At the very end, having writhed in agony for hours in shameful public crucifixion, the Son of God overcame the last terrible temptation as a man.
The 1988 movie The Last Temptation of Christ sought to show that Jesus was a man like any other and tempted in every way as we are. Among other things, it revoltingly suggested that He longed for Mary Magdalene, but they failed miserably to understand who Jesus Christ was.
Man had been dealing that day with God the Father and with God the Creator in whose hands rested enormous power at all times. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. None of those who witnessed the barbaric executions on that dreadful Passover day could have realized that it was the most pivotal day in the history of mankind. The Lamb of God was sacrificed exactly on time to the day and hour which had been ordained in the provenance of God before Adam was created four thousand years earlier (John:17:5 and John:17:24; 1 Peter:1:19-21; Revelation:13:8).
One of the most sickening features of that terrible day of drawn-out execution, when men nailed the Son of God to the stake and raised Him up to die in shame like a common criminal, was the cruel taunt. 'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross' (Matthew:27:40) They had no idea what they were asking, or what the consequences might have been had He done so. Jesus Christ might easily have thrown off the nails and come down to turn His tormentors to stone or ashes in an instant, if He had reacted for a moment in selfish indignation.
Think back to His arrest in the night a few hours earlier: a mob led by Judas Iscariot had come to get Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter had swung his sword and chopped an ear off the High Priest's slave, Malchus, (John:18:10). Jesus touched the man's ear and it was instantly restored. Then the Lord asked Peter, 'Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?' (A legion was 6,000 - Matthew:26:53).
What need had the Lord of angelic support when He could by His word alone command the raging storm to cease (Mark:4:37-40). Nevertheless, Jesus will use the angelic army to do His bidding when He returns leaving the opposing armies nothing more than carrion. (Revelation:19:17-21).
The Exact Day and Hour
Time is of the essence. The crucifixion of Christ was the fulcrum of history about which allelse turns and without that actual sacrifice of God no man or woman from any age past, present,or future could ever live again. It remains a mystery to most men because they have lost sight ofthe Holy Days which God established before Adam took his first steps on the earth. Even so, this awesome Passover sacrifice of the Lamb of God was carried out in public and recorded in detail both before and after the event. The Lord would provide Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God and be slain at the time of the evening sacrifice (about 3 p.m.) on the Feast of Passover, which is the fourteenth day of the first month on the Sacred Calendar (Exodus:12:2-6).
The paschal lambs sacrificed at the temple that day were each slain in an instant with one quick stroke of the knife, but Jesus Christ was granted no such mercy. The people who taunted Him as He bled to death for their sake knew none of this; they regarded Him as a mere man, no better than themselves really, even if He was a holy-man. The self-important priests who had connived to have Him executed, were themselves massively ignorant in their conceit; hapless tools in the hands of an unseen Satan. However, it was not then the Lord's time for power and glory: that will come and is illustrated by a different Holy Day, showing another stage in God's great Plan of Salvation. He does not work haphazardly, but is a meticulous timekeeper who will complete each phase of His work exactly on time as planned.
Few who watched the crucifixion of Christ that day could have known that they were witnessing the greatest battle in world history, wherein the Son of God totally overcame every trial and temptation that Satan or the world could devise. In His dying, Christ overcame death for everyone who will come to truly believe in Him, from all nations and ages of mankind's history.
The Serpent at Work
What an intricate temptation the devious Devil orchestrated then, in the last hour. That old serpent knew full well that Jesus never lusted after Mary Magdalene or any other woman as some have so grossly and salaciously imagined: He would never have entertained any such base idea. However, Satan knew that it was of paramount importance to Jesus that the world should know that He was indeed the Son of God in Heaven and that He had come down to Earth precisely in order to make the Father known.
Satan's greatest concern was to overcome Christ, so that he might continue to rule the world his way, making sport of men and reveling in their destruction. Now was the time to establish his demonic spirit himself onto the scene and trigger this very reasonable and most appealing idea into the mind of Jesus Christ. Satan displaying his immense talent for using scornful men to challenge Christ, thus covering up the underlying intent.
Jesus Christ knew what He had to do for us and tenaciously followed through to the end of His human life. Then the insidious chorus began, 'If you are the Son of God, come down off the cross and we will believe '. And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, 'You who would destroy the Temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross'. So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him saying, 'He saved others, He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him. ' (Matthew:27:39-42)
It was a most appealing proposal and would surely have solved the immediate physical crisis. Christ had performed many miracles in the past and we can easily grasp the intensity of this moment and the temptation in Christ that He could prove by that one spectacular act of releasing Himself from crucifixion that He really was the Son of God, empowered with astounding, supernatural ability just as in the past, momentarily it would swing the people over to His side, even the Roman soldiers perhaps, if they witnessed such superhuman power. Thus the temptation to come down off the cross and deal at once with all the pressing needs would have been very seductive, but Jesus Christ had no such self-serving mind, no desire to grasp for glory, which would have been contrary to His Father's will.
Even as He struggled for His last few breaths, the Lord resolutely held onto the vision of the wonderful worldwide Kingdom yet to come, in which His servants will be well rewarded and there will be peace and prosperity for all. To come down off the cross would have been a precipitate act not in keeping with the awesome Plan of God. It would in fact have nullified the reason for His deliberate self-sacrifice. He was fully determined to suffer the terrible torment to the end and give His life as Savior of mankind. There was no other way; it was impossible for anyone else to do it, neither man nor angel (despite what some people sadly believe). Only the sacrifice of the Creator Son of God could pay for all of mankind, wipe the slate clean of sin and so rescue all from eternal death.
Satan will pay for his own malicious, defiant sin in fullness of time in accordance with God's perfect Plan, which He made before man was created. That cunning, depraved, and perverted fallen angel still thinks that he is fireproof, but he deceives himself. Jesus Christ was the very Word of God, the Spokesman and chief executive officer over the things of God. 'All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made .' (John:1:1-3).
That somewhat archaic language still means exactly what it says, that Jesus Christ was not a created being, but is One with the Almighty, and the One through whom we, and all other creatures on Earth were made. He was not an angel (or archangel) and neither was He only a man, but was able to assume the form of a man in order that He might pay the penalty of sin for every human being of all time. As God and Creator, He alone was qualified to give His perfect life in ransom for us all. It meant that He could not in anywise sin. But the very fact that He had the power to come down off the cross at any moment also meant that Jesus had to resist that terrible temptation every moment that He hung there on the cross in excruciating agony.
This article will be continued in next week's issue of Beyond Today articles. For more information on God's Holy Day Plan request the free Bible study guide, God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind .