Removing the Curse on Mankind
When “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4 NIV).
Jozef Siedleczka, Australia
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What do we feel when we think of the crown of thorns? Do we think as did the prophet Isaiah? “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:5-7 NIV).
Jesus always did the will of God (Psalm 40:8, 9). His goal was to be a sacrifice, to be obedient and a delight to his Father. He fulfilled all that God asked of him, including all the commandments and the Law. By fulfilling the Law he gained eternal life. He was prepared to be offered up as a sacrifice of redemption for all mankind who were under the death sentence. During Jesus’ life it was evident that the heavenly Father was with him, cared for him, and gave him strength. Why then did it appear that his Father left him when Jesus needed him the most? Why did he have to endure the difficult trials that came upon him?
Man Created in God’s Image
Adam and Eve were without blemish, as we read in Genesis 1:27, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God gave them life and placed them in Eden. However, it was His plan to prove Adam’s obedience and trust. God gave him a choice between life and death. The result of that choice was the sentence of God pronounced upon them. Their communion with God was broken. He took away His undiluted blessings and the earth was cursed for their sake. From the time of Adam’s disobedience, mankind was faced with hard work and an earth of thorns and thistles. “To Adam he said, Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17, 18 NIV).
As an inheritance from our first parents, all mankind has been separated from God and subject to death. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV). This severe sentence, the curse of death, from then until now produces its harvest: sickness, pain, and suffering. The evidence of God’s wrath has prevailed on earth for six thousand years and touches every person. “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NIV).
Because God is merciful, He established a plan of salvation for Adam and his descendants. This plan included a special promise for the seed of Abraham, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:18). Jesus Christ became the foundation of this plan. He is the firstborn and the head of this seed (Colossians 1:18). When God’s appointed time had come, the Logos left the heavenly realm and took on the glory and honor of a perfect human being. His life came from Jehovah God just as Adam’s did. This gave Jesus the ability to pay a corresponding price of redemption for Adam.
Divine justice demanded a corresponding price for Adam who sinned. Adam rebelled against God and was pronounced guilty. As a result, he was cut off from divine favor, with only a partial blessing as recorded in Genesis 3:15. He was cast out of Eden and God severed intimate communication with him. Jesus took the place of Adam so that all that was lost in him could be restored. The sacrificial life and death of Jesus not only redeemed the world, but gave the resurrected Jesus the reward of the divine nature.
Thus the first advent of Jesus accomplished two things: (1) it provided a ransom for Adam. Paul says that he “gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:6 NAS). It is here that our Lord worked for the benefit and recovery of the race condemned in Adam. (2) It fulfilled all the conditions of a covenant of sacrifice unto death during the 3½ years from Jordan to the cross. Because of his personal obedience and sacrifice, Jesus became the promised spiritual seed of Abraham and inheritor of the promise given to Abraham (What Pastor Russell Said, page 378).
Thus Jesus not only died on a cross, but he endured humiliation, disdain, and finally a crown of thorns placed upon his head (Matthew 27:29, 30).
Thorns Produced by Sin
Thorns appear as part of the curse that came through Satan’s influence over our first parents. “To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’ ” (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV).
From the time thorns first appeared, they have always been connected with sin and the curse upon mankind. Thus thorns became associated with the influence of Satan. From the point Satan entered human lives and confused God’s influence, thorns appear. “Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strongholds. She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls” (Isaiah 34:1, 13 NIV). Isaiah words are directed to Edom, or Christendom. Because of their disobedience, God would bring suffering upon them.
Likewise the nation of Israel received a similar consequences for disobedience. “In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. Hunters will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns. As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe, you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where sheep run” (Isaiah 7:23-25).
The same is true on an individual level. When man rejects God , thorns — unproductive and hurtful things — grow in his heart as a result of Satan’s influence. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9), Jesus said that the seeds which fell among the thorns were choked by them. Jesus identified the thorns as individuals dominated by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, all stimulated by Satan (Matthew 13:22).
Jesus also likened false teachers to thorns. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15, 16 NIV). Pastor Russell comments on this verse: “Some … like thorns-bushes … are continually reaching out to impede, to irritate, to annoy … and to injure, those with whom they come in contact” (Reprint 3747). The Apostle Paul links thorns to Satan as well: “Because of these surpassingly great revelations … I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV).
Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove this thorn in the flesh. But the Lord answered differently to his plea. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV). The thorn remained, but Paul became an overcomer (verse 10).
We, likewise, are tried by thorns in the flesh. What are these thorns? They are the weaknesses and infirmities that we must live with and fight each day. We must behave as did Jesus and Paul — resisting these to the time of our death. We are called on to give up our human desires daily (Luke 9:23). We are to sacrifice the flesh just as our Master did during his journey from Jordan to Calvary. Our sacrifices, however, are not to satisfy justice as was our Lord’s. He lacked nothing in his character. Divine justice was satisfied by his death. The Apostle Paul makes this clear, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12 NIV).
The Purpose of Our Sufferings Our sufferings are indispensable in developing the new creature into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:15, 16). Through these sufferings, we also enter into the communion of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). We can say, with Paul, “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). As long as we are in a covenant of sacrifice with God, we must continue to lay down our lives no matter the consequences.
Faithfulness to our covenant leads to our development into the image of Christ, and if successful, to the culmination of our hope: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NIV). In due time, if we become like Jesus in our character, then we will be like Jesus beyond the vail, share the same divine nature, and see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Let the words of Paul encourage us: “If we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us” (2 Timothy 2:12 NIV).
The End of Jesus’ Life
Jesus was arrested, illegally condemned, and judged. The Jews under Roman rule, however, could not hand down a final verdict of death. Therefore, they brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Satan used his power and influence over the people to speak out against the Son of God. Was it Satan’s influence that caused the soldiers to cut the branches from the thorn bush and fashion a crown of thorns to place on Jesus’ head? As we have seen, thorns throughout the scriptures are associated with Satan’s influence and power over fallen man. The crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head showed the apparent victory of Satan over Jesus. For a short time, it appeared to Jesus’ followers that he had not achieved victory over his enemies. Satan appeared to have power over him. But the reality is that Jesus bore the crown of thorns faithfully as a reminder that he will someday lift the curse upon the earth.
Satan appeared to conquer Jesus’ claim to be the son of God. Jesus was crucified and buried, but that was not the end. Our Lord was raised from the dead on the third day by the mighty power of God, and after forty days he ascended to God where he now intercedes on our behalf (Ephesians 1:19-23). But what about Satan?
After the resurrection of Jesus, Satan did not give up. He persecuted the Apostle Paul through a thorn of the flesh. Similarly, he tempts us through “thorns” in the flesh. However, the grace of God is sufficient for us to gain victory over Satan and his thorns. “Thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere (2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). Because of the faithfulness of our Lord, death has been swallowed up in victory, and we have freedom in Christ.
“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10 NIV). Satan will eventually be destroyed and his influence will disappear forever. No more will mankind be afflicted by thorns, and the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed” (Isaiah 55:13 NIV).
As those who have been blessed by Jesus’ sacrificial work, let us in thankfulness strive to walk in his footsteps. Let us control our wills. Each day let us take up our cross and deny ourselves. Let us look unto Jesus and follow him, because beyond the cross awaits eternal joy and a crown of glory.
Let us strive to mirror the example of the Apostle Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8 NIV).
Categories: 2017 Issues, 2017-March/April