When Morning Comes
1. And when it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put Him to death;
2. And binding Him, they led [Him] away, and delivered Him up to Pontius Pilate the governor.
3. Then Judas, who betrayed Him, seeing that He was condemned, being remorseful, returned the thirty [pieces of] silver to the chief priests and the elders,
4. Saying, “I have sinned, in that I have delivered up innocent blood.” But they said, “What [is it] to us? Thou shalt see.”
5. And throwing down the [pieces of] silver in the temple, he departed, and going away hanged himself.
The old will must die, but a new understanding can be raised up
The crowing of the rooster announces the end of the night; but it also heralds the dawning of a new day — a time of spiritual awakening. This is contained in the first words of the next episode: “When morning came….” (27:1).
In each of our lives, “morning” represents a state of clarity in which we “wake up” and see truth clearly — especially the truth about ourselves. At the end of the previous episode, Peter awoke to the reality of his unfaithfulness, and wept bitterly. In this next episode, something similar happens for Judas. When Jesus is captured, bound and carried away to Pilate, Judas awakens to the reality of what he has done. Conscience-stricken, he says, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). Deeply remorseful, but spiritually awakened, he tries to assuage his guilt by returning the thirty pieces of silver — the “blood-money” the religious leaders paid Judas for agreeing to deliver Jesus to them.
The religious leaders, however, reject Judas’ offer. “What is this?” they say (27:4). They have no interest in taking back the money in exchange for Jesus’ release. For them, the real issue is not the money, but rather their concern about Jesus’ rising influence with the people. This has to be stopped. They therefore reject Judas’ offer.
Fully aware of his betrayal, Judas is overcome with despair. While Peter weeps bitterly, Judas goes much further. Feeling utterly devastated, Judas casts the thirty pieces of silver on the floor of the temple, and goes off to hang himself (27:5). The contrast between Peter’s bitter weeping and Judas’ suicidal death represents the difference between the old understanding (the false beliefs that we held) and the old will (the evil desires that generate false beliefs). Also referred to as “the old man,” evil desires must be completely expelled; they cannot be converted into good desires. This is why Judas, who in this episode represents our inherited evil nature, must die. 1
Peter, on the other hand, represents an aspect of our intellect. Even though it may reason falsely, if it can be separated from the evil will, it can be reformed. Therefore, we read that although Peter “wept bitterly,” he did not end his life. This is because the intellect (represented by Peter in this case) can receive truth and be reformed. And a new will can be built in a new understanding. For each of us, the death of the old will (Judas) and the building of a new understanding (Peter) is the morning of a new day. 2
Hope for All
6. And the chief priests taking the [pieces] of silver said, “It is not permitted to cast them into the offertory, since it is the price of blood.”
7. And taking counsel, they bought with them the field of the potter, for a sepulcher for sojourners.
8. Therefore that field was called Field of Blood to this day.
9. Then was fulfilled what was declared through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty [pieces] of silver, the price of Him who was honored, whom they of the sons of Israel honored;
10. And gave them for the field of the potter, as the Lord directed me.”
Seen spiritually, Judas’ dark and terrible fate also has a bright side. Just as his rejection of the thirty pieces of silver represents the rejection of an inordinate love of worldly things, his suicide represents the rejection of an inordinate love of oneself: it is the rejection of arrogant pride, self-aggrandizing ambition, and the meritorious feeling that we are sufficient unto ourselves without the help of God. These two evils, called “the love of the world” and the “love of self,” include all other evils. However, when love of the world is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the neighbor. And when the love of self is properly subordinated, we receive a genuine love for the Lord. 3
While we do not mean to imply that Judas’ tragic death is a good thing in itself, its representation of what must die in each of us teaches an important lesson. Despair teaches us how much we need God. Desperation leads us to the acknowledgment that we can do nothing without His power. Sorrow, guilt, and shame can be signs that we do indeed have something left of conscience and are therefore redeemable. True remorse opens the way for redemption and reformation.
Humility, then, is a blessed quality. As it is written in the psalms, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The Lord is forgiveness itself; and we know that His forgiveness is always available, flowing in immediately to the extent that we recognize evils in ourselves, turn from them, and strive to do good. We are fortunate to live in an age when such clear teachings about the Lord’s forgiveness — and how to receive it — are available.
But it was not so at the time of Jesus’ advent. Evil spirits were widespread and eager to take possession of whomever they could. They had already filled Judas with the spirit of betrayal. And although he comes into an awareness of what he has done, he does not realize he has been a mere agent through whom hell has worked its diabolical schemes. It is one thing to accept responsibility for what we have done. This is a sign of emotional and spiritual health. But it is something else to become so immersed in guilt feelings that we feel irredeemable, unforgivable, and beyond hope. 4
Therefore, it is essential to believe that whatever we have done, however much we have sinned, there is still hope. We may at times feel as though we are beyond redemption, but the truth is that we are loved by God, and born for a specific purpose. There is implanted in every human soul the capacity to believe in God and an ability to live according to His commandments — divine gifts which are always preserved and never taken away. We can, of course, keep these gifts deeply buried, and practically extinguish them, but they are always there like the embers of a dying fire awaiting the inspiring and life-giving breath of God.
Apparently, the religious leaders seem to have misgivings about accepting the thirty pieces of silver that Judas has thrown on the floor. “It is not lawful to put them in the treasury,” they say, “because they are the price of blood” (27:6). So instead of putting the silver in the temple treasury, they purchase a location called, the “Potter’s Field” to use as a burial place for strangers. Their decision to purchase the field is a direct fulfillment of the prophecy, “And they took thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced … and gave them for the potter’s field” (27:10; Jeremiah 32:6-9).
Is it possible that these religious leaders know and understand that the thirty pieces of silver is “blood money”? If so, it is an indication that even in the greediest and most selfish human beings there is something decent and humane, deeply hidden perhaps, but nevertheless there. There is a lesson in this for us as well. No matter how far we have strayed, we can always return. There is hope for all. 5
11. And Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked Him, saying, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” And Jesus declared to him, “Thou sayest.”
12. And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.
13. Then says Pilate to Him, “Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee?”
14. And He did not answer him to one saying, so that the governor marveled greatly.
15. And at [the] festival the governor was accustomed to release one prisoner to the crowd, whom they willed.
16. And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.
17. When therefore they were gathered, Pilate said unto them, “Whom do you will [that] I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus that is called Christ?”
18. For he knew that for envy they had delivered Him up.
19. And when he was seated on the tribunal, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just [One], for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.”
20. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds, that they should ask for Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
21. And the governor answering said to them, “Which of the two do you will that I release to you?” And they said, “Barabbas.”
22. Pilate says to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus that is called Christ?” They all say to him, “Let Him be crucified.”
23. And the governor declared, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out exceedingly, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
24. And Pilate, seeing that he profits nothing, but more of an uproar was made, taking water he washed off [his] hands opposite the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just [Man]; you shall see.”
25. And all the people answering said, “His blood [be] upon us, and upon our children.”
26. Then released he Barabbas to them, but delivered Jesus up, when he had whipped [Him], to be crucified.
As this next episode begins, Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders have done all they can to make it appear that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy. But Roman law does not allow them to pronounce or carry out the death penalty. Therefore this will have to be a civil matter, to be decided by the civil government. In this case the crime cannot be for blasphemy — that is a religious offense; it must be for treason, which is a civil offense. The Roman government will be able to make this charge because Jesus has been called “King of the Jews,” thereby challenging Caesar’s supremacy.
Therefore, Pilate’s question, unlike Caiaphas’, is not, “Are You the Christ, the Son of God?” (26:63), but rather, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (27:11). In both cases, whether accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders or treason by political leaders, Jesus gives similar answers: “You said” (26:63) and “You say” (27:11). Modern translators, in order to make this response understandable have added the words “It is as” to Jesus’ response. So it is written, “It is as you said,” and “It is as you say.” But the original statement can be understood to mean “You have said it!” 6
The emphasis falls on the word “you.” However it is translated, Jesus’ answer challenges each of us as well. Who indeed is Jesus? Each of us must decide for ourselves. What do you say? Is He the Son of God? Is He the king and ruler of our inner lives? Pilate is not willing to make a decision about this. Instead, he urges Jesus to defend Himself. “Do you not hear how many things they testify against You?” he says to Jesus (27:13). But Jesus chooses to remain silent: He answers him “not one word” (27:14).
Afraid to have the blood of an innocent man on his hands, Pilate decides to let the multitude make the decision for him. He is able to do so because there is a Passover custom in which one prisoner is released each year, and the people can choose which prisoner they wish to set free. Pilate, therefore, presents both Jesus and Barabbas to the crowd, saying “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Christ?” (27:18).
Barabbas was a well-known criminal — a “notorious prisoner” — a robber and a murderer (27:16). It would seem, therefore, that Jesus would be the obvious choice of the crowd, the one to be released. After all, the two men are complete opposites: Barabbas is a murderer and Jesus is a life-giver. If the crowd decides to release Jesus, Pilate will have an easy way out of his dilemma. Therefore, Pilate is banking on the idea that the crowd will easily discern between good (Jesus) and evil (Barabbas) and set Jesus free. Ordinarily, this would be an easy choice for those who have eyes to see.
It should be remembered, however, that this is no ordinary crowd. These people have been strongly influenced by the religious leaders whom they respect and fear. These religious leaders represent the false teachings and selfish desires that make us unable to freely choose the good. It is these false teachings and selfish desires that persuade the multitudes [in us] to free Barabbas and “destroy Jesus” (27:20). This is precisely what happens. When Pilate asks, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” the multitudes cry out, “Barabbas!” (27:21).
This unexpected response puts Pilate in a difficult situation. His wife has already cautioned Him, regarding Jesus’ innocence: “Have nothing to do with that just Man,” she has told him, “for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (27:19). Pilate’s wife represents the remnant of conscience still remaining in each of us — conscience that still strives to get through, even in a dream. The question is, however, “Will Pilate listen?”
The difficult decision is now in Pilate’s hands. On one side is his wife’s warning; on the other is the cry of the crowd. Pilate must decide what he must do with Jesus. Even though his wife has strongly cautioned him, he is not yet ready to accept her advice, or make a strong decision for himself. Instead, he spinelessly turns to the crowd a second time and asks, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” (27:22). If he expects them to change their mind, he is quite wrong. Still under the powerful influence of the religious leaders, they shout out again, “Let Him be crucified” (27:22).
Pilate believes that he can do nothing more. The multitude has made its decision for him, and he weakly acquiesces. Wishing to absolve himself of any wrong-doing, he takes water, washes his hands before the multitude, and says, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it” (27:24). And the people answer, “Let His blood be on us and our children” (27:25).
What has turned the multitudes away from Jesus? He has loved them, healed them and worked miracles among them for three years. Why are they choosing to crucify Him now? Where are the lepers that He has made whole, the lame that He has made to walk, the deaf that He has made to hear, and the blind that He has made to see? Where are the sick people He has made well, the hungry people He has fed, and the demon-possessed that He has set free? Where are they now? And if they are among the multitude, why are they not speaking up?
The answer is clear. Even as Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and all the disciples forsook Him, the multitudes turn against Him. In the end, Jesus stands utterly, absolutely alone. No one defends Him; no one speaks for Him. In the closing words of His final parable, Jesus said, “I was in prison and you came to Me.” But no one came to be with Him. As it was written in Isaiah, prophesying this moment in Jesus’ life, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me…. I looked but there was no one to help” (Isaiah 63:3, 5).
This may seem unbelievable to us today. But that was the hellish state of the world that Jesus was born into. And that is why it was necessary for God to come into the world at that time to redeem fallen humanity — even if it meant being beaten, scourged, and crucified. Pilate, it seemed, was initially reluctant to crucify Him, but he was too weak to stand against the crowd.
In this regard, Pilate represents each of us whenever we refuse to hear the still, small, voice of conscience. Instead, we find ourselves swayed by the angry crowd of inner accusers shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him.” Whenever the mob mentality in us overrules the inner voice of love and reason, Barabbas is set free and Jesus is crucified. And so, we read that Pilate “released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified” (27:26).
King of the Jews
27. Then the soldiers of the governor, taking Jesus into the Praetorium, gathered against Him the whole band [of soldiers].
28. And stripping Him, they put around Him a scarlet mantle.
29. And braiding a crown of thorns, they put [it] on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and kneeling before Him, mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
30. And spitting upon Him, they took the reed, and struck [Him] on His head.
31. And when they had mocked Him, they took the mantle off Him, and put His own garments on Him, and led Him away to crucify [Him].
32. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to take His cross.
33. And when they were come to a place called Golgotha, which is called Place of a Skull,
34. They gave Him vinegar to drink, mingled with gall, and when He had tasted, He was not willing to drink.
35. And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting a lot, that it might be fulfilled which was declared by the prophet, They divided My garments among them, and upon My vesture they cast a lot.
36. And sitting [down], they kept [watch over] Him there;
37. And set over His head His charge written, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
38. Then were two robbers crucified with Him, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
39. And they that went by blasphemed Him, moving their heads,
40. And saying, “[Thou] that undoest the temple, and in three days buildest [it], save Thyself. If Thou be the Son of God, step down from the cross.”
41. And likewise also the chief priests, mocking with the scribes and elders, said,
42. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him step down now from the cross, and we will believe Him.
43. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.”
44. And for the same thing the robbers also, who were crucified with Him, reproached Him.
Jesus’ alleged offense is labeled “treason” for it is claimed that He calls Himself the “King of the Jews.” If true, this would be a crime against the state whose king is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. It is a crime punishable by death. The Roman soldiers now proceed to beat and taunt Jesus, cruelly mocking Him by dressing Him up like a king, putting a scarlet robe on His body, and a crown of thorns on His head. They also place a reed (probably a stick) in His hand instead of a royal scepter.
Then, bowing down before Jesus, they say sarcastically, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (27:29). On top of their mockery, they add contempt and abuse, spitting on Him and striking Him on the head with the scepter they now use as a club. When they are finished with their cruel sport, “they put His own clothes back on Him, and lead Him away to be crucified” (27:31).
Jesus has undergone grueling, torturous suffering at the hands of the soldiers. He is now being led away to be crucified. While prisoners are ordinarily compelled to carry the upright beam of the cross upon their backs, Jesus has been so scourged and beaten that His frail body lacks the power to do so. Therefore a man named Simon, a stranger who just happens to be in town at that time, is compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (27:32). The theme of Jesus’ utter loneliness, with no one to help, continues. A stranger carries His cross.
Finally they come to the place where Jesus is to be crucified, “a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of the Skull” (27:33). The translated phrase speaks volumes to us as we imagine a world that has lost all sight of reason. The human mind, without reason or compassion, is no better than the lifeless skull that contains it. Today, the place called Golgotha still stands on the outskirts of Jerusalem, an imposing cliff of unyielding rock. And in the rock one can see with unmistakable and chilling accuracy the shape of a skull — two hollow eyes, a hole where there should be a nose, and a menacing mouth with no lips, or teeth or tongue. This is Golgotha: an ominous symbol of life without religion, and religion without God.
It is there, at Golgotha that they give Him “sour wine mingled with gall” — a fitting representative of a world gone sour. In place of the sweet wine of pure truth, there is the sour wine of falsified religion. Therefore, Jesus refuses to drink it (27:34). It is at this point that they crucify Jesus and put a sign over His head, writing down the mocking accusation, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (27:37).
The crucifixion, however, does not end the taunting and mockery. Even those who pass by say, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (27:40). And they add, derisively, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save” (27:42). “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him” (27:42-44).
Coming down from the cross was not Jesus’ purpose. Saving His body was not His goal. In the previous chapter, when one of His disciples tried to defend Him, Jesus told him to put down his sword. God did not come to earth to save Himself, or to fight physical enemies. Rather He came to fight the hosts of hell through a frail and finite human body — a body that could feel physical pain, and a mind that could be assaulted by evil. This is the plan all along, and He has accepted it. Therefore, He will not come down. Instead, with unflinching courage He chooses to suffer to the bitter end the agony and the humiliation of the cross. Even the robbers who are being crucified with Jesus insult and revile Him (27:44).
The invisible battle
Jesus is on the cross now, rejected by everyone and suffering alone. He has been rejected by the religious establishment, the civil government, the multitudes, the disciples, and even by the two robbers who hang beside Him on the cross. Indeed, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
But what about the angels? Surely, they would never reject, despise, or abandon the Lord. Angels, however, like all people, are still human, and still have their weaknesses. Although their capacity to understand truth and do good is vast, they are, after all, not divine. Therefore, as Jesus comes into the extremity of temptation, He is assaulted not only by the most wicked and infernal hells but is also challenged by the angels. These temptations are the inmost of all for they involve a most subtle attack on our deepest loves and desires. In Jesus’ case, it is His ardent love for the salvation of the human race, a love that will not compel anyone. Such is the nature of the divine love itself, and such is the nature of Jesus’ final temptation on the cross. 7
The word “temptation” is normally understood to mean an “allurement” or an “enticement,” the urge to say or do something wrong. But there is a much deeper form of temptation which involves not so much the temptation to say or do evil, but rather the temptation to doubt that the truth we think is really true, and the good we do really matters. As this deeper form of temptation continues, it leads to despair, and finally to the thought that our lives have been wasted, and that nothing we do has any significance. There is no particular “urge to do evil,” but rather a much more subtle urge to simply give up on everything and everyone, including our loved ones, our life’s purpose, and even ourselves. Life seems altogether bleak and hopeless, and all of our efforts seem meaningless.
If questions and doubts like this were being injected by the hells, they would have been much easier to overcome. But coming from friends, and especially from angels, who mean well, they would be much more difficult to combat. We saw something of this earlier, when Peter rebuked the Lord for even considering the possibility that He would have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. But Jesus told Peter that His suffering and death in Jerusalem could not be avoided, and that Peter should be mindful of the things of God, not the things of men (16:21-23). Now, as Jesus hangs on the cross, much to the great sorrow of the angels, they come into great despair about the future of the human race, wondering if humanity can ever be saved through the mere gift of freedom. “Oh, Lord,” they perhaps cried out, “Take unto Yourself Your great power and reign. You must do something! It can’t end like this. There is so much more work to be done. Please, don’t give up like this.” 8
This is one of the most difficult forms of temptation. It occurs when those closest to us suggest that we come down from our highest principles. As it is written in the psalms, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if an enemy were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, and my close friend” (Psalm 55:12-13).
The pressure is on now — even more than in Gethsemane — and it is coming from all sides. The disciples want Him to come down from the cross to set up an earthly kingdom. The people who pass by say that He should come down from the cross to demonstrate that He is truly the Son of God. The religious leaders taunt Him to come down from the cross, saying “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself.” And now, even the angels, urge Him to come down from the cross, and end the anguish.
What no one can see, not even the angels, is that Jesus is not giving up. He is fighting an invisible battle against the subtlest and most diabolical of all the hells. And it will be a fight to the finish. Throughout this mighty battle, it is important to remember that the nature Jesus took on is human, and therefore subject to temptation. None of us likes to suffer, and none of us would choose to endure the agony of crucifixion, especially if it appears to be a useless endeavor. Similarly, none of us would want to see our loved ones choosing lives that lead to misery and destruction. It is only natural to want to stop them, to use whatever power and control we have to direct them onto a different course. Now imagine this in Jesus’ case. He knows that the human understanding cannot be compelled to believe truth, nor can the human heart be compelled to love good. This is the way He designed the universe, knowing that our very humanity consists in being free to understand and love the things which proceed from God, without compulsion. 9
In this regard, we should also consider the onslaughts of the hells that are attacking Jesus, endeavoring with all their fury to stir up bitter thoughts and emotions. Like all of us, Jesus must have been tempted to vindicate Himself and prove His innocence. But He chooses to remain silent. Like all of us He must have been tempted to fight back, to retaliate, to punish those who were so cruelly abusing Him. But He does nothing of the sort. Instead He hangs there, silently, without a word of complaint, fighting inner combats more painful than the the pain caused by the iron spikes that are piercing His hands and feet. Regardless of the pain, both external and internal, Jesus remains steadfast in His mission. He will fight against hell, even as it unleashes its full fury against Him, until He has expelled every last evil from His inherited humanity. As a result, the fullness of God’s Divinity would be made manifest in Him. And He will not come down until that mission is accomplished. 10
Jesus’ Last Words on the Cross
45. And from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
46. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a great voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
My God, My God
Although this chapter begins with the words, “When morning came,” it is perhaps the shortest morning in the history of time. For darkness comes quickly, and by noon “there is “darkness over all the earth” (27:45). This darkness continues for three more hours until Jesus cries out in a loud voice “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (27:46).
In His human nature, Jesus’ sense of being utterly alone, and without support of any kind, is now complete. Not only does He feel abandoned by the disciples, then by the multitudes, and even by the angels, but He now feels abandoned by God. The Hebrew scriptures capture this feeling exquisitely. As it is written, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me? Why are You so far from My groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). “I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, who are cut off from your care…. Why, O Lord, do You reject me and hide Your face from me? I am in despair … the darkness is my closest friend” (Psalm 88:4-5, 14, 18). 11
In His weakened human condition, Jesus’ sense of abandonment has reached its lowest point; the desire to give up is overwhelming. As never before, Jesus has to summon up everything that He has within Him in order to rise above the desperate thoughts and feelings that are inundating Him. In the midst of it all, He has to have confidence that humanity can be saved, and that this can be done without compulsion. He has to have confidence that He is not abandoned and that His inmost love for the salvation of the human race (which He calls “the Father”) is still present. He has to have comfidence that although He feels totally abandoned by God, this is not the case. In brief, Jesus’ desperate sense of hopelessness and abandonment will need to be overcome by an inmost sense that God would never abandon Him. This teaching, in fact, was at the heart of Jesus’ entire ministry. Now would be the chance to prove it — not through a miracle, but through faith in God’s goodness and the courage to remain unbroken in spirit, even till His last breath. 12
This is a lesson for each of us as well. There are times in each of our lives when we might feel alone, abandoned, and separated from God. At such times, thoughts like these might arise in our minds:
O God, I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me.
I have believed in You and I have lived according to your Word.
And now, here I am, going through this agonizing experience.
I feel myself sinking.
Where are You? Where are Your wonders?
Why have you abandoned me?
Jesus’ last words on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?” convey a powerful message about faith during times of utter despair. Although Jesus might feel that God has abandoned Him, Jesus has not abandoned God. Out of the depths of His distress, Jesus calls upon the Lord, crying out, “My God, My God.”
The reality of Jesus’ suffering
It has been suggested that Jesus was not in despair at all; instead, when He uttered that plaintive cry, He was merely quoting the opening words of the twenty-second psalm which begins with the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” The psalm gives key details about Jesus’ excruciating suffering on the cross, but also goes on to describe the inspired outcome of His prayer. As it is written, “The Lord has not despised or rejected the afflicted…. When he cried out to Him, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). And the next psalm begins with the immortal words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
It may be that Jesus was indeed quoting the twenty-second psalm, but this does not mean that His suffering was not real. In fact, the intensity of His suffering is exactly the point. By taking on our fallen humanity, Jesus was able to meet and conquer every physical and spiritual torment that a human being might undergo, including the final, and most piercing torment of all — the feeling that one has been abandoned by God. As a finite human being, like all of us, Jesus had to go through this agony Himself to show us that it could be done. He had to feel utterly alone and abandoned, weak and powerless, entirely on His own so that He could demonstrate that no matter what happens, no matter how furiously we are assailed by the hells, God is still with us.
Like Jesus, we also experience times that may feel like crucifixion. These are the times when we must fight against evil desires and false thoughts as if we are fighting from ourselves while acknowledging that all the power to do so is from the Lord alone. Prayer, of course, is an essential part of this combat because it connects us to the power of God. But prayer alone, even the most fervent prayer, will not chase away the evil desires and false thoughts that arise within us. Therefore, we must do this as if from ourselves, summoning up every last bit of strength and courage. The more we are assailed, the deeper we must go, remaining faithful in times of doubt, resilient in the face of adversity, and determined when feeling despair. The more we do this, fighting as if from ourselves, while believing that the Lord is fighting for us, the more will goodness and truth flowing in from the Lord sustain us and become our own. No matter how often we stumble, no matter how often we fall, if we get up and keep going, in love and faith, we will gradually develop a new nature, a new character, a new will. We will become the people God intends us to be. 13
No matter what happens to us, no matter how strongly we are assailed by doubts and despairs, we must cling to the truth that there is a God who loves us and is supporting us throughout our every trial. This is a God who will never abandon us — a God who will suffer anything for us, even the agony of the cross, to show us how to live, even in the face of death. But we must do our part; we must fight with the strength of Samson who, with his last breath, tore down the pillars of the Philistines; we must fight even as Jesus fought, against all that is evil and false within us, so that we may be born again as children of God. We must never surrender. 14
When Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus refused. Again, the devil tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him. Again, Jesus refused. And now, as Jesus concludes His earthly ministry, He is again tempted to come down — this time from the cross. Again, He refused. No one — no living person, no devil of hell, and no angel of heaven — could convince Jesus to come down from the cross or abandon His all-important mission. He remained steadfast and unwavering in His firm resolve to fulfill the purpose for which He came: to subdue the hells and, thereby, make it possible for people to be saved. And because He was fighting for the salvation of the entire human race, and doing this from pure love, He was inmostly aware that He could not help but be victorious. 15
Glorification: The Other Side of Temptation
47. And some standing there, hearing [it], said, “This [Man] calls for Elijah.”
48. And straightway one of them running, and taking a sponge, and filling [it] with vinegar, and placing [it] on a reed, gave Him to drink.
49. But the rest said, “Let be, let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
50. And Jesus, again crying with a great voice, let [forth] the spirit.
This kind of faith is invincible, indestructible, and supreme. Jesus was indeed assaulted in His infirm humanity and brought into states of severe mental anguish. But He continually drew upon those more interior resources — especially that inmost confidence that whoever fights from pure love will prevail. The crueler and more ferocious the onslaughts, the deeper He went, continuously accessing the divine love within Him and drawing it into His finite humanity. In so doing, through combat after combat, He progressively glorified His humanity until He become one with His Divine Soul — the “Father” within Him. Jesus’ passion on the cross, the last of a long series of fearsome battles with hell, was the culmination of this process. As He defeated the last of the hells, and ended the combat, He “cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit” (27:50). 16
The combat was fierce; but the result was glorious. It is similar for each of us. To the extent that we call upon the Lord, use the truth that we know, access His love, and then fight valiantly — while giving all the glory and all the credit to God — we advance a little more on the spiritual journey, as humbler, wiser, and more loving human beings.
It is a process that continues throughout our lifetime in this world and into the next, for none of us can be perfected in a moment. It is through combats of temptation, in fact, that we develop our spirits. So, although temptations may seem like dreaded foes, and unwelcome experiences, the Lord arranges the circumstances of our life perfectly so that every temptation becomes an opportunity to take the next step on our spiritual path. Whenever we meet these temptations with faith and courage, we develop, we grow, and we become spiritually mature. Each time we turn aside from evil, good flows in and takes its place. Each time we refuse to think or say what is false, truth flows in and takes its place. Each time we oppose the urge to criticize, or blame, or find fault, heavenly thoughts and emotions flow in, and take their place. 17
This process was the same for Jesus, but on a much different level. As He fought against and subdued every form of evil His humanity gradually became fully aligned with His divinity. It was as though a substance (His divinity) was being poured into a vessel (His humanity), gradually molding that vessel into a form of perfection until both the vessel and the substance became one. To put it another way, Jesus filled His mind (the finite vessel) with sacred scripture until His humanity become a perfect vessel for the reception of the divine love. In the beginning, the Divine was made human; but in the end, the human was made Divine. 18
Through a lifetime of undergoing temptations, expelling evils, and drawing upon the Divine love within Him, Jesus Christ became much more than the incarnation of God in a weak and fragile human body that died upon the cross. Rather, He became the living God in a new and glorified Humanity — the Divine Human that we can know, approach, and love. 19
This process, through which Jesus gradually filled Himself with divinity, until every cell was fully Divine — including every thought and every emotion — is called “glorification.” It is because of the glorification process that God can now be with us in a Divine natural form. This means that we no longer have to worship an infinite, unknowable, invisible God. Instead, we can worship a visible God — Jesus in His glorified humanity. 20
Jesus’ struggles and victories, up to and including His glorification, have several benefits. While a complete enumeration of those benefits is beyond human understanding, two of them are especially significant. First, in combating and subduing the hells, Jesus has made it possible for each of us to learn the truth and thereby be regenerated. The hells can no longer overwhelm us as long as we turn to the Lord in His Word and live according to the truths therein. Secondly, in glorifying His Humanity, Jesus has made the invisible Creator of the universe visible. Because of this, humanity now and forever has a fuller and more accurate idea of God. Instead of a distant, unknowable, intangible Deity, He became a Divinely Human God — a God who fights for us and shows us how to conquer. Although infinitely loving and wise, and beyond human understanding, the Creator of the universe, could now be seen as a visible God — the Lord Jesus Christ — whom we can know, and love, and follow. 21
Acknowledging Jesus’ Divinity
51. And behold, the veil of the temple was ripped in two, from the top to the bottom; and the earth was shaken; and the rocks were ripped [open];
52. And the sepulchers were opened, and many bodies of [the] holy [ones] that slumbered arose,
53. And coming out of the sepulchers after His resurrection, entered into the holy city, and appeared to many.
54. And the centurion, and they that were with him, keeping [watch over] Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and those things that were done, feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
55. And many women were there, beholding from afar off, who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him,
56. Among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
57. And when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, whose name was Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.
58. He coming to Pilate asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered the body to be given up.
59. And Joseph, taking the body, wrapped it in a clean cloth,
60. And put it in his new sepulcher, which he had hewn in the rock; and rolling a great stone onto the door of the sepulcher, he went away.
61. And Mary Magdalene was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the tomb.
At the peak of the crucifixion, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (27:51). The veil of the temple was a beautifully decorated curtain that separated the holy place from the “holy of holies” — the sacred room where the Ten Commandments were kept. The tearing in two of the veil, revealing the “holy of holies,” signifies that the Ten Commandments were once again visible. Even as God had now become visible in Jesus, the Ten Commandments, covered over for so long, now became visible for all to see. The parting of the veil, then, represents a new and clearer understanding of those sacred precepts.
We read also that “the earth quaked and the rocks were split” (27:51). This signifies a profound re-orientation in what we consider good (the earth quaking) and what we consider true (the rocks splitting). When this happens, and we discover a new way to live, we come up from our previous lives, and start a new life. Therefore, it is written that when the earth shook and the rocks split, “the graves were opened.” 22
This represents our resurrection from natural life (concerned primarily with one’s self) to spiritual life (concerned primarily with love for God and others). During this time, our buried affections and tender feelings begin to resurface; they are “raised,” as it were, out of their graves. As it is written, “And many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” As we emerge from our “graves” of selfishness and from our deep “sleep,” we become more sensitive to spiritual values, more aware of the needs of others, and eager to be of service. In other words, we are becoming alive and awake to spiritual reality. In this higher state of consciousness, we see the Ten Commandments as central to our lives — no longer concealed by a curtain. Jesus’ words from a previous episode take on new meaning: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
Finally, as we emerge from the graves of selfish concern, especially after having been asleep to spiritual values for many years, we “go into the holy city.” This represents our re-awakened desire to go to the Word (the “holy city”) and eagerly learn about the truths that lead to eternal life. When earth-shaking, rock-splitting miracles like these are taking place within us, we become like the witnesses at the foot of the cross who cry out, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (27:54). The answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” (16:15) becomes clear: He is God in human form.
The beginning of a new spirituality
The miracles that took place during Jesus’ crucifixion — darkness at noon, the earthquake, the splitting of the rocks, the tearing of the veil in the temple, people coming out of their graves — stunned the crowd. From this point onwards, no one blasphemed or taunted Jesus. His crucifixion was no longer a scornful, derisive, mockery. Rather, it became transformed into a scene of sacred awe. Something truly miraculous had happened; suddenly, the same crowd that wanted to see Him crucified now began to openly acknowledge His divinity. This is accompanied by a re-awakening of love among the multitudes — represented by the “many women” who are taking notice. As it is written, “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were looking on from afar” (27:55).
Whenever we weather the storms of temptation, and make it through upheavals of life, we come into a fuller appreciation of Jesus’ divinity. We are like the witnesses who said, “This was the Son of God.” At the same time, our love for Jesus re-emerges — just as the women who had been holding their distance now reappear. At such times, we acknowledge that He alone has brought us through our troubles. This is represented by the presence of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons who have all returned to minister to Jesus (27:56). These women represent the re-awakened affections in us that are drawn to Jesus, acknowledging His divinity.
Along with these re-emerging affections, represented by the three women, comes the desire to live by the truth that Jesus teaches. This is represented in the next episode when “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” (27:57), comes forward. The phrase “a rich man” signifies one who knows many truths. The problem with the religious leaders who sought to destroy Jesus is not that they did not have truth. In fact, they were “rich” with truth. But they had perverted and destroyed the truth by using it in the service of their own self-interest. That religious establishment, therefore, had come to an end, and a new a new one was being raised up to take its place. The coming forward of the three women, and now Joseph of Arimathea, represents the beginning of this new spirituality.
Joseph goes directly to Pilate and asks for the body of Jesus. Pilate, though weak and fearful, is not without common decency, even though it is so deeply buried that he could not prevent Jesus’ crucifixion. But things are changing now; the crucifixion has changed many things. We read, therefore, that “Pilate commanded the body to be given to him” (27:58). In the tender scene that follows, Joseph wraps the body in a clean cloth and lays it in a new tomb, hewn out of a rock. Then, after rolling a large stone against the door of the tomb, he departs. We are left with a final picture of Jesus wrapped in linen, and laid in a new tomb, with a large stone blocking the entrance. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are sitting nearby, opposite the tomb (27:59-61).
A practical application
There are dark times in our lives when the Word does not seem to be speaking to us. We may read the literal words, but we do not hear the Lord’s voice or feel His presence. There is no light in our darkness. Nevertheless, if we wait patiently, like the two Marys, and if we respectfully regard the literal teachings of the Word, like Joseph of Arimathea, something might arise. All we need to do at such times is meditate on a passage of scripture with the uses of life in mind. If we do this prayerfully, guided by faith in the Lord’s goodness, something might arise out of that “new tomb.” The Lord may come to us through His Word. 23
Sealing the Tomb
62. And on the morrow, which is [the day] after the Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate,
63. Saying, “Lord, we remember that the deceiver said, while He was yet living, After three days I will arise.
64. Order therefore that the tomb be secured until the third day, lest His disciples coming by night steal Him, and say to the people, He is risen from the dead; and the last error shall be worse than the first.”
65. And Pilate declared to them, “You have a guard; go, secure [it] as you know [how].”
66. And going they secured the tomb, sealing the stone, with the guard.
The previous episode ended with a description of the two Marys sitting opposite the tomb, watching and waiting. It suggests the way each of us can wait patiently for life to arise from the Lord’s Word. There is something in each of us, God-given, that seeks inspiration and guidance from the Lord’s Word, even when there seems to be no life there at the moment.
At the same time, however, there is another force that wants to keep the tomb well sealed so that nothing might arise. This force fears the light of truth and strives to keep things in darkness. It wants to silence the voice of God. This is represented in the next episode by the words of the religious leaders. Coming to Pilate, they say, “Sir, we remember while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore, order that the tomb be made secure until the third day lest His disciples come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from dead.’” (27:63-64).
Once again, we see a representation of the two opposing forces in us. On one side, there is the tender picture of Jesus being cared for by Joseph of Arimathea and watched over by the two Marys. This is a picture of our faith in the Word and our desire to be inspired by its teachings. On the other side, the religious leaders want to make sure that Jesus’ body remains entombed. For them, the worst possible thing that could happen is that Jesus’ disciples steal the body and spread a rumor that Jesus has risen. As they put it, “If His disciples tell the people, ‘He is risen from the dead,’ the last error shall be worse than the first” (27:64). This is the part of us that does not want to hear what the Word has to say, the part of us that prefers to remain in darkness, the part of us that is represented by the religious leaders who resent Jesus’ power and influence. Remembering Jesus’ promise that He would rise again in three days, they want to make sure it will not come to pass. Therefore, they ask Pilate to set a guard and secure the tomb. But Pilate is no longer willing to comply with their wishes. “You have a guard,” he says to the religious leaders. “Go your way and make it as secure as you know how” (27:65).
In response, the religious leaders “went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (27:66). There are places within the human spirit that are dead set against allowing Jesus to be a living influence in our lives. These are the places that “seal the stone and set the guard.”
The two Marys, on the other hand, represent those qualities within us that await Jesus’ promised return. It is the expectation of new life, even in the midst of what appears to be death. Whether we are speaking about the inner meaning of the Word rising up out of the letter, or Jesus rising up from the grave, it suggests that new life can arise within us. The religious authorities, however, want to keep Jesus out of sight — permanently. They want to make sure that the tomb is kept sealed.
A practical application
Jesus came to subdue the hells, not to destroy them. Through His victories in temptation He provided that the hells could no longer overpower and dominate people. But people can still choose to be led by their lower nature. In this way, the Lord preserves human freedom. In every moment we can choose to be led by our highest principles of goodness and truth or be led by base desires and self-centered thoughts. It is this very struggle between good and evil forces within each of us that is portrayed in this episode. Which side will prevail?