The Atonement of Jesus Christ

May 14, 2020 | Pr. Finny Samuel |

A proper explanation of the necessity and sufficiency of the atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary should be able to answer the following logical questions:

  • Was Jesus with sin at any point in time at the cross?
  • How did a sinless Jesus become sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and a curse (Gal. 3:13)?
  • Has Jesus lost his divinity at some point in time at the cross?
  • Was God the Father angry at Jesus at the cross?
  • How was Satan defeated in Jesus' death and resurrection?
  • How were the Old Testament saints justified?
  • How can a perfectly loving God sacrifice His Son for the sin of His creation?

The answer should also cover the following Christian presuppositions

  • The logical necessity of incarnation of God
  • The value of life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
  • Reconciliation of various biblical images of Jesus's work at the cross
    • Perfect Example of Christian Life (1 Pet. 2:26)
    • Perfect Example of God's Love (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8)
    • Perfect Example of God's Righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)
    • Perfect Sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2, Heb. 12:24)
    • Perfect Victory over Devil and Death (Heb. 2:14)
    • Perfect Satisfaction for God's wrath (Is. 53:5)
    • Perfect Propitiation for sins (1 John 2:2, Heb. 9:14, 1 Pet. 2:25, Rom. 3:25)
    • Perfect Priestly Ministry (Heb. 9:12, Heb. 10:12-14)
    • Perfect Volition of God the Son (Matt. 20:28, Mk. 10:45, Phil. 2: 5-8)
    • Perfect Will of God the Father (Jn. 10:36, 6:38, 3:17)
  • The harmony of the nature of God's justice, holiness, and love
  • The connection between the law of God and the grace of God

A Penal Substitution for Humanity

  1. Doctrinal foundation of Penal Substitutionary Sacrifice of Jesus Christ:
    1. Nature of God:
      • God is perfectly righteous (Rom. 1:17), holy (Is. 6:3), good (Ps.145:9), and immutable (i.e., never changing - James 1:17).
      • None of His attributes weigh over or contradicts each other (Matt. 5:48).
      • Therefore, while He is loving (1 John 4:8) He is just and repulsive to sin (Ps. 5:5)
    2. Nature of God’s law:
      • The spiritual and moral law of God is part of God's nature – perfectly righteous, holy, good (Rom. 7:12), and immutable (Matt. 24:35). Law is not to be understood as something created by God but as the expression of God’s nature or being. E.g., He commands to love because He IS love. He forbids lying because He cannot lie.
      • However, the Grace of God does reflect in the law of God (Ps. 19:7-9). He revealed Himself through the scriptures and inspirations of His holy men.
    3. Nature of Man:
      • God created man for His glory (Is. 43:7), and to have fellowship with Him (Rom. 11:36, Eph. 2:10, Rom. 11:36).
      • Due to the fall in Eden, man fell out of God’s purpose (Rom. 3:23).
      • Hence without the regeneration by the Holy Spirit, humanity is inherently unable to do God’s will. (This is also called the doctrine of total depravity)
    4. The Statement of Problem: Logical necessity of Atonement.
      • Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and therefore aggression against God’s being.
      • Since the law is immutable just as God is, it is immutably obligatory on humanity to love and obey God (and His law). This unchangeable fact is the basis of the moral relationship between man and God.
      • The law of God prescribes the serious consequences of liability to punishment for its transgressions (Gen. 2:15-17; Eze. 18: 20; Rom. 6:23; Gal. 6:7-8). This unchangeable fact is the basis of the covenantal (or legal) relationship between man and God.
      • Hence humanity is due to satisfy the demands of the law because they failed in them. In other words, humanity must make compensation for their sins to the father. But because of the total depravity, they are unable to do so. The compensation in a legal transaction as known to man comprises payment of a penalty (fine/interest) in addition to the repayment of what was originally due. In this case, original due is moral and covenantal law-keeping.
      • Summary of the Problem: Given God’s anger against sin, a propitiation or atonement is needed for the appeasement of God, but no man is capable of it.
    5. The logical necessity of Incarnation:
      • As no man is capable to compensate God what is originally due (the restoration of humanity to its original purpose of glorifying God), the only other alternative is the execution of the demand of God’s law – death.
      • Satan owns sin and sinners (1 John 3:8) and it is his work to break the fellowship of humanity with Christ. As long as there is no compensation, the devil gets to win since the whole world including all of humanity will be under his power (1 John 5:19; 2 Tim. 2:26).
      • Redemption of humanity thus should have an additional element breaking of this power of devil as part of the compensation (refer to the analogy of a fine/interest in the previous section).
      • Though humanity is unable for both satisfaction (repayment of what was originally due, that is, restoring to God’s glory) and compensations (the defeat of the power of Satan), if it was to avail for humanity in relationship to God, it had to be made by a human. Therefore the penal satisfaction is to be rendered by someone who is both God and a human being. This is the logical necessity of incarnation of Jesus Christ in full humanity and full divinity.
    6. The Solution to the Problem:
      • In his humanity, what was required of Jesus (the man) was to live according to the law and be in fellowship with God. Since Jesus Himself was God, the Trinitarian fellowship with God is transferred to his human life. Not only did He incarnated to the chosen people of God (Israel), he also fulfilled the law by obeying, teaching, and modeling it (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 4:4-5). On one side Jesus’ life was a true example of fellowship with God in terms of law and on the other side, He attained something no human could do – a perfectly sinless life. Humanity, for the first time in its history, did what was required of it – the righteousness of God. [This is how Christ became righteousness for the whole humanity – Reconciling 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 1:17; Jer. 23:5-6.]
      • According to the law, only those who sin needed to die (even physically). But the righteous Jesus chose to die (Matt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45) as a substitution (Is. 53; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13) for humanity (just as He was the substitution of the righteousness of all humanity in his life). He had power over his life and did not have to die (Jn. 10:18) but still chose to die. Though the circumstances that led to His death was transpired through Jews and Romans, Jesus chose (Luke 9:22,  to die that way (including the sufferings and the crucifixion)
      • When sinless Christ offered His life on behalf of all humans, it went beyond what was required of him. Because of the value of his (being God) death, it was a substitution (sacrifice) and propitiation to reconcile humanity with God.
      • By satisfying a principle in the very nature of God, Jesus’ death was directed to God, not to humans or Satan (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 5:9).
    7. The Compensation: The defeat of Satan
      • The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was a total triumph over Satan.
      • Jesus defeated Satan not only in the event of the “Temptation of Christ” (narrated in Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; and Luke 4:1-13) but also He lived conquering sin in His daily life. Also, during His ministry, Jesus delivered many who were tortured by the devil (Matt. 8:29).
      • Through his death, Jesus became the way of salvation for humanity for their sin. ‘Satan’ is an ‘accuser’ (Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10)  who always seeks to (1 Pet. 5:8) to prevent the fellowship with God as all sinners are under his power (1 John. 3:8; 5:19). Through the substitutionary propitiation of Christ, Jesus created a way for sinners out of these powers of Satan (Rom. 6:6-8).
      • Through his resurrection, Jesus conquered the power of death. Though many were raised from dead before Jesus was the first to resurrect (1 Cor. 15:21) – which is the state of being in eternal life with a translated body.
    8. The Temporal Significance of Incarnation:
      • The work of Christ was not an afterthought by God after the Old Testament era or the so-called failure of law. It was promised right in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) and was represented by the law of God given to God’s people. Thus the timeline of the incarnation was part of God’s eternal plan (Eph. 1:4).
      • The Old Testament period looked forward to and pointed to Christ in all the laws and prophecies (Is. 53; Luke 22:37; Luke 24:44; Mk 8:31; Matt. 17:12).
      • If God’s plan was the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ, and His law is immutable, the Old Testament saints were saved through Jesus Christ only whether they knew it or not (Heb. 9:6-15; 10:5-18). The animal sacrifices in Mosaic law, was then, shadows (types) that represented the ultimate sacrifice by Jesus Christ. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were expiatory (Lev. 17:11;), Jesus bore (carried) the sin and curse of humanity on the cross still being sinless! Thus, Jesus was uniquely the priest as well as the lamb.
      • Jesus was a reconciliation of the whole world as the sacrifice was not limited to Jewish people (Rom. 11:15). Jews worked with the Romans when they rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah, but His sacrifice was for both groups!
    9. The Law Vs. Grace:
      • The Grace of God does not challenge the law of God since God is immutable.
      • It was God’s grace to take up the satisfaction on Himself when humanity was not able to pay the compensation (John 3:16, Eph. 2:4-9).
      • It was God’s justice not to absolve all sin freely and magically but to send His Son for the salvation of humans (John 6:38; Rom. 3:21).
      • Just as the creation of human beings was a personal involvement of God (He created them by His hands coming down to earth), their redemption was too (He redeemed by His life coming down to earth).
  2. Value of Jesus’ Life: As the fulfillment of God’s law, Jesus attained righteousness for all humans by living a sinless life and obeying everything in God’s law. He also showed grace and love of God through his teachings and miracles.
    Jesus lived according to God’s law and showed God’s love.
  3. Value of Jesus’ Death: It was a sacrifice to God, a substitution for man, the propitiation of human sins, the satisfaction of God’s justice, the ultimate victory over sin and death, and a reconciliation of the relationship between humanity and God.
    Hence Jesus died according to God’s law and showed God’s love.
  4. Value of Jesus’ Resurrection: His perfect divinity and the victory over the devil. The law says “My righteous shall live.” Jesus resurrected and gives life to all who believes in Him.
    Hence Jesus resurrected according to God’s law and showed God’s love.
  5. Answering the subsidiary logical questions:
    • Was Jesus with sin at any point in time at the cross?
              Jesus was sinless in His life and death. A sinner commits to sin (John 8:34) while Jesus was a substitution for the sinners making amends for them.
    • How did a sinless Jesus become sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and a curse (Gal. 3:13)?
              The compensation of sin and curse was ‘laid upon’ Jesus. Even when He was not “with” sin He bore humanity’s sin. Isaiah. 53:6,12; John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal 3: 13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24 points that Jesus was a substitution for man.
    • Has Jesus lost his divinity at some point in time at the cross?
              Jesus’ Trinitarian divine fellowship with God was one part of the satisfaction for humankind even during His suffering. Since this element of satisfaction cannot be broken at any point in time, the need for simultaneous divinity and humanity had to be continued during the time at the cross as well. So Jesus never lost divinity.
    • Was God the Father angry at Jesus at the cross?
              The wrath of God’s father was directed at the Sin but not the Son. His seven sayings of the cross start and end with the identification of His sonship in Trinity. (Luke 23:34, 46) – The statement of anguish (Matt. 27:46 – quoting Ps. 22:1), is the proof of his humanity and a declaration of the fulfillment of law and prophecy and His work as the propitiation of Sins (The forsaking is directed towards the sacrifice).
    • How was Satan defeated in Jesus' death and resurrection? See Section 1.7 above
    • How were the Old Testament saints justified? See Section 1.8 above
    • How can a perfectly loving God sacrifice His Son for the sin of His creation?
              In the Holy Trinity, the Son of God is God and a part of Godhead. Hence God was substituting Himself (not a third party). Also, Jesus volunteered (Phil. 2: 5-8).

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