Thus far in our analysis of Dr. Daane’s theory of “Unactualized Possibilities in the Counsel of God” we have seen with respect to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that Scripture regards it as a fact inevitably certain. We have seen particularly that the crucifixion was determined by God’s counsel from before the foundation of the world. We have seen that this certainty was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. We must now consider how Jesus looked at the Cross. Did he see it as one of a number of possibilities, anyone of which might actually become history? Or, did he see his “decease at Jerusalem” as the inevitable and inescapable conclusion to his life?
It becomes a matter of no little importance for us to discover, if we can, just how Jesus reacted to the truth so clearly enunciated by the prophets. Does he ignore what they have to say concerning the “Suffering Servant” or does he understand these prophecies and apply them to his own messianic character and work? In his consciousness of being the Messiah, does he realize, that what these prophecies say concerning him, are bound to be efficient with respect to him? Did he thoroughly realize in the midst of all his claims to messiahship that there was coming an hour in which he held a rendezvous with death, an inescapable appointment that was drawing inexorably closer?
It is difficult to see how there can be any adequate view of the messianic consciousness of Jesus which does not respond with an unequivocal “yes” to all these and all similar questions. Geerhardus Vos in his excellent work on the messianic consciousness entitled The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, says, “Whosoever acknowledges the historicity of the Messianic consciousness is thereby precluded from placing the prospect of death in Jesus’ mind in any other than a Messianic perspective. And a death Messianically viewed. cannot but acquire the character of absolute necessity with reference to the fulfillment of the Messianic program.” (p. 276, italics EZ). A few sentences later this learned author also says, “….the few references occurring during this earlier period (i.e. of Jesus ministry, EZ) arc explicit and chronologically fixed beyond doubt, so that every thought of non-presence of the expectation of death in the mind of Jesus, at least from a very early point, is excluded” (p. 277). That is, the expectation of death in terms of the messianic death is traceable in tho mind of Jesus to the very earliest days of his earthly ministry.
The truth of this claim is made evident in Jesus’ own teaching with regard to his messiahship. We note a very close correspondence between Jesus’ disclosure of his messiahship to his disciples and his disclosure of the messianic death to them. A typical occasion is that upon which Jesus elicits from Peter the confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This confession while linked very closely with the founding of the New Testament Church is also very closely linked with the death at Jerusalem. We read. “From that time began Jesus to show his disciples that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed and the third day be raised up.” It is at this point that Peter tries to dissuade him from such a course. Whereupon Jesus replies. “Peter, get thee behind me, Satan; thou art a stumbling block unto me: for thou mindest not the things of God but the things of men.” See Matt. 16:13–28. Thus our Lord unmistakably teaches that those who propose some other possible course than the one which leads to Calvary are the emissaries of Satan who mind not the things of God but the things of men.
This particular passage introduces to us the idea that Our Lord throughout his life was engaged in a process of consciously fulfilling the prophetic word of the Old Testament. There are a number of occasions upon which our Lord gives instruction to his disciples concerning his death at Jerusalem. The interested reader may note some of these occasions in parallel passages as follows. 1. Matt. 16:21–28, Mark 8:31–9:1, Luke 9:22–27; 2. Matt. 17:22, 23, Mark 9:30–32, Luke 9:43–45; 3. Matt. 20:17–19, Mark 10:32–34, Luke 18:31–34. When the reader examines these passages he will discover that on these three occasions the disclosure of his death is revealed in terms of the messianic title, Son of Man. On the first occasion, some of whose details we have already noted in the Matthew 16 passage, we find that the title, Son of Man, is linked closely with the vision recorded in Daniel 7:13, 14. It is the evident intent of our Lord to call attention to the fact that the Son of Man who will one day come upon the clouds of heaven with his holy angels in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy must in pursuance of that goal endure the messianic death. also in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. To quote Vas again. “This already implies the absolute necessity of what is to happen, since the Messianic program is from the nature of the case unalterably fixed” (p. 281, italics EZ).
In addition to these three occasions upon which Christ unites the messianic mission to Old Testament prophecy we ought to take note of a fourth occasion in Luke 22:37, “For I say unto you that this which is written must be fulfilled in me, And he was reckoned with the transgressors; for that which concerneth me hath fulfillment.” (For a discussion of the significance of the word must in a similar context the reader is referred to the author’s article in Torch and Trumpet for July–August, 1957, p. 26). Not only does this passage determine the applicability of the whole 53rd chapter of Isaiah to Christ, and not only does it certify that this prophecy will be fulfilled in the life and death of Christ, but it shows that its fulfillment is part of the conscious endeavor of Christ. As George Smeaton remarks in his work The Doctrine of The Atonement as Taught by Christ Himself (p. 81), “Our Lord in the exercise of his Messianic consciousness may be conceived of as living and moving in that sphere marked out for Him by type and prophecy.” It must be remembered that Jesus always regarded the prophetic word as expressive of the unchangeable will and purpose of God, at least insofar as that prophetic word related to the Messiah. And insofar as it was expressive of the will and purpose of God, it must be fulfilled. Hence we see that our Lord fundamentally relates his own suffering and death more immediately to the will and purpose of God than he does to the benefit of man. This is so clearly pointed out when he rebukes Peter with the words, “thou mindest not the things of God but of men.” Jesus assumed the burden of the Cross not first because he loved men but because he loved God. And because that death was indispensable to the redemptive purposes of God, it was regarded by Jesus as inevitable and inescapable. Thus the very thought of escape was repugnant to the mind of him whose meat it was to do the will of him that sent him. Any solicitation to escape that death was regarded by our Lord as a temptation coming straight from the depths of hell, a temptation to be resisted by all his holy power.
The fact of this self-conscious activity of Christ in fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies concerning him receives excellent corroboration from Jesus’ concept of “The Hour.” There was to his mind a climactic hour of history when the Son of Man would meet his decease at Jerusalem and in so doing would fulfill the purpose of God and secure the redemption of man. Not just any hour would do. Throughout his life there had been the consciousness that “His Hour” had not come. Thus, on occasion he eludes the hands of the people who would put him to a premature death. When at last he takes his final journey to Jerusalem, he says, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour” (Jn. 12:27). Here we see how keenly aware he was of the approach of his Hour. Then in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before the betrayal, he arouses the slumbering disciples with the words, “The hour is come.” Here now was the hour toward which he had set his face as it were to go unto Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); here was the hour of betrayal to which it had been determined that the Son of Man should go, but woe unto him by whom he is betrayed (Luke 22:22); here is the hour in which he actively works out the eternal decree of God and fulfills the Word of prophecy.
There emerges from this framework of scriptural teaching, a most important consideration, namely, what Jesus does in the fulfillment of prophecy and decree he does as a matter of personal, unfettered choice. The inescapable cross is also a chosen cross.
Dr. Daane alleges that it would be sheer determinism to say that there were no unactllalized possibilities in the counsel of God. Dr. Daane maintains that in order to hold to the historical, Reformed view of the freedom of the will we must grant that there are in the counsel of God equally realizable alternatives from which a man can choose. This would mean that with respect to Christ, to die or not to die the redemptive death of the Messiah are equally realizable alternatives in the counsel of God. According to the theory of Dr. Daane, if it were not so, Christ would be a mere puppet and history would be automation with a vengeance. But what could stand out in sharper relief in this present study than the fact that Jesus Christ was freely, consciously choosing to accomplish the will of God and fulfill the word of prophecy. There is not the slightest indication that he was ever conscious of some other purpose, some other possibility. Nor is there any indication that he ever thought of himself as living under any kind of outward constraint that kept him from doing what he wanted to do, or in any way made him act contrary to his own desire. The inescapable cross was always a chosen cross. For our Lord the boundaries of the realm of possibility were never thought to be solely determined by the inAnite power of God, but were as a matter of fact determined by that power as it was ever governed by the righteous, holy and most wise will of God. The question is not what God could do but what he has determined to do, not what he could bring to pass but what he has determined to bring to pass. All things are indeed possible in respect to the power of God, even the passing away of the cup of Christ’s suffering and death. It may be, however, that the cup referred to by our Lord in his Gethsemane prayer is not the cup of his suffering and death. In fact the conclusion that it is the cup of suffering and death is open to very serious question. But even if it should be so we must still remember that the passing away of that cup was impossible because God had willed otherwise and so our Saviour confesses when he says “nevertheless not my will be done but thine.” Admittedly the Gethsemane prayer is one of the most difficult of all scripture passages to interpret with honesty and consistency. But to resort to the rationalistic solution of the unactualized possibilities in the counsel of God with all its gruesome entn.il of unreformed concepts is a step which is unnecessarily drastic because it is ultimately destructive of all true theology, yea even of God, himself.
When due consideration is given to the scripturally declared counsel of God with respect to the cross, and to the expression of God’s unchangeable purposes as they are set forth in the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, and to the way in which Jesus is portrayed as consciously, sovereignly, freely fulfilling the decree and the prophecy, and to the fact that this fulfilling adds so many significant threads to the tapestry of his life as to make it virtually incomprehensible if they should be removed—when due consideration is given to all this, one is moved to sit in open-mouthed amazement at the thoroughly unbiblical suggestion that in the mind of Jesus Christ there lurked the thought that there was in the counsel of God some way of escape, that there was some wav of avoiding tIle Messianic death which would still be found to conform to the divine wiIl.
In a forth-coming article it will be necessary for us to investigate mare carefully Dr. Daano’s theory of human freedom which seems to lie behind and form the foundation for his concept of unactualized possibilities.