Let Us Go On
By Arlen L. Chitwood
Author of Eternal Salvation
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,
though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things that He suffered.
And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:7-9).
Christ, during what the writer of Hebrews calls, “the days of His flesh,” passed through certain human experiences. “Wisdom and stature,” in connection with Christ’s growth from childhood to manhood, were part of these experiences (Luke 2:52); testing, emotions, hunger, sufferings, and numerous other things that man experiences were, as well, things that Christ also experienced (Luke 4:1-13; 22:44; John 11:35; Hebrews 4:15; 5:7, 8).
One thing above all else must be kept in mind when viewing these human experiences that Christ passed through. Christ’s deity, during His earthly ministry, cannot be separated from His humanity. That is, during this time, Christ was not God and Man; rather, He was the God-Man. At no time, beginning with the incarnation, can one be separated from the other.
The question thus becomes: How could Christ increase in “wisdom and stature,” be “tempted,” learn “obedience,” or pass through certain other human experiences after a similar fashion if He was, at the same time, fully God? Or, to ask the question another way: How could Christ, being God Himself, and omniscient, increase in or learn human traits and characteristics by becoming a member of the human race that He Himself had brought into existence?
After all, at the age of twelve, He entered into the Temple in Jerusalem and confounded the “teachers” (KJV: “doctors”) with His wisdom and understanding of matters; and, at the same time, He exhibited knowledge of that which He must accomplish completely outside Joseph and Mary’s understanding of the matter (Luke 2:41-50). Then, on numerous occasions, He either exercised His deity or could have exercised it (Matthew 26:53; Mark 1:24-26; Luke 22:61; John 1:48; 11:25, 43, 44; 18:5, 6).
Probably the most graphic testimony that Scripture presents pertaining to the inseparability of Christ’s humanity from His deity surrounds the events of Calvary and the empty tomb.
It was the blood of God that was shed at Calvary, the same blood that is presently on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the heavenly tabernacle today (cf. Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:11, 12). And Jesus raised Himself from the dead, restoring life to the Temple of God (John 2:18-21).
The day of the Passover, 33 A.D., was the day God died; and not only did the Son raise Himself, but God the Father raised Him (Romans 10:9), and the Spirit raised Him (Romans 8:11). This would have had to be the case, for an inseparable identification exists between the members of the Godhead.
Jesus, prior to His crucifixion, referred to His “body” as the Temple of God:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
. . . He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:19b, 21).
There are two Greek words used for “Temple” in the New Testament — hieron and naos. The former refers, not to the Temple proper, but to the outer porches, porticoes, etc. It is the latter word that refers to the Temple proper, with its innermost place, the Holy of Holies where God Himself dwelled among His people for over eight centuries during Old Testament days.
The Glory of the Lord (the manifestation of God among His people) though had departed from the Holy of Holies long before Christ was upon earth. It departed at the time God allowed His people to be taken captive into Babylon (Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:22, 23), about six centuries prior to Christ’s first appearance. And during the entire Times of the Gentiles — though a Temple was built following the Babylonian captivity (constructed during the days of Zerubbabel and rebuilt during the days of Herod), and another will be built during the days of Antichrist — there neither has been nor will be the Deity within the Jewish Temple. The Glory of the Lord will return to the Temple only after the Times of the Gentiles has run its course, Christ returns, and the millennial Temple has been brought into existence (Ezekiel 43:2-5).
The Greek word used relative to the body of Christ being the Temple of God is naos, not hieron. That is, this was a structure in which the Deity dwelled. Christ was “the Word,” who “was God,” who “was made flesh, and dwelt [lit., ‘tabernacled’] among us” (John 1:1-3, 14).
(Different words are used in the Greek text for verbs translated the same in the English text of John 1:1-14. The verb used in verses one and two — “In the beginning was the Word . . . .” — is a verb of being and has no reference to time in relation to a beginning or an end. Also, there is no article before “beginning” in the Greek text. The thought is simply, “In beginning [there are different beginnings in Scripture (for the earth, angels, man, etc.)] the Word existed without reference to a beginning or an end [for the Word has neither] . . . .”
Then in verse fourteen a different verb is used, which has reference to a definite time of beginning — “And the Word was made [‘became’] flesh . . . .” There was a point in time when the eternal Word “became flesh, and tabernacled among us,” though the incarnation wrought no change relative to the way in which the Word is presented prior to this time in verses one and two. The Word was just as much fully God following the incarnation as before the incarnation.)
Thus, the true Tabernacle or Temple in Israel during the days Christ was on earth and was not the earthly structure on the Temple Mount (though Christ referred to this structure as, “My house” [Matthew 21:13]) but “the Word” who became flesh and tabernacled among His people. It was this individual — God Himself, tabernacling among His people — that the priests of the earthly tabernacle (the tabernacle that no longer housed the Deity) reviled, mistreated, and persuaded the multitude that they should call for His crucifixion (Matthew 26:59ff; John 19:6ff).
A verse often misunderstood, though one of the clearest and strongest verses in Scripture relative to Christ’s deity is Mark 13:32:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Seemingly, the way that the text is structured, Christ separated Himself from the Father and stated that He, like fallen man, did not know certain things that the Father alone knew. However, such was not the case at all.
The text clearly states that the Father alone had knowledge of the things involved, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Father and Son were “one” (John 10:30 [cf. v. 33]; 14:9). The Son, thus, had to, of necessity, possess the same knowledge, for He was then, and remains today, God of very God (cf. Colossians 1:9).
The problem lies in the English translation of Mark 13:32; and a proper translation will not only reveal that the Son of Man was the God-Man but it will also reveal the inseparability of His humanity from His deity. The Son of Man was, and remains today, fully God as well as fully Man.
The word “but” in the latter part of Mark 13:32 is a translation of the Greek words, ei me. Literally translated, these two words mean, “if not,” or “except.” What Jesus said was that He couldn’t know “that day and that hour” if He were not the Father, for the Father alone knew.
Archbishop Trench, one of the great authorities from a past generation on word studies in the Greek text, translated this verse,
“If I were not God as well as Man, even I would not know the day or the hour.”
And this appears to capture the exact thought of the passage about as well as any English translation, for not only is the translation true to the text but it is true to the testimony of the whole of Scripture.
Thus, returning to the human experiences that Christ passed through, one thing above all else must be kept in mind: At no point in Christ’s earthly existence — from the incarnation to the ascension — can His deity be separated from His humanity. He was the God-Man. He was just as much fully God as He was fully Man; and from the point of the incarnation forward the matter is as stated in Hebrews 13:8,
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Consequently, not only must the passages in Luke 2:52 and Hebrews 4:15; 5:7-9 be understood in this light but any part of Scripture touching on Christ’s humanity must be understood after the same fashion.
During events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion, He suffered like no other man could possibly suffer, for, along with His physical sufferings, He suffered from a spiritual standpoint after a fashion that it was impossible for anyone else to suffer. And the latter sufferings, according to Scripture, were far worse than the former.
1) Physical Sufferings
Insofar as His physical sufferings were concerned, the Prophet Isaiah, over seven centuries before this time, stated,
. . . His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. (Isaiah 52:14)
He was spat upon and beaten by the Jewish religious leaders; then He was turned over to Pilate, who, after dealing with Him a second time, had Him “scourged” and “delivered” into the hands of his soldiers to be crucified; and the Roman soldiers, following His scourging, arrayed Him as a pseudo King and repeatedly mocked Him, spat on Him, and struck Him on the head with what was apparently a hard bamboo-like reed (Matthew 26:67; 27:26-31)
A literal rendering of Isaiah 52:14 would reveal that His physical appearance would be so altered by the time He was placed on the Cross that it would appear to actually not be that of a man; and the same verse states that because of His mutilated physical appearance many would be “astonished” when they looked upon the One about to be crucified.
Actually, Isaiah 52:14 is set between two sections of Scripture dealing with that future day when Christ rules and reigns over the earth (vv. 1-13, 15). Verses one through thirteen introduce the subject (His coming day of glory and exaltation), verse fourteen moves the reader back 2,000 years in time (referring to His suffering and humiliation), and then verse fifteen moves the reader forward once again to that time introduced in verses one through thirteen.
A parallel is shown between that which would occur at the two advents of Christ. The degree of His suffering and humiliation would parallel, in an opposite sense, the degree of His glory and exaltation. This is why the writer of Hebrews, speaking of Christ, could state,
. . . who for the joy that was set before Him [the day when He would rule and reign over the earth] endured the cross, despising the shame . . . . (Hebrews 12:2).
In that coming day the same scenes that witnessed His suffering and humiliation are going to witness His glory and exaltation. He is going to be “exalted,” “judge between the nations,” and “rebuke many people” (Isaiah 2:2-4; 52:13). In that day,
. . . kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.” (Isaiah 52:15)
Those who look upon Him in that coming day will once again be “astonished,” though after a different fashion, for His coming glory and exaltation must, in an opposite sense, parallel His past suffering and humiliation. And, as His physical appearance resulted in the people being astonished in the past, so will His physical appearance result in the people being astonished in that future day.
In the past Christ appeared apart from His Glory. He possessed a body like unto the body that man possesses today, void of the covering of Glory in which man was enswathed prior to the fall. It was in this body that He suffered, bled, and died; it was in this body that the very God of the universe, in the person of His Son, appeared in humiliation and shame on behalf of sinful man; and it was in this body, in the person of His Son, that God Himself was so beaten that people looked upon Him in astonishment.
But in that coming day, matters will be just the opposite. Though Christ will return in the same body that He has possessed since the incarnation, it will no longer be void of the covering of Glory. Nor will He return as the suffering “Lamb of God.” All of this will be past. In that coming day He will return as the conquering “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” And when men see Him in that day, they will look upon One whose “countenance” is “as the sun shining in its strength” (cf. Revelation 1:16; 19:11ff). And man will once again be astonished.
(Note that Isaiah chapter fifty three, set between two Messianic chapters (chapters 52, 54), forms Israel’s confession as the nation goes forth as God’s witness to the Gentile nations of the earth during the Messianic Era.)
Who has believed our [Israel’s] report? . . .
. . . He was wounded for our [Israel’s] transgressions, He was bruised for our [Israel’s] iniquities . . . and by His stripes we [the Jewish people] are healed. (Isaiah 53:1a, 5; cf. Isaiah 1:5, 6, 25-2:5)
2) Spiritual Sufferings
Christ’s spiritual sufferings began in the Garden, continued with His being arrayed as a pseudo King (twice [first by Herod, then by the Roman soldiers]), and terminated with the Father turning away from the Son while He hung upon the Cross.
In the Garden, anticipating that which lay ahead, Christ requested three times of the Father that “this cup” might pass from Him; but the prayer was always followed by the statement, “nevertheless not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44).
The “cup” that Jesus had to drink should be understood in the light of His present spiritual sufferings. Drinking this cup could have no reference to the events of Calvary per se, for Jesus — in view of the purpose for man’s creation in the beginning and the necessity for redemption’s price being paid — could never have made such a request. But the sufferings that Jesus began to endure in the Garden, anticipating the events of Calvary, were another matter.
Jesus requested of the Father that these sufferings be allowed to pass, but such was not to be. And, resultantly,
And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Then, shortly thereafter, following Jesus being delivered to Pilate by the Jewish religious leaders, the nation of Israel sank to a new low. Pilate, after interrogating Jesus, sending Him to Herod, and having Him returned by Herod, sought to release Jesus; but the Jewish religious leaders persuaded the multitude to ask for the release of Barabbas (an insurrectionist, robber, and murderer) instead and insist on Jesus’ crucifixion.
Pilate, seeing that “he could prevail nothing,” finally “gave sentence that it should be as they required.” He released Barabbas and had Jesus scourged. And following the scourging the Roman soldiers arrayed Jesus as a pseudo King, which, along with the humiliation, involved further beatings.
Then Pilate, making one last attempt to save Jesus from crucifixion, brought Him forth in the mutilated condition described in Isaiah 52:14 and presented Him to “the chief priests and the rulers and the people” with the words,
Behold your King! (John 19:14b)
But the Jewish people who were present would still have nothing to do with Christ. They cried out to Pilate, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!” Then, in response to Pilate’s question: “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests climaxed the whole matter by crying out,
We have no king but Caesar! (John 19:15b)
Jesus was then led away to be crucified (Matthew 27:15-31; Mark 15:7-20; Luke 23:13-26; John 18:39-19:16).
It was through all of this, which preceded the Cross that Jesus not only suffered physically but spiritually as well. The Jewish religious leaders had persuaded the people to ask for the release of a notorious imprisoned criminal rather than Israel’s King; then Christ was again arrayed and mocked as a pseudo King. He had previously been arrayed, treated with contempt, and mocked in Herod’s presence; but this time, following His arrayal, Christ was not only repeatedly mocked but He was also repeatedly spat upon and beaten (cf. Matthew 27:26-31; Mark 15:16-20; Luke 23:6-11).
And to bring the whole matter to a close, preceding the crucifixion (where mocking and expressions of contempt continued with Christ hanging on the Cross [Mark 15:24-32]), the Jewish religious leaders echoed the ultimate insult when Pilate brought Jesus forth to them. They not only rejected their true King, calling for His crucifixion, but they pledged allegiance to a pagan Gentile king.
(The Jewish religious leaders, through this act, placed the nation of Israel in a position diametrically opposed to the reason for the nation’s very existence. Israel had been called into existence — as God’s firstborn son — to be the ruling nation on earth, within a theocracy. Israel was to be the nation through which God would rule and bless all the Gentile nations [cf. Genesis 12:1-3; 22:17, 18; Exodus 4:22, 23; 19:5, 6; Deuteronomy 7:6].
However, the religious leaders in Israel had placed the nation in subjection to a pagan Gentile power by rejecting their true King and, in His stead, claiming allegiance to a pagan Gentile king. Such an act not only removed the One who must reside in Israel’s midst at the time these blessings would be realized [cf. Joel 2:27-32; Acts 2:16-21; 3:14, 15, 19-23; 7:54-56] — affixing Him to the Cross rather than seeing Him seated on the Throne — but it also placed both nations in completely opposite positions from the respective positions that they were to occupy for their well-being in God’s plans and purposes, proving detrimental to both nations [blessings withheld for both, along with further degradation for Israel].)
Then at Calvary there was both a climax and conclusion to Christ’s physical and spiritual sufferings. He had already been physically beaten to the point that those who looked upon Him were astonished, but now He must suffer something far worse. He must now suffer after an entirely different fashion. He must now take upon Himself the sins of the world, and He must perform this act alone.
Christ took upon Himself the sins of the world during the last three of the six hours He hung on the Cross. God caused darkness to envelop all the land, and He then turned away from His Son while redemption’s price was being paid. And this resulted in the cry from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:45, 46)?
(Though the Father turned from the Son at this point, leaving the Son to act alone, the Son remained just as much fully God as He had always been and would always be; and, resultantly, it was the blood of God that was shed at Calvary.)
But at the end of those three hours it was all over. The Son’s work of redemption had been accomplished. God had “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6); and the Son could then cry out, “It is finished [lit., ‘It has been finished’]” (John 19:30).
And that is the way matters stand today. Because of the Son’s finished work, a finished salvation is available for fallen man. God’s Son has paid the price, and all man has to do — all he can do — is receive that which has already been accomplished on his behalf.
A Barabbas can be set free, for the Just One has died in his stead.
(The same perfect tense is used in the Greek text relative to both Christ’s finished work and man’s salvation. The perfect tense refers to action completed in past time, with the results of that action existing during present time in a finished state. This is the tense used in John 19:30, recording Christ’s cry from the Cross, “It has been finished”; and this is the tense used in Ephesians 2:8, referring to man’s salvation by grace through faith: “For by grace you are saved [lit., ‘you have been saved’] through faith . . . .”
Both acts involve, in their entirety, divinely finished work; the latter work [man’s salvation] is based on the former [Christ’s work at Calvary]; and insofar as the state of redeemed man is concerned, one work is just as finished, complete, and secure as the other. Refer to the author’s book, Salvation by Grace trough Faith.)
Being Made Perfect
Through suffering (Hebrews 4:15; 5:7, 8), Christ was brought to a position that Scripture calls, “being made perfect” (v. 9 [KJV]), something that the writer had already stated in an earlier passage in the book (2:10). This though was not perfection in the sense of the way the word is often used and understood today. Rather the word is used in this passage referring to an “end result,” “goal,” or “completeness” of that which is in view.
“Perfect” is the translation of the Greek word, teleioo, which means, “bring to an end,” “bring to its goal,” “bring to completeness.” Christ, by passing through these sufferings, as a Man, was brought into a position that He had not previously occupied.
In one sense of the word, Christ was brought into this position through learning obedience, resulting from sufferings that He experienced; but, in another sense of the word, such an act was impossible.
Hebrews 5:8 states that Christ learned “obedience by the things which He suffered.” However, John 7:15 states that Christ possessed knowledge about certain matters, “having never learned” (cf. v. 16). The Greek word translated “learned” is the same in both verses, the word manthano. But, the thought behind what is meant by learning in the two verses is not the same. It can’t be.
The omniscient One has perfect knowledge apart from life’s experiences. But, on the other hand, Scripture states that the same omniscient Person learned through life’s experiences. How can one be reconciled with the other?
The learning is within the framework of Christ personally, as a Man, passing through the same experiences as man. He personally experienced, as a Man, that which man experiences. In the words of Hebrews 4:14b, 15,
. . . let us hold fast our confession.
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without [apart from] sin.
However, this still leaves unaddressed the issue of how the omniscient God, as Son, could learn obedience through suffering. But the answer to the matter is really very simple:
Christ learned through personal experience that which He already knew in the same sense that God learns through angelic “watchers” who report to Him at scheduled times that which He already knows (cf. Daniel 4:17, 23-25). Or, as in the case of the cities of the plain during Abraham’s day, God came down to see for Himself that which the watchers had previously told Him. This was something that He not only knew about before the matter was revealed by the watchers but also something that He didn’t need to see in order to know if the matter was “altogether according to the cry of it” (Genesis 18:20, 21).
This is simply the way Scripture reveals God’s intervention in the affairs of man. He is, at times, revealed as learning, by personal intervention, that which He already knows.
As in the case of the cities of the plain, God is seen as personally coming down to view matters Himself before allowing the cities to be destroyed; and, in the person of His Son, as a Man, God has personally passed through certain experiences that man passes through, attributing to Himself the same qualities that man acquires by passing through these experiences.
And God has done this for revealed, related purposes, with one such purpose being revealed in Hebrews 5:7-9. By learning “obedience by the things which He suffered,” matters have been brought to a goal. Christ has become “the Author [‘source’] of eternal salvation” unto all those who, in turn, “obey Him,” which must, of necessity, also involve suffering.
It is suffering on His part and subsequent suffering on our part; and as the former resulted in learning obedience, so must the latter. As stated in 1 Peter 2:21,
. . . Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.”
Eternal Salvation, Obedience
The word “eternal” in the English text is misleading. Those for whom Christ is the source of salvation (Christians) already possess eternal salvation; and, beyond that, this salvation was not acquired through obedience to Christ, as in the text. Rather, it was acquired through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
Obedience to Christ, resulting from suffering, can come into view only following belief in Christ (resulting in the one believing coming into possession of eternal salvation), never before. Only the saved have “passed from death to life” and are in a position to suffer and subsequently obey. The unsaved are still “dead in trespasses and sins” (John 5:24; Ephesians 2:1).
The Greek language, from which our English versions have been translated, does not contain a word for “eternal.” A person using the Greek language thinks in the sense of “ages,” or “long periods of time”; and the way this language is normally used in the New Testament to express “eternal,” apart from textual considerations, is through the use of the Greek words eis tous aionas ton aionon, meaning, “to [or, ‘with respect to’] the ages of the ages” (ref. Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; Revelation 1:6; 4:9, 10 for several examples of places where these words are used, translated “forever and ever” in most versions).
Another less frequently used way to express “eternal” in the Greek New Testament, apart from textual considerations, is through the use of a shortened form of the preceding — eis tous aionas, meaning “to [or, ‘with respect to’] the ages” (ref. Romans 9:5; 11:36; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Hebrews 13:8 for several examples of places where these words are used, translated “forever” in most versions).
The word from the Greek text translated “eternal” in Hebrews 5:9 is aionios. This is the adjective equivalent of the noun aion, referred to in the preceding paragraph in its plural form to express “eternal.” Aion means “an aeon [the word ‘aeon’ is derived from aion]” or “an era,” usually understood throughout the Greek New Testament as “an age.”
Aionios, the adjective equivalent of aion, is used seventy-one times in the Greek New Testament and has been indiscriminately translated “eternal” or “everlasting” in almost every instance in the various English versions. This word though should be understood about thirty of these seventy-one times in the sense of “age-lasting” rather than “eternal”; and the occurrence in Hebrews 5:9 forms a case in point.
Several good examples of other places where aionios should be translated and understood as “age-lasting” are Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7. These passages have to do with running the present race of the faith in view of one day realizing an inheritance in the kingdom, which is the hope set before Christians.
On the other hand, aionios can be understood in the sense of “eternal” if the text (and/or context) so indicates. Several good examples of places where aionios should be so translated and understood are John 3:15, 16, 36. These passages have to do with life derived by faith in Christ because of His finished work at Calvary (cf. v. 14), and the only type of life that can possibly be in view is “eternal life.”
Textual considerations must always be taken into account when properly translating and understanding aionios, for this is a word which can be used to imply either “age-lasting” or “eternal”; and it is used both ways numerous times in the New Testament.
Textual considerations in Hebrews 5:9 leave no room to question exactly how aionios should be understood and translated in this verse. Life during the coming age, occupying a position as co-heir with Christ in that coming day, is what the book of Hebrews is about.
2) Suffering, Reigning
Suffering with or on behalf of Christ must precede reigning with Christ. The latter cannot be realized apart from the former. Such suffering is inseparably linked to obedience; and the text clearly states that Christ is the source of that future salvation “to all them that [presently] obey Him,” in the same respect that Christ is the source of presently possessed eternal salvation for all those who have (in the past) “believed” on Him.
1 Peter 1:11, relative to the saving of the soul (vv. 9, 10), states,
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ [lit., ‘the sufferings with respect to Christ’] and the glory that would follow.
The thought, contextually, is not at all that of Christ suffering. Rather, the thought has to do with Christians suffering with respect to Christ’s sufferings, subsequently realizing the salvation of their souls through having a part in the glory that is to follow the sufferings.
This is the underlying thought behind the whole book of 1 Peter, expressed in so many words by the writer in 4:12, 13:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
This is the “eternal [‘age-lasting’] glory” to which Christians have been called and in which Christians will be established after they “have suffered a while,” with obedience to Christ emanating from the sufferings (1 Peter 5:10).