I may here notice another saying of Christ...containing ... a deep significance, which can only be apprehended when we read it in connection with Christ's suretyship or representative character. He said, before leaving the upper room, where He celebrated the last supper: 'This that is written of Me must yet be accomplished in Me, And He was numbered among transgressors' (Luke xxil 37). Now, are we to regard this remark of Christ, which embodies a quotation from Isaiah's prophecy, as containing nothing more than a description of the opinion entertained by men respecting Him? Does it mean that He was treated as if He had been a transgressor, or in a way which might have led a hasty observer or an undiscerning spectator to conclude that He was, or might be, a transgressor? No; by no means. Our Lord plainly takes the words in all their fulness of significance. He uses them not as denoting a mere as if, but as descriptive of the real sentence due to transgressors, and of the doom or punishment consequent on that righteous sentence carried out against transgressors. That is the meaning of the words; and the rationale is supplied by the fact, that the expression occurs in a chapter which, beyond doubt, predicts the vicarious sufferings of Christ, and repeats again and again the great thought, 'that He bore the sins of many' (Isa. liii.). No candid interpreter, interpreting simply by language, can have any other impression than this, that the righteous servant there named delivers many by a vicarious atonement. And Jesus, by quoting this statement as awaiting its accomplishment in Himself, manifestly applies that whole chapter of Isaiah to His own sufferings and death. We can interpret our Lord's words only in the sense that He was to be judicially numbered among transgressors, that is, numbered agreeably to the execution of a judicial sentence with transgressors. When Mark applies the same quotation to the position assigned to Christ between the two thieves at His crucifixion (Mark xv. 28), he brings out its meaning in all its compass of allusion. But He by no means excludes the preparatory stages of its accomplishment, or that which preceded the fact adduced as its fulfilment. The words, 'He was numbered with transgressors,' were accomplished not only when He shared a common lot with the malefactors, but also in all that preceded the erection of the three crosses on Golgotha, and, in fact, from the moment of His delivery into the hands of men. It was thus a judicial numbering of Christ with transgressors.
(1) The ARREST of Christ in the garden as if He were a criminal was the first step to the accomplishment of the prediction ('He was numbered among the transgressors'). He was there treated as a seditious man and as a malefactor in the room of us sinners, who had forfeited our freedom. We are evil-doers in so far as our relation to the city of God is concerned, that is, men who had renounced their dependence and allegiance, and who acted in all things as disobedient subjects. That arrest by the hand of justice was a real transaction at the hand of God, — was, in fact, the arrest of the guilty criminal in the person of the representative. And if the veil had been drawn aside, it would have been seen that all this was in the room of the sinner who should have been so apprehended. This is a real, not a symbolical transaction. And if the representative is seized, they whom He represented must go free. There is such a meaning in our Lord's words: 'Let these go free' (John xviii. 8). Our Lord deeply felt, indeed, the rude arrest in His tender human feelings when He said: 'Are ye come out as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take Me?' (Mark xiv. 48.) But He well knew, that though personally sinless, He was there in the room of sinners, and that the officers, acting as the ministers of God, seized Him as the sinner should have been seized. But, at the same time, to show how little human power could have prevailed against Him, unless He had given His consent, it was deemed fitting to let out some display or outbeaming of His majesty; and the utterance of the simple words, 'I am He,' prostrated the officers and band to the ground (John xviii. 6). Though innocent of the charge of sedition and blasphemy on which He was ostensibly arrested, His people were not; and hence He must needs be seized and bound in His capacity as the sinner's representative. When we see the Son of God bound in chains, what does the transaction exhibit but the captivity consequent upon our sin, which He had made His own, or the chain binding the sinner to the judgment of the great day? His arrest is His people's liberty; His bonds are their release.
(2) Not to mention all the intermediate points in the successive steps of Christ's sufferings, we shall notice, next in order, His TRIAL AND SENTENCE BEFORE THE ECCLESIASTICAL COURT, on the charge of blasphemy. In this whole transaction, when sentence of death was pronounced by the high priest, we have but the visible part of the great assize. He must, as the substitute of sinners, be found innocent, and yet made guilty, — be proved personally spotless, and yet be treated by the sentence given as one who was to be regarded as officially worthy of condemnation. And this anomalous trial brings together at all points these two things. The sentence by which He was condemned only indicated or announced the sentence passed by God upon the sin-bearer. The accusation on which He was tried in the Sanhedrim, AS brought against us, is not false. Moses accuses us, that the revelation given in the name of God has been disregarded and despised, and that the divine perfections have only been blasphemed by us. The accusation is so true and so undeniable, that there is no need of witnesses. The representative of sinners in His official capacity is silent, and puts in no plea in arrest of judgment. But His personal innocence must be apparent. And it was only His own true declaration of what He was as a divine person which brought down on Him, in lack of other evidence, the sentence that He was worthy of death. He thus appears personally innocent, but representatively guilty; and unless we carry with us these two ideas as the key to the whole trial, the narrative will be inexplicable, and the fact in the moral government of God an impenetrable mystery. That earthly court, dealing with the charge of blasphemy, or dishonour to the name and works and word of God, sentenced the sinner's surety, and pronounced upon our sin, much in the same way as the shadow on the sun-dial registers the movements taking place in another sphere. He was personally innocent; but as He stood there for us, He was truly chargeable with all the accusation which was then adduced. His silence at that tribunal opens our mouth to cry, 'Abba, Father.'
(3) The MOCKERY, the shame, and the indignity to which He was subjected, constituted the next part of His vicarious suffering. They were undeserved by that meek and patient sufferer, but well merited by us, in whose name He appeared, and whose person He bore. The wicked 'shall rise to shame and everlasting contempt' (Dan. xii. 2). And from that merited scorn due to sinners from all holy beings the sinless substitute was not exempt. He hid not His face from shame and from spitting.
(4) Omitting the desertion of His disciples and the denial of Peter, we advance to the next public act in connection with Christ's sufferings, — the trial and condemnation at the bar OF THE ROMAN GOVERNOR, ON A CHARGE OF REBELLION OR SEDITION. This is very much of the same kind with the trial before the high priest upon a charge of blasphemy, and is to be considered in a similar light. The course of our Lord's sufferings may with advantage be traced, as we have already done, on the sinner's history, and read off from it. The surety encountered, at each successive step, what should have taken place in the history of man's relation to God. For the very same relations, and not merely analogous ones, were occupied by the surety when He was tried and sentenced and condemned. It is note worthy that at Pilate's bar Jesus was silent (Matt. xxvii. 14). The explanation is to be found in the fact, that though personally sinless, He really, and not nominally, occupied the sinner's place. Hence the silence. He puts in no plea in arrest of judgment or in self- vindication. He was there not in His personal capacity, but in His official capacity, as the representative of sinners and the voluntary sin-bearer. He has nothing to adduce in extenuation or in exculpation, since every mouth must be stopped, and the whole world become guilty before God. He accepts the charge of guilt; and as the doom is the sinner's, not His, He submits to it as merited. When Pilate wished to deliver Him, if Jesus would only be aiding in His own defence, the Lord continued silent before His accusers, amid all the accusations adduced against Him. He was then making a real appearance at the bar of God, of which that earthly court of justice was but the foreground. He was personally innocent, and officially guilty. Hence His silence.
We must notice this anomalous trial specially in connection with the fact that He was sentenced as guilty while pronounced innocent. The examination of the judge was meant to serve the important purpose of manifesting the innocence of Jesus. And the startling fact, that a judge pronounces Him innocent, but condemns Him as guilty, must be historically brought about in the adorable providence of God, in order to exhibit the personal and the official in the Lord Jesus; or, in other words, to discover the sinless one and the sin-bearer. No man could more emphatically testify to Christ's innocence than Pilate. He had examined the accusations; he had heard all that the witnesses could adduce against Him, and was perfectly informed of everything in the case; and five times he declared that he found no fault in Him. This was done, too, in public, before His accusers, and in the presence of the vast multitude. And, not content with that public announcement, he, when he yielded at last to the clamour for the crucifixion, confirmed his judicial testimony to His innocence by the significant symbolical action of washing his hands, and declaring that he was innocent of the blood of that just man. It was fitting that all this should be done by a judge, and from the judicial bench, that Christ's innocence might be made apparent; and next, that the inference might be drawn that the doom of the guilty was transferred to Him as standing in a vicarious position. Thus He was personally innocent, though He was by no means to be accounted so in that official and vicarious capacity, in which alone He stood at Pilate's bar. There is no way of elucidating that anomalous trial, which went through the due forms of law, unless we hold that He was truly innocent, but officially guilty.
(5) The last step of Christ's sufferings, the crucifixion, immediately followed the sentence of Pilate. The intermediate details, such as the mockery, scorn, and indignity inflicted on Him in many forms, we shall omit; though these, too, were vicarious, as appears from the words, 'by His stripes we are healed.' We shall omit, too, the Lord's words to the daughters of Jerusalem when they wept for Him tears of sympathy, as He toiled along the public way under the burden of the cross, — tears which, He shows them, were out of place as shed for Him. We shall limit ourselves to the crucifixion itself and to the closing acts of His life.
The crucifixion, a Roman mode of punishment, was not only peculiarly painful and ignominious in the sight of man, but was meant to indicate the amazing fact, that Christ, by being suspended on the tree, was made a curse. The words of Moses quoted by Paul are express to this effect (Gal. iii. 13). The Lord Jesus was thus, personally considered, the beloved Son and the sinless man, but, officially considered, the curse-bearer in the room of sinners. The Son of God, truly bearing sin with a view to condemn it in the flesh, was exhibited as made a curse by the very fact of enduring this punishment. We have thus to draw the same distinction, as we already mentioned, between Christ considered personally and Christ considered officially. If there ever was a spot where sin could be laid without entailing the inevitable doom of a righteous condemnation, it was here when it was borne on the sinless humanity of the incarnate Son; and we see that even there sin was condemned in the flesh and righteously visited. The surety was tried, sentenced, condemned, and made a curse for us, that we might not come into condemnation.
During those awful hours on the cross when made a curse for us, the Lord Jesus sustained that desertion, which was just the endurance of the death of the soul, when sin separates between God and the soul, and when God hides His face from us. To this it is not necessary to refer further, after what was said in the previous section. The actions of the Lord Jesus when He hung on the cross, were in the highest degree momentous and significant. These expiatory sufferings, 'an offering and sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour' (Eph. v. 2), were so efficacious, that they were made the ground of two signal displays of grace, even while He was on the cross. The one of these was the salvation of the dying malefactor, who was made an eminent trophy of His redemption work, and was enabled to recognise Him as a sufficient Saviour, even in that deep abasement and humiliation. The other was the prayer for forgiveness to His crucifiers, whether we regard the scope of the prayer as comprehending the individuals then before Him, or as extending to the preservation of the Jewish nation.
After these hours of inconceivable sorrow and desertion on the cross, under a darkness which just resembled the blackness awaiting the lost, the Lord felt that His work was accomplished; and He gave utterance to that saying which has brought light, rest, and liberty to so many minds: 'It is finished' (John xix. 30). He meant that the expiatory sufferings had reached their climax, and were sufficient, that the guilt of mankind was fully atoned for, and that there was nothing left undone. He felt that God and man were reunited and reconciled; and now He had but to resign His spirit into His Father's hands. As priest and victim, He had only now one act to perform, — to lay down His life by the priestly act of commending His spirit to God. Nature was not exhausted, nor did life ooze away; for He still had power over His own life, and no man took it from Him (John x. 18). After having done all and endured all, He deemed it fitting, without more delay, to resign His life or spirit into His Father's hand as an acceptable sacrifice. It was the High Priest offering up His soul to God that said, 'Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.' And He uttered it with a loud voice, to show that strength still remained in Him, and that, by His own authority, He released the spirit from the lacerated and wounded body.
The curse was, 'Thou shalt die;' and now it was exhausted, and sin annihilated. Now heaven and earth were reunited; God and man were at one again.
George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement as Taught by Christ Himself