The Mystery-unfolding Cross
“The mystery of the cross explains all other mysteries. In the light that streams from Calvary the attributes of God which had filled us with fear and awe appear beautiful and attractive. Mercy, tenderness, and parental love are seen to blend with holiness, justice, and power. While we behold the majesty of His throne, high and lifted up, we see His character in its gracious manifestations, and comprehend, as never before, that significance of that endearing title, “our Father” (The Great Controversy p. 652).
It is impossible to understand the character of God as it really is until every mystery about it is taken to the light shining from Golgotha. Not even the angels could comprehend God’s character and He delivered from Satan’s devilish charges against the Omnipotent One until Jesus cried, “It is finished” (The Desire of Ages, p. 764).
Therefore, if the angels could not understand all of God’s workings in the Old Testament period until they saw them in the light of the cross, then we have no possibility of grasping those mysteries in any other way. Thus, in order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light which streams from the cross of Calvary, and in connection with the wondrous, central truth of the Saviour’s atonement. Those who study the Redeemer’s wonderful sacrifice grow in grace and knowledge.
This is quite a statement. It establishes that there is not a single Bible truth that can be rightly understood except in the light which streams from Calvary. This means, consequently, that it is impossible to know God as He is, impossible to rightly understand His character and the nature of His law, unless all this is studied with continual reference to the cross of Calvary.
In light of these things, it comes as no surprise to find that those who insist that God destroys reject the cross as having any helpful or significant bearing on the question of God’s character. In all their arguments, they make no appeal to it and expressly reject any witness from it which counters their fixed idea of God’s behavior.
Such an attitude is tragic, for there is no mightier revelation of His character than the cross of Calvary. Before it, all other arguments sink into insignificance, all errors are exposed for what they are.
It was on earth that the love of God was revealed through Christ. It is on the earth that His children are to reflect this love through blameless lives. Thus sinners will be led to the cross to behold the Lamb of God (The Acts of the Apostles, p, 334).
The cross of Calvary challenges, and will finally vanquish every earthly and hellish power. In the cross all influence goes forth. It is the great center of attraction; for on it Christ gave up His life for the human race. This sacrifice was offered for the purpose of restoring men to his original perfection. Yea, more, it was offered to give him an entire transformation of character, making him more than a conqueror.
Those who in the strength of Christ overcome the great enemy of God and man, will occupy a position in the heavenly courts above angels who have never fallen.
Christ declared, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” Christ on the cross was the medium whereby mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and peace kissed each other. This is the means that is to move the world.
It was an awareness of and appreciation for these great truths that cause Paul to testify: “But if God forbid that I should glory except n the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Therefore, he said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).
These words provide the fullest encouragement to proceed into the study of God’s character with the assurance that when that theme is brought into the light flooding from the cross every mystery will be solved.
The particular problem before us concerns the way in which God deals with the unrepentant sinner. The emergence of sin imposed upon God the greatest test of character ever. It is true that the greater the test the greater the manifestation of the character presented. Therefore, the contemplation of the way in which God deals with the sinner reveals more of the wonder of God’s character than any other study could.
The cross is God’s personal demonstration of the way in which He will deal with the finally impenitent. Christ took the sinner’s place, and God dealt with Him exactly as He has dealt with every sinner throughout the annals of time. This is the point that must be clearly seen and accepted. God did not relate Himself to Christ differently from what He does to the sinner. It is exactly the same. It must be, for if God should do otherwise, then Satan would be very quick to justly charge God with partiality.
Christ wholly took the sinner’s place. This was so real, so complete, that it was as if He were the sinner. It was thus that God saw Him in Gethsemane and on the cross, and it was as a lost and condemned sinner that God treated Him. It was no make-believe substitution. Had it not been absolutely real all would have been lost, for if Christ’s standing in place of sinners came short in the least degree, then to that degree the ransom was not fully paid.
Christ in no way received any “preferred Son” treatment from His Father, resulting in His being punished in a different way from that of the lost and unrepentant sinner. Look to the cross of Calvary for a clear view of the way God acted there, and you will know exactly how God acts when a sinner has eternally refused the offer of repentance.
Back in the Garden of Eden, despite the warnings given them from God, Adam and Eve chose to go the way of transgression. That way incurs a punishment. God has given people life, a home, and mighty powers to enable them to live to full happiness and achievement in that home. But power with its capacity to maintain life on the best of levels also has the potential for doing away with it altogether.
To protect humanity from the latter eventuality, God gave them the law as a love gift from heaven. Obedience to it would perpetuate their eternal and perfect happiness, but disobedience would unleash all those powers in the destructive role. That destruction would in no way be the working of God’s personal retaliation against the sinner. It would be the inevitable outworking of the sinner’s own course of action.
When the first pair sinned, they took another god in place of the real God, making it impossible for Him to continue as the Sustainer of all the powers of natural without His forcing His presence where it was not desired. Therefore, at the very moment in which they turned out of the pathway of righteousness, thee were poised and ready to strike mighty powers, which, though provided for their blessing, had been perverted to destroy. They would have died at that very day as God had said, but for one contingency. “The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying ‘Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in Man’s place. He shall have another chance’” (The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1085).
The substitution of Christ in humanity’s place was complete, Christ bears the same punishment and stands in the same place to receive it. To determine the nature of the sentence to fall upon humanity, study need only be given to the way Christ died. There are two ways in which it could have happened.
One is under the power of an offended God rising to vindicate His authority. The death would then be the result of God’s direct act. If this is the way the sinner was to die, then Christ must die in an identical fashion. God cannot administer one sentence on the sinner and a different one on Christ, for if He did, he would deny the truth that Christ took humanity’s punishment and stood in their place.
The other possibility is for God to leave sinner to the fate they have chosen, once they have rejected every possible effort on God’s part to save them. His death would then be the working of the broken law. If this is the way people are to die, then that is the way Christ died.
In short, the question is, does God kill the sinner or is it sin that destroys him or her? Whichever it was destroyed Christ when the punishment fell upon Him.
The reading of individual statements would certainly give the impression that it was God who personally administered the punishment on the sinner according to His judgement of what it should be. Here is a sample of such a statement.
There are limits even to the forbearance of God. The boundary of His longsuffering may be reached, and then he will surely punish. And when he does take up the case of presumptuous sinner, he will not cease till he has made a full end.
Very few realize the sinfulness of sin; they flatter themselves that God is too good to punish the offender. But the cases of Miriam, Aaron, David and many others show that it is not a safe thing to sin against God in deed, in works, or even in thought. God is a being of infinite love and compassion, but he also declared himself to be a ‘consuming fire, even a jealous God” (The Review and Herald, August 14,1900).
Because we have been so long accustomed to interpreting words such as these in the same way as we would if they were describing human behavior, we see in them the description of God as the One who, with patience exhausted, arises to personally punish those who have offended Him. But the witness of the cross does not support this interpretation.
The death of the Christ was to be the convincing, everlasting argument that the law of God is as unchangeable as His throne. The agonies of Garden of Gethsemane, the insult, the mockery, and abuse heaped upon God’s dear Son, the horrors and ignominy of the crucifixion, furnish sufficient and thrilling demonstration that God’s justice, when it punishes, does the work thoroughly. The fact that His own won, the surety for man, was not spared, is an argument that will stand to all eternity before saint and sinner, before the universe of God, to testify that He will not excuse the transgressor of His law. Every offense against God’s law, however minute, is set down in the reckoning and when the sword of justice is taken in hand, it will do the work for impenitent transgressors that was done to the divine sufferer. Justice will strike; for God’s hatred of sin is intense and overwhelming (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1166)
Reference is made in this quotation to the working of God’s justice. A caution again needs to be sounded that God’s ways are not our ways, and therefore, God’s justice and humanity’s justice are not the same. More will be studied on this later.
Again, note that the same work, when the “sword of justice is taken in hand” by God, will be done in destroying the impenitent as was done to Christ when He died. Therefore, His death is a revelation of the work of God in the death of the wicked. By this means we can understand the Bible meaning of how God punishes the sinner.
Before we do look at the cross to see just what the Father did there, let a further statement be studied to strengthen the point made in the one just quoted, namely that the death of Christ was exactly as the death of the sinner will be.
It is a fearful thing for the unrepentant sinner to fall into the hands of the living God. This is proved by the history of the destruction of the old world by a flood, by the record of the fire which fell from heaven and destroyed the inhabitants of Sodom (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1103).
This is the first part of what is to be quoted here from this statement. From what has been read thus far, the impression will be formed that God is the destroyer. When we hear a human being speak of his or her enemy in these words, “If that person should ever fall into my hands, “we know that that person purposes to use all his or her powers to personally crush and destroy the other individual. So we are apt to think of God in the same terms because of our familiarity with the earthly meaning of such an expression. But as the statement continues, it gives us again the guideline of the experience of God and Christ at the cross to enable us to understand the real meaning of those words.
But never was this (the fearful thing of falling into the hands of the living God) proved to so great an extent as in the agony of Christ, the Son of the infinite God, when He bore the wrath of God for a sinful world (Ibid.)
People who look first and only at what they think they see taking place at the flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah will arrive at an incorrect view of what it means to fall into the hands of the living God. But if they look first at the death of Christ and understand from the revelation there what it means to fall into the hands of the living God, then they will have the right view of the character of justice of God.
The revelation of this truth is strengthened as we read further in the paragraph. It was in consequence of sin, the transgression of God’s law, that the Garden of Gethsemane has become pre-eminently the place of suffering to a sinful world. No sorrow, no agony, can measure with that which was endured by the Son of God.
Man has not been made a sin-bearer, and he will never know the horror of the curse of sin which the Saviour bore. No sorrow can bear any comparison with the sorrow of Him upon whom the wrath of God fell with overwhelming force. Human nature can endure but a limited amount of test and trial. The finite can only endure the finite measure, and human nature succumbs; but the nature of Christ had a great capacity for suffering; for the human existed in the divine nature and created a capacity for suffering to endure that which resulted from the sins of a lost world. The agony which Christ endured, broadens, deepens, and gives a more extended conception of the character of sin, and the character of the retribution which God will bring upon those who continue in sin. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ to the repenting, believing sinner (Ibid.)
So Christ said, “Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place.” And this is what happened:
- The punishment fell on Christ
- The sword of justice did to Christ exactly what it would have done to sinful people and will do when the finally impenitent suffer their ultimate destruction
- Jesus received the full outpouring of the wrath of God
- Jesus fell into the hands of the living God; and thus died as people will die if they remain in sin.
This being so, there remains only the need to study how Jesus died on the cross to understand how God will relate Himself to the sinner; to understand what the wrath of God is; and to know what the punishment of sin consists of.
On the cross of Calvary, Christ died the death of the sinner. It was a death that met the full demands of God’s law. It was God’s punishment on sinners, but it was not at the hand of God of God that Christ died. The Father did not slay His Son.
It was sin that slew the Son of God. The Father simply withdrew from the Son and left Him to perish because there was nothing else He could do. Christ stood in the very position of the sinner who wants nothing of God and demands His withdrawal. With the withdrawal of the sustaining, life-protecting, life-giving power of God, there was nothing to save Christ from the awful, destructive power of sin. Its fearful weight crushed the life forces into extinction.
But it was not the spear thrust, it was not the pain of the cross, that caused the death of Jesus. They cry, uttered “with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46_, at the moment of death, the stream of blood and water that flowed from His side, declared that He died of a broken heart. His heart was broken by mental anguish. He was slain by the sin of the world (The desire of Ages, P 772.)
There can be no mistaking the way in which Christ died. Accordingly, there is no difficulty in knowing how people will die at the destructive hands of sin. At the cross, when the full penalty which Christ undertook to bear in humanity’s place was exacted, Christ did not find the Father waiting for Him there as an executioner to extinguish every ray of hope and element of life. It was sin which, in that role, awaited Him.
So human beings will never find God waiting as their executioner. Satan makes it appear that he does, but it is not so. The cross of Calvary proves that. Sin is the destroyer that awaits the condemned sinner.
God does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the sentence against transgression; but He leaves the rejecters of His mercy to themselves, to reap that which they have sown (The Great Controversy, p. 36).
This is that to which people are left. This is how humanity perishes. Those who reject the mercy so freely offered and presented, will yet be made to know the worth of that which they have depside. They will feel the agony which Christ endured upon the cross to purchase redemption for all who would receive it. And they will then realize what they have lost, eternal life and the immortal inheritance.
Nothing can deny the truths presented by Christ on the cross. He took the punishment due to fall on humanity in the way in which it will eventually fall on the sinners at the final reckoning. In this is given to us the most accurate picture of the nature of God’s wrath and the punishment of human beings that could ever be given.
Then finally the impenitent will suffer an agony of soul, a mental stress that is incomparable to anything that any human except Christ has yet endured, for no person has yet been made to feel the full burden of sin upon their being. They will experience the full realization of the magnitude of sin and its results, which is the final and ultimate separation from the Life-giver and Sustainer, a sinking into the everlasting darkness of nonexistence, the second death.
We read of chains of darkness for the transgressor of God’s law. We read of the worm that dies not, and of the fire that is not quenched. Thus is represented the experience of every one who has permitted himself to be grafted into the stock of Satan, who has cherished sinful attributes. When it is to late, he will see that sin and the transgression of God’s law.
This is how it was with Christ upon the cross and how it will be with every sinner who perishes in the resurrection of the unjust. The protecting presence of God will be withdrawn, leaving the sinner exposed to all the destructive power of an evil conscience within and the unleashed forces of nature without.
God does not come to the sinner equipped with the weapons of destruction to execute His own decrees against the impenitent. This is not his way. That is the way of Satan and his followers.
God’s way was to give human beings the law in the first instance as a protection and a savior from death. Then when people cast away that savior, He gave Himself to save them. When, in turn, they reject this means of salvation, then there is nothing further the Lord can do. He has no option but to leave them to perish.
In our next post we will explore “The Way of the Cross” and explore the questions:
Why is the cross foolishness to the world?
The religionist of modern times would point to the icons that decorate the church and deny that the cross is foolishness, but if he truly understood the cross of Christ, would he still?
And finally at the cross, but Satan and Christ fully manifested and demonstrated the principles of two opposing governments. The symbol of the cross is derived from the ancient mystery religion out of Babel and from that side, Satan’s side, it speaks of another principle of operation. What is that principle?
If you have not had an opportunity to read the other posts in this series, I invite you to click on the links below.