During the period of about twenty four hours from Gethsemane Park to the journey to the tomb, how close the whole earth and Jerusalem were to total annihilation, we may never know. On the one side were “more than twelve legions” of the angelic fighters of the heavenly forces, ready with their swords drawn, while on the other side were the “wild beasts” who had been with their Master in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) straining to be let lose to avenge the humiliation of the King of Kings. During all this, the Master, the Messiah was all at rest on the cross busy giving final touches to the pulling down of the curtain on His earthly sojourn while preparing the Holiest of Holies for the entry of all sinners “who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). Undergoing such great turmoil both within and without, Lord Jesus did not forget His duty as the eldest son, towards His probably widowed mother and ensures her well being. He suffered so that all His brothers and mother “who hear the Word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21) do not suffer but receive a life of abundance.
Is there any difference between paradise and heaven? – Our Lord never ever preached anything about any “kingdom of paradise” but the repeated mention was always about “Kingdom of Heaven” and heaven is where God is. After sin entered the world, the blessed state of Adam and Eve was lost and they also lost their right to the presence of God and were required to live “by the sweat of the brow” (Genesis 3:19). Satan was condemned to ‘eat dust’ and expelled from the face of the earth. Since man had ceded his right to Satan and was separated from God, the Garden of Eden also got removed from its place and became the transit place for all those people who remained faithful to God despite grave provocation and temptations of Satan. But the Messiah was needed to redeem these souls as well as everyone else through His sacrifice, they remained captive to Satan even after death in this ‘transit place’ under the earth. This is paradeiso or paradise.
Heaven or ‘ouranos’ is the place of God’s abode and is above the earth and is also referred to as ‘starry heavens’. Wherever any messenger of God is mentioned in the Scripture it is always “an angel descended from heaven” and never as having ascended from heaven. Jacob saw in his dream the ‘stairway to heaven’ with the angels ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12). Heaven is thus distinct from paradise and located above the earth till finally the Kingdom of God is established on the earth after the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
Do believers go to paradise or heaven after their physical death? – Apostle John was transported to heaven from Patmos Island during his period of exile there and he was witness to many future events and effects of some past events. He saw a great multitude of people – ten thousand times ten thousand- worshipping the Lord (Revelation 5:11). Scripture also confirms the redemption made available to those in paradise by the Lord Jesus during His visit there after His death on the cross. When the Lord Jesus ascended on high He led the ‘captivity captive’ and those in paradise moved to heaven and formed part of the multitudes seen by Apostle John. Evidently paradise is now empty and the righteous dead now move directly to heaven awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. With the indwelling Holy Spirit a believer is already in the Kingdom of God in God’s presence and the next step is to change location from the body in to a spiritual form.
Is not there a dichotomy between the third saying and Matthew 12:50? – No, but is important to assess the role that the Lord was assigned by the Father. Our Lord declared “I came to fulfill the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 5:17 and His sufferings fulfilled all the prophesies and through His conduct the Law was fulfilled. The fifth commandment required an individual to honor his father and mother and Lord Jesus’ statement at twelve years of age, while discussing the Scripture with the scholars of the law, appears to be rebellious. However He went with His parents to Nazareth and “was subject to them” (Luke 2:51-52). Mary was chosen by God to bear the Son of God despite there being many other unmarried women of her age for she was righteous and devoted to service of God. Mary told angel Gabriel “I am the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary was told her son will be given the ‘throne of His father David’, the shepherds repeated the message of the angels when they saw Him in the manger, the magi worshipped Him, Herod issued a decree to kill Him, an angel kept track of their security to flee to Egypt and back while Simeon declared “a sword will also pierce your soul” (Luke 2:35). After the start of the ministry Lord Jesus’ fame spread throughout the region while in Nazareth they tried to kill Him and despite so many miracles performed by Him and the multitudes planning to make Him king by force (John 6:15) He was deserted by all those crowds, disciples and persecuted and “His visage was marred beyond recognition” (Isaiah 52:14). Joseph and Mary marveled at these things that were spoken of their Son (Luke 2:33).
Mary had by then lost her husband and a widowed mother standing at Calvary looking at the Lord was probably confused about the “throne of David” to be occupied by Him and the reason for His betrayal. The other four sons of hers did not believe in the Lord Jesus and she had no security for the future for she was earlier not met by Him while declaring “My mother and brothers are those who do the will of God” (Matthew 12:50).
Lessons from the ‘Third Saying” – It is not known where the other brothers of the Lord Jesus were at the time of His crucifixion and out of the disciples only John was present. Apostle John was known to the Chief Priests – he could freely enter his house, he was fairly well off and had a house in Jerusalem. The best qualification that he had was to be “loved by the Lord”, a position that was bestowed on him for his silent faith. Since Apostle John was preferred over His own brothers, the blessing was passed on to the Church, of which Apostle John was a part. Even during His weakest moment of grave physical agony Lord Jesus remembered His mother and made provisions for her future, how much more will He be willing to do for “His brothers of faith”. Now that He is in His exalted state with “all power and authority over everything on the earth and the sky” being vested in Him, how much more would He do to fulfill His promises? Apostle Paul confidently declares “My God shall supply all my needs” (Philippians 4:19) and today there is no difference between a Jew and Gentile, all are equal before the Lord (Romans 10:12). Thus all followers are assured of all provisions
This also establishes one of the roles of the Church, to care for the body of Christ and the first church did adhere to this adequately since the believers sold their possessions to provide for all (Acts 2:45). The responsibility given to the church also provides this blessing to the poor that their needs will be met by others. Church of God has been purchased by His blood by the Lord and the new relationships are of faith and not of genetic lineage since by faith we become ‘children of God’. In fulfillment of the fifth commandment Lord Jesus has shown all believers the way to care for, comfort, provide and visit their parents in old age. Apostle Paul classifies the one “who does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Timothy 5:8). While a person in need and adverse circumstances can call for help from others in the church, caring for others, including praying for them, helps us forget and tide over our own problems. We glorify God by acting like His Son through helping others.
Why could the Jews not understand the Lord’s words in the fourth saying on the cross? – “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and except for one person who offered sour wine to the Lord, rest of the crowd though He was calling Elijah, the prophet, probable referring to Malachi 4:5). The situation around the cross was one of extreme grief for some while the others were reviling Him and some wanted Him to save Himself while the others demanded that He come down from the cross and “they will believe Him”. Matthew 27:46-47 why could the Jews not understand what Lord Jesus spoke? There were three different languages prevalent in the region at that time- Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek and the New Testament has been written in Greek. The original words spoken were probably Aramaic which has great similarity to Hebrew and these words are quoted in Psalm 22:1 where ‘Eloi’ has been written as “Eli” and ‘sabachthani’ as ‘azavtani’. The words were identical with least chance of misunderstanding, yet some did.
There could be two reasons for this misunderstanding – first, Lord Jesus was badly beaten, His visage marred beyond recognition, He was nothing to eat or drink since the ‘Passover Meal” of the previous evening and He had lost a lot of blood already. All this would have caused extreme physical trauma, swelling of the face, lips and tongue causing difficulty in speaking. Added to this was the great difficulty in inhaling every bit of air into His lungs due to the position on the cross. But our Lord “cried out with loud voice” and the Greek word used here is ‘boao’ meaning ‘a distress call, intense and deep feeling, loud cry or emotionally charged cry of anguish. The same word is used for the blind man calling out to the Lord for mercy and help (Luke 18:38) or for describing the shrieking cry of the evil spirits leaving their victim under the Lord’s power (Acts 8:7). It was the distress call of “the beloved Son” with whom the Father was well pleased and Who never did anything of His own. The call was clear and probably heard and properly understood by those who were nearby.
The second reason of misunderstanding was deliberate with the sole aim of ridiculing the Messiah. Probably both these reasons were the cause of some not understanding what was spoken for “one heard Him and offered Him sour wine” (Matthew 27:48-49).
Is there any reason for the ‘darkness over the earth? – Around mid day, there was darkness all around and it being the ‘sixth hour’ the Lord had already been on the cross for three hours (Luke 23:44). The Greek word used here is ‘ekleipo’ meaning ‘fail to give out, die out and thus the sun failed to give light. Lord Jesus had clarified the reason at the time of His arrest by the Temple guards with the Roman soldiers since they never laid hands on Him when He was daily in the temple “but this is your hour, and the power of darkness”. This was a state of deep moral degradation where the Messiah that they had all been waiting for was being crucified for showing them their sinful nature that they were covering with their overt display of righteousness.
Darkness at noon was already predicted by the prophets (Joel 2:31 & Amos 8:9-10) and whether this was about the second coming of the Lord or about this time needs to be seen. Sin, in any case, causes darkness of the heart and the sinner attempts to color his actions under different excuses. God, however, will never cover sin since that would make God also a party to the act and ‘the sun, moon and the stars not giving light are indicators of God’s wrath (Isaiah 13:10-11).
God expressed His satisfaction and love for His Beloved Son in a loud voice at the time of His baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit and again at His transfiguration. Job was another man who was described by God as “a perfect and upright man” who would stand by his faith (Job 1:8 & 2:3) and Satan was permitted to do anything except taking his life. The Son of God also, in like manner, was chosen to suffer for redeeming His creation from the control of Satan. Abandoned by all, disciples, brothers and the multitudes, Lord Jesus was to suffer alone to atone for the sins of mankind.
The Israelites were led out of Egyptian bondage by God in the form of a ‘Pillar of cloud’ which provided them cover during day and light during the night. When the Pharaoh chased them at the red sea the pillar of cloud moved to the rear and divided the Israelites and the Egyptians by providing light to the first but darkness to the latter, thus keeping them separated (Exodus 14:19-20). On the cross all the sins of humanity, of past, present and yet to be committed in the future, were heaped on the Lord Jesus causing a darkness that could be felt – extreme darkness that had enveloped Egypt as a plague (Exodus 10:21). The pillar of cloud kept the darkness part towards the sinners and light towards the Israelites while on the cross this pillar was inverted by God- the darkness of sin of the mankind was moved inside on the Lord on the cross while His “Light of the world” was brought out. He took our darkness but His Light leads us to Him and helps us to lead others to Him.
Is the ‘fourth saying’ a complaint against God? – Lord Jesus came as “Lamb of God” to become the sacrificial offering for our sins but the darkness of sin heaped upon Him is so intense that He cried out to God in great anguish. It is not a call from a Son to His Father but a painful statement of the Lamb to His God who is just, yet loving. The repeated first word “Eloi, Eloi” indicates deepest commitment to God that despite grave circumstances and apparent abandonment, Lord Jesus still calls out His steadfast love and obedience to God. The ‘accuser’ often attempts to mislead us into believing that God has abandoned us due to our past sins and it may appear that our link with God is broken, yet we must remain true in our faith and commitment to Him. Lord Jesus suffered such isolation that we may not suffer such and has promised us “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The Son who always maintained “Thy will not mine” cried out to His God not to complain but to express His anguish.
Saint Bernard rightly said “Who is there that can adequately gauge the greatness of the humility, gentleness, self-surrender, revealed by the Lord of majesty in assuming human nature, in accepting the punishment of death, the shame of the cross?” But apart from this there is a great deal of physical and spiritual travail that can never be understood by us in our fallen nature. He suffered that we need not!