J. N. Darby.
We have seen the people judged, each class brought by God's hand into the Lord's presence to receive their judgment; we have seen them morally condemned by the word of God and by the blessed Lord's wisdom. But the iniquity which drew forth the execution itself must cause many difficulties to the disciples. They would have to walk in a way full of dangers, and they are warned themselves here how they may escape the judgment which was about to fall upon the beloved people for their sins. The Lord would no longer be present to guide them; but His heart could not leave them in ignorance either as to the path or as to the difficulties they would have to encounter. And the testimony which Jesus gave of it would make the difficulties and dangers a proof of the truth of His words, and an encouragement for their hearts when they should find themselves in the trouble.
But the Lord does not stop at the fulfilment of the judgment soon to be realised, but opens up the ways of God up to His coming, when Israel shall be blessed again after having passed through such a judgment that a little remnant only of the people will be left; and the power of the beasts (that is, of the Gentile empires) will be destroyed, Satan bound, and the world will rest in peace. Nevertheless it is more as a warning to His disciples that the Lord speaks here than as an announcement of the peace and rest of the world after the execution of judgment.
The disciples, accustomed to see in the temple the house of God and the glorious centre of their religion, full of wonder, point out to the Lord the beauty of the buildings and the size of the stones, and, as often happened, they give to the Lord the opportunity to communicate God's thoughts to them about the times and the state of the guilty nation. He announces to them clearly the destruction of the temple as a certain fact; but when the disciples asked when that should happen, He speaks of the people's state up to His coming, as far as this history has to do with the service of His disciples. In general that which is said is similar to that contained in Matthew's Gospel; but the Holy Spirit here presents the Lord to us as being more occupied with teaching His disciples.
309 As in Matthew we have general teaching here, which goes on to the end of the period of the proclamation of grace; then the especial sign of the final ruin of Jerusalem, which immediately precedes the Lord's coming in glory. This interest in the disciples as to their testimony and service answers to the character of this Gospel, which gives us a history of the service of the Lord Himself. The Lord does not immediately answer the disciples' question, but warns them of the dangers they would encounter in their service, after His departure. Satan would raise up false Christs to deceive the Jews, and many should be deceived. They would have to be on their guard. Wars and rumours of wars would take place, but they were not to be troubled about this; these things must happen, but the end should not be yet. These were the beginning of sorrows, but not the end.
He does not speak of the mission of the apostle Paul, but of that of the twelve in the midst of the Jews; only the gospel must be preached to all the nations before the end. The fact is asserted, without its being said how it ought to be fulfilled. We know that it will be the gospel of the kingdom, as it might have been preached during the Lord's lifetime. Here is the simple announcement of a testimony of the gospel sent to the nation before the end should come. But the consequence of this testimony, as far as the disciples were concerned, would be persecution; they would be beaten in the synagogues and accused before kings and governors for a testimony to them. This is the means which the Lord uses to carry the gospel to kings and to the great of the earth. The preachers are not the great of the earth, and His disciples would have always to preserve their true character; in this they would appear before kings and rulers as prisoners to give an account of their faith.
Thus the apostle Paul appeared before the Jewish council, before Festus, Agrippa, and finally before Caesar. But the possible result of the preaching of the gospel was not all. The revelation of God in the person of Christ, or in the preached word, awakens the enmity of the human heart. So long as God is not revealed, everything is tolerated; but when He is revealed, man's will rises up against His authority, and against the pressure which this revelation exerts upon a conscience not at rest; and the closer the relations are, the greater is the hatred. This hatred breaks all the ties of nature: brother would give up brother to death, and the father his son; the children would rise up against their parents and would put them to death; and the disciples would be hated of all men for the Saviour's name.
310 What a testimony to the state of man's heart! If one speaks of the name of Jesus and of His love, of the love of Him who came to save us, the hatred of man's heart breaks all barriers; it refuses to recognise and tramples down all natural affections. But the time of deliverance will come, and here it is an earthly deliverance that is in question. It is still better for us; if we are killed, we go to be with the Lord; if He comes, we shall be glorified with Him. But here the Lord speaks of the testimony and service of the apostles in the midst of the Jews. In whatever way we look at it, there remaineth a rest for the people of God. But there is more; God would be with them in the way. When the disciples should be in the presence of the magistrates, they were not to meditate upon that which they ought to say; it would not be necessary to prepare discourses; the Holy Spirit would be with them; and it should be given them what to say at that very moment.
Here is the picture that the Lord draws of the service of His people in the midst of the Jews up to the end; He adds that the gospel shall be preached to the ends of the earth. But now in verse 14 He comes to a more precise and definite notice of the events which should happen in Jerusalem at the end. "When," He says, "ye shall see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains." Here we must look at Daniel's prophecy which speaks of this abomination: we find it in chapter 12. The word "abomination" simply means idol; and it is called abomination of desolation because it is the cause of the desolation of Jerusalem and of the Jewish people.
The Jews will receive the Antichrist. The Lord said, "I have come in my Father's name, and ye have not received me; if another come in his own name, him will ye receive." Then under the influence of Antichrist they will turn to idolatry again. The unclean spirit which came out of them after the Babylonish captivity will enter into them again with seven spirits worse than itself, and the last state will be worse than the first; Matt. 12:43-45. They will then set up an idol in the most holy place, where it ought not to be placed, and God's judgment will fall upon the people and city. The desolation will be complete: "There shall be trouble such as never was." And Daniel says, "At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people, and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was … ." This trouble must last for a time, times and a half, that is, three and a half Jewish years, or 1,260 days, or 42 months. Then those who are written in God's book shall be saved - those who shall have endured to the end in spite of the difficulties, sufferings, and the oppression of the Antichrist and Gentiles as the Lord had foretold.
311 In the meantime, during the time of their general service, the Holy Ghost would give them all wisdom, and even the very words they would need. The Lord's goodness here is very remarkable; we find the Lord thinking even of the weather in the midst of this terrible judgment, so terrible indeed that nothing like it has been known in the world's history. He tells them to pray that their flight be not in the winter. He does not speak here as in Matthew of the sabbath, because Jewish things are not so much in view here as in that Gospel. He thinks of those who are with child and of those who give suck in those days. Ah! how great is the Saviour's compassion; nothing escapes His gracious memory. Whilst warning His disciples of the most terrible judgment, He thinks of all the difficulties they would meet upon the road He teaches them to take.
But the Lord has shortened these days, or no flesh could be saved; but He has shortened them for His own elect's sake. Then to give a hope of deliverance and of escape from sufferings, false Christs and false prophets would arise and would perform miracles and signs (so great is Satan's power when God permits) to seduce if possible the very elect. But they had been warned; and now after this unparalleled tribulation which should come upon Jerusalem, the end of the dispensation would come; all established authority should be overturned by God's judgment. The order which He had established for the government of the earth shall be thrown into confusion. The signs of His judgment appear.
Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. The Lord appears to take possession of the earth, which He not only has created, but which He has acquired as His own as Son of man by His death. But that which is specially announced here is that He will send His angels to gather together His elect from all parts of the world. It is always a question here of the land and of Israel: the blessing of the Gentiles and of the whole world will take place, but it is not the question here. Our place is a far higher one: when Christ shall appear, we shall appear with Him; Col. 3:4. The Lord will have already gathered us to Himself in the air, He will have glorified us already and made us like Himself, according to His boundless grace which has acquired this glory for us according to the eternal counsels of a just God; we shall be like His Son and with Him for ever, the firstborn among many brethren; but here He speaks of the elect in the midst of Israel, dispersed amongst the Gentiles.
312 All here has to do with the earthly people. "This generation," of which verse 31 speaks, is the perverse and unbelieving generation of the Jews, which indeed remains even to our day a race separated from all the others. They dwell amongst the nations, but they remain ever a separate people, kept for the fulfilment of the counsels of God. We find this fact and the force of the word "generation" in Deuteronomy 32:5-20: "It is a perverse and crooked generation." And as regards the judgment under which the nation lies, after that the Lord has pronounced these words, it is said in verse 20, "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom there is no faith."
The three times and a half make up the time which the goodness and mercy of God have shortened, the last half-week of Daniel which remains still unfulfilled. After that the abomination shall have been set up in the most holy place, where it ought not to be, there shall be three years and a half; and after that, some days to purify the temple. Thus the remnant of the Jews will have the consolation of knowing in the midst of the great tribulation that it will only be for a short time. But we are quite ignorant as to when this solemn moment will come; it is not revealed; God alone knows when it will be. The Lord sends out the disciples in connection with the Jews; and when they should see that these events were beginning to be fulfilled, then should they know that the time was drawing near.
313 "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away." The destruction of Jerusalem under Titus the Roman emperor was something like this, but the Lord's prophecy was in no wise accomplished. First of all, the Lord did not come after this event; then also that about which Daniel had spoken had not come to pass. Whether we count 1,260 days or 1,260 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, nothing happened at that time; and then there cannot be two tribulations "such as never were." In Luke's Gospel we find first of all the destruction of Jerusalem and the present state of the Jews; nevertheless he does not speak of the abomination of desolation; but he distinguishes very clearly the siege under Titus from the coming of the Lord much later on. Mark's Gospel speaks first of all the disciples' service up to the end, and then of the final tribulation, beginning with the fact of the setting up of the abomination of the desolation where it ought not to be; this begins at verse 14.
We find this time of tribulation in Jeremiah 30:7; but in the trouble which came upon the nation at the destruction under Titus the Jews were not saved. In Daniel 12 we find again deliverance and the intervention of God by means of Michael; and this will happen at Christ's second coming. The only passages which speak of the great tribulation such as never was are Jeremiah 30:7, Daniel 12:1, Matthew 24, and Mark 13; all these refer to the last days terminated by the manifestation of Christ.
Lastly the Lord exhorts them to watch and pray, for they know not the hour when this time should come. He was like unto a man going upon a journey, who left His house (we see that the earth and Jerusalem are in question), and who gave authority to His servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. This is a picture of the manner in which the Lord has left His disciples in the midst of the Jews. But that which He said unto them He says unto all, Watch. This is the exhortation for us; we are called to wait for the Lord, not knowing when He will come back, lest He find us sleeping. May grace work in our hearts, so that we may be expecting His coming with real desire to see Him; may we walk in such a manner as to be able to rejoice always at the thought of His coming! May it never be too soon for us!
Let us go back to the history of the Lord's life, and to the last days of this blessed life. Two days after was the passover, and the chiefs of the Jews sought to kill Him; nevertheless they feared to stir up a tumult amongst the people, because they felt that His doctrine and miracles had produced a powerful effect in their hearts; they said, "Not on the feast day, lest there be a tumult among the people." This was their opinion, but not God's. The Lord must die as a true paschal lamb slain for us. Besides, He must die the very day of the passover, to surpass the sacrifice of the law, which commemorated the deliverance from Egypt, and which prefigured an infinitely more precious deliverance; that is, the deliverance from guilt before God, and from the dominion of sin.
The Saviour's death drew near, and feelings of affection and of iniquity developed themselves on one side and the other. Here we see Mary, who used to sit at Jesus' feet to listen to Him and to understand His words. There her heart had drunk in the instruction which flowed from Jesus' heart; and Jesus, the source of all blessings, was the object which had fixed her heart, and she had felt it in her affections. The grace and love of Jesus had produced love for Him, and His word had produced spiritual intelligence. Now this love for the Saviour made her sensible of the increasing hatred of the Jews. The disciples knew that these sought to kill Him, but Mary felt it; not that she was a prophetess, but her heart felt the presentiment of that which man's hatred desired, and she did what she could as a witness of her contrary sentiment; and the Lord makes this act of love speak wherever the gospel is announced in the world.
It is sweet to enter into the house where this family dwelt (here this was done in the house of Simon the leper), this family beloved of the Lord, for it was the refuge of His heart when, rejected by the people, He could no longer recognise the city which He had loved so long: He was accustomed to live with this beloved family. Martha, who seems to have been the eldest of the sisters, occupied with much serving, faithful and beloved of the Lord, but not very spiritually-minded, understood but little of that which filled His heart. Mary used to sit at His feet to hear His teaching; and the Lord had raised from the dead their brother Lazarus. Thus Mary's heart attached itself to the Lord, and became the expression of the little remnant which, united to Jesus Himself, followed the progress of God's ways; it did not stop at the hopes or thoughts of the Jews, but although the intelligence which the Holy Spirit would give was still wanting, it followed the Lord closely, and thus was ready to receive all when the revelation should be made.
315 It has been remarked that this Mary was not at the sepulchre seeking a living Saviour among the dead. It is always thus; hearts attached to Jesus for the love of being near Him receive from Himself the revelation of His wisdom and glory, when the time comes for it. It is blessed to remark also that the Lord, although He were God Himself (all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Him) was really a man, perfect and holy in everything, and in every thought; nay, He was the source of every good thought. He was not on this account insensible to these intimate affections; there was the disciple whom Jesus loved, and He loved to speak of it; the Lord loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and their house gave a rest to His heart when an ungrateful world and a rebellious people had rejected Him. A fruit of His grace without doubt, but none the less dear to His heart on that account.
But alas! that which is a savour of life unto life is a savour of death unto death. That which Mary expended in love to the Lord awoke the avarice of Judas, for it was a loss to him. Others also fell under Judas's influence, led away by his evil thoughts; but the Lord justifies the woman. "She hath done what she could," says the Lord, full of grace; and her devotedness to the Lord should be recognised in all ages. When the Lord in His divine love gave Himself, she by grace did all that a heart consecrated to Him could do, and her name must accompany the Lord's in the act which is the most powerful testimony to His eternal love. Although that which she could do were but little, a little is never forgotten of the Lord when the heart is faithful.
Verses 10-12. Now all hastens on to the end. Judas, urged on perhaps by the force of the bribe, but in reality urged on by the devil, goes away to betray the Lord. Good and evil are accomplished; they are accomplished at the cross. No conscience, no fear of God arrests the chiefs of the Jews on their way of iniquity and opposition to the Lord of glory; they consent together with Judas to give him money to betray the Lord. He seeks occasion to give up the Lord into the hands of the priests without too much noise - a wretched employment truly!
316 Verses 12-16. But in the meantime the Saviour must explain to His followers the manner in which He gave Himself for them, and He institutes the precious memorial of His death, in order that we may always think of it; and that not only we may believe in the efficiency of this sacrifice accomplished once and for ever for us upon the cross, but that our hearts may be attached to the Saviour who loved us and gave Himself for us; thinking of Him and shewing forth His precious death till He come. We Christians are placed between the cross and the Lord's coming, securely founded upon the finished work of the former, and looking forward always anxiously to the moment when the latter shall take place.
Although the Lord had now arrived at the time of His deepest humiliation, the glory of His person and His rights over all things remained always the same. He tells His disciples to enter into the city, where they should find a man bearing a pitcher full of water. In the house where he would enter, they would find a heart prepared by grace to receive the Lord. To him they should say, "The Master saith, Where is the chamber where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?" He knows all circumstances and all hearts: the disciples find the man as He had told them, and prepare the passover.
Verses 17-21. The Lord, when it was evening, came with the twelve. It was the commemoration of the deliverance of the people out of Egypt; but the Lord was going to accomplish a better redemption, and He institutes an infinitely more excellent memorial. But for this He must die. They were all at the table together, and the Lord Jesus, full of love, looking upon His disciples felt deeply the fact that one of them who had lived in His holy presence should betray Him. He knew well who would be the traitor, but He expresses the anguish of His heart when He says, "one of you shall betray me." He wished to prove their hearts again and to bring to light that which was within. They believed the Lord's words, and each one full of trust in Him and of holy distrust of himself said, "Lord, is it I?" A fine testimony of upright and tried hearts thinking of the fact and of the possibility of such a crime with more confidence in Jesus' word than in themselves.
317 But the Lord must suffer all these sorrows - He does not proudly hide them, but desires to lay His sorrows as a Man in human hearts; love counts upon love. There were sorrows which could not be poured into the hearts of men, and nevertheless it was God's will (blessed be His name for ever!) that we should know the sufferings of His Son; which, although beyond our reach, are nevertheless presented to our hearts. Thus we hear the Lord crying, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And if we cannot reach the depths of His sufferings, we can understand that they were infinite. Now at the table the Lord announces to them His departure from the world according to the scriptures and the terrible judgment of Judas; for the accomplishment of God's counsels does not take away the iniquity of those who fulfil them; otherwise how could God judge the world? For all work together to accomplish His counsels. Men's evil will too is always active in doing evil. The Lord's object, as we find written in this gospel, is not to point out the person who should commit the crime, but to make them feel that it was one of the twelve who should do it.
Verse 22. Now the Lord institutes the supper, a precious sign and memorial of His love and of His death. Up to that time, the passover had been the commemoration of the deliverance of the people out of the captivity in Egypt, when the blood of the Lamb was put upon the doors of the houses where the Israelites were. Now the blood of a more excellent Lamb has been sprinkled upon the mercy-seat in heaven, before the eye of God; when Christ, the Lamb of God, accomplished everything for the glory of God and for the salvation of all believers. The work has been done: in the sacrifice of the cross Jesus drank the cup of malediction and cannot drink it again; He perfectly glorified God about sin; it is impossible to add anything, as though anything were wanting to complete the perfection of this work. He has borne the sins of many, and can never bear them again; He cannot offer Himself again, He is for ever seated at the right hand of God; Heb. 9:24-26. He would have had to suffer often, if His one offering upon the cross had not taken away for ever all the sins of all believers; without shedding of blood there is no remission.
The forgiveness of sins for believers is full, perfect, and eternal through the work of Christ. If we sin after having received the forgiveness of our sins, Christ prays for us and is our Advocate in virtue of this propitiation and appears in God's presence for us, as our righteousness (1 John 2:1-2); and the effect of His intercession for us, is that the Holy Ghost works in our hearts; we are humbled, we confess our faults to God, and our communion is re-established with the Father and the Son. But the sin is not imputed as a crime, for Christ has already borne it - it has been imputed to Him. As was the case in the passover in Egypt; God said, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you." The blood of Christ is ever before the eye of God, ever present to His memory. Thus Christ washes our feet with the water of the word, as He has saved us by His blood, when by grace we have believed. But if God does not ever forget the blood of Christ shed once for ever, He does not wish us to forget it. The Lord Jesus in His boundless grace wishes us to think of Him, to remember Him. Precious manifestation of love for us, that the Saviour should delight in our remembrance of Him, and that He has left us a touching memorial of Himself and His love. Oh, happy thought that Jesus wishes us to think of Him, because He loves us! The sacrifice cannot be repeated, but its value is ever the same before God; and Jesus is seated at God's right hand awaiting the time when His enemies shall be set as a footstool beneath His feet; and we await Him until He come to take us with Him to the Father's house; and in the supper we shew forth His death till He comes.
318 It is important to remark that there is no sacrifice in the present time, and that the Lord is not personally present in the bread and wine. The church of Rome says that the Lord's supper (or rather the mass, as they call it) is the same sacrifice as that which was accomplished upon the cross. But when the Lord said, "This is my body … do this in remembrance of me," He was not yet upon the cross. His blood was not yet shed, and when He broke the bread He did not hold Himself in His hands, still less Himself crucified, for He was not yet upon the cross. There is no such thing now as a crucified Christ; He is seated at God's right hand, and there is no shedding of blood now. It is a blessed fact that there is a sign, a commemoration of this, but that it should be so really and substantially is impossible; there is no such thing now as a dead Christ.
319 We shew forth in the supper His death and His blood shed for us: but a glorified Christ cannot be a sacrifice; cannot come down from heaven to die; and if the bread be changed into His body, and there be a soul in it, it must be another soul; this is absurd. They say that the Godhead is everywhere, and that the substance of the body is there; but the soul is individual: this lives, feels, loves, is a single individual soul. According to Romish teaching the soul of the Lord Jesus leaves heaven; but it cannot be the same soul, and if it is another, it is absurd. The Lord says in Luke, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood": - that is, it represents the blood - for the cup itself is not the new covenant. Thus the bread presents to us in the most striking way the body of the Lord crucified upon the cross, and the wine His blood shed for us.
Lastly, the Lord gives to His disciples of the fruit of the vine to drink; and it is called this after that the Lord had said in verse 24, "This is my blood of the new covenant." It is quite clear that when he says, "I will drink no more of it," He speaks of wine in its natural sense. After Supper they sing a hymn, the Lord being perfectly calm in spirit. They go out to go to the Mount of Olives. The Lord warns His disciples that this night they shall all be offended because of Him, and that they would leave Him according to Zechariah's prophecy, "I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." But He announces to them His resurrection, and that "after he is risen, he will go before them into Galilee." We find a difference between the Lord's appearing in Galilee and in Bethany: the latter is related in Luke's gospel. It was from Bethany that He ascended to heaven. In Galilee the Lord is always looked upon as being on the earth, although risen from the dead; and He gives to His disciples the commission to preach the gospel to, and baptize all nations. This service was not accomplished by the apostles - later on they left it to Paul (that is, the preaching the gospel to the nations) having recognised the Lord's election and sending out for this work.
We see that the commission in Mark is still different; it is connected with the Lord's heavenly power. The Lord's own work was done chiefly in Galilee; and the Jewish remnant is recognised as gathered together and accepted; then it is sent out to bring the Gentiles into the blessings which were expected from God. The announcing of heavenly blessings, salvation revealed by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven when Christ ascended there, is quite another thing. But whether the blessings be earthly or heavenly they cannot be brought in by the first man; the second Man is the only possible foundation of everything.
320 Now the Saviour must be quite alone in His work and sufferings, and man must shew what he is when he is not kept by God. The disciples were warned, but Peter, full of confidence in his faithfulness (and he was sincere), trusting to his own strength, would not believe the Lord's words. But the flesh cannot resist the power of Satan. The Lord would find Himself abandoned and denied; and man, however sincere he might be, would have to recognise his utter weakness: a humbling lesson, but a very useful one, and one which makes the Lord's grace and patience shine out. It is very important to recollect - and we learn it clearly here, that sincerity is not enough to keep us right; it is quite a human quality! and we need as well the Lord's strength against the wiles of the devil, and the fear of the world. If the Lord be not there, a young girl can upset an apostle. The fear of man is a dreadful snare for the soul; and this fear worked mightily in Peter's heart. Even when he had received the Holy Spirit, he dissembled at Antioch, when some Jewish believers had come from Jerusalem.
Remark how the Lord prepared the two greatest apostles for His work! Paul tried to destroy the name of Christ from off the earth, and Peter denied Him openly after having known Him, and after having done miracles in His name. Thus it was not possible for them to talk of anything but grace: and all the false confidence in self was destroyed in their hearts. They could strengthen others by the consciousness of the Lord's grace which had borne with them and forgiven them; also they had learnt by experience what the evil of the human heart is, and how weak man is, even the Christian, without the help of divine grace. Thus the Lord says to Peter, "When thou art converted [that is, repented of thy fault], strengthen thy brethren." He failed again afterwards in such a manner that Paul had to resist him to the face; and Paul himself had to have a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him, lest he should be exalted. The flesh is never improved: how necessary then is it for weak Christians to watch, to have ever present the consciousness of their weakness, and to seek that strength which is made perfect in weakness, that precious grace of the Lord which is sufficient for us. It is not necessary that we should fall, for God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted above that we are able; but we must watch, that we enter not into temptation.
321 In the scene before us, whilst the Lord was praying in agony, Peter was sleeping; when the Lord submitted Himself like a lamb which before her shearers is dumb, Peter used the sword to strike; when the Lord confesses the truth calmly and firmly before His enemies, Peter denies Him. This is what the flesh is, and the fruit of false confidence in self! Peter, too, had been fully warned. The Lord had said for the second time that, before the cock should crow twice, he would deny Him thrice. But Peter trusts in himself: "If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise." We know that Satan's wiles were there, for Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat; but the Holy Ghost here directs our attention to the false confidence of the flesh of the human heart. But let us turn our attention towards the blessed Lord, the example of perfect faithfulness, just as Peter was that of false confidence and of the weakness of the flesh. We see in Jesus a true Man, although divine power were necessary in order that the human nature should endure all that He suffered without failing.
The Lord desires three disciples (those who were especially with Him and who were to be pillars in the church later on) to be with Him, and to watch while He prays. The anticipation of the cup which He was to drink, weighed upon His spirit; death, the expression of the judgment of God against sin, was before His eyes, and Satan made all this to lie heavily upon Him in order to prevent His accomplishing the work of salvation, if it were possible. The Lord felt all, and was faithful in everything; He began to be sore amazed and to be very heavy. There was no agony in Stephen's death; it was a triumph full of peace and love; he goes to his Lord who was expecting him at the right hand of God in heaven, praying all the while, like his Lord, for his enemies. The Lord is full of anguish at the prospect of death; and here we see what death was for Him; the reality of His work, when He bore our sins in His body upon the cross. At this moment (in the garden of Gethsemane) He was not yet bearing them, but the feeling of that which was before Him weighed upon His heart; the weight of sin and of the curse was being felt by His spirit with God, for He was still in communion with His Father. He must not only submit Himself to the righteousness of God as made sin for us before Him, and bear the penalty of it; but also He had to suffer "for His piety," in that the anticipation of the penalty weighed upon Him before He bore it. He offered Himself willingly but in obedience, for the glory of His Father, and for us in grace; He was obedient unto death. His name be praised! and it shall be eternally praised.
322 Stephen rejoiced, because Christ had suffered and had opened the way into heaven for him by bearing the judicial punishment of death for him; and He has done so for us also. We can understand the value of His death in the eyes of God, and we can look up to Him as Stephen did when full of the Holy Ghost, looking steadfastly into heaven.
The Lord had left the disciples, except Peter, James and John, at the entrance into the garden; but He had taken these three with Him, and told them to watch whilst He prayed. He prays that the hour may pass from Him, if it be possible. He had borne all the cups of suffering from the hand of sinners without complaining of them. His Father's favour was sufficient for Him! But this cup, was the being made a curse; the just One made sin, the finding Himself (who had always been in the Father's bosom the object of an infinite love) forsaken of God. On account of His piety, He wished to draw back from this if possible. But if we were to escape the penalty of sin, He must bear it for us.
This penalty, however, was but an occasion and a proof for the Saviour of perfect submission and obedience. But still He says, "Not that which I will, but that which thou wilt." He felt all, He lays everything before His Father, so that He goes through all as a trial in perfect submission to His Father. As a trial, all was over: the will of God was manifested, and the Lord's obedience was perfect, although the work itself was still to be accomplished. The disciples were unable to cross even the shadow of the trial; and all men His enemies. Satan was there in all his power, and above all, there was the curse to be borne for sin, before Him. All was trial, but He, in subjection to His Father's will, shewed forth His love to Him.
We are allowed to witness the exercise of heart of the Saviour, and to take part, in our weakness, in the anguish of His heart, although He was alone in the trial itself: immense grace! In the work He must be quite alone: and here too He is alone, but with adoring hearts we can listen to the Saviour's cry when He opens His heart to the Father about His sufferings. Ah! may our hearts be kept watchfully attentive by the Holy Spirit to the holy sighs of the Saviour! We are invited to look upon Him, to understand what He has done for us, to enjoy the feelings of His human heart and His perfection, as a true Man for us. Thus, in John 17 we are permitted to hear Him when He presents Himself to the Father, placing us in His own position of favour before Him, and of testimony before men. If the peace which we possess belonging to this new position founded upon His finished work is so great, the privilege of hearing His cry of anguish is no less so.
323 Remark with what gentle words the Lord reproves His disciples. He shews Peter in the kindest way the difference between fervent courage when the enemy was not present, and the incapacity to watch one hour with his agonized Master; and He excuses the disciples with loving words - "the spirit is ready but the flesh is weak." At the same time being full of the solemnity of the moment, He warns them also to watch and to pray lest they enter into temptation. We never find the Lord's own sufferings preventing Him from thinking of others. On the cross He can think of the thief, just as though He were not suffering Himself: If He had not time to eat, still He always had time enough to announce the truth to the crowd which followed Him; tired at Jacob's well, His heart does not grow weary of speaking of the living water, nor of looking into the poor Samaritan woman's conscience. He was never tired of doing good; and He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
But the time was come: the last time He finds them sleeping like the other times. He must experience that moral solitude in which He found Himself amongst men even in the midst of His own disciples. There is a solitude in the which one is quite alone morally, although others be there actually. The traitor was coming near; "Sleep on now," says the Lord. "Rise up, let us go, he that betrayeth me is at hand." The Lord must receive the last witness to the weakness of man's heart when left to itself, and hardened by Satan. Judas betrays Him with a kiss, so terrible is the hardness of his heart! "Take him," says he, "and lead him away safely." But the Lord, who had gone through all in His soul with God, is in perfect peace before men in these unparalleled circumstances. He speaks to the crowd which had come out to seize Him: He had been with them daily in the temple, and they had not taken Him - but the scripture must be fulfilled. The Lord wishes to bear witness to the authority of the scriptures; if these announced His death, He must die. The scriptures are the revelation of God's counsels and purpose as well as of all His thoughts. The Lord too, as a man upon earth, took them as the rule and motive of all that He did and said, although He was always in unspeakable communion with His Father. They are the revelation of God's thoughts for the earth and for man upon the earth; and they reveal too, his heavenly destination, and what heavenly things are. What an immense blessing to possess them!
324 The disciples all forsake Him, and flee. Later on, Peter followed Him afar off, and was brought into the high priest's palace. The Lord submits in perfect calmness; all had been weighed already in His Father's presence; His will made everything simple for the Lord; but no one could follow Him into the valley of death, nor stand up before the enemy's power, except the faithful Saviour Himself. It was the hour when the wicked one was allowed to have power, that the Lord might give Himself into the hands of the impious for us. The disciples fled, a young man wished to follow Him, but the more the will ventures in this path, the more it is obliged to retreat with shame. They wished to lay hold of the young man, and he fled naked. Poor Peter went further, to fall still lower, learning at the same time for his own good, what we all are. It is a good thing to think of the Lord's anguish before God, when He opens all His heart to His Father; and we see His deep sufferings, His perfect calmness before men, the fruit of His perfect submission: men counted as nothing in it; Satan could do nothing - for the Lord had taken the cup from His Father's hands. This is most important teaching for us.
We must understand that the Lord's condemnation was a determined thing: the chiefs of the Jews sought but the means to consummate iniquity and murder under the show of justice. They sought witness against Him to put Him to death; but it was false, and the witnesses did not agree together. Many were ready to give witness, but their testimony availed nothing: the Lord must be condemned upon His own witness. It is grievous to look upon the enmity of the human heart against the Lord, who had never done anything but good to men; who had healed the sick, given the hungry to eat, raised the dead, cast out devils, and manifested divine power in doing good.
325 When the Son of man came, divine power, which was sufficient to drive out all the consequences of sin upon earth even to death itself, was manifested; Christ worked according to this power: He bound the strong man in the wilderness, and plundered his house: there was a power upon earth sufficient to drive away all the effects of sin; for the power of God manifested itself in goodness. But this only awakened the natural enmity of the human heart against Him: there was no motive for the death of Jesus: this enmity was the only cause. That which took away the grievous effects of sin, did not take away the sin itself from man's heart, but manifested God enough to awaken the natural enmity of the heart, and thus to shew what this heart is.
In Luke it is said also (chap. 4:13), that "the devil departed from him for a season"; but then he comes back again as the prince of this world; he had nothing in the Lord, but that the world might know that He loved the Father, and as the Father gave Him commandment, even so He did; John 14:30-31. The devil could say to Jesus, 'If thou dost persevere in sustaining the cause of men, I have the right of death against thee.' Indeed the curse of God weighed down upon them, and the Lord must pass through death, and drink the cup of God's curse upon sin, if He is to liberate man. Did He draw back from this terrible penalty of death and the curse? He felt it, but He drank it for love to His Father and us, and in perfect obedience. He entered where we were in sin and disobedience, in obedience and grace; He who knew no sin was made sin for us; the Lamb without blemish offered Himself to God for us.
Here in this chapter we find the Lord as a lamb who is dumb before her shearers. He does not answer to the accusation of His enemies; they were there with the intention of putting Him to death and He knew it; and He was there in order to give His life a ransom for many. He does not answer the accusations full of malice and falsehood, but when the chief priest asks Him if He is the Christ the Son of the Blessed, He gives full testimony to the truth. He is rejected and crucified for His own witness to the truth; but although He recognises the truth according to the high priest's question, nevertheless He does not go beyond His position of Messiah amongst the Jews.
326 He added again His testimony to His position as Son of man, the position He was just going to assume at that time. We have seen that He had forbidden His disciples to say that He was the Christ, telling them that the Son of man must suffer. Now we find the fulfilment of this, for Christ is recognised as the Son of God according to Psalm 2, but from this time forward He takes the new position of Son of man according to Psalm 8. They should see - no longer the promised Christ amongst them in grace, rejected as He is in Psalm 2, but - the Son of man sitting at the right hand of God, coming in the clouds of heaven, and manifesting His power in judgment. Only He waits, seated at God's right hand according to Psalm 110, until His enemies be placed under His feet as a footstool.
We now see Him in heaven, having accomplished the work which the Father gave Him to do; we see Him at God's right hand, our sins abolished, waiting until His enemies shall be made His footstool.
The Lord confesses the truth when superior authority demands it, He is absolute perfection - the truth itself. Satan can do nothing in this case, except indeed to bring the truth into evidence in the Lord's mouth, and to be the instrument of accomplishing the work of redemption which God wished to be done: eternal thanks be to Him! As to men, the Lord is held to be guilty of death because He speaks the truth, and the truth as to the work of God's love in the sending of the Son. God's truth, as well as the person of the Son of God, and God Himself are the objects of hatred of man's heart; but the truth came by Jesus Christ, and grace in the sovereign power and wisdom of God was fulfilled by means of this hatred, a hatred in which man shewed himself to be a slave of Satan. What a contrast between religious, ecclesiastical man, and the truth and grace of God!
But let us think of the blessed Saviour who submits as a sheep which is dumb before her shearers, to the outrages which men heap upon Him without offering any resistance; He might have had twelve legions of angels, but He did not use His power. He was in a state of patient love and obedience. The most painful thing for Him was to find Himself denied by His disciple, and this was far more so than the outrages heaped upon Him by brutal and ignorant men. But whatever His suffering might have been, the weak disciple's failure did but draw down upon him the Lord's look to encourage his faith, to sustain his confidence in Him, and to produce in his heart tears of repentance instead of despair. The Lord's sufferings, however great they were, did not hinder the action of His wondrous heart. May His name be eternally blessed!
The Gospel by Mark relates very briefly the circumstances of the Lord's condemnation: this is an important fact. As soon as He has been rejected by the Jews, Mark speaks of that which took place before Pilate, to relate again that which is necessary, and to shew that the Lord is condemned here too for the testimony which He bore Himself to the truth (although it was really through the malice of the principal Jews); for indeed Pilate strove to set Him at liberty, but having no moral strength, and despising the Jews and all that belonged to them, he gives the Lord up to their will without conscience. When Pilate asks, "Art thou the king of the Jews?" Jesus answers, "Thou sayest." To the accusations of the chief priests, He answers nothing: His testimony had been given.
The Lord Jesus was soon to be a victim. All these accusations were nothing, and Pilate knew it; but the Jews must manifest the spirit which animated them. Pilate tried to get rid of Jesus and of the difficulty, by a custom which seems to have been introduced at that time, to set free a prisoner at the Passover, to please the Jews. He also sought, in making this appeal to the people, to ward off the blow of envy and malice of the priests: but in vain, for the Lord must suffer and die. The priests incited the people to ask that Barabbas should be released, and the Lord crucified. Pilate tries again to save Him, but to satisfy the people he gives Him up.
In all this the Jews are guilty; of course the Roman governor ought to have been firm, and to have acted justly, and not to have left the Lord exposed to the priests' hatred; he was careless and without conscience, and despised a poor Jew who had no friends; also it was important for him to satisfy the turbulent populace. In Mark's Gospel however, all the hatred and animosity against the Lord are found in the priests; they are always and everywhere the enemies of the truth and of Him who is Himself the truth personally. Pilate's resistance had no effect; it was God's will that Jesus should suffer: He had come for this, and it was for this that He gave His life a ransom for many. In that which follows we find the story of the brutality of the heart of man which finds its pleasure in outraging those who are given up to its will without being able to defend themselves. Besides, the Lord must be despised and rejected of men, both by the Jews and Gentiles. This proves that man would not have God in His goodness.
328 Again, the Jewish nation had to be humbled - and the soldiers mocked the whole nation in mocking its King. The Lord was dressed in purple as a king, smitten and mocked with pretended honours, and then led away to be crucified. Upon the cross was written "King of the Jews"; the Lord was numbered too amongst the transgressors. What is especially brought out here is the humiliation of the king of Israel. "Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross," say the chief priests, "and we will believe." Those who were crucified with Him railed upon Him: we know that one of them was converted afterwards, and that he confessed Jesus to be the Lord.
Up to verse 33 we see the Lord's humiliation and the apparent triumph of evil. Man generally, and Israel as a nation, shew their joy in being able to get rid of God's faithful witness, of His presence, and of the true King of Israel: but they lowered themselves in trying to degrade the Lord, whose love continued to accomplish the work which the Father had given Him to do, in the midst of the outrages, the blindness, the folly, and the wickedness of men and of His people Israel, which alas! filled up the measure of its iniquity. The Saviour's love was stronger than man's perverse hatred - blessed be His name for it! But from verse 33 we find a deeper work than the Lord's outward sufferings, however real and profound they were to Him. He was left alone; there was no one to have compassion upon Him; we find nothing but desertion and cruelty. But there is a great difference between the cruelty of man, and the penalty of sin executed by God.
At the same hour all the country (or perhaps the earth) is covered with darkness. Christ is alone with God, hidden from things visible, in order to be entirely with God. He bears the penalty of our sin, He drinks the cup of malediction for us; He who knew no sin is made sin for us. In Psalm 22 we see that the Lord, feeling fully the pressure of man's hatred and malice, turns to God; He had foreseen what was to happen, and His sweat had become, as it were, drops of blood in thinking of it. He turns to God and says, "Be not thou far from me!" but to the anguish of His soul He is forsaken of God. And never was He more precious to God - He who was eternally precious to Him - than in His perfect obedience! But this obedience was fulfilled in His being made sin for us. Never had He so glorified His Father in His righteousness and love; but being made a sin-offering, and feeling in the depth of His soul that which God is against sin, He bore the penalty of it.
329 Thus God had to hide His face from Him who was made sin for us. This was necessary for the glory and majesty of God, as well as for our salvation. But who can sound the depths of the Saviour's suffering? He who had always been the object of the Father's delight is now forsaken of Him! He who was holiness itself finds Himself made sin before God! But all is over, all God's will about the work which He had given to Jesus to do has been accomplished. Blessed thought! the more He has suffered, the more He is precious to us: and we love Him as we think of His own perfect love, and of the perfection of His person. All suffering was over for Him at His death; and in His resurrection all is new for us! all our sins are forgiven, and we are with Him in God's presence, and when He comes we shall be like Him in glory. But though He died it was not because His vital force was exhausted. He cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost. All was over, and He gave up His spirit into the Father's hands; He really died for us. He offered Himself without spot unto God, and God laid upon Him the sins of many. He must die, but no one took away His life; He had the power to lay it down, and to take it again! He gave it up Himself when all had been accomplished.
Then the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and here we see the way of the holiest opened to all the believers who were under the law. The curtain between the holy and most holy places signified that man could not enter into God's presence (Heb. 9); the death of Christ has opened a way of entry into the holiest by His blood; Heb. 10:19-20. Immense difference and precious privilege! By this blood we can enter into God's presence without fear, as white as snow, to rejoice in the love which has brought us into this place. Christ has made peace by the blood of His cross, and has brought us to God Himself - He, the just One, who died for us unjust ones.
330 And again by one offering He hath for ever purified them that are sanctified; He cannot offer Himself again: if all our sins had not been cancelled by this one offering, they could never be, for Christ cannot die again. It is not a question of sprinkling - "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." The apostle demonstrates this solemn truth, saying, "Otherwise he must often have suffered since the foundation of the world, but now once in the end of the world he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," Heb. 9:26. When a man believes, he enters into the possession of this blessing, and he is for ever perfected in Christ before God: sin cannot be imputed to Him, because Christ, who has borne and expiated it, is always in God's presence for him, a witness that his sins are already put away; and that he who comes to God through the Saviour is accepted in Him.
People say, "Then we may live in sin." This was the objection which was made to the gospel which the apostle Paul preached: the answer to it is found in Romans 6. If we really have faith in Christ, we are born again, we have a new nature, we have put off the old man and put on the new one, we are dead to sin, dead with Christ by faith; crucified with Him, so that we live no more, but Christ liveth in us. We are new creatures: there is a divine work in us, as well as a work for us. If Christ is our righteousness, He is also our life, and then the Holy Spirit is given to us, and we are responsible to walk as Christ walked; but this does not interfere with the work of Christ for us - a perfect work, accepted of God, in consequence of which He sits at God's right hand as a man in that glory which He had as Son with the Father before the world was. Before Christ came, God did not shew Himself, and man could not enter into His presence. Now God has come out and come to us in love, and man has entered into His presence according to righteousness in Christ.
Then the centurion's conscience speaks, whilst all stand afar off (v. 39); all, except the disciples who have fled, are enemies. But the loud voice of the Lord without the least sign of weakness, and the fact that He gives up the ghost to the Father at once, act powerfully upon this man's soul, and he recognises in the dying Jesus the Son of God. Now the work is finished, and God takes care that if His death has been with the transgressors, He should be with the rich in His burial, honoured and treated with all reverence. The women who followed Him occupied themselves with Him, looking upon Him afar off when He was crucified: and some of them, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Joses, saw the place where His body was laid in the sepulchre. For Joseph of Arimathea had gone to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus: more courageous at His death than during His life. This often happens; the greatness of the evil forces faith to shew itself.
331 But the women, notice it well, have a more blessed position still; they had followed him from Galilee, and had ministered to Him of their substance; and we find them near the Lord when His disciples had left Him. They had not been sent to preach: but their devotedness to the Lord, their faithfulness and constant love for Him when dangers present themselves, shine forth in the Lord's history. We find another proof that the Lord gave up His life, and that it was not taken from Him, in that Pilate wondered that He was already dead, and that he called the centurion to assure himself of the fact. When he knew it, he gave the body to Joseph, who put it in his own new tomb till the sabbath should be past.
The history of the resurrection in Mark is very short and simple. There is no doubt that more than one troop of those women who followed the Lord visited the sepulchre, one after the other. It is clear that Mary Magdalene arrived before the others, and that the other Mary and Salome were together; then came the others. Each Gospel gives us what is necessary for our faith, and that according to the special teaching which God desires to be presented in that Gospel. For instance, in John's Gospel we have the story of Mary Magdalene, and that beautiful story is fitted to the doctrine of that Gospel. Verse 9 of this chapter speaks of it also; she came whilst it was yet dark; here in Mark we see her at sunrise. Other women had bought spices to embalm the Lord; perhaps they had already bought some before the sabbath began, in order to rest during the sabbath day; and certainly after the sabbath was over, that is, at six o'clock, they waited till the morning to embalm Him.
332 But when Mary Magdalene came to the sepulchre, the stone, which was very large, had been already rolled away from its mouth by an angel come down from heaven; and the Lord was no longer there. He was risen, in divine power, in perfect calmness; all the grave-clothes which were left in good order in the sepulchre. That which God did to awaken men's attention is related in Matthew 28:2-4; but Jesus was not there. The great stone did not present any obstacle to the Lord's egress; the divine power which raised Him from the dead and the spiritual body which He then possessed, made His disappearance from the sepulchre easy.
Mark only speaks of Mary Magdalene's first visit to the sepulchre in verse 9; in verse 2, the other Mary and Salome are spoken of. Mary Magdalene had already gone away from the sepulchre to announce to Peter and John the fact of the sepulchre's being empty. These enter into the sepulchre, finding the stone rolled away from its mouth; they find an angel seated on the right hand of the place where Jesus lay, who encourages these timid but faithful women, "Fear not, ye seek Jesus … he is not here …" and then he shews them the place where He had been. It is blessed to see the goodness of God: there was still some unbelief in the women, for they ought to have understood that Jesus was risen; the angel had told them so. But this was too much for their faith; they believed in His person, and that He was the Son of God, but His resurrection was as yet too glorious a truth for their faith. Their heart was sincere, but they sought the living amongst the dead: and here the grace of God, full of compassion, reassures them.
These women did not find Jesus dead, but the blessed testimony that the beloved Saviour was alive. They are made the messengers to the disciples of the word of the Lord from the mouth of the angel. It is the consecration of the heart to the Lord that brings light and intelligence to the soul, if we are seeking the truth and Jesus Himself. Mary Magdalene shews more consecration of the heart to Christ than the others; and this is why she is seen at the sepulchre before sunrise, and is the first of all of them to see the Lord. Moreover, a more excellent message is confided to her; she was to go to the apostles themselves to announce to them our more excellent position, our higher privilege. The Lord says to her, "Go to my brethren and tell them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God." The disciples are here called the brethren of Christ for the first time, brethren of the risen Christ. His God is our God; His Father is our Father.
333 These women, although honoured of the Lord, have not yet so great a privilege; another message is confided to them. The risen Christ assumes two characters: His relationship with the remnant of Israel, and His new position as a glorified Man before the Father. In the first He appears to His disciples in Galilee, where He used to be with them habitually; in the second relationship He ascends to heaven from Bethany. The mission of the disciples too is different. Matthew presents to us the first; and, in consequence, we do not find there the history of the ascension; Luke gives us the second, where the Lord ascends and is received into heaven. The message to the disciples is given to Mary and Salome; they are commanded not to depart from Galilee. That which happened there is not told here: the women go away afraid.
Then this Gospel gives a summing up of the other part of the story of Jesus risen, of that which is found in John's and Luke's Gospels; of Mary Magdalene's case, and of the two disciples who went to Emmaus; after that, the general mission of the apostles, who were to go and preach to the whole world. Whoever should believe and make public confession of Christ should be saved. Miracles should be performed, not only by the apostles, but also by those who should believe by their means; they should manifest, by the wonders they should perform, the power of Him in whom they believed.
Finally the Lord is received up into heaven, and sits at God's right hand. The apostles go out to preach in the world, and the Lord works with them, confirming the word with the signs which accompanied it. Salvation depended upon faith and the confession of Christ, and the Lord, when the word had been planted, bore witness to His truth by powerful signs; this facilitated faith, and left unbelievers without excuse.