The Death of Messiah
March 5th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE DEATH OF MESSIAH
W. A. Criswell
3-05-72 8:15 a.m.
In our preaching through the Book of Daniel we have come to the last part of the ninth chapter. This is a vision that God gave to Daniel in answer to his prayer. And this is the Word,
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, war is determined unto the end.
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week shall He cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate, even unto the consummation of the age, and that determined should be poured out upon the desolate.
There is no prophecy in the Bible that is fraught with such astonishing meaning as the one that I have just now read. And the sermon this morning concerns the death of Messiah, and the sermon next Sunday morning will concern the seventy weeks.
In this vision and this word that was brought in answer to Daniel’s prayer by Gabriel, the messenger from heaven, the seventy weeks are divided into one, into sixty-two—the seventy weeks are divided into seven, into sixty-two, and into one [Daniel 9:25-27].
The remarkable thing about the vision to begin with concerns the critics who avow that the Book of Daniel is a forgery, and that it was written during the Maccabean rebellion in about 165 BC, not in 535 BC, as it was supposed to have been composed. They say that the Book of Daniel is not prophecy at all but history that has been placed in the mold of apocalyptic revelation as though it were prophecy. But actually, everything that has happened is a part of history, and they just took history and made it appear as though it were prophecy. There is not a liberal in the world, and there is hardly an academic theologian in the world but that believes that Daniel is a forgery.
Now the astonishing thing about the revelation here of the seventy weeks, the astonishing thing to me is this, there are two predictions here. One, there is the prediction that the temple and the city will be destroyed [Daniel 9:26]. Now what do you think of such encouragement as a revelation like that when the people, during the Maccabean rebellion, were fighting for their lives against Antiochus Epiphanes? And the unbelieving critics say that the Book of Daniel was composed in order to encourage those Jewish people who were in a death struggle against the king of Syria. What kind of an encouragement would that be, to predict that their temple and their city were going to be destroyed? The thing was horrible, the thought was horrible to the Jew who reverenced that holy place, the temple, the sanctuary in Jerusalem beyond anything that our hearts could enter into.
All right, a second thing about the revelation, this marvelous word from Gabriel to Daniel. The prediction is that the Messiah will die [Daniel 9:26]. That also was unthinkable to the Jewish mind, that Messiah is coming to die. Even after the disciples had been with Jesus for the years of His ministry, when the Lord predicted and announced His coming crucifixion and death, Simon Peter said, “Lord, let that be far from Thee” [Matthew 16:21-22]. Such a thing is unthinkable. That was when the Lord turned and said to Simon Peter, “Satan, get thee behind Me . . . for thou savorest not the things of God, but of men” [Matthew 16:23]. And yet in this prediction, which is supposed to be one of tremendous encouragement during the Maccabean rebellion, according to the critics, yet the prediction is made that Messiah shall die [Daniel 9:26].
Now another thing that is astonishing in this revelation. Here in this revelation, the exact date and the exact year of the death of the Messiah is predicted. Altogether, the seventy weeks say that there are four hundred ninety years in which God will finish His judgment upon His people Israel. And the years are divided. First, there are to be seven heptads, you have it translated here “weeks.” There are seven heptads, the Hebrew is seven sevens; that is, seven years. Each heptad represents seven years. There are seven heptads for the building of the wall and of the streets of the city [Daniel 9:25]. That is the first seven weeks, the seven heptads, the seven sevens. So the prediction is that from the commandment to build Jerusalem that was given by Artaxerxes Longimanus, Artaxerxes I [Ezra 7:13-26], and is recounted in the second chapter of Nehemiah [Nehemiah 2:4-9], and that commandment went fourth in 445 BC. So from 445 BC, the next seven heptads, the next forty-nine years from 445 BC, to 396 BC, the city, the wall, and the streets of the city are to be rebuilt [Daniel 9:25], then the next sixty-two heptads, that would be from 396 BC to 30 AD [Daniel 9:26].
And the commandment went forth in the month of Nisan, Passover time. So the prediction is made that in 30 AD, in Nisan, Messiah shall be cut off [Daniel 9:26]. The prediction here is the exact time, the exact day, and the exact year in which Messiah shall die.
Not only that, but the prophecy is made that the Messiah will be cut off, He shall die, but not for Himself [Daniel 9:26]. That is, He will not die like an ordinary man dies. For the Messiah is not just another mere man. But His death will be atoning. It will be vicarious. It will be for others. “He shall be cut off, but not for Himself” [Daniel 9:26]. There is to be in His death a marvelous forgiveness of sin, restoration of the soul, and preparation for us to be presented in the presence of God. He shall die, Messiah shall die, but not for Himself. He shall die for others. He shall die for us. It is a fact that Messiah will be a man. He will be cut off [Daniel 9:26]. He will die. But it is also a fact that He is more than man. He does not die for Himself [Daniel 9:26].
It is His shame and His ignominy that He shall die. But it is His glory that He shall die for us. In this remarkable prophecy we are told that the Messiah shall die. But we are also told that His death will be not the death of a mere man, but it will be vicarious, it will be atoning, it will be for us. “He shall be cut off, but not for Himself” [Daniel 9:26], and that in Him we shall find redemption, and deliverance, and forgiveness. We shall therefore look at the death of Messiah. It is presented here in this prophecy as being separate and distinct and unique. He did not die as any other man, but He died vicariously for us, cut off, “but not for Himself.”
Now the unique death of Christ can be seen in several things. First, He was by death delivered according to the foreknowledge and counsel of God. In the sermon at Pentecost, Simon Peter says, to those who delivered Him, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” [Acts 2:23]. And in the defense before the Sanhedrin, he says, “Of a truth against Thy holy Child Jesus . . . Pontius Pilate and Herod and the people gathered together, For to do whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel had determined before to be done” [Acts 4:27-28]. The death of Christ, His atoning vicarious suffering was according to the determined counsel of God from before the foundations of the earth [1 Peter 1:20].
His death was unique, again, in that it was voluntary. All of us have to die. Somewhere, sometime, some day, all of us, if the Lord tarries, all of us shall die. The Lord’s death was unique in that death was not forced upon Him, nor did it overtake Him by surprise. But He predicted it, and spoke of it, and He voluntarily gave Himself in that sacrifice. He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep. I lay it down, and I have power to take it again” [John 10:18]. In the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews is described the scene in glory before the earth was made. “Wherefore in the roll of the book it was written of Me, Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:7]. The death of Christ was unique in that He did not have to die; there was no sin in Him, and the penalty of death did not overtake our Lord, but He died voluntarily.
A third unique feature of the death of Christ is found in that He is the sacrifice, the victim, slain, though He Himself is perfectly innocent. There was no sin in Him. Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator and judge said, “I find in Him no fault at all” [John 18:38] Judas, who betrayed Him, said, as he cast the thirty pieces of silver on the temple floor, “I have betrayed innocent blood” [Matthew 27:4]. The Father in heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [Matthew 3:17]. The Sanhedrin, before whom He was tried, could not find in the conflicting testimonies of suborned, that is, bought witnesses, anything against the Messiah [Matthew 26:59-60]. And He was finally delivered because He said that He is the Son of God [Matthew 27:43]. The death of Christ is the death of an innocent victim. There was no fault found in Him [John 19:6].
Another thing about the uniqueness of the death of Messiah can be seen in the marvelous accompaniment that attended His crucifixion. There is the mystery of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane [Luke 22:44]. There is the still deeper mystery of the cry from the cross, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. No other Christian martyr ever died like that. For the Lord said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. Yet Christ died on a cross forsaken of God the Father. And innocent as He was, He bore an agony that no one who was ever executed suffered.
There was a uniqueness in the death of Christ that was set apart and made more distinctive by the marvelous miracles that accompanied it; the darkness from twelve o’clock at noon until three in the afternoon [Matthew 27:45], the awful earthquake that shook the very bowels of the planet itself [Matthew 27-51], and the raising from the dead of the saints who appeared in the city after His resurrection [Matthew 27:52-53], and the testimony of the Roman centurion, whose job it was to be an executioner in the Roman army. But he had never seen a man like that die, and he cried saying, “Surely, truly, this Man is the Son of God” [Matthew 27:54].
Messiah shall be cut off [Daniel 9:26], the death of Messiah. What is its meaning and what is its interpretation? The interpretation is found in the prophecy. “Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself” [Daniel 9:26]. He shall die for others. And the Scriptures and the testimony simply exhaust language to decide and interpret the meaning of that death. He died, huper, “for” [Romans 5:8]; He died, anti, “instead of” [Matthew 20:28]; He died peri, “in behalf of” [Matthew 26:28]. Always in the Scriptures it is that He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the language that is used in the Bible, His death is called an atonement, a word that the English language has put together “at-one-meant,” atonement, that we might be one with God [Romans 5:11]. His death is described as a vicarious sacrifice, that is, the purpose of it is to take away sin; “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. His death is called a propitiation [Romans 3:24-26; 1 John 2:2, 4:10], that is, a conciliatory offering before God, a ransom in our behalf. And when the disciples came to see the meaning of the death of Christ, they found it in all of the Holy Scriptures, and they wrote of it in the Gospels, and it was the evangel that we find in the evangelization of the world.
As the disciples pondered the meaning of the death of our Lord, for He was cut off, but not for Himself [Daniel 9:26], dying for others, they searched through the Old Testament Scriptures [Acts 2:16-36], and it became the textbook for the preaching of the gospel. For the death of Christ is woven into the very fabric of the Old Testament covenant. There is the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Psalms that describes it in detail [Psalm 22:1-31]. There is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the evangelist, the prophet Isaiah writes as clearly as though he were standing by the cross and watching Jesus die [Isaiah 53:1-12; Matthew 27:32-50]. And the whole Mosaic ritual spoke of Him. There was first the transgressor and the sinner, and he brought a victim; and on the head of that animal he placed his hands and confessed his sins. And the priests slew it and poured out its blood [Leviticus 4:27-30]. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” [Hebrews 9:22]. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it [to you] upon the altar to make an atonement . . . for your sins” [Leviticus 17:11]. The whole Old Testament is a commentary and an exposition of Daniel 9:26, “Messiah shall die, but not for Himself. He shall die for others.” And this is the heart of the gospel message.
The whole story of Christ in the four Gospels are the events that lead up to His passion, His crucifixion, and His sacrifice in our behalf [Matthew 27:32-50]. And this is the gospel that the apostles preached. “God forbid,” said the apostle Paul, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Galatians 6:14]. Not that I should glory in the manger [Luke 2:10-16], or the virgin birth [Matthew 1:23-25]. Not that I should glory in the crown and the coming victory, not that I should glory in His miracles or even in His teachings, but God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ [Galatians 6:14]. And the apostle wrote to the church in Corinth, “For we preach Christ crucified” [1 Corinthians 1:23]. That is our message and that is our gospel.
This is the Eucharist. It is the Lord’s Supper that is celebrated in every sanctuary dedicated to Christ in the earth, and shall be to the end of time. “This do in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:23-25]. What in remembrance of Him? His miracles? His words? His marvelous life? His example? No. “This do in remembrance of Me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].
And this is the burden of the apocalyptic song in heaven. “Unto Him that loved us, and gave Himself for us, unto Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, washing us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6]. “And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy is the Lamb. . . to receive dominion and honor and glory and power [Revelation 5:12]. For Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood out of every nation and family and tribe; and we shall reign forever and ever” [Revelation 5:9-10]. The burden of the Scriptures and the heart of the message of the gospel is always this: that Messiah was cut off, He died, but not for Himself, He died for us [Daniel 9:26].
Now may I apply that before I extend the invitation? What is the meaning of that to us? One, this is the intervention of God in human life that we might be delivered from the penalty and the judgment of our sins. For sin is an eternal evil. And it works perpetuity in death forever. We find ourselves incapable and unable to break that chain of, “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And we are a judged and a dying people, sin and death [Ezekiel 18:4]. Nor are we able to keep from sinning, nor are we able to escape that final and ultimate penalty of death. But the intervention of God in human life is that Messiah died, not for Himself [Daniel 9:26], but for us [Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And He Himself took the penalty and the judgment of our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. The shame is His, but the glory is ours. He took it that we might be delivered, that we might be saved [John 3:17], that someday we might see God’s face and live [Revelation 22:3-4].
Second: the great meaning for us, the gift of God is eternal life [Romans 6:23], forgiveness of sin in the death and the sacrifice of Christ [Ephesians 1:7]. We cannot merit heaven or forgiveness by austerities, or by mutilation, or by the persecution of the flesh, or by fasting, or by flagellations. All of the tears that we could ever shed and all of the days and years of remorse by which we could bow before God would never suffice to wash our sins away. We do not climb penitential stairs in order to reach heaven.
Heaven is a gift of God. Forgiveness is a gift of God. Salvation is a gift of God [Ephesians 2:8]. We don’t buy it. We don’t merit it. We don’t cry for it. There is nothing worthy in us ever to achieve it. But it is something that God bestows upon us. Messiah was cut off. He died, not for Himself, but for us [Daniel 9:26; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the free gift of God in Christ Jesus is our salvation. God so loved us that He gave us eternal life [John 3:16, 10:27-30], for by faith are we saved. “For by grace are we saved through faith; and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.” [Ephesians 2:8] It is something we take from His gracious hands.
And last: its meaning for us, we are restored, and we are received, and we are accepted in that atoning love of God in Christ Jesus [Romans 5:10-11]. Messiah cut off, but not for Himself, for us [Daniel 9:26]. Did you know it would be possible for us to be allowed into the presence of God as a criminal, tolerated? There he stands, and every finger pointed at him. I think I would rather die. Every time we came into the presence of the great King, it would be as a criminal and as a culprit and as a convict. There he is. He is in heaven by the grace of God [Ephesians 2:8-9]. But look at him, a vile sinner, still judged, still remembered as a transgressor. It would be possible for us to be in the presence of God like that. But how are we received into the presence of God? In the blood of Christ, and in the acceptance and forgiveness of Him, we are received as a son and a daughter [Hebrews 2:10].
You have no finer illustration of that than the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. “This, my son” [Luke 15:24]. Do you see that word? “This, my son.” Not my prodigal. Not my criminal. Not my convict. “This, my son, was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry” [Luke 15:24]. That is what happens to us in the death of Christ. He took the penalty for our sin [1 Corinthians 15:3], and for us it is as though, in God’s presence, we had never sinned. We shall be as pure, and as perfect, and as acceptable, and as pleasing in God’s sight as the Son of God Himself, for He shall be our elder brother, and we shall be joint-heirs with Him [Romans 8:17]. This is the meaning of the atoning grace and love of God in Messiah who shall die, but not for Himself [Daniel 9:26]. He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3].
What a glorious revelation, and what a marvelous gospel, and what an incomparably precious appeal, to accept it. Not to come down here…buy it. Not to come down here with merit as though we were worthy of it. But to come down here and say, “Pastor, according to the word and promise of God [Romans 10:13], I take it. I receive it, the forgiveness of sins in Christ [Ephesians 1:7], adoption into the family of God in Christ [Galatians 4:5-6], acceptance into His presence in Christ” [Jude 1:24]. All glory to Him. “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe” [From “Jesus Paid It All,” by Elvina M. Hall]. And when we stand in the presence of the great throne, we will not sing, “See what I did? See how worthy I am? I am here because I achieved this glorious heavenly victory.” No! We shall stand in the presence of God and sing forever “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood. . .to Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6].
In a moment we shall stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, a somebody you to accept the Lord as Savior [Romans 10:8-13], a family you to come into the fellowship of the church, a couple you walking down that aisle and to the pastor, “Here I am. Today we are making this decision for Christ.” Or, “Today, we are coming into the fellowship of the church.” While we sing this song, while the Holy Spirit presses the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. In the balcony round, you, the throng on this lower floor, you, if you are listening in one of these rooms over this closed circuit television, come upstairs into the auditorium, “Today, I make this decision for God and here I come, here I am.” Do it now. Make the decision now. And when you stand up in this moment, stand up coming down that stairway or into that aisle. “Here I am, pastor, I am answering with my life. I am coming now,” while we stand and while we sing.
THE DEATH OF MESSIAH
W. A. Criswell
I. The vision is an answer to Daniel’s prayer for his people
A. All liberal scholars reject Daniel as a forgery
B. The exact date of Messiah’s death
C. The nature of Messiah
II. The unique nature of His death
A. Predetermined by divine counsel and decree
C. That of a perfect immortal being
D. Unique circumstances that accompanied His death
III. Not for Himself but for us He died
A. Old Testament-His death in prophecy
B. New Testament-gospels are largely of His death
IV. The incomparable meaning to us
A. Intervention of God from heaven that we might be saved
B. A gift bestowed upon us out of love
C. Not only forgiveness but acceptance, restoration