The Manner and Time of Christ's Death
The Jewish leaders planned Christ's death but they had no power to make it death by crucifixion. The angry mob at Nazareth tried to throw the Lord over the cliff (Luke 4:29) and the outraged men of Jerusalem wished to stone Him (John 8:59 & 10:31), but in both cases He was miraculously delivered. It was not yet time for Him to die, which was important, but what was much more important, that was not to be the manner of His death.
A thousand years earlier, the psalmist had foretold the pierced hands and feet (Psalm 22:16), and had also prophesied of the suffering and prolonged exposure to shame which were to be the lot of God's chosen Servant. Hanging was not normally a Jewish method of execution. It was not unknown, for in anticipation of this dreadful happening a Mosaic decree had stated that there was a special curse involved in death by hanging (Deuteronomy 21:23). But this was something more than hanging. A particularly shameful method of leaving men to die in long drawn out agonies and with pierced hands and feet such as is described in the prophetic psalm was only introduced when the iron rule of Rome spread over the world.
It was not within the power of Jewish rulers to prescribe crucifixion, yet from the beginning Jesus had affirmed that He was to be "lifted up" (John 3:14) and in His last visit to Jerusalem, after members of the Greek world had asked to see Him, He actually explained the kind of death He was going to die with a phrase about being "lifted up from the earth" (John 12:32-33). His executioners, then, had to be Romans. No one else could put a man to death in this diabolical fashion. So the first miracle associated with His crucifixion is that it was carried out just as had been explained in ancient Scriptures, even though the agents of it were completely ignorant of those prophecies.
Before we proceed to consider further details about the manner of Christ's death, perhaps we should pause to marvel at its perfect timing. So far as prophecy was concerned this was decided by the initial Passover which took place almost 1,500 years before. All through the centuries this special day in the year had been marked out as the time when Israel's redemption depended on the sacrifice of a lamb. With the advent of the Lord Jesus this matter was cyrstallised by John's announcement: "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:29). It was clear, therefore, that if Jesus were to be sacrificed, it must be at the time of the Passover. This might not have been so difficult if the plotting priests had not decided that this was the one date when they did not intend to kill Him. They came to a unanimous and final decision that they would avoid possible clashes with an indignant and hostile crowd by postponing their murderous assault until after the feast, when the large crowds would have left the city and returned to their homes (Matthew 26:5). In view of Christ's popularity over the raising of Lasarus and their dismayed sense that the whole world had gone after Him (John 12:19), they agreed to let the Passover period pass before they had Him killed. What caused their change of plan? They had said, "Not during the feast", but the Scriptures demonstrated that it had to be just then. Here was the miracle. They judged it best to wait but God's Word, which cannot be broken, made it clear that this was the time, so the cunning schemers had to go back on their decision. And if we ask who was the human instrument used by God to bring about this change of plan, the answer is: Judas Iscariot!
'Judas!', we may well exclaim, 'Can Judas have served God's interests?' The answer is that all things are God's servants. He often uses good men, but He can as easily use bad men if that is necessary for His purposes. It seems quite plain that in the last days Jesus kept His movements hidden from the public eye. Nobody knew where He could be found. Judas, however, rightly sensing that Jesus Himself was now expecting to die and would not resist or avoid arrest, hurried off to the priests and demanded his price for facilitating a quick and secret betrayal. Did he first take the band to the Upper Room? He may well have done so, but by then they had left. He was not baffled, though, for he well knew the private sanctuary of Gethsemane and was able to take the soldiers there.
It is a tragic story. And yet it was a triumph for the will of God since, contrary to all the plans of the priestly party and in spite of the attempts of Pilate to avoid or delay the execution, the Lamb of God was offered for the redemption of God's people at the very moment of the very day which prophecy had indicated. God's timetable was observed to the very hour, even though it had waited for a thousand years for that hour. It was an amazing miracle. God is strong enough and wise enough to make even a treacherous Judas contribute to His perfect plans. If we wish to speculate, we may ask what would have happened if Judas had never been chosen, or had been sent away in disgrace by his outraged Master. Would it have meant that there could be no hasty and last-minute alteration in the plans of the Jewish leaders? God left it very late. He often does. But He is always right on time. It is idle, therefore, to speculate. All we can do is to wonder and worship. And may we not be encouraged by this to believe that in our case, too, God will always overrule men's folly and malice for the perfect realisation of His will in our lives, and that while He may leave the margin very close He will always be on time?
-excerpted from Toward the Mark Vol. 8, No. 4, July - Aug. 1979