Topic: The Death Of Jesus Christ
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Luk 21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
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The Death Of Jesus Christ
1. It has a Supreme Place in the Christian Religion
Christianity is a religion of atonement distinctively. The elimination of the doctrine of the death of Christ from the religion that bears His name would mean the surrender of its uniqueness and claim to be the only true religion, the supreme and final revelation from God to the sons of men. It is its redemption feature that distinguishes Christianity from any and all other religions. If you surrender this distinctive Christian doctrine from its creed, then this supreme religion is brought down to the level of many other prevailing religious systems. Christianity is not merely a system of ethics; it is the history of redemption through Jesus Christ, the personal Redeemer.
2. Its Vital Relation to Jesus Christ
The atonement is so closely related to Jesus Christ, so allied to His work, as set forth in the Scriptures, that it is absolutely inseparable from it. Christ was not primarily a religious teacher, a philanthropist, an ethical example; He was all these, yea, and much more—He was first and foremost the world's Saviour and Redeemer. Other great men have been valued for their lives; He, above all, for His death, around which God and man are reconciled. The Cross is the magnet which sends the electric current through the telegraph between earth and heaven, and makes both Testaments thrill, through the ages of the past and future, with living, harmonious, and saving truth. Other men have said: "If I could only live, I would establish and perpetuate an empire." The Christ of Galilee said: "My death shall do it." Let us understand that the power of Christianity lies, not in hazy indefiniteness, not in shadowy forms, not so much even in definite truths and doctrines, but in the truth, and in the doctrine of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Unless Christianity be more tnan ethical, it is not, nor can it really be ethical at all. It is redemptive, dynamic through that redemption, and ethical withal.
3. Its Relation to the Incarnation
It is not putting the matter too strongly when we say that the incarnation was for the purpose of the atonement. At least this seems to be the testimony of the Scriptures. Jesus Christ partook of flesh and blood in order that He might die (Heb. 2:14). "He was manifested to take away our sins" (1 John 3:5). Christ came into this world to give His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). The very purpose of the entire coming of Christ into the word, in all its varying aspects, was that, by assuming a nature like unto our own, He might offer up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. The faith of the atonement presupposes the faith of the incarnation. So close have been the relation of these two fundamental doctrines that their relation is one of the great questions which have divided men in their opinions in the matter: which is primary and which secondary; which is to be regarded as the most necessary to man's salvation, as the primary and the highest fact in the history of God's dealings with man. The atonement naturally arises out of the incarnation so that the Son of God could not appear in our nature without undertaking such a work as the word atonement denotes. The incarnation is a pledge and anticipation of the work of atonement. The incarnation is most certainly the declaration of a purpose on the part of God to save the world. But how was the world to be saved if not through the atonement?
4. Its Prominence in the Scriptures
It was the claim of Jesus, in His conversation with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, that Moses, and all the prophets, indeed, all the Scriptures, dealt with the subject of His death (Luke 24:27, 44). That the death of Christ was the one great subject into which the Old Testament prophets searched deeply is clear from 1 Pet. 1:11, 12. The atonement is the scarlet cord running through every page in the entire Bible. Cut the Bible anywhere, and it bleeds; it is red with redemption truth. It is said that one out of every forty-four verses in the New Testament deals with this theme, and that the death of Christ is mentioned one hundred and seventy-five times. When you add to these figures the typical and symbolical teaching of the Old Testament some idea is gained as to the important place which this doctrine occupies in the sacred Scriptures.
5. The Fundamental Theme of the Gospel
Paul says: "I delivered unto you first of all (i.e., first in order; the first plank in the Gospel platform; the truth of primary importance) . . . that Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:1-3). There can be no Gospel story, message or preaching without the story of the death of Christ as the Redeemer of men.
6. The One Grand Theme in Heaven
Moses and Elias, the heavenly visitors to this earth, conversed about it (Luke 9:30, 31), even though Peter was ashamed of the same truth (Matt. 16:21-25). The theme of the song of the redeemed in heaven is that of Christ's death (Rev. 5:8-12).
The Scriptural Definition of the Death of Christ
The Scriptures set forth the death of Jesus Christ in a four-fold way:
1. As a Ransom. Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18; 1 Tim. 2:6; Gal. 3:13
The meaning of a ransom is clearly set forth in Lev. 25:47-49: To deliver a thing or person by paying a price; to buy back a person or thing by paying the price for which it is held in captivity. So sin is like a slave market in which sinners are "sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14); souls are under sentence of death (Ezek. 18:4). Christ, by His death, buys sinners out of the market, thereby indicating complete deliverance from the service of sin. He looses the bonds, sets the prisoners free, by paying a price—that price being His own precious blood.
To whom this ransom is paid is a debatable question: whether to Satan for his captives, or to eternal and necessary holiness, to the divine law, to the claims of God who is by His nature the holy Lawgiver. The latter, referring to God and His holiness, is probably preferable.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of a broken law by Himself being made a curse for us. His death was the ransom price paid for our deliverance.
2. A Propitiation. Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; Heb. 2:17
Christ is the propitiation for our sins; He is set forth by God to be a propitiation through His blood.
Propitiation means mercy-seat, or covering. The mercy-seat covering the ark of the covenant was called propitiation (Exod. 25:22; Heb. 9:5.) It is that by which God covers, overlooks, and pardons the penitent and believing sinner because of Christ's death. Propitiation furnishes a ground on the basis of which God could set forth His righteousness, and yet pardon sinful men, Rom. 3:25, 26; Heb. 9:15. Christ Himself is the propitiatory sacrifice,
John 2:2. The death of Jesus Christ is set forth as the ground on which a righteous God can pardon a guilty and sinful race without in any way compromising His righteousness.
3. As a Reconciliation. Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20
We are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, by His Cross, and by the blood of His Cross—that is the message of these scriptures.
Reconciliation has two sides; active and passive. In the active sense we may look upon Christ's death as removing the enmity existing between God and man, and which had hitherto been a barrier to fellowship (see the above quoted texts). This state of existing enmity is set forth in such scriptures as Rom. 8:7—"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God." Also Eph. 2:15; Jas. 4:4. In the passive sense of the word it may indicate the change of attitude on the part of man toward God, this change being wrought in the heart of man by a vision of the Cross of Christ; a change from enmity to friendship thus taking place, cf. 2 Cor. 5:20. It is probably better to state the case thus: God is propitiated, and the sinner is reconciled (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
4. As a Substitution. Isa. 53:6; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21
The story of the passover lamb (Exod. 12), with 1 Cor. 5:7, illustrates the meaning of substitution as here used: one life given in the stead of another. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. Christ Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree—this is substitution. Christ died in our place, bore our sins, paid the penalty due our sins; and all this, not by force, but willingly (John 10:17, 18). The idea of substitution is well illustrated by the nature of the preposition used in connection with this phase of Christ's death: In Matt. 20:28 Christ is said to give His life a ransom for all (also 1 Tim. 2:6). That this preposition means instead of is clear from its use in Matt. 2:22—"Archelaus did reign in the room (or in the stead) of his father, Herod." Also in Luke 11:11—"Will he for a fish give him a serpent?" (See Heb. 12:2, 16.) Substitution, then, as used here means this: That something happened to Christ, and because it happened to Christ, it need not happen to us. Christ died for our sins; we need not die for them if we accept His sacrifice. For further illustrations, see Gen. 22:13; God providing a ram instead of Isaac; also Barabbas freed and Christ bearing his cross and taking his place.
The Necessity of Christ's Death
The necessity of the atonement lay in a twofold fact: The holiness of God, and the sinfulness of man. The doctrine of the atonement is a related subject, and it cannot be properly understood unless it is viewed as such. It is related to certain conditions existing between God and man—a condition and relation which has been affected by sin. It is necessary, therefore, to know this relation and how it has been affected by sin. This relation between God and man is a personal one. No other construction can legitimately be put upon the passages setting forth this relationship. "Thou has searched me, and known me." "I am continually with Thee." It is, moreover, an ethical relationship, and that which is ethical is at the same time personal and universal, that is to say, that God's dealings with mankind are expressed in a moral constitution of universal and eternal validity. These relationships are disordered by sin. No matter how sin came to be here we are morally conscious, by the testimony of a bad conscience, that we are guilty, and that our sin is not merely a matter of personal guilt but a violation of a universal moral law.
1. The Holiness of God
We should carefully note the emphasis laid upon the doctrine of God's holiness in the Old Testament (see under Attributes of God). The Levitical law, the laws of clean and unclean, the tabernacle and the temple with its outer court, its holy and most holy place, the priestly order and the high priest, the bounds set around Mt. Sinai, things and persons that might not be touched without causing defilement, sacred times and seasons, these, and much more, speak in unmistakable terms of the holiness of God.
We are thus taught that if sinful man is to approach unto God, it must be through the blood of atonement. The holiness of God demands that before the sinner can approach unto and have communion with Him, some means of propitiation must be provided. This means of approach is set forth in the shed blood.
2. The Sin of Man
Light and erroneous views of the atonement come from light and erroneous views of sin. If sin is regarded as merely an offence against man, a weakness of human nature, a mere disease, rather than as rebellion, transgression, and enmity against God, and therefore something condemning and punishable, we shall not, of course, see any necessity for the atonement. We must see sin as the Bible depicts it, as something which brings wrath, condemnation, and eternal ruin in its train. We must see it as guilt that needs expiation.
We must see sin as God sees it before we can denounce it as God denounces it. We confess sin today in such light and easy terms that it has almost lost its terror.
In view of these two thoughts, the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, the question naturally arises: How is the mercy of God to be manifested so that His holiness will not be compromised by His assuming a merciful attitude towards sinful men in the granting of forgiveness, pardon, justification? The answer is: The only way in which this can be done is by means of the atonement.
3. The Fulfillment of the Scriptures
We may add this third thought to the two already mentioned. There is a sense in which the atonement was necessary in order to the fulfillment of the predictions of the Old Testament—predictions inseparable from the person and work of the Messiah. If Jesus Christ were the true Messiah, then these predictions regarding His sufferings and death must be fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44; Isa. 53; Psa. 22; 69).
The Great Doctrines of the Bible.
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