a principle here in Scripture, and the principle is that there are certain divine institutions and one, divine institution #3 is called the home, and that’s the place where respect for authority is learned. And if it isn’t learned in the home, guess where else it has to be learned? Out in the streets, society has to teach it. We have to have thousands and thousands of policemen to teach it. We have to have a courtroom teach it; we have to have the schools teach it, somebody else, because it wasn’t learned where it was supposed to be learned, which is right here. In the Mosaic Law they had wisdom. This is why this Law makes a fantastic study. I’ll bet you’ve gone to church for 20 years and never heard once sermons on the law codes of Israel, and yet these law codes are filled with wisdom if applied today would revolutionize how we live.
Verses 18-19, in context, are saying that in the nation Israel if you did not learn basic respect for authority in the home, you were simply eliminated; you weren’t even a player. That would solve a lot of dilemmas of 40 and 50 year olds that still haven’t learned authority. Now it sounds very cruel, but I submit to you that God who is omniscient, who created us, does know a little bit about how to rule us. And if this is what He has authorized, then I would suspect that there’s good reasons for doing this, and there would be some wonderful consequences that would follow. The whole passage has to do with capital punishment crimes. It’s just that I’ve gotten off a little bit in verses 18-21, just to give you a flavor for some odd places in the Scripture, in case you haven’t seen those, this is one case of capital punishment among many others.
Verses 22-23 summarize what happened in any case that involved capital punishment. By the way, they also had something else, in verse 21, about the method of execution. They did it with stones. People say why didn’t they just chop their head off, why did they do it with stones? We can’t be sure of exactly the reasoning but it’s been suggested that they did it with stones for the same reason that today when there are executions, say in a military context, a firing squad, they have multiple shooters in the firing squad. Why do they have multiple shooters? Because they’re incapable of hitting the person? No, it’s because each shooter doesn’t know if he was the one who killed the person. So with the stoning no one stone, no person could be sure that it was their stone that killed the person. It’s a horrible thing, can you imagine being called out, and we’re not talking about stones off the ground here, if you go to Israel you’ll see what kind of stones they have, big ones, the place is loaded with them. Those are the stones that they were dropping on you. If you get one of those, it breaks your leg, the next one breaks your arm, the next one breaks your head, that’s the kind of stones they hit with.
The interesting thing about it was, do you know who was the first one to throw a stone? The person who had to stand in the trial and be the one who was the witness. That’s a very sobering corrective to false testimony. You can play all kinds of games in today’s courtroom because the lawyers will get you off with this little gimmick and that little gimmick, and this procedure and procedure thing, and it just becomes one big maze of confusion. But they had a way of cutting to the quick on the Mosaic Law Code. Are you accusing this guy? Okay, you get out there and you [can’t understand word] the first stone. If you had to do that, stand up in front of the whole community and do that, I dare say that it’d produce a little sobering care in what you accused people of. Of course the person had a trial; it wasn’t just arbitrary accusations here. After the accusations had been considered the sobering result, would we bring a charge against a person, would you bring a charge against a person if you knew that as a result of this you would be the one who gets to kill him, in public, in front of the community? Very sobering stuff. They had a lot of built in constraints in this method.
But the point we’re getting at tonight is that in verses 22-23 after they executed the person they would hang their corpse on a tree. This is another interesting insight into capital punishment and how it was done. The way God wanted it done wasn’t in some high security prison somewhere with a television camera going, and maybe five and a half people watching. It was done in public so everybody watched. Not only did everybody have to watch the execution, but the corpse had to hang there for a few hours, however long till sunset. Why’s that? So everybody walking by could see it. Have you ever seen a corpse, hanging there, blood all over the place, what a mess? And hour after hour, flies all over it, and everything else. This is the story, and people would have to walk by, it was in the town square. If you had to go to your business you had to walk by this corpse with flies all over it. This is the sobering nature of execution in Israel.
The interpretation is given in verse 23; this is Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. “His corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day,” why? Because you do not want to “defile your land,” in other words, the corpse is dirty, a corpse is filthy, a corpse speaks of death, so the idea here is to just let it be exposed enough to get the point across, and then we’re going to bury because it’s filth, and we bury it and clean up so there’s no sanitation problem and all the rest.
But squashed inside of verse 23 there’s a parenthesis, and that parenthesis is the theological reason that God wanted taught through execution. He said, “(for he who is hanged is accursed of God),” so when people went by they saw this bloody mess, hanging from a tree, and what did they have to think about? What did we say earlier about this? What characterizes the biblical view of justice? Whence cometh it? The attribute of God’s holiness. It is God derived. So when we see a judgment it is a curse, not of the state, but it is a curse of God. In this case God is the state because He’s the King of Israel. So the lesson focuses once again on this thing we’ll come back to over and over and over again in the study of the cross of Christ. God’s justice! And all the people who watched these things have that as a [can’t understand word].
Now the question is this: how do you reconcile the Lord Jesus Christ not dying a glorious victorious death, the death of a hero, but the death of a criminal who is cursed by God? Do you see why this is a stumbling block? This is a real stumbling block to someone who visualizes the Messiah as a reigning oriental king—He dies with His body and His blood and the flies? He’s hanging there like God’s cursed Him? You see there’s no way we can explain this apart from what the New Testament does with it.
Let’s conclude by turning to 2 Corinthians 5:21, maybe now this verse will have a little more power to it. People read the New Testament and you get this kind of thing in a college classroom a lot, where somebody has read 55 journals about the concept of death and the Christian religion or something, and they come out with this stupid view of Jesus Christ’s death, it’s an accident, or it was a plan gone astray, or something. But when they get to a verse like 2 Corinthians 5:21 they just can’t make sense of this. That’s why we’ve spent 15 minutes going over Deuteronomy; Deuteronomy 21:22-23 teaches us why you have the truth of 2 Corinthians 5:21. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
“He made Him to be sin,” that’s the explanation the Christian has for why the corpse of Jesus Christ had to go through the same kind of treatment as the most foul criminal of Israel, because on the cross that’s what Christ became. This is an amazing thing! This is absolutely amazing! “He humbled Himself and became obedient,” remember that passage in Philippians 2, in the kenotic passage. What does it say, “He became obedient to the point of death,” and then what does it say, “even the death of the cross.” Now do you see what the New Testament keeps saying the death, the death of the cross? There’s a passion behind it because the New Testament writers knew Deuteronomy. Jesus would die not just a death, but He died such a death that if He hadn’t become sin for us, then He had become sin somehow, because He was judged of God when He died. So why did He become sin? That’s the question the New Testament leaves you with. If you don’t accept that Jesus Christ substituted for our death, then why was He condemned to die?
What was going on during the execution, because we’re going to come up to another point, look at the next point coming up, Jesus Christ was not killed by the Romans, Jesus Christ was not killed by the Jews, Jesus Christ chose the exact moment of His death. Another stunning thing! Few people notice this about the New Testament text, but as He hung there on the cross He chose the exact moment to die. When He said “It is finished” He took some liquid stuff for pain and said that’s it, I’m checking out, done.
Nobody has ever died like that, and the fact of the matter was that this Roman army officer who had witnessed hundreds and hundreds of executions stood there and he looked at this, and he’d never seen a man die like the Lord Jesus Christ, never, he had never seen it before. This isn’t some wimpy guy, this is a Roman soldier; he watched this all the time, that was his job. Never had he seen anybody die like this, with such power, everything under His control, but He was on the cross, and there was all this blackness, and His body was hanging there and the Jews went wait a minute, how’d the Messiah die this way, what a horrible way for Messiah to die. How embarrassing. But is it embarrassing? It’s not embarrassing ultimately, it’s only embarrassing if we fail to comprehend why He did what He did, and then all of a sudden instead of being embarrassed we are ashamed, because it’s our shame and it is our sin that brought Him to that point. So the embarrassment quickly turns into shame.
Are there any topics that you would like to see me cover in connection with the death of Christ as we move on, because there’s going to be a lot of doctrinal truth to come out of this, things like propitiation, redemption, what these mean and their implications?
Question asked: Clough replies: A good question, what is the proper human response to the cross of Christ, to the execution that He had. Obviously in order to answer that question there is a proper response, and where we go to look for that isn’t modeling our responses after someone else that we know. It’s actually going back to the pages of the New Testament and seeing how people responded then, because the New Testament gives the norm for the response. As you look at that, let’s think about some responses, different ones that we can think about in the New Testament. What kind of response did the disciples have on the road to Emmaus, before the Lord caught up with them? How would you characterize their response? Disappointment, kind of a deflation, that they had placed their trust in the Messiah and this is the end of it? This is what it all came to? We need to get into that because we’re so far, centuries, removed from it and we see the results of it, and we don’t get back into the text enough to see what it would have been like had we been there.
It’s easy for us to say oh well, we know… yea, sure. They were walking along the Emmaus road, and they were very discouraged. Think about these people, many of them had sold their business to come join this Christian group, they’d made a lot of personal sacrifices, and now it ended up this way. What a heartache kind of thing. Let’s correct that response. That’s one response. What’s missing in their understanding that led to that response? Why would they have been disappointed? What were they hoping would happen? If they were disappointed by the cross, what were they hoping that would have happened and the cross happened instead? Can you imagine, it’s up for grabs because it’s our imaginations.
Someone says something: Clough says: Yeah, I mean, can anyone who was sensitive to justice and injustice as a downtrodden people, they’re no different from the downtrodden people today who cry for freedom, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing to do. It’s just that that wasn’t what God was doing in Christ at that chapter of history. So in a deeper way, what was wrong about their desire to be politically liberated? I’m trying to phrase this delicately because political liberation is not a wrong thing. Let’s put it this way, what’s insufficient about yearning for political deliverance? What’s insufficient about that yearning that the cross of Christ answers? The yearning for political freedom is a human thing, it’s a horizontal thing, it’s my every day situation. But what doesn’t it think about deeply enough? It doesn’t think about where am I spending eternity. It doesn’t think, therefore, in terms of who am I as a creature? What is my ultimate problem? Why do I have a problem in the first place with political servitude? What’s wrong with this world?
Someone says something: Clough says: Okay, they were thinking of Christ as doing what a human leader that they would think of would do, a compassionate leader, a righteous and just leader. Wouldn’t a righteous and just leader try to lead them to freedom? We’ve had numerous instances down through history. That isn’t wrong; it’s just incomplete and too shallow.
Question asked: Clough replies: Might have, Moses did that didn’t he. He gave them freedom, political freedom, the most stupendous bloodless, by the way, I mean Israel didn’t have any army to give them freedom, it’s one of the most interesting freedom movements in history. So they had the Mosaic model, but even if they had thought about the Mosaic model, what should have they given a little bit more thought about? Did Moses raise up an army to fight Pharaoh? Did Moses lead them in a battle against Pharaoh? No. So had they thought a little bit more about the Mosaic model, it might have tipped them off that maybe if Jesus is a second Moses and Moses got us out of Israel with the help of God, it was a supernatural deliverance, so they might have thought well, what’s supernatural about this cross thing, what’s God doing in the cross?
I think that’s why the apostles, the Holy Spirit used these passages, because you see the apostles when they write they keep citing these Old Testament passages. I think that the Holy Spirit didn’t necessarily have to say Paul, check out Deuteronomy 21. I rather think that Paul knew Deuteronomy 21 enough in his rabbinical studies that he poured back to the Torah to understand … what’s going on here. And as he went back and he thought about that, he had to connect, and it was the Holy Spirit who made the connection in this verse we had tonight, connecting execution of criminals judged by God and trying to make sense of that Paul had to come to the conclusion that Christ had to become a cursed person. Now if Christ became a cursed person, what caused Him to become a cursed person? I think that was how he probably was led to see, oh, wait a minute here, now I see, Messiah, Isaiah 53, what does it say, “He bore our griefs,” “He bore our sorrows,” oh! Well maybe what we’re seeing in this cross is that there was a movement, a transform going on, a transfer. And I think that that was one of the insights that they got from this.
Question asked: The thing I don’t understand is that those that did know the Scripture so well, weren’t there plenty of allusions that the battle was going to be a … battle and that when they saw that this wasn’t … Christ did die and they felt He was the Messiah, that knowing that it wouldn’t be a … I don’t understand why it didn’t click then, oh, we don’t have to give up hope yet, this is just different than what we expected it to be.
Someone else says something: He escaped death, at least one time they wanted to kill him, and to see Him die and to really believe that He was the Messiah and then to be in that point before the resurrection, … even though Lazarus was raised from the dead, and the child was raised from the dead, and raising from the dead wasn’t a common thing and He was the one that did the raising from the dead, and now he’s gone, none of us can do it, I would think that would only be more despair.
Clough replies: I think that’s a good insight, that those closest to Him that glimpsed His glory might have been very despondent over this, because think about the role of the women and the apostles on Sunday morning when He rose from the dead. They didn’t get it either. Think about the kind of snotty reception the women got when they went back to the apostles, you know, oh, give me a break! We’re Monday-morning quarterbacking here; we’re not caught up in the current of the times.
Someone says something about there had to be other people in the group that were just as learned as Paul, and maybe they weren’t, but we don’t read about that.
Clough replies: Be careful in saying that there might have been other more learned guys who should have gotten it. Keep in mind that Paul was learned when he was persecuting the Christians too. Ultimately what happens here and it gets back to the original question, which is the proper response to the gospel, I think we have to when we observe the dynamics of what was going on here, we’re forced back to the fact that were it not through the working of the Holy Spirit in opening our eyes, we would not have come to this conclusion. The cross of Christ would not have been properly understood apart from God opening eyes to this. It wasn’t like it was all laid out in the Scriptures, one, two, three, four. It’s not laid out in the Scriptures, one, two, three and four.
There’s a mystery to Scripture, and it’s encouraging to me to think that one of the great mysteries of the Old Testament is how can God be just, holy, and the justifier of Him who believes in Jesus. How can these two things come together? That was resolved at the cross. And what’s so neat about this is we have these other problems, how can a holy omnipotent God allow evil, and that’s a tension for us. We haven’t got the answers, other than to fall back on the fact that God is glorifying His name. One day, I am certain, that every one of us who has believed will sit very comfortably saying wow, now I see. And the answer will be so comforting and so rationally consistent that whatever questions we ever had about any piece of suffering, ever, in the entire history of our life will just evaporate, just as though this cross thing, when the apostles finally got it what ignited them, as far as a response, a dynamic response, it went out and just blasted the gospel out into the whole world, was that it’s been resolved! God is holy and righteous and He’s also loving and redemptive. And He did it, but we would never have forecast it to have been done that way. That’s the difference.
So now in terms of our response, I would think that this response, frankly, I think I was led to the Lord in a very sloppy way, I had, I think, a very poor gospel presentation given to me when I was in college, and God’s grace, I believed, I didn’t really know what I was believing, and I’m sure that is true of some of you, and it was only after you were a Christian that the Holy Spirit deepened your understanding, oh, that’s what it’s all about …WOW! So I think the response is one of profound thanksgiving, rather than the idea of well now I’m going to live for Christ, now I’m going to do these things, not that that’s wrong, but the first and most basic motif down at the deepest level here, isn’t what I’m going to do for Jesus. The deepest level is what He’s done for me. And it’s us as a passive agent, because if we’re not passive and we don’t receive, our cup is never full, and if our cup is never full, then it’s never going to run over. So I’m not saying don’t do things for Jesus, but in doing things for Jesus it’s got to be motivated properly. And the motivation has got to be not what my peers think of me, not what my husband thinks of me, not what my wife thinks of me, my kids or my parents or the church or something else. It’s got to be a personal and individual thing in our hearts that goes back to the cross, always.
And when we confess our sins for the thousands of times in our Christian experience and our walk, what do we go back to? We go back to the cross. So we’ve got to get it here, that it’s as though we were back in Eden, and He has His garden zone, and there’s only one gate, and we can’t ever meet God except at that one gate, and the gate is the cross, there’s not another gate. It’s not like we’re Christians, now we can meet God another … oh no, even as Christians we still go back to the same gate. The non-Christian has to come to the gate, the Christian has to come to the gate, all of us have to come to the gate. Why? Because God is a just God. And there is no other resolution. The world doesn’t like this, we are piranhas, because we’re the only people on the face of the planet that won’t go along with multi-pluralism, we’re the stubborn right wing fundamentalists, stupid people, that won’t get with the program and accept everybody’s stupid opinion as though it’s of equal merit. But from inside our camp, what do we see. If the question is how to know God and He’s holy, and He’s done this work, how dare we come up with all kinds of alternative proposals here? This was a pretty in depth thing that Jesus did. To argue that it was unnecessary … it boggles the mind to think that a human being could propose an alternative method of salvation. The blasphemy is that I can engineer it better than God, hey, He didn’t have to do it that way, there’s cleaner ways of doing it. Really! Not if you’re dealing with the God that we know from Scripture.
So I think in summary the response to the cross has got to be profound thanks. What can you do? What do you do with something like this? Somebody has done this kind of thing for you personally, what do you do except receive it and be thankful. And then because of the insight that gives to our God’s character, now it’s His love that motivates us. He first loved us. Okay, now as we grasp and can run with a bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger picture of His love for us, that’s where our stability and confidence comes from. But it’s not this hustle and do it and all the rest of it for God, because that runs out of gas real soon.