The Passion of the Cross
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
We need not dwell upon the fearful events which immediately preceded the crucifixion. Suffice it to say that the Lord had been delivered into the hands of those who sought His life. From the day He had purged the temple they had plotted against Him, and the moment they had anticipated was come. With mock ceremony, therefore, they clothed Him in royal purple and placed a crown of thorns upon His head; and bowing before Him, they cried out, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews." (Matthew 27: 29; John 19: 3) Not satisfied with this, they took reeds and struck Him, and spat upon Him; and forcing Him to bear His cross they took Him out to a place called Golgotha where they crucified Him; and they set up over His head His accusation, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." (Matthew 27: 37)
To all after generations the Lord's suffering upon the cross has been a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over man's inhumanity to man. That is what it means to most men at this day. To all believing Christians, however, the passion of the cross has deeper implications, for it is the faith of the former Christian Church that by suffering death upon the cross the Son of God effected a reconciliation between the Father and a fallen race. The teaching is that the Son, by reason of His agony, placated the wrath of the Father who, for the sake of His Son, was from that time willing to forgive the sins of all for whom the Son would intercede. Hence it is held that the Lord's passion was an act of redemption; that is, an act by which all who believe in Him are saved. (TCR 132)
The passion of the cross, however, was not an act of redemption. It was an act of glorification. There is a difference, and the difference is basic to an understanding of the event. For man is not redeemed because the Lord came into the world and sustained the agony of the cross; but man may be redeemed because the Lord came into the world and by means of temptations admitted into Himself, glorified His Human and made it Divine.
To understand the passion of the cross we must know that it was not an isolated instance of suffering in the Lord's life on earth, but that it was the last, and the most severe, of the temptations which He endured. (AC 1690) Hence the teaching of the Writings that from His earliest childhood even to the last hour, the Lord was afflicted by grievous temptations. Yet men say, How could this have been so? Can the Divine be tempted? The answer is that when in states of glorification, that is, when He entered into communion with the Divine, He could not be tempted; but when His perception was obscured by fallacies and illusions derived from the infirm human He was tempted. (AC 2795) Were this not so why would the Scriptures bear record of His temptations in the wilderness, His agony in Gethsemane, and the passion of the cross?
But the Lord was not tempted as man is tempted, that is, by delight in evil. This is unthinkable, for evil can in no sense be predicated of the Divine. Hence we are told in the Writings that "in the Lord there was not any evil that was actual, or His own." (AC 1444) Further, we are, told that when the Lord entered into the perception of the evil into which the human race had fallen it "struck Him with horror," and this to the extent that "He willed to withdraw from the perception and [from all] derivative thought." (AC 2222) For such as the love is, such is the man, and only the Divine love can be predicated of the Lord.
To understand the nature of the Lord's temptations, therefore, we must first understand that there are two kinds of spiritual temptations: temptations as to good, and temptations as to truth. That He could not be tempted as to good is apparent because from the Divine love He willed only what is good; but when His perception from the Divine was obscured by appearances induced by the hells upon the infirm human He could be tempted as to truth. (AC 2813, 2814) Concerning this the Writings state that it was "truth Divine bound," that is, truth bound by human appearances by which the Lord was tempted; (AC 2814) for in such truths "there are fallacies, and . . . falsities which break in . . . and tempt . . . [man]," (AC 2813) that is, insinuate doubts concerning the end in view. This is the peculiar power of evil - the power to incite a doubt concerning the end in view.
The Lord had come into the world in order that He might open the way of salvation to all men. Yet the appearance was that so great was the evil into which man had fallen that none could be saved. This was the appearance by which the Lord was so cruelly afflicted; for what is a temptation but an affliction of the spirit, that is, "an assault upon the love in which the man is. (AC 1690) What is more, the Writings observe that "the temptation is in the same degree as the love." (Ibid.) How great, then, were those temptations which the Lord endured from earliest childhood even to the passion of the cross! From the Divine love He willed that the way of salvation should be open to all, but this was the issue which the hells put in doubt. Were this not so why would He have cried out in agony, "My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27: 46) In this He was tempted beyond all mortal comprehension, for the appearance was that those whom He had come to save from bondage to evil were lost. This was the appearance by which He was afflicted, and this was the passion of the cross.
Thus it is that although we cannot comprehend the severity of the Lord's temptations, we can, by way of analogy, understand the issue involved. For in the life of regeneration man, too, is tempted. For what are temptations but an attack upon the love in which a man is. Hence the Writings speak of natural and of spiritual temptations, the nature of the temptation being determined by the nature of the love which is attacked. Natural temptations, therefore, are said to be anxieties arising from the loves of self and the world, that is, from the fear of the loss of honor, reputation and gain. So the natural man resists any attack upon self as an attack upon his life, and suffers in the degree that self is deprived. (AC 847, 8164) It is otherwise with the spiritual man in that his primary concern is not for self but for others. It follows from this that spiritual temptations, as distinguished from natural temptations, are assaults upon the truths of faith which a man believes in his heart and according to which he loves to live. (HD 196) When this love is assaulted, therefore, man not only suffers from doubts concerning the truths of faith, but also from doubts concerning salvation. In such states man comes to know the meaning of despair and the fearfulness of the illusion which the hells induce upon the human mind.
We are living today in a society in which many have rejected the idea of God as an untenable thesis. The impact of their thinking is evident not only in modern philosophy, but also in the gradual erosion of moral principles and social ideals. Through almost every medium of communication our minds are subjected to doubts concerning the truth of the Word. Yet when we enter into temptation, that is, when we are afflicted by doubts that are insinuated into the mind through the thought of the world, "be not faithless, but believing," (John 20: 27) for as the Lord said to His disciples, "I have overcome the world." (John 16: 33)
It was for this purpose, that is, that He might overcome the world, that the Lord assumed the human from the mother, and by way of the infirm human admitted into Himself those appearances of self-life by which man is afflicted. As man He sustained the most fearful temptations that the hells could induce, and as Divine Man He rose again on the third day. This is the testimony of the Writings concerning Him, and it is they which at this day bear witness to the truth of His Word. For apart from the spiritual sense of the Word, the Word in its letter cannot be understood.
When we think of the passion of the cross, therefore, our thought is not bound by the scriptural emphasis upon the physical sufferings of Christ. Yet in this connection it is to be noted that the Writings state that physical sufferings, which are natural temptations, are frequently conjoined with spiritual temptations. "Such," they say, "was [the nature of the Lord's] temptation in Gethsemane, and when He suffered the cross, which was the most frightful of all." (AC 8164) When understood in this way, that is, when the Gospel account of the Lord's passion is seen and perceived in the light of the doctrine, we can understand the issue involved in the Lord's temptations,, and why it was that "it behooved Christ to suffer." For by means of temptations which He admitted into Himself, He opened the way of salvation to all who in freedom, seek Him in His Word.
-New Church Life 1971;91:148-151