Messiah Within The Veil
Horatius Bonar DD
1808 – 1889
We spoke of Messiah longing for the time when the veil should be rent, and when, through Himself, there should be unobstructed access to the innermost shrine of God. “How am I distressed till it be accomplished.” We spoke also of His dreading this rending, this death,–so that “with strong crying and tears He prayed to Him who was able to save Him from death” (Heb 5:7).
Let us now see Him looking beyond the veil, surveying the glory, and anticipating His own entrance into it, as our forerunner, the first fruits of them that slept, the first-begotten of the dead. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 12:2). That to which He looked forward was not so much the rending of the veil, as the result of that rending,–both for Himself and for His Church, His body, the redeemed from among men.
The veil was rent; rent “once for all”; rent for ever. Yet there was a sense in which it was to be restored, though after another fashion than before. Messiah could not be held by death, because He was the Holy One, who could not see corruption. Death must be annulled. The broken body must be made whole; resurrection must come forth out of death; and that resurrection was to be life, and glory, and blessedness. Through the rent veil of His own flesh, He was (if we may so use the figure) to enter into “glory and honour, and immortality.” Thus He speaks in the sixteenth Psalm (Psalm 16:9,10,11):–
“Therefore my heart is glad,
Yea, my glory rejoices:
My flesh also shall rest in hope.
For you will not leave my soul in hell;
Neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life:
In your presence is fulness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Let us dwell upon these verses in connection with Messiah’s entrance within the veil.
The speaker in this Psalm is undoubtedly Christ. This we learn from Peter’s sermon at Jerusalem (Acts 2:25). He is speaking to the Father, as His Father and our Father. He speaks as the lowly, dependent son of man; as one who needed help and looked to the Father for it; as one who trusted in the Lord and walked by faith, not by sight; as one who realised the Father’s love, anticipated the joy set before Him, and had respect to the recompense of the reward.
He speaks, moreover, as one who saw death before Him,– “You will not leave my soul in hell”; and looking into the dark grave, on the edge of which He was standing, just about to plunge into it, He casts His eye upwards and pleads, with strong crying and tears, for resurrection, and joy, and glory,– “You will show me the path of life.” For the words of the Psalm are the united utterances of confidence, expectation, and prayer; not unlike those of Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
He speaks too as one who was bearing our curse; as one who was made sin for us; and to whom everything connected with sin and its penalty was infinitely terrible; not the less terrible, but the more, because the sin and the penalty were not His own, but ours. The death which now confronted Him was one of the ingredients of the fearful cup, against which He prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me”; for we read that, “in the days of His flesh He made supplication, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death.”
In this Psalm, indeed, we do not hear these strong cryings and tears, which the valley of the Kedron then heard. All is calm; the bitterness of death is past; the power of the king of terrors seems broken; the gloom of the grave is lost in the anticipated brightness of the resurrection light and glory. But still the scene is similar; though in the Psalm the light predominates over the darkness, and there is not the agony, nor the bloody sweat, nor the exceeding sorrow. It is our Surety looking the king of terrors in the face; contemplating the shadows of the three days and nights in the heat of the earth; surveying Joseph’s tomb, and while accepting that as His prison-house for a season, anticipating the deliverance by the Father’s power, and rejoicing in the prospect of the everlasting gladness.
The first thing that occupies His thoughts is resurrection. The path of death is before Him; and He asks that He may know the path of life;–the way out of the tomb as well as the way into it. Death is to Him an enemy; an enemy from which as the Prince of Life His holy soul would recoil even more than we. The grave is to Him a prison-house, gloomy as Jeremiah’s low dungeon or Joseph’s pit, not the less gloomy because He approaches it as a conqueror, as bringing life and immortality to light, as the resurrection and the life.
Into that prison-house He must descend; for though rich He has stooped to be poor; and this is the extremity of his poverty, the lowest depth of His low estate,–even the surrender of that, for which even the richest on earth will part with everything,–life itself. But out of that dungeon He cries to be brought; and for this rescue He puts Himself entirely into the Father’s hands, “You will show me the path of life.”
Very blessed and glorious did resurrection seem in the eyes of the Prince of life, of Him who is the resurrection and the life. Infinitely hateful did death and the grave appear to Him who was the Conqueror of death, the Spoiler of the grave.
He had undertaken to die, for as the second Adam He came to undergo the penalty of the first, “dust you are and unto dust shall you return”; yet not the less bitter was the cup, not the less gloomy was the valley of the shadow of death; not the less welcome was the thought of resurrection.
The next thing which fills His thoughts is the presence of God,–that glorious presence which He had left when He “came down from heaven.” His thoughts are of the Father’s face, the Father’s house, the Father’s presence. Earth to Him was so different from heaven. He had not yet come to the “Why have You forsaken me?” but He felt the difference between this earth and the heaven He had quitted. There was no such “presence” here. All was sin, evil, hatred, darkness; the presence of evil men and mocking devils; not the presence of God. God seemed far away.
This world seemed empty and dreary. He called to mind the home, and the love, and the holiness He had left; and He longed for a return to these. “Your presence!” What a meaning in these words, coming from the lips of the lonely Son of God in His desolation and friendlessness and exile here. “Your presence!” How full of recollection would they be to Him as He uttered them; and how intensely would that recollection stimulate the anticipation and the hope!
Of this same Messiah, the speaker in the psalm, we read afterwards, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1);. And elsewhere He speaks thus of Himself: “Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old; I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…I was by Him, as one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Prov 8:22, Prov 8:30). And again, He, in the days of His flesh, thus prayed: “O Father, glorify You me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
Thus we see that the “presence” or “face” of God had been His special and eternal portion. His past eternity was associated entirely with this glorious presence. No wonder then that in the day of His deepest weakness,–when the last enemy confronted Him with his hideous presence, He should recall the Father’s presence; anticipating the day of restoration to that presence, and repossession of the glory which He had before the world was.
- “Your presence,” said the only-begotten of the Father looking up into the Father’s face! He speaks as the sin-bearer, on whom the chastisement of our sins was laid, and between whom and heaven these sins had drawn a veil; He speaks as an exile, far from home, weary, troubled, exceeding sorrowful even unto death; He speaks as a Son feeling the bitterness of separation from His Father’s presence, and of distance from His Father’s house; He speaks as one longing for home and kindred, and the unimpeded outflowings of paternal love.
- “Your presence,” says the Man of sorrows looking round on an evil world;–oh, that I were there!
- “Your presence,” says the forsaken Son of man, for “lover and friend have You put far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness”;–oh, that I were there!
- “Your presence,” not this waste howling wilderness, this region of pain, and disease, and sin, and death, and tombs.
- “Your presence,” not these temptations, these devils, these enemies, these false friends; not this blasphemy, this reproach, this scorn, this betrayal, this denial, this buffeting, this scourging, this spitting, this mockery!
- “Your presence,”–oh, that I were there; nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.
Only through death can He reach life, for He is burdened with our sin and our death; and death is to Him the path of life. He must go through the veil to enter into the presence of God. Only through the grave,–the stronghold of death, and of him who has the power of death,–can He ascend into the presence of God; and therefore, when about to enter the dark valley, He commits Himself to the Father’s guidance, to the keeping of Him who said, “Behold my servant whom I uphold,” the keeping of which He himself, by the mouth of David, had spoken: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.”
Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Capernaum, Gethsemane, Golgotha,–these were all but stages in His way up to “the presence”–the presence of the Father; and it is when approaching the last of these, with the consciousness of His nearness to that presence, only one more dark passage to wind through, that He gives utterance to this psalm,–His psalm in prospect of resurrection and glory,–
“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved: therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also shall rest in hope; for You will not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt You suffer Your holy One to see corruption; You will show me the path of life: in Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
Connected with this “presence,” this glory within the veil, he speaks of “fulness of joy.” On earth, in the day of His banishment here, He found want, not fulness. He was poor and needy; no house, no table, no chamber, no pillow of His own. His was the extremity of human poverty; though rich He had become poor; he was hungry, thirsty, weary, with no place to lay His head.
Though He knew no sin, He tasted the sinner’s portion of want and sorrow. He was in the far country, the land of the mighty famine; and looking upwards to the happy heaven which He had left, He could say, “How many servants in my Father’s house have bread and to spare, and I perish with hunger.”
Drinking also of the sinner’s deep cup of wrath, He was the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. It was as such that He looked up so often as we find Him in the Gospels doing, and as we find Him in this Psalm, with wistful eye reminding Himself of the joy He had left, and anticipating the augmented joy that was so soon to be His when, having traversed this vale of tears, and passed through the gates of death, He was to re-ascend to His Father, and re-enter the courts of glory and joy. “Fulness of joy” is His prospect; fulness of joy in the presence of God.
Concerning this going to the Father He spoke to His disciples; and then added, “These things have I spoken unto you that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” It is of this same full joy that He speaks in our psalm; a joy which was to be the fulness of all joy; a joy which was to be His recompense for the earthly sorrow of His sin-bearing life and death; a joy which He was to share with His redeemed, and on which they too should enter, when they, like Him, had triumphed over death, and been caught up into the clouds to meet Him in the air; a joy which would be to them, in that wondrous day, infinitely more than a compensation for earthly tribulation; even as one of themselves has written, “Our present light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
This was “the joy set before Him,” because of which He endured the cross; and here He calls it FULNESS OF JOY. That which He calls fulness must be so; for He knows what joy is, and what its fulness is; just as He knew what sorrow was and its fulness.
The amount of joy sufficient to fill a soul like His must be infinite; it must be joy unspeakable and full of glory. The amount of joy reckoned by the Father sufficient as the reward of the sorrow of such a Son, must be infinite indeed.
What then must that be which Messiah reckons the fulness of joy. What a day was that for Him when, death and sorrow ended, He entered on life and gladness! And what a day will that be, yet in store for Him and for His saints, when we, as His joint-heirs, shall enter on all that life and gladness; the day of His glorious coming, when that shall be fulfilled which is written, “Come forth, O you daughters of Jerusalem, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him, in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.”
Besides the “presence” or “face” of God within the veil, Messiah sees the right hand; the place of honour and power and favour,–the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens; and at that right hand there are pleasures for evermore; eternal enjoyments, such as eye has not seen, nor ear heard. For all the things on which Messiah’s soul rests are everlasting; the life, the fulness, the joy, the presence, the pleasures,–all eternal!
No wonder, then, that He who knows what eternity is,–an eternity of glory and gladness,–should feel that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed”; and should, when going up to the cross, and down into the grave, say with calm but happy confidence, “You will show me the path of life, in Your presence is fulness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Most mysterious are such words as these from the lips of Him who is the resurrection and the life; and yet it is just because they come from Him,–from this Prince of Life,–that they are so assuring, so comforting to us.
His oneness with us, and our oneness with Him, account for all the mystery. His oneness with us, as our substitute and sinbearer, the endurer of our curse and cross and death, accounts for all that is mysterious in this Psalm. Our oneness with Him clears up all that is wonderful in such words as “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believes on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
Blessed, thrice-blessed oneness,–mutual oneness; He one with us, we one with Him, in life, in death, in burial, in resurrection, and in glory. Now we can take up His words as truly meant for us, “You will show us the path of life”; for in believing God’s testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth, we have become one with Him!
In all this we have,
1. Messiah’s estimate of death. He abhors it. It is His enemy as well as ours. He came to conquer it, to destroy it for ever. He conquers it by being conquered by it; He slays it by allowing Himself to be slain by it. He crucifies it, kills it, buries it for ever. Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death,” He says, “I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction.”
2. Messiah’s estimate of resurrection. He longs for it; both on His own account and His people’s. It is the consummation of that which He calls life. It is the second life, more glorious than the first; the opposite extreme of being to that which is called “the second death.” The Son of God came into the world as the Prince of Life; He came not merely that He might die, but that He might live; and that all who identify themselves with Him by the acceptance of the divine testimony concerning His life and death and resurrection, might not only have life, but might have it more abundantly.
Resurrection is our hope, even as it was His; the first, the better resurrection; and as we toil onwards in our pilgrimage, burdened with the mortality of this vile body, and seeing death on every side of us, we take up Messiah’s words of hope and gladness, “You will show me the path of life.”
3. Messiah’s estimate of joy. He recognises it as a thing greatly to be desired, not despised; as the true and healthy, or, as men say, the “normal” condition of creaturehood. God Himself is the blessed one; and He formed His creatures to be sharers of His blessedness.
Heaven is full of joy; and all its dwellers are vessels of gladness. Earth was not made for sorrow, but for joy; and, before long, that song shall be sung over the new creation, “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.”
For this day of joy Christ longed, anticipating it as the consummation of all that He had come to do. As the eternal Word which was with the Father, He knew what joy was; as the Man of sorrows, He knew what sorrow was. He was in the true condition and circumstances to take the proper estimate of joy. And here He tells us what that estimate was. He longed to be done with sorrow, which was as the shadow of hell; He “desired with desire” to enter into the joy set before Him, the joy of life, the joy of resurrection, the joy of God’s presence and right hand for ever.
Let our eye, like His, be fixed on that coming gladness,–that sunrise of eternity for which the Church is waiting and creation groans. That hope will cheer, will nerve, will liberate, will heal, will animate, will purify; will do miracles for us.
As yet, the joy has not arrived. It does not yet appear what we shall be. Not now; not here; not on this side of the grave! But the promise of its possession, and the assurance that when it does arrive, it will be great enough and long enough to make up for all trial and all delay, are sufficient to keep us ever looking, waiting, watching.
Resurrection is coming, with all its light and joy; and then comes the world’s second dawn, and the Church’s long-expected dayspring; the cessation of creation’s groans, the times of the restitution of all things; the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwells righteousness.
4. Messiah’s estimate of the Father’s love. It is this love that is His portion; it is in this love that He abides and rejoices; for it is He who says, “Your loving kindness is better than life.” No one knew so well as He did the glorious truth, “God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.”
The Father’s love! Here His soul found its resting-place, in the midst of human hatred and reproach. The Father’s love! It was with this that He comforted Himself, and with this it was that He comforted His Church, saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”; “You have loved them as You have loved me”; “You loved me before the foundation of the world”; “that the love with which You have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Is that love to us what it was to Him? It was His rest, is it ours? It was into this hidden chamber, this holy of holies, that He retired, when the world’s storms beat upon Him Is it in this that we take refuge in our evil days?
It was sufficient for His infinitely capacious soul; it may well suffice for ours. Is, then, His estimate of the Father’s love our estimate? Is this love our gladness? Is its sunshine the brightness of our daily life? And with simple confidence in it, like Messiah’s, do we look into and look through the future, however dark, saying, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fulness of joy, and at Your right hand are pleasures for evermore?”
On all that light, and joy, and fulness, and love, Messiah has now entered. For eighteen hundred years He has been in that presence, and at that right hand, which He longed for; and though yet greater things are in store for Him in the day of His promised advent, yet He has now for ages been done with sorrow and death, with reproach and hatred. He has entered on His rest; He has passed into life; His blessedness is now without a shadow.
And is not this a thought full of joy to us? He whom we love is happy! No second Gethsemane nor Golgotha for Him. Whatever may befall us, whatever of tribulation we may have yet to pass through, He is blessed; it is all well with Him. He has trodden the path of life; He has entered into that presence which He longed for; He has sat down at that right hand where there are pleasures for evermore.
Is this not a joyful thought to us here, even in the midst of our weakness and sorrow? And was it not to this He referred when He said, “If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said I go to the Father”? And was it not with forgetfulness of this that He reproached His disciples, “Now I go my way to Him that sent me, and none of you asked me, Where are you going? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
Should we not rejoice in His joy? Should not the thought of His happiness be a continual source of consolation to us? Amid the dreariness of the desert, it was a cheering thought to Israel that there was such a region as Canaan, over which the barrenness of the waste howling wilderness had no power.
Amid the griefs and cares of earth, it is a blessed thought to us that there is such a place as heaven, to which the storm reaches not, and where there has never been known, neither shall be, one cloud, one pain, one sin. So amid the troubles of our own troubled spirits, or the sorrows of those about us, it is a happy thought that there is one heart, once full of grief, that now grieves no more; one eye that often wept, which now weeps no more; and that this blessed One is none other than our beloved Lord,–once the Man of sorrows. He who loved us, He whom, not having seen, we love, is now for ever blessed; He has entered that presence where there is fulness of joy; He has taken His seat at that right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore.
Does not this comfort and gladden us? What He now is, and what we so soon shall be,–this gives vigour and consolation. It lifts us almost unconsciously into a calmer region, and gives us to breathe the very air of the kingdom. It purifies, too, and strengthens; it makes us forget the things which are behind, and reach forward to what lies before.
The prospect of resurrection and glory sustained the soul of our Surety here. This was the joy set before Him. Let us set it before ourselves, that we may not be moved. We have much to do both with the future and the past. In that future lies our inheritance, and we cannot but be seeking to pierce the veil that hides it. But in the past we find our resting-place.
Christ has ascended on high, leading captivity captive; he has ascended to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. The work is done. The blood is shed. The fire has consumed the sacrifice. It is finished!
This is the testimony which we bring from God, in the belief of which we are saved. It needs no second sacrifice; no repetition of the great burnt-offering. That which saves the sinner is done. Another has done it all. Messiah has done it all; and our gospel is not a command to do, but simply to take what another has done. He who ceases from His own labours, and enters on these labours of another, has taken possession of all to which these labours entitled Him, who so performed them, even the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.