The work of redemption is THE major theme of the Scriptures. From beginning to end, this is the epic story told in its pages. How could a Holy God redeem sinful mankind to Himself, satisfying His deep love for them, and not compromise His holiness and justice? This is the story of the redemption of which the ‘atonement’ is central.
To grasp the major tenets of this doctrine, and appreciate its implications, is essential for any student of the Scriptures, and indeed, in its elementary elements, fundamental to salvation.
The Doctrine of the Atonement comprises the entire work of Christ, including His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, exaltation, glorification, intercessory ministry and second coming. The plan of the atonement originated in the counsels of the Godhead long before the fall of man, and is being worked out and realised in time through Christ Jesus. It is a revelation of the redeeming grace and eternal wisdom of Almighty God.
The work of Christ
Jesus was conscious of a particular ‘work’ which He came to accomplish in His earthly life. His Father sent Him with a job to do, and nothing that happened in Christ’s life was in any point accidental.
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34 NKJV)
“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” (John 17:4 NKJV)
Christ was conceived in the womb of Mary in a body prepared by the Father:
“Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.” (Heb 10:5 NKJV)
in order to do the will (or particular work) ordained by the Father…
“Then I said, “Behold, I have come— In the volume of the book it is written of Me— To do Your will, O God.’ ”” (Heb 10:7 NKJV)
The Week of Redemption
When the week of Creation ended, God rested from His work (Gen 2:2). When Adam sinned a new work week began, “the week of Redemption”, which also concludes in the eternal rest of faith in Christ Jesus. “It is on the basis of Christ’s completed work that the sinner is invited into this redemptive rest” [Conner, Foundations p193] (Hebrews 4:3, 9-11).
“For this purpose…” John says in 1 John 3:8, “the Son of God was manifested…”
This ‘purpose’ comprises the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, glorification, exaltation, intercession (His session), and finally His second advent.
As you can see, the work of Christ is a huge subject. We will begin in this session by looking at the historical death of Christ. Later in the Module we will thoroughly explore the doctrinal implications of His historical death and resurrection.
The death of Christ
Why was Christ’s death necessary?
four things that necessitated the intervention of God on man’s behalf:
As outlined by “Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner, Published by Sovereign World International, ISBN 1-85240-024-2, p41
- The holiness of God
- The Divine Law of God
- The sinfulness of man
- The wrath of God
As we saw in the Doctrine of God, God is absolutely holy. Holiness perfectly describes God’s inward character. These laws of God’s own being, holiness, justice, lovingkindness and righteousness, became the laws that would govern all created beings. To break these laws is sin:
“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” (1John 3:4 NKJV)
Adam broke the one law, the law of loving obedience, when he rebelled against God’s direction in the Garden of Eden. Sin made Adam and his progeny lawless, separating them from God.
God’s holiness demands that sin be exposed, judged and punished. Psalm 89:14 states that righteousness and justice are the foundations of God’s throne. To allow sin to run rampant in the universe would overturn the very authority of God, throwing the created order into self-destructive anarchy. God’s holy and righteous character demanded that man’s sinfulness be judged. When God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness come in contact with each other the reaction is divine wrath. Divine wrath is simply the righteous anger of a holy God against the unnatural and perverse nature of sin. Mankind, as a result of the sinful nature at work within him [For a full exploration of the doctrine of sin see Module 3: Beginnings – The Doctrine of Sin], came under the judgement of God:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (Rom 1:18 NKJV)
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”” (John 3:36 NKJV)
A second law of God’s character also comes into this dramatic confrontation however: the law of love. Because of this law God restrains immediate judgement, so that man may be brought to repentance.
“Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4 NKJV)
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2Pet 3:9 NKJV)
This period of restraint gives time for God to provide a means for man to escape His wrath.
The Wrath of God and the Love of God
The attributes of God are in perfect balance and harmony within His being. The Bible reveals:
God is Holy:
“because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Pet 1:16 NKJV)
and God is love:
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1John 4:16 NKJV)
God in His love desired to save the sinner. God in His holiness must execute His wrath and judgement upon sin. God could not manifest His love at the expense of His holiness, nor could He save the sinner without first judging the sin. The judgement for sin was death (Rom 6:23). What was the answer? It is found in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Through the cross God deals in absolute holiness with sin, and in perfect love with the sinner.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Cor 5:21 NKJV)
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8 NKJV)
Heb: Strongs #3722. kaw-far´;
a primitive root; to cover; figuratively, to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel:—appease, make (an atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(-liation).
The Old English word ‘atonement’ means “to be made one”, “to reconcile, to bring about agreement or concord”. To make “at-one” those who have disagreement.
Atonement includes the following ideas:
- To cover, to expiate, condone
- To purge, to purge away
- To reconcile
- To answer or make satisfaction for, to expiate
- To appease; make quiet, ally, satisfy, pacify, especially by giving into the demands of someone. ie: to appease wrath
- To make amends or reparation (for wrong doing, a wrong-doer)
- At-one; agreement; concord; reconciliation after enmity or controversy
“The holiness of God against the sinfulness (the breaking of divine law) of man produced a reaction of divine wrath. This wrath demanded appeasement, and divine law demanded justice, before a holy God and sinful man could be reconciled. This appeasement is the atonement.”
“Foundations of Christian Doctrine”, Kevin J Conner
The uniqueness and scope of Christ’s death
The death of Christ was an absolutely unique death, unlike any other in all of history. It is in fact the pivotal point of all history. It is not Jesus’ perfect life, morals, example or ethics that saves man, but His perfect death!
Some unenlightened souls have tried to relegate Christ’s death to that of a mere martyr for a righteous cause, or an inspiring example of one willing to die for their convictions. Some even blasphemously suppose the death of the Son of God to be no more than a tragic accident, the death of a misguided prophet or the result of His political agitations and religious insensitivity. Still others propose that Christ purchased souls from satan in a plea bargain, His life being the price paid to the enemy as a ransom. All of these views are erroneous. Christ’s death was substitutionary, paying the price demanded not by satan, but rather the full demand of God’s holy law and absolute justice.
Let us consider briefly the scope of this epic event:
CHRIST’S DEATH AFFECTED ETERNITY
It was foreordained in Eternity, having eternal consequences.
“but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1Pet 1:19-20)
“in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior;” (Titus 1:2-3 NKJV)
Having agreed in the counsels of the Godhead from and before the foundations of the world, Jesus knew of His own death, and it’s purpose:
“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” (Matt 16:21)
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”” (Mark 10:45 NKJV)
Christ’s death was a manifestation in time of God’s eternal purpose:
““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24 NKJV)
Was foretold in the Scriptures, and was the burden of the law and the prophets:
“Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27,44-45 NKJV)
Has become the foundation of eternal worship:
“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
(Revelation 5:9–13 KJV)
Note here this distinctions and relation between the Crucifixion, the death of Christ in relation to the physical world (the temporal), and the Atonement (the death of Christ in relation to the spiritual world (the eternal):
CHRIST’S DEATH WAS A MANIFESTATION OF THIS ETERNAL PURPOSE IN TIME
Christ was born to die
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb 2:9,14; 9:26 NKJV)
“Now My soul is troubled and distressed, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour [of trial and agony]? But it was for this very purpose that I have come to this hour [that I might undergo it].” (John 12:27 AMP)
ii. His death is the major theme of the good news, the last three days of His life taking up one fifth of the gospel narratives, with one in every 53 verses of the New Testament making reference to it.
Christ died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification. This is the gospel message to the hopeless sinner:
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled His life shall save to God.” (Rom 5:5-10)
Christ’s death is both retroactive and retrospective, encompassing the entire past and endless future.
Those prior to His death are saved looking forward with faith for a coming Redeemer. Those after Calvary are saved looking back to this redeeming act:
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:21-26 NKJV)
CHRIST’S DEATH AFFECTED BOTH THE NATURAL AND SPIRITUAL WORLDS, AND THEIR INHABITANTS
The death of Christ was the conquest of satan’s kingdom:
“But rather what we are setting forth is a wisdom of God once hidden [from the human understanding] and now revealed to us by God—[that wisdom] which God devised and decreed before the ages for our glorification [to lift us into the glory of His presence]. None of the rulers of this age or world perceived and recognized and understood this, for if they had, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1Cor 2:7-8 AMP)
“[God] disarmed the principalities and powers that were ranged against us and made a bold display and public example of them, in triumphing over them in Him and in it [the cross].” (Col 2:15)
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” (Heb 2:14-16 NKJV)
The death of Christ was for the whole world
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 1:29; 3:16 NKJV)
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6 NKJV)
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1Cor 15:22 NKJV)
Jesus tasted death for every man.
“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb 2:9-10 KJV)
Jesus death was sufficient for the redemption of the entire man, not just part:
Isaiah 53:9 says:
“And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death(s) (marginal rendering) …” (Is 53:9 KJV)
The Hebrew word “death” in this verse has the thought of plurality. The Bible talks about three death(s):
- Spiritual death, meaning separation from God. Before salvation, we are separated from God, dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-6)
- Physical death. The separation of the soul and spirit from the body. Adam died physically 930 years after dying spiritually (Gen 2:17; 5:5)
- Eternal death. Eternal separation of the soul and spirit from God. Spoken of in scripture as the second death, the destiny of all who choose to reject Christ (Rev 20:11-15)
Jesus tasted all three deaths for us. When He was made sin He experienced spiritual death (separation from the Father) (2 Cor 5:21). In His passion and death on the cross He experienced physical death. Finally, when He was ‘forsaken’ by the Father, He tasted briefly the agonies of the damned, and separation from God.
All of this He did that we, who believe and accept His unique death, might live!
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:” (John 11:25 KJV)
CHRIST’S DEATH FULLY SATISFIED THE DEMANDS OF GOD’S HOLINESS AND FULLY DECLARED THE DEPTHS OF HIS LOVE
“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is 53:10-11 KJV)
Justice demands that the guilty be penalised. The penalty for sin is death (Rom 6:23). The demands of the law which were against us were fully satisfied in Christ:
“having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col 2:14 NKJV)
In Christ’s death God’s holiness was vindicated, His justice upheld and the demand’s of His broken law satisfied.
In Christ the sin was dealt with in holiness, the sinner was dealt with in love:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:9-10 NKJV)
CHRIST’S DEATH WAS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT, NOT AN ACCIDENT
The death of Christ was a voluntary act, a deliberate choice, not Jesus’ fate.
““Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”” (John 10:17-18 NKJV)
Christ spoke of His accomplishment in Jerusalem.
“who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31 NKJV)
“For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”” (Luke 22:37 NKJV)
Christ’s death was complete and final
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,” (Heb 10:12 NKJV)
“not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Hebrews 9:25-28 NKJV)
CHRIST’S DEATH WAS PERSONAL
The death and resurrection of Christ is essential to Christianity. Other religions are built upon the teachings of their founders, Christianity is based upon the identity, the atoning death, and resurrection life of its Founder. Our faith and salvation, and present enjoyment of relationship with the Father, rests entirely upon Christ’s atoning work.
Christ’s death was the atoning sacrifice once for all, fulfilling all Old Testament types. Jesus, in His death, became for you:
- A redemption (Titus 2:14)
- A Ransom (Matt 20:28)
- A Substitute (Rom 5:5-10; 2 Cor 5:18-21)
- A Reconciliation (Rom 5:10; Heb 2:17)
- A Propitiation (Rom 3:25-26; 1 John 2:1-2)
We will consider these awesome life-changing truths when we look later at the doctrinal aspects of the atonement.
As is abundantly clear, no other death could even begin to compare with Christ’s! It’s scope and results are without limit.
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Rev 1:18 NKJV)