Redemption as shown in the New Testament
"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." So what is meant by ‘the fullness of the time?’ It had been over 400 years since God had spoken to the nation of Israel through the prophets. This does not mean that God was not working out His plans, though. Quite the contrary. He was orchestrating on a grand scale to prepare the way for His Son. The conditions had to be just so and the prophecies needed to be fulfilled.
In the book of Daniel, two images come up that foretell coming kingdoms that would be precursors to the coming of the Messiah. In the vision of the great statue, there was the chest of silver, the belly of bronze and the legs of iron. These signified the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires, respectively. We also see the image of the four beasts in which there was a bear, a four-headed leopard and the ‘dreadful’ beast. Again, these relate to the Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans. The most significant of these are the Greeks and the Romans. The primary influence of the Greeks was the spread of the Greek language and culture. Wherever Alexander the Great went, he would build amphitheaters, temples and Greek schools. The Roman contribution consisted of the rule of law and the famous Roman roads, some of which are still in existence today.
But what of God’s people? During the successive invasions and occupations by various armies, their religion had become weakened. Two groups arose in opposition to this: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both groups were purists. The Pharisees were purists of the Law. So much so that over the centuries they developed an intricate system of sub-laws to make sure that the Law itself would not be violated. The Sadducees, on the other hand, focused primarily on the temple and the service there and rejected the oral law of the Pharisees. In both cases, they were so wrapped up in their own traditions that the traditions themselves became gods to them. It was the tradition that was to be revered, feared and served. Religious decay and moral decay had again entered into the house of Judah and when the conditions were just right, God sent His Son.
"…for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." How could this be? The Lord becoming a man? It is still a mystery that the greatest of theologians wrestle with. The incarnation is a great mystery of God, but even as finite beings man can apprehend what it entails. The question that must be asked is this: Why did God clothe Himself with frail human flesh? What was the purpose of sending His Son? To answer this question, one must go back to the Old Testament. God had revealed His Law to the people through Moses at Mt. Sinai. God also knew that the people were not capable of keeping the Law so He set in place a sacrificial system whereby, through the blood of animals, man could cover over his sins and retain fellowship with the Father. There were also priests put in place to act as mediators between God and man and offer the sacrifices that were brought by the people.
The necessity of Christ’s humanity is made apparent in all of these areas and others. While man is not capable of keeping the Law of God because of his sinful nature, Jesus could and did live His life in full obedience to the Law. Therefore, He is able to act as our representative in His obedience just as Adam was our representative in sin. Secondly, as the blood of animals is sorely insufficient to actually take away the sins of man, a man’s blood must be poured out to take away the sins of man. Thus the sinless Christ must be that sacrifice. There remains, then the mediator between God and man. The high priest of the Old Testament may have been a good representative of man before God, but he did it imperfectly. He didn’t know the full suffering of all men, just his own. Here is where Christ enters as our mediator. He represents us perfectly before God. He is a man that has lived in the midst of the human experience. He knows what we have been through and how we feel. He is familiar with the temptations we have faced, yet has defeated them. For this reason, Christ also must remain a man forevermore. Eternally acting as our high priest and mediator after the order of Melchizadek.
In addition to these, Christ’s humanity also offers us this: He is the perfect example of how we are to live our lives to God. He also shows the pattern of our eternal, resurrected bodies as He is the Firstborn from among the dead.
As important as the humanity of Christ is, His deity is of equal importance. Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology sets forth three reasons for the necessity of Christ’s deity. First, a finite creature could not bear the penalty of the combined sins of all the elect for all time, only God could. Second, as Jonah 2:9 states, "…salvation is from the LORD." Due to this, no creature can affect the salvation of man. Third, only God could act as a perfect mediator, not only bringing man back to God, but revealing God to us in a perfect way as Christ revealed in the gospel of John where he said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father…."
Now that the necessity of both the humanity and the divinity of Christ has been explained, the question yet remains as to how it was accomplished. How could the perfectly holy God join with the corruptible flesh of man? Was Christ a human man with a divine will only? Were the two natures co-mingled in the one person? Was the divine divorced from the human in such a way as to make Christ, in effect, schizophrenic? As finite creatures, we may never fully understand how this union works, but some clues may be found in the pages of Scripture and the creeds of the early Church.
The first step in defining the relationship between the Father and the Son came at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Prior to this council, a man named Arius had begun teaching that the Father and the Son were not quite the same. He taught that they were of similar essence, but not the same. What was codified at the Council of Nicaea was that the Father and the Son were of the same essence; that there was a union in their substantial nature or actual being. The final definition of the orthodox view we hold to today was given at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. It stated clearly that Jesus was perfectly or completely God and yet also perfectly or completely man. The creed goes on to affirm that the two natures exist in the one person “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” This has been termed the ‘hypostatic union.’
"…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live a ransom for many." Since the Fall, mankind has been in open rebellion to God. At birth we are guilty of original sin and throughout our lives we display that we are in bondage to a nature that is against God. There is nothing man can do that pleases God. There are several possibilities for man at this point: God could have left man in his sin and poured out His wrath in judgement, He could have decided to provide a way of salvation for all mankind or He could have provided a way to save some. Since the Scriptures tell the story of God’s saving grace, the first option can be eliminated. Likewise, it is clear in God’s word that some are still destined for judgement and wrath. That leaves only the option that God chose to provide a way of salvation for a portion of mankind. But how was this salvation to be worked out?
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement." A shadow of God’s plan in salvation can be found in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Those who violated the Law were required, through the priest, to bring a blood sacrifice. This blood was to provide a covering for the sins, but was not worthy enough to actually pay the full penalty. Thus, Christ came to be a perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of those whom God had chosen beforehand to take part in salvation. The entirety of the Atonement is comprised of several facets: first, fallen man was not able to obey the Law; second, man deserved death because of the transgressions of the Law; third, man was an enemy of God and lastly man was in bondage to sin. As was shown in the section on the Incarnation, Christ lived a life in perfect obedience to the Father. He perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the Law. In His death, Christ bore the punishment of our sins on His shoulders. At that point, He suffered the accumulated sufferings of all the elect for all time. He was declared guilty in place of the elect and bore the wrath of the Father for them and His righteousness was credited to the elect. Because of this, "we have peace with God." We have been reconciled. Lastly, He broke the chains of bondage to sin. Among the last recorded words of Christ on the cross was the word "tetelestai", a Greek word meaning "paid in full." The sin-debt that had been accumulated since the Fall in the Garden had been laid upon His shoulders and had been accounted for. Now, through faith in that finished work, mankind could again have fellowship and right standing with the Father in order to enjoy Him forever.
Over the centuries there have been other opinions of what Christ accomplished at Calvary. Rather than addressing the more outlandish ones, a short presentation will be made of some of these other views. First is the ‘ransom’ theory. Simply put, this view states that Satan held mankind captive and that Christ’s blood was shed as payment to Satan to free them. This view was held by some early Church fathers as well as some modern ‘preachers.’ The challenge with this view is that is give too much authority to Satan and overlooks the idea that God’s judgement for sin had to be fulfilled. Another popular view, especially among liberals, is the ‘moral influence’ theory. This theory states that the death of Jesus was a ‘supreme manifestation of love’ and set an unparalleled example for us to follow in our moral lives. This view not only denies the deity of Christ, which liberals are wont to do, it denies the ideas of justice and holiness in God the Father. It takes away the seriousness of man’s sinful condition and bases ‘salvation’ on the emotional state of the individual. The final view that will be examined here is referred to as the ‘governmental’ theory. Some have deemed it fit to consider this view the ‘kick-the-dog’ theory. What this view holds to is that the Father has put in place a perfectly holy order of things. When man violated that order, the anger of God was roused. In order to manifest His great displeasure with the way mankind had trampled over His Law, God poured out his wrath on Jesus. Not because of anything Jesus had done or anything He was being held accountable for, but simply because He was there. In a similar way that a man comes home from a hard day at work, angry with his supervisor, and kicks the family dog to vent his anger. Therefore Christ did not atone for our sins, He merely served as an example of what happens to those who violate the Law of God. None of the alternative views presented here are true to the whole of Scripture. It becomes obvious as one reads the Bible that Christ’s death was meant as a substitutionary atonement for the purpose of paying the penalty for all the past, present and future sins of the elect. Erich Sauer notes this on the idea of substitution:
So deeply was the thought of substitution impressed in advance on the Old Testament that sometimes it uses one and the same word for sin and sin offering (Heb. Chata-ah). In Exod. 34:7 and I Sam. 2:17 this word means sin; in Num. 32:23 and Isa. 5:18, the punishment of sin; and in Lev. 6:18, 23 and Ezek. 40:39 the sin offering. Thus also Christ, Who knew no sin, was "made sin for us," that is, was caused to be the sin offering (II Cor. 5:21).
"For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." Therein lies the ultimate meaning in the work of Christ. According to Sauer, the Atonement of Christ had a dual effect: that of justification and that of sanctification. Through His death and resurrection the elect are justified and counted as righteous and He died on the cross so that His chosen ones would not have to suffer the wrath of God. Those who place their faith in Christ are at the same time saved from sin and saved to righteousness. They are now a "new creation." The idea that Christians have been "crucified with Christ" has several aspects to it: they are dead to the world around them, they are dead to their old ways (the ‘old man’), they are in a position of victory over Satan and his influence and, lastly, they are heirs to the bountiful blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yet this all has a great responsibility. Christians have been given the gift of God’s grace and will be held accountable for how it was used or abused. For Christ will return one day as the righteous judge and all who believe will be called before Him to account for how they lived their lives under grace. Sauer points out that frighteningly severe terms are used in connection with the judgment of the Church when Christ returns. The quality of our works will be revealed by fire. Those who have squandered their inheritance will be filled with fear and will shrink away in shame. They will enter heaven, but only in a similar manner to a man saved from a burning home only to find that he has nothing left to his name.It is for this reason that the Christian must work throughout the course of their salvation seeking the will of God through His Spirit. It should inspire great awe and humility to know that, when man was a wicked sinner set against God in rebellion, He would choose some that took park in that rebellion to be saved from the just penalty for their treason. Not only this but the fact that, in order to accomplish this, He poured out His wrath on His perfect Son instead so that the chosen could be counted as righteous before Him. It is because of this great gift that the Christian should walk a life of humble obedience. He has been counted as righteous, so let him walk in righteousness. The apostle Paul puts it so succinctly when he says in Romans, "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" The Christian must also change their way of thinking to one that is honoring to God. This is only possible because of the work of Christ as there is no way for a man in sin to do this. This renewal of the mind comes from the reading of the Word of God and fellowship with Him through prayer. After all, what burden is this? To be asked to fellowship with the One who saved us from eternal punishment? To search out His written word so as to know His will and do it? These are very small things in light of what He has done to redeem us to Himself. The change the world sees in the life of the believer will only bring glory to God and that is purpose for which man was created. Soli Deo Gloria!