Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.


One of the penalties imposed on man as a result of sin was that he would die. After the exile from the garden, Adam stumbled upon the limp form of his son Abel. He spoke to him, but Abel did not answer. Adam lifted Abel’s head, but it fell back limp; his eyes were cold and staring. Then Adam remembered that death was the penalty for sin. It was the first death in the world. Now the new Abel, Christ, slain by the race of Cain, prepared to go home. His Sixth Word was earthward; the Seventh Word was Godward. The sixth was the farewell to time; the seventh the beginning of His glory. He now prepared to return to the Father’s house and, as He did so, He let fall from His lips the perfect prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Again we see Christ’s respect for Scripture, for He was quoting Psalm 31:5. Here is Christ’s view of death. He implied that He was giving His life away in the certain hope of finding it again. He was choosing to die, purposefully depositing His life in heaven’s charge. The word “commit” meant to place something valuable in the charge of a friend. The Bible says that He “bowed his head,” which suggests resting one’s head on a pillow for sleep. The cross became God’s pillow; hence, Bernard of Clairvaux asks, “Who is He who thus easily falls asleep when He wills?”

What evidence is there that Christ’s death was voluntary or even intentional?


In His baptism, Jesus identified Himself with sinners, and, in His temptation, He refused to be deflected from the way of the cross. He repeatedly predicted His sufferings and death and steadfastly set Himself to go to Jerusalem to die there. His constant use of the word “must” in relation to His death expressed not some external compulsion but His own internal resolve to fulfill what had been written of Him. “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” He said. Then, dropping the metaphor, He said, “I lay down my life . . . No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17–18).

Moreover, when the apostles took up in their letters the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death, they used the very verb the evangelists used of His being “handed over” to death by others. Thus, Paul could write, “The Son of God . . . loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). It was perhaps a conscious echo of Isaiah 53:12, which says, “He poured out his life unto death.” Paul also used the same verb when he looked behind the voluntary self-surrender of the Son to the Father’s surrender to Him. For example, Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all.”

“Suddenly the gloom lifted from the cross, and in clear, trumpetlike tones, that seemed to resound throughout creation, Jesus cried, ‘It is finished.’ ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.’ A light encircled the cross, and the face of the Saviour shone with a glory like the sun. He then bowed His head upon His breast, and died. Amid the awful darkness, apparently forsaken of God, Christ had drained the last dregs in the cup of human woe. In those dreadful hours He had relied upon the evidence of His Father's acceptance heretofore given Him. He was acquainted with the character of His Father; He understood His justice, His mercy, and His great love. By faith He rested in Him whom it had ever been His joy to obey. And as in submission He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father's favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor” (The Desire of Ages, page 756).


On a human level, Judas gave Jesus up to the priests, who gave Him up to Pilate, who gave Him up to the soldiers, who crucified Him. On the divine level, the Father gave Him up, and He gave Him up to die for us. As we face the cross, then, we can say to ourselves both, “I did it; my sins sent Him there” and “He did it; His love took Him there.” The apostle Peter brought the two truths together when he said on the Day of Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23; see also 4:28). Peter thus attributed Jesus’ death simultaneously to the plan of God and to the wickedness of men.


The beneficial purpose of His death focuses on our reconciliation. The salvation He died to win for us is sometimes negatively portrayed as forgiveness or deliverance; at other times, it is positively portrayed as new or eternal life and peace. As a result of His death, He is able to confer upon us the blessing of salvation. But our guilt had to be removed before the gift of salvation could be bestowed. Christ’s death and our sins are thus related. And what is the link? Christ died for our sins. Death, then, is related to sin as its just reward (see Rom 6:23). As Peter says, Christ died for sins once and for all (see 1 Pet 3:18). Paul follows with the confident pronouncement that Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sins (see Heb 9:26). Death is the divine judgment on human disobedience. If death is the penalty of sin, and if Jesus had no sin, then could He not have gone straight to heaven and escaped death? No, He chose to come back to our world in order to go voluntarily to the cross. He insisted that no one would take His life away from Him; He would lay it down of His own accord. So when the moment of death came, it was His own self-determined act. “Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit My spirit.” This was affirming that Jesus Christ, who, being sinless, had no need to die, died our death, the death our sins deserved. As Horatius Bonar expressed it:

“Twas I that shed the sacred blood; / I nailed him to the tree; / I crucified the Christ of God; / I joined the mockery.”


The Seventh Word from Christ invites us to follow His example. Whenever anything alarms and distresses us, or even in the face of death, we can commit it to God in prayer, practicing the continual realization of His presence and sufficiency, and rest in Him. Why should we not be confident? Jesus has defeated all our foes, and now He lives to intercede for us! If Christ be for us, who can be against us?

“A debt of love I owe to Jesus, / He paid the debt I could never pay; / Now at His cross I bow in adoration, / And yield my all forever in His sway.”

Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.