Apostle Barbara Childress
The Son affirms the cross: in his public ministry
A strange teaching has made the rounds for several years that Jesus did not come to this earth to die on the cross - that he came rather to set up an earthly kingdom, but he was taken by surprise when the Jews to whom he offered his kingdom rejected him. According to this view, the Lord Jesus went to the cross and died as something of an afterthought.
Scripture, however, makes it clear that Jesus had the cross clearly in view from the very beginning of his public ministry, and he kept it in view throughout the course of that ministry. This can readily be seen in the pictures Jesus uses to describe his mission and in his discourses.
The pictures Jesus uses
The Gospel accounts of the years of his public ministry relate several instances in which Jesus used very graphic and descriptive terms to describe his impending death on the cross. These images make it obvious that the cross was never far from his mind. He saw his public ministry as a prelude and the means of approach to it.
An appointment to be kept
After returning from the wilderness where he was tempted, and immediately before launching his public ministry, the Lord Jesus and his disciples attended a wedding feast at Cana. Suddenly his mother approached him with the word that the host had run out of wine. This was highly embarrassing! She clearly expected Jesus to make some kind of action.
Jesus responded to Mary by saying, 'Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come' (John 2:4). Jesus was not being rude to his mother. He was merely pointing out that his concern was different from hers. She had a temporal concern - the wine - but he, while not indifferent to that need, had a far more pressing concern which he expressed in terms of an 'hour'.
Jesus' mention of this 'hour', or 'time', was only the first of several in John's Gospel (John 7:6,30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 17:1). Each time we find it we may say that, in the words of William Hendriksen, it clearly indicates 'Christ's consciousness of the fact that he was accomplishing a task entrusted to him by the Father, every detail of which had been definitely marked off in the eternal decree, so that for each act there was a stipulated moment'.
An assignment to be completed
Jesus' death on the cross was assigned to him by God the Father in eternity past. Jesus came to this world knowing that was his assignment, and when he spoke of his coming death he often referred to it in those terms.
One of the words he most frequently used in connection with his mission was 'sent'. This was something he was assigned to do. One of the phrases he most frequently used is 'the Father's will'. Jesus came to do what the Father willed him to do. He had been assigned the work by another and sent to perform it.
The Gospel of John records several instances where Jesus used the expressions 'sent' and 'the Father's will' together. In John 4:34 he says, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.' In John 5:30 he remarks, 'I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.' In John 6:38-40 Jesus explains his mission in these terms: 'For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day. And this is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.'
Jesus also spoke of the cross in another way that conveys the idea of an assignment. It was a command to be kept. In John 10:17-18 Jesus says, 'Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from my Father.'
An anguish to be endured
Jesus knew that the cross would mean depths of anguish and agony that no one had ever experienced before. Luke records him as saying, 'I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!' (Luke 12:49-50).
What dramatic emblems Jesus chose to represent his death - fire and baptism! Fire is linked in Scripture with judgement. His people deserve the fire of God's judgement because of their sins, but it was going to consume Jesus instead. The Passover lamb was to be completely roasted in the fire, and Jesus, the Lamb of God, was to be roasted in the fire of God's judgement on Calvary's cross. The suffering and anguish were to be fierce. No wonder Jesus expressed his wish that the fire were already kindled!
Baptism is the complete submerging of the body in water. It carries the idea of being overcome or overwhelmed. As Jesus looked forward to the cross, he was under no illusions about what it meant for him. The words of the psalmist would be all too fitting for that occasion: 'All your waves and billows have gone over me' (John 18:11).
That cup was filled with the bitterness of the wrath of God. It had to be drained to the very dregs if there was to be redemption for the people of God. We cannot begin to imagine the anguish it entailed for the Lord Jesus Christ to put the cup of God's wrath to his lips when up to this point he had enjoyed nothing but unbroken communion with the Father. Nothing could have been more painful to the Saviour. Let us never forget that he pressed that cup of wrath to his lips and drank it dry so his people might drink from the cup of salvation!
A ransom to be paid
Jesus further spoke of the cross as the place where a ransom was to be paid. It was immediately after the mother of James and John asked the Lord if her sons could be granted the privilege of sitting one at his right and the other at his left in the final disposition of his kingdom. The other ten disciples were enraged at this suggestion, and Jesus seized the moment to instruct them about servanthood: 'And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many' (Matthew 20:27-28).
That word 'ransom' brings us to the nature of Jesus' death on the cross. This word, used on only two occasions in the New Testament (Mark 10:45 is the other), takes us into the realm of slavery. It refers to paying the price that was necessary to set a slave free.
The sober affirmation of the Scriptures is that each and every one of us is by nature a slave. Sin has not only enslaved us; it has also brought us under the wrath of God. But the good news is that we can be redeemed from our slavery. To effect that redemption Jesus died on the cross. There he paid the price of redemption. He gave up his own life in exchange for the lives of 'many' slaves to sin. Who are these 'many?' Those very ones whom the Father had given him before time began.
A type to be fulfilled
We also find Jesus proclaiming the cross the night Nicodemus came to him. This ruler of the Jews came with the assumption that the Messiah's kingdom would be of this earth and that he would automatically be included by virtue of his birth. The Lord Jesus had some shattering words for him. His kingdom was spiritual in nature and one could only enter it through a spiritual birth. And this spiritual birth could only be made available through the death of the Messiah. So Jesus drew his conversation with Nicodemus to a close by proclaiming the cross in these words: 'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up' (John 3:14).
Jesus was taking Nicodemus back to that time in the nation's history when God sent poisonous serpents into the camp of Israel to punish the people for the grievous sin of speaking against the Lord and against Moses. Bites from those serpents caused many to die, but the Lord also graciously provided a means of deliverance. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole in the camp. All who looked upon that pole were cured of the deadly snake bite (Numbers 21:4-9).
Jesus saw that brass serpent on the pole as an apt picture of his own death on the cross. It was a type, or figure, of his being lifted up on the cross.
The following parallels between that serpent of brass and Christ are suggested by Henry Mahan:
The discourses of Jesus
John includes in his Gospel several discourses not found in the other Gospels, including the one on the bread of life (John 6:32-58) and the one on the good shepherd (John 10:1-18).
The bread of life discourse (John 6:32-58)
This discourse is of particular interest. When Jesus began it he was the darling of the multitudes. By the time it ended he was down to twelve disciples, one of whom was false.
How had Jesus become so popular? The day before he had miraculously fed five thousand people in the wilderness, an act which fanned the people into a fever pitch of excitement to make him king (John 6:15).
Jesus had sort-circuited their plans on that day by authoritatively dismissing the multitude and by making his way (miraculously, we learn from John 6:16-25) to Capernaum. But many were not willing to leave matters there. They followed him to Capernaum. Their obsession with their next meal opened the door for Jesus to address their far deeper need for spiritual bread that alone can satisfy. That all sounds innocent enough. How did Jesus, in the course of one discourse, manage to alienate all but a handful of his audience?
He covered those topics that the natural man finds most offensive and disconcerting. The doctrine of man's inability is here. The Lord Jesus says, 'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him' (John 6:33,38,41,42,50,51,58), and he is the only one who has authority to grant everlasting life and to raise from the dead (John 6:40). The doctrine of blood atonement is also here. Jesus is spiritual bread for us by virtue of his death. He says, 'The bread that I shall give is my flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world' (John 6:51). And that blood atonement must be appropriated. His flesh must be eaten, and his blood must be drunk (John 6:53:55). What is it to eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood? It is to believe in him as the only Lord and Saviour (John 6:40,47).
All of this was too much to bear for the vast majority of Jesus' hearers - even as it is too much for many today to bear - and they walked away. And Jesus let them go. He refused to remove the cross from his agenda even though it caused many to stumble.
The good shepherd discourse
The Lord Jesus continued to adhere to that cross when he addressed the religious leaders of Jerusalem. The fact that they were false shepherds was amply confirmed by their callous treatment of the blind man whom Jesus had healed. Because he freely admitted that Jesus had opened his eyes, these leaders cast him out of the synagogue (John 9:34).
Their action prompted Jesus to draw a sharp distinction between false shepherds and true shepherds (John 10:1-10). The true shepherds lead their sheep through the door into the sheepfold. The door is Jesus, and a true minister always points to him as the only way to become part of the people of God. The problem with false ministers is that they have no door for people to go through.
Jesus followed that up by drawing a further distinction - between himself as the Good Shepherd and the religious leaders as mere hirelings (John 10:11-18).
In drawing this distinction, the Lord again repeatedly stressed his soon-coming death. He says, 'Therefore my Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from my Father' (John 10:17-18). His death was the essential ingredient in his shepherding of his sheep. Through that death he was to purchase them as his sheep.
The images the Lord Jesus used and the discourses he presented make it abundantly clear that his impending death on the cross was much on his mind and on his lips. It could not possibly be any other way. He came to this earth for the express purpose of dying on that cross. It could hardly be considered the focal point of his life if he never spoke of it. But, as we have noted, he did speak of it - early and often, and in speaking of it he made it obvious that heaven's plan was his priority. His fidelity to that plan should fill the hearts of believers with immense gratitude. Christ's faithfulness in fulfilling his mission opened heaven's door.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.