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The story of our Lord’s passion is a story that is saturated in ironies. One of those ironies is found in how the high priest got Jesus to speak at His trial, and what the Lord included in His answer. Just as Jesus made the good confession before Pilate (1 Tim. 6:13), so also He spoke the truth before Caiaphas—making the good confession there also.
And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote thee? (Mt. 26:62–68).
This remarkable exchange will repay careful attention, and is almost a call and response. An adversarial call and response, to be sure, but still. Or perhaps it was more like parry and thrust.
“I call upon you in the name of the living God.”
“I will answer you from the throne of the living God.”
The high priest Caiaphas was a shrewd and hard-edged politician. When he speaks to Christ here, he uses the language of his people from ancient times and says, “I adjure you by the living God . . . are you the Christ? The Son of God?” And Christ’s response is in effect “you have said it.”
And He follows this up immediately by saying what amounts to “you yourself will see the living God.” You will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven—and this description is taken from the seventh chapter of Daniel. But it is not referring to the Final Coming of Christ to earth. Rather this is the moment when the one like a son of man is ushered into the presence of the Ancient of Days, where a universal kingdom is then bestowed on Him.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Dan. 7:14).
But not to belabor the obvious, in order for a dominion to be an everlasting dominion, in order for the kingdom to be one that will not be destroyed, the king over that dominion must be a king who is alive. And He must be a king who is alive forevermore. And if He is alive, seated at the right hand of power, at the right hand of the Ancient of Days, this means that He is the Son of the living God. He is the living God. I hope you can begin to see why Caiaphas, given his premises, was compelled to tear his robe.
“I adjure you by the living God . . .”
“I am the living God . . .”
When Caiaphas adjured Christ by the living God, he was drawing on a long line of examples in the Old Testament. Every time the phrase living God is used there, the word for God is El, or Elah, or Elohim. This is the Creator God, this is God Almighty—this is the name for God that is used in the first sentence of the Bible. Further, this is the name that Christ used in His cry of dereliction from the cross—“Eloi, Eloi . . .”
The Sanhedrin had, in all their carnal wisdom, maneuvered themselves into the position where it turned out that they had God Almighty on their hands. They had Jehovah incarnate in custody. Confronted with such holiness, they were filled with hatred and bitterness and malice and spite, and could not help themselves. The trial was a sham and a pretense. They wanted it to look judicious and wise and dignified and legal, but they were conducting their illegal trial in the middle of the night. And after the verdict was rendered, they could not keep the bile from spilling out—they spit on Him, they buffeted Him, they slapped Him with their hands.
With the truth in front of them, they told their lies. With the resurrection and the life standing before them, they rendered the verdict of death. With Christ the Way laid out before them, they utterly refused to even consider that road. With everlasting life in front of them, they cried out, “death, death, death.”
So what is the spirit of Hell? Confronted with life everlasting, the only thing that Hell wants to do with such life is crucify it. This is the mystery of lawlessness.
How did the apostle Peter put it?
But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses (Acts 3:14–15).
The thing that made the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus necessary was our sin, but because of the depths of the wisdom of God, and the work of the Spirit here with us now, we are enabled to see the gospel ironies that deal efficaciously with us and our sins. When Jesus, the life of the world, was brought bound before the Sanhedrin, that life was the aroma of death to them. And when we come, bound prisoners to the judgment seat of the crucifixion, that death is our everlasting life. We look at that twisted body on the cross, something marvelous happens. He was hanging there because our representatives in the Sanhedrin had cried out, “death to Him—death, death, death.” And we look, and the only thing we can think to say is “life from Him—life, life, life.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.