Wednesday, February 11

The significance of the events at Golgotha.....

"Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left." Matthew 27:38 "And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death." Luke 23:32

Throughout the world of Christianity, the familiar views of three crosses on a hilltop are symbolic of the death of our Savior and the two thieves that were crucified with Him on that fateful day. The latest diversion from what the meaning behind the symbology of the Cross. “Of this the cross to which [Christ] was nailed was a symbol, as the Apostle declares, ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, pp339-400

There are those who declare that the tradition of three crosses is incorrect and therefore we, as the brethren, must seek out the truth of what transpired that day, because God wants us to have the right symbology…..

Of course, it is the fact that other men have interpreted the Word of God to suit themselves, their theology, and their traditions that have created this 'devastating' error in the history of the church, according to the interpretation of these theologians. This verse is often quoted in reference to praying for leaders, not for support that in addition to salvation, God wants us all to seek after the Truth.

And, according to some theologians, there were not only two thieves upon the Golgotha hilltop that day but also two malefactors. They point to the accounts of Mark and Matthew as support for their declaration. They feel you must know exactly what the truth is about the accounting of bodies upon that hilltop otherwise you are not seeking after God’s will which is “not only that all men be saved, but also that they also come unto a knowledge of the truth.”

According to those who feel that such schematics about the Matthew and Luke accounts regarding the thieves and/or malefactors and how many there are is important, because "God wills not only that all men be saved, but also that they also come unto a knowledge of the truth. At least in their interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:4.

"My desire is, first of all, that you will make requests and prayers and give praise for all men; for kings and all those in authority; so that we may have a calm and quiet life in all fear of God and serious behavior. This is good and pleasing in the eyes of God our Savior; whose desire is that all men may have salvation and come to the knowledge of what is true. For there is one God and one peacemaker between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave himself as an offering for all; witness of which was to be given at the right time; And of this I became a preacher and an Apostle (what I say is true, not false,) and a teacher of the Gentiles in the true faith." 1 Timothy 2:1-7 BBE

If we expand our reading beyond the quotation of the verse 4, we see that Paul was speaking of praying for all men, kings, and authority figures because God desires that all know salvation and come into the knowledge of their Savior. Not knowledge of the subjective truth of how many was crucified upon Golgotha with our Lord.
But, those who stand against the tradition of three crosses say that the brethren face a quandary; either you continue to believe what you have been taught or you change your mind to bring your belief into alignment and harmony with God's Word.

There is no quarter given for the simple fact that the events upon the hilltop outside the city proper require 'correctness' about one thing; Jesus Christ was crucified and died, according to prophecy. Though the totality of the Good News doesn't end there, this is what we need to take away from the account. In that, there is no 'division' between Matthew's and Luke's account. Christ died upon the Cross.

In so far as God is concerned, He does expect us to test all things. In Lamentations 3:40, “Let us carefully examine our ways, and let us return to the LORD. “

“Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-21 NET.)

The Lord expects us to test all things (1 John 4:1), and see if they are of God. If they are of God, then we are to place them within our hearts. If they are not of God, nor advance us in the commission of the Gospel, then we are to discard them as fruitless endeavors of non-eternal significance. Let's not get distracted with doctrines and traditions in which God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are not the central theme.

"There is one Mediator, and that Mediator gave himself a ransom for all. And this appointment has been made for the benefit of the Jews and the Gentiles of every nation; that all who are willing may come in this way, to the mercy-seat of a pardoning God, to seek reconciliation with him. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is the Mediator who makes peace." Matthew Henry writes in his concise commentary on this opening to 1 Timothy, "He is a ransom that was to be known in due time. In the Old Testament times, his sufferings, and the glory that should follow, were spoken of as things to be revealed in the last times. Those who are saved must come to the knowledge of the truth, for that is God's appointed way to save sinners: if we do not know the truth, we cannot be ruled by it."

This seems to be a more fruitful endeavor in which to pursue Scriptural understanding, so that we can conform ourselves to the example set forth by Christ.

If you look at the Crucifixion as having to have certain elements in its physical makeup, then indeed you have a subjective outlook upon the whole and are missing the importance of what took place upon that hill in Jerusalem. You will be in a quandary…..for there will always be subjective opinions about the physical makeup of this event.

The Truth is simple: according to prophecy and the plan of God, Christ came to earth (fully God, fully man) and lived as a man for thirty-three years (give or take) and was crucified upon a cross for the sins of all mankind, and rose again (as prophesied) after three days.

In this theologian's effort in 'narrative development' there is a 'major' discrepancy in the biblical accounts of Matthew (who wrote to the Jews) and Luke. They point that there are many 'apparent contradictions' in the bible and one must have a real faith in the 'integrity of the Word' to overcome them.

So, were there more than three upon Golgotha that day?

Matthew states in verse 44 that "…the thieves who were on the crosses said evil words to him," apparently from both sides, as Matthew puts the two thieves on the right and left of Christ. Luke, in verses 39-40 of chapter 23, states that "two others, evil-doers [malefactors], were taken with him to be put to death," and placed on the right and left of Christ. This is the presentation of the first problem, easily explained by the 'assumption' that two were on either side of Christ, who was centered in this collection of human infliction of cruelty upon humans. But, if this was the case, why would Matthew and Luke ignore the two others who were in the image they endured?

What about John’s account, the only apostle to bear witness to the actual crucifixion? “Where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, and Jesus in the midst.” (John 19:18 DRB)

According to the proponents for more than three, the King James Version says "two thieves;" (Greek duo (two) lestai (robbers)). The Greek word for thieves is different, kleptes. So, they put forth that duo lestai were crucified with Jesus, but after an interim of time. And in the Luke account, the Greek form is duo kakourgol (malefactors). These malefactors were crucified at the same time as Christ.

Adam Clarke states “Matthew and Mark in the parallel places calls them robbers or murderers; they probably belonged to the gang of Barabbas.”

“All the Synoptists describe the character of the two who were crucified with Jesus,” the entry in Vincent’s Word Studies states, “Matthew and Mark, robbers; Luke, malefactors. All three use the phrase, one on the right, the other on the left, and so, substantially, John: on either side one. John says nothing about the character of these two, but simply describes them as two others.”

But, as the argument continues, either thieves (or robbers) revile Christ but only one malefactor in Luke’s account ‘rails on him’ whiles the other defends him. To me, it seems that Matthew's wording suggests that both of the criminals spoke harshly to him and one of them quickly changed his attitude toward Jesus, coming to his defense in the realization of who he truly was. Or since John and the women were the closest to Christ that the other people in attendance simply didn’t hear the exchange through the verbal lashing from the crowds?.

Another discrepancy within the Matthew and Luke accounts, according to these proponents, is that the ‘malefactors’ of Luke were taken with Christ to be crucified, while the thieves of Matthew were crucified after the casting of Christ’s garments.

According to what we know of historical accounts, crucifixions were one of the cruelest forms of death ever devised by man. Through the histories of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and Roman cultures, we can find a fairly accurate picture of what transpired.

The agonies victims were subjected to in the form of painful (and non-fatal) wounds, the strain of the abnormal positioning of the body where the slightest movement (lifting up with the feet to breathe) caused horrible pain, and the traumatic fever brought on by hanging for such a long time. Medical studies in our age have pieced together the reason for death from crucifixion; heart failure. The blood sinks rapidly to the lower extremities, dropping the blood pressure in half and doubling the pulse in a matter of six to twelve minutes inducing fainting due to the depravation of blood to the heart.

But victims did not die rapidly, succumbing to heart failure as long as three days after. To hasten death, the Romans practiced ‘crucifragium’, the breaking of legs.

If we look to the accounts for this factor, the crucifragium, we find in John’s account that only two pair of legs was broken, to conclude this vicious and brutal form of death before the start of the Sabbath.

“So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men who had been crucified with Jesus, first the one and then the other.” (John 19:32 NET.)

If we take into account the timing of a typical crucifixion, two to three days, unless the crucifiers broke the legs of the victims, we run into a problem. If the two malefactors of Luke were crucified with Christ, there is no accounting of them to the point of death. Only two pair of legs was broken, as Christ was dead before the soldiers took such action. If four other victims were crucified, regardless of the time frame, the soldiers would have broken four pair of legs to conclude death before the fall of the Sabbath period.

According to our proponents of four others in addition to Christ, the interlinear translation of Stephens Greek Text (the source of the King James Version translation), there is no corresponding Greek word for one, which is in brackets. This proves, according to them, that the Western Church was so indoctrinated with a three cross symbology by 1611 that the translators simply removed the brackets. Removing the ‘one’ inclusion, the verse reads, “Where they crucified him, and two others with him on both side, and Jesus in the midst.”

To bring into compliance the breaking of apparently four pair of legs, they simply conclude that the soldiers broke the legs of the first two on the one side of Christ and then carried out the same on the two on the opposite side.

They point to the Greek again in support, in the form of heteros and alios, which mean the same ‘other’ but are used in two different contexts. The usage of ‘other’ or alios in John’s account is said to be used when there may have been more than two involved. In Luke, the Greek form of ‘other’, or heteros, is used to count the malefactors who were led to crucifixion with Christ.

So, it could easily be four victims that were crucified at different times with our Savior and Lord. Or it could simply be an over thinking of the importance of the physics of the Crucifixion.

You do have a quandary, not whether you accept that there were two or four 'thieves" crucified that day at Golgotha by the Roman government. If your faith is based upon the number of victims killed with Christ, then the basis of your faith is grounded in the wrong place.

The significance of the two thieves' exchange about Christ stands as testimony to the two choices that we, as fallen and broken human beings, have to make. Accept that Christ, innocent and blameless, took upon the punishment of a thief for our sins. Or ridicule that sacrifice as improbable and proof that He was not the Son of God.

Matthew’s account brings to light the mockery made of the Kingly claim of Christ, which was the theme of his gospel; portraying Christ as the Promised Messiah of the Jewish nation. The crown of thorns, the scepter, and the title over the cross speak of this. He leaves us with a witness to the Kingly claim of our Lord.

Luke’s account brings to mind the accounting of Christ’s sacrifice. As two malefactors were being killed for their crimes, so every sinner must die to their sins to be saved. The closing of the Luke account declares “surely this was a righteous man” and supports the theme of his Gospel, that Jesus Christ was the Son of Man, victorious in the resurrection.

John’s account shows us the sacrifice and dual nature of Christ, that He was fully man and fully God---the only one capable of enduring such hatred for the uncompromising love of the Father. He declared, as only He could, “IT IS DONE!” John’s theme is amplified in his crucifixion account, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He died as a man, righteous and blameless, for the sins of all of us and as God, defeated death to rise again.

Does it truly matter whether we accept the tradition and doctrine of the three crosses atop Golgotha or declare those traditions in error, that four were brutalized and killed with our Savior? Or, by quibbling about the number of victims that day, do we detract and distract those baby souls who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice to the point of dismay?

God gave us a free will, and it is that free will those proponents of five victims that fateful day 2000 years ago say call us to consider the ‘truth’ of God’s word. To stop, as they put it, using the ‘traditional’ way of viewing the Bible from the outside to the inside and using the ‘truthful’ way of looking from the inside out. It is only when you grasp such a concept, they claim, that you can begin the discovery of God’s Word.

I would conclude that God inspired the writers of the Gospels to reach those He directed them to, recording in their own words and themes, the episode of the crucifixion so that a four dimensional picture would be created as those audiences progressed further in relationship with God and explored the other’s account of this pivotal moment in God’s redemption of mankind. And the importance of the Calvary story isn't in the amount of thieves and malefactors crucified, at any time, with Christ but rather the sacrifice of Christ upon the cruelest of mankind's invention of torture; the Cross. For that sacrifice makes mute the points of doctrinal differences that man creates.

“He is the head of the Body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18

Cornelius Tacitus, perhaps the greatest Roman historian, writes in his manuscripts The Annals, “Christus, from whom the name [Christians] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”

The Jewish historian, Josephus, in his writings Antiquities 18, writes, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure, He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

Lucian of Samosata, second century Greek satirist, mocked early Christians in his work: “The Christians . . . worship a man to this day--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, (Tertullian, as anglicized), was an early Christian writer and lawyer. He references a letter from Pontius Pilate regarding the crucifixion, in which the significance of the sacrifice upon the Cross is noted. "Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ's divinity…"

It is the divinity of Christ, and His ability to deliver the perfect sacrifice for the just punishment of sin, that is highlighted in the exchange of one's realization of His innocence and Christ's reply…."Today, you will be with Me in paradise….."

Maybe we should take from Tertullian's Apology the way to view the significance of the events on Golgotha and the traditions of the Church. "And as Christianity is nearly allied to Judaism, from this, I suppose, it was taken for granted that we too are devoted to the worship of the same image. But the said Cornelius Tacitus (the very opposite of tacit in telling lies) informs us in the work already mentioned, that when Cneius Pompeius captured Jerusalem, he entered the temple to see the arcana of the Jewish religion, but found no image there. Yet surely if worship was rendered to any visible object, the very place for its exhibition would be the shrine; and that all the more that the worship, however unreasonable, had no need there to fear outside beholders…… Then, if any of you think we render superstitious adoration to the cross, in that adoration he is sharer with us. If you offer homage to a piece of wood at all, it matters little what it is like when the substance is the same: it is of no consequence the form, if you have the very body of the god. …….The object of our worship is the One God,(4) He who by His commanding word, His arranging wisdom, His mighty power, brought forth from nothing this entire mass of our world, with all its array of elements, bodies, spirits, for the glory of His majesty; whence also the Greeks have bestowed on it the name of K osmos
. The eye cannot see Him, though He is (spiritually) visible. He is incomprehensible, though in grace He is manifested. He is beyond our utmost thought, though our human faculties conceive of Him. He is therefore equally real and great. But that which, in the ordinary sense, can be seen and handled and conceived, is inferior to the eyes by which it is taken in, and the hands by which it is tainted, and the faculties by which it is discovered; but that which is infinite is known only to itself. This it is which gives some notion of God, while yet beyond all our conceptions--our very incapacity of fully grasping Him affords us the idea of what He really is. He is presented to our minds in His transcendent greatness, as at once known and unknown. And this is the crowning guilt of men, that they will not recognize One, of whom they cannot possibly be ignorant. Would you have the proof from the works of His hands, so numerous and so great, which both contain you and sustain you, which minister at once to your enjoyment, and strike you with awe; or would you rather have it from the testimony of the soul itself? Though under the oppressive bondage of the body, though led astray by depraving customs, though enervated by lusts and passions, though in slavery to false gods; yet, whenever the soul comes to itself, as out of a surfeit, or a sleep, or a sickness, and attains something of its natural soundness, it speaks of God; using no other word, because this is the peculiar name of the true God. "God is great and good"--"Which may God give," are the words on every lip. It bears witness, too, that God is judge, exclaiming, "God sees," and, "I commend myself to God," and, "God will repay me." O noble testimony of the soul by nature Christian! Then, too, in using such words as these, it looks not to the Capitol, but to the heavens. It knows that there is the throne of the living God, as from Him and from thence itself came down. But, that we might attain an ampler and more authoritative knowledge at once of Himself, and of His counsels and will, God has added a written revelation for the behoof of every one whose heart is set on seeking Him, that seeking he may find, and finding believe, and believing obey."

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