The Suffering and Death of Lord Jesus Christ
Father Anthony Messeh
April 14, 2022
Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering
As we contemplate Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s Passion, we have a tendency to overemphasize the physical suffering and sacrifice Jesus Christ experience because it is material, tangible and easy to understand. He was spat upon, cursed at, whipped, beaten, humiliated, scourged and finally crucified. But overemphasizing the physical suffering leads to undervaluing the enormous spiritual suffering He experienced during those last days.
At Gethsemane, He said, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death” (Matthew 26:38) and while praying that night, Saint Luke described Him as, “Being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
This is not a metaphor; it is to be taken literally. Hematidrosis is a rare, but very real, medical condition where one’s sweat will contain blood. Sweat glands are surrounded by small blood vessels, and under extreme stress, sorrow, and anguish, these blood vessels can dilate to the point of rupture; thereby, blood will be infused with one’s sweat. Also, while hanging on the cross during His last minutes, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
At these moments in Christ’s Passion, Jesus felt not only the physical torture and pain, but also the spiritual distress and agony. Jesus identified with us in the physical pain man endures during life, but even more importantly, He identified with us in the despair and mental pain of humanity.
Lord Jesus Christ’s Death
As Christians, we believe that there are two types of death: the physical death (separation of spirit from body) and the spiritual death (separation of spirit from God).
We often say that our Lord “conquered death by His death.” Which death are we talking about though? Jesus obviously didn’t save us from physical death as we all will surely die physically; so He must’ve said us from spiritual death.
When we recite, “He descended into Hades,” in the Orthodox Creed, we confess that Jesus died physically. But if we delve deeper, we all know that Hades, and more generally, Hell, are literally known as the place away from God, which means there is an absence of God. Therefore, we must be confessing something more than just the physical death of Jesus.
The beauty of our salvation, through Christ, comes from the fact that Jesus, who is God, entered into Hades, the absence of God, thereby conquering it and the power it held over us (that power being spiritual death). To simplify this point, let’s contemplate on it through an example: there is a nation that prides itself on being a place where there are no Egyptians and is known as, “The Absence of Egyptians.” If an Egyptian enters that nation, he conquers both the nation and the rule of the nation because he broke that rule and thus established his power over it. The same happened with Christ.
This is not to say that Jesus died a spiritual death—that is inherently impossible because how can Jesus, who is God, experience separation from God, which is Himself? That is why Christ is the only Person who could’ve saved us—because He is both Man and God… “His Divinity parted not from His Humanity for a single moment nor a twinkling of an eye.”
Without His Humanity, He couldn’t have died and without His Divinity, He couldn’t have had the power to trample death.” Therefore, Christ’s death upon the Cross is not a failure which was later rectified with his Resurrection; it is a victory within itself. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” He didn’t cry out in resignation, He cried out to confirm that it is completed, it is accomplished, it is fulfilled and it is finished.
His mission and objective, from His Incarnation to His Crucifixion was FINISHED at that point: He had saved us!
The salvation story is accomplished on Good Friday and confirmed on Easter Sunday. The victory is hidden on Good Friday but on Easter Sunday, it is made manifest when Jesus rose from the dead. There is no more death; even death is filled with God! How awesome is that?
Christos anesti! The phrase “Christ is Risen” carries a huge weight in its meaning: there is no more death because God was incarnated to save us from the only thing that had power over us, which was spiritual death. Now we are filled with hope and a longing to attain eternal, spiritual life with our God and Savior.
As there is death for the body, there is also death for the soul… However the death of the soul is not like that of the body; It is more horrible. Death of the body is the separation of the soul from the body; by which man is set free of worries and troubles; and the soul is transferred somewhere else. Then, as the body falls apart and deteriorates, will, once more get together anew from corruption, and will again receive his old soul. This is the death of the body; whereas the death of the soul is horrible and fearsome; in which, with the corruption of the body, the soul will have the same end, but will once more reunite with the body, will not perish but will be cast together with it in the everlasting fire. (Saint John Chrysostom)