He suffered under Pontius Pilate…
The nature of Christ’s suffering is often minimized or misconstrued by heretics of various sorts. Some have suggested that since others have suffered worse deaths physically, then His sacrifice, unsupplemented, could not save men; only by the daily mortification of the self, in effect, by our climbing up upon Christ’s cross with Him, to aid in one’s own redemption, may man be saved. This is the view implicit in all the works-salvation and perfectionist cults such as modern Romanism, Arminianism, Mormonism, and the like.
There are those who have argued that God’s holiness was too great to have wicked hands laid upon Him, or that, due to its vulgarity, blood sacrifice was never in the mind of God. These describe the crucifixion as metaphor, or some other spiritualized event in which Jesus either suffered no physical distress, or, by virtue of His divinity, simply transcended pain akin to a Hindu yogi. In these quarters we find the Mohammedan, the gnostic, the feminist theologian, many Alienists, and others.
The creed says He suffered. This is the unavoidable perspective we garner from the story of His passion in the Scripture. Pain, a thing natural to man, was part of His experience. He did not shirk this or any other aspect of humanity in His condescension. He was fully man, though lacking only any corruption of sin (Heb. 4:15).
The Saints who’ve suffered afterward are consoled in the knowledge that Christ condescended to partake in our sufferings. Our Reformer fathers, many of whom were lashed to the stake and martyred in flames, sang triumphal hymns in the face of death, because they knew God incarnate shared with them in their sufferings. He is with us in the hour of our testing and is a very present comfort.
In contrast, the gnostic impulse to remove Christ from suffering leaves men alone, alienated of God in their experience, as well as in regard to their eternal standing before the Father. For if Christ did not suffer in the dimensions and in the capacity that men suffer, He wouldn’t be fully man, and therefore, neither would He be the scapegoat for men. This impulse to minimize His physical suffering is therefore not a greater exaltation of Christ, but His diminution. For a Christ who did not partake in our infirmities and the reality of the human condition would reveal a god who was either unwilling or unable to fulfill his own law. Such a deity would reveal himself as capricious, hypocritical, and/or impotent. Such a god cannot reveal himself the author and source of all good, nor can he save. Such a god is but another pagan shade, contrary to the Christian faith.
Though the Jews wished it otherwise, it was not as pertaining to His Godhood that He was tried in Pilate’s jurisdiction, but as a man and a King, betrayed by the Jews and by His own people, Israel. Pilate stood as an emissary and officer of world empire who had the rightful King of Israel delivered into his hands, not to justly execute Him for genuine capital crimes, but to indulge in state-assassination against this Christ whose genealogy marked Him heir to the throne, and who called Israel to national repentance.
But by way of His Godhood, He held status, not just as the King of national Israel, but as the King of all kings, including Caesar. As such, He was Pilate’s rightful sovereign as well. This left Him without onus to answer Pilate’s inquiries. For a superior is not interrogated by His inferior.
So even when Jesus said that He came into the world to reveal the Truth, and that everyone who was of the Truth would hear Him (Jn. 18:37), Pilate thought to engage the Lord in a deconstructive philosophical debate, infamously cross-examining Him with the words, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). This reply, though often taken for rhetorical flippancy, or trite dismissiveness, was itself a serious line of inquiry common to pagan schools of the era, not least of which were the druids who made of epistemology a course by the same title (“What is Truth?”) several years long. And there is substantial evidence behind the folklore which casts Pilate as Scottish or British in origin, or, at least, as one schooled by the druidic scribes of the isles. But all such conjectures aside, the Scripture as well as all the para-biblical writings attributed to Pilate tell the same story: that he acquiesced to the demands of the crowd, to kill an innocent Man most democratically betrayed by His own people. All for fear of the Jews.
In spite of Pilate’s claim that he was “innocent of this man’s blood,” and performing a ceremonial ritual to signify his exoneration (Matt. 27:24), St. Luke assures us that Pilate shared in the guilt for Christ’s murder (Acts 4:27). But his actions clearly weren’t of the same caliber as those of the Jews, who, in response to Pilate’s ceremonial washing and proclamation of absolution replied, “His blood be upon us and our children!” (Matt. 27:25). In their fury, the Jews seemed either not to notice or not to care that Pilate was quoting their own Scriptures to them:
I have hated the assembly of evildoers,
And will not sit with the wicked.
I will wash my hands in innocence;
So I will go about Your altar, O lord (Ps. 26:5-6).
Though he invoked Davidic language in his appeal to the Jewish mob, and though he had the compunction to confirm Christ’s innocence, he nonetheless acquiesced to the Jews’ demands.
For all his invocation of Scripture, he used it unlawfully. For he thought to incantationally absolve himself of sin prior to its commission. He determined to self-justify in the presence of the only One by whom men are justified. While not ravening as were the Jews, Pilate’s attempt at pious neutrality proves the presuppositionalist saw – neutrality is a myth.
Whoever is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather to Me scatters (Lk. 11:23).
No judicious impartiality is possible in regard to Christ because He is the source of all being and is Himself the standard of justice and truth (Jn. 14:16). For a man to presume to stand in judicature over Christ is to pass judgment both over and apart from truth and justice themselves. Any proposed neutrality toward Jesus is a resolution to stand upon personal appetite and fantasy in the conviction that one’s own imagination is the court omnipotent with jurisdiction over all things, the Almighty included. It is, regardless of pretensions, an attempt on the part of man to usurp the throne of the Most High. It is the predetermination to kill God – the very conspiracy in which Pilate became a physical partaker.
According to the testimony of the ante-Nicene fathers, after learning that the emperor had condemned him to an ignominious death (perhaps crucifixion), Pilate took his life by his own knife in his prison cell, his hands covered in blood.1 A very fitting end for one who imagined himself the dispenser of his own absolution: in the end he could not wash his hands of blood.
So, the life of Pontius Pilate, under whom Jesus suffered, stands as a cautionary tale and ostensible refutation of the humanist maxim: “Man is the measure of all things.”2 In the end, Pilate found himself judged by the very One whom he had presumed to judge. In him the theory of world empire and propositional nationhood, embraced by the Jews and foremost represented by Pilate and his accessory, Herod, were judged as well.
More words have been written on the subject of Christ’s crucifixion than perhaps any other single event in history. But it is always passed over with a certain indifference that the instrument and symbol which we associate with that event, the cross (which we conceive as some variation of a plus symbol), was in fact a T. The T-cross is differentiated from other crosses by the Latin term crux commissa, otherwise known as “St Anthony’s Cross” or the “Egyptian Cross.” Despite this being a rather well-known fact, Christendom remains content with the usual portrayal of the cross as an irregular plus symbol. Plainly, one is quite unlikely to encounter a Christian wearing a necklace with a T-pendant or to find a Christian sanctuary adorned with such a symbol. But why is this?
The cross, as we know it, is a folk symbol predating the gospel by several thousand years. Common to the European tribes, it was known as the “sunwheel.” Amongst its several iterations we find the Celtic cross, the Maltese cross, the Greek cross, the Saltire (St. Andrew’s cross), the Crusaders’ cross, the Hospitallers’ cross, and even the swastika, which falls into the general category of crosses called crux dissimulata, the cross dissimulated.3 As regards the swastika in particular, Hitler claimed to have adopted the symbol for the cause of national socialism from a church in Austria. The Christian pedigree of this ensign is well attested by history: it is found commonly in the Christian catacombs dating from the times of Roman persecutions; it is also found in Christian use from beginnings of the Christian era even in the most remote parts of Europe.
The Celtic cross, like the swastika, is considered another form of the same thing – a sunwheel. The Celtic cross was by the pre-Christian druids ever used to illustrate the triadic economy of the invisible deity.
All the standard works on heraldry define the Celtic cross something like this:
The Sun Cross, also known as the Sunwheel, solar cross or Odin’s cross, because Odin’s symbol in Norse mythology was a cross in a circle.4
As we see, these symbols which Christians have ever taken for granted as representative of Christ’s cross aren’t the closest facsimiles which we might imagine, but, rather, appropriations of the folk shadows past which our people understood to resonate uniquely with the revelation of Christ. Plainly, the crucifixion which the historic church has generally envisioned and the symbols which appertain to it are distinctly folkish in orientation, waymarks along the path of our peoples’ conversion.
It is a matter of unique correspondence, as well, that the form of execution suffered by Christ was hanging on a tree, for the Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who hangeth on a tree” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). To the Roman mind, the practice of crucifixion obviously carried special odium, for it was typically reserved for only the worst criminals. In northern Europe we find the pagan myth of Odin, who is said to have suffered like a mortal upon a tree. Hanging by the neck from a tree was also a common form of execution amongst the Celts and all the Germanic tribes long prior to Christianization. In most European venues, the concept of tree-hanging was ever seen in a light quite similar to the biblical appraisal: simultaneously a mark of cursedness and of divine sacrifice. All of which was implied in the composite word used of the ancient Germans, Obergerichtsbaum, “tree of judgment.”
Meanwhile, the Celtic druids ever illustrated the economy of their triadic deity whom they called Thau (of the same Indo-European root as the Greek Theos, whence we derive the word “theology”) by reference to an oak tree with only two branches diverting off the central trunk. Like the Germanics, the Druids looked forward to a day when God would descend as a man and redeem the people from their sins. But in the Christian era, St. Patrick, a British Culdee and descendant of the druids, would go on to reapply this trope by his famous shamrock analogy of the Trinity in his evangelical work amongst the Irish, another Celtic group sharing of the same druidic background, and familiar therefore with the same triadic folk symbolism as their British cousins. The shamrock has remained ever after the foremost symbol of the Irish people.
Now, this unique conceptual tension of cursedness and divine sacrifice, in the context of one hung upon a tree, does seem to dimly parallel and prefigure that very Calvinistic doctrine known as double imputation, as well as implying certain leanings of a theodicy.
And, of course, the shape of the cross as we tend to think of it is, as we’ve said, derived more of folk origins in the sunwheel and the Cymbric tree of Thau than of the actual Roman apparatus.
Since the recent advent of Alienism, Christians have taken to denying all such perspectival dimensions and folk sensitivities in the historic manifestation of Christianity. Atheists, having witnessed the Christian retreat, seized upon the opportunity to pillory Christianity as originating in paganism. This is the thesis lately termed “the New Atheism.” As such, the New Atheists are clearly the ideological children of Christian Alienism, for as Alienism has eschewed the idea of peoples and all multiformity of folk-perspective in the kingdom of Christ, the New Atheists have caught the fresh scent of hypocrisy hanging thick in the air and are naturally giving chase. The Alienist turn to cultural uniformity and an absolute ethno-neutral homogeneity departs from the entirety of Christian history contrary to the post-civil-rights-era church. Yet these Alienists maintain that they are the inheritors of all Christian tradition, the substance of which they deny. This blatant hypocrisy beckons predators eager to take the legs of the church out from under her – and it is working. To the extent that the churches convert to this neo-Christian Alienism, their children are turning about to denounce Christianity whole cloth from the perspective of New Atheism. The New Atheists aren’t the problem, though, merely an effect and natural consequent of the problem. The problem is Alienism.