12 May, 2018

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day XV—“[sustaining the wrath of God] all the time that he lived on earth …”

Q. 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered?”

A. That he, all the time that he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favour of God, righteousness and eternal life.


Q. 1. “It has been claimed, by some, that Christ only suffered the wrath of God ‘on the cross’ and not before. But the Catechism says that Christ was bearing God’s wrath ‘all the time that He lived on earth.’ So far, the only explicit Scripture text that I have found that comes close to supporting that phrase is John 1:29, where John the Baptist says ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (the key word here being ‘taketh’—which means ‘takes/taking’). Do you know of any other texts or arguments that support that phrase? Also, what about I Peter 2:24 (‘He bore our sins in His own body on the tree), and also Christ’s words on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (e.g. Matt. 27:46). Do not these texts imply that wrath was upon Christ only on the cross?”

Your question concerning the wrath of God is interesting. Of course, Jesus suffered the wrath of God all his life. The whole New Testament is proof. The Son of God coming into our “weakened nature” is already a proof in itself. The eternal and unlimited God in weakened human nature! If that isn’t suffering, I do not know what suffering is. In that human nature Christ suffered the rejection of the Pharisees and their repeated attempts to kill him. He suffered from his disciples’ inability to understand his coming into the world, their bickering about who was the greatest among them, and that in some of the Lord’s most trying times, the flight of his disciples to leave him, Peter’s denial of him, etc.
If you say that these things were not the wrath of God, you should consider that they were all heaped on him when he came into our flesh and because he dwelt among us as one like us in all things except our sins. They are suffering for us; why not for him who was like us? None of these things would have happened if he were not weak and frail as we are and needed the comforting of angels after his 40 days in the wilderness.
The interesting part of it all is that God said publicly, “Thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He experienced both all his life—wrath and favor together—but as the cross drew nearer, the consciousness of God’s favor grew weaker and the consciousness of God’s wrath grew stronger, until his suffering in the garden and his crucifixion itself. In fact there seems to be a moment when all he knew was God’s wrath when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And yet God was more pleased (if I may speak as a man) with Christ at that moment of complete abandonment than at any other time. But even his willingness to suffer God’s wrath was suffering when he did not understand God’s wrath on him. He had done no sin. He cried, “My God …” and “why” am I so completely abandoned by thee when I love thee?”
We must be careful we do not minimize Christ’s suffering. Do you really think that Christ thought all was well because he knew God’s favor and love for 33 years? And then, suddenly when the soldiers drove the first nail into his hand that suddenly he experienced God’s wrath? The Heidelberg Catechism is right on target. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko, 30/04/2018)


Q. 2. “How does Christ’s having a weakened nature and His sufferings in that nature, such as the rejection of the Pharisees and their attempts to kill him, the suffering of His disciples’ inability to understand His purpose and mission, and His anticipation and acceptance of what would happen to Him tell us specifically that God’s ‘wrath’ was upon Him before the cross, and, by extension, ‘all the time that He lived in earth’ (H.C., Q, 37)? Some have argued that all these things don’t necessarily mean there was wrath upon Him during those times, but rather that He was experiencing these things merely because He was ‘made like unto us in all things, except sin.’”

These sufferings were a direct consequence of his taking on our human nature. That in itself is so great a suffering we cannot fathom it. The infinitely divine became like us in all things except sin! He took our human nature on with all its limitations and weaknesses. He bore all our sicknesses and diseases, according to Psalm 103 and Isaiah 53. He wept when he knew Lazarus was dead. But above all, he knew that just as the wrath of God is God’s just punishment for our sin, when our Lord took our sin on himself—when he who knew no sin was made sin for us—he endured the wrath of God. All these things come on man because of God’s wrath. Wrath came also on Christ who “was made sin for us.” (II Cor. 5). That seems to me easy to understand. If he was made sin for us and if he bore our sins, and if he had a “weakened” human nature, the only reason could be that he bore all his life the wrath of God. (Prof. Herman C. Hanko, 07/05/2018)

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