The Humiliation of Christ

The high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.”

- Mark 14:63–65

Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and liberal Christian theologians do not hold much in common theologically, but there is one thing that they agree on—they all deny that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate. Each group will affirm a great respect for Jesus. Muslims believe He is the most significant prophet after Muhammad. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was the very first created being. Liberal Christian thinkers affirm that He was a great teacher, probably the greatest teacher who has ever lived. But none of these groups believe that the Lord God Almighty took on flesh two thousand years ago in the person of Jesus Christ, and none of these groups believe that Jesus claimed to be deity.

Historically speaking, however, none of these groups has much ground to stand on. For whatever else we say about Jesus’ opponents, they clearly believed that He claimed to be equal to God. Today’s passage gives us evidence of this. Once Jesus, during His trial before the Jewish authorities, claimed to be the Son of God and to be the Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven, the high priest tore his clothes and proclaimed that Jesus had uttered blasphemy (Mark 14:63–64a). By tearing his garment, the high priest followed the traditional Jewish manner of expressing profound grief (see Gen. 37:29; Job 1:20). Caiaphas’ grief was over Jesus’ alleged blasphemy, a charge that could only be made if Caiaphas interpreted Jesus as misusing God’s name by putting Himself on God’s level. The high priest understood Jesus to be a mere creature, and if Jesus were a mere creature, the charge of blasphemy would be legitimate. Of course, we know that Jesus was—and remains—God incarnate (John 1:1–18), so the accusation of blasphemy was false. Still, Caiaphas understood the claim Jesus was making, namely, that He was Yahweh in the flesh.

The other members of the Sanhedrin who were present during Jesus’ trial also understood Jesus to be claiming deity for Himself. And they responded by announcing that Jesus deserved death, the maximum penalty for blasphemy according to the Mosaic law (Mark 14:64b; see Lev. 24:16). They also spit on Him, struck Him, and mocked Him (Mark 14:65). Thus, the humiliation of our Lord—His voluntary condescension to come to earth and live as a man under the law of God and suffer for our salvation—began a new phase of intensity. It began accelerating toward its climax, for the Sanhedrin’s judgment of death would culminate finally in the cross.

Coram Deo

God is sovereign over all creation, but He is not aloof, far removed from those whom He has created. The incarnation proves this, showing us that we serve a Lord who is not a part of His creation but is nonetheless willing to enter into it for the sake of our salvation. As Paul tells us in Philippians 2, the Son of God took on the form of a servant. He loved us enough to come where we are and save us. Let us praise Him this day for His love and mercy.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 2:23–25
Psalm 36:7–9
Matthew 23:11
Philippians 2:5–11

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