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Humiliation of Christ

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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HUMILIATION OF CHRIST

1. Incarnation.—Jesus Christ is a problem. And yet He is not so much a problem as man would be without Him. Indeed He is, in a true sense, the solution of the problem of man. Nevertheless, to the intellect, demanding that everything in the heavens above and on the earth beneath be reduced to ‘the measure of man’s mind,’ He remains a problem. The expressions of His consciousness of pre-existence constitute one of the chief elements of that problem. But, taken in connexion with two facts of His history, even this aspect of His person is not so dense a problem as when it is considered by itself. These two facts are (1) the expressions of His self-consciousness, direct and incidental, as to His relation to God on the one hand, and to total humanity on the other; and (2) His effects in the world and on the world. Even the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, when taken in connexion with these two outstanding facts, is, on the whole, a less problem and a smaller difficulty than the world of humanity would be without Him.

Furthermore, it would be more difficult to believe that a being who had the consciousness that Jesus had, who has done for humanity what Jesus has done, and who is to humanity what Jesus is, should have had the absolute beginning of His existence at a late point in time, than to believe that He came out of eternity and is of the eternal order. In other words, assuming and accepting the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, mystery though it be, it is easier to understand His unique earthly history, His character, His consciousness, His revelations, His work, His actual effects on the world and on men, both in the past and at the present, than it would be without that assumption. At all events, He has in several instances expressed the consciousness of having existed in a previous state before His advent into this world (John 3:13; John 6:62; John 8:58; John 16:28; John 17:5; John 17:24). This pre-existent state was one of intimate association and intercommunion with God and participation in the glory of the Eternal Father. It is also one of the underlying presuppositions in St. Paul’s Epistles (1 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 8:9, Philippians 2:5-8, Colossians 1:15-17). It is found also in an original setting in Hebrews (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Now, whatever may be the meaning of these great passages, whatever the pre-incarnate riches and glory of Christ, He voluntarily submitted to the surrender of the resources of a Divine state for the lowliness of a human lot and the extreme of human poverty, and to the relinquishment of His equal participation in the Divine glory in exchange for the nethermost depth of human humiliation. Exactly what was involved in His self-humiliation from the Divine to the human is treated specifically under the articles on Pre-existence, Kenosis, and Incarnation. Confining our attention, then, in this article to His earthly history, we find that His whole life, His entire sojourn on earth, was a humiliation. His incarnation was but the first stage in His humiliation, which continued by a deepening descent to the very end of His earthly life. His whole career in this world was a protracted humiliation or succession of humiliations between the humiliation of His incarnation and the humiliation of His crucifixion. It is worthy of note that the words of St. Paul, ‘he humbled himself’ (in Philippians 2:7), refer to experiences of His earthly life and not to the process of His incarnation.

2. His earthly life to the assumption of the Messianic mission.—The circumstances of His birth were most painful. It occurred, not in the sheltered privacy, and amid the comforts, of home, but while His mother was on a humiliating and painful pilgrimage, and among the feeding beasts, surrounded by the filth of a stable, and possibly under the observation of strange and uncouth men. But the child Jesus was not a year old before He became the object of jealousy and persecution, and had to be taken on a long and painful journey into a foreign land to save His life—a baby fugitive on the face of the earth. Showing at the age of twelve a wisdom which astonished the wisest men of the nation, and which would have secured for Him recognition, position, power, and renown, He yet willingly returned to the obscure and humble home at Nazareth; and there for the space of nearly twenty years He submitted Himself, day after day, to the control of two plain peasant people, and to the occupation and drudgery of common manual labour.

3. Humiliations of the Messianic ministry.—He knew from the beginning what the Messianic mission meant and how it would end. It was not to Him an honour to be enjoyed; it was a burden to be borne. It cost Him a struggle to submit and adjust Himself to that which He knew was so fraught with difficulty, persecution, humiliation, loneliness, suspense, and suffering, ending with the final agonies and the death of abandonment and shame. This is the reason why He needed—and received—the expression of His Father’s approval at the moment of His self-dedication to the work of Messiah (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22). This was the meaning of His temptation in the wilderness. This was why at the sharp turning-point in His ministry, when He looked out on the dark and lonely way of obedience unto death and deliberately chose to walk in it alone, He needed again—and again received—the assurance of His Father’s recognition, approval, and sympathy (Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35).* [Note: See chapters on the Baptism, the Temptation, and the Transfiguration in the present writer’s Son of Man.] It was the burden of the Messianic task that made Him, beyond all men, a man of sorrows. More than once we are told that He wept; but never that He laughed. Almost from the beginning of His ministry He was looked on with jealousy and suspicion by the powerful leaders of the people, from whom He had a right to expect encouragement and support. They kept a watch on Him, they found fault with Him, they misconstrued His actions, they perverted His sayings, they dogged His steps, they nagged Him at every turn, they accused Him of being a law-breaker, a blasphemer, an impostor, a lunatic, a demoniac, an emissary of the powers of darkness (Luke 11:15). They laid plots to catch Him and to kill Him; and they never ceased until they succeeded. Not only so, but little by little He lost His early popularity and was abandoned by the people. He came to those whom He had the right to claim as His own; they refused to receive Him, turned against Him. His personal ministry was comparatively a failure, and He practically an outcast. He did not even have a refuge among the friends of His youth, the people of His old home at Nazareth. They also turned against Him, rejected His claims, drove Him out of their village, made a desperate attempt to kill Him (Mark 6:3, Luke 4:28). The members of His own family failed to understand Him, refused to accept Him, were alienated from Him (John 7:3). Probably they thought Him either a fanatic or a fraud. Probably on account of His strangeness and growing unpopularity they were ashamed of Him. He was subjected to the humiliation and pain of constant misunderstanding and sometimes even criticism on the part of His own disciples. He was rebuked (Matthew 16:22) and denied (Matthew 26:69-74) by one of them, sold and delivered into the hands of His enemies and murderers for a few pounds by another (Matthew 26:14-16), deserted by all (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50). Added to these things, He suffered the humiliations of a painful poverty. Rejected at home, ejected from home, He had no place of His very own where He could feel that He might retire when weary or lonely or heart-sore, and enjoy rest without the fear of intrusion or molestation. He was dependent on charity, He was supported by charity (Luke 8:3). He had to borrow a room for His last meal with His disciples (Luke 22:11). He had to borrow an ass to ride into Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry (Luke 19:33-34). Another man’s stable was borrowed for Him to be born in (Luke 2:7); another man’s grave for Him to be buried in (Matthew 27:59-60).

4. Trials and crucifixion.—His implacable enemies brought Him at last to bay. Deep in that memorable night when He was in the depths of the impenetrable gloom of Gethsemane, the sacred privacy of His last hours and His last prayer was invaded by a howling mob of underlings, hangers-on, and soldiers of the temple guard, guided by one of His own disciples (Matthew 26:47, Luke 22:47). They took Jesus, and when they had bound Him with ropes (John 18:12), they led Him by the halter, as if He were a desperado, to the house of the high priest. He had a keen sense of this humiliation, and protested against it (Mark 14:48). Nevertheless, conscious though He was of His innocence of any evil deed or design, of His absolute purity, yea, even of His Divine dignity and mission, He submitted to the humiliation of being put on trial before the corrupt and conscienceless occupant of the high-priestly office and the whitewashed hypocrites who, for the most part, constituted the governing body of the nation. After the solemn mockery was enacted and they had condemned Him to death (Mark 14:64), they heaped on Him the most humiliating insults their malicious ingenuity could devise. They spat in His face (ἐνέπτυσαν εἱς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ, Matthew 26:67); they threw a cloth over Him and then beat Him on the head, mockingly demanding that He should tell them who it was that struck each blow (Matthew 26:67-68). When it was morning, they bound Him again with ropes, and led Him thus to the Praetorium to secure sentence of death from the Roman Procurator (Mark 15:1, Matthew 27:1). Pilate, though convinced of His innocence, did not care to involve himself in the trouble and annoyance of taking His part, and he was glad to shirk his duty and get rid of the embarrassment by turning Him over to Herod Antipas, who was at that time in Jerusalem (Luke 23:7). The poor prisoner, whom no one was found to befriend or defend, was dragged through the streets to another tribunal in the hope of finding some one who had the courage as well as the power to rid the earth of Him, and He had to suffer the humiliation of appearing as a culprit before this abandoned wretch. Herod was delighted to come face to face with Jesus, and now at last he was to have the long-coveted opportunity of having Him show off with a few miracles in his presence. But, though he plied Him with all sorts of requests and importunities, Jesus answered him not a single word. But Herod was not to be baulked. If he could not induce Jesus to entertain him in one way, he could at least force Him to furnish entertainment for him in another way. And this Herod, this creature of low cunning, this unwashed hog of a sensualist, this seducer of his own brother’s wife, this cowardly murderer of the other of the two great prophets of the day, gratified his brutal instincts by joining his soldiers in putting Jesus to scorn. They dressed Him up in a gorgeous and glaring red mantle of mock royalty, and sent Him thus through the streets back to the Praetorium of Pilate (Luke 23:7-11). Pilate, overcome by the persistence of the Jewish leaders and by his own selfish and cowardly fears, decided at last to deliver Jesus up to the tender mercies of the human bloodhounds who could be appeased by nothing but His death. But before doing so, he made his soldiers strip Him and inflict on Him the terrible Roman flagellation (Mark 15:15, Matthew 27:26), a punishment so severe that the victim often died under it. This bitter torture and bitterer humiliation Jesus endured in submission and silence. While the preparation is being made for the crucifixion, He is left in the hands of the soldiers, the whole cohort is invited in to enjoy the sport, and now for the third time He is made the amusement of a band of ruffians, for it is now their turn to have a little entertainment with the Nazarene fanatic. They torment Him as a cat teases and tortures a wounded bird before devouring it. They put on Him a scarlet military robe, and having twisted branches of thorn bushes into a sort of crown, they place it on His patient brow, put a mock sceptre in His unresisting hand, and then go down on their knees before Him, shouting, ‘Long live the king of the Jews!’ They too indulged in the sport of spitting on Him, and, yielding to the wild beast instinct which their opportunity had aroused in them, they kept beating Him over the head (ἔτυπτον εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ, Matthew 27:30; ἔτυπτον αὐτοῦ τὴν κεφαλὴν καλάμῳ, Mark 15:19). While He was dressed up as a mock king, His face stained with blood and marred with spittle, Pilate, moved with pity, led Him out to the view of the clamorous mob, hoping that the spectacle of so abject an object might move them to pity (John 19:4-5). But it seemed the more to inflame their rage (John 19:6). His crucifixion was then finally decided on. And now a new humiliation was inflicted on Him. He leaves the Praetorium, and is led or driven along the crowded streets through the avenue of onlookers, bearing on His back the heavy wooden beam that was to be the instrument of His execution (John 19:17). It was the symbol of His degradation and the advertisement of His disgrace.

It may be well for us to stop and try to imagine what was passing in the mind of Jesus while all these horrors were heaped upon Him. We know He was accustomed, during the course of His ministry, to dwell, both in thought and in speech, on the horrors that He knew awaited Him (Matthew 16:21 ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸνπολλὰ παθεῖν). If He so dreaded it from afar, how keen must have been the anguish of passing through it!

But these things were slight in comparison with what yet awaited Him; for the great humiliation was yet to come. He was to be subjected to the accursed and infamous death of crucifixion. When soldiers are to be put to death for desertion or treason, they are shot. The lowest of criminals, those upon whom we wish to heap disgrace in inflicting death, we hang on the gallows. What the gallows is to-day, the cross was in the days of Jesus. It was the method of execution that secured publicity, while it insured the utmost prolongation of the victim’s misery. When the procession had reached the place, the cross was laid upon the ground, Jesus was denuded of all His clothing, He was stretched out upon the cross, long iron nails were driven through His hands and feet, the cross bearing His naked body was lifted up and dropped into its socket, and there, looking out on the sea of angry faces and suffering the infamous fate of the most abandoned criminal, hung Jesus, who, though He had the consciousness of having come from God and of being the sinless Son of God, yet willingly endured this humiliation that He might become the Redeemer of men. Wherefore all the ages and the highest of all the races of men have united with God in giving Him the name that is above every name, and with one accord agree in crowning Him Lord of all.

The descending scale of His humiliation, from the estate of conscious equality with God past all grades and levels down to the humiliation of the cross, has been grasped and, with a few master strokes, graphically portrayed by St. Paul in the great passage of Philippians 2:6-7 : the humiliation of the Divine to the level of the human, the humiliation of the human to the level of the servant, to the level of the outcast and condemned criminal, and, lastly, to the degradation of a punishment the most humiliating, the most shameful, the most bitter, the most revolting, the most horrible then or ever known among men.

Literature.—Works like those of Weiss, Beyschlag, Stevens on Biblical Theology; Gore’s Bampton Lectures; Gifford, The Incarnation; Mason, Conditions of our Lord’s Life, on Earth; Bruce, The Humiliation of Christ [giving on pp. 388–412 and 419–424 fine discussions of Kenotic literature]; Zockler, Das Kreuz Christi; Nebe and Steinmeyer, Leidensgeschichte; Stalker, The Trial and Death of Christ; the chapters of Keim and Edersheim on the Passion and Death.

Gross Alexander.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Humiliation of Christ'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​h/humiliation-of-christ.html. 1906-1918.
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