Imagery is a powerful force when it’s the only source of information. As a child, I perceived Jesus Christ as a weak victim of bullies who were stronger than Him. Without any biblical influences in my life, my knowledge was limited to creepy Catholic pictures in the house of my best friend, and stained-glass windows on the local Anglican church. In my mind, Jesus was nothing more than an unfortunate victim and a personal reminder of what happens to kind people in a mean world.
When The Passion of the Christ hit the screen, it certainly devastated any remaining notions of Jesus being a wimp. Nonetheless it still reinforced the victim motif over His life. While it was effective in assaulting my senses with the unbelievable physical brutality of Christ’s crucifixion, it was almost impossible to leave the cinema without feeling sorry for Jesus, the victim of such an evil conspiracy.
But is that how we should think of Christ’s death? While He suffered excruciating physical pain and spiritual separation from the Father, was He actually anyone’s victim?
Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Sanhedrin worked together to arrest, condemn, and crucify Christ. But Scripture is clear that the Lord’s death was not a result of their scheme:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. (Acts 4:27–28 emphasis added)
Christ was not the victim of a Jewish and Roman conspiracy. The purpose of His life was the promise of His death. He was born to die in our place, fulfilling His role as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins.
And as Lord of all creation, He had authority over every detail of His arrest, trial, and death.
Christ Was in Charge of His Arrest
Judas managed to blend in among the rest of the disciples, but Jesus knew all along who he really was (John 6:70–71). Even as Judas plotted to betray Christ, the Lord was in control (John 13:2-3).
In the hours before Christ’s arrest, in the intimacy of the upper room, Jesus washed Judas’ feet along with the rest of His disciples’, even though He knew what was in Judas’ heart (John 13:11). And when the Lord dismissed His treacherous disciple, it was with full knowledge of what he was about to do (John 13:21-30).
Once Christ and His disciples had finished celebrating the Passover, Jesus went to His usual place to pray: “And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him” (Luke 22:39, emphasis added). In spite of His forthcoming arrest, Jesus wasn’t hiding—He went to a place where Judas could easily find Him (John 18:2).
Even in the moment of His arrest, Christ was undaunted: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” (John 18:4 ESV, emphasis added). There was no reason to run or hide—this was the fulfillment of His plan.
Judas and his co-conspirators never operated outside of Christ’s sovereign authority. From the moment Jesus welcomed him into His ministry, to Judas’ kiss of betrayal, Christ’s authority was always on display.
Christ Was in Charge of His Trial
Pontius Pilate was the long arm of the law in Judaea. He wielded Caesar’s authority with an iron fist, and was the final arbiter of life and death for everyone under his jurisdiction. But during Christ’s mock trial, his temporal authority was no threat to the Lord.
So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10–11)
Christ was completely unmoved and unshaken by Pilate and his vast army. He knew they were in a position of power over Him because of God’s pre-ordained plan. And He submitted to the death sentence in order to execute that plan.
Pilate was still culpable for passing sentence on the spotless Lamb, even though he was operating under God’s sovereign will. John MacArthur explains how the Lord used Pilate’s sin to bring about His plan of redemption.
Although he was a responsible moral agent and accountable for his actions, Pilate did not have ultimate control over events related to the Son of God. Nothing that happens—even the death of Jesus Christ—is outside the sovereignty of God. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12-21 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008) 341.
For the disciples, the cross represented the tragic end to their soaring messianic hopes. But for Jesus, that same cross was His destiny, and He marched toward it with unwavering purpose. Not only did He embrace His crucifixion, He also orchestrated every single detail.
Christ Was in Charge of His Death
There were plenty of people who were powerfully motivated to murder the Lord. His preaching of the truth threatened the livelihood of the Pharisees and their false religion. His heavenly kingdom threatened the Herodian king. His righteous rule threatened the Roman ruler. And His saving power threatened Satan’s grand scheme. They all wanted Jesus dead.
But Jesus was never bothered by the fact that people—many people—wanted Him dead. Death was not a threat to the Lord of life. In fact, it was the purpose of His life. Pointing ahead to His sacrificial death, Christ told His disciples, “No one has taken [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).
That authority was evident in what He said while He was on the cross.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30)
Crucifixion was designed by the Romans as the most painful way for a human to die—it’s where the word “excruciating” comes from. And yet amid unbelievable physical pain, God incarnate displayed amazing composure and presence of mind. He understood that one prophecy remained to be fulfilled—David’s words in Psalm 69:21 that the Messiah would be given vinegar (sour wine) in response to His thirst. With that done, the Lord demonstrated His authority over His death by proclaiming, “It is finished.” John MacArthur adds:
Actually, the Lord shouted those words with a loud cry (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37). It was a shout of triumph; the proclamation of a victor. The work of redemption that the Father had given Him was accomplished: sin was atoned for (Hebrews 9:12; 10:12), and Satan was defeated and rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14; cf. 1 Peter 1:18–20; 1 John 3:8). Every requirement of God’s righteous law had been satisfied; God’s holy wrath against sin had been appeased (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10); every prophecy had been fulfilled. Christ’s completion of the work of redemption means that nothing needs to be nor can be added to it. MacArthur, John 12-21, 356.
Christ divinely orchestrated the events surrounding His arrest, His trial, and His death. Nothing would stop Him from going to the cross as our righteous, sin-bearing substitute.
And the grave couldn’t hold onto the One who had the power to take His life up again. Moreover, His resurrection was not the end of the exercise of His authority, but the beginning of His ministry as our legal representative before the Father.
Christ Is in Charge of Your Eternity
First John 2:1 describes Christ as our “Advocate with the Father.” The author of Hebrews describes that work by saying:
The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23–25)
In his commentary on that passage, John MacArthur explains how Christ’s intercessory work secures our salvation for eternity:
He always lives to make intercession for us. The security of our salvation is Jesus’ perpetual intercession for us. We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. But just as Jesus has power to save us, He has power to keep us. Constantly, eternally, perpetually Jesus Christ intercedes for us before His Father. Whenever we sin He says to the Father, “Put that on My account. My sacrifice has already paid for it.” Through Jesus Christ, we are able to “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In His Son we are now blameless in the Father’s sight. When we are glorified we will be blameless in His presence. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1983) 201.
Christ was no one’s victim. He perfectly executed God’s plan from eternity past, exercising total authority over all the events leading up to His death. Under that same authority, He rose victorious from the grave, and now stands at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf and crediting us with His righteousness.
This weekend, as we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord, we ought to make sure we’re portraying Him accurately. Christ was not a victim of the cross; it was His ultimate victory.