“Truly, truly, I say to you, He who believes on Me, the works that I do he shall do also, and greater works than these he shall do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12)
I remember walking out of the theatre after seeing “The Passion of the Christ” and hearing one man say, “No man could survive that.” My thought was, “Was he saying, as many believe, that it didn’t happen?” Or did he mean that Jesus was not a man and that He survived by His supernatural power? The answers to those questions have important implications for all of us.
To the first point, the idea that Christ’s passion did not happen contradicts the historical accuracy of the gospel accounts and classical Christian orthodoxy as revealed in the scriptures. It did happen. The veracity of the gospels has never been successfully challenged. In accord with standard literary tests of historical accuracy for ancient documents, the gospels are unparalleled both in terms of the volume of manuscript evidence and the proximity in time of the manuscripts to the actual events. Christ’s crucifixion is also verified by a number of extra biblical contemporary historians, most notably Josephus. Additionally, we must consider the cost paid by the gospel writers as evidence of the reliability of their work. Would all of them suffer torture and martyrdom for a lie, when all that they had to do was recant? Not a single one changed their account. We should reject the notion that Christ’s scourging and crucifixion did not happen. The scourging is recorded in Mt. 27:26-30. It was a fulfillment of what was prophesied and recorded by Isaiah in chapter 53 of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, written almost 700 years before Christ.
To believe that Jesus endured the cross simply because He is God is to believe a half truth. We must not forget that Jesus came as God in the flesh. Christian orthodoxy teaches that Jesus endured the limitations of a man. He was and is completely God and completely man. The Genesis prophecy of His birth was that Christ would be of the “seed of the woman.”(Gen. 3:15) John’s testimony was that Jesus is the “Word made flesh.”(John. 1:14) (Note that the original text is “the Word” not “a word” from the Greek “Logos”, meaning universal or unifying principle, being a reference to deity.) Jesus claimed that He only accomplished His miracles by the power of His Father, that is, not by His own power. (John 5:19) He referred to Himself as the Son of Man to emphasize his humanity. The book of Hebrews reminds us that He was “tempted as we are.” (He. 4:15)
We need to understand, theologically speaking, that in order to satisfying the sacrificial requirements of the second Adam (He. 2:14-18), Christ had to come as a man and lay aside the privileges of deity, as explained in Philippians 2:6-8: “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” His humbling was illustrated in washing His disciple’s feet at the last supper. In forfeiting the privileges of deity, He refused temptations to use supernatural power for His own selfish needs. He rejected Satan’s invitation to use supernatural power to legitimize His identity. He rejected the mocker’s plea to remove Himself from the cross.
Jesus had no sin nature to battle with. But His ability to survive the passion as a man is attributed to the indwelling Spirit of God. Thus, the second option is really a half truth. He did overcome by supernatural power, but not His own. What is important to us is that Jesus promised that same supernatural power to those who would believe in Him. By cleansing the filthy temple of our mortal bodies by His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus made a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God. Other men did survive similar torture. History is full of miraculous accounts of Christian martyrs. Jesus told His disciples they would drink of His cup of suffering. (Mt. 20:23) All were martyred but one. Paul survived being stoned and had been given up for dead. (Acts 14:19)
The Bible references the empowering, indwelling Holy Spirit as “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Jesus promised His followers that, “you will do greater things.” (John. 14:12) Jesus did many miraculous things and he promised that we would do greater things! Those great things can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible promises that we can “do all things through Christ.” (Phil 4:13) That requires surrender to God’s will and death to self interest. Jesus said, “Whoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:3)