As a people, Seventh-day Adventists, to a degree that is sometimes incomprehensibly difficult to understand or appreciate, have a library of prophetic writings that give the ardent seeker a clear understanding of God’s will and thorough guidance in fulfilling that will in their daily lives. However, in providing that understanding and guidance, the reader sometimes encounters passages that cause varying degrees of puzzlement. Such is the case with the testimony entitled “The Sufferings of Christ.”
This extremely enlightening testimony is found in volume two of the Testimonies beginning on page 200, and provides an in-depth look at Christ’s suffering as well as a wealth of uplifting clarity on the plan of salvation.
The testimony begins with this statement: “In order to fully realize the value of salvation, it is necessary to understand what it cost.” The testimony then explains that cost as the sufferings experienced by our Saviour when He left the glories of heaven and assumed the likeness of man.
The unfathomable nature of this sacrifice is a recurring theme in the Spirit of Prophecy, but it is quite succinctly explained in this passage from The Desire of Ages, 131:
“Never can the cost of our redemption be realized until the redeemed shall stand with the Redeemer before the throne of God. Then as the glories of the eternal home burst upon our enraptured senses we shall remember that Jesus left all this for us, that He not only became an exile from the heavenly courts, but for us took the risk of failure and eternal loss. Then we shall cast our crowns at His feet, and raise the song, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.’ Revelation 5:12.”
Even though our understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering will not be complete until we stand before the throne, inspired writings provide abundant insight into the suffering He experienced while paying the penalty for man’s sin. However, in providing that insight, there are occasional statements that, as stated earlier, provoke a bit of uncertainty on first reading.
Continuing with this statement from this testimony: “Christ consented to die in the sinner’s stead, that man, by a life of obedience, might escape the penalty of the law of God.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 200, 201
A question that might come to mind from this statement is: If one is obedient, why is there a need for Christ to die? By definition, obedience eliminates transgression. Doesn’t obedience to the law do away with the requirement for the second death?
Or perhaps one has progressed in the path of sanctification to the point of having achieved in his sphere the equivalent level of perfection that God possesses in His sphere. This principle is given in volume four of the Testimonies, 591:
“The perfection of God’s work is as clearly seen in the tiniest insect as in the king of birds. The soul of the little child that believes in Christ is as precious in His sight as are the angels about His throne. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ As God is perfect in His sphere, so man may be perfect in his sphere. Whatever the hand finds to do should be done with thoroughness and dispatch. Faithfulness and integrity in little things, the performance of little duties and little deeds of kindness, will cheer and gladden the pathway of life; and when our work on earth is ended, every one of the little duties performed with fidelity will be treasured as a precious gem before God.”
Even though this achievement may be the case with a given individual, it does not negate the fact that we are descendants of Adam and have inherited his sinful nature. This is made very clear at least a half dozen times in Romans 5, where Paul acknowledges that “by one man sin entered into the world.” (See Romans 5:12–21.) That one man, of course, was our first father, and as a child of Adam, having inherited his sinful nature, I have a sinful nature at birth, even though no sinful act would have been committed at that specific point in time. Paul confirmed the death sentence our inherited nature casts upon us in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote “… in Adam all die.” 1 Corinthians 15:22
Therefore, even though one may have achieved a certain level of sanctification, the sinful nature and corrupt heart for which an atonement must be offered remains.
There is another statement in the original testimony cited that provokes a question directly illustrating the value of salvation and the suffering that Christ endured:
“Taking human nature fitted Christ to understand man’s trials and sorrows and all the temptations wherewith he is beset.” Testimonies, vol. 2, 201
We concede that Christ is omniscient. That being true, should He not understand “man’s trials and sorrows and all the temptations wherewith he is beset” without having to experience them firsthand?
Common sense dictates that of course He knows. Then why did Christ have to take human nature? Was it solely so that He could gain an understanding of man’s condition? Perhaps it was so that man could know without doubt that Christ Himself experienced and therefore understands our temptations and sorrows, having experienced them Himself in His humanity.
One might be tempted to say that Christ never experienced the untimely death of a child, the sufferings of a beloved spouse, an overdue mortgage, or any of a myriad other trials, but He did indeed suffer physically and emotionally far more than any human ever will. It can be asserted that He experienced this suffering in both His humanity and in His divinity, and perhaps more in the latter. By God’s grace, anything that we might experience pales in comparison with the extreme physical, mental, and spiritual nature of Christ’s sufferings.
A clearer explanation of why Christ had to incur suffering is provided as we continue examining our subject testimony.
“Angels who were unacquainted with sin could not sympathize with man in his peculiar trials. Christ condescended to take man’s nature and was tempted in all points like as we, that He might know how to succor all who should be tempted.
“… As the sinless One, His nature recoiled from evil. He endured struggles and torture of soul in a world of sin. His humanity made prayer a necessity and privilege. He required all the stronger divine support and comfort which His Father was ready to impart to Him, to Him who had, for the benefit of man, left the joys of heaven and chosen His home in a cold and thankless world. Christ found comfort and joy in communion with His Father. Here He could unburden His heart of the sorrows that were crushing Him. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
“As the Son of God bowed in the attitude of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the agony of His spirit forced from His pores sweat like great drops of blood. It was here that the horror of great darkness surrounded Him. The sins of the world were upon Him. He was suffering in man’s stead as a transgressor of His Father’s law. Here was the scene of temptation. The divine light of God was receding from His vision, and He was passing into the hands of the powers of darkness. In His soul anguish He lay prostrate on the cold earth. He was realizing His Father’s frown. He had taken the cup of suffering from the lips of guilty man, and proposed to drink it Himself, and in its place give to man the cup of blessing. The wrath that would have fallen upon man was now falling upon Christ. It was here that the mysterious cup trembled in His hand.
“We can have but faint conceptions of the inexpressible anguish of God’s dear Son in Gethsemane, as He realized His separation from His Father in consequence of bearing man’s sin. He became sin for the fallen race. The sense of the withdrawal of His Father’s love pressed from His anguished soul these mournful words: ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.’
“The sword of justice was now to awake against His dear Son. He was betrayed by a kiss into the hands of His enemies, and hurried to the judgment hall of an earthly court, there to be derided and condemned to death by sinful mortals. There the glorious Son of God was ‘wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.’ He bore insult, mockery, and shameful abuse, until ‘His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.’
“Who can comprehend the love here displayed!” Ibid., 202–207
And who can truly comprehend the suffering of body, mind, and spirit endured by our Redeemer to provide sinful man an escape from the penalty of transgressing the law?
Truly, “Worthy is the Lamb.”
[All emphasis supplied.]
John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.