What is striking when we read scripture is that we are thereby placed in company with the thoughts of God. Inspired details are not given to us in order that we may exercise upon them our own thoughts and reasonings, but they are recorded in such a way as that we should understand their true bearing in the mind of God. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the record of the cross. The mind of man is altogether left behind, and the wisdom of God in it, and His thoughts in respect of it are communicated to faith. If we take the account of the crucifixion in Matthew, two great points come before us in the history of that solemn moment — one, the wickedness of man, and the other, the holy judgment of God. That the wickedness of man rose to its full height, and that the guilt of man was filled up in that act there can be no question. And how will God regard this treatment of His beloved Son? Shall judgment well deserved be meted out to man? Shall he suffer for his guilt then and there in his own person? Nay, the judgment due to man is meted out on the cross to Christ, and the shedding of His blood in death became the opened way by which the heart of God could be disclosed. How altogether above and beyond human conception this is! Man at the cross is seen to be planning and acting in the sphere of His own will, and in the cruel wickedness of his alienated mind; but God, unknown to man, was moving and acting in the sphere of His own blessed thoughts, and of the purpose of His own love. His thoughts are as much above the thoughts of men as the heaven is above the earth, and His ways also. What a marvellous epoch in those ways was reached in the cross! Up to the moment when Jesus yielded up the ghost, nothing is before us but the dark details of man’s sin, and the deeper darkness of God’s judgment against sin, into which the holy soul of Jesus entered in grace. Then He yielded up the ghost, and now what a change takes place – the darkness of man’s sin, and of the judgment of God, gives place to the light of the revelation of God. There is, indeed, nothing like the cross. It is not that man is less wicked, but the cross has put that man out, and God is revealed. He had dealt with His own Son in respect of sin, and death closed everything on that side; then He rends the veil from the top to the bottom. He is no longer to be hidden behind a veil, for the death of Christ has opened the way for the blessed God to approach man and disclose to him His own heart. What a moment the cross occupies in the history of eternity! We have to speak after the manner of men, for though the cross took place in time yet its issues are eternal. There is that which is before the cross, and there is that which is after. Before — we see man in wickedness, and God’s holy judgment. After – the veil rent, and God made known in love. In view of the cross, I do not argue from myself in anywise. The cross of Christ has opened an outlet for God in love to make known what was in His heart towards me. God has been glorified in righteousness, so that He can justify the believer, and give His own Spirit to shed His love abroad in the heart; this is the effect of the cross. I am not indifferent to that which I find in my own heart, but God’s heart has been disclosed to me in the cross; He rent the veil when Jesus yielded up the ghost.
After the cross there followed other effects, the foundations of this present world were moved and shaken, and another world came into view: “The earth did quake, and the rocks rent: and the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection” (Matthew 27: 51). It was not until after the resurrection that the bodies of His saints arose, but it is recorded as the effect of the cross and death of Christ. Man and his world are left behind, and God is revealed, and His world comes into view through the resurrection of Christ. Well may we say that God works in a sphere of His own.
Matthew does not take us off the earth, and, as often noticed, there is no ascension recorded in his gospel; he leaves the Lord, so to speak, with His Jewish brethren in Galilee. So “the holy city” here is Jerusalem on earth, and the sleeping saints who arose visit it. Heaven is not here in view, but we have a very distinct intimation as to the earth that Jerusalem’s dead men will live, and the dead body of Israel will arise (Isaiah 26: 19), death being swallowed up in victory. The veil which hides the unseen world is drawn aside through the death of Christ – through the rending of the veil; and we have the intimation and pattern of death being annulled with regard to earthly saints, and of the introduction of the power of life in connection with the habitable earth to come; and Jerusalem, guilty Jerusalem, is seen in its own proper character, as “the holy city.” “The Lord will hasten it in his time” (Isaiah 60: 22). I do not go beyond the record of scripture, nor suggest anything as to the saints who rose, or where they have their portion.
Matthew’s account of the resurrection greatly corroborates what we have said. The earthquake, the angel of Jehovah descending from heaven, rolling back the stone from the door and sitting upon it, the representatives of the kingdom and power of this world shaking before Him, and becoming as dead men – all speak of this earth as being affected by the mighty power of resurrection; and all this is after, and the effect of, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But the Lord has now ascended, and the heavenly part of the world to come is opened to faith. The epistle to the Hebrews has been called the opening of the heavens to us, and in them we see a glorified Man. “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour.” In 2 Corinthians 3 we further see that no veil hides from us the glory of the Lord. In His face God’s glory shines and it has a transforming effect. But before the apostle could speak to the Corinthians of the glory of the Lord, he had in the first epistle to speak of the cross of Christ and of the Lord’s death. Man must be put out by the cross, for the wisdom and power of this world combined to crucify the Lord of glory, but the cross of Christ, in having put out man, makes way for the wisdom and power of God to be seen in the One whom man crucified. In this present age among men we need to know nothing but Christ crucified, but that has opened to us the heart of the blessed God, and He can give the most wonderful gift that it is possible for us to have, the Spirit of His Son, that the world to come in its heavenly blessing might be revealed to us — What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him. The Spirit is given that the love of God might be shed abroad in our hearts, love manifested in the death of His Son, and that we might know the things freely given to us of God.