“He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.”- 1Th 5:10
Last week we talked about how Christians ought to be awake and alert for the coming of the Lord. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be left behind if you’re caught unawares. The Greek word translated “asleep” in this week's verse (1Th 5:10) is from the same root as the one translated “sleep” in verse 6 where the reference is to spiritual lethargy. It is a different one from the word translated “asleep” in 4:13, 14, and 15 where the reference is to physical death. God will snatch away all Christians whether watchful or un-watchful at the Rapture.
This week, I want to talk briefly about the death of Christ. We speak of the death of Christ as a “work” that He performed, because it resulted from a definite choice on His part, when He could have avoided it. It is a “work” also because of what it accomplished for the beneficiaries of that death. This usage of the term “work” is clearly justified by the Biblical conception of the purpose and meaning of Christ’s death.
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”- Jesus (Jhn 10:17-18)
When Jesus says that no one takes His life from Him but that he lays it down willingly, it sounds like Jesus was talking about committing suicide. In fact, this kind of talk previously caused people to think Jesus had meant exactly that (Jhn 8:22). But, of course, He didn’t (Jhn 8:37, 40).
Death by crucifixion offers someone the unique opportunity to choose when they will die. What do I mean by that? Well, the cause of death from crucifixion is actually asphyxiation. The way the body is nailed to the cross makes it necessary for the victim to push themselves up with their legs, using the nails in their feet as a kind of “platform” to allow the ribcage enough space for them to inhale. Then they collapse back down due to the agony in their feet. That is how they would breath every excruciating breath. That’s also why the guards were ordered to break the legs of the thieves (Jhn 19:31) instead of, perhaps, stabbing them to death. Breaking the legs stops the procedure I mentioned. No standing on that nail “platform” means no breathing. Breaking the legs would speed up the type of death that crucifixion was meant to bring about. Asphyxiation.
However, the victim of crucifixion could simply choose not to draw their next breath. Jesus could choose not to prolong His life.
“Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.” - Mar 15:37 (see also Luk 23:46)
Jesus didn’t commit suicide because of the circumstances of His execution. At the same time, no one took His life because He willingly gave it up (Jhn 19:33). Ironically, Roman crucifixion is the only kind of public execution at that time that would allow Jesus to make such a claim in its fullest and most significant fashion.
So! What do you think about the Lord’s death? Does it have significance to you? Does it pull at your emotions? Perhaps it makes you feel grateful and loved? Let us know in the comments! As always, we’d love to hear from you!
See Thomas R. Edgar, “The Meaning of ‘Sleep’ in 1 Thessalonians 5:10
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22:4 (December 1979):345-49.