1-3. What are some factors that made Jesus’ death unlike any other in history?
ON A spring day nearly 2,000 years ago, an innocent man was tried, convicted of crimes he had never committed, and then tortured to death. It was not the first cruel and unjust execution in history; nor, sadly, was it the last. Yet, that death was unlike any other.
2 As that man suffered through his final, agonizing hours, heaven itself marked the significance of the event. Though it was the middle of the day, darkness suddenly descended on the land. As one historian put it, “the sunlight failed.” (Luke 23:44, 45) Then, just before the man breathed his last, he said these unforgettable words: “It has been accomplished!” Indeed, by laying down his life, he accomplished something wonderful. His sacrifice was the greatest act of love ever performed by any human.—John 15:13; 19:30.
3 That man, of course, was Jesus Christ. His suffering and death on that dark day, Nisan 14, 33 C.E., are well-known. However, an important fact has often been ignored. Though Jesus suffered intensely, someone else suffered even more. In fact, someone else made an even greater sacrifice that day—the greatest act of love ever performed by anyone in the universe. What act was that? The answer provides a fitting introduction to the most important of subjects: Jehovah’s love.
The Greatest Act of Love
4. How did a Roman soldier come to see that Jesus was no ordinary man, and what did that soldier conclude?
4 The Roman centurion who supervised the execution of Jesus was astonished both by the darkness that preceded Jesus’ death and by the violent earthquake that followed it. “Certainly this was God’s Son,” he said. (Matthew 27:54) Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man. That soldier had helped to execute the only-begotten Son of the Most High God! Just how dear was this Son to his Father?
5. How might the vast amount of time that Jehovah and his Son spent together in heaven be illustrated?
5 The Bible calls Jesus “the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) Just think—Jehovah’s Son was in existence before the physical universe. How long, then, were Father and Son together? Some scientists estimate that the universe is 13 billion years old. Can you even imagine that much time? To help people grasp the age of the universe as estimated by scientists, one planetarium features a time line 360 feet (110 m) long. As visitors walk along that time line, each step they take represents about 75 million years in the life of the universe. At the end of the time line, all human history is represented by a single mark the thickness of one human hair! Yet, even if this estimate is correct, that entire time line would not be long enough to represent the life span of Jehovah’s Son! How was he occupied during all those ages?
6. (a) How was Jehovah’s Son occupied during his prehuman existence? (b) What kind of bond exists between Jehovah and his Son?
6 The Son happily served as his Father’s “master worker.” (Proverbs 8:30) The Bible says: “Apart from [the Son] not even one thing came into existence.” (John 1:3) So Jehovah and his Son worked together to bring all other things into being. What thrilling, happy times they had! Now, many will agree that the love between parent and child is amazingly strong. And love “is a perfect bond of union.” (Colossians 3:14) Who of us, then, can begin to fathom the power of a bond that has existed over such an immense span of time? Clearly, Jehovah God and his Son are united by the strongest bond of love ever forged.
7. When Jesus got baptized, how did Jehovah express his feelings about his Son?
7 Nevertheless, the Father dispatched his Son to the earth to be born as a human baby. Doing so meant that for some decades, Jehovah had to forgo intimate association with his beloved Son in heaven. With intense interest, He watched from heaven as Jesus grew up to be a perfect man. At about 30 years of age, Jesus got baptized. We do not have to guess how Jehovah felt about him. The Father spoke personally from heaven: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” (Matthew 3:17) Seeing that Jesus faithfully did all that had been prophesied, all that was asked of him, his Father must have been so pleased!—John 5:36; 17:4.
8, 9. (a) What was Jesus put through on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., and how was his heavenly Father affected? (b) Why did Jehovah allow his Son to suffer and die?
8 How, though, did Jehovah feel on Nisan 14, 33 C.E.? How did he feel as Jesus was betrayed and then arrested by a mob in the night? As Jesus was deserted by his friends and subjected to an illegal trial? As he was ridiculed, spat upon, and struck with fists? As he was scourged, his back torn to ribbons? As he was nailed, hands and feet, to a wooden pole and left to hang there while people reviled him? How did the Father feel as his beloved Son cried out to him in the throes of agony? How did Jehovah feel as Jesus breathed his last, and for the first time since the dawn of all creation, His dear Son was not in existence?—Matthew 26:14-16, 46, 47, 56, 59, 67; 27:38-44, 46; John 19:1.
“God . . . gave his only-begotten Son”
9 Words fail us. Since Jehovah has feelings, the pain he suffered over the death of his Son is beyond the power of our words to express. What can be expressed is Jehovah’s motive for having allowed it to happen. Why did the Father subject himself to such feelings? Jehovah reveals something wonderful to us at John 3:16—a Bible verse so important that it has been called the Gospel in miniature. It says: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” So Jehovah’s motive amounted to this: love. Jehovah’s gift—his sending his Son to suffer and die for us—was the greatest act of love ever.
Divine Love Defined
10. Humans have what need, and what has happened to the meaning of the word “love”?
10 What does this word “love” mean? Love has been described as the greatest need humans have. From the cradle to the grave, people strive after love, thrive in its warmth, even pine away and die for lack of it. Nonetheless, it is surprisingly difficult to define. Of course, people talk a lot about love. There is an endless stream of books, songs, and poems about it. The results do not always clarify the meaning of love. If anything, the word is so overused that its true meaning seems ever more elusive.
11, 12. (a) Where can we learn a great deal about love, and why there? (b) What types of love were specified in the ancient Greek language, and what word for “love” is used most often in the Christian Greek Scriptures? (See also footnote.) (c) What is a·gaʹpe?
11 The Bible, however, teaches with clarity about love. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words notes: “Love can be known only from the actions it prompts.” The Bible record of Jehovah’s actions teaches us a great deal about his love—the benevolent affection he has for his creatures. For example, what could reveal more about this quality than Jehovah’s own supreme act of love described earlier? In the chapters to follow, we will see many other examples of Jehovah’s love in action. Additionally, we can gain some insight from the original words for “love” used in the Bible. In the ancient Greek tongue, there were four words for “love.”* Of these, the one used most often in the Christian Greek Scriptures is a·gaʹpe. One Bible dictionary calls this “the most powerful word imaginable for love.” Why?
12 A·gaʹpe refers to love that is guided by principle. So it is more than just an emotional response to another person. It is broader in scope, more thoughtful and deliberate in its basis. Above all, a·gaʹpe is utterly unselfish. For example, look again at John 3:16. What is “the world” that God loved so much that he gave his only-begotten Son? It is the world of redeemable mankind. That includes many people who are pursuing a sinful course in life. Does Jehovah love each one as a personal friend, the way he loved faithful Abraham? (James 2:23) No, but Jehovah lovingly extends goodness toward all, even at great cost to himself. He wants all to repent and change their ways. (2 Peter 3:9) Many do. These he happily receives as his friends.
13, 14. What shows that a·gaʹpe often includes warm affection?
13 Some, though, have the wrong idea about a·gaʹpe. They think that it means a cold, intellectual type of love. The fact is that a·gaʹpe often includes warm personal affection. For example, when John wrote, “The Father loves the Son,” he used a form of the word a·gaʹpe. Is that love devoid of warm affection? Note that Jesus said, “The Father has affection for the Son,” using a form of the word phi·leʹo. (John 3:35; 5:20) Jehovah’s love often includes tender affection. However, his love is never swayed by mere sentiment. It is always guided by his wise and just principles.
14 As we have seen, all of Jehovah’s qualities are sterling, perfect, and appealing. But love is the most appealing of all. Nothing draws us so powerfully to Jehovah. Happily, love is also his dominant quality. How do we know that?
“God Is Love”
15. What statement does the Bible make about Jehovah’s attribute of love, and in what way is this statement unique? (See also footnote.)
15 The Bible says something about love that it never says about Jehovah’s other cardinal attributes. The Scriptures do not say that God is power or that God is justice or even that God is wisdom. He possesses those qualities, is the ultimate source of them, and is beyond comparison in regard to all three. About the fourth attribute, though, something more profound is said: “God is love.”* (1 John 4:8) What does that mean?
16-18. (a) Why does the Bible say that “God is love”? (b) Of all the creatures on earth, why is man a fitting symbol of Jehovah’s attribute of love?
16 “God is love” is not a simple equation, as if to say, “God equals love.” We cannot rightly reverse the statement and say that “love is God.” Jehovah is much more than an abstract quality. He is a person with a wide array of feelings and characteristics in addition to love. Yet, love runs very deep in Jehovah. One reference work thus says regarding this verse: “God’s essence or nature is love.” Generally, we might think of it this way: Jehovah’s power enables him to act. His justice and his wisdom guide the way he acts. But Jehovah’s love motivates him to act. And his love is always present in the way he uses his other attributes.
17 It is often said that Jehovah is the very personification of love. Hence, if we want to learn about principled love, we must learn about Jehovah. Of course, we may see this beautiful quality in humans as well. But why is it there? At the time of creation, Jehovah spoke these words, evidently to his Son: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Of all the creatures on this earth, only men and women can choose to love and thus imitate their heavenly Father. Recall that Jehovah used various creatures to symbolize his cardinal attributes. Yet, Jehovah chose his highest earthly creation, man, as the symbol of His dominant quality, love.—Ezekiel 1:10.
18 When we love in an unselfish, principled way, we are reflecting Jehovah’s dominant quality. It is just as the apostle John wrote: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) But in what ways has Jehovah loved us first?
Jehovah Took the Initiative
19. Why might it be said that love played a key role in Jehovah’s creative work?
19 Love is not new. After all, what moved Jehovah to begin creating? It was not that he was lonely and needed companionship. Jehovah is complete and self-contained, lacking nothing that someone else might supply. But his love, an active quality, naturally moved him to want to share the joys of life with intelligent creatures who could appreciate such a gift. “The beginning of the creation by God” was his only-begotten Son. (Revelation 3:14) Then Jehovah used this Master Worker to bring all other things into existence, starting with the angels. (Job 38:4, 7; Colossians 1:16) Blessed with freedom, intelligence, and feelings, these mighty spirits had the opportunity to form loving attachments of their own—with one another and, above all, with Jehovah God. (2 Corinthians 3:17) Thus, they loved because they were loved first.
20, 21. Adam and Eve were exposed to what evidence that Jehovah loved them, yet how did they respond?
20 So it was with mankind as well. From the start, Adam and Eve were virtually bathed in love. Everywhere they looked in their Paradise home in Eden, they could see evidence of the Father’s love for them. Note what the Bible says: “Jehovah God planted a garden in Eden, toward the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8) Have you ever been in a truly beautiful garden or park? What pleased you most? The light filtering through the leaves in a shady alcove? The stunning array of colors in a bed of flowers? The background music of a gurgling brook, singing birds, and humming insects? What about the scents of trees, fruits, and blossoms? In any case, no park today could compare with the one in Eden. Why?
21 That garden was planted by Jehovah himself! It must have been indescribably lovely. Every tree delightful for beauty or for delicious fruit was there. The garden was well watered, spacious, and alive with a fascinating variety of animals. Adam and Eve had everything to make their lives happy and full, including rewarding work and perfect companionship. Jehovah first loved them, and they had every reason to respond in kind. Yet, they failed to do so. Instead of lovingly obeying their heavenly Father, they selfishly rebelled against him.—Genesis, chapter 2.
22. How did Jehovah’s response to the rebellion in Eden prove that his love is loyal?
22 How painful that must have been for Jehovah! But did this rebellion embitter his loving heart? No! “His loving-kindness [or, “loyal love,” footnote] is to time indefinite.” (Psalm 136:1) Thus, he immediately purposed to make loving provisions to redeem any rightly disposed offspring of Adam and Eve. As we have seen, those provisions included the ransom sacrifice of his beloved Son, which cost the Father so dearly.—1 John 4:10.
23. What is one of the reasons that Jehovah is “the happy God,” and what vital question will be addressed in the next chapter?
23 Yes, from the beginning Jehovah has taken the initiative in showing love to mankind. In countless ways, “he first loved us.” Love promotes harmony and joy, so it is no wonder that Jehovah is described as “the happy God.” (1 Timothy 1:11) However, an important question arises. Does Jehovah really love us as individuals? The next chapter will address that matter.
The verb phi·leʹo, meaning “to have affection for, to be fond of, or to like (as one might feel about a close friend or a brother),” is used often in the Christian Greek Scriptures. A form of the word stor·geʹ, or close familial love, is used at 2 Timothy 3:3 to show that such love would be sorely lacking during the last days. Eʹros, or romantic love between the sexes, is not used in the Christian Greek Scriptures, although that type of love is discussed in the Bible.—Proverbs 5:15-20.
Other Scriptural statements have a comparable structure. For example, “God is light” and “God is . . . a consuming fire.” (1 John 1:5; Hebrews 12:29) But these must be understood as metaphors, for they liken Jehovah to physical things. Jehovah is like light, for he is holy and upright. There is no “darkness,” or uncleanness, in him. And he may be likened to fire for his use of destructive power.