|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||December 2000|
The Joy Set Before Him
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
TO BE JOYFUL IS A legitimate goal for all of God’s intelligent creatures, for it is the normal state of those who are obedient to him. The human race has suffered and has been unhappy because of sin. It was inevitable that Jesus should suffer—not for his own sin, because he had none—but on account of the sin of others. He suffered as a sin offering, and because of the “contradiction of sinners” (Heb. 12:3) which was leveled against him.
From the time of his baptism in Jordan, when he entered into a covenant with his Heavenly Father to do all that was written of him in the “volume of the book” (Heb. 10:7), Jesus knew that he was to take the sinner’s place in death. He knew, therefore, that the way before him was a difficult one, beset by many trials, and leading eventually to death. The assurance of his Father’s guidance and strength in every time of need was a constant source of joy to the Master—a joy which he bequeathed to his disciples.
JESUS’ PREHUMAN EXISTENCE
The question naturally arises as to when the ‘joy,’ which enabled Jesus to endure the cross, was ‘set before him.’ The Scriptures are not explicit concerning the degree of information the Heavenly Father gave to the Logos about the purpose of his mission.
Students of the Bible have believed that the conversation recorded in Isaiah 6:8 is not just between Isaiah and Jehovah; but because of the use of ‘us,’ as in Genesis 1:26, that it includes the Logos. Hence the question concerning the rebellion caused by sin, and as to who would be the emissary to assist in putting down this rebellion, the Logos also replies, “Here am I; send me.”
We know that Jesus’ coming to earth was wholly voluntary. He had supreme love for the Heavenly Father, and was completely dedicated to the doing of his will. He had absolute confidence that his Father’s will for him would be just and righteous. This would have been sufficient incentive for the Logos to make “himself of no reputation,” and to take upon himself “the form of a servant.”—Phil. 2:7
THE RECORDED PROMISES
We cannot be sure of things which are not clearly revealed in the Scriptures, but we can know and rejoice in those which are. There are many recorded promises which the Heavenly Father made to Jesus, and which the Master undoubtedly knew about and rejoiced in after “the heavens were opened unto him” at the time of his baptism and receiving of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 3:16) There are texts which indicate that even before this, Jesus began to sense the Divine purpose in his birth, and that he was the special object of his Father’s care.
In a prophecy of the cruel suffering which was inflicted upon Jesus while he was hanging on the cross, he is foretold as saying to his Father, “Thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” (Ps. 22:9) This indicates that, at an early age, Jesus was beginning to sense his special relationship to God.
On his visit to the Temple, when he was twelve years of age, in explanation to his parents Jesus said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” This question indicates that even then he grasped to some extent the fact that he had a special, Divine mission to perform. (Luke 2:49) The account tells us that after this he became subject to his parents until he was thirty years old. (Luke 3:23) Apparently by his questioning the doctors of the Law he learned that he could not properly begin a priestly work for God until he was thirty.
It was after the Holy Spirit came upon the Master that he was able to grasp the full import of his mission, and it was then that he understood and appreciated the precious promises of his Father which set before him the joy which would follow his faithful sacrificial work. The Apostle Peter, in telling us about the prophetic testimony of the “sufferings of Christ,” says that the prophets wrote also about “the glory that should follow.”—I Pet. 1:11
One of the interesting promises of this nature, which must have meant much to Jesus, is recorded in Isaiah 53:10-12. The preceding nine verses of the chapter are prophetic of the ‘sufferings of Christ,’ while the last three pertain to the ‘glory that should follow.’ What a joy the information contained in these verses must have been to Jesus! While he was to be cut off from the land of the living, with none to declare his generation, Jehovah promised, “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”—Isa. 53:10
Jesus no doubt understood that ‘his seed’ mentioned in this promise would be the restored world of mankind. This was an unselfish joy set before him, the holy pleasure of restoring the sinful and fallen race to life. To do this, it would be necessary for his days to be ‘prolonged.’ Thus, while he was to die as the Redeemer, and so be “cut off out of the land of the living,” his death would not be permanent, for he was to live again and be privileged to give life to others. While it “pleased the Lord to bruise him,” because this was an essential part of the sin offering work, ‘the pleasure of the Lord,’ as revealed in his plan to bless all the families of the earth, was to ‘prosper in his hand.’
Jesus’ soul did indeed ‘travail’ as he ‘endured such contradiction of sinners’! What comfort it must have been to him to realize that it was not in vain, that wonderful results would accrue from his suffering, results with which he would be wholly ‘satisfied.’ What great satisfaction there will be in seeing the entire human race restored to perfection and life. What a marvelous joy was this that Jehovah set before his beloved Son in order that he might have strength to endure “the cross”!—Heb. 12:2
Jesus knew that he was that righteous servant who would “justify many” (Isa. 53:11), and that this was to be possible because, by his suffering and death, he was bearing their iniquities. How this knowledge must have strengthened him to endure the cross, “despising the shame.” (Heb. 12:2) Could any temporary shame which might be heaped upon him by the ‘contradiction of sinners’ (vs.3) be compared with that immeasurable joy of providing an opportunity for the “dead, small and great, to stand before God”?—Rev. 20:12
“A PORTION WITH THE GREAT”
In the last verse of this prophecy (Isa. 53) is another inspiring promise to Jesus. Here the Father says, “Therefore [because of his faithfulness] will I divide him [Jesus] a portion with the great”—that is, with me, the great Jehovah. The Scriptures seem clearly to indicate that after Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit he was able to remember his prehuman life with the Heavenly Father. This is shown in his prayer, “Glorify thou me … with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”—John 17:5
Jesus knew what it meant to be associated with his Father, the joy of being in his presence. The promise that he would again be given ‘a portion with the great’ would mean more to him than any of us are able to appreciate. Here was a joy set before him that was indeed “unspeakable and full of glory.”—I Pet. 1:8
Psalm 22 is another prophecy of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. Verses 7 and 8 are descriptive of the ridicule and scorn which were hurled at the Master at that time—“All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” These exact words were used by the chief priests, who mocked Jesus, saying, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, … for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matt. 27:43) As Jesus hung suffering and dying on the cross, another incident occurred which is mentioned in this Psalm: “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” (vs. 18) Jesus, with his perfect and clear spiritual discernment, could not help but notice these fulfillments of the prophecy.
This prophecy is not exclusively concerned with Jesus’ suffering and death, for it also set before the Lord a wonderful vision of the joy which enabled him to endure the cross. Verse 22 reads, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” The Apostle Paul quotes this in Hebrews 2:12, and indicates that the ‘brethren’ referred to are the body members of the Christ. This means that as Jesus hung on the cross he was encouraged by the prospect of having these brethren associated with him in glory. Paul’s comment is, “It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.”—Heb. 2:10-12
“THE KINGDOM IS THE LORD’S”
In this prophecy Jesus also saw the kingdom blessings coming to mankind—“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.” (Ps. 22:27,28) What a joy this was to set before Jesus while hanging on the cross: the joy of seeing all mankind ‘turn unto the Lord.’ Paul tells us that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”; and as Jesus was dying at Calvary, he realized that his death was a necessary part of this work of reconciliation.—II Cor. 5:19
Jesus also realized that the kingdom would be necessary in this work of turning the people unto the Lord. This prophecy gave him the strength to reply to the thief as he did—the thief who requested, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” “Verily,” said the Master, “Thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42,43), for then ‘all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord.’
Perhaps all the thief knew about the kingdom was from reading the inscription at the top of the cross, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews,” which indicated the ‘crime’ for which he was being crucified. (Matt. 27:37) But Jesus knew more than this. He knew that although he was then being killed by his enemies, the kingdom promises of his Father were sure. Jesus knew that Satan would not be the prince of the world forever; that in his Father’s due time all the ends of the world would turn unto the Lord. How Jesus must have rejoiced in such a glorious prospect!
“IN THEE DO I PUT MY TRUST”
Psalm 16 is another prophecy which applied to Jesus during the ‘days of his flesh,’ while he was laying down his life as the Redeemer of the world. It is similar to Psalm 22 in that it forecasts both the suffering and future joy of Jesus. The larger portion of Psalm 22 describes his suffering, and only a few verses tell of the joy; whereas Psalm 16 makes only an incidental mention of the suffering, while most of the prophecy depicts Jesus’ great trust in his Father, and his sure hope of the “glory to follow.”—I Pet. 1:11
“Preserve me, O God,” the opening verse reads, “for in thee do I put my trust.” Jesus knew that his mission as a human being was to die—“My flesh, … I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51)—but he was confident that this would not mean eternal death. It was in full assurance that he prayed, ‘Preserve me, O God.’ His confidence stemmed from his determination to be faithful to his God, and to him alone. “Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.”—vs. 4
Jesus knew that the secret of true and lasting joy was in loving devotion to his Heavenly Father—that any other course could lead only to ‘sorrows.’ In continuing the prayer he emphasized this, saying, “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” (vss. 5,6) Jesus realized that his ‘cup’ of experience was given to him by God, so in the Garden of Gethsemane he said to Peter, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”—John 18:11
Why should he not drink this ‘cup,’ Jesus reasoned, when such a glorious inheritance awaited him! This joyous prospect, and the fact that even while drinking the cup of suffering his Father was with him to sustain and help, meant to the Master that his ‘lines’ had really fallen ‘in pleasant places’—made pleasant by the ‘goodly heritage’ which had been set before him.
“I have set the Lord always before me”: the prayer continues, “because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.” (Ps. 16:8,9) The Hebrew word in this text which is translated ‘before’ means literally ‘counterpart, or mate.’ Jesus made the Heavenly Father his counterpart, or mate, therefore he was not alone while laying down his life—not until in those last awful moments his partner had temporarily and briefly forsaken him.
Having his Heavenly Father as his helper, Jesus was confident of victory—‘Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ He freely acknowledged to his disciples that by himself he could do nothing. His words were those which the Father gave him to speak, and the works which he performed were his Father’s works. He knew that his Father was at his right hand at all times, and that he could be depended upon—“I knew that thou hearest me always.” (John 11:42) This being true, Jesus felt secure, confident that he could not be moved away from this blessed position of favor with his God.
This made the Master’s heart glad despite the bitter enmity of his adversaries, and as he said, ‘My glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.’ It was a hope based upon the many promises by which his Father set before him this wonderful joy. He knew that he was to die for the sins of the world, but his God, who was at his right hand, had given him a sustaining hope of joy to come.
How wonderfully the Master trusted in his Heavenly Father—“Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” (vs. 10) Jesus knew that he was to give up his life, his ‘soul,’ in death. This was essential in order that he might take the sinner’s place. But he was not to be left in ‘hell,’ that is sheol, the condition of death. This he knew, for a great joy had been set before him by his Father—the joy of dispensing kingdom blessings, and the joy of returning to his Father’s actual presence and partaking of his glory.
“FULNESS OF JOY”
What a joy this was! Concerning it, the last verse in this wonderful psalm represents Jesus praying, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” (vs. 11) ‘Fulness of joy,’ what a thought! Yes, a joy which comprehended all joys. Jesus knew that by being in his Father’s presence, and sharing his glory, all the other wonderful things which had been promised would follow as a natural sequence of events. This position with the Father would make possible the kingdom, and the promised blessings of the kingdom—blessings provided by his sacrificial death on the cross.
It would seem that the Apostle Paul may well have had this very prophecy in mind when he wrote concerning Jesus, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) Had not the prophet, speaking for Jesus, said, ‘At thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore’? At his right hand, and in his actual presence is ‘fulness of joy.’
It was this joy, set before the Master so definitely by this and the other wonderful promises of his Father, that enabled him to endure. Paul tells us that we are to “consider him” who endured so much suffering, “lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Heb. 12:3) We cannot properly ‘consider him’ without recalling the provision which his Father made to give him strength to endure. And we should also realize that the same joy has been set before us, so that we also may be able to ‘endure unto the end.’
In the promise Jehovah made to Jesus: ‘I will divide him a portion with the great,’ he also said concerning us, “And he [Jesus] shall divide the spoil [the reward] with the strong.” (Isa. 53:12) We are associate heirs with him in this blessed promise.
After Jesus had been given his portion with the great, he declared, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) Jesus was given his promised place at the ‘right hand of the throne of God, where there are pleasures forevermore,’ and where there is fulness of joy. Now we can be confident that our joint inheritance with him will soon become a reality.
May this joy thus set before all the followers of the Master encourage us to greater diligence in doing his will, greater faithfulness in his service, and more joyfully to lay down our lives in sacrifice, rejoicing in the blessed privilege which is ours of suffering and dying with him. If faithful, we will share his glory and the kingdom work of blessing all the families of the earth.