Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The Modality of Easter

The big words of our English translations of the New Testament matter: justification, sanctification, predestination, election, and so on. They matter for understanding the Christian Faith. But so do small ones. This post is devoted to a small word which in its way is as vital for the growth of faith and love in the believer as some of the big ones.  I refer to the word ‘must’. In various passages of the New Testament that  have to do with events surrounding Jesus’s death and resurrection they state these in a manner that what occurred had to happen or must happen. These are too many to be thought of us as mere stylistic variants, but are central to the narrative. Here are some examples from the New Testament.



8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many thing rejected the elders….’(8.31)


24.7  ‘But the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and on the third day rise’.

24.44 ‘that everything written  in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’

9.22, ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things….’

22.37 ‘For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me’.


3.14, ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up’.

4.24. ‘God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’.

9.4. ‘we must work the works of him who sent me’. 

10.16. ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.’ 

12.34.  ‘the Son of Man must be lifted up’

20.9. ‘that he must rise from the dead,’

19.36.’that the Scripture might be fulfilled’

The Acts of the Apostles

17.3, ‘it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead’. The AV has ‘should be’ and both these expressions can have ‘must be’ as their equivalent, though there are other meanings of ‘might’ in English that are weaker, for example as in ‘He might come but more likely won’t’.

I Corinthians

15 25 ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet


These are not meant to take in all the references to ‘must’, but to be a generous sample. In odd cases other words are used. In other examples words other than  ‘must’, but equivalent to it. The quotation from Paul’s address in Athens spells of the point that to sufferings and rising from the dead were ‘necessary’, that they were necessitated, or inevitable. And the translators of the ESV for some reason used  ‘might be’ in place of ‘was necessary that’ or ‘must’. The AV uses ‘should be’ at this point.

We can see  that the chief theme which employs ‘must’ have to do with aspects of the work of Christ as our Redeemer, in his crucifixion and rising again. That ‘'mustness’' is present in different texts, especially in the Gospel of Mark which can be said to have Jesus being  aware of and the must about his redeeming us on the cross that he solemnly refers to his disciples at structural points of the entire Gospel, with growing explicitness. 

First as 8.31 ‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again’. ….’ 

9.31-2 ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise’

10.32-4 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him, pit on him, and flog him, and kill him. And after three days he will rise’  More detail, but no ‘must’

13.10 ‘And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations’


So what is all this telling us? A passage in John 19 is Instructive. John gives an account of the failure of the soldiers to break the bones of those crucified, the two crucified along side Jesus, and Jesus himself. The soldiers made as to break Jesus’ legs (v.31) John comments,‘

But when they (the soldiers) came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead , they did not break his legs, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it borne witness –‘his testimony is true. And he knows that he is telling you truth -  ‘that you also may believe.  is true’   -  that you also may believe. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear bear witness…..For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled.   ‘Not one of his bones  ‘will be broken.’ [Zech. 12.10] And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’. [Ex 12,46, Num. 9.12]  

Could Jesus’s legs have been broken? They certainly could have. Jesus’s body was a human body, and human legs are breakable. So why were they not broken? Because their behaviour was ‘governed’ by a word of Scripture, a prophetic word. It is a case of what the scholastics referred to as  a ‘hypothetical necessity’. The ‘hypothesis’ that generates the necessity in this case were the words of prophecy.

John tells us that this word was Zechariah 12.10 -  ‘And I will pour out on the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, in him they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn’.  And Ex. 12.46 and  Num. 9.12, ‘.  The first is from the installation of the Passover: the sacrifice was kept intact, ‘thou shalt not break any of his bones; and Numbers 9.12 repeats the proper Passover arrangements.


So the ‘must’ was not a logical ‘must’, governed by the carrying out of the character of the Passover, but what the scholastics referred to as a hypothetical necessity. The necessity of God’s good pleasure. As Paul says in I Corinthians 5, ‘Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’. (I Cor. 5.6). which is an integral part of the ‘festival’ of the Lord’s Supper, the remembering of his death, which includes the piercing of his side.  John reports, that Christ the Son of God ‘came by water and blood’  (1 John 5.6) Piercing is mentioned twice in John 19. 24, 37. See also Revelation, 1.7. When Jesus taught his disciples about the destiny that he must undergo, this is not about his possession of special legs, but by the will of God the Father that he endured for his people. This is the   curtain of his flesh that was signified by the ripping of the temple curtain, as his flesh was pierced that the author of the letter to the Hebrews refers to in Heb. 6.19, 20 and 10.20.