by John MacArthur
Truth isn’t subjective. That’s an unpopular perspective today, but a vital one—especially when it comes to studying the Bible. Too many people take a self-centered approach with God’s Word. They’re not as interested in what it means as they are in what it means to them.
That subjective mindset is particularly dangerous when it comes to dealing with the Person and work of Christ. Rather than pursuing the true nature and character of Jesus, too many people attempt to re-create Christ in their own image. Depending on whom you ask, He was a political leader, a philosopher, a revolutionary, a guru, or a folk hero. Most people see what they want to see when they look at Christ.
Instead, we need to see Christ the way God sees Him. Specifically, we need to look at Jesus’ death from the perspective of heaven and understand what it means from an eternal viewpoint. We discussed last time how Christ’s death was a sacrifice; today we’ll see it was also an act of submission.
Every element of Christ’s life was submitted to God in perfect obedience—including His death. Jesus delighted to do the will of His Father. In John 4:34 He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He was obedient and righteous throughout His life. He never contradicted the character of God or took independent action that set Him against the Father (John 5:19, 30). He lived in perfect submission to the law and actively fulfilled the will of God (John 6:38; 8:29).
Theologians through the years have called Christ’s submission active obedience. From the moment of His incarnation (as well as any time before), there was never any sin in Him, nor could there be. Always, at all levels—even with the limited understanding of a child—Jesus obeyed God to the fullest. His whole life was marked by complete and perfect obedience.
His obedience at the cross, however, was different. Rather than fulfilling the law in active obedience, He accepted the full wrath of God for sins He never committed. That can be referred to as Christ’s passive obedience. Not passive in the sense that Jesus wasn’t engaged in what was happening to Him (passive, in this case, comes from the Latin term for His passion). He was still a willing participant, surrendering Himself to the Father, even as He was arrested, tried, mocked, scourged, and crucified.
Whereas Christ’s active obedience was a delight, His passive obedience came at a significant cost. Scripture is clear that Jesus agonized over the suffering He would endure (Luke 22:44), and that it caused Him great distress long before it ever occurred (Luke 12:50). Submitting to the wrath of God on the cross was no easy task, even for the Son of God.
But the fact is, the submission He demonstrated in the hours before His death was no different from the submission He had always demonstrated. He didn’t need to switch gears at the end to find the resources necessary to obediently endure the cross.
Just as Christ’s character cannot be divided, neither can His obedience. He was—and is—always obedient, in both the active and passive senses. And that perfect submission was most vividly and graphically displayed at the cross.