“For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2-
If asked the question why it was necessary for Jesus to die, the most common response is that Jesus had to give his life to pay for our sins. And, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses could give a more detailed explanation of the ransom. But is the ransoming of mankind from sin and death the sole, or even primary reason Jesus gave his life? If you answer yes to that question, then a more pertinent question is: Why was it necessary, then, for Jesus to suffer such a horrific death? What purpose was served by his being hung on a torture stake? After all, Jesus could have died in his sleep and provided the ransom, since all that was required was for a perfect man to offer his life in exchange for the right to purchase mankind from Adam. .
You may recall the man Enoch, of whom it was said that God transferred him so that he did not see death and he was nowhere to be found; God evidently put Enoch to sleep in order to spare him from suffering a violent death at the hands of his godless persecutors. Also, take the case of Moses, whom, at the ripe old age of 120 was still a vital man. The Bible states that even his eyesight was still strong when God took him. In other words, he did not die of natural causes. Jehovah apparently euthanized Moses after he had ascended Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land.
But if all that God required was the sacrifice of a perfect soul then Jesus could have died a painless death like that of Enoch or Moses and the value of his sinless life could still have provided the purchase price for Adam’s dying race. Again, the question: Why was Jesus made to suffer such agony? Indeed, why does it say in Isaiah that Jehovah even took delight in crushing him? (Isaiah 53:10)
Although it was an extraordinary act of love on God’s part to provide his only-begotten son in behalf of mankind, we should not suppose that man’s salvation is the most important thing in the universe. As Jehovah’s Witnesses well know, there are greater issues at stake than the salvation of humanity. The vindication of Jehovah as the rightful and sole sovereign of the universe is paramount. And the torturous death of Jesus has been instrumental in vindicating Jehovah. How so?
One of the most important treasures of the sacred Scriptures is contained in the opening chapters of the book of Job where we are made privy to an actual conversation that took place between Jehovah and Satan, the entire throng of spirit sons of God listening to the exchange.
Although the malicious angel’s accusations focused on the man Job, by implication the Devil asserted that no man – or angel for that matter – genuinely loves God. The Devil further argued that a man would do anything to save his own neck, even denying and disobeying God if it came down to it. In order to allow Satan to try and prove his point Jehovah permitted him to bring a series of calamities upon Job. But Job did not curse God as Satan had contended.
Although the Scriptures contain no further record of any discourse between Satan and Jehovah on this issue we may be certain that the Devil did not simply let the matter drop. He may well have reasoned that Job, being an imperfect man, was just simply stubborn. And besides, how do we know that Job may not have cracked if God would have permitted Satan to terrorize him with certain death?
And while it may appear that Satan primarily called into question the integrity of God’s intelligent creation, ultimately the Devil has impugned God’s character. After all, if a man will not sacrifice his life for his Life-giver perhaps the fault lies with the Creator himself. Maybe God does not deserve absolute obedience. Maybe God simply cannot engender an unbreakable bound of love for himself within his own creation.
These are the underlying issues that Satan’s challenge has raised. And this is where Jesus comes in. Jesus was in a position to provide an unequivocal response to Satan’s taunt. Unlike Job, Jesus was perfect. And unlike in the trial of Job, Jehovah would permit Satan to test Jesus completely—all the way to the death. The only question is whether Jesus would fully submit himself to do Jehovah’s will to the end.
Jehovah is keenly interested in settling these universal issues with finality and proving to all creation that the Devil is a wicked liar. That is why shortly after Jesus was baptized and anointed as the Christ the Bible account says that the holy spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.
Think of it, in the Lord’s model prayer Christians petition God not to lead them into temptation, but in the case of Jesus, the holy spirit led Christ straight to the Tempter.
The fact that God’s holy spirit was used to lead Jesus into a situation where he was directly tempted by the Devil proves that there are greater issues at stake than mere human salvation.
Having three times failed to tempt Jesus into misusing his authority as the Christ the account states that Satan withdrew from him until another convenient time.
But the ultimate test came when Jehovah removed his protective spirit entirely. That initiated a period Jesus referred to in the Garden of Gethsemane as “the hour of the authority of darkness.”
It was the hour of darkness, indeed. Within that “hour” Jesus was betrayed by one of his apostles. The other eleven apostles scattered in fear and confusion. Peter even three times denied that he ever knew Jesus. Jesus was kept up all night under guard and underwent interrogation from the Jewish high priest before the hastily convened Sanhedrin. He was mocked; falsely accused and denounced by the Jews, who days before had jubilantly hailed him as the King of Israel. He was spit upon, beaten and lashed with a barbed whip and finally mockingly crowned with a wreath made out of thorns.
But even during his ordeal Jesus could have avoided being condemned to death if he had just remained silent during the illegal tribunal when put under oath by the high priest, who demanded to know if he was the Son of God. Or, if he had spoken up in his own defense when he stood before Pilate the outcome may have been entirely different. Unflinching in his determination to completely submit himself to God’s will, Jesus allowed himself to be condemned as a seditionist and blasphemer, knowing he would surely be nailed to a crude piece of timber and hoisted up to hang until he breathed his last breath.
Since the Devil was undoubtedly aware that the prophecies, as well as Jesus himself, had foretold that the Christ must die in order to accomplish God’s grand purpose to bring the works of the Devil to nothing, some have wondered why Satan would become a witting participant in the fulfillment of prophecy by having Jesus put to death. In view of the issues that Satan has put forward perhaps the Devil assumed that when actually faced with the agony and horror of his own execution Christ could be induced to blink—to veer off course at the last moment. And, of course, in order to determine if Jesus would shrink back Satan had to go all the way to the point of having Jesus impaled. Keep in mind that impalement is not a speedy form of execution. Jesus hung upon the stake for about three hours. Even at that point Jesus could have re-thought things. As his detractors even noted, if Jesus was really the Son of God he could have appealed to God to save him from his agony. He did not. And with his last breath the victorious Christ stated: “It has been accomplished.”
But that is not the end of the controversy. On the very night of his arrest Jesus told Peter that Satan had demanded to have the apostles to sift them as wheat. And sifted they were. Peter eventually gave his life too, as did many first century disciples. And Satan still demands to have access to tempt and test those who belong to God today.
All during the centuries God has been calling and choosing those who will ultimately make up the 144,000-member kingdom. Some have proven unfaithful though, even as Jesus said: “many are called but few are chosen.” But during the conclusion Jesus will send forth his angels to uproot the weed-like sons of the wicked one and gather the approved sons of the kingdom. The harvest means that the calling and choosing is terminated at that point. The sacred secret will then be finished. Christianity itself will have accomplished its intended purpose. The era of evangelism will conclude. Those sons of the kingdom who will ultimately be gathered like wheat into the symbolic storehouse will be sealed with God’s irreversible approval and infused with a new heart and a new spirit—an unbending, unbreakable spirit.
As set forth in the previous chapter, the harvest grouping of sealed sons of the kingdom will be composed of 7,000 persons. To settle the issue with finality and to demonstrate his supreme confidence in his new creation, the part of which will be on the earth for a short while during the concluding phase, Jehovah has purposed to give the Devil one last chance to thwart God’s purpose.
In the case of Jesus, Jehovah staked his reputation as a truth-teller upon the integrity of just one man—albeit, a perfect one. But during the finale Jehovah has purposed to set 7,000 imperfect and largely untested Christians before Satan with the understanding that not one of them will break under test—a test that will revolve around false christs and false prophets performing great signs and wonders so as to deceive even the chosen ones, as Jesus said, if that were possible—the implication being that it is not possible that any of the chosen ones can be drawn away then.
But if even so much as one of the chosen ones proves unfaithful after the concluding harvest is accomplished it will mean that God will have failed to produce a kingdom of 144,000 kings and priests—143,999 just will not do. If Jehovah is to be vindicated as the true God his word must be completely fulfilled in every detail. Those are the stakes. And to up the ante, as they say in poker parlance, Jehovah has purposed to allow the earthly organization to which the chosen ones are attached to be destroyed. This phenomenon is the central feature of prophecy.
Jehovah’s confidence in the unbreakable loyalty of his holy ones at that time is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that at the present moment it is absolutely necessary for God to severely discipline those who make up the anointed congregation of Christ. But we are assured in prophecy that the severe wounding will accomplish its intended purpose, and afterwards will come the ultimate enlightenment, even as Isaiah 30:26 foretells: “And the light of the full moon must become as the light of the glowing sun; and the very light of the glowing sun will become seven times as much, like the light of seven days, in the day that Jehovah binds up the breakdown of his people and heals even the severe wound resulting from the stroke by him.”
The prophecy of the attack of Gog of Magog may now be better understood. The 37th chapter of Ezekiel describes the resurrection of Israel from a state of being like dried out bones scattered about, as it were, as a result of the severe wounding by the disciplinary stroke of God. But Jehovah then brings the inert organization to life, completely cleansing it and establishing his covenant of peace with it. The result being the same as is described in the 21st chapter of Revelation, namely, God spreads his loving tabernacle over the redeemed and they become his people and Jehovah becomes their God. Ezekiel also foretells, that “David will rule over them.” “David,” of course, is a reference to the son of David, Jesus Christ. So, the prophecy relates to the coming of Christ and the redemption of the Christian Israel of God.
It is at that time that Jehovah is said to put hooks in the jaws of Gog in order to lead him into attacking his restored people with the intent of causing the holy ones to become unfaithful. After all, Satan was able to overreach one of Jesus’ own handpicked apostles and countless others since then. Surely he can do the same with one or more of the 7,000. It is an irresistible temptation for the Tempter.
In the first century the holy place associated with prophecy was the temple in Jerusalem. Although it is doubtful that non-Jewish Christians viewed Herod’s temple as something holy many of the Jewish Christians certainly had a reverential attachment to it. That being the case, when the “disgusting thing” of prophecy appeared, as Jesus had prophesied, it would be especially vital for Hebrew Christians living in Judea and Jerusalem to be mentally prepared to abandon their homes and local congregation as well as the temple, where many Christians doubtlessly gathered to witness to the Jews. It was a form of discipline from God.
That is why in the run-up to the destruction of Jerusalem Paul penned his letter to the Hebrews, which thoroughly explains the part that the Law and the formal tabernacle/temple worship had played in the outworking of God’s purpose, but how that system had become obsolete with the advent of the Messiah and was due to be violently phased out of existence.
Paul went on to exhort the Hebrews not to give out under God’s discipline.
It is especially noteworthy that the entire 11th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is a review of the faith of numerous pre-Christian men and women, many of which faced death. Hebrew Christians living in Jerusalem would have their faith severely tested too.
But the apostle’s letter makes it clear that the destruction of the Jewish system was merely a pattern for the end of the entire Christian era and the present system of things. That is evident by these words of Paul: “See that you do not beg off from him who is speaking. For if they did not escape who begged off from him who was giving divine warning upon earth, much more shall we not if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, saying: ‘Yet once more I will set in commotion not only the earth but also the heaven.’ Now the expression ‘Yet once more’ signifies the removal of the things being shaken as things that have been made, in order that the things not being shaken may remain.” (Hebrew 12:25-27)
Now, we too must face the hour of the authority of darkness. A darkness so terrifying it will seem as if the sun and moon have been blotted out. During that “hour” civilization will be shaken into oblivion. All mountain-like institutions that seem so permanent now will be rocked off their foundations.
Humanity will be agitated like a storm-tossed sea. There will be no place on earth to flee to escape the tumult. Only those with unshakable faith in God and Christ will survive, because God will provide a real refuge for them.
Rather than melt in fear as those without faith are certain to do when the angels unleash the four winds of annihilation upon the earth, let us seize the opportunity then to take a stand for the truth—come what may! Let us remember the men and women recorded in the Scriptures who accomplished extraordinary things by means of their faith.
Foremost, may we always look to the example that Jesus Christ set. And have faith that the one who once calmed the tempestuous Sea of Gallilee with a mere word and who gave the command for Peter to step out of the little boat and into the surging waters, will also carry us through the coming tempest of Jehovah.