Were You There?

One of the hymns that depicts Christ’s passion and resurrection is the traditional song, Were You There? The hymn’s author is unknown, but the words are based on the New Testament narratives of Matthew 27:31-56; 28;1-15 and parallels. The first stanza asks:

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

This African American spiritual was written prior to 1865. Those who were oppressed by slavery would sing together for encouragement. Believers would reflect on Christ’s sufferings and the consolation of the gospel.

Imagine the heart-felt singing of this hymn before the civil war. The All Music Guide recalls, “The song opens in the traditional ‘lining out’ style of American country congregations in which the preacher or choir leader sings the first line and the choir or congregation responds. Thus, the (usually) solo voice sings ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’… Then the chorus responds in full harmony echoing the same words…”[1]

The memory of Calvary’s events follow in each stanza:

(2) Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
(3) Were you there when they pierced Him in the side?
(4) Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
(5) Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
(6) Were you there when they rolled the stone away?
(7) Did you know He is risen from the dead? (repeat)
Oh! Sometimes I want to shout, ‘Glory, Glory, Glory!.’ [2]

These lines pose the rhetorical question, Were you there? The assumed answer was “no,” but the song takes the singer back by envisioning those redemptive events by faith.

I still remember a Bible teaching workshop years ago when the speaker quoted this hymn. Then he made this startling announcement: “You were there!” [3]

“What was that? How could I have been there some 2000 years ago?”

Before we answer that, consider another mystery: Everyone was in Adam at the dawn of history! Although our personal life began in the recent past, we were all in Adam positionally and spiritually.

Study Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” The historical narrative of Genesis 3:1-24 is crucial to understanding the bad news of the Fall of mankind. Adam was constituted by God to represent all of the human race (which came from his loins).

Romans 5:15-19 brings this pivotal doctrine out repeatedly: “… by the one man’s offense [Adam’s] many died… For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation … by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one… through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation… by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners…” Since God had placed the world under Man’s dominion, the breaking of this original covenant brought a divine curse on the earth as well.[3]

The Fall also explains why all are born spiritually separated from God and in need of re-birth: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

How blessed I was to learn of the heavenly contrast: Adam was “a type of Him who was to come”–Jesus! (Rom 5:14b). “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Therefore, Christ is the positional and spiritual head of all the redeemed!

As a born again believer, the Bible teaches that you were there at the Cross positionally and spiritually (just as you were in Adam prior to salvation). As the apostle Paul declared, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death… For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him….” (Rom. 6:4-6). “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above… For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:1-3). “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). Amen!

When you receive Christ as your Lord and Savior by faith, you become identified with Him in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. This is the open secret of victorious living! Reckon this “gospel for the believer” to be true of you personally!

As God brings this New Covenant revelation from your head to your heart, you’ll be able to reinterpret that old spiritual. The lines will still take you back to Christ’s suffering and resurrection, but you can now take it a step further.

“Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Your answer can be … “Yes. Yes, I was there in Him! Hallelujah!”


[1] “Blue” Gene Tyranny, All Music Guide

[2] For the tune visit www.cyberhymnal.org

[2] Institute in Spirituotherapy, by Charles Solomon and Stoney Shaw. 1998.

[3] The elements of covenant relationship are found in Genesis chapters 2, 3. See also the literal translation of Hosea 6:7: “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant….” Yet Romans 8:20-25 anticipates how God will remove the curse from the earth at Christ’s Second Coming!

In a way, those who are still in Adam were also there, represented by the actions of those who crucified Jesus. See We Were There When They Crucified Our Lord, by Charles R. Solomon. at http://charlesrsolomon.blogspot.com

For further study on identification with Christ, see F. J. Huegel, Bone of His Bone. http://CLCpublications.com and The Believer’s Fourfold Union with Christ at https://gracenotebook.com/the-believers-fourfold-union-with-christ/

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Copyright, John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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