Why Didn’t Jesus Come Down from the Cross?
Jesus Reveals God’s Character
In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul expressed a teaching common to all the apostles when he penned that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God”. (Colossians 1:15 (ESV)) He did not mean to imply that Jesus was just another man who perhaps heard and repeated the words of God – a prophet. Neither did he mean that Jesus was simply a man with more knowledge of God than others, nor more enlightened than other men.
Paul brought his thought into sharp focus by adding “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19 (ESV) ) Jesus is one being in the Triune Godhead, The Son, a non physical, spiritual being, fused into the same kind of dirt frame Adam and all humans are made of. He is not a temporary influence or indwelling poured into an independent human. These facts about His incarnation show us that humans are far more than mere animals. Humans are spiritual beings dwelling in, and intimately connected with, a physical, animal, body. Jesus is no less than all of The Son in a fully human body. He is a God-man.
There are many profound implications of this, but I’d like to focus on just one. This fusion of God and humanity means that everything the visible man Jesus says and does reveals to us the very character of God, The Almighty Creator.
Now hold that thought while I develop another so I can pull the two together.
Jesus Didn’t Have To Endure The Cross
No one, not even the other members of the Trinity, forced Jesus to suffer the cruelty, shame and death normally reserved for the criminals along with the Father’s wrath the human race deserved. He went by choice and in the face of internal and external resistance. The hours of personal agony He experienced prior to trial, torture and death attest to the resistance His own body mounted against the ordeal.
Satan knew the cross would not help his efforts to gain total control of all humans, so he tried to stop Jesus. He got humans to attempt to assassinate Jesus in obscurity so He would not end up on the cross to draw people to Himself, but the Father circumvented those efforts. (Luke 4:28-30) Satan also tried persuasion. Before Jesus’ public ministry, Satan made an offer he thought Jesus couldn’t refuse. He showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and in effect said “I’ll back out. I’ll get out of the lives of these humans and leave them entirely to you. You can rule them all. Just one condition, you, Jesus, worship, follow, me.” Jesus did come to establish a kingdom that would rule mankind, but it is a kingdom where Satan’s deceptions, lies and destruction are unwelcome. So Jesus told Satan to be gone.
Satan tried again. When Jesus began to explain to his close disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and be crucified, Satan used Peter’s compassion and fortitude to get Peter to talk Jesus out of it. But Jesus looked at Peter and realizing that he was being used, alluded to that first encounter when Satan wanted Jesus to follow him when He said “Get behind me Satan.” (Matthew 4:8-11)
Since Satan has some of his greatest triumphs when humans are at their physical weakest, he mounted his final effort at the cross. The soldiers had beaten Jesus, we would say “to a pulp.” The prophet Isaiah predicted He would be beaten beyond recognition. (Is 52:14) They worked Him over extra hard because, once hung on the cross, it would have inconvenienced some of the rulers for Jesus to take too long to die. Waiting until the beating and hours of hanging on a crossbeam had almost completed their work, Jesus heard Satan’s final temptation:
“So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” ” (Matthew 27:41–43, ESV)
“ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. ” (Mark 15:31–32, ESV)
“The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” ” (Luke 23:36–37, ESV)
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Luke 23:39 (ESV)
Now it’s important to realize that Jesus could have come down off the cross! With one
willful thought He could have banished the nails into nothingness! With one willful thought He could have exercised His own inherent power and remade His body! He could have floated down. By his own testimony He could have simply cried out and twelve thousand angels would have instantly appeared around Him.
“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53, ESV)
With one willful thought his enemies and all their great buildings and possessions could have become dust and blown away in the wind. Just a willful thought and it would be done. But He didn’t! He CHOSE to stay on the cross!
A Startling Revelation
Now remember we said that every word and action of Jesus reveals something of the character of God. His refusal to come down off the cross (and by that action to purchase forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation with God for human beings) reveals that it is in the very character of God to be not just self-giving, but self-sacrificing.
How can God be self-sacrificing?
If God is the source of all things, what does He have that can be given up as a sacrifice? That’s where the concept of the Trinity comes in. The Bible talks about three beings who individually have the same nature, power and authority, but exist in a unity that we can’t fully describe. The best we can say is that they function out of total commitment to, and love for, one another.
Why did God demonstrate this self-sacrificing characteristic to humans?
It’s natural for Christians to respond to these truths with deep adoration, thankfulness, worship and love toward God. That’s fitting.
However there is another appropriate response. One that is not as natural. It might be surfaced by this question – “Why?” Why did God demonstrate this self-sacrificing characteristic to humans? He certainly has not done it for angels or other creatures. Why us? Was it just to accomplish redemption for us?
One answer is that the cross is an example and a challenge for humans to follow. We were created to share a fellowship with God no other created being was conceived for. We are supposed to share Christ’s throne, a ruler-ship of a creation. However those who share such wonders must have the same character as God, righteous and self-sacrificing. How else can we, the family of the redeemed, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, function together in such a way that individually or corporately we reflect the righteous character of Christ?
Thus the cross is not just for Jesus. At least symbolically it is for us. Paul Billheimer wrote “The cross is not only for sins and sin but for our legitimate self as well.”1 And it’s not an option. God is working in our lives to break us of self-serving thoughts and actions. The cross is the best illustration for us to model.
Jesus could have used his own resources and authority to fix the predicament His physical body was in. But that predicament was designed and orchestrated by the Father for a purpose. So are our circumstances. All of them. God is making us like Jesus. The question is when those circumstances challenge our self-sufficiency, our instinct for self-preservation and all other self-serving thoughts and actions, will we stay on the cross and entrust ourselves to the one who judges righteously? (1 Peter 2:21-23) Or will we come down and take care of things ourselves?
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)
I must confess this is the single most challenging aspect of being a Christian. It is also the single most defining characteristic of bearing the designation Christian. Even death is not to deter us from joining this Jesus upon His cross.
““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–58, ESV)
- Billheimer, Paul E. “Destined For the Cross”, Tyndale Publishing House, 1983 [↩]