The author discusses the article "suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and was buried" of the Apostles' Creed. He talks about the suffering of Jesus Christ, the ruling of Pontius Pilate, the necessity of the death of Jesus Christ and his burial.

Source: Reformed Herald, 2008. 3 pages.

Christ’s Suffering and Death

As we begin to consider the fourth article of the Apostles’ Creed, we come to the great purpose for the humiliation of the Son of God in becoming incarnate. He came to suffer for the sins of God’s people. The answer of Heidelberg Catechism Q37 rightly states that Christ “bore in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.” When we acknowledge that our sins deserve temporal and eternal punishment, we should always be amazed that the holy Son of God came to suffer in our place. He did so for all God’s elect, as we will consider.

The Sufferings of Christ🔗

Regarding His sufferings, the One who had perfect bliss in fellowship with God the Father and the Spirit in heaven, who received the worship of all creatures in heaven, came to take upon Himself a perfect human nature, body and soul, in which to suffer for sinners! “All the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life” Christ suffered. It was painful for the Holy One just to live in this sin-cursed world. We have only the smallest experience of such, when sin and its result bring pain to our hearts. Our old nature is still attracted to what is evil. Our Lord Jesus Christ was never for an instant attracted to it, but was repulsed and grieved by all sin.

He suffered also when “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). The agent of man’s creation was rejected and hated by those He made. He was wrongly condemned to death by the rulers of Israel.

Obviously, the physical sufferings of Christ due to crucifixion were torture. However, many others were crucified in the ancient world. Our Lord’s sufferings were absolutely unique, however, not in what man could do to Him, but in that He bore the eternal wrath of God against sin in those hours on the cross! More than the equivalent of eternity in hell for mankind was endured by Jesus. Only in being God and man could He take and endure that penalty. Since He is holy God incarnate, the sufferings of Christ were more than having all creatures endure the punishment of hell.

Indeed, in considering that He bore “the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race,” we are to understand that the punishment He endured was of “infinite worth and value.” It was a sufficient payment or atonement for sin, being enough to provide redemption for everyone. It is, however, given for the elect alone. As Ursinus wrote in his commentary on Catechism Q40,

He died for all, in respect to the sufficiency of his ransom; and for the faithful alone in respect to the efficacy of the same.

The effect of His atonement is applied to the elect alone. Still, the greatness of Christ’s merits in His death, grace, righteousness, and life is sufficient for all. No one who rejects His atoning sacrifice has any excuse.

This redeeming work was, of course, accomplished according to God’s eternal plan of salvation. The love of God is proven at the cross of Jesus. All believers rejoice to say, as in 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus willingly gave Himself as “the only atoning sacrifice.” He paid the infinite price to redeem His people, that all the Old Testament sacrifices could only point forward to. Propitiation, or the removal of God’s wrath against sin, for all His people was there provided. Justice was satisfied so that all believers are redeemed, body and soul, from everlasting damnation. Jesus Christ alone could so obtain for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. (See Catechism Q37.)

Suffered Under Pontius Pilate🔗

The creed also states, as all four gospels record, that Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate. Our Lord submitted himself to the power of the Roman governor, to give His life for that sacrifice. As Jesus told Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Now, when we know, as in Romans 13:1, that “the authorities that exist are appointed by God” so that the government is to function as God’s servant, we can understand why suffering under Pilate was important. His judgment was, in effect, the judgment of God. Repeatedly, Pilate declared that he found Jesus to be innocent. That was the proper judgment of the case, and it was the judgment of Almighty God.

Yet, the eternal plan of God triune was that God the Son would bear the penalty of sin for the elect. Therefore, it was also God’s judgment that Jesus was condemned, though innocent. For Pilate, it was the greatest evil to condemn the innocent Christ and crucify Him. Nonetheless, our sovereign God had judged that Jesus would suffer in the place of all who will believe. So, both the holiness of our Lord Jesus Christ and His condemnation for others was proclaimed to the world in the actions of Pilate. Our Lord’s suffering under that ruler is God’s assurance that He has brought about the sacrifice He required, and has declared it sufficient payment for His elect!

Death by Crucifixion🔗

As for Christ’s death by crucifixion, we are also assured that He bore in it the curse against sin. Certainly, to be the only atoning sacrifice, Jesus could not die by accident, illness, or old age. His death had to be an execution, a punishment intentionally inflicted. This was foreshadowed in the sacrificial animals killed under the old covenant.

Also, the crucifixion itself was fore-shadowed in the command of Deuteronomy 21:22-23. One who committed sin deserving of death was to be executed, as by stoning. Then the corpse was to be hung up in a tree that the judgment and curse of God could be seen. All would know that the curse of God was on the executed criminal, and all should fear God rightly. That Jesus would be hung up on the wooden cross for all to see was clearly brought about in God’s sovereignty, and it declares that Christ bore the curse for us. Yes, the curse that fell on Adam — and all mankind, with his sin in Eden — was placed upon our Lord and Savior.

Crucifixion was a shameful and public death, in which one was subjected to all manner of ridicule. What an amazing testimony it is, then, to the love and grace of our God to so save His people.

The focus of Scripture is not on the magnitude of Christ’s suffering. The focus is on the fact that He did suffer and die according to the glorious covenant of redemption, in which the work of Father, Son, and Spirit were determined in God’s love and grace. The crucifixion so assures us. Through the repentance and faith granted by God, every believer can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

His Death was Necessary🔗

In asking why it was necessary for Christ to suffer death, Catechism Q40 answers,

Because the justice and truth of God required that satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.

Again, as Ursinus wrote in his commentary on this question, “sin is an evil of such magnitude ... that that which is an offence  against the highest good, can only be expiated by the most severe punishment and extreme destruction of the sinner...” So, it is justice when Romans 6:23 declares, “The wages of sin is death.” Rebellion against our Creator justly calls for temporal and eternal punishment. As we have seen, only Christ could bear that punishment for us.

Consider then the truth of God. He had declared that death would result for disobedience. The warning in Eden was, “In the day you eat of it (the forbidden tree) you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Spiritual death came immediately, physical death came with mortality, and eternal death would be the end result for all people, if God had not provided a Savior. God had promised that Savior in the garden and, through all the centuries until Christ, repeatedly said that He must die as a ransom for many.

So, the justice and truth of God required Christ’s death. He bore it all in His human nature, even the punishment of hell, as His cry testified: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). It was as if He was sin being punished!

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.2 Corinthians 5:21

His Burial🔗

Since Jesus completely satisfied God’s justice in His death, we might wonder why He remained dead and buried until the third day. Obviously, His burial was first a proof given by God that Christ had truly died and paid the price of our salvation. He also identified with His people in bearing this part of the punishment we merited, as the curse included returning to dust (Genesis 3:19).

Now, believers need no more to fear the grave when He has set apart our graves as resting places for our bodies until the resurrection! His resurrection from the tomb showed Christ had truly overcome death for us, and assures believers of the hope of resurrection. When Christians die, it is then an end of all our sinning and an entering into eternal life!

Transformation of the Redeemed🔗

In summary, since our Lord Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried — the transformation of the life of those redeemed in Christ is to be seen. We are to live as those who have died to sin and are spiritually alive in Christ. In asking what further benefit we have from His sacrifice and death, the Catechism Q43 answers,

That by His power our old man is with Him crucified, slain, and buried; so that the evil lusts of the flesh may no more reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves unto Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

May this new life, granted through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, be seen in us more and more!

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