To most people the death of Jesus on the cross is the central aspect of the Christian message, and you may have been slightly surprised that in a book about the work of Jesus his sacrifice has so far been barely mentioned. The reason is that the death of Jesus on the cross was the means to an end, not the end itself. But having in previous chapters considered the objective, the establishment on earth of the Kingdom of God in which immortal men and women will experience perfect fellowship with their Creator, we must now consider the means by which that future has been made possible. We turn from our picture of Jesus as the great and powerful king to see Jesus the man, humble, loving, and giving his life for the wellbeing of mankind.
What was it that his sacrifice achieved?
From the very early times of man's existence on earth there has been a barrier between him and his Creator. The Bible calls that barrier sin, and the mission of Jesus at his first coming was to make possible the removal of sin and so unite God and man. This chapter examines first what is meant by sin and how it originated, and then we will consider the hard won victory of Jesus by which the world can be saved from its effects.
WHAT IS SIN?
Alongside the golden thread of the Kingdom of God, the subject of sin appears throughout the whole of the Bible, from the early chapters of Genesis to the concluding ones of Revelation. In between this beginning and end of Scripture are
hundreds of references to sin. If we include related words such as trespass, iniquity, and transgression, the number of allusions to the general subject is multiplied, and virtually every book of Scripture is found to mention sin in one way or another.
What do you understand by sin?most people
would probably say that it is wrongdoing like stealing,
lying, or murder. In other words, sin is generally thought
of as being the more obvious errors of which man can
be guilty. However in Bible terms sin is much more comprehensive
than this. The word the inspired writers used was one
that signified deviation from a path, or missing a target.
An example is in the book of Judges where some warriors
are described as being able to
sling stones at
an hair breadth and not miss(Judges 20:16). The
word translated miss is the same word that hundreds
of other times is translated sin.
This demonstrates the idea behind the Old Testament use of the word sin. It means to deviate from a path, to miss a mark that is aimed at, or to fail to achieve something. This definition makes sin much more widespread than most people realise. The New Testament uses a similar definition:
all have sinned, and come short of the glory
of Godmentioned here, from which all fall short,
is comprised not only of His physical presence, but
especially includes His perfect attributes. Moses once
said to God
I beseech thee, show me thy glory
(Exodus 33:18). When this request was granted the divine
emphasis was on displaying His moral qualities:
the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The
Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering,
and abundant in goodness and truth .... and that will
by no means clear the guilty(Exodus 34:6-7).
That the glory of God was primarily His moral qualities rather than His physical presence was expressed by John when speaking about Jesus:
beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten
of the Father, full of grace and truth(John
was on earth he did not show forth God's literal glory.
The way Jesus showed the glory of his Father was by
being a perfect reflection of God's character.
The glory of God is thus the sum of His virtues, such
as those considered in chapter 3. And according to Paul,
'coming short' of this glory-failure to reach such heights-is
sin. In view of this definition it is no wonder that
all have sinned.
This leads us on to note further Bible words that describe sin. In his letters John wrote:
unrighteousness is sin(1 John 5:17).
Sin is lawlessness(1 John 3:4 RSV).
You will see that these express the same idea. We have already considered God's righteousness and justice in chapter 3 and have seen that these terms describe His perfect attributes. Man's unrighteousness, his failure to live to this standard, is sin in the Scriptural sense, even when apparently a good and blameless life is being led. Similarly sin is 'lawlessness', a state of mind in which a person does not accept the laws of God as the rule of his life, and does not obey them.
Notice that this is true even if a person does not know the attributes or the will of God. People are guilty of sin even if they have never heard of God's laws. There is nothing unreasonable about this: even in our legal systems ignorance of the law of the land is not a defence if a person breaks that law.
But God has also given man specific laws to keep: the Bible is full of references to the things we should or should not do. Those who know these commandments but who do not obey them sin in a greater sense. This sin caused by breaking a specific command of God is usually termed transgression, or trespass. As the words imply, this involves crossing over a line or rule that has been laid down by God.
So it is possible to be sinners for two reasons: first because of general failure to attain to the characteristics of God, and secondly because of actual transgression of His laws by those who know them. Sin in the first case can be regarded as a state or condition of any person or society, and in the second the breaking of specific commands of God by those who know God's will.
SIN IS UNIVERSAL
a definition of sin it is far from surprising to find
that all mankind are guilty of it. We have already noted
the words of Paul:
all have sinned, and
there are many other similar references:
we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that
they are all under sin(Romans 3:9).
Scripture hath concluded all under sin(Galatians
The sin of the world(John 1:29).
could be said to be the 'Constitution' of the world.
In ordinary human systems of government each nation
has its Constitution by which it is governed, and every
person born into that country inherits that Constitution
whether he likes it or not. Similarly everyone born
on earth comes into a world where a tendency to sin
is ingrained into the very nature of man's being and
into every aspect of his society. So sin is said to
reignin all the affairs of man (Romans
THE EFFECT OF SIN
Having been born into an earth where sin reigns it is not easy for us to appreciate the effect that sin has: it is so much a part of human everyday experience that its results are regarded as the normal run of affairs. In fact the reign of sin has incalculable effects.
One result is separation from God. Never having experienced the closeness of the divine fellowship it may be difficult for us to envisage the effect of its absence, but the clear teaching of the Bible is that the presence of sin raises a barrier between man and his Creator:
iniquities have separated between you and your God,
and your sins have hid his face from you, that he
will not hear(Isaiah 59:2).
carnal mind(i.e. a mind in which sin reigns)
is enmity against God(Romans 8:7).
The earth is a black spot in the universe. Throughout vast distances of space God is at one with His creation for, as Jesus said in his prayer, God's will is done in heaven; but this is not true of our planet. Metaphorically speaking God cannot look on the earth because of its sin:
art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not
look on iniquity(Habakkuk 1:13).
So if God is to fulfil His plan to come and dwell among men in the perfect Kingdom of God, it means that in some way sin will have to be removed from the earth.
Another result of sin is an earth cursed by suffering and death. Again, death is such a normal experience that it is difficult to think of it as the result of sin. But this is the clear teaching of the Bible:
the wages of sin is death(Romans 6:23).
when it is finished, bringeth forth death(James
You may recall
the Bible prophecy quoted in chapter 2 which foretold
that when the Kingdom of God enters its final stage
there shall be no more death(Revelation
21:4), implying the abolition of the cause of
death, sin. So God's scheme for the removal of sin and
the reconciliation of the world to Himself is part of
the Bible's golden thread of the Kingdom of God. We
have already seen that forgiveness of sins was an aspect
of God's promise to Abraham, but to find the beginning
of the thread we must go back even further to the start
of the Bible. Here we learn how proneness to sin became
part of the very make-up of mankind and achieved its
dominance of the world.
THE ORIGIN OF SIN
In this section I will regard the events in the Garden of Eden as having actually taken place. This is the only view that a follower of Jesus can take. He referred to Adam and Eve as historical people, and the circumstances of the Fall as literal happenings (Matthew 19:4-5); and the apostles who wrote the New Testament did the same. The whole of the doctrine of the atonement between God and man becomes incomprehensible on any other basis.
The opening scene of the Bible is a delightful one (Genesis 2). The newly created pair lived in a beautiful country park filled with a variety of ornamental and food bearing trees. Streams and rivers watered this paradise of Eden and there was nothing to mar the happiness of Adam and Eve. Especially delightful was their association with God. In a way that has not been revealed they communed with their Creator, and in all probability He informed them about Himself, educated them, and instructed them in the principles of a correct way of life.
However from God's point of view this arrangement had one drawback. His purpose would not be satisfied merely by the act of creating the world. We read in the Psalms that God derives little pleasure from merely physical things:
delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh
not pleasure in the legs of a man
Real satisfaction could only come when His creation responded to Him in love. So the psalmist continues:
Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him
This pleasure was not satisfied by Adam and Eve's slavish obedience as if they were robots. What brings pleasure and satisfaction to God is when people who are faced with a choice deliberately do what is right in order to please Him and show their trust in Him. In other words God wants people of character.
With this objective He devised a test of their allegiance. He pointed out to the pair a special tree bearing appetising fruit and told them that they were not to eat of it or even touch it:
the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree
of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not
eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof
thou shalt surely die(Genesis 2:16-17).
Adam listened to these words with all the power of his God given understanding, no doubt pondering their meaning and turning them over and over in his mind. How many times the pair passed near the tree, shrinking back from it lest they gave offence to God and brought ruin on themselves, we do not know. As yet nothing had occurred to tempt them to disobey God. But one day, when Eve was alone, she was approached by a serpent. The animal had some reasoning ability and the power of speech, and it began to sow seeds of doubt in the woman's mind:
God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
Her reply showed that she fully understood God's command:
may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but
of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of
the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it,
neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die(Genesis
The serpent dismissed this out of hand. It was God trying to protect His own position, he reasoned. If you eat this fruit you will instantly become as wise as He, and wonderful vistas of knowledge and understanding will be opened to you. Certainly death is out of the question.
the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely
die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof,
then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as
gods, knowing good and evil(v4-5).
The woman hesitated. Did this speaking serpent say the truth? Was God hiding something that would be of benefit to them? Was the threat of death just to prevent them sharing His knowledge and wisdom? The implanted seed of doubt began to grow: and with the fruit hanging enticingly on the branches Eve's trust in God weakened and then died. Stretching out her hand she plucked the fruit and ate it. She found Adam and, no doubt after suitable explanations, he shared the fruit with her.
In this way sin entered the world.
THE RESULT OF THE TRANSGRESSION
Adam and Eve had done. Their disobedience had not been
a little accidental slip or mistake, but was a deliberate
challenge to God. He had said that if they disobeyed
Him they would die. They said in effect
believe you. God had revealed Himself to them
as their Creator and Instructor. They in their pride
sought for instant mental equality with Him. They had
set up their own will in defiant opposition to God's
will. They had challenged God's supremacy.
To a God who is absolutely supreme and whose every thought and action is wholly righteous this was a challenge that could not be overlooked, or the threatened penalty of death be rescinded. So, as we will see shortly, the death penalty was pronounced on sinning man.
God's displeasure was not shown immediately, giving the now sinful pair time to take stock of their new position. The forbidden fruit had done its work, opening their eyes to see things in a different light from before (Genesis 3:7). Their first realisation was that they were naked. Something that before had seemed perfectly natural and innocent now appeared shameful. Although they possibly did not realise it at the time, their nakedness epitomised their sinfulness. Feeling an instinctive need to cover themselves they hurriedly sewed some large leaves of a nearby fig tree into crude aprons and put them on. This was a very significant act. They intuitively felt the need to cover the results of their great sin. They could no longer appear before God naked.
But the dreaded
confrontation could not long be delayed. As the sun
began to sink in the west Adam and Eve awaited their
customary talk with God. Then came the sound of the
voice that had been their life and joy but now froze
their heart with terror:
Adam, where art thou?
But Adam was hiding among the trees, aware that his
hastily contrived covering was ineffective in concealing
his sin from God's gaze. He was no doubt conscious that
his transgression had separated him from his Creator,
and had destroyed the fellowship and communion existing
heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because
I was naked; and I hid myself.
told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of
the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest
not eat?(Genesis 3:10-11).
Shamefacedly the guilty pair came out of their hiding place to receive a just sentence upon their action. The three participants were addressed in turn, and the overall message was that whilst the immediate prospect was dark and foreboding, there was a ray of hope that pointed to the removal at last of the estrangement between God and man that had just commenced.
THE SENTENCE ON ADAM
Adam's punishment was to be a life of toil and hard work in trying to produce food from an earth now cursed for his sake: crops being grown only with difficulty and sorrow. At the end man would die and return again to the dust from which he was first created (Genesis 3:17-19).
This curse was not confined to Adam only but embraced all his posterity. They would inherit his sinful nature and so share the penalty of sin. The New Testament comment on this is very clear:
as by one man sin entered into the world, and death
by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for
have sinned(Romans 5:12).
This is a
convenient place to emphasise two points concerning
sin and its consequences. First, the Bible always attributes
sin's origin and continuation to man, and him alone.
No external agent can be blamed for man's predicament.
Man sins after he is
drawn away of his own lust,
and enticed(James 1:14).
Secondly, death, the punishment for sin, means the complete cessation of being. The idea that at death an immortal component of man continues a conscious existence is foreign to Bible teaching. Death would hardly be a punishment if that were so. Speaking to God, David says:
death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave
who shall give thee thanks?(Psalm 6:5).
Many other passages teach the same:
living know that they shall die: but the dead know
not anything(Ecclesiastes 9:5).
breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in
that very day his thoughts perish(Psalm
But death, though real in every sense, is not necessarily the end of a person. There is a hope beyond the grave, as we shall see as this chapter proceeds.
THE SENTENCE ON EVE
The theme of pain and sorrow was continued in the punishment of Eve. Her anguish was to come in the pains of childbirth and also she was to occupy a subordinate position in the relationship between man and woman (Genesis 3:16).
From this recital of the punishments on Adam and Eve it would appear that mankind was without hope. They had deliberately flouted the laws of the Almighty God and set up their will in opposition to His. He had warned what His response would be, and was now justly bringing their sin to account. Because of God's inherent justice, for Him to simply forgive man would in this case be out of the question; yet His love and mercy desired reconciliation. As we saw at the end of chapter 3 God's justice and His mercy seemed to be in opposition, and yet in His wisdom He devised a way by which His love could be shown without in any way compromising His justice and righteousness. In His sentence on the serpent God gave a hint of His plan.
THE SENTENCE ON THE SERPENT
Here the first ray of hope appeared. As the one who had encouraged Adam and Eve to sin the serpent was to be cursed: a punishment that banished him to a lowly and despised position in creation. But at the same time God promised ultimate deliverance from the curse that the serpent had helped to bring into the world. Addressing him God said:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and
between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy
head, and thou shalt bruise his heel(Genesis
Here is another key verse of Scripture, and we again find that the fulfilment was to involve the work of promised seeds. The woman was to have a descendant and so was the serpent, and there was to be enmity between them. The descendant of the woman would inflict a head wound on the serpent, the inference being that such a wound would be fatal-the serpent would be killed. But in the course of this conflict the serpent would give the woman's descendant a wound to the heel-a non-fatal injury from which the woman's descendant would recover.
A tabulation of the phrases will help make clear these relationships between the serpent (on the left) and the woman:Thee (the serpent) at enmity with the woman Thy seed at enmity with her seed Thy head bruised by her seed Thou shalt bruise her seed's heel
These are obviously figurative allusions. What do they represent?
THE SERPENT AND HIS SEED
was the indirect cause of sin entering the world, and
so becomes a fitting figure of sin itself. Those whose
lives are ruled by sin are thus the seed of the
Serpents' childrenis a Bible description
of those who are opposed to God's way. Jesus addressed
the evil Pharisees as
Ye serpents, ye generation
of vipers(Matthew 23:33), and on other occasions
referred to them with this passage in Genesis clearly
in mind (John 8:44). Thus
the serpent, which
is to be destroyed by the
seed of the woman,
is a personification of sin displayed in human
nature, and those in whom it is so displayed are the
'seed' of the serpent.
It is appropriate to mention here that in the Bible sin in its opposition to God is personified in other ways. Personification is a frequently used figure of speech in which an abstract idea is depicted as a person. Examples abound in all literature and are readily understood:
withering fled, and Mercy sighed Farewell(Byron,
The Bride of Abydos)
crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets
A close examination of the Scriptural use of such terms as 'the Devil' and 'Satan' will show that they too are personifications of sin, rather than referring to a superhuman evil monster.
THE SEED OF THE WOMAN
The woman was promised a descendant who would destroy the serpent, that is, the power of sin. As with the 'seed' of Abraham and the 'seed' of David, this promised person is Jesus. In an allusion to the promise in Eden that the woman would have a son we read in the New Testament:
when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth
his Son, made of a woman ....(Galatians
In the well known 53rd chapter of Isaiah the coming of the one who would save mankind from the effects of sin is clearly predicted. Here again the language reminds us of God's promise in Eden that in the process of destroying sin the seed of the woman would suffer a temporary bruising at its hand:
was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised
for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace
was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed ....
and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all
.... 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 .... by his knowledge shall my righteous servant
justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities
THE MAIN FEATURES OF THE PROMISE IN EDEN
A brief summary may help fix in our minds the salient points of the promise.
The punishment on man:
The earth would be cursed for his sake.
Life would be arduous and sorrowful.
He would die and return to dust.
All Adam's descendants would be born with his sin-cursed nature and likewise die.
The sentence on the serpent:
He (sin) would eventually be killed.
The punishment on the woman:
Pain in childbirth
Subjection to her husband
But-and here is the promise of the removal of sin-her 'seed' (Jesus) would kill the 'serpent' (sin) although in so doing would receive a temporary wound.
COATS OF SKINS
As well as speaking to Adam and Eve about the work of the woman's seed to eventually reconcile God and man, God gave them an object lesson of how sins could be forgiven. We have already noted that immediately they had sinned, our first parents realised their nakedness and attempted to hide it by making aprons of fig leaves. This nakedness had become a symbol of their sin and wearing the aprons was tantamount to trying to cover sin by their own efforts-an impossibility. Then God performed a very significant act:
Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats
of skins, and clothed them(Genesis 3:21).
This action taught Adam two things. First, mankind could not cover sins himself, only God could do this. Secondly, the skins must have come from a slain animal, teaching that covering of sin could only come about by death. The animal that by its death provided coats of skins, pointed forward to the death of the seed of the woman in achieving the covering of the sins of the world.
God emphasised this to the next generation. When Adam's son Cain offered fruit as a sacrifice to God he was rejected. It was the equivalent of the fig leaves that God had already indicated were useless in covering sin. His other son, Abel, recognised the truth that forgiveness could only be achieved by death, and his sacrifice of a lamb was accepted.
In this way the principles for human redemption were laid down at the very beginning of man's history, and recorded in Genesis so that all later generations could look forward to the coming of the Redeemer who would die for the sins of mankind.
JESUS THE SAVIOUR
Although the Old Testament teaching about the sacrifice of Jesus is possibly not so well known, it is undoubtedly recognised as a major aspect of the New Testament. The fact that Jesus offered himself for crucifixion to atone for sin is mentioned over and over again. When announcing the birth of the Saviour the angel said:
shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people
from their sins(Matthew 1:21).
And the apostles continually allude to the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God that can result from Christ's sacrifice:
died for our sins according to the Scriptures
(1 Corinthians 15:3).
.... put away sin by the sacrifice of himself
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us(Romans
have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness
of sins(Ephesians 1:7).
made peace through the blood of his cross to reconcile
all things(Colossians 1:20).
.... hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through
own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree
(1 Peter 2:24).
saviour Jesus Christ who gave himself for us that
he might redeem us from all iniquity(Titus
wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood
Why did the world have to wait so long for its Saviour to come? Why could not any man have sacrificed his life and so effected the desired reunion with God? The answer is that sacrifice of itself was not enough. It had indeed to be the offering of a representative member of the human race; but it also had to be the offering of one who had never sinned. Jesus was the only one who could meet these two requirements.
JESUS SHARED OUR HUMAN NATURE
I have already alluded (p.103) to the unique parentage of Jesus. Because of his begettal by the Holy Spirit he was the Son of God, but because of his human mother he was also Son of Man-the man Christ Jesus(1 Timothy 2:5). The Bible makes it plain that Jesus possessed the same physical nature that all the rest of mankind had inherited from Adam, and was subjected to the same temptation to sin:
then as the children were partakers of flesh and
blood, he also himself likewise took part
of the same; that through death he might destroy
him that had the power of death, that is, the devil
in all things it behoved him to be made like
unto his brethren(Hebrews 2:17).
Note in both
these quotations the repeated emphasis of the fact that
Jesus was a true representative of the human race:
likewise. It was something
Paul needed to stress. To reverse the Scriptural phrase,
God the Son(a term never
found in the Bible), and giving him a physical nature
different from our own, is not only incorrect but makes
impossible an understanding of his redemptive work.
JESUS WAS SINLESS
although Jesus had the same temptations to sin as the
rest of mankind he was able completely to overcome the
enticements that caused others to fail, with the result
that he never once sinned. On no occasion did
fall short of the glory of God.
Never once was he disobedient to God's will. He could
I always do those things that please
the Father. This great achievement is frequently
mentioned in Scripture:
lamb without blemish and without spot(1 Peter
did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth
(1 Peter 2:22).
In him is no sin(1 John 3:5).
of you convicteth me of sin?(John 8:46, RV).
we have not an high priest which cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all
points tempted like as we are, yet without sin
Christ's complete victory over sin whilst possessing man's sinful nature made his sacrifice a basis on which God could forgive man's sin and bestow eternal life. But before we consider this further, let us dwell on the greatness of his achievement.
THE LIFE AND SACRIFICE OF JESUS
From his earliest years Jesus devoted his life to his Father's purpose to redeem mankind. The study of the Scriptures, our Old Testament, was his constant occupation. From them and by prayerful communion with his Father he prepared himself for the role those sacred writings outlined for him. When, at the age of thirty, he commenced preaching the good news of God's Kingdom, the people saw in him a man against whom no valid personal criticism could be levelled: a man whose knowledge of the Scriptures was unequalled, even by the aged scholars of the day: and a man whose message was supported by miraculous signs demonstrating that he was invested with the power of God.
They acclaimed him as the long awaited Messiah, and on at least one occasion tried to force him to become their king in the belief that the promised blessings would follow. But Jesus knew that the kingship would have to await his second coming, and tried to prepare his listeners for his death, which was similarly foretold by their prophets of old.
All this time Jesus incurred the increasing hostility of the religious leaders of the Jews, until the 'enmity' between the 'seed of the serpent' and the 'seed of the woman', predicted so long before in the Garden of Eden, came to its climax. Christ's personal integrity and his exposure of their hypocrisy made his opponents jealous and vindictive, and his judicial murder seemed the only way to silence him. With the rulers' knowledge of their countrymen it was comparatively easy to swing public opinion against Jesus, and within the space of a few short days the crowd who had feted him on his arrival at Jerusalem was clamouring for his crucifixion.
We must remember that Jesus had the power to prevent all this. He could have forestalled the actions of the Scribes and Pharisees at every turn. As he said at the time of his arrest, he could have summoned more than twelve legions of angels to his defence. But such action would have prevented the divine scheme of human reconciliation, as he went on to say:
how then shall the scripture be fulfilled, that thus
it must be?(Matthew 26:53-54).
Jesus knew from his study of those Scriptures that the serpent had to bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, and so he voluntarily submitted to his arrest and the pain and ignominy that lay ahead. He could have drawn back from that humiliation and suffering, or he could have defended himself at his trial so that an acquittal was inevitable. But instead he went forward to the cross of his own free will, the only compulsion being his own overwhelming desire to be obedient to his Father's will, and his fathomless love for his friends.
A Roman crucifixion was a terrible ordeal. After the priests had blackmailed Pilate into passing the death sentence, Jesus was scourged. This was thirty nine lashes on the bare back with a bone studded whip. With his back raw and bleeding he was led away to the soldiers' barrack room where, having heard of his claim to kingship, they pressed a circlet of thorny twigs on his head as a substitute crown. They then dressed him in royal robes and knelt before him in mock homage. It was the custom to force the prisoner to carry the instrument of his own death, and so the cross was placed on Christ's sore back and he was guided out of the city for crucifixion. At the appointed spot the cross was laid on the ground and Jesus fixed to it with heavy nails. It needs little imagination to sense the searing pain as the cross was roughly lifted upright and dropped into its socket in the ground.
And for six hours the only morally perfect man who had ever lived hung there in agony, surrounded by the triumphant and taunting priests. Looking at the inscription above his head, 'The King of the Jews', they said in sneering tones:
the Christ the King of Israel descend now from the
cross, that we may see and believe(Mark 15:32).
The thoughts of Jesus as he hung on the cross, and the events of that sad day were recorded in advance in the Old Testament:
am poured out like water, and all my bones are out
of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the
midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a
potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou
hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have
compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed
me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell
all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part
my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture
hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness:
and I looked for some to take pity, but there was
none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave
me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave
me vinegar to drink(Psalm 69:20-21).
in such bodily and mental agony the Saviour of the world
remained faithful to his Father's will. Not a rejoinder
passed his lips or an angry thought went through his
mind as he retained his sinlessness to the last. And
as he felt his strength ebbing away he knew that he
had won the battle. Thus it was with a glorious sense
of triumph that he cried out with a loud voice
is finishedand then lapsed into the sweet unconsciousness
In this way that Jesus of Nazareth became the Saviour of the world. This was the price that had to be paid so that God and man could be reconciled and God's ultimate destiny for His creation could be achieved.
HOW WAS CHRIST'S SACRIFICE EFFECTIVE?
to understand why Jesus had to die on the cross to remove
sin we approach the limits of our mental capacity. The
plan of salvation belongs to the One who says
the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways
higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts
(Isaiah 55:8-9). In the face of such superiority we
must accept without question that the death of His son
was the only way for God's purpose to be achieved. A
wholehearted belief in this fact is the essential requirement,
even though the reason for Christ's sacrifice is not
Yet Scripture gives some insight into the reasons why Christ's death was effectual in obtaining forgiveness of man's sins. Although a lifetime's study would not suffice to understand all aspects, some of the divine principles involved can be gleaned from a reverent inquiry into God's word.
A common explanation of the work of Jesus likens mankind to a condemned man awaiting execution. A friend comes forward and offers himself as a substitute for the criminal, is accepted, and dies instead of the guilty man. So God accepts the death of Jesus instead of condemned mankind. But this idea that Christ suffered a penalty instead of those who deserved it does not fit with the facts of the case or with Bible teaching. Reason tells us that if Christ died instead of us we ought no longer to die, which we do. But especially is the substitutionary idea incompatible with what God has revealed. Paul describes the death of Jesus as a declaration of the 'justice' and 'righteousness' of God; whereas the killing of an innocent man instead of a guilty one would appear to be a travesty of justice.
So with reverence
we ask what happened on the cross that enabled God to
forgive man's sins? Why was the position different after
the death of Christ from what it was before the crucifixion?
In seeking Bible answers to these questions we begin
to see the way by which God in His infinite wisdom devised
a means of maintaining His righteousness and supremacy
that required that men should die for their sin, but
at the same time opened a way by which sins could be
forgiven. In other words He became
a just God
and a Saviour(Isaiah 45:21).
contrasts what Adam did with what Jesus achieved. In
Eden Adam disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit.
He thus challenged God's supremacy, putting his own
will in opposition to God's will. We are also told
of an incentive to his defiance.
Your eyes shall
be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and
evilwas the temptation by the serpent. This possibility
of seizing equality with God was one of the enticements
to disobedience the unhappy pair received. Such disobedience,
containing a challenge to the very sovereignty of God,
could not go unpunished. Death was pronounced as a punishment
for Adam's sin, and all his descendants have similarly
died, because they all have sinned.
this with the situation on the cross. Jesus offered
himself as a man who was truly representative of all
Adam's fallen race, with identical temptations to sin:
yet he never gave way to them. So, unlike Adam who did
his own will, Jesus subordinated his will completely
to God. It was prophesied of him in the Old Testament:
Lo, I come to do thy will, O God
(Psalm 40:6; Hebrews 10:7). And he summarised this aspect
of his mission when he said that he came
do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me
(John 6:38). Thus Jesus, unlike disobedient Adam, was
completely obedient to God:
though he were
a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which
he suffered(Hebrews 5:8).
another contrast between Adam and Christ. We have seen
that Adam sought equality with God by grasping
and eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. But Jesus,
although God's own Son, did not attempt this. Paul tells
us that he
did not count equality with God a thing
to be grasped .... and became obedient unto death, even
death on a cross(Philippians 2:7-8 RSV).
Furthermore, in Eden death came as a God-inflicted and just punishment. By contrast Jesus voluntarily sacrificed his life: and by this deliberate act acknowledged that God was right in originally demanding the penalty of death for sin.
So, in whatever way Adam had failed, Jesus succeeded.
What, then, did the Cross achieve? It vindicated God's position. It declared Him to be righteous. This is the explanation given by Paul that we must now examine.
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
Commenting on God's scheme of redemption Paul says in one of the most definitive passages about the death of Christ:
now the righteousness of God .... is manifested ....
even the righteousness of God which is by faith of
Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe
.... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory
of God; being justified freely by his grace through
the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath
set forth to be a propitiation (i.e. a covering for
sin) through faith in his blood, to declare his (God's)
righteousness for the remission of sins that are past
.... to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness:
that he might be just, and the justifier of him which
believeth in Jesus(Romans 3:21-26).
Several points come out of a careful perusal of these words. First we note that four times in this passage the sacrifice of Jesus is regarded as a declaration of the righteousness of God. Then we read that the result of this declaration is the forgiveness of sins. We are also told that this forgiveness and justification is available to those who believe in Jesus and have faith in what his shed blood achieved.
Here we have the clues to an understanding of what Christ's sacrifice accomplished. Once the righteousness of God had been demonstrated, then forgiveness could be available to those who believe in Jesus.
So we ask,
in what way was the crucifixion a declaration of the
righteousness of God? Look at it like this. Jesus was
a mortal descendant of Adam, and in every sense a true
representative of the race, but he was sinless. Was
it then right that such as he should die? Was God being
righteous in requiring the death of even a sinless man?
By his public and voluntary offering Jesus declared
the justice of this. He said in effect
right to have punished Adam and his descendants. This
is how condemned human nature should be treated.
What was the effect of this public declaration? With God's supremacy and justice acknowledged on the Cross, the situation in Eden was reversed. Whereas God's supremacy was once challenged and his righteousness impugned, now His justice was publicly demonstrated. On this new basis God offers forgiveness; not to all, but to those who identify themselves with that sacrifice. This will require further elaboration, but suffice it to say at this point that those who believe in Jesus will themselves be made righteous, even as God is righteous:
be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be
sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made
the righteousness of God in him
(2 Corinthians 5:21).
So unrighteous and sinful man will be accounted righteous by God if he believes on Jesus, with all that belief involves. Thus the penalty in Eden can be reversed.
RAISED AGAIN FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION
another aspect to consider arising out of Christ's sinlessness.
Because death is the punishment for sin, and Jesus never
sinned, we read that
it was impossible for death
to keep its hold on him(Acts 2:24 NIV). In the
sentence on the serpent it was foretold that the woman's
Seed in killing sin would himself suffer a temporary
wound. So Christ's death proved to be only temporary.
God raised him from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus is an essential aspect of the redemption that he achieved. By his resurrection the benefits of his sacrifice are made available to the believers. Speaking of the righteousness available through Jesus, Paul says that it will be imputed to all who:
on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
who was delivered for our offences, and was raised
again for our justification(Romans
The resurrection of Christ is therefore essential to a believer's salvation:
Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are
yet in your sins(1 Corinthians 15:17).
With the whole picture of God's purpose with the earth in our minds we can see the truth of these words. God's plan could not be completed without the resurrection of Jesus. The risen Jesus now has the essential role of being our mediator in heaven (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 4:14-15), and God for his sake forgives the sins of the believer. Also the eternal life made possible by Christ's sacrifice will be given at his return to the earth. A Jesus that remained in the grave could not be a mediator and redeemer.
The result of this loving sacrifice of Jesus will be the establishment of complete fellowship between man and his Creator when the Kingdom of God is finally established on earth. Death will at last be banished completely and the barrier to God dwelling with men removed. How we should share the ascriptions of thanksgiving, praise and adoration that will be given to the one who by his death made it all possible and who, excepting God Himself, has become the greatest being in the whole universe:
is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches,
and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and
blessing .... for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed
us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue,
and people, and nation(Revelation 5:12,9).
THE GRACE OF GOD
days when the 'rights' of man are the subject of a lot
of comment and argument it is worth noting that as far
as his redemption is concerned man has no 'rights' whatever.
If God had chosen not to save man no one could have
raised a valid objection. But arching over all the Bible
teaching about man's salvation is the fact of God's
grace toward fallen man. Grace is unmerited favour,
and God has shown this in abundant measure in that
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us(Romans
5:8). The whole of His plan is an evidence of His love
toward a fallen race that is completely unable to help
itself. How thankfully the New Testament writers acknowledge
this! Speaking of Jesus Paul says:
whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness
of sins, according to the riches of his grace
as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace
reign through righteousness unto eternal life through
Jesus Christ our Lord(Romans 5:21).
Truly, no man or woman will ever gain the Kingdom of God by their own efforts. Paul again reminds us of this:
hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling,
not according to our works, but according to his own
purpose and grace(2 Timothy 1:9).
FORGIVENESS FOR ALL?
So we ask: now that Christ has died and God's righteousness has been shown, does it follow that the entire human race has been forgiven its sins? No. We have already seen that forgiveness will be extended only to those who believe on Jesus and what his death accomplished. Many other passages teach this. Jesus said that his Father
his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth
in him should not perish, but have everlasting life
Or as the Saviour again said:
that believeth in me, though he were dead,
yet shall he live(John 11:25).
It is necessary
for the sinner to acknowledge his sinful state, to look
at Jesus dying on the cross and in effect say:
truly believe that you did this for me, and that
through your loving sacrifice all my sins can be forgiven
and I can be reconciled to God. And having become
a believer, there must be public confession of that
belief in Jesus, just as his declaration was public
on the cross. As Paul again says:
thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised
him from the dead, thou shalt be saved(Romans
This topic of the believer's response to the life and work of Jesus is so vital that it merits a chapter of its own. But before we leave the present one let me summarise the Bible teaching about sin and its removal.
In this chapter we have seen that sin is firstly an inbuilt tendency in man which prevents him from living acceptably to God. Secondly it describes the act of those who know the will of God yet break His commandments. The effect of sin is alienation from God, the experiencing of evil and suffering, and eventually death.
From the Old Testament record, which has the support of all New Testament writers, we learnt that sin and death entered because of the disobedience of our first parents. But whilst justly sentencing Adam and Eve, God promised the coming of a descendant of Eve who would destroy the power of sin.
Jesus was this promised Saviour, and by his perfect life and loving sacrifice on the cross made it possible for God to forgive man's sins and so give him immortality in the Kingdom of God, when the breach created in Eden will be finally healed.
This forgiveness is offered to those who first believe in the work of Jesus and who then associate themselves with it in the way God has prescribed.
Above all, our studies in this chapter have a personal application. Every one of us needs forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from death, and we have seen how Jesus Christ can become your Redeemer and mine.
How should we respond?