Meditation and Reflection

Good Friday: the death of the Messiah

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ‘ (Acts 2:36).

‘Jesus died the death of Israel’s messiah at the hands of the Romans’, writes the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in his book The Way of Jesus Christ. Some were persuaded of his messiahship; others were not. The people were not. Or the majority was not. In a spontaneous referendum, they had voted for Barabbas. Better to be led by a hard freedom fighter than a soft messiah. They wanted signs and wonders and liberation from oppression; all they got was bread and fish and a sermon on a mount. You won’t drive out the Romans on the back of a donkey. That’s a big fail.

Or a paradox.

This dual title, ‘Lord and Christ’ or ‘Lord and Messiah’, gives a clue as to how the Hebrew scriptures were understood. In their Greek translation, the covenant name of God, Yahweh (Ex 3) is translated ‘Kyrios’. For example, in Psalm 110:1, the Hebrew text says ‘YHWH says to Adoni, sit at my right hand…‘. The two characters in the dialogue are distinguished by two different titles. The Greek translation, however, from which Peter quotes in Acts 2:34 reads: ‘The Lord says to my Lord...’. Our English versions reflect the fact that the same noun is used for both persons. The distinction that was clear in the Hebrew text became ambiguous in the Greek.

What distinguishes the Father and the Son is not a difference in divine essence, but a difference in their persons: it belongs to the person of the Son to become incarnate, but the incarnate Son is and remains consubstantial with the Father.

God the Son did not first appear in the history of redemption at the Incarnation, but had been mediating the knowledge of God and saving His people for millennia preceding. This is how St Paul read the history of salvation, and why he declared: ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus‘ (1Tim 2:5). We see this way of thinking in his admonition to the Corinthians regarding their conduct at the Lord’s Table, where he reminded them that they were not the first to be baptised (1Cor 10:1f) and they were not the first to eat the Lord’s Supper (1Cor 10:3). Indeed, they ate the same food and drank the same drink we do: ‘And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.’ Paul did not see only occasional types of Christ in the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather, he saw God the Son actively operating throughout Scripture. In other words, the unity of the covenant of grace is not merely typological but substantial.

Christians today are partakers of the same justifying and saving grace by which God the Son justified and redeemed His people before the Incarnation. Paul said as much when he told the Corinthians:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us (2Cor 1:19f).

The death of the Messiah was a tragedy for and in creation: ‘Jesus therefore dies the death of everything that lives in solidarity with the whole sighing creation’, Moltmann explains. The sufferings of Christ are the sufferings of that age, and the previous one, and also of this one (Rom: 8:18), but the world doesn’t feel it. It doesn’t really care.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you… (1Pt 1:19f).

..manifest in these last times for you. He was scourged for you. A bore a crown of thorns for you. Nails were hammered into his hands and feet for you. He died in agony for you. But these are just words. Far better to feel your salvation:

Jesus.