The Biblical

Revelation of the Cross

A Study of the Atonement from Scripture and the Early Church

– the new and expanded online edition!

Check the Scriptures

Ever since the time of Eusebius of Caesarea, writing in the early fourth century, various theologians have attempted to explain the cross of Christ in terms of some form of penal substitution. Indeed, in Evangelical Christianity many would argue that such a tenet is not only the teaching of Scripture, but also one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith – one that needs to be rigorously defended against all opposition and interpreted by many to have historical, traditional and scriptural support.

Nevertheless, to many others, this ‘crowning tenet of faith’ causes unease – like viewing the woven crown of thorns thrust down upon the head of our Saviour, in mockery of His true Lordship and the justice of God. Instead of THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, Jesus is often portrayed as sin personified – one left derelict at the cross. In the place of God’s righteous judgment, we see a travesty. His murder is termed ‘God’s wrath’. Cursed by man, He is deemed to have suffered the curse of God. Though innocent, we are taught that He suffered the punishment of God, as one guilty in our place.

In Penal Substitution theology, it is thought that God caused our Lord’s death by allowing His Son to be crucified as a penal substitute for us. In this view, the just end is thought to justify the use of unjust means and to overcome moral issues concerning how one who is innocent could be rightfully punished for the crimes of the guilty.

However, sincerity of belief is not the issue, here. It is truth. How clearly we know the truth will determine how effective we are as His disciples, for Jesus is the Truth. Scripture reveals that God was not the cause of our Lord’s death. Jesus died as a result of the sinfulness of man.

Man has freewill and was allowed to act against God’s Son, according to God’s foreknowledge, within and up to the bounds that He had set, that His Son should fulfill all that was required of Him, as a necessary witness and propitiation for our salvation. His death was unavoidable in the course of His ministry and witness to us. The sacrificial offering of His life was the propitiation.

John exhorts us to ‘lay down our lives for the brethren’ as we have example in Christ, who ‘laid down His life for us’ (1 John 3:16). This was the sacrifice of Christ as John described it. Jesus laid down His life for us.

In Scripture, it is clear that the terminology of self-sacrifice that can be used for us is the same as that used of Jesus. Paul was prepared to die for his brethren if that could save them (Rom.9:3). Stephen, as we read in Acts (Acts 7:60), did die in his witness for Christ (as have many others). He did not recant of his faith before the Jewish council, but knowingly gave up his life in the service of God. – Now, can we say that God ‘caused’ the death of Stephen? The disciple was certainly ‘sent’ by God – but he was sent ‘to preach the gospel’ of Christ and Stephen’s death, though necessary, was not caused by God. In the case of Stephen, it was necessary for him to also suffer and die. He died for the sake of those who heard and saw his witness of faith. Amongst those who heard Stephen, as we read, was one ‘Saul of Tarsus’ – who was later to become ‘Paul the Apostle’.

This was the manner of the sacrifice of Christ, as is written of Him in the Scriptures. Yet, of course, there is a difference between the sacrifice of God’s Son and that demanded of us. He lived without sin. He rebuked the devil and all temptations to do evil. He was God’s righteousness revealed. In all respects, he succeeded where Adam had failed. He was ‘God with us’, in the flesh. But, He was also the Lamb of God, sent to be a sacrifice and to die for us. His life and sacrifice of Himself, therefore, was pleasing to God. He held nothing back, but permitted Himself to be taken and His body killed. – In so doing, He revealed that in Him we should have no fear of death. Though suffering wrongfully, He ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ), and received from Him the justice of the resurrection. Now, for all who look to Him, His offering of Himself avails. We are accepted with Christ.

The aim of this book is to reveal the witness from Scripture and the Early Church concerning the atonement and how this should be understood, according to the biblical revelation itself. I have no doubt it will be challenging to many, but keep an open mind and be like the Bereans, who were praised for zealously checking the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).

Belief in creation and evolution is also discussed in the Addenda and may be found of help with reference to the Genesis account of creation and the fall.

God bless you through your studies.

Norman McIlwain

 *

CONTENTS

Introduction

Part One: The Biblical Revelation

Chapter 1

 ‘To punish the righteous is not good’ Proverbs 17:26, NKJV

Sub-headings:

Chapter 2

‘The reason the Son of God appeared’ 1 John 3:8, NIV

Sub-headings:

Chapter 3

‘He bore the sin of many’ Isaiah 53:12, NKJ

Sub-headings:

Chapter 4

‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood …’ John 6:54, NKJ

Sub-headings:

Chapter 5

‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?’ Micah 6:7, NKJ

Sub-headings:

Chapter 6

Our Personal Response

Sub-headings:

Chapter 7

Our Corporate Response and Evangelism

Sub-headings:

Part Two: The Early Church

Chapter 8

Irenaeus and the Recapitulation of Christ

Sub-headings:

Chapter 9

Atonement in Athanasius of Alexandria

Sub-headings:

‘He has not Himself become a curse’
‘man is by nature mortal’
‘an offering and sacrifice free from every stain’
‘The the end of His earthly life and the nature of His bodily death’
The Letter of Athanasius of Alexandria to Marcellinus

Chapter 10

Atonement in Eusebius of Caesarea – The Demonstration of the Gospel: ‘Heal My Soul’?

Sub-headings:

Chapter 11

The Nature of Man’s Creation and the Consequence of the Fall

Sub-headings:

Chapter 12

‘In Him We Have Redemption’: The Witness from Scripture and the Early Church

Sub-headings:

The Message – Plain and simple

Addenda:

Creation and Evolution

Sub-headings:

*

‘Penal Substitution’ – Answering the Advocates

Sub-headings:

Statement of Faith

Bibliography

About the Author

A share in ministry?

In publishing Part One of this book in print and now as an expanded and extensively revised online edition, together with Part Two, I have wished to follow the instruction: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Mt.10v8).

The online edition of the book (containing Parts One & Two) is currently made available only online through bible-study-online.org, but it is hoped that this will also receive publication in print, pending finance. That is where readers might help.

Having freely received, some may feel they want to give something in return. If, however, you are not able to give any financial support, do not worry. The Lord bless you. Give me your prayers and share with others.

It also seems wrong to deny others this means of sharing in the work. For this reason, anyone who wants to make a financial contribution can now do so online by using the secure PayPal or card facility, as shown below. Another way of helping is by providing a link.

Thank you for reading.

God bless you!

Norman McIlwain,

6th February, 2013




To God be the glory. Amen.

email: nmc@ website

All rights reserved: © N.McIlwain, 2006-2013

      Picture3 cross

Introduction

The Son of God came that He should ‘bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37, NKJ). Yet, perhaps the greatest truth of all: ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor.15:3, NKJ), remains for many the greatest mystery.  How can the death of Christ be the means of saving us from our sins?

Ever since the passing of the apostolic fathers, this question has been the subject of much debate and controversy. – And none more so than today! For answers, we need to go back to the beginning. For although we ought to appreciate contributions that scholars and theologians have made to our understanding from times ancient to modern, all must be judged against the biblical revelation – especially that revealed in the New Testament.

On the eve of the crucifixion, anticipating His own sacrifice as the Lamb of God, after eating a Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus took wine and poured it out for them, saying: ‘This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’ (Mat.26:28, NKJ). The blood was representing His life. – As Leon Morris, the late well-known author and theologian, commenting on the phrase: ‘life is in the blood’ (Lev.17:11), remarked: ‘life yielded up in death’ was the sacrificial meaning of ‘blood’ (The Cross in the New Testament, p.219). In making the perfect offering of His life to God for us, it was necessary for Him to suffer and die. The true reasons for His sacrifice are told in the Scriptures. The inspired words of their writers guide us in our quest for the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and supply all that is required for the knowledge of salvation. Even so, as Paul remarked, we need to rightly divide God’s word (2 Tim.2:15). The Holy Bible was prayerfully written and compiled. It needs to be prayerfully studied if we are to spiritually discern its truth. We have to leave behind our prejudices and presuppositions. We must be aware of context, both historical and textual, and seek to know meanings in the original languages where necessary.

Context and perspectives matter. If Jesus had become ‘sin’ and ‘accursed’, was this ‘the reality’ from God’s perspective, or was this how Jesus was perceived and judged from a worldly point of view? We are guilty and as sinners are undeserving of eternal life. The old self deserves to die. That is biblical and just. Punishing the innocent in the place of the guilty clearly is not.

The Bible states: ‘The soul who sins shall die. […]The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself’ (Ez.18:20, NKJ). ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both’ (Prov.17:15).

Biblical statements such as these, that would seem to oppose any idea of penal substitution, are sometimes dismissed with the reasoning that such verses merely refer to the justice of God in human affairs and cannot, therefore, be applied to justice in situations where divine – human relations are concerned, as that undertaken on our behalf by Christ. However, such reasoning implies double standards on the part of our Creator.

We know it is wrong in terms of human justice to punish the innocent in the place of the guilty. Such an act would be judged immoral and indefensible. However, the law in the conscience that gives man a sense of right and wrong comes from God (Rom.2:15) and does not function according to ‘human standards’. Man is created in the image of God and intuitively knows right from wrong. Without doubt, our conscience bares witness. Moreover, so do the Scriptures.

One must suppress one’s own natural, God-given conscience with respect to justice in order to accept Penal Substitution theology. At the cross, Jesus received the injustice of man, not the justice of God. In Acts, we read that He was ‘deprived of justice’ (Acts 8:33). The justice of God was the resurrection.

Sometimes it is argued that ‘the end’ (man’s salvation) justified the ‘means’ (penal substitution). It is reasoned that this was how the obvious moral issues could be overcome. However, this is a reflection of Machiavelli, not Scripture. It suggests God ‘caused’ the death of His Son when, in fact, the sinfulness of man was the cause. God’s love caused Him to act to save us from our sins.

Jesus died in the fulfilment of His witness and propitiation for us and for our salvation. The Father sent His Son for this purpose. The gift of Himself, on our behalf, in perfect obedience to the Father’s will, fulfilled all righteousness. The holy, sacrificial offering of His ‘life’, apart from sin, was the propitiation – received by God and accepted for all who truly believe and repent.

When we look to the cross, we need to see not just a man, or even a ‘good’ man, hanging there – we need to see that here was the perfect Man, the Son of God – undefeated in His confrontation with evil, yielding His body to death and despising the shame, in order to fulfil all righteousness for our sakes and to witness to His truth through the power of the resurrection, that we might believe, repent and be saved. We need to understand that here was the Son, offering hope to the needy, comfort to the downhearted, deliverance for the sick, release for the oppressed, the forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption by the gift of the Holy Spirit and everlasting life for all who seek to be established in the likeness and love of God.

Amen.

Norman McIlwain

July, 2013

*

Part 1: The Biblical Revelation

Chapter 1

‘To punish the righteous is not good’

(Proverbs 17:26, NKJV)

‘In his humiliation he was deprived of justice,’ Acts 8:33. This is what the Bible says happened to Jesus at His trial. He was deprived of justice. Yet, so often, theologians try to explain the crucifixion in terms of God’s justice. Why is this? The Bible nowhere states that Jesus was justly executed. On the contrary, it is the contention of Scripture that He died as the Lamb without blemish and without spot, leaving an example of how to endure when suffering wrongfully (1 Pet.1:19; 2:19-23). Now, of course, the phrase: ‘without blemish and without spot’ is not a reference to the Lord’s human appearance at the time He died, for His body had been severely beaten, scourged and crucified. Indeed, according to the prophecy in Isaiah: ‘His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men’ (Isa.52:14, NKJ). Rather, this phrase referred to the Lord’s own perfect righteousness  and sinlessness. To the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote that Christ’s offering and sacrifice was received by the Father as ‘a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2); that is, symbolically, an offering without any stench of the corruption of sin. The Lord Jesus Christ, in both life and death, was both spiritually pure and untainted by any transgression.

So, what is the reasoning that leads so many to believe today that Christ atoned for our sins by suffering the penalty of death according to God’s justice? Basically, it is this, as commonly taught:

1. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). Even newborn infants are born with a sinful nature (Ps.51:5). This is due to the corruption that entered into mankind through sin, as illustrated by the fall of Adam (Rom.5:19).

2. Death is the penalty for sin against God (Rom.6:23). God’s law demands satisfaction.

3. Mankind cannot earn salvation from sin by good works (Gal.2:16).

4. Only by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ can we be saved (Acts 4:12; Rom.3:24-26).

5. Jesus died to pay the penalty of death in our place, that we might live (Rom.5:8; John 3:16). Physically, He became a substitute and suffered the punishment that was our due and just reward.

6. On the cross, Jesus took all our sins and guilt upon Himself, becoming legally responsible for all the sins of mankind (2 Cor.5:21; 1 Pet.2:24; Is.53:6-12). Spiritually, He became a substitute; and, as such, God the Father turned away and left Him derelict during the crucifixion (Mat.27:46). He suffered the penalty of separation from God the Father, which is a consequence and penalty of sin.

It sounds convincing, especially when we are led to read certain Bible verses with this view in mind; but we must examine the Scriptures in context and analyze this teaching carefully in the light of God’s Word, to know if it is true. It is possible to have faith in Christ and be in error. Trust can be genuine, but understanding can be flawed. It is possible to come to a belief in Christ as personal Saviour and Lord without a true understanding of the atonement. However, faith that has come through a flawed or false gospel will be limited in power and effect, according to the degree of accepted error. The Lord calls us by various means, but He expects us to overcome our errors as we mature in faith.

Surprising as it may seem, the above interpretation is not the only one given to these verses of Scripture—but it may be the only one you have heard so far. Now is the time to examine the Bible again, from a different point of view. Verses of Scripture never contradict each other. Too often, apparent conflicts are called ’mysteries’, when in fact they are simply problems of understanding that can be clearly resolved when the correct interpretations are applied.

Could God have done that which is not good?

Could God have punished an innocent Man? (Prov.17:26, NKJV). If the argument is that God made Jesus guilty for our sins, then we have another problem to reconcile: It is written, ‘The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself’ (Ez.18:20, NKJ). The context of Ezekiel chapter 18 makes it clear that God’s justice does not allow for the transfer of guilt from one person to another. The responsibility for sin lies with the sinner. Even the conscience and reason testify that justice must be correctly applied and is not simply a matter of exacting a penalty—as though the issuing of the penalty is all that is important, even if it falls upon one who is innocent of the offence. True justice requires that the penalty for a crime be applied to the guilty alone, as it states in the Law: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin’ (Deut.24v16, NKJ; cf. 2 Chron. 25v4). In ancient times, it was a practice to also punish close relatives of the guilty for serious crimes. The Lord loathes all injustice. Prov.17:15: ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both’ (NIV).

Jesus gave His life for us as a perfect sacrifice, without sin. Yet, in His body He bore our sins—the sins of man. He was bruised, lacerated, torn and pierced. The sins of mankind were plainly visible in His flesh. He also bore the pain of man’s sins in His heart. He was burdened by those sins, but He was never the One responsible for them. The sins were the sins of mankind. Justice demands that the guilty must answer for their sins, not the innocent. How then are we set free from the penalty of death? It is through the offering Christ made of His life. This He gave willingly to God for us—as the perfect offering and covering for sin—sufficient for all who truly believe and repent.

Christ’s forsakenness at the time of His trial was physical—not spiritual. The Father removed His protection and permitted His Son to be delivered into the hands of sinful men. God did not resist, but allowed His love to shine forth in the midst of suffering. Jesus gave the sacrifice to God of a sinless perfect life for our sakes. He gave what mankind cannot give, because of sin. His offering avails for all who now trust in Him as Saviour and Lord. So, what of the penalty of death? Didn’t Jesus die for us? Yes.

In death, He made the perfect offering of His life to God for our salvation. This is why Peter emphasizes the purity of Christ’s blood and offering. Christ’s gift of Himself had to be without spot and blemish, as symbolized by the Old Testament sacrifices. These were instituted to foreshadow the purity of Christ’s own sacrifice. Jesus gave His life as an offering, holy and acceptable to God for our sakes. Now, as we put our trust in Him, we are accepted by God along with Him. Jesus did not die to pay (as is supposed) the penalty of death. It was not God’s punishment, although He allowed His Son to suffer because of the good that would ensue. The judgment upon Jesus at His trial was the justice of man. The justice of God was the justice of the resurrection, when the Father overturned the verdict of an earthly court and raised Jesus to a position of heavenly glory, giving Him a name that is above every name. It was to ‘Him who judges righteously’ that Jesus committed Himself (1 Pet.2:23), not to the justice of sinful man.

‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’

(John 1:29, NKJ)

When we talk of sin, we might think of it in terms of breaking God’s Law. This divine Law is written into the conscience and serves as a reminder that ultimately no one is without guilt before God: ‘All have sinned,’ as Paul in his letter to the Romans remarked, ‘and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3v23, NKJ). Sin is undoubtedly an act against God in heaven and one that demands our repentance if we are to seek God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. True repentance is accompanied by ‘godly sorrow’ (2 Cor.7v10) and requires not only that we acknowledge our guilt and seek to be forgiven, but also that we correct our ways and seek to atone for past wrongs. Repenting thus, we can be assured that God will forgive. However, the problem of sin is not dealt with simply through forgiveness – forgiveness does not cause sin to cease. Moreover, the Bible also speaks of man sinning against man:

If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him (Luke 17v3-4, NKJ).

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother (Mat.18v15, NKJ).

One might consider Old Testament passages also:

If a man sin against his neighbour … (2 Ch. 6v22, NKJ).

If one man sin against another … (1 Sam. 2v25, NKJ).

Yes, sin is the breaking of God’s Law, but in sinning we sin against God and man. Humans, unlike animals, are rational creatures made in the image of God (Gen.1v26). We grieve not only God in heaven by our sins, but also mankind, of course, in countless ways. We need forgiveness for sins against both the nature of man and God to be totally free of the penal debt owed because of sin. Now, through the coming of Christ, there should be no doubt.

The incarnation of the Word of God, through the assumption of a body of flesh – as a second Adam and Head of all mankind – made possible the whole cleansing of man from sin. The Holy One of God, entering our world in the form of man through human birth and suffering the sins of man, even unto death, became the means of salvation for all humanity, enabling the complete forgiveness of all who truly repent and turn to God. Now, by the blood of Christ – signifying the righteous offering of His life poured out for our sakes – all who call upon His name can stand forgiven and cleansed of all guilt and shame. As followers of God’s Son, His offering is accepted for us – His life covers our own and all sin is forgiven. Moreover, by the grace of God, all who are accepted of God in Christ receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into their hearts – that they may walk in newness of life as His children (Acts 2:38; Rom.5:5; 8:15-16).

Often, our failings towards others cannot receive the forgiveness of those we have hurt or neglected to help. Loss of acquaintance through time, place or death can make this impossible for us to achieve. It can also be that those we have hurt refuse to forgive. Too late we realize our faults – too late to make amends. For the repentant, pangs of guilt can cause deep sorrow and pain for personal wrongs against others remembered with shame. How can we be forgiven for the neighbour we did not help, for the people we did not thank, for the many acts and thoughts of unkindness that are now mostly forgotten? – It is through Jesus Christ. The Creator took on the form of His creation and became the Head of all humanity – one person, having two natures, both human and divine. As such, all of man’s sins became acts of sin against Himself, Emmanuel. He empathized with the suffering of others caused as a result of sin, but also felt that suffering in kind, through all He endured at the cross. Now, through Him there should be no doubt – that as we repent, we will be forgiven all sin.

Note:

Recognizing that Jesus may be described as the head of all mankind has led some to argue that, as the ‘Federal Head’, He must also have become legally guilty and responsible for the sins of those for whom He is the Head.

No. Being the head of a family does not make one guilty for the sins of family members (see Ezek.18:20). However, a sin against one family member may indeed be considered a sin against all; especially, it may be said, against the family head. In this respect, John Donne’s meditation, ‘No Man is an Island’, comes to mind, expressing this sentiment with a ring of truth ‘no man’ should fail to hear:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”

Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

The Word of God, as Head of the human family through the incarnation, is the One against whom all have sinned. As previously remarked, in God’s law, the father cannot be held guilty for sins of children. For this reason, Jesus cannot be held guilty or responsible for the sins of the world, nor for any of the perpetrators of evil in all its forms.

(* From the Addenda: The principle of Federal Headship in legal terms can easily be understood with reference to company law, where it is sometimes applied. The owners of a company are responsible for actions that happen within the company rules and consent of management. Corporate manslaughter is a good example. However, the company would need to be involved in the action. One employee murdering another in a fit of temper, for example, would not make the owners of the company guilty for the crime. It would have happened without their consent and certainly against company rules. However, drugs manufactured that later are found to cause death would make the company and its owners liable. Guilt would rightly be imputed – because of the company’s consent to the manufacture. Consent makes all the difference. God does not consent to sin. Mankind broke the rules – God is not implicated in our guilt. See also here:‘Penal Substitution and Justice’ and ‘God’s Character’)

At the cross, Jesus gave His life in complete righteousness and without any stain of sin whatsoever. Because of this, His offering was acceptable to God and so are we, whose sins are forgiven and whose lives are covered by His own.

The meaning of forgiveness

God’s law includes forgiveness. The command to forgive others from the heart when they repent is a command with serious consequences for those who disobey (Mat.6:14-15). True forgiveness entails the removal of all debts and penalties. One is not required to undergo punishment in order to be forgiven. We can clearly see this verified in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt.18:21-35):

The servant owed his master a great sum of money and was unable to repay, so he pleaded with his master to have mercy. The master had compassion, released him from punishment and forgave him the debt. The servant then went out and did the opposite. He found a fellow servant who owed him a very much smaller sum. He treated the man unkindly and even refused to listen to the man’s pleas for mercy. He had his fellow servant thrown into prison until the debt could be repaid. Notice, when the master forgave, no more was owing. He forgave all the debt (v32). Likewise, when God forgives, the total debt is cancelled and there is no more penalty. It is not that Jesus took our punishment upon Himself that we might be forgiven—forgiveness is not reliant upon the exacting of punishment. Only when there is no forgiveness does a penalty remain. Forgiveness cancels the debt that is owing and removes the penalty for sin. In this context, we could also cite the parable of the ‘prodigal son’ (Lk.15:11-32): A loving father is pictured as freely forgiving his wasteful repentant son.

God’s law allows for repentance and forgiveness. It is not that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins—forgiveness is not dependent upon the paying of a penalty.

To be forgiven of God, one must sincerely repent. There needs to be an earnest desire for a change of heart—to bury the old-self to live life anew, in accordance with God’s will. One’s attitude should be that of godly sorrow for past misdeeds (2 Cor.2:10): ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation.’ Merely asking to be forgiven is not enough. Words are not enough. Sorrow brought on only out of fear of punishment is not enough. One must be sorry for the hurt one has caused others. Also, one cannot expect forgiveness if one intends to continue as before. Repentance, if genuine, will also bear the fruit of an earnest desire to atone for past sins, as far as this is possible.

 One should wish to atone for past wrongs – to willingly accept responsibility for any restitution and compensation required, according to what is just. – Recall such an example praised by Christ: ‘Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold”’ (Lk.19:8, NKJ).

When there is genuine repentance, acts of atonement can satisfy justice and bring reconciliation. – The offender seeks forgiveness and voluntarily seeks to atone for past misdeeds, making restitution when possible and compensating, as necessary. However, we cannot of ourselves atone for our ‘sinfulness’ – and, just as ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom.6:23), so the old self must be put to death if we are to be reconciled with God and have new life in Christ (signified through water baptism). By the gift of the Holy Spirit, this is the reality. ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Rom.8:16, NKJ). ‘By the Spirit’ we ‘put to death the deeds of the body’ that we might live unto God (Rom.8:13).

Through repentance and faith, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the covering grace of Christ’s righteousness that we, in union with Him, might be received of God, and reconciled to Him through the offering of the life of His Son, accepted for us as the atonement for our sins. Now, covered by His life and righteousness, all who repent in faith receive forgiveness, justification and fellowship with God, of the Holy Spirit. – As we walk in the Spirit, the ‘old self’ is put to death, as Paul wrote: ‘And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24, NKJ). If led of the Spirit, we are no longer under the law of sin and death (Gal.5:18) – no longer condemned, but forgiven and justified in Christ:

‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom.8:1-2, NKJ).

Punishment has value towards the reconciliation of an offender only if it has a remedial effect. Just as stated in the letter to the Hebrews:

‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’ (Heb.12:5-6, NKJ).

Punishing someone in the place of another can neither serve justice nor help remedially. To be at-one with God, we must believe, repent and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus – through whom is new life and fellowship with God. In the life of Christ we have atonement. His offering of righteousness avails for all who are found in Him. But, where there is no repentance, a just punishment awaits – and none of the wicked will escape. Ultimately, the unrepentant will suffer the final death (Matt.10:28; Rev.20:14-15). Where there is no repentance, God’s wrath remains. Even in Old Testament times, sins were not forgiven and sacrifices were not accepted unless there was a genuine attitude of repentance

The sacrificial animals were required to be without spot or blemish—as a sign of purity, symbolizing the righteous life God demands of us. The blood of these animals was used for the ceremonial cleansing and sanctifying of the people and items used in worship (Ex.24:3-8; Heb.9:19-22). The blood was used to symbolically cover over past sins, ‘and without shedding of blood there is no remission’ (Heb.9:22, NKJ). However, without sincere and earnest repentance, the sacrifices were meaningless and unacceptable: ‘Bring no more futile sacrifices … I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting’ (Is.1:13, NKJ, cf.1:10-15). ‘Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet to Me’ (Jer.6:20, NKJ). What mattered to God was a change of heart: ‘Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezek.18:31, NKJ).

The sacrifices, offered as God intended, allowed the people a ritual demonstration of their seriousness before God. The offering of sacrifices acted as an expression of this desire for purity. Nevertheless, sacrifices had to be offered year by year, indicating that the problem of sin remained and could not be dealt with through the Mosaic law. The sacrifices foreshadowed the One who would deliver mankind from his sins. Now, by the one sacrifice of Himself, Jesus has prevailed for our complete forgiveness and justification: ‘Because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ (Heb.10:14, NIV).

For God’s people today, there is a new covenant: ‘”This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,” says the Lord: “I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “There sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin’ (Heb.10:17, NKJ). Under this new covenant relationship, those with faith in the one sacrifice of Christ are promised forgiveness of sins and are covered by His blood—His life, His righteousness.

Forgiveness is not dependent on the payment of a penalty. With sins, there is condemnation, but with forgiveness, the condemnation for those sins is removed. When we truly repent and seek forgiveness, we are asking God to forgive our past sins. However, the forgiveness of past sins does not deal with our unrighteous spiritual condition—the fact that we will sin again and again, for a whole variety of reasons, sometimes in ignorance, sometimes unintentionally. God demands that we offer Him righteous lives. This is what we owe Him—this is what we cannot give of ourselves, because of our sinfulness. How then can we stand righteous before Him? It is through the righteousness of Christ. His sacrifice avails for all who repent and call upon Jesus as Saviour and Lord. In Him we have new life

‘The righteousness of God … through faith in Jesus Christ’

(Romans 3:22, NKJ)

The apostle Paul did not rely upon his own righteousness, but ‘that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God’ (Phil.3:9, NKJ). As it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Rom.1:17, NKJ). By His grace, God freely justifies ‘the one who has faith in Jesus’— ‘whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith’ (Rom.3:24-26, NKJ). This means that the wrath and condemnation of God because of sin is turned away from those with faith in Christ, who are covered by His life—symbolized by the blood of the Lamb—and to those with faith in Christ is attributed His righteousness.

Jesus is the only one who made a pure and perfect sacrifice of His life—when He died for our sakes on the cross. This was the debt He paid on our behalf. It was not the penalty of death, He paid the debt of righteousness—the gift to God of a righteous lifewhich is our due. Christ’s righteousness is our covering if we are united in Him. The Father accepts us along with His Son. He has paid our due offering that we may be covered by His life and judged righteous. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1, NKJ). His righteous life is imputed to us who look to Him in the oneness of the Spirit. It is Jesus who is ‘THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ (Jer.23:6). Of ourselves, we can never be righteous. It is only through faith in Christ:

‘Just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin”‘ (Rom.4:6-8, NKJ).

The grace of God covers all who have faith in Christ as personal Saviour and Lord. As we turn to Christ in true repentance for sins, we are not only forgiven our past sins, but we become spiritually renewed through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5-6). His perfect sacrifice avails for us and we are covered by His righteousness. There is no penalty of death for those who have truly repented with faith in Christ. Forgiveness cancels the penalty for sin, and Christ’s righteousness, imputed through faith, justifies and ensures that there is no more condemnation (Rom.8:1).

Jesus was set forth at the cross to declare the righteousness of God (Rom.3:25 & 26, NKJ). God’s Son was held aloft as God’s righteousness revealed. He is the One of whom Jeremiah prophesied: ‘Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ (Jer.23:6; 33:16, NKJ). God had said, ‘I will raise to David a branch of righteousness’ (Jer.23:5).

He was set forth as the ‘propitiation’ (Rom.3:25, Greek: hilasterion—Gk. Septuagint word for the cover over the ark). This word is translated ‘atonement cover’ in the NIV wherever it is used in the O.T. to describe the covering over the ark, as it is also used in Hebrews 9:5. The word is translated ‘mercy seat’ in the NKJ version of the Bible. From above this cover, described in detail in Exodus 25:17-22, between the cherubim, Yahweh spoke to Moses: ‘Now when Moses went into the tabernacle of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice of One speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the Testimony, from between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him’ (Num.7:89, NKJ). This was the cover that was sprinkled with the blood of atonement just once every year, on the Day of Atonement. It was placed in the innermost part of the sanctuary, behind the veil, in the ‘holy of holies’. Jesus, therefore, sprinkled with His own blood, is conveyed as the One in whom and by whom propitiation for us is made possible. The cover was placed above the receptacle of the ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of the moral Law given by God to Moses, Aaron’s rod and a golden pot of manna (Heb.9:4). This covenant and the Law of the Ten Commandments is what man has violated. ‘All have sinned [Jew and Gentile alike] and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23, NKJ). ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (Rom.3:10, NKJ). Man’s unrighteousness is the cause of his separation from God (Isa.59:2, NKJ) and the reason for mankind’s need of a Saviour and Advocate: ‘Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world’ (1 John 2:1-2, NKJ).

Jesus was the Word of God made flesh (John 1v14). He embodied the righteousness of the commandments that were written on the tablets of stone placed within the ark. Aaron’s rod that budded and bore fruit (Num.17:8), symbolic in one sense of resurrection and new life, placed within the ark, foretold of the Holy One who would say of Himself: ‘I am the resurrection and the life‘ (John 11:25). Jesus is the prophesied Branch of righteousness (Jer.23:5; 33:15), with justice and righteousness as His sceptre (Ps.45:6; Heb.1:8). He is also ‘the true bread from heaven,’ as Jesus said: ‘Moses did not give you the bread from heaven [cf. ‘manna’, Ex.16:31-33], but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (John 6:32-33, NKJ). Jesus was and is the Holy One of God (John 6:69, NIV; Acts 2:27) upon whom the authority of God rested and rests, symbolized by the mercy seat over the ark. ‘All authority has been given Me in heaven and on earth.’ Jesus said (Matt.28:18, NKJ). As prophesied in the book of Isaiah: ’… the government will be upon His shoulder’ (Isa.9:6, NKJ).

In a spiritual sense, therefore, the ark of God foreshadowed and typified Christ. When He gave His life as an atonement, His blood poured down over the true Mercy Seat of God’s Ark—Himself (Rom.3:25), who is the embodiment of the heavenly bread of God’s Word and Law, and who is the resurrection and the life. He did not do away with the Law, but fulfilled the Law through His own truly righteous life that He poured out in death—thus annulling and bringing to an end the Old Covenant with the physical nation of Israel; while, at the same time, ratifying the New Covenant by His blood with spiritual Israel (Rom.7:1-4; Mat.26:28; 2 Cor.3: 4-9). Paul described the spiritual ministry of the New Covenant as the ‘ministry of righteousness’ (2 Cor.3:9).

The life of Jesus, represented by His blood, was pure and holy. This He poured out for our sakes at the cross. The Father received the sweet-smelling aroma of His Son’s offering and sacrifice (Eph.5:2). Now, as we look to Him in faith, His offering is accepted for us and His life covers our own, cleansing us of sin. Through faith in Christ, we are forgiven our past and justified in the present.

The NKJ version accurately renders Romans 3:22-26 as follows:

‘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 to be a propitiation [marg. ref.: mercy seat ] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God passed over the sins 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.’

The words of Paul speak of justification through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. In the Greek, the passage does not say that Jesus died ‘to demonstrate God’s justice’ (remember: ‘He was deprived of justice,’ Acts 8:33, NIV) ; nor does it speak of God’s punishment. This passage refers to the setting forth of the propitiation of Jesus to demonstrate God’s righteousness: ‘His righteousness’ as exhibited in Jesus at the cross. Paul went on to say that those with faith in the Son of God are ‘justified by His blood’ (Rom.5:9): symbolic of His sacrificial life (‘the life is in the blood,’ Lev.17:11-14). There is no suggestion of penal substitution. If Paul had meant this, he could have made it very plain. Rather, Jesus gave Himself as the Lamb without blemish and without spot to God that all with true faith may be accepted with Him, covered by His life in perfect atonement. The gift of righteousness—imputed to all who trust in Him—is the result of this one righteous act (Rom.5:17-18).

The true disciples of Christ are judged, not as sinners, but as righteous. As a way of life, they practise righteous living. They exercise both faith in Christ and a repentant attitude whenever sins occur. For these reasons, sin no longer condemns. By the biblical definition, sinners are those who practise sin, without repentance or faith in Christ. The Apostle John said: ‘Whoever abides in Him does not sin’ (1 Jn.3:6, NKJ). Now, having stated previously that anyone who claims to be without sin is being untruthful (1 Jn.1:8) and that we must confess our sins, he was obviously not contradicting himself but meaning that we cannot abide in Christ and go on practising sin. With the Bible, we must always seek to understand the context. ‘Whoever sins[practises sin] has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practises righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil’ (1 Jn.3:6-7, NKJ). Before coming into faith, we were judged as sinners: ‘While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8, NKJ). Paul, the apostle, claimed to have been the chief of sinners, because of his pre-conversion persecution of Christians. He certainly did not continue as such. (The translation of the Greek word eimi, in 1 Tim.1:15 can be misleading, for the same word can be translated either as am, have been or was, cf. Strong’s Concordance. It is a matter of interpretation, which should be based upon the context and logical reasoning: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I was chief’ – is how it should read. In verse 13 of the passage, Paul had previously stated that he had formerly been ‘a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man. He was not stating here that he still was. Also, for other examples, cf. Gal.1:22, Jn.21:12, 2 Cor.1:18, 8:9: ‘was’; Gal.3:21, Acts 4:13: ‘had been’; etc and John 9:24: ‘the man who was blind.’) Paul taught that, in Christ, we are judged righteous: ‘For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Christ] the many will be made righteous’ (Rom.5:19, NIV).

It may seem humbling for Christians to speak of themselves as sinners, but if you are truly a Christian, then you can’t also be a sinner. You are covered by Christ’s righteousness and must practise righteousness. Sinners are destined to be destroyed, unless they repent: ‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’ (1 Pet.4:18, NIV).

Not … ‘from a worldly point of view’

‘So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer’ (2 Cor.5:16, NIV). How the world sees us and judges us is different to the way God sees us and judges us. There is a worldly point of view, and there is a godly point of view. In the eyes of God, as true believers, we are righteous because Christ is our righteousness. The world looks upon us differently.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: ‘For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of a procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe …’ (1 Cor.4:9, NIV). Who did this? … God. According to Paul, God had made the apostles to be viewed as foolish and weak: ‘the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world’ (1 Cor.4:9-13, NIV). There is an outward appearance and an inner reality. God allowed the apostles to go hungry and thirsty; to be in rags and brutally treated; to be homeless, cursed, persecuted and slandered. In the eyes of the world, the apostles were worthless scum. Paul said that they had once regarded Christ in this way—from a worldly point of view (2 Cor.5:16, NIV). Jesus was treated like a common criminal, spat upon, slandered, verbally and physically abused, mocked, scourged, nailed to a cross and left to die. In the eyes of the world, Jesus was sin. The mob had shouted for His death. He was regarded as one who had blasphemed God and who had worked miracles by the power of Satan (Mat.26:65; 9:34). To the Jews, He was despised as one who had wished to usurp authority and to destroy the law given to Moses. To the Romans, He was a cause of disorder. To the world, the apostles were ‘the smell of death’ (2 Cor.2:16, NIV), but to God ‘the aroma of Christ’ (2 Cor.2:15, NIV).

On the cross, ‘Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Eph.5:2, NIV). Jesus did this for us. This was how Christ presented Himself to God, but this was not how He appeared to the world.

We must not take a verse of scripture out of context. This verse: ‘God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor.5:21), is a verse which must be viewed in the context of the passage, the whole letter, and Paul’s related comments in his first letter to the Corinthians and other letters. When we do this, we will not take a worldly view of the cross. In the One whom the world judged as sin we have become the righteousness of God.

Amongst the Corinthians were those who were judging Paul by outward appearance: ‘You are looking only on the surface of things’ (2 Cor.10:7, NIV). Some people were saying that in person he was ‘unimpressive’, that his speaking ‘amounted to nothing’ (2 Cor.10:10, NIV) and demanded proof that he was speaking for Christ: ‘You are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me’ (2 Cor.13:3, NIV). As a way of confirming his calling, Paul chose not so much to speak of the signs of an apostle, which he had wrought amongst them: ‘miracles, signs and wonders’ (2 Cor.12:12), but of his sufferings in the likeness of Christ (2 Cor.6:4-10; 10:23-29). Paul’s concern was not for himself: ‘What we are is plain to God’ (2 Cor.5:11, NIV), but was for those who were forming worldly and divisive judgmental attitudes. Therefore, just as it is wrong to judge Christ by surface appearance, as He was judged by those without faith, so we must not judge each other.

Man had esteemed Christ as one accursed of God (Gal.3:13), smitten and afflicted by Him—but that was only the outward appearance, the view of the world. The Scriptures agree: Christ, ‘through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself unblemished to God’ (Heb.9:14, NIV). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, told his accusers that they had murdered the ‘Righteous One’, predicted by the prophets (Acts 7:52).The One murdered was righteous. God’s vindication of His Son was the resurrection.

‘God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things … by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross’ (Col.1:19-20, NKJ). Paul said: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, (2 Cor.5:19, NKJ). How were we reconciled to God?… ‘We were reconciled to God through the death of His Son’ (Rom.5:10, NKJ). Therefore, we can conclude, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself through the death of His Son—who offered Himself unblemished to God, through the eternal Spirit, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice. This is biblical and reveals that there was no spiritual separation of the Father and the Son at the time of the atonement.

In reality, far from being the embodiment of sin upon the cross, the Scriptures declare that He died righteous, unblemished by sin and at one with God.

‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us’

(2 Cor.5:21, NKJ)

An alternative reading of 2 Cor.5:21 renders the word for sin, Gk.: hamartian, as sin-offering (given as a marginal reference in modern translations). This dual interpretation is made possible due to the fact that there is ample precedent for such usage in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (notably: Lev.4:32; 5:6, 7, 8, 9) and in the Hebrew, e.g. Hosea 4:8, ‘They eat up the sin of My people,’ where a single word is used for sin, Hb.: chatta’ah, which can be translated sin-offering. The Greek expression hamartias, meaning sins or sin-offerings, is used in the book of Hebrews in a direct quotation from the Septuagint of Psalm 40:6: ‘In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure,’ Heb.10:6, NKJ. The word ‘sacrifices’ has been added for clarity of meaning by translators, but it does not occur in the Greek of either the passage from the psalm or from the letter to the Hebrews. There is no doubt, therefore, that the term was understood to have this application during New Testament times. A modern translation by David Stern renders 2 Cor. 5:21 as: “God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness” (The Jewish New Testament).

The dual import of Paul’s words in this passage can be understood from the biblical context. It was not the view or judgement of the world that God accepted concerning the sacrifice of His Son. As a sin-offering, Jesus presented Himself as the untainted, pure and perfect offering to God for our sakes, that we, in union with Him, by God’s grace might share in His righteousness and thereby have our sins removed.

Notes on the translations of 2 Cor.5:21

God ‘made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Cor.5:21, NKJ).

Linguists could argue that the words ‘to be’ are necessary in English to avoid the suggestion that Jesus was made ‘to sin’ – ‘made Him sin’ – although no one would argue that this was intended in the Greek. The image of the crucified, bruised and bleeding body of Christ on the cross represented, on one hand, the fullness of man’s sin against God and, on the other, the fullness of God’s love for mankind personified. Nevertheless, the perspective of the world was different. Those who called for His crucifixion looked upon Him as one accursed of God. To the world, Jesus was Sin in person – someone to be reviled and despised. This was the worldly point of view that He had to endure. Jesus despised the shame for our sakes. He suffered the reproaches and the merciless cruelty of mankind. He bore all this for us that we might receive His peace.

An interpretation we cannot avoid in this passage, therefore, is the idea that Jesus was made to personify sin, but nor can we avoid the view that ‘sin’ here can also mean ‘sin-offering’ or ‘sacrifice for sin’. In one passage: Hebrews 10:6, translators have no doubt about the intended meaning. Here, ‘hamartias’ is translated ‘sacrifices for sin’ (NKJ) – the verse being a direct quotation from the Septuagint (the Bible most used by Greek speaking Christians and Jews at the time of the apostles). In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the context is that of the sacrifice of our Lord, so translators allow the possibility that the meaning can be ‘sin offering’ (as may be shown in a marginal reference).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, chata’aw’, which is translated ‘hamartia’ in the Greek LXX, is used over 170 times with the sense of ‘sin’. Nevertheless, this word is also given the meaning ‘sin offering’ in 115 places where the context makes this requirement. The word could also be used with both meanings in the same passage, as in Leviticus 5:6: ‘…for his sin which he has sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.‘ This makes possible the interpretation given to ‘hamartia’ in 2 Cor.5:21 in the translation by David Stern (The Jewish New Testament): ‘God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness.’

Paul, of course, knew that his readers and those listening would have understood his words both ways. This, I believe, is what he intended. Speaking in metaphor was a typically Jewish mode of expressing ideas. If Paul had chosen another word to mean that Jesus was made to merely ‘seem like’ sin, then not only would the strength of metaphor be lost (instead of metaphor, we would have simile – which is weaker), but so would the idea that our Lord was made a sin offering.

There is another point to be considered. Paul here used two different words in Greek that are translated ‘made’ in English; these are: ‘poieo’ and ‘ginomai’. ‘Poieo’ correctly corresponds to the English word ‘made’ in this passage, but ‘ginomai’, although meaning ‘made’ carries the idea ‘to be generated’ – ‘to come into existence’ – ‘to receive being’. In Galatians 4:4, the word is twice used to convey the meaning ‘born’: ‘God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law’ (NKJ). The association with child birth should not be overlooked. We, as Christians, are brought into existence through the suffering that Jesus was made to bear. Our Lord was made to suffer the birth pangs of the crucifixion as ‘sin’ in order that we might be born again into the righteousness of God. The false impression that people had of Him was all part of the suffering that He had to endure.

Jesus was made ‘sin’ – this was how He was viewed by those who were against Him. It is a powerful metaphor, but not one to be taken to mean literally – in the eyes of God.

‘When He cried to Him, He heard’

(Psalm 22:24, NKJ)

Christ’s abandonment, from the time of His arrest to His death on the cross, was physical—not spiritual:

‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard’ (Psalm 22:24, NKJ).

It is often stated that God the Father could not bear to look at His Son on the cross and had to turn away, leaving Him derelict. This verse, taken from the psalm that speaks more than any other of Christ’s sufferings, states the opposite. It is as though written with the prophetic knowledge that there would be those who would declare that God withdrew His Spirit and left His Son entirely alone: God did not regard the state of His Son with abhorrence, He did not hide His face from Him, and when His Son cried out He heard. The ‘afflicted one’ is the subject of this psalm, as can be understood in the context of the previous verses:

The cry of Jesus, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Ps.22:1; Mat.27:46, NKJ) was a prophetic utterance that spoke of the Messiah’s abandonment to suffer physical and mental torment and pain. The cry is in the form of a question that is asked for our sakes. Christ already knew the answer; but we are meant to reflect upon it—He had been left without God’s shield of protection so that He could make the perfect offering of His life for us. He was delivered up to die so that we might live.

The Messianic suffering of Jesus was foretold by the psalmist:

‘All those who see Me laugh Me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him”‘ (Ps.22:7, NKJ).

Compare Matthew 27:39-43: ‘Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads … In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. … “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said I am the Son of God”‘ (NIV).

‘They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots’ (Ps.22:16-18, NKJ).

Compare Matthew 27:35: ‘When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots’ (NIV).

Verse 22 is also applied to Christ: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You’ – as quoted by the writer of Hebrews: ‘So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, “I will declare your name to My brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises”‘ (Heb.2:11-12, NKJ).

Thankfully, the relevance of verse 24 in the context of the psalm was not ignored by the translators of the NKJ version of the Bible, who capitalized the personal pronouns: ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard.’

Jesus constantly emphasized His spiritual unity with God the Father and the fact that He was not alone—although He prophesied that a time would come when His disciples would forsake Him: ‘But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me‘ (John 16:32, NIV). This happened when the disciples fled away at the time of His arrest: ‘Then all the disciples deserted him and fled’ (Mat.26:56, NIV). He said also: ‘The one who sent me is with me; for he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him’ (John 8:29, NIV). Jesus never ceased to do what pleased God and was never left spiritually alone. Jesus said, ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10:30, NIV). The unity of God cannot be broken.

Further evidence that God the Father did not turn away from His Son at the crucifixion is also provided by the accounts of Christ’s prayers:

‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34, NIV).

‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46, NIV).

To whom was Christ speaking, if the Father had turned away? One prayer was offered at the beginning of His ordeal on the cross, and the other was spoken just before His death. As the man who had been born blind said of Jesus: ‘We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will’ (John 9:31, NIV). Our Lord’s prayer for others was heard by God—likewise His final request. Here, again, is proof that God did not turn away from His Son.

Some commentators say that God turned away from His Son at the time of the cry: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ (Mat.27:46, NKJ) …only to turn back again before Christ died. But, does this make sense? Now, to those who say this, Jesus had become the embodiment of sin upon the cross, as one spiritually held to be guilty and responsible for all the sins of mankind—the punishment for which was death and separation from God as the penalty and consequence of sin. According to those who present this view, Jesus had to be judged guilty and responsible for our sins at the time of death. So, by this reasoning, how could God turn back again before the penalty of death had been applied? Rather, the fact is, Jesus never ceased to do the Father’s will and was never left alone. But, let us consider something else: Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). To say that Jesus became the embodiment of all our sins is to say that The Truth of God became the embodiment of all our lies and falsehood. No. ‘The Truth’ did not become ‘The Embodiment of All Our Lies’. Jesus remained ever The Truth of God: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow’ (Heb.13:8). Christ’s offering on the cross did not become a despised and abhorrent unholy thing from which God had to hide His face (Ps.22:24). Jesus was accepted as ‘a fragrant offering and sacrifice’ (Eph.5:2).

Did God withdraw the Holy Spirit? No. We have read that Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14, NKJ). The Holy Spirit was very much involved in the offering Christ made of His life. God’s Son, ‘holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners’ …offered Himself ‘once for all’ (Heb.7:26-27, NIV). The Bible declares that Jesus was separate from sinners, innocent and pure, when He, as our High Priest, made a fragrant offering and sacrifice of His life to God.

Note on Romans 15:3

‘For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, “The reproaches of those that reproached You fell on Me”’ (Rom.15:3, NKJ; cf. Ps.69:9, Ps.22:6-7). Jesus bore the reproaches of man against God at the cross. The crucified Lord – in one image – symbolized and symbolises both the summation of all the sins and enmity of man against God … and the glorious fullness of all the love and compassion of God for mankind.

 *

Chapter 2

‘The reason the Son of God appeared’

(1 John 3:8, NIV)

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. This is what we read: ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8, NIV). The cross of Christ marked the beginning of the end for Satan and his power, as stated in Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV: ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.’

Satan is the one who ‘leads the whole world astray’ (Rev.12:9, NIV). He is called ‘the god of this world’—or ‘age’—who has ‘blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God’ (2 Cor.4:4, NIV). He is ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Eph.2:2, NKJ), whose spiritual forces of evil are continually and insidiously at work to tempt, deceive, influence, and provoke mankind into every kind of vice and sin. The apostle Paul warned his fellow believers at Ephesus to ‘put on the full armour of God’ so that they could ‘stand against the devil’s schemes’ (Eph.6:11, NIV). ‘For our struggle,’ he explained, ‘is not against flesh and bloodbut against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph.6:12, NIV). Jesus called Satan ‘the ruler’ or ‘prince of this world’ (as recorded three times in the Gospel of John: 12:31; 14:30 and 16:11). The demonic powers are real and relentless in their opposition to God and those who serve God. Satan is angry, for he knows that his rule is coming to an end and that ‘his time is short’ (Rev.12:12, NIV).

Unlike the portrayal of demonic powers in popular fiction and movies, the presence of demonic spirits and their influence over this world are not so obvious. The devil is far more subtle and deadly in his schemes and actions. The reason for this is clear—he doesn’t want to frighten people into turning to God. He would rather be the authority behind the throne, whose sway and control is hidden from open view. Satan, in attempting to prolong his rule, will do all in his power to hinder the spread of the Gospel. In varying degrees, the demonic forces have the nations of this world deluded and in their sway. Yet, the devil remains entirely unable to thwart the purposes of God and in Christ we have nothing to fear. Jesus came to set man free: ‘He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’ (Col.1:13, NIV). To the Apostle Paul, Jesus gave the commission to witness before Jews and Gentiles, saying:

‘I am sending you to them to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place amongst those who are sanctified by faith in me’ (Acts 26:17-18, NIV).

‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness’

We read in the book of Revelation: ‘So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world’ (Rev.12:9, NKJ). The devil is called a serpent. His spiritual poison kills. As the ‘father of lies’ (John 8:44), it was he who, in the beginning, tempted mankind to doubt God’s word, coming to Eve in the guise of one bringing enlightenment. His tactics were no different in Paul’s day: ‘Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,’ he wrote (2 Cor.11:14, NIV). He expressed his fear that the Corinthians, just as Eve, might be deceived by ‘the serpent’s cunning’ (2 Cor.11:3). The association is clear, the Bible speaks of Satan as a snake, whose subtle use of camouflage and stealth hides his evil and poisonous intent. This is important as we consider the related passages of Scripture from John 3:14-16 and Numbers 21:4-9:

In the wilderness wanderings under Moses, as the Israelites journeyed to go around Edom, the people started to speak against Moses and against God. Complaining against Moses was bad enough, after they had witnessed so many miracles, signs and wonders, but speaking against God was blasphemy. People despised the manna that God had given them for bread, calling it worthless, and they questioned God’s wisdom in leading them through a barren land, not having the faith that He would provide. So God sent venomous serpents among the people and many started to die from the poison (Num.21:6). Then the Israelites began to confess their sins of rebellion and asked Moses to pray that God would save them from the snakes. In response, God told Moses to make a bronze image of a snake and to set it on a pole so that whoever was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze image and live. The people had to believe in the word of God and obey His command in order to be healed. However, notice from the passage—they were not commanded to worship the snake. They were not told to put their faith in the snake. They were not told to bow down before that bronze image of a snake on a pole. They were told to believe the promise of God. They were told to ‘look’ and the moment they looked, the serpent’s venom was taken away—the effect of the serpent’s poison was destroyed.

When you look to Jesus—when you believe and in your mind’s eye look to Jesus on the cross—the devil’s poison in you is taken away—the devil’s work in you is destroyed. You have to believe and you have to obey.

What do you have to believe? That when you look to Jesus, the works of the devil in your life and the hold he has on you will be destroyed. This is faith in Christ. This is the effect of the cross for all who put their faith in the word of the living God and look to Christ. The image of the crucified Lord symbolizes God’s promise of salvation and deliverance through faith.

Jesus said: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15, NIV). The image of the serpent lifted up was a symbol to the people of their deliverance through God from the poison of the snake. The mental image of Christ on the cross carries a like significance. It is through Jesus that we are saved from the spiritual poison of the devil. Both images signify God’s power over the serpent and His power to deliver from evil. This symbol of the bronze serpent lifted up and removed from the earth also prefigures God’s judgment on Satan at the time of the crucifixion: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; Jesus declared, ‘Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:31-32, NIV). It is not that the bronze serpent typifies Christ, but that the significance of this symbolic image at the time of Moses typifies the deliverance of man from the power of the devil through the cross of Christ.

‘The serpent’, as we have seen, is a term the Bible uses for the devil, not God’s Son. To allude to Jesus as the serpent, therefore, as some commentators do, is to ignore the testimony of Scripture and to apply the attributes of a snake to Christ (which is, frankly, a blasphemy—although not one against the Holy Spirit). In the symbolic imagery of these passages, therefore, we have revealed the resulting triumph of Christ and the utter defeat of that serpent of old and all his works. When you believe and look to Christ, the devil’s power over you will be destroyed. This is the effect of putting your faith in the offering Christ made of His life.

The Day of Atonement

The instructions and sacrificial laws regarding the holy days of God’s sacred calendar, as described in the law given to Moses, contain prophetic symbolism that foreshadow the cross and help us to understand further the reason why the Son of God appeared and made a sacrifice of His life. Paul wrote to the Colossians: ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’ (Col.2:16-17, NIV). This is echoed in the letter to the Hebrews: ‘The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves’ (Heb.10:1, NIV). Also, in the same letter we read that the priests offered gifts at a sanctuary that was ‘a copy and shadow of what is in heaven’ (Heb.8:5, NIV). With this in mind, therefore, we must study the events of the Day of Atonement and allow the biblical revelation to unfold the mystery of this most holy day.

In ancient Israel, it was held on the 10th day of the 7th month and was ordained as a fast day—a day for self-denial and solemn assembly (Lev.23:27). It was the only day of the year in which the high priest, carrying the blood of sacrifice, was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies—the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle (or temple), which contained the ark of the covenant, symbolizing the throne of God. In reality, this was fulfilled when Jesus Christ, bearing His own blood as our High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb.6:19-20), offered His life for us before the God of Heaven (Heb.9:11-14). Carrying the cross, He bore away all our sins to the place of execution, where He provided the perfect atonement for all who believe. As soon as Jesus yielded up His spirit, ‘the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom’ (Matt.27:50-51). This veil was a heavy curtain behind which was located the Holy of Holies. Thus, through His sacrifice, the way was made open for those of true faith to approach the throne of God (Heb.10:19-22, NKJ):

‘Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’

Spiritually, therefore, through faith in the ‘blood of Christ’ we are cleansed of sin, as His life both touches and ‘covers’ our own and sins are forgiven. The Hebrew word translated ‘atonement’ is taken from the word ‘kaphar’, which is a primitive root, meaning ‘to cover’ (cf. Strong’s Concordance). Most often, as in the law given to Moses, it is used in the figurative sense: ‘to cover over sin’ when blood is applied—the blood can be said to cover over the life of the person or persons concerned, covering over and blotting out sins. We read: ‘The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Heb.9:22, NIV). The same word is used literally in Genesis 6:14 with the meaning ‘to cover with pitch’, in reference to the covering of Noah’s ark with a kind of tar, to make the vessel water tight and safe against the flood. Within the visionary description of Isaiah (Is. 6:7), kaphar is used to indicate the purging of sins and uncleanness through the touch of coals taken from the altar of God’s heavenly temple – burning away impurity by the refining fire of God. In Scripture, therefore, it can be used figuratively to suggest any action where the result is cleansing and forgiveness, allowing for ‘atonement’ – a restoration in some form with God. In Leviticus chapter 16, the word is used 16 times in the Hebrew instructions regarding the Day of Atonement – initially, of course, as it was to be kept during the time of Moses, when the nation Israel journeyed in the wilderness after leaving Egypt.

On this special day, the blood of sacrifice was used to achieve atonement and cleansing in all but one of the actions to be performed. The exception related to a rite involving a goat that was singularly chosen by sacred lot, not to be killed, but to be driven out into the desert wilderness and away from the camp, ‘laden’ with all the sins for which the people had been guilty—symbolically placed on the head of the goat by the high priest through his laying on of hands and confession (Lev16:10 &-22). It was one of two goats presented before the Lord for the casting of lots to decide which of them would be sacrificed as a sin offering; and which taken away bearing sins into a place of desolation. Goats chosen for a sin offering had to be without spot or blemish. This goat, dispatched to the wilderness, although not a blood sacrifice, also had to exhibit the same signs of purity when first selected from the flock. Jesus—the true ‘Lamb without blemish,’ 1 Pet.1;19—may be seen represented by both goats for this reason.

To understand what is meant by this rite, we must consider the reason and purpose for the choosing by lot. It is generally thought that the goat not sacrificed represented the sin-bearing aspect of our Lord’s work, as foretold by Isaiah; nevertheless, we need to ask how this was possible and why it was necessary to command the employment of the sacred lot to decide between the goats, if both represented different aspects of the one and self-same sacrifice of the Lord. If both goats typified Christ, what difference would it have made which one was to be sacrificed and which one delivered into the wilderness? None. It would have made no difference at all. However, the use of the sacred lot was not to differentiate between the goats, but to declare that all would be done according to the divine judgment of God and to declare to us that it would be God’s decision both to deliver up and to accept His Son as the atonement for sin. Prophetically, it proclaimed that the Lord’s sacrifice would be made according to the foreordained will of God: ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord’ (Prov.16:33). We should realize, therefore, that the solemn use of the sacred lot upon the Day of Atonement foreshadowed the enactment of God’s will and judgment at the time when Christ atoned for our sins.

Jesus was delivered up to the satanic authorities and judged by man, but ‘He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly’ (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ). That judgment was to accept the fragrant offering of His Son and to overturn the verdict of an earthly court through the resurrection, according to His own divine will and purpose. But, also, there was the other judgment exercised by God at that time, pronounced by Christ Himself: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world, now the prince of this world will be driven out’ (John 12:31). The expression ‘prince of this world’ is in reference to Satan (cf. Jn.14:30, 16:11). Jesus foretold that the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, would convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: ‘… and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned’ (John 16:7-11, NIV).

In verse 8 of Leviticus 16, the Hebrew uses the preposition ‘for’ (‘lamed’): lots were cast ‘for the Lord’ on the one hand, and ‘for Azazel’ on the other. Notice: ‘And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for Jehovah, and the other lot for Azazel’ (as translated by Darby; also translated as a proper name in the following works: cf. RSV; ASV; Jewish Bible,1917; New American Bible, 1986; New English Translation, 1996). It was God’s decision that His Son deliver up His life and Spirit in death as the Sin Offering (‘for the Lord’) and that His body be delivered up to the ‘prince of this world’, to suffer and die—bearing sins—for the purpose of our redemption from sin. The price He paid was His life— offered not to Satan, but to God. Notice, only the goat ‘for the Lord’ was a blood sacrifice—His life (‘…the life is in the blood,’ Lev.17:11, ‘…it is the blood that makes atonement.’) was yielded up to God. The crucifixion of Christ sealed God’s condemnation of this world and its prince. That sins are symbolically carried away to the wilderness (considered the realm of evil spirits) may be seen as a metaphor showing God’s indictment for all sin of the one from whom sin came into the world (‘…the devil has sinned from the beginning,’ 1 Jn.3:8, NKJ). Here, sins are returned to the source. The removal of sins indicated spiritual cleansing—the casting away of sin and Satan’s rule from God’s people, effected by Christ.

In the above passage, ‘Yehovah’ is the personal name for the Lord in Hebrew. It is, therefore, both logical and reasonable to accept ‘Azazel’ as a personal name for one standing in contrast to the Lord. In examining the meaning of this noun, translators put forward various suggestions:

1. It refers to a precipice, east of Jerusalem, over which—on the Day of Atonement in NT times—the goat was thrown backwards, to be dashed on the rocks below (cf. Mishna, Yoma vi,6). However, this cannot be the original meaning as the instructions were given at the time of the first tabernacle under Moses—long before Israel had come to occupy this territory.

2. It means ‘entire removal’ as derived from a similar sounding Arabic term meaning ‘to banish, remove’.

3. It means ‘goat of departure’ from the Hebrew words: ‘ez’ (a she-goat) and ‘azal’ (a primitive root meaning ‘to go away’, cf. Strong’s). In this form the term appears in the Septuagint. Jerome used the term ‘caper emmisarius’ meaning ‘goat that escapes’ in the Latin Vulgate (c. AD400), which influenced the King James translators to use the term ’scapegoat’. The modern NIV retains this form, but we should realize the original derivation. The goat did not ‘escape’, but was sent away and literally driven over a cliff to its death in the time of our Lord.

4. It is a name given to a strong demon, as derived from the Hebrew ‘azaz’ (to be strong) and ‘el’ (god). According to the New Bible Dictionary, this is the meaning that most scholars prefer.

Objections to the view that the term refers to the name of a demon are often based upon the notion that it is unthinkable that an offering should be made to a demon. This is true, but there is no suggestion that such an offering was to be made. The main idea contained in this rite is that of the removal of sin. Firstly, through God’s acceptance of Christ for us there is complete and full forgiveness for all who truly believe. His life becomes our covering. This is foreshadowed by the rite concerning the goat chosen by sacred lot to be slain. Secondly, there is the need for deliverance—symbolized by the sending away of the goat bearing sin (‘to Azazel’: RSV; ‘for a goat of departure’: YLT, Lev.16:10—not ‘as the scapegoat’). Jesus bore our sins at the cross as the head of all humanity – not as the One upon whom responsibility for those sins was placed, but as the One against whom all have sinned. Just as the Lord regards every act of kindness towards others as an act done to Himself (Mat.25:34-40), so likewise He regards every act of unkindness:

Then He will say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ (Mat.25:41-46, NKJ).

As stated in chapter one, God’s justice demands that the guilty be held responsible for sin, not the innocent (cf. Ez.18; Prov.17:15 & 26). Satan is truly guilty as the instigator of all rebellion against God. Though we can be forgiven, Satan remains condemned. If one incites or tempts others to trespass against God, even if those who actually commit the crimes later repent and are forgiven, that person who provoked the offences remains guilty. This is true justice—the justice of God.

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came to banish Satan from our midst. The devil’s power over us and in our lives is removed when we turn to Christ. Satan is the strong ‘god of this world’ (2 Cor.4:4), ruling over those who live in darkness. He has completely departed from God’s ways and has entirely been removed from God’s kingdom. The time for judgement on this world has begun and he is condemned. His sentence will be carried out in full when God’s rule is restored on Earth (Rev.20:10, 21:4; Matt.25:41).

Now, should this interpretation be true, that ‘Azazel’ is to be viewed as a personal name given to a ‘demon-god’, and that the associated rite should be understood in terms of our deliverance and God’s judgment, then one would expect to find support from other sources in the literature of the period—and this is exactly what one does find. The following extracts are taken from ‘one of the most important inter-testamental works’ (NBD):

‘Thou seest what Azazel [a fallen angel] hath done, who taught all unrighteousness on earth..? …Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. …And on the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire. And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things which the watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: ascribe to him all sin‘ (1 Enoch IX:6; X:4-8).

Here, Azazel is described as a fallen angel to whom is ascribed all the sin and corruption of the whole earth. He is pictured as being cast into a desert place until the day of judgment when he will be cast into fire. Also, from the same source:

‘Ye mighty kings who dwell on the earth, ye shall have to behold Mine Elect One, how He sits on the throne of glory and judges Azazel, and all his associates, and all his hosts in the name of the Lord ..’ (1 Enoch LV:4).

The Book of Enoch has historical value and is thought to have been known to the apostles (cf. the close parallel between Jude:14-15 and 1 Enoch 1:9). These writings allow us to understand Jewish thought from an early period, but are not to be regarded as Scripture. Important for our study, however, is the fact that ‘Azazel’ was considered to be a personal name for a fallen angel.

During the time of Christ’s ministry on Earth, He delivered many who were demonized. ‘When an evil spirit comes out of a man,’ He said, ‘it goes through arid places seeking rest’ (Matt.12:43). This reminds us of the solitary desert region to which the ‘Azazel’ goat was sent. We may not need to have demons cast out, but all who can truly call Jesus ‘Lord’ have been delivered from Satan’s rule, as Paul wrote: ‘He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves’ (Col.1:13, NIV). Satan needs to be removed from our midst. At the hour when Christ had to suffer, He said: ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out’ (John 12:31). When the Spirit of Christ enters our lives, the power of Satan is cast out. It is then that we become at-one with God.

The pure and precious blood of Christ’s one atoning sacrifice avails for all who truly believe, covering over and blotting out sin. In Christ there is truly victory over sin and the devil. This is the biblical revelation of the atonement Christ provides for us. He is Jehovah Jireh—the God who provides. To be saved, we need only to accept His great provision and yield to His gracious governance.

To ascribe the Azazel goat to Christ in such a way as to ascribe to Him all sin is against all reason and justice. Though we, through the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, repent and are forgiven our sins, Satan and all his cohorts remain justly guilty. The time will soon come, however, when the final judgment will be passed on Satan and his angels (1 Cor.6:3; Mat.25:41). As Peter declared, God judges righteously (1 Pet.2:23).

The foregoing observations reason against the notion that the rite concerning the goat sent away typified the transference of guilt and responsibility for sin to our Lord. Rather, Jesus bears our sins as the One against whom all have sinned.  Now, through the grace of God, He is also the One to bear away the sins of all who truly repent.

Note: Reflections from writings of early Church fathers

In the foregoing were outlined various interpretations that scholars had given to the word ‘azazel’ – as applied to one of two goats chosen by sacred lot in the ritual of the Day of Atonement. This term – understood as a proper name – was used in contraposition to the name of God in the Hebrew text.

One other word contrapositioned to God in Scripture is ‘mammon’ ( ‘riches’ , as trans. from Aramaic): ‘You cannot serve God and mammon’ (Mat.6:24, NKJ). Here, mammon, although not a person, is personified. It is reasonable to believe, therefore, that the term ‘Azazel’, likewise contrapositioned to the name ‘Yahweh’, expresses either a person or a personification standing in opposition to God. There were two goats chosen by lot, one for Azazel and one for Yahweh; but what is to be understood of this symbolism from the first centuries of Church history?

The early church writers: Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd cent.) and Origen of Alexandria (3rd cent.) are known to have held the view that ‘Azazel’ was the name of a demon. Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies, quoted an unknown ‘elder’ as saying in verse:

“Marcus, thou former of idols, inspector of portents,
Skill’d in consulting the stars, and deep in the black arts of magic,
Ever by tricks such as these confirming the doctrines of error,
Furnishing signs unto those involved by thee in deception,
Wonders of power that is utterly severed from God and apostate,
Which Satan, thy true father, enables thee still to accomplish,
By means of Azazel, that fallen and yet mighty angel,
Thus making thee the precursor of his own impious actions.”

Such are the words of the saintly elder.

Irenaeus Bk 1, Ch.15:6 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff)

Origen (c.AD 182-251) knew Hebrew, wrote profusely on Christian topics and was a well-known Christian writer in his own day, although not entirely orthodox. As with Irenaeus, His view of the term ‘Azazel’ expressed an agreement with a teaching that Azazel is the name for a fallen angel – ‘the serpent’ – although the passaage is unclear as to his exact interpretation of the goat:

‘For the serpent … he who was the author of destruction to them that obeyed him, and did not withstand his wicked deeds … Moreover (the goat), which in the book of Leviticus is sent away (into the wilderness), and which in the Hebrew language is named Azazel, was none other than this; and it was necessary to send it away into the desert, and to treat it as an expiatory sacrifice, because on it the lot fell. …’

Origen, Contra Celsus, Bk 6, 43 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff)

Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyons, France), was a pupil of Polycarp, the revered bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) – who was said to have been ordained by the apostles (Irenaeus: letter to the Roman elder Florinus, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V. xx, 5 – 6). Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, in several places in his works, quoted from the writings of the second century apologist ‘Justin Martyr’ (c. AD 100-165) and also made reference to Justin, as shown here:

Truly has Justin remarked that before the Lord’s appearance Satan never dared to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he did not yet know his own sentence, because it was contained in parables and allegories; but that after the Lord’s appearance, when he had clearly ascertained from the words of Christ and his apostles that eternal fire has been prepared for him as he rebelled against God by his own free will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the rebellion, he now blasphemes by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment upon him as already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his rebellion to his maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 26 (Ante- Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

The above comments reveal the beliefs that Satan had no understanding of his condemnation until after the Lord’s coming and that he, the devil, imputes the guilt of rebellion to God, his Creator – not to himself. Both Irenaeus and Justin, therefore, held the belief that Satan imputes the guilt of his sin to God. That Satan would want to impute the guilt of man’s sin to God also would seem logical, if he should want to so impute his own!

Irenaeus would also have been familiar with Justin’s comments concerning the atonement. Notice from the following passages just how Justin understood in what manner Jesus had become ‘a curse for us’ (Gal.3:13):

Nay, more than this, you suppose that He was crucified as hostile to and cursed by God, which supposition is the product of your most irrational mind. (93)

Just as God commanded the sign to be made by the brazen serpent, and yet He is blameless; even so, though a curse lies in the law against persons who are crucified, yet no curse lies on the Christ of God, by whom all that have committed things worthy of a curse are saved. (94)

If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? (95)

For the statement in the law, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,’ [Deut.21:23] confirms our hope which depends on the crucified Christ, not because He who has been crucified is cursed by God, but because God foretold that which would be done by you all, and by those like to you, who do not know. … For you curse in your synagogues all those who are called Christians; and other nations effectively carry out the curse, putting to death those who simply confess themselves to be Christians … (96)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, (Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

He wrote: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ – That is, not in truth, according to God’s judgment. Justin explained that on the crucified Lord fell not the curse of God, but the curses of man – uttered by man against Him, as indeed upon His followers. Many had wrongly supposed that the crucifixion was proof that Jesus was cursed by the Almighty. To Justin, such a perception was the product of a ‘most irrational mind’ (93, ibid.). Here, Justin presents us with the prophetic portrayal of the suffering servant – viewed by man as accursed of God, as He hung upon the cross. To Justin, the true reality was that Jesus was prepared to suffer all the curses of mankind in His desire to save mankind from sin.

Do these views help us to understand Justin’s comments regarding the goat ‘for Azazel’ – the goat that was driven into the wilderness? – As a matter of fact, yes.

Justin wrote:

And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast, of which one was sent away as the scape [azazel, goat of departure], and the other sacrificed, were similarly declarative of the two appearances of Christ: the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape; and His second appearance, because in the same place in Jerusalem you shall recognise Him whom you have dishonoured, and who was an offering for all sinners willing to repent, and keeping the fast which Isaiah speaks of, loosening the terms of the violent contracts, and keeping the other precepts, likewise enumerated by him, and which I have quoted, which those believing in Jesus do. And further, you are aware that the offering of the two goats, which were enjoined to be sacrificed at the fast, was not permitted to take place similarly anywhere else, but only in Jerusalem. (40)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, (Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson)

From this we see that Justin understood the ‘goat of departure’ as typifying an appearance of Christ – the priests laid hands upon Him and sent Him away to die. In doing so, they dishonoured and killed the One who made an offering of His life for all who repent of sins, as prophesied.

Therefore, we see that Justin wrote of two appearances of Christ – one by which He came unrecognized, dishonoured and cursed; the second by which He came known and understood by His disciples to be the One who offered His life for all sinners who truly repent and seek the righteousness of God. In this sense, the goat for Azazel prefigured what would happen to Christ during the first appearance. Jesus was rejected as an object of revulsion, just like the goat that was driven away to die in the wilderness.

Likewise, the body of the sin offering was also taken away ‘outside the camp’ – where it was completely burned and destroyed. However, its blood was sprinkled on and before the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies and afterwards sprinkled upon the altar to make atonement (Lev.16:27-28 & 15, 18, 19). This signifies that although the body of Jesus was to be taken and treated by man with contempt, His life would be received by the Father as a holy offering of atonement, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight. (The ‘life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement,’ Lev.17:11, NKJ.)

To Justin, the two goats of the Day of Atonement spoke prophetically of our Lord’s rejection, suffering and death on the one hand, and of our Lord’s acceptance as a worthy offering sufficient for all on the other. The leaders, priests and people saw only the outward appearance. Nevertheless, the blood of the sin offering, sprinkled before God over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Place, amidst a cloud of fragrant incense, revealed the true inner reality of holiness and the Father’s acceptance of His Son: the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sin of the world’ – though paradoxically the focus of mankind’s sins, curses and rejection.

The goat of departure became reviled as an object of sin, as indicated in The Epistle of Barnabus (c. A.D. 70-130):

‘Notice how the type of Jesus is revealed! “And all of you shall spit upon it and jab it, and tie scarlet wool around its head, and then let it be driven into the wilderness.”’ (The Apostolic Fathers, 7, 7-8: Lightfoot, Harmer, Holmes, pub. Apollos, 1989).

Although the source of this quotation used by Barnabus is unknown, the obvious revulsion shown towards the goat is echoed in a description found in the Mishna (a 2nd cent. AD compilation of Jewish precepts):

‘And they made a causeway for him because of the Babylonians, for they used to pull his hair and say to him, ‘Bear [away our sins] and go forth! Bear [away our sins] and go forth!”’ (Yoma, 6:4, Mishna, Talmud).

Laden with sin, the goat had come to personify sin and was thus treated with contempt by those who wanted to be free of sin.

In Isaiah, we read the Messianic verse: ‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting’ (Is.50:6, NKJ). At once, we recognize the figure of Jesus – for whom the goat of departure (spat upon, jabbed at and hair pulled) may be seen as the type.

Jesus knew that He would be delivered up to authorities acting under satanic influence, as we can read: ‘I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming …’ (John 14:30, NKJ). ‘Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death’ (Acts 2:23, NKJ). After His trial and scourging, He was led to a place of execution outside Jerusalem. The goat of departure (‘for Azazel’) was delivered up to Azazel in the wilderness, bearing the sins of the nation. Similarly, Jesus carried the sins of the people in His own body to the cross. He bore the sins, but not juridically as a substitute, for He had been ‘deprived of justice’ and had been ‘taken away by lawless hands’ (Acts 8:33; 2:23). No, what happened signified that atonement for sins can be found through the blood of Christ, shed for us on the cross. His life, poured out in true holiness can be our covering. His righteousness is the garment of salvation for all who truly repent through faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was looked upon as one who typified sin, just as the goat for Azazel came to be seen. Nevertheless, in reality, He was the One who pronounced the sentence of God upon the father of sins. Although delivered up in body as an outcast of the nation Himself, Jesus delivered God’s verdict upon the ruler of this world – casting out the power of sin and Satan.

Did the goat for Azazel represent the devil? In the minds of the people, this goat came to symbolize sin. It was thought of as bearing all the sins for which Satan is ultimately guilty. As such, it was treated with hostility and was driven away as an object despised and hated. In truth, it symbolized Christ as the One who would be delivered up, bearing in His body the marks that symbolized mankind’s sin and rebellion against God, for which Satan is also culpable. Did the goat for Azazel represent an aspect of the deliverance to be received through Christ? Yes, this was the hidden truth. Jesus, though delivered up to Satan, maintained His righteousness and revealed His victory over sin and death. The devil lost and received God’s judgment. Through faith, all who look to Christ are truly set free from the power of sin and death. In Him is no condemnation.

Personal note: In the light of the above, I have to make a personal apology for my need to revise the position I expressed previously in my book. We have to admit to our mistakes and move on – this is what I am doing here. At the same time, I recognize that the above does not detract from the overall message of the book. In fact, quite the opposite, as Justin remarked: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ Though cursed, rejected and regarded as sin by man, He was received as the Lamb without blemish by God the Father. His victory over sin was our victory also, if we are in Christ.

‘Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ’

(Mat.27:17, NIV)

‘Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. … But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed’ (Mat.27:15-20, NIV).

‘Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder’ (Luke 23:19, NIV).

‘Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”‘ (Luke 23:20, NIV).

Notice from these accounts of Scripture: Pilate, in wanting to set Jesus free, offered the people a choice between Jesus and a notorious rebel and murderer called Barabbas. Pilate had obviously thought that the crowd would choose Jesus for release and not an infamous criminal. Barabbas, whose name means ‘son of the father’ in Aramaic (the common language of the people at that time), represented the antithesis of Christ, ‘the Son of God’—’the Son of the Father’. The Apostle Peter contrasted Barabbas to ‘the Holy and Righteous One’:

‘But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you’ (Acts 3:14, NKJ).

Moreover, just as Christ represented His Father in heaven, so Barabbas was truly a son in the spirit of his father, the evil one. To the Pharisees, Jesus said: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:44).

Origen (d. AD254), in his ‘Commentary on Matthew’, mentions that some old manuscripts render the question of Pilate: ‘Whom do you want me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?’ – and it is in this form that the name appears in the 9th century Codex Theta. It is thought the name ‘Barabbas’ could have been given because he was the son of a rabbi, a Jewish religious leader. Nevertheless, both in name and character, Barabbas was the spiritual opposite of the Lord.

The mob unknowingly rejected ‘the source of eternal salvation’ (Heb.5:9). Barabbas received pardon and release from Pilate, but not the pardon of God. Without repentance and belief in Christ there can be no release from condemnation for sin. The Bible declares through Peter the nature of the one the crowd chose. At the behest of the mob, Pilate released a murderer.

It is a common misconception that Barabbas is to be likened to those set free by Christ. The words of Jesus: ‘He has sent Me … to proclaim release to the captives’ (Luke 4:18; Is. 61:1-2) is sometimes used to support this idea. However, Barabbas was set free from a physical confinement , not from  his bondage to sin and Satan. True, ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom.5:8) but our release through Christ is spiritual, effected through faith and repentance. To identify with Barabbas, therefore, is to identify with evil. Those set free by Christ are the ones who – like Peter and Paul – repent with faith.

On the Day of Atonement, it was God who was called upon to signify His decision by sacred lot concerning the two goats, chosen from the flock without spot or blemish. In contrast, at the the judgment seat before Pilate, it was the people who chose. In calling for the release of Barabbas and for the death of Jesus, the leaders of the nation and their followers aligned themselves with the evil one. This very act of identifying with Barabbas revealed the enmity of man, under the sway of Satan, against God’s Son and against God. They rejected Immanuel, ‘God with us’, and heaped their sin upon the Lord. Jesus , therefore, was delivered up by the high priest, laden with the sins of the people, like the ‘goat for Azazel’.

At the present time, the devil is free on earth though banished from heaven (Rev.12:7-12), and having no place in God’s kingdom. He is at large: ‘like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet.5:8). On earth, God’s kingdom is spreading through the Gospel into the lives of all who submit to the Lordship of Christ—and the devil knows that ‘his time is short’ (Rev.12:12). People are being delivered from Satan’s dominion, covered by Christ’s blood, His life, and sealed by the Holy Spirit against the day of God’s wrath upon the ungodly.

Before Pilate, the people were given a choice—they chose evil. We have a choice also. We can accept what Satan offers as an alternative to Christ. We can receive the freedom he provides—the freedom to indulge in every act of vice and sin without restraint of conscience. We can accept all the self-gratifying pleasures of this world. We can reject God’s Son and follow a persuasive Satanic influence. The choice is ours.

*

Chapter 3

‘He bore the sin of many’

(Isaiah 53:12, NKJ)

Isaiah chapter 53 contains prophetic statements about Christ’s crucifixion and atonement. In verse 12 we read: ‘He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (NKJ). From the cross itself He made intercession, saying: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34, KJV). Even though many had called for his death and had treated Him with derision as He hung on the cross, Jesus had the compassion to pray for them. He realized that they were acting without the knowledge of who He was. The people had acted ‘in ignorance’, as Peter stated (Acts 3:17, NKJ). Jesus bore their sins and the sins of all mankind—but how He bore these sins is what we must study, allowing the Bible to provide the explanations.

Without doubt, the Scriptures clearly affirm that Jesus shed His blood for the remission of sins that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Matt.26:28; John 3:16). By His suffering, there comes healing and salvation. In making the perfect sacrifice of His life to God for our sakes, it was necessary for Him to suffer and die. Surprising as it may seem, the Hebrew word translated ‘bore’ in Isaiah 53:12—the primitive root ‘nasa’, meaning literally ‘to lift’ or ‘lift away’ can mean ‘bear’, but it is also one of several scriptural metaphors that can convey the concept of forgiveness. Notice:

‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, …’ (Ex.34:6-7, NKJ).

‘.. Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins’ (Ps.25:16-18, NKJ; ‘take away all my sins’, NIV).

‘You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin’ (Ps.85:2, NKJ).

Also, notice from Psalm 32:1-5:

‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. .. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” – and you forgave the guilt of my sin’ (NIV).

In all the above examples, the word conveying forgiveness is the same Hebrew word ‘nasa’. Consequently, Isaiah 53:12 can be understood as meaning that ‘He,’ the Lord Jesus, ‘forgave the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’

Note: There is a relationship between God’s forgiveness and the ‘sin-bearing’ that our Lord undertook on our behalf. He not only suffered in consequence of man’s sins, but also provided the perfect example of how one should forgive. Remember, it was from the cross itself that Jesus unconditionally sought forgiveness for all who had sinned against Him in ignorance of the truth of what they were doing (Lk.23:34). Peter’s commentary on the suffering of Christ (1 Peter) draws upon this passage concerning the suffering servant of Isaiah (1 Pet. 2:19-24). The apostle used the Saviour’s fulfillment of the prophecy as the supreme example of how the Lord’s true followers should endure all persecution and injustice for the sake of serving God. This includes bearing the sins of others and having the grace to forgive as He forgave. He had to endure the stripes of scourging and the cruelty of the cross that we might be spiritually restored (1 Pet 2:24) – and we also, like Stephen, may need to endure suffering for the sake of others. Emulating Jesus, Stephen forgave his persecutors (Acts 7:60). In Christ, we need to follow that same example of love and faith.

‘Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows’

(Isaiah 53:4, NIV)

In Isaiah 53:4, we find this same Hebrew word ‘nasa’ translated as ‘took up’ (NIV) or ‘has borne’ (NKJ): ‘Surely he took up our infirmities’ (literally: ‘sicknesses’) ‘and carried our sorrows’ (NIV). Jesus, in fulfilment of this verse, healed sicknesses and cast out demons, Mat.8:16-17 (NIV):

‘When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” ’.

Notice, here, the prophetic application of Isaiah’s prophecy was not to the time of Christ’s agonies on the cross, but to the prior time of His healing ministry for the sick. Jesus cared for the ones who came to Him—His heart went out to them. He empathised with their suffering. He was burdened by their griefs and pains, and acted to bring them release. He lifted their loads—He set them free from their troubles. Jesus shared in the joy of their salvation, but He also shared in the sorrow of their distress. This is why the Bible describes Him as ‘a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3, NKJ). He was always conscious of the suffering going on all around Him, caused by sin and sickness. In this sense, therefore, Jesus also bore in His heart the burden of knowing the pain and hurt caused through mankind’s sinfulness and departure from God.

We need to realize that the Almighty God is burdened by our transgressions: ‘… you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offences. I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.’ (Isaiah 43:24, NIV). – ‘A people laden [weighed down] with iniquity’ (Isaiah 1:4, NKJ), was how God described Israel through the prophet Isaiah. They were warned: ‘Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They have become a burden [Hb. ‘torach’, a ‘burden’ to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood’ (Isaiah 1:13-15, NKJ).

God is not aloof to the consequences of our sins. It is written of ancient Israel: ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit …’ (Isaiah 63:9-10, NKJ). God is not impassive. He is moved to pity and is grieved by all the hurt caused through man’s rebellion. In a time of oppression and war against the Ammonites, when the Israelites repented of having turned to foreign gods, it is written of the Almighty: ‘His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel’ (Judges 10:16, NKJ).The Lord ‘… could bear Israel’s misery no longer’ (NIV). It is clear, therefore, God suffers and is deeply grieved in His Spirit as a result of man’s sin and its consequence.

Through Jesus, God has revealed that He truly understands the sufferings caused by sin: ‘For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted’ (Heb.2:18, NKJ). ‘For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb.4:15, NKJ). God has borne man’s sins, is bearing man’s sins, and will bear man’s sins until the Day of Judgement. Not in a cold legal sense, but in the compassion of His heart—because He feels for us and wants to save us from sin and its effects.

In another sense, God also bears a full awareness of all the sins of the unrepentant—sins which cause condemnation. It is written: ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ (Heb.4:13, NIV). Jesus warned: ‘Men will have to give account on the Day of Judgement,’ (Matt.12:36, NIV). God yearns to relieve the unrepentant of their guilt and sinfulness. Through the Gospel of Christ, He calls them to repent and be saved. When sinners repent, God chooses to remember their sins no more (Isaiah 43:25). ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’ (Is.1v18, NKJ). On the Day of Judgement, the fate of the unrepentant will be sealed (Matt.10:28). After this, God will create ‘a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness’ (2 Pet.3:13; Rev.21:4-5). A time is coming, therefore, when the burden of sin for God and man will be no more.

In the Church, we must follow Christ’s example and bear one another’s burdens, encouraging, praying for and helping to restore those who have fallen into sin, just as the apostle Paul urged the Christians of Galatia: ‘Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Gal.6:1-2, NKJ). As the context shows, the burdens Paul referred to were not those of physical hardship, but those due to sin. Jesus set the example. He said: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34;15:12, NKJ). As followers of Christ, therefore, we are commanded to bear the burdens of others as He loved us.

Paul set this example of caring for the spiritual welfare of others throughout his ministry. The burden that he felt for the spiritual needs of those around him acted like a driving force, spurring him on to greater effort and sacrifice as he worked to preach the Gospel and build up the Church. To the Corinthians, he spoke of what came upon him daily—his ‘deep concern for all the churches’ (2 Cor.11:28, NKJ). All the writers of the epistles of the New Testament expressed this same sense of shepherding. Paul said of his own nation, ‘My heart’s desire and prayer for Israel is that they may be saved’ (Rom.10:1, NKJ). He would have exchanged his own salvation for the sake of saving his kinsmen, if it were possible (Rom.9:1). In this, he expressed the love of God, in the likeness of Christ.

In Jesus, therefore, we see the fullness of God’s compassion, mercy and grace. He bears our sins in His heart, yet gracefully bears away those sins as we turn to Him in true faith and repentance. Past sins are forgiven and His righteous life, accepted for us, covers our own and blots out all transgressions. In Christ, there is no more condemnation (Rom.8:1).

As Christians, we can try to emulate the love and deep concern of Jesus through bearing one another’s burdens, but it is only the Saviour who can ‘bear away’ the burden of sin and set us free.

‘The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’

(Isaiah 53:6)

The cross that He carried can be said to symbolize the weight of mankind’s transgressions. Through the cross, He bore away our sins and so provided the perfect atonement for all who believe.

Jesus forgives and declares righteous all who are covered by His blood—the blood of the Lamb. Jesus felt the full weight of man’s sin as He hung upon the cross, knowing the depths of depravity into which mankind, alienated from God, had fallen. He was ‘delivered up for our sins’because of our sins—to deliver us from our sins, through His perfect sacrifice. The pure and precious blood of Christ, representing His life, spiritually covers those who believe. In figurative terms, the risen Jesus is the One who serves as High Priest to sprinkle with His own blood those whom He has called and chosen. As the risen Lord, He justifies those who truly repent and place their faith in Him: ‘He was raised to life for our justification’ (Rom.4:25, NKJ; cf. Rom.5:9).

Through the death of Jesus, God made possible the reconciliation of man to God. He gave as an offering that which we could not, because of sin—a life of perfect righteousness. He bore both in His flesh and in His heart the sins of mankind unto death—to completely accomplish and so perfect the love gift of Himself for the glory of God and God’s ultimate purpose: to create man in His own image (Gen.1:26). The love of God in all its fullness had to be revealed to mankind in order that we might comprehend ‘how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph.3:18, NIV), that God’s chosen people might be filled ‘to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (Eph.3:19, NIV). You see, in reaching out to save mankind, God holds nothing back; but does all in His power to bring about man’s spiritual rebirth, that we should be a ‘new creation’ in the likeness of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Cor.5:17).

Satan questioned the love of Job for God (Job chapters 1 and 2). God already knew how much Job loved Him, but allowed Job to demonstrate that love in the way that is written of Job in the Scriptures. In the same way, we might ask how much God loves us. Would He be prepared to suffer loss for our sakes? Would He continue to love us if He had to endure suffering because of us? If it were possible, would God be prepared to die for us, to save us from the ultimate consequence of sin? The answers to all these questions are met in Christ: Yes. Yes. Yes!

He, ‘being in very nature God … made himself nothing’ (Philip.2:6-7, NIV), but became a servant, coming in the likeness of men (Phil.2:7). He ‘humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ (Phil.2:8, NIV). How can we resist such great love? As with Job, He was restored by God. Now,Jesus is exalted to the position of glory that He had with the Father ‘before the world was’ (John 17:5, NKJ). He has received a name that is ‘above every name’. He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, ‘to the glory of God the Father’ (Phil.2:9-11).

Jesus transforms lives. If we truly believe and repent, He will forgive all that is past, adorn us with His righteousness and renew our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As children of God of the Spirit, the righteousness of Christ—’The Lord Our Righteousness’ (Jer. 23:6)—is attributed to us.

At one with Christ in the Spirit, our sins no longer condemn us (Rom.8:1),for we are led to reflect upon, repent of and overcome our sins. We ‘.. are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Cor.3:18, NKJ). As we abide in Christ, we have the promise that He will complete the work that He has begun in us: ‘Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Heb.12:2, NKJ). ‘We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2, NIV). When Jesus came, it was that He should be the One who would take away our sins once and forever, through the one offering of His life: He was ‘sacrificed once to take away the sins of many’ (Heb.9v28, NIV).

The sacrifice of Jesus provided the answer for man’s fallen condition. This was something the Old Covenant sacrifices under Moses could not do. Past sins were forgiven under the law given to Moses, but the unrighteousness of man remained unchanged. Each year, the rites of the Day of Atonement were a reminder to the people of their sins (Heb.10:3). The sinful condition of man could not be dealt with through the mere forgiveness of past sins. It required the atonement of Christ and the cleansing of His blood (Heb.9:14).

His blood, symbolic of His own righteous life, covers over the lives of all who believe. This is the covering grace of God by which all with faith in Christ are freely justified: ‘This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.3:22-24, NIV).

Jesus came to do the will of God ‘and by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Heb10v10) …’because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ (Heb.10:14, NIV).

Justification takes away sin—not the actual committing of sin, but the full record and account of sins that would otherwise condemn us. If we are covered by His life, then our sins will not be held against us on the day of judgement—the sins of all who are covered by Christ’s righteousness will not be remembered (Heb.10:17).

‘By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many’

(Isaiah 53:11, NKJ)

One of the twelve disciples, Philip, said to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us’ (John 14:8, NKJ). Jesus replied, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’ (John 14:9). Jesus had just explained, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him’ (John 14:6-7). For almost three years, by most estimates, the disciples had been given private tuition and revelation of God, as His chosen followers. They had witnessed His compassion for those who were suffering, His power over the elements and His power to heal the blind, the deaf, the lame and the sick. They had seen His power over demonic spirits and they had been present when He had raised the dead back to life. They had heard Him teach the Word of God and knew that He had lived that Word without sin, in complete righteousness. What the disciples had received was a personal knowledge of God in the very Person of Jesus—’Immanuel’—which means, “God with us”‘ (Mat.1:23).

In knowing Christ, the disciples had also come to know the Person of the Holy Spirit who had anointed His life and ministry. In Christ, the Holy Spirit had also dwelt with them. Jesus told His disciples: ‘You know Him [the Holy Spirit] for He dwells with you and will be in you’ (John 14:17, NKJ). This was a promise that they would be brought into a union with God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus prayed for His followers, ‘… that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ (John 17:21, NKJ). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, received through faith, brings us into a close family relationship with God the Father.

Paul wrote: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’ (Rom.8:15-16, NKJ). Now, all who truly believe in Christ and repent are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

If we can truly say that we know God, then we have eternal life: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3, NKJ). This is not a cold, factual knowledge; but that which comes through the communion of the Holy Spirit—received through true faith in Christ. It is the knowledge that comes by the grace of God and results in justification.

In this passage of Isaiah that speaks of the event of our Lord’s suffering on the cross, Jesus is called “My Righteous Servant.” This is how God judged Him, in spite of all that men say and have said. Through all the insults He endured, ‘He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly’ (1 Pet.2:23, NIV), and now lives to justify many.

‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities’

(Isaiah 53:5, NKJ)

The reason Jesus suffered was not because He was being punished by God—this was the impression that His persecutors wanted to portray. They had called Him a blasphemer and had desired to put Him to public shame as one accursed of God, hanging from a wooden cross. Many who knew of His death, ‘esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’ (Isaiah 53:4). But this was only how He was judged by those without true knowledge—this was the worldly point of view, according to the flesh.

Though Paul and many of his fellow Christians had once known of Christ in this way, they did so no longer (2 Cor.5:16). Yes, the apostle had recalled with a heavy heart how he had once viewed Christ and had persecuted His followers (Acts 22:3-5). This was the view that he had held before his conversion. Afterwards, instead of seeing Jesus as one upon whom was poured out God’s wrath, he had come to know that the One crucified had given Himself up for us ‘as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Eph.5:1-2)To His Father, far from being judged as an accursed, unholy thing—Jesus was received as a sweet-smelling aroma. This much needs to be understood in order to correctly interpret the passage under study.

Jesus allowed Himself to be taken and put to death because He knew that He would be making the perfect offering of His life, as Saviour and Lord, for our sakes. He suffered and died for our sins, because of our sins, to take away our sins, to heal us of our sins and give us life—not by assuming responsibility and guilt for our sins, but by offering to God His perfect life as a covering, sufficient for all.

We should realize that sinners are spiritually dead and in need of the healing that can only come from the risen Lord. God is prepared to accept us, not because of ourselves, but because of the One we look to and follow after, in whom we have our faith. We are received of the Father if Christ is truly our Lord. He laid down His life – was bruised and wounded – to set us free from our transgressions.

Jesus looked beyond the suffering He endured because of man’s iniquities to the salvation that His witness and offering would bring to all who truly believe.

The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,

and by his wounds we are healed’

(Isaiah 53:5, NIV)

As recorded of Jesus in Acts, ‘He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so He opened not His mouth. In His humiliation His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:32-33, NKJ). The Bible states that His justice was taken away—the Lamb of God was deprived of justice. Jesus did not submit Himself to the justice of man, but ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously,’ as stated by Peter (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ). Although God foreknew and prophesied by the Holy Spirit how mankind would treat His Son, the punishment upon Christ was not the result of God’s justice. The apostle likened it to ‘murder’ (Acts 5:30, NKJ). Likewise, the punishment of death by stoning inflicted upon the disciple Stephen (Acts 7:57-60) was not the result of God’s justice. Nor were the beatings of Peter and John (Acts 5:40), the martyrdom of James (Acts 12:2), and the many punishments inflicted upon Paul (2 Cor.11:24-25) the result of God’s justice, but the sufferings were allowed for the good that would ensue, in powerful demonstration of faith and love. The martyrdom of Stephen, for example, had a lasting impact upon the memory of Saul, who participated in Stephen’s death and who later became the Apostle Paul—the most effective missionary to the Gentiles.

The apostle John exhorts that we ‘lay down our lives for the brethren’ as we have example in Christ, who ‘laid down His life for us’ (1 John 3:16). This was the sacrifice of Christ as John described it. In suffering unjust punishment, Jesus ‘laid down His life’.

In Scripture, it is clear that the terminology of self-sacrifice that can be used of us is the same as that used of the Lord. Paul was prepared to die for his brethren, if that would save them (Rom.9:2). Stephen, as we read in Acts, did die in his witness for Christ (as have many others). He did not recant of his faith before the Jewish council, but knowingly gave up his life in the service of God.

However, just as it would be wrong to say that God punished Stephen and ‘caused’ his death, so it is also wrong to say that God punished His Son. Stephen was certainly ‘sent’ by God – but he was sent ‘to witness to the gospel’ and his death, though necessary, was caused by man, acting in opposition. The disciple laid down his life for the sake of all who would receive his testimony.

This was also the manner of the sacrifice of Christ, as written of Him in the Scriptures. Yet, of course, there is a difference between the sacrifice of God’s Son and that demanded of us. He lived without sin. He rebuked the devil and all temptations. He was God’s righteousness revealed. In all respects, he succeeded where Adam had failed. He was ‘God with us’, in the flesh. But, He was also the Lamb of God, sent to be a sacrifice and to die for us. His life and sacrifice of Himself, therefore, was pleasing to God. He held nothing back, but permitted Himself to be taken and His body killed. – In so doing, He revealed that in Him we should have no fear of death. Though suffering wrongfully, He ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (1 Pet.1:23, NKJ), and received from Him the justice of the resurrection. Now, for all who look to Him, His offering of Himself avails. We are accepted with Christ.

The killing of Jesus was permitted by God to enable His Son’s own offering and sacrifice to be perfected for our sakes. Nothing was withheld from the fullness of God’s love to achieve the greatest possible good on our behalf. Jesus looked beyond the cross to the justice of the resurrection and to the salvation that His sacrifice would provide for all who put their trust in Him. By His stripes we are healed.

More important to the Christ than the saving of His own body was the need to allow His ‘life’—symbolized by His own sacrificial blood—to be a covering for the sins of all who turn to Him in faith. His offering before God conveyed the selfless love of God in purity and perfection, without spot or blemish. This was the sacrifice that He made on our behalf. Far from being the embodiment of sin, as one upon whom God’s wrath was poured—as the Jewish leaders, under Satanic influence, wanted to portray—Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God’ (Heb.9:14, NIV). Far from being an unrighteous judge condemning the innocent, along with Christ’s accusers, the Father accepted His Son’s life as a fragrant gift (Eph.5:2). The lie of Satan is that the life of Jesus in the flesh ended in unrighteousness and sin. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The people had killed the ‘Holy and Righteous One,’ Peter declared (Acts 3:14). Christ was punished, but unjustly. The punishment was allowed, to bring us His peace.

‘Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;

He has put Him to grief’

(Isaiah 53:10, NKJ)

‘Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done,’ Jesus prayed, on the night of His arrest (Lk.22:42). It was the Father’s will that He followed—in perfect obedience and unity of purpose, knowing exactly what was to come.

He said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him’ (Jn.8:28-29). Therefore, as Jesus never failed to please His Father, He was never left alone by Him; but, ‘Though He was a Son,’ as it is written, ‘yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him’ (Heb.5:8-9, NKJ).

What Jesus was called to do required that He should not seek to save Himself but others, in the full knowledge of all that He would have to endure. Through this, the sacrificial offering of His life was perfected and thus pleasing to God—a sacrifice to be accepted for all with faith in the Son. It is said that Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14, NKJ). Jesus was, therefore, delivered up in the flesh for the purpose of death, but not in Spirit. Although Christ’s body suffered the results of man’s sins, His Spirit remained undefiled.

As we can read in the Psalms (Ps.22:24), God the Father did not hide His face from Him; nor close His ears to the prayers of His dying Son, but suffered with Him, in the unity of the Spirit. ‘God is love,’ John wrote (1 John 4:8), and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit willingly suffered out of their great love and desire to save mankind.

‘When You make His soul an offering for sin ..’

(Isaiah 53:10, NKJ)

The Hebrew word ‘asham’ (meaning ‘guilt’, ‘sin’ or ‘trespass’) is most often translated by either the phrase ‘trespass offering’, ‘guilt offering’ or ‘sin offering’ depending on the Bible version and passage of Scripture. The NIV translates Isaiah 53:10 as: ‘… and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days…’ Now, along with the guilt offering, a restitution and a sum of money had to be given to compensate for the offence (Lev.5:15-19; 6:1-7). The NIV, in Leviticus 5:15, interprets the guilt offering as a ‘penalty’ but please note: the word ‘penalty’ does not occur in the Hebrew. This is an addition to the text. The offering was not intended as a penal fine, but as a requirement of the law for those who, after committing such sins as those prescribed, desired forgiveness and restitution, with the attitude to offer up to God a life of spiritual purity (as symbolized by the offering of the ram without blemish).For without true repentance, the offerings were futile and unacceptable (Isa.1:13-18).

The Lord, on the cross, fulfilled all the spiritual benefits of all the Old Covenant offerings for sins of all kinds—whether known or unknown. But more, His one sacrifice avails for all who truly believe—to atone for all sin. The principle of making a true restitution and compensation for sins (when this is possible) is supported by the guilt offering. True repentance for sins will be demonstrated by a willingness to make amends in some way for the hurt caused by past actions. The story of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:5-9), illustrates the fruit borne of godly sorrow. He gave half his goods to the poor and restored fourfold to those he had cheated. This needs to be the attitude of all who truly admit their guilt and repent, turning to Christ. For all who do, Christ’s sacrifice avails. As John the Baptist said to the multitudes, ‘Bear fruits worthy of repentance’ (Luke 3:8). We, also, must bear the good fruit of repentance to be accepted of God.

The one who commits the sins is guilty and must bear his iniquity (Lev.5:17). That is biblical. To be free of condemnation for sins today, one only has to repent with faith in Christ and so abide in His grace. He is ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’. As a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet.1:19), He gave His life as a covering for all who will live in Him. Now, just as the Father accepted the sweet smelling offering of His Son upon the cross, so He will accept all who accompany His Son, as His chosen followers.

We can take a negative or a positive view of the cross. One can believe that God ascribed all sin and guilt to His innocent Son and punished Him with the penalty of death in our place. One might somehow believe that God did this in order to uphold the legal justice of His Law. Jesus on the cross might be viewed as the Holy One made guilty for all the crimes of mankind—from whom the Father turned away and withdrew His Spirit. The Truth (‘I am The Truth’) may be viewed as The Lies—as the person made guilty in our place for all our lies. But this is the negative view of the cross that presents the image that God is unjust—inflexibly demanding His pound of flesh and unwilling to exercise mercy. What matters to God is not that someone should be punished, but that the guilty should repent. Moreover, justice cannot be upheld by the transfer of guilt and punishment to the innocent.

To be forgiven, one does not have to suffer a punishment. If one is truly repentant, God is ready to forgive. Condemnation is taken away. God’s law applies punishment for sin only if there is no repentance. Jesus told the Pharisees who had wrongly judged His disciples: ‘If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent’ (Mat.12:7, NIV). The Lord desires to exercise mercy, not condemnation. He is the God of love and true justice.

According to God’s Word: ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him’ (Ezekiel 18:20, NIV). People will be judged according to how they live. Having well-behaved parents or children is no defence. We stand or fall on our own. Neither our sins nor our righteousness can be credited to someone else. This ought to be clear. However, God is able to declare righteous anyone who exercises the faith of Abraham and turns to His Son. In Christ, we stand in the righteousness of the Almighty, born again of the Spirit. We are accounted to have died to sin, as we live in Christ. It is not ours, but Christ’s righteousness—the righteousness of God—that saves us, by His grace and mercy.

The positive view of the cross recognizes the triumph of righteousness over evil, injustice and death – and that goodness will prevail.

Note on Jewish and English translations of Isaiah 53

Jewish translations of Isaiah 53 are influenced not only by the belief that the suffering servant of the prophecy is either the personification of the nation Israel or a reference to the prophet Moses, but also by the Jewish belief that human vicarious atonement is completely alien to the teachings of God. Most Christian English translations, on the other hand, are influenced by the idea that Jesus, as the Messiah, suffered and died in the place of sinners as a substitute. He is thought to have paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross. Those who consider the servant to be Israel, the nation, attribute ‘the sins’ of the prophecy to the Gentile nations committed against the Jews, based upon the mention of ‘the nations’ in Isaiah 52:15. The ‘we’ in the voice of the prophecy is thought to be the Gentiles realizing their sins against God’s chosen. This idea of one person representing a nation has precedent in Scripture, but is regrettably misapplied in Isaiah 53; and the view that the suffering servant is Moses has obvious associations but cannot be maintained throughout the passage. In Isaiah 53, the likeness to the sufferings of Jesus is just too strong to be ignored (and we have clear biblical association in the N.T.). However, the objection that the idea of human vicarious atonement is foreign to Scripture clearly has merit. In Exodus 32:32-33, we read: ‘”Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which You have written.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.”’ What Moses requested was contrary to God’s justice. He asked to die, if God could not forgive. You see, forgiveness does not require punishment. Moreover, to punish others in the place of the guilty is something God forbids. God’s answer was not to say that Moses was too impure to qualify as a substitute, but to state the rule of justice: those bearing their sins and guilt must be punished. Where there is no forgiveness, there is condemnation.

This is also the message of the Law as written in Deut. 24:16 and the Prophets (see: Jer.31:30 and Ezek. 18:4 & 20): ‘a person shall be put to death for his own sin.’ Transference of guilt is not allowed, nor the punishment of the innocent for crimes committed by others.

 *

Chapter 4

‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood’

(The Passover meal of Christ, otherwise known as Holy Communion, the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper)

Beside the Sea of Galilee, not long after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus said to those who followed Him: ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’ (John 6:53-54, NKJ).From this time, many turned back and no longer desired to follow Him (John 6:66). Suddenly, in spite of all the miraculous signs, people were offended by what He had to say. Jesus then asked the twelve if they also wanted to leave.

Peter gave the perfect answer:

‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (John 6:68-69, NKJ).

These two proclamations of faith expressed the revelation given by the Holy Spirit: that Jesus, the ‘Christ’the Anointed One of God, had come from the Father as the Word of God made flesh—as Manna from Heaven, giving words of everlasting life. By receiving the teaching of Jesus, Peter had received the heavenly food of God. These words were meat to our Lord, expressed and personified in His daily life. ‘My food,’ Jesus said, ‘is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work’ (John 4:34, NKJ).

The words of Jesus flowed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, bringing life to all whom God had chosen to reveal His truth. What He had said about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was never meant to be taken literally, as though He was advocating some form of cannibalism. He explained: ‘The flesh profits nothing’ (John 6:63). Dependence upon physical, bodily flesh would not help anyone to live forever—this is what we can reasonably infer from the context. It was not the cannibalistic eating of His literal flesh and blood that was going to provide life, but rather the imbibing of His words: ‘The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life,’ He declared (John 6:63, NKJ).

The life of the flesh is in the blood’ (Lev. 17:11, 14, NKJ). ‘The blood is the life’ (Deut. 12:23, NKJ). This is what we can read in the Old Testament. Jesus was as much as saying to those who listened, ‘Receive My life into yourself!’ He was and is the living Word of God, imbued with all the fullness of the Holy Spirit. To enter into life we must accept and act upon the words of Christ with living faith, repenting of sins and turning to God in order to receive forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus promised (John 14:15-17; 26). ‘If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ,’ Paul wrote, ‘he does not belong to Christ’ (Rom. 8:9) … ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’ (v14, NIV).

The idea that the unleavened bread and wine of Holy Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Jesus on the night of His Passover sacrifice, could be considered in any way the real flesh and blood of Christ is an unbiblical and abject nonsense. This was a notion arrived at centuries after the apostles, largely through the works of scholars who relied heavily upon Aristotelian philosophy to explain what they called the miracle of transubstantiation, whereby it was thought the bread and wine were transformed in all but appearance into the flesh and blood of Christ through the prayerful request of the officiating priest during the Communion service.

It is interesting to note that the person largely responsible for articulating this doctrine—the Dominican philosopher theologian Thomas Aquinas—also provided doctrinal support and justification for the Inquisition and the use of the secular arm for the execution (normally preceded by torture) of those found guilty of schism or heresy (Summa Theologica, 2-2, Qu.11: Heresy, Art. 3 & 4). The Church of Rome, especially, needs to reconsider the profoundly literal interpretation it places upon the testimony of Scripture and the early Church.

A variation of the doctrine of transubstantiation was developed during the Reformation in which it was said that the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine did not depend upon the prayer of the priest, but upon the faith of the participant at the time that he or she received the elements. However, a carnal and worldly interpretation of the Lord’s Passover meal ‘profits nothing’. A veil of splendid pomp, masonry, liturgy, litany, chorale and regalia might seem impressive to the participants of the Mass, engendering submissive awe and fearful respect for the services of the priests, but it hides the truth. If a doctrine is wrong, it is wrong—no matter how wonderful might be its setting.

When rendered with extreme literalism, although seeming to have a kind of mystical reality, a Roman Catholic Mass becomes a reduction of the highest spiritual teaching into mere superstition. It transforms the bread and wine into nothing more than specious magical potions, which, if accepted, do no more than lull the mind into trusting in false authority and worship. From early childhood, followers are taught to regard the wafers and wine with fear and awe—as though these elements were literally the flesh and blood of Jesus—and to take special care lest a crumb should fall. This is simply an irrational fear and devoid of true spiritual substance. Those held by such fears need to pray earnestly for release, that the veil obscuring true faith might be taken away.

‘The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread ..’

(1 Cor.11:23, NKJ)

We read from Matthew that ‘On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread …’ (Mat.26:17-19, NKJ) preparations were made for Jesus to celebrate the Passover. This was a special Passover meal, called a ‘seder’ in early Jewish tradition (from the Hebrew ‘order’), eaten on the evening of the 14th Nisan – the evening before the killing of the Passover lambs – that is, on the Passover Day of Preparation in which the lambs were prepared for slaughter.

Note: In the Jewish calendar, days begin at sunset. At the time of the Passover, near to the spring equinox when the length of day equals night, the hours of daylight begin at 6 a.m. and last 12 hours. In Roman times it  was the practice to count the hours of daylight from sunrise, as indicated in Acts 2:15: ‘the third hour of the day’ (corresponding to our 9 a.m.). – In the first century AD, during the time of the second temple, the Jews slew their sacrifices, ‘from the ninth hour till the eleventh,’ as stated by Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian (The Jewish War, Book 6, ch.9:3), i.e. in the twilight zone ‘between the two evenings,’ (Lev.23:5, NKJ) which was interpreted to mean from about 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon, when daylight started to fade. – It was at ‘the ninth hour’ that Jesus died (see Lk.23:44-46) at the very time the lambs were being slaughtered.

Today, people might consider the detail that Jesus died at the ninth hour as merely adding clarity to the events, but to the Jew of the first century, the timing of our Lord’s death was hugely significant. Those watching our Lord expire would have heard the blowing of the shofar – the ceremonial ram’s horn that was blown at the temple, signalling the killing of the Passover lamb.

Later that same evening, after dark, the eating of the Passover lambs took place. This was the start of the holy convocation known as the Feast of the Passover, held on the 15th Nisan. The Feast of the Passover corresponded to the eating of the original meal as described in Ex.12:11 and signified the day of Israel’s departure from Egypt, as it is written: “And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month” (Deuteronomy 33:3, KJV). That year, the Feast Day fell on the weekly Sabbath, as John wrote: “that Sabbath was a high day” (John 19:31). Mark mentions that the authorities conspired to kill Him “not during the Feast, lest there be an uproar of the people” (Mark 14:2). They wanted Him dead and His body removed before the high day Sabbath began – the Feast of the Passover, called simply ‘the Feast’. Notice also, from John’s Gospel, that those who had led Jesus away to Pilate in the morning did not enter the Gentile headquarters because they wanted to stay ceremonially clean in order that they could eat ‘the Passover’: “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” (Jn.18:38, ESV). – This is further scriptural evidence indicating that the Passover lambs had not at that time been killed, for the Passover lambs were to be eaten in the evening on the Feast Day. Jesus sat down with His disciples on the evening of the Passover Day of Preparation and it was on the Day of Preparation that Jesus was presented by Pilate to the people: “Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ ” (Jn.19:14-15. ESV).

At the time of the eating of the first Passover meal under Moses, prophetic instructions were given for the children of Israel to eat the meal in haste, wearing cloak and sandals, and carrying a staff (Exodus 12:11). It is stated, ‘The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves’ (Ex.12:39). All households under the protection of the blood of the Passover lamb received deliverance from the final judgment of God upon Egypt (- symbolic, of course, of deliverance for spiritual Israel through the blood of Christ). As soon as the plague of the firstborn struck (Exodus ch.11—ch.12), the Egyptians were so terrified that they ‘urged the people to hurry and leave the country’ (Exodus 12:33). Nevertheless, the command to eat the bread without leaven was given before the plague occurred (Exodus 12:8). The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to be celebrated as a memorial of the day of the Lord’s deliverance of the twelve tribes from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12:17; see also Leviticus 23:6-7).

The release of Israel from Egyptian bondage was not a long drawn out affair, it happened suddenly in one day. Likewise, our own salvation from the bondage of sin is not something that requires a long period of struggle. The release is sudden, effected through the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:36), accredited to all who truly believe and repent. This time element is important, for it reveals that salvation is not something that one has to work towards. It is not of the future, but of the present for all who trust in the Son of God and receive His words. These we must ‘eat’ to live. The celebration of The Passover Feast is no longer limited to one day, but is a celebration that continues forever in Christ. As Paul wrote: ‘For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast,’ (present continuous tense, meaning: ‘keep on keeping the feast’) ‘not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor.5:7-8, NKJ).

Notice: the fact that the bread of the Passover was unleavened is here given spiritual relevance. Paul understood that only unleavened bread could be offered with the sacrifices and that the sacrifices themselves had to be without fault, spot or blemish—as a symbol of purity. Associated with Christ, the unleavened bread represents the pure offering of the body of Christ—who was and is the embodiment of sincerity and truth. As we ‘eat’ of His body—His flesh—the Bread of Heaven—so His words will be our food for life and He will abide in us and we in Christ. These terms are all metaphors for the Word of God: ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us’ (John 1:14, NIV). ‘This is the bread that came down from heaven … he who feeds on this bread will live forever’ (John 6:58, NIV).

As the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, it was incumbent upon all Israelites to remove leaven from their homes so that for seven days from the 14th day to the 21st day of the first month they would not eat or keep any leaven. This was given as a holy ordinance to remind the people of their deliverance from Egyptian captivity (Exodus 12:17-20). As a raising agent in bread, in biblical times, the leaven was produced when bread without salt began to ferment—hence it became a common symbol for corruption in rabbinical writings. Egypt, in the book of Revelation (Rev.11:8), is equated with Sodom—which, like Egypt, was a place of corruption which received God’s judgement (Gen.18:20; 19:24-25; Exodus 6:5-6). In Paul’s usage, leaven denotes the sinfulness of the old life which has to be left behind and rejected if we are to celebrate new life in Christ. Those who continue in old and corrupting ways should not be accepted into the fellowship of Christ’s body and family—that each Church congregation might remain unleavened and free from the corrupting influence permeating from false brethren (1 Cor.5:1-7).

In association with the Passover sacrifice, therefore, leaven denotes sin, and unleavenedness denotes purity. This fact should not be overlooked when we take the bread of communion, during the Lord’s Supper (also called the Eucharist). The unleavened bread symbolizes the purity of Christ at the time He died for us. He did not die as the embodiment of every filth and corruption—He was the pure unleavened Bread of Heaven, broken and given for us. Only when we do as He commanded and eat unleavened bread during the communion service do we truly show the death of the Lord. The institution of the Lord’s Supper is an emphatic statement that Jesus, the Christ—the Holy One of Israel, died in a state of absolute purity as the perfect, unleavened offering for our salvation.

‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; …’

(1 Cor.11:25, NIV)

The “fruit of the vine”, as used during the communion service, stands as a metaphor for the blood of Christ, which He poured out for us on the cross. ‘Without the shedding of blood,’ we are told, ‘there is no forgiveness’ (Heb. 9:22, NIV). Jesus had to give His life, symbolized by His blood, that all who look to Him as Lord might be forgiven their sins. We were redeemed, Peter said, “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet.1:19). The price of our redemption from sin was paid with the precious blood of Christ—His incorruptible life shed on the cross. For we ‘were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold,’ Peter explained (1 Pet.1:18, NKJ), indicating the priceless, pure and everlasting nature of Christ’s gift for us, in comparison to which even the most precious metals are impure, subject to wear and contamination, and have a possible corrupting influence. Christians are everlastingly redeemed from sin and death as a result of the perfect and incorruptible life Christ offered for us on the cross.

Christ’s blood did not become corrupted. His blood, symbolic of His lifefor ‘the life’ is ‘in the blood’ (Lev.17:11) did not become impure. It is also written, ‘nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption’ (Acts 2:27, NKJ; Ps.16:10). Of course, the psalm is referring to the fact of the resurrection and that Jesus’ body did not see decay. It is not speaking of the corruption of sin, but if Jesus had become the embodiment of sin upon the cross, the figure of Christ’s body undergoing the corruption of death could have been used as a metaphor to imply that Jesus had become spiritually impure. However, we find the opposite being stated. Jesus’ body and blood did not suffer any decay or decomposition. Symbolically, therefore, the metaphor of the bread and wine of communion stands for the unleavened, pure and incorruptible life of Christ, as He gave it on the cross for our sakes. His blood, indicating His sacrificed life, was also given to ratify the new covenant of God with man.

It is a solemn agreement, but not like that given to Israel through Moses. Now, the agreement is between God and spiritual Israel, the Church of Christ. It is a covenant of promises, ratified with the blood of the Lamb. In Jeremiah we read:

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer.31:31-34, NKJ; Heb.8:10-12).

Paul had been called to minister the new covenant ‘of the Spirit’ (2 Cor.3:6), not one written with ink or engraved in letters on stone. Spiritual Israel obeys ‘the law of the Spirit of life’, and is no longer under the condemnation of the letter of the law of sin and death (Rom.8:1-2). ‘The righteous requirements of the law’ are fulfilled in all who live ‘according to the Spirit,’ Paul wrote (Rom.8:4, NKJ). The ones who are Christ’s are indwelled and led by the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:9). Christ’s own Spirit-filled life was poured out as a holy offering for our sakes. The cup of wine that He gave His disciples symbolized the new covenant in His blood—now offered to us through the Gospel, that we might receive forgiveness, justification and adoption, as God’s children of the Spirit.

‘Do this in remembrance of Me’

(1 Cor.11:24, NKJ)

This was the solemn request of Jesus on the night of the Passover, just hours before He died. It is not a matter to be taken casually. Therefore, we must give serious thought to all that He commanded and to the meaning conveyed through the holy rite of the new covenant—known generally as the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.

The statement, ‘Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes,’ (1 Cor.11:26, NKJ) indicates that the point being stressed is not about how often it should be eaten, but for what purpose it is eaten. What is important is not whether it is taken once a week or once a month, etc, but how it is understood and proclaimed. The rite of the new covenant proclaims the Lord’s death and expresses belief that He now lives and will come again. Certainly, the annual remembrance during the season of the Passover carries the greatest significance, but this is not Easter. Easter refers to the pagan festival of Oestre, the Teutonic goddess of spring. Why discard the Hebrew name for this festal period?

Historically, there has been antipathy towards the Jews and anything Jewish. A question faced by the early Church was whether to celebrate the resurrection on the first day of the week and hold another commemorative communion service on the Friday, or to follow the Jewish dating for the Passover on the 14th of the first month of the Jewish calendar, regardless of what day of the week it happened to fall upon. For several hundred years, both systems of dating were used, but within the influence of the Roman Empire and the Church of Rome, it was the Friday – Sunday observance that became accepted. The Emperor Constantine authorized rejection of the Jewish custom for setting the date: ‘… it seemed to every one a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews [in dating the Passover] in the celebration of this most holy solemnity …we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast’ (The Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325, Eusebius of Caesarea: Vita Const., “Letter of the Emperor”, Book 3, 18-20; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p.54; ed. Henry R. Percival, Christian Lit. Co., New York, 1890). In the British Isles, the problem over the date for the annual remembrance—known to historians as the Quartodeciman Controversy—was the reason for the Synod of Whitby in A.D.664 (Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People; trans. D. Farmer, Leo Sherley-Price; Penguin, London, 1990). The Celtic bishops had maintained the custom that they believed had been passed down to them from the Apostle John: that of commemorating the 14th day of Nisan as the day of the Lord’s death, according to the Jewish calendar. However, the English King Oswy of Northumberland, who had summoned the bishops, accepted the tradition of the Roman Church, whose authority was believed by him to have emanated from the Apostle Peter. Gradually, the Roman view prevailed throughout the British Isles.

Nevertheless, there is considerable merit in reflecting upon the Holy Days of the sacred calendar, for they foreshadow the events concerning the coming of Jesus in symbolic language. Even so, as Christians, we are not under the letter of a law concerning the keeping of holy days—be they of the Law given to Moses or derived from elsewhere. The choice about what particular day or days of the year we decide upon to remember the Lord’s Passover sacrifice is not a matter affecting salvation. The new covenant enjoins us to follow the commands of Christ and the law of the Spirit written in the heart (Jer.31:33). It matters only that we remember and do according to His example. We are not honouring the day, but the event.

Jesus died during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so to do as Jesus did, we need to bless, break and distribute unleavened bread also. Whether many loaves of bread are used or just one, it is the bread itself that is symbolic of the one Bread of Heaven—broken and given for us that we might become at-one with God and each other. In this sense, therefore, it is both symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ and symbolic of the unity that all Christians share in Him as members of His body, the Church—of which ‘He is the head’ (Col.1:18). Just as it is written: ‘For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we all partake of that one bread’ (1 Cor.10:17, NKJ).

The bread that is eaten is not symbolic of sin, but symbolizes the pure Word of God embodied in Christ, offered in sacrifice to God and given to us through the new covenant, that we who partake may become spiritually nourished and brought into oneness with God and each other. The bread of communion symbolizes all that Jesus embodied upon the cross. This is what we should remember when we partake of unleavened bread as our Lord instructed, during the Lord’s Supper.

‘And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them ..’ (Mat.26:27, NKJ). We are informed that He blessed ‘the fruit of the vine’ (v29). ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1) Jesus told His disciples shortly afterwards. The redness of red grape juice or wine aptly symbolizes the blood of Christ. It was, therefore, the fruit of the vine that He gave to His disciples in the cup. The Passover season, however, is not the period for harvesting grapes. The juice was preserved by fermentation—by turning it into wine. The alcoholic content in the wine prevented bacterial contamination. At the Passover meal, it had become customary to drink wine mixed with water. This may have been the kind of wine used during the Lord’s Supper, but in earlier Old Testament times the best wine was considered undiluted (as indicated in Is.1:22). The Bible does not say what kind of wine was used during this very special occasion, only that it was ‘the fruit of the vine’. Therefore, whether actual red wine or red grape juice is used, or whether or not it is diluted with water doesn’t really matter. It is the red wine or juice that symbolizes the spilt blood of Christ. We should not trivialize the ceremony by using anything else.

Again, we should not presume that His blood, representing His life, ever became contaminated with sin. Christians are redeemed with the imperishable ‘precious blood of Christ’ (1 Pet.1:18-19). His life—imbued with the Spirit—He offers to us through the new covenant, ratified by the blood that He poured out in sacrifice to God for our sakes. As we worthily drink the wine, we show that He died to give His life as an offering for all who truly believe and look forward to His return. In this manner, as we drink, we also express the desire to be filled with His life through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit and the nourishment of the Word of God. Holy Communion offers a renewal of our solemn vows before God in remembrance of our Lord’s great sacrifice.

The eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, as Jesus instituted it, was not to satisfy physical hunger or thirst. Anyone taking Holy Communion needs to respectfully reflect upon the meaning and solemnity of the words of Christ. Failing to do this can result in dire consequences, as Paul warned: ‘Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor.11:27, NIV). ‘For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.11:29-30, NIV). It is imperative, therefore, that we seriously and reverently reflect upon the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper, carefully considering our Lord’s words and doing just as He instructed. When we do this, the spiritual blessings of the new covenant will flow into our lives.

‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; …’

(Luke 22:42, NKJ)

Occasionally, one hears the claim that the cup of communion symbolizes not just the blood of Christ but also the cup of God’s wrath—of which, it is said, Jesus drank on our behalf when He suffered and died. The above verse is often used as though offering support for this notion—but wrongly so. It is necessary to study the biblical application of these figurative terms and the context in which they are used.

In both the Old and New Testaments, ‘cup’ is employed in metaphorical expressions, such as: ‘cup of consolation’ (Jer.16:7, NKJ); ‘cup of salvation’ (Ps.116:13); ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Cor.10:16); ‘my cup overflows’ (Ps.23:5), etc.. Most often, the metaphor refers to suffering, e.g.: ‘the cup of ruin and desolation’ (Ezek.23:33, NIV); ‘the cup of trembling … the cup of My fury’ (Is.51:22, NKJ); ‘the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath’ (Rev.16:19, NKJ). The ‘cup of the Lord’ (1 Cor.10:21; 11:27, NKJ), however, spoken of by Paul, refers not to the cup of God’s wrath, but to the ‘cup of blessing’ used in Holy Communion (1 Cor.10:16, NKJ). ‘The cup of demons’ (1 Cor.10:21) is the opposite phrase—denoting the ceremonial food or drink of false religion. One cannot expect to receive the blessings of the Lord, imparted through Holy Communion, if one is also partaking of elements presented in the counterfeit worship of devils (1 Cor.10:20-22).

For what reasons and upon what persons was the wrath of God poured out in Israel and Judah in Old Testament times? Was it not poured out for reasons of national apostasy upon the incorrigibly wicked who refused to repent? God sent His servants, but few listened and took heed of their warnings. Jeremiah wrote:

Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to returnI listened and heard, but they do not speak arightNo man repented of his wickednesssaying, “What have I done?” Everyone turned to his own course, as the horse rushes into the battle (Jer.8:5-6, NKJ).

Also:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster that I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshipping other gods that neither they nor you nor your fathers ever knew. Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, “Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; ... (Jer.44:2-6, NIV).

It is the revelation of Scripture that the ‘cup of God’s wrath’ represents God’s judgement upon the incorrigibly wicked who refuse to turn from their evil ways. This cup of His fury is not poured out or given to those who are willing to repent. Indeed, the repentant are promised life: ‘For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!’ (Ezek.18:32). It is theologically incorrect, therefore, to claim that Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf when He suffered and died. Jesus died to save all who are willing to repent—not those who refuse to repent, for whom the cup of His wrath is justly reserved. The cup of suffering that He drank was not the outpouring of God’s anger, but was the witness He had to endure for our sakes, in order to fulfil all that was written. Only those who elect to follow the way of evil and refuse correction suffer the wrath of God. This will be the fate of the wicked at the end of the age: ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come’ (Rev.11:17, NIV).

The statement: ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world’ (1 John 2:2) does not mean that Jesus atoned also for the sins of the incorrigibly wicked. The English preposition ‘for’, translated from the Greek word ‘peri’ can simply mean ‘concerning’ (Strong’s). Through Jesus, therefore, atonement for the sins of the whole world is available, but only those who turn to Christ in faith will benefit. Universal salvation is not the teaching of Scripture. Other such statements, e.g.: ‘Jesus Christ … gave Himself a ransom for all’ (1 Tim.2:6), need to be understood in a similar manner. His payment of the perfect sacrifice on our behalf is available for all, but to take advantage of God’s gracious gift we have to repent in faith. Likewise, John the Baptist’s comment: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29, NKJ) does not mean that the whole world, including the wicked, are now exonerated and forgiven, but that Jesus is the One through whom the world can find forgiveness. Throughout the Old and New Testaments it is clear that it is the wilfully sinful who suffer God’s wrath, not those who repent.

The cup of suffering that Jesus drank was a cup that we, as Christians, might also be called upon to drink. To James and John, Jesus put the question: ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ (Matt.20:22, NIV). ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus then replied: ‘You will indeed drink from My cup ..’ (Matt.20:23). The two disciples sought a place of honour by their Master’s side in His coming kingdom, but Jesus explained that such honour is given only to those who are prepared to suffer as He. By using the metaphor of drinking from His cup, He also prophesied that they would indeed suffer. James, in fact, suffered martyrdom in the early days of the Church, as recorded in Acts (12:2); while John, the writer of Revelation—if we accept the testimony of the early Church, received banishment on the Isle of Patmos (Rev.1:9). Paul expressed these sufferings this way: ‘Now I rejoice in what I suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church’ (Col.1:24, NIV). He wrote: ‘The sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives …’ (2 Cor.1:5, NIV).

As disciples of Christ, we must be prepared to take up our cross and follow Him (Lk.14:27). The cup of communion that we drink reminds us that He suffered to bring us His peace. He did not suffer God’s wrath and we are not called upon to suffer God’s wrath; but, for the sake of the Church, like the apostles, we may be called upon to suffer. As we drink the cup of the new covenant, in remembrance of Christ, we accept to do the Father’s will—whatever His will for us may be.

 *

Chapter 5

‘Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?’

(Micah 6:7, NKJ)

(A commentary on Micah 6:7, Baal worship, child sacrifice, propitiation and the atonement)

What an extraordinary question! ‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?‘ (Micah 6:6-7). Even though it is rhetorical, Micah places in the modern mind a question of incredible absurdity. Who, in his right mind, could ever contemplate sacrificing his own child with the idea that this might in some way be pleasing to God as an atonement for sin? What kind of god would one need to imagine to ever countenance such an appalling abomination in order to be appeased for the sins of the soul? Yet, within the historical context of Micah, such a belief was held by many.

Child sacrifice was a religious practice amongst the Phoenicians and Canaanite tribes—and, eventually, was a form of worship practised amongst the Israelites. The question Micah asked was not just a speculative, hypothetical, abstract wonderment; it was a question of real and contemporary relevance that raised prevailing issues of belief held by many who had forsaken true worship. Revealed in this verse of Scripture is a belief, commonly held in that period, that one could amend for sins through the sacrifice of an innocent child. It was thought that by giving up one’s own child in this way one could appease God for sins of the soul and find divine favour. The idea, therefore, is that the penalty for sins could be paid for through the sacrifice of an innocent child—whose substitutionary death was thought sufficient to assuage God’s wrath and satisfy His penal justice and offended honour. The child had to be of an age that was believed to be without sin—in order to pay for the sins of others. A firstborn child was preferred because the firstborn was regarded more highly and was, in consequence, considered a greater offering.

However, early in Israel’s history, Yahweh had commanded this whole notion to be utterly rejected as an abomination: ‘There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire,… all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you’ (Deut.18:10-12, NKJ). Remarkably, in spite of God’s warnings, Israel and Judah fell prey to these same corrupt practices. In the time of Jeremiah (active c.626 – 585 B.C.), a ‘tophet’—a place of child sacrifice and burial—had been set up in the Valley of Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. The Lord pronounced through the prophet:

‘… “I will bring such a catastrophe on this place … because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents. They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into mind; therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter”’ (Jer.19:3-6, NKJ; cf. Jer.7:30-32).

It was as a result of not repenting from following the worship of the Canaanites that the nations of Israel and Judah suffered God’s wrath and were destroyed. Such worship is an abomination.

Today, we can look back upon these periods of apostasy in Israel’s history and shake the head in condemnation. The thought of slaying an innocent child to pay for one’s sins is anathema. So, how much more the concept that the Law of God legalizes and accepts the substitution of God’s Son for punishment in the place of the guilty? Would God do that which He regards as an abomination for others to do? Would God do that which is not right and punish His own innocent Child for our transgressions—for the sins of the soul? It is written: ‘It is not good to punish an innocent man’ (Prov.17:26, NIV). Also: ‘Do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty’ (Ex.23:7, NIV). ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both’ (Prov.17v15, NIV). Yet, this is just the error taught by many who hold to satisfaction and penal substitution theories of atonement. It is envisaged that God the Father, in order to save us from the penalty of our sins, had to satisfy His own law and honour by punishing the Holy One with suffering and death in our place.

Nevertheless, it is a reinstitution of the Canaanite doctrine to teach that an innocent Child can, through substitutionary sacrifice, pay the penalty for man’s transgressions and sins of the soul.

Let us now look more closely at the historical background:

Micah prophesied during times of national apostasy and upheaval ‘in the days of Jotham (750-732 B.C.), Ahaz (c.735-715 B.C.) and Hezekiah (c.715-686 B.C.), kings of Judah’ (Mic.1:1). He foretold the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and its capital, Samaria, which fell in 722 B.C. after a three year siege. His prophetic ministry, delivered before the reforms that took place under Hezekiah, warned of severe judgement to come in consequence of following the utterly depraved and idolatrous practises of surrounding nations.

Following the reign of King David, the drift into apostasy might be said to have begun with King Solomon (c.970 -930 B.C.), who built high places for the worship of Ashtoreth, Molech and Chemosh to satisfy his foreign wives—one high place being just east of Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:5, 33). When Solomon’s kingdom divided (c930), Jeroboam 1, chosen leader of the Northern Kingdom, set up idol worship for Yahweh at Bethel and Dan in an attempt to break the allegiance that worshippers of Yahweh had with Jerusalem. Gradually, Israel and, at a later time, Judah assimilated more and more ideas and elements of pagan worship into a syncretic belief system of which the worship of Yahweh was just one expression. King Omri of Israel, who founded the strongly fortified city of Samaria, hastened Israel’s slide into idolatry (1 Kings 16:25-26; Micah 6:16). Ahab, his son, married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, priest-king of Tyre and Sidon, and established temples for the Phoenician worship of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 16:32-33). In Judah, the Sidonian Baal worship was introduced through Queen Athaliah, a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, who became the sole monarch from 841 to 835 B.C. as a result of royal marriage, murder and intrigue (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chron.22:2, 24:7).

In spite of several attempts at reformation under various monarchs—notably Hezekiah and Josiah of Judah, and Jehu of Israel—the influence of the Canaanite and Phoenician religion was not eradicated. There are numerous biblical references to the sway that Baal worship had over the people of the two kingdoms—right up to the time of their being taken away into captivity.

Of Israel, it is written:

‘They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshipped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practised divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil … So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence’ (2 Kings 17:16-17).

Isaiah described a practice of setting up tophets in the valleys and ravines:

‘You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags’ (Isa.57:5, NIV).

This brings to mind the archaeological discoveries at the Phoenician tophet at Salambo, Carthage, Tunisia, where in 1921 over 6,000 burial urns were found containing the remains of cremated infants. The tophet occupies a large depression, close to the sea, and was used for sacrifice in the worship of Baal Hammon and the goddess Tanit for hundreds of years. It was a practice attested to in the writings of Tertullian, Orosius, Diodorus Sicus and Plutarch. There should be no doubt about the veracity of the Bible in its description of this form of worship practised in Israel.

Jeremiah testified of Judah:

‘They have set their abominations in the house which is called My name, to pollute it. they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire ..’ (Jer.7:30-31, NKJ).

The prophet Ezekiel, active from c.593 to 571 B.C., also declared the depravity into which Judah had fallen:

‘You took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them [the idols] to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them to pass through the fire’ (Ezek.16:20-21, NKJ).

Also (as mentioned by Jeremiah), the Jerusalem temple was once again desecrated with such worship:

‘Then declare to them their abominations. For they committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They have committed adultery with their idols, and even sacrificed their sons whom they bore to Me, passing them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover they have done this to Me: They have defiled My sanctuary on the same day and profaned My Sabbaths. For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to defile it; and indeed thus have they done in the midst of My house’ (Ezek.23:36-39, NKJ).

Thus, elements of Baal worship became incorporated into the worship of Yahweh.

Of Judah’s kings, Ahaz and Manasseh receive special mention. Ahaz, it is recorded, sacrificed his son in the fire (2 Kings 16:3-4) as did Manasseh (2 Kings 21:6). Both encouraged idolatry and Baal worship, sowing seeds of apostasy in the minds of the people, but Manasseh sank to a new low. It is written of him: ‘Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. … He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols’ (2 Kings 21:9-11). The damage had been done. Even the iconoclastic reforms of the just king Josiah were insufficient to stem the tide of the Canaanite religion beyond the duration of his own reign. Twenty-three years later, Jerusalem fell to the armies of Babylon, just as God’s prophets foretold.

‘The sin of the Amorites’

(Gen.15:16, NIV)

The Israelites were to perform God’s judgement in driving out the Canaanites (referred to in Gen.15:16 as ‘Amorites’) at a time when the sins of this depraved and corrupt people had reached their ‘full measure’. Under Joshua, the Israelite soldiers were told to show no mercy in casting out all of the inhabitants of the land that God had given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut.7:1-4). According to Genesis chapter 10, the tribes occupying the promised land were descended from Noah through Ham and Ham’s son Canaan. These included the Sidonians, Hitites, Jebusites and Amorites—collectively called the Canaanites. Israel’s problems stemmed from the fact that many of the Canaanites were allowed to continue in the territory and to practise their religion following the initial invasion. Compromise was preferred to war and conquest (Judges 1:21-36), but this became a snare to Israel, just as foretold (Judges 2:1-3).

The ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, translates ‘Canaanite’ as ‘Phoenician’ and ‘Canaan’ as ‘the land of the Phoenicians’ (cf. Ex. 16:35; Josh.5:12). The coastal Phoenicians became renowned traders and seafarers and established colonies all around the Mediterranean. For a thousand years, however, the Amorites were the dominant people in the territory of Canaan and Syria and this land was sometimes referred to by the Akkadians and Babylonians as the land of the Amorites. It was they who established the first Babylonian empire, making Babylon the capital. King Hammurabi of Babylon, c.1790 to 1750 B.C., famous for his code of laws, was himself of the Amorite dynasty that flourished up to about 1600 B.C.

In Canaan, Amorite kings were still ruling at the time of the invasion of the Israelites under Joshua (see Joshua 10:5). The fact that the Amorite religion was not completely removed, however, was Israel’s undoing. Time and again, Israelites were drawn away from the worship of Yahweh to worship the gods of Canaan. Judges 2:11-13: ‘Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. … they … served Baal and the Ashtoreths.’ (See also: Judges 3:6-7, 12; 4:1; 6:1, etc..) In Judges 6:10 we read: ‘I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live. But you have not listened to me’ (NIV). Nevertheless, whenever the Israelites cried out in repentance, the Lord sent ‘judges’ as deliverers—the last judge being the prophet Samuel. Sadly, the failure of the people to obey the Lord in driving out the worship of Baal caused them repeated suffering and misery. As a nation: as they walked after other gods, they walked away from God’s protection.

This is a warning for spiritual Israel. We must not succumb to immorality or accept any doctrine that is rooted in Baalism: for if we do so, we also will remove ourselves from God’s shield of protection. Paul spoke of this: ‘Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell (not given as a precise figure) …’ (1 Cor.10:9). This refers to the occasion described in Numbers 25:1-9, when men of Israel were enticed by Midianite women to engage in the sexual fertility rites of Baal at a high place called Baal Peor. Baalam, a prophet of Baal hired by the Midianite king Balak to curse Israel, found that every time he tried to curse, his cursing turned into a blessing. He had no power to curse Israel while they remained under God’s protection. However, he cunningly advised Balak to entice the Israelites into bringing a curse upon themselves by tempting the men to indulge in sexual and spiritual fornication with Baal’s sacred prostitutes—thereby inciting Israel to turn away from their Protector: ‘They [the Midianite women] were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people’ (Num.31:15-16, NIV). Outside of God’s protection, the devil can attack.

Archaeologists have discovered many cuneiform cylinder seals of the Assyrian and Babylonish period depicting human sacrifice—although the exact interpretation may be debated. Some also involve cuneiform legal documents containing penalty formulas: ‘.. he will burn his oldest son to Sin, .. he will burn his oldest daughter to Belit-Seri’ (C. H. W. Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents, Cambridge, 1898). ‘… his oldest son he will burn in the sanctuary of the god, Adad’ (Textes Cuneiformes, Vol. IX: Contrats et Letters, edited by G. Contenau, Paris, 1926). ‘… his oldest daughter with ten imer of good spices he will burn to Belit-Seri’ (C. H. W. Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents , Cambridge, 1898). These are thought to date from the 7th century B.C.. The legal penalty for the breaking of these contracts was the sacrifice of a firstborn child to one of the pantheon of gods. Through this means, the guilty person paid the penalty and was thought to have atoned for his offence.

One of the texts discovered at the site of the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit in 1978 describes the offering of a human sacrifice with the view to gaining divine favour. The text reads: ‘O Baal, drive away the force from our gates, the aggressor from our walls … A firstborn, Baal, we shall sacrifice—a child we shall fulfill’ (Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov., 1986: Ugarit inscription). This corroborates the biblical account of King Mesha of Moab who is recorded as having sacrificed his firstborn child on the wall of his city at a time when the Israelites had his city under siege: ‘Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall’ (2 Kings 3, NKJ). On seeing this, the Israelites withdrew.

The appellation ‘Baal’, meaning ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’, was a term implying ownership and oversight. It was a title that appeared in many local place names, eg: Baal Hermon, Baal Peor, Baal Meon, Baal Tamar, Baal Perazim, Baal Hazor, Baal Zephon, etc., suggesting either the title of territorial gods to whom local inhabitants gave allegiance or the location of a high place or temple dedicated to one of the most powerful gods of the Canaanite pantheon. He was often depicted holding a lightning bolt and is sometimes referred to in inscriptions as ‘Baal Hadad’: the god of rain and storm—hence the male god of fertility, thought to provide growth, as the rain waters the earth. Other titles, such as ‘Baal Shamem’ (meaning ‘Lord of Heaven’) were also used. Baal was associated with the goddesses: ‘Ashera’ (1 Kings 18:19); ‘Ashtoreth’ (Judges 10:6), called also ‘Astarte’: ‘the Queen of Heaven’ (Jer.7:18) and known to the Babylonians as ‘Ishtar’; and Anath (considered Baal’s sister, cf. Ugarit mythology), who was also worshipped in Egypt by the same name. Furthermore, that the god Baal was also known to the Egyptians is verified by the place name: ‘Baal Zephon’, which was located near to Israel’s crossing of the sea (Ex.14:2). Both Baal and Astarte were venerated by the Egyptians at Thebes and Memphis (Encyc. Brit., 1911).

Historians have long recognized that the gods of the ancient Near East and Babylon had their counterparts in the gods of other ancient cultures, including those of Egypt, Greece and Rome—but by other names. Philo of Byblos (c.100 A.D.) likened Baal Shamen to the Greek god Zeus – ‘Jupiter’ to the Romans (Eusebius of Caesarea: Preparatio Evangelica, Book 1, Ch.10; trans. E. H. Gifford; Typographio Academico, 1903). In North Africa, temples to the Roman God Saturn (‘Kronos’ to the Greeks) and Juno replaced temples to Baal and Tanit (Saturn, in mythology, was said to have eaten his own children). The myths, although varying from place to place and from nation to nation, had certain aspects in common: the gods had their consorts; gods and goddesses ruled over the elements; various nature gods ‘died’ and ‘returned’ with the seasons; the worship employed sexual fertility rites; priests and priestesses claimed to prophesy and commune with the spirits of the idols they served and the worshippers followed sacrificial systems to propitiate and gain divine favour. The Canaanites and Babylonians were not the only ones to use temple prostitutes—both male and female. It was a common practice. At Corinth, the Greek historian Strabo (c. 7 BC) reported that more than a 1000 ‘sacred’ prostitutes had served the temple of Aphrodite – “Venus” (Strabo: Geography, Book 8, ch.6, 20; trans. H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer; (Vol.2, p.61) Henry G. Bohn, London, 1856). – This great city port of classical Greece became so notorious that its name was coined for sexual license: ‘to corinthianize’ meant to practise sexual prostitution and debauchery.

In the light of this, what made this form of religion so appealing and popular in the ancient world?

It is obvious that these cult practises engaged the sensual, self-centred and self-gratifying desires of sinful man. Material wants and passions, it was thought, could be satisfied by indulging in the rites of the gods and their priestly servants. In the religion of the Amorites, it was considered lawful even to sacrifice children, as we have studied, for the sake of self-interest.

All these pagan religions were unified by a common spirit. The Bible makes it clear what that spirit was. It is written: ‘They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves’ (Ps.106:36-38, NIV).

The common undercurrent at work in all these ancient religions was demonic. It is the same spirit at work today—endeavouring to rule hearts and minds by every cunning appeal to all our bodily desires and fears. The spirits of Satan are deceptive and unrelenting in their opposition to the Kingdom of God. They battle against the work of God’s Spirit on Earth, seeking to deceive, tempt, pull down and destroy God’s people. Even so, within God’s shield of protection, there is nothing to fear. Rather, it is the demonic hosts who are afraid: ‘The devils also believe, and tremble,’ wrote the Apostle James (James 2:19, KJV).

(Note on abortion: The sin of the Amorites involved the killing of the innocents for wholly selfish motives, without any consideration for the sanctity of life. Today, millions of tiny unwanted human foetuses die each year through abortion. A report released in 1999 (ref. bibliography) revealed that there were then about 26 million legal abortions, and an estimated 20 million illegal abortions annually, worldwide. In the developed countries, of the 28 million pregnancies occurring every year, it is estimated 36% (more than one in three) end by induced termination. In Eastern Europe, the percentage rose to 57% (that is more than one in two). Worldwide, the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion was reported at 22% (approximately one in five). Globally, by these figures, this means that around 46 million unborn human beings per year meet a premature death at the hands of an abortionist. It seems that the proverb: ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ is particularly applicable where these deaths are concerned. The fact remains that a decision must be taken to terminate a human life for an abortion to be induced. In this world, you either serve God, or the devil. There is no sitting on the fence. The abortion clinics are not serving God.

These function like modern temples of Baal, serving only the god of this world and proliferating as a result of promiscuity. It can be a serious matter to participate in an abortion and doing so can often cause terrible mental anguish. In Christ, however, where there is guilt, there is forgiveness. In Christ, there is release. God is ready to forgive the truly repentant. Jesus said: ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest …’ (Mat.11:28, NKJ).

Of course, there are exceptions – and in cases of rape and in cases where there are severe life-threatening medical conditions, abortions are understandable. Human traits can be passed on through the genes. But, such cases amount to a tiny minority. Even so, when considering abortion, we should also bear in mind the children who amazingly survive attempts to terminate. These amazing survivors of abortion procedures are able to testify for themselves of their right to life – unlike the many who can’t. – A testimony of an abortion survivor: Gianna Jessen, Part 1 and Part 2)

Although God suffered an act of injustice against His innocent Son, He did so for just reasons—that His Son’s offering of Himself through death should be accepted for the salvation of all who repent in faith—as a covering for sins. Nevertheless, that God suffers and permits acts of injustice, does not mean that what He permits He also justifies. God is willing to suffer for our ultimate good (as with the crucifixion), but He cannot be held guilty for the acts of sin that He allows or even foreknows. That Jesus would need to suffer an unjust death for the sake of mankind was known from the beginning of creation (Rev.13:8, [Jesus was] ‘slain from the creation of the world’); however, the certainty of the cross did not make it just. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read: ‘In His humiliation, He was deprived of justice’ (Acts 8:33).

Innocents are being deprived of the right to life—as in the time of the Amorite religion—and millions of people are being led to believe that this is a perfectly acceptable practice. The world is under the sway of Satanic influences today, just as in days of old: ‘The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’ (1 John 4:19).

It is the devil’s plan to seduce the nations and God’s people through all manner of temptations. The internet is playing a key role in this process. A reported 260 million web pages can be classified as ‘pornography’ according to one news release in 2003. It has become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Prostitution is rife in every city of the world. Most girls engage in the sex trade mainly for money. Many, also, are forced or coerced into prostitution as victims of sex traffic. Even so, whether the women, girls and boys are willing or unwilling victims of prostitution—in all its forms—the fact is that they and those they seduce are victims of evil, ensnared by evil. The devil is very active: it is estimated that approximately 25% of search engine requests are for pornography. This amounts to about 68 million requests daily (2003 figures). The prostitutes and pornographers are serving the prince of this world not unlike the sacred prostitutes of long ago. It would seem this ‘present evil age’ (Gal.1:4) has surpassed the sin of the Amorites many times over. Were it not for God’s grace and mercy, Judgement Daywould be here already. One wonders just how much time we have left.

Today, it needs to be made known that Jesus gave Himself as the pure and perfect sacrifice to save all who truly repent and believe—not as a penal substitute, but as the Righteous Servant—that the righteousness of His offering might be accounted as a covering for all who are repenting and turning to Him in faith.

That the nations of this modern world will face the wrath of God is certain, but the good news of Jesus Christ must first be preached as a witness to all (Mat.24:14).

‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love’

(Gen.22:2, NKJ)

‘…and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’ A later writer identifies ‘Mount Moriah’ with the Temple Mount: ‘Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD appeared to his father David’ (2 Chron.3:1). The command was a test of Abraham’s faith and obedience; yet this episode in Abraham’s life, written for our benefit, has much to reveal about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Abraham was not recorded as having made any spoken reply; however, the Scriptures clearly indicate what Abraham thought. God had previously promised: ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called’ (Gen.21:12). Abraham had been told, even before Isaac had been conceived, ‘Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him’ (Gen.17:19). Isaac’s name was, by interpretation: ‘Laughter’. His birth had been a miraculous source of celebration and joyous laughter—even though Sarah had at first laughed in disbelief upon overhearing God’s announcement that she would bear a child in old age (Gen.18:11-14). It was inconceivable to Abraham, therefore, that God would now break His promise and cause sorrow. He knew that God had the power to resurrect.

It is sometimes said that this passage in Genesis chapter 22 has overtones of the practice of human sacrifice that was prevalent in the religion of the Canaanites and Amorites. That Abraham knew of this practice is certain. What is also certain is that Abraham knew the true God—the God of Noah—and had rejected the gods of his father Terah (Joshua 24:2). Those sacrificing to Baal did not expect to see their children brought back to life. Abraham, however, had no doubt that should he be required to carry out the command to sacrifice Isaac, God would restore his son back to life. We have the evidence of Scripture to confirm that this was Abraham’s belief.

He told the two servants who had accompanied him on the journey to Moriah—just as he was about to go forward to the place of offering with Isaac: ‘We will worship and then we will come back to you‘ (Gen.22:5). In the letter to the Hebrews, this is acknowledged: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead’ (Heb.11:17-19, NKJ). When Abraham lifted up the knife, Isaac was as good as dead, so it is written that Isaac was received back from the dead—in a figurative sense—when God intervened to prevent the killing (Heb.11:19, NKJ). The story has clear parallels to the crucifixion:

Firstly, we need to recognize that there is no suggestion that Abraham was offering up Isaac to pay any kind of penalty for sins. Abraham’s actions demonstrated his righteousness through faith. Isaac, also, as a young man, witnessed to his own faith and obedience by complying to do his father’s will and by putting up no resistance. Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice in like manner to Christ carrying the wood of the cross. Just as Jesus humbly submitted to do the will of His Father, so Isaac had submitted to Abraham. There is absolutely no suggestion of Isaac being offered up to God as a punishment for sin. Likewise, the sacrifice of Jesus was not the punishment of God. On the contrary, Jesus made a ‘fragrant offering and sacrifice’ of His life (Eph.5:2, NIV). An impure offering God does not accept.

The suffering ‘Righteous Servant’ (Isa.53:11) endured cruelty and death at the hands of mankind for the sake of making the perfect sacrifice of His life to God for us—that we who believe and repent should be accepted with Him. In this sense, His sacrifice may be said to have been substitutionary. He gave what we cannot give because of sin: a truly righteous life.

The wearing of the crown of thorns—the crowning symbol of His suffering—is echoed prophetically by the ram caught by its horns in a thicket (which could well have been a thorn bush, Gen.22:13). However, that an action is prophesied to occur does not mean that God justifies what will happen. Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Him three times—but this statement of foreknowledge did not justify Peter’s denial. Jesus foreknew that He would suffer incredible tortures, leading to death, but He willingly endured all—that His offering should be accepted for everyone who truly believes.

He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, …’

(1John 2:2, NKJ)

We need to offer our lives to God as living sacrifices in perfect faith and obedience—but of ourselves we cannot because of sin. We receive acceptance by the Father only when the offering that Jesus made on our behalf is accepted for us. Our lives need to be covered by the blood of the Lamb (symbolic of His life) if we are to be found acceptable to God. We cannot stand before the Almighty depending upon our own righteousness. God has provided—Jehovah Jireh—through the Lamb of God: ‘The LORD Our Righteousness’ (Jer.23:6, NIV). By allowing Jesus to die on the cross, the Father acted in goodness, love and righteousness for our sakes. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). The substitutionary sacrifice of Christ did not incur God’s wrath. He was not the embodiment of sin upon the cross, but the embodiment of righteousness. Jesus, through the Eternal Spirit, offered Himself unblemished to God for the sake of all who repent in true faith. His one sacrificial offering of Himself to God for us was perfect, fragrant and without corruption of any kind.

How are we to propitiate God—to gain God’s favour—when we have sins? It is only by offering up living faith in the propitiation that Christ made of His life, and—like Abraham—trusting in God’s Word and in His great provision. Sins are the cause of separation from God. The unspiritual condition of man can never be free of sin—no matter how hard one may try to follow the letter of the law. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’ (Jer.17:9, KJV). ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh can never please God’ (Rom.8:7, KJV).

If we are saved from sins, it is not because of our love for God, but because of God’s love for us. As the apostle John put it: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). Jesus offered the life that we cannot give. He is the One who came to rescue us from all unrighteousness: ‘ … who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father’ (Gal.1:4). Indeed, ‘God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us‘ (Rom.5:8). His one righteous sacrifice is sufficient for all to be a covering for sins. By His blood we are justified and saved from wrath: ‘… having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him’ (Rom.5:9). Figuratively, His blood—representing His sacrificial life—covers over and blots out all our sins, as we turn to God in faith. By His grace, we are saved, forgiven and accounted righteous. It is not because of good deeds: ‘… just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are they whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin”‘ (Rom.4:6-8). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves. It is the gift of God—not of works, so that no one can boast’ (Eph.2:8-9). We are saved by grace. Truly, no one can boast.

Jesus suffered the cross as One burdened with all the sins of humanity—the Righteous for the unrighteous. However, the burden of sin that He carried was not one juridically imposed; it was a natural experience and effect of the inherent love of a loving God. Indeed, if we feel burdened by the sins that are all around us in the world, how much more so is God, who sees all? – At the cross, Jesus became the focus of all man’s sins. Nevertheless, at His darkest hour, God’s love in Christ never shone more brightly. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).

It can also be said that He asked forgiveness for His tormentors because they did not know what they were saying. The same is true today. Much is said about the cross and the reasons for Jesus dying as He did, and much is said in error. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Jesus continues to forgive the many who don’t really know what they are saying, when speaking of His death on the cross.

The Scriptures do not contradict. Jesus told Pilate: ‘Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin‘ (John 19:11). He was ‘deprived of justice’ (Acts 8:33), ‘but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (1 Pet. 2:23). His forsakenness was not in Spirit, although He was allowed to be taken and crucified. The Father did not turn away. As the psalmist wrote: ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard’ (Psalm 22:24, NKJ). The Holy Spirit did not abandon Him, for ‘Christ …through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14). Jesus was received by the Father ‘without spot’. Only from a worldly point of view can one imagine Jesus as ‘sin’ upon the cross. The Holy Bible testifies that the opposite was true.

Forgiveness does not depend upon punishment. Justice is not simply a matter of applying punishment – especially when that punishment falls upon one who is innocent. One does not need to punish in order to forgive. To say that God punished the Innocent in the place of the guilty is to imply that He is unjust. However, it is very clear that God’s law does not permit the transference of sins and guilt from one to another (Ezek. 18:20). He was not made guilty for man’s sin. The Truth of God did not become the embodiment of sin and lies. Rather, what many say of God’s justice at the cross, the Bible clearly contradicts: ‘Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both’ (Prov.17:15, NIV).

Our view of God, as Christians, is coloured by our understanding of the crucifixion. It matters profoundly to us personally and corporately that we come to a better understanding. It matters to the Gospel that we preach the justice of the resurrection and proclaim the righteousness of the One who died to save us from our sins.

 *

Chapter 6

Our Personal Response

(Implications and Applications)

You may, as I did some years ago, want to count the cost of admitting to error of belief. However, no matter how daunting it may be, we have to accept the truth and move on. To do otherwise would be to live in hypocrisy and denial. It may be that our standing in the Christian community might be in jeopardy. Our fellow Christians might look upon us as enemies of the Gospel. Our family and friends might want to reject us. Our employers might decide to let us go. This is the price we might have to pay. Nevertheless, it is far better to be accepted by God and to proclaim the truth, than to live in hypocrisy. Moreover, if we deny the truth of God, then He will surely deny us. When we have come to know the truth, we must accept it and confess it. We have been called to be His witnesses.

Let us think for a moment what it means to be His witnesses. The Lord was put on trial; false witnesses were called upon to testify that He was truly guilty of crimes against God. On the basis of these accusations, Jesus was put to death. The Father called Him ‘My Righteous Servant’ (Is. 53:11) and raised Him from the dead. As Jesus knew in perfect faith, death could not hold Him. He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly (1 Pet. 2:23). Now, how can we, as Christ’s disciples, be in agreement with Christ’s false accusers and proclaim Him guilty? Nevertheless, one cannot rightly be charged for sins one did not commit. If an innocent person is convicted at a trial, we call that a travesty of justice. A person is only guilty if he is. One is not guilty just because a judge proclaims him so. It would be like calling good ‘evil’ and evil ‘good’. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s vindication of His Son—overturning the sentence of an ungodly court. It was God’s unequivocal declaration of Christ’s righteousness at the cross, in spite of what man had pronounced Him to be.

Martin Luther is often quoted as one of the first major figures to clearly articulate penal substitutionary belief. He wrote:

“Christ took all our sins upon him and for them died upon the cross. Therefore, it was right for him to be ‘numbered with the transgressors’…Christ bears all the sins of all people in his body. It was not that he himself committed these sins, but he received the sins that we had committed; they were laid on his own body, that he might make satisfaction for them with his own blood.”

Luther, Martin. Galatians (Crossway Classic Commentaries) (Crossway Classic Commentaries). 1st British ed.,Leicester,England: Crossway Books, 1998.

Also:

Putting off His innocence and holiness and putting on your sinful person, He bore your sin, death, and curse; He became a sacrifice and a curse for you, in order thus to set you free from the curse of the Law.”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols.: 26:279,St. Louis, Concordia, andPhiladelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986.

However, for the doctrine of Penal Substitution to work, God would have had to sacrifice justice and to have become unjust—which is not only unthinkable, but also impossible—as wrong as declaring the Truth of God to be a lie. Moreover, if we are under a penal fine and someone else pays that fine for us, where is the forgiveness? One cannot be said to have forgiven a debt for which one has demanded and received payment—howbeit from someone else.

Such a doctrine as Luther believed not only misapplies the law to allow the innocent to suffer in the place of the guilty, but also discounts the value of repentance. The one who turns to Christ will not be turned away. – God, who looks upon the heart, certainly knows when repentance is godly. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. The Father is ready to forgive and accept anyone who has sincerely repented, as in the parable of the ‘prodigal son’. Repentance ushers in the blessings of God, not His punishment. Penal substitution demands a hard-hearted application of the penalty, deemed to be required to satisfy the law. – Like Inspector Javert, in the book “Les Miserables”, by Victor Hugo, we are expected to believe that the law must be upheld and applied, no matter how changed and repentant the guilty – such as the protagonist of the novel: ‘Jean Valjean’. Nevertheless, when one suppresses the conscience, the consequences can be very dire. Luther’s own actions towards the Jews of his day should warn against following cold, misguided logic.

Towards the end of his life, Luther released a volley of verbal assaults against the Jews. He preached that their age-long sufferings proved God’s hatred of them; that they were insolent in their usurious prosperity; that the Jewish ‘Talmud’ sanctioned the deception, murder, robbery and killing of Christians; that they poisoned springs and wells; and that they murdered Christian children to use their blood in Jewish rituals. He advised the Germans to burn down the homes of Jews, to close their synagogues and schools, to confiscate their wealth, to conscript their men and women into forced labour; and wrote:

‘All Jews should be given the choice between either accepting Christ, or having their tongues torn out’ (Luther, Martin: ‘Concerning the Jews and their lies’, 1542 – as quoted by Will Durant in ‘The Story of Civilization’, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957).

As the renowned historian Will Durant noted in relation to the above passage (The Story of Civilization, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957), such pronouncements set the tone in Germany for hundreds of years—having the height of their fruition during the holocaust.

Jesus tasted death for everyone, but death is not what Jesus paid on our behalf—we all die. What is important is what He gave—His life. Jesus paid the debt of righteousness—which is our due, that we who are at one with Him should be accepted along with Him. The Lord’s cry, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me’ was an utterance made for our sakes that declared both His innocence and the injustice of the cross. The abandonment was only physical. The Father accepted the fragrant offering and sacrifice that Jesus made of His life at the cross (Eph.5:1-2). As it is written, God did not turn away: ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard’ (Psalm 22:24, NKJ). Jesus was the Righteous Servant offering His life to God for us in perfect obedience to the Father’s will. Now, in Christ, being at one in Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit, His offering is accounted for us as a covering of righteousness. By our faith in Christ, we are forgiven our past debts and declared righteous. Jesus is the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS—and it is by His ‘life’ we are saved (Rom.5:10).

It all seems too obvious, but so many scriptures have been used out of context by advocates of penal substitution, it really is no wonder that so many Christians have been misled—thinking that no other explanation can be possible. The Bible is rightly trusted, but wrongly applied to support a false doctrine. Also, there is a psychological pressure and reinforcement that comes from conformity to the majority view: ‘If everyone is saying this, surely it must be true—who am I to doubt and question what so many say is right?’ It is the mentality of the herd instinct, to follow without truly thinking. However, when you hear the Truth, if you are Christ’s, then you will know—even if at first, like Paul, you resist the pricks to the conscience and that inner voice of God telling you that you are wrong. You may oppose and feel the need to defend the doctrine that you have believed has served you and others well. You may look around and wonder how all of God’s blessings could have come by following a falsehood; but no doubt this was also the case with followers of renaissance Roman Catholicism and various sects. The Mormons reinforce their beliefs with the knowledge of fine singing, large attendances and glorious surroundings. They are sincere, but wrong. The Bible is a reasonable Book and the test of doctrine comes only by comparing and reading Scriptures in context with reason and prayer—not by pointing to the fine architecture, congregational size or income.

By all means, defend what you have believed to the utmost; but do so honestly. If the Bible contradicts what you have believed then fall in line. Don’t say, ‘It’s a mystery.’ The Bible may indeed contradict you, but it never contradicts itself.

What kind of judge would knowingly sentence an innocent person to death? It is only the law of the unmerciful that immutably applies punishment for every crime. If a person truly repents, he should be forgiven. This is the Law of God (Luke 17:4; Mat.6:14-15). To punish Jesus in our place would require the Father to acquit the guilty and condemn the Innocent—to do that which He hates (Prov.17:15). It would require God acting contrary to His stated desire to forgive and bestow life on the repentant (Ezek.18:30-32). What hardness of heart can be instilled into the mind by the teaching that God does not remove punishment when one repents, but merely transfers it? The doctrine of penal substitution asks us to believe that the Father declared His own Son guilty of sin and worthy of death in agreement with His Son’s false accusers. No. The law of God releases the repentant from punishment—not by transferring it to someone else, but through the godly act of forgiveness.

To knowingly pass sentence upon a holy and righteous person for crimes committed by others would be to act without justice. We know this is true. The punishment of Jesus cannot be justified under God’s Law. God’s justice had been removed. The accusations, the sentence, His punishment and His crucifixion were all acts of injustice according to a worldly court—overturned by God, as revealed through the resurrection of Christ to heavenly glory. The price He paid was that of His righteous life, sufficient to cover the debts of all who repent. We, if we are Christ’s, are covered by His righteousness!

‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’

(Luke 23:34, NKJ)

We are to freely forgive those who speak and act against us in ignorance of the truth as Jesus forgave those who acted against Him. People thought that by treating this ‘teacher’ from Nazareth as the enemy, they were actually obeying God. Our response must be one of love, understanding and forgiveness. We are not to treat our Christian brothers and sisters as enemies of the Gospel—even if that is how they view us.

In the first century of the Christian era, congregations had the benefit of being led and taught directly by Christ’s apostles themselves. The writings and letters served to complement the doctrines that they had personally taught orally. The apostles appointed elders to whom they had delivered the doctrines needed for salvation and for the equipping of the saints—both locally and globally. For as long as the apostles lived, anyone who opposed their teachings had to be considered an enemy of the Gospel (Acts20:29-31; 2 Pet.2:1-2; 2 John v9-10; 3 John v9-10, Jude v4).

The doctrine of penal substitution, as commonly expressed in evangelical Christianity, contradicts many statements made in the writings of the New and Old Testaments, as this study has shown, and presents a different Gospel to the one preached by the apostles. In fact, for many centuries, the Gospel of our salvation has been shining through many dark clouds of falsehood. However, at the heart of the Christian message are beliefs that unify all true believers:

1. Jesus, the Word of God, was with the Father in the beginning, became flesh, born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, suffered and was crucified for our sakes, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life, as He promised.

2. Jesus gave His life to save us from our sins when He died for us on the cross.

3. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead and is now glorified in heaven with the Father, according to the Scriptures.

4. Jesus will come again, as He promised, with all power and authority as King of kings and Lord of lords to judge both the living and the dead.

5. The Old and New Testaments are to be accepted as Holy Scripture and God inspired.

6. In order to be saved, we must believe in Jesus Christ and repent of sins.

7. To abide in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, Lord and God, we must endeavour to obey His commands and be led of the Holy Spirit, by whom we are graciously born again.

8. The faithful servants of Jesus Christ make up the spiritual body of the Church of which He is the head.

9. Followers of Jesus, though they die, will be raised to live with God forever; whereas those who do evil will be everlastingly removed from God’s presence and destroyed as the Scriptures state.

These beliefs are central to Christianity. Believers have a sense of having been lost, because of sins — like a person drowning—but saved by Christ, who died in the very act of salvation. Christ’s atonement is universally accepted as an act of love on the part of God. It is believed His death was necessary in order to save us from the consequence of sin. He died that we might live. Such love is compelling—and true. This is what the Bible teaches. All who truly repent with such faith in Christ are saved. There should be no doubt about it.

The problem of error creeps in when attempts are made to explain the death of Jesus in terms contrary to Scripture. His death was not the result of God’s justice, but an act emanating out of God’s love. ‘God so loved the world …’ is what we read. ‘His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:33, NKJ). Our faith is placed in the Person of the One who died and gave His life— ‘The Lord Our Righteousness’ (Jer.23:6). We receive of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Rom.5:17) as a result of Christ’s obedience unto death. Indeed, as Paul said, we are ‘saved by His life’ (Rom.5:10, NKJ). The whole force of Paul’s argument in Romans 5 is that Jesus was righteous to the very end of His mortal life. Now, by God’s grace, whosoever has faith in the Son is judged righteous.

Notice: Jesus was the sacrifice of righteousness, of whom we are the beneficiaries as His followers. We are justly declared righteous—not because of ourselves, but because of the One who gave His life for us—to whom we look in faith. Now, just as the Father was pleased to accept the sweet gift that His Son made of His life, so He is pleased to welcome us who are with Him—for whom Jesus died. Jesus gave up His life on account of our sins—to save us from our sins—by offering up His life on the cross as a covering gift of righteousness for our salvation. His life envelops the children of God, cleansing all and purging sin.

God’s act of justice was to declare His Son righteous and unworthy of death by resurrecting Him from the dead. As written in the Psalms, God would not allow His ‘Holy One to see corruption’ (Acts 2:27; Ps.16:10). The crucifixion was an act of ‘murder’, Peter declared (Acts 5:30). The people had ‘denied the Holy One and the Just’ (Acts 3:14). Jesus ‘committed Himself to Him who judges righteously’ (Pet.2:23, NKJ).

Visibly, man’s sins against God’s Son were clearly evident and born in Christ’s body on the cross—yet no amount of suffering could cause Him to relinquish His love for mankind. No volume of sin and brutality lashed out into His flesh could mar His righteousness. Man could mar His body with sin, but not His soul. He remained righteous to the very finish, when He said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’ (Luke 23:46).Yes, the Father was listening and had not turned away from His beloved Son.

We are to forgive as Jesus forgave.

‘Is Christ divided?’

(1 Cor.1:13, NKJ)

In the spiritual realm, this is impossible. If we are Christ’s, then we are united together in Him as members of His spiritual body, the Church (1 Cor.12:12-13). In the physical realm, however, divisions are all too apparent. At Corinth, in the Apostle Paul’s day, divisions began to occur when people started favouring one personality above another and began to form cliques according to spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:12; 12:13-25). Paul clearly saw the dangers that such growing discord could create and wrote to address these issues. To the Galatians, he wrote to counter false teaching that insisted upon Gentiles keeping the Law given to Moses. It was a heresy that advocated acceptance of and subjection to the Mosaic code of law instead of to the Law of the Spirit, and created a wedge between Jewish and Gentile believers. Moreover, towards the end of his ministry, the apostle wrote to Timothy: ‘This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me’ (2 Tim.1:15). After he had laboured so hard for so long, this ‘turning away’ must have been very hard to bare. Even the Apostle John encountered such opposition: ‘I wrote to the church, but Diotrophes, who loves to have the pre-eminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. …’ (3 John:9-10).

The fact that apostasy and heresy should emanate from within the congregations of the apostolic Church may seem shocking to us, but it did not surprise the apostles. They knew that this would occur and prophesied the same: ‘For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves’ (Acts 20:29-30). ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons …’ (1 Tim.4:1-3).

Contending against Gnostic doctrines that denied the incarnation and death of the Christ (the ‘Anointed’ ), the apostle John wrote: ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God’ (1 John 4:1-2). ‘…This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth’ (1 John 5:6). The Gnostics taught that the ‘Christ’ descended upon the human Jesus at His baptism and departed before the human Jesus suffered and was crucified. John, by this letter, made it clear that Jesus the ‘Anointed’ died upon the cross and that it is the spirit of the Antichrist who claims otherwise (1 John 4:3). ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1-2) gave His life for us as the Anointed Son of God.

The anointing of Jesus as the Christ began His ministry: ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power’ (Acts 10:37-38). John the Baptist testified that he saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him at His baptism (Mat.3:16). The Holy Spirit ‘remained on Him’ (John 1:32-33). The statement: ‘This is He who came by water’ (1 John 5:6) refers to the coming of the Christ. The phrase: ‘by water and blood’ (v6) refers to the duration of His ministry from baptism to death. Jesus was the Christ and continued so because the anointing of the Holy Spirit remained on Him. John said: ‘This was He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ’ (v6). The word ‘Christ’ means anointed. Jesus, therefore, remained anointed as the Christ to His death. The Holy Spirit did not depart from Him before He died. Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus could not have died as the Christ—He would no longer have been anointed.

The contention that the Holy Spirit departed from Him and that Jesus died in sin is a denial that Jesus died as the Messiah—the Anointed One of God. It is akin to the old Gnostic belief that the ‘Christ’ departed from the human Jesus before His death. Either Jesus died as the Christ, or He did not. If the anointing left Him, then He was no longer the Anointed. However, we know that Jesus the Christ was crucified and died: Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1) provided the atonement as the Lord Our Righteousness upon the cross.

It is for us to help enlighten others with the light God brings into our lives. The aim behind the writing of this book is not to call people out from their present spiritual home in order to create another denomination, it is simply to enlighten. Christianity needs to return to its biblical roots. Only then can we begin to repair the damage of centuries and heal our divisions.

Anyone reading this and coming to a better understanding will be challenged. Spread the news.

‘Sanctify them by Your truth … that they all may be one’

(John 17:17-21, NKJ)

As Christ’s disciples, God’s truth unites us together in Christ and sets us apart from the world. As we let go of error and accept more of His truth, so the cords that bind us together in Him grow stronger.By turning away from a worldly view of the cross, therefore, we will inevitably draw closer to God and experience a greater unity of the Spirit in Christ. The truth indeed will set us free (John 8:32).

The doctrine of penal substitution fails in its basic premise. The punishment of the innocent and the acquittal of the guilty is a sin in itself, detestable to the Almighty (Prov.17:9; Ezek. 18). Therefore, guilt and the condemnation of God cannot be removed simply by punishing someone else for the crimes committed. This would rather compound guilt and add to sin. For one to be free of condemnation, one needs to be made righteous in Christ. Today, we are called upon to hear the voice of God declaring forgiveness, righteousness and salvation through Jesus Christ. If we will hear His voice …

We are obliged to act—not just hear, for with understanding comes responsibility. It has been said that ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ is called ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ because the apostles acted. They were motivated to communicate the truth that they had received to as many as would listen, undaunted by the hardships and opposition. It is our own individual calling to do likewise within our own sphere of influence—speaking the truth in love (Eph.4:15), beginning with those with whom we have been most closely associated. It is essential that we act with unfeigned love towards those around us and show this in our manner and speech. We can hate false doctrine, but we should never hate those who are held by it. I would encourage everyone who wants to refer this study to others to remember to do so with humility, openness and patience. We certainly cannot hide the truth. Jesus died as: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS upon the cross—this is the biblical revelation. This is the Gospel that must be preached in all the world before the end of the age.

As those gifted to preach and evangelize come to a better understanding and have the boldness to declare the righteousness of Christ when He died, there will be converts. This Gospel is for the world. There must follow outreach. It has been an aim that this book will provide theological support for evangelism. However, alone we can do very little. This work requires joint participation. Jesus said, ‘The harvest is great but the labourers are few’ (Mat.9:37). We must set aside denominational divisions and reach out together in the Spirit of unity, truth, compassion and love. We need to further this work of evangelism in whatever way we can—giving of our time, resources and effort. The Lord requires that we act.

‘Take, eat: this is My body …’

(Mat.26:26, NKJ)

Jesus instituted this meal to reveal not just His death, but also His body on Earth. As we eat of His bread and drink of His cup in a worthy manner, so we confirm our unity in Him as members of His body the Church, of which He is the head. Holy Communion should not be used as a wedge to divide members of Christ’s body. According to our understanding, therefore, so we should partake with all due reverence and solemnity, as it is written (1 Cor.11:17-34). When opportunity permits, if we should witness to our Lord’s own unleavenedness at the cross, we should be sensitive to those holding a different understanding—especially when in a position of leadership. For the sake of unity, therefore, we should not impose any private interpretation during the Lord’s Supper. Rather, we should seek to receive for Communion all whom we believe to have faith in Christ. When the Lord’s Supper is being presented, we should not emphasize one doctrine in opposition to another—for this may cause division. Let the Scriptures speak and be quoted and let individuals partake as they comprehend.

Holy Communion should not be used as a weapon to divide those whom God accepts. Nevertheless, the Scriptures should be followed as closely as possible. For example, it was unleavened bread that was offered during the Lord’s Supper and we should offer the same. Jesus distributed unleavened bread as representing His body. Communion offered with leavened bread is not a true Communion—not doing as Jesus did. He was spiritually pure and without sin when He died, which is what the unleavenedness signifies (see Chapter 4). Moreover, should statements be made during a Communion service to contradict the righteousness and purity of Jesus upon the cross, as He died for us, it may be felt necessary to forgo participation. It is a matter of conscience.

Furthermore, we should apply sensitivity at Communion prayers so as not to use this occasion as an opportunity for presenting interpretations that are not likely to be acceptable to all present. The Lord’s Supper is a time for showing Christian unity and acceptance of one another, in spite of our differences. As Jesus was willing to forgive those who misjudged Him at the cross, how much more should we be forgiving and patient towards others of the Christian faith whose views we don’t share? By exercising such love and concern for each other, we can make a powerful witness to the outside world of Christian unity and love in Christ. Now we see through a glass darkly, Paul wrote (1 Cor.13). Our understanding is limited and affected by many influences. So then, especially at the time of Holy Communion, we must show the agape love of God towards each other and seek the oneness for which Jesus prayed, lest we be found nothing in Him.

‘The mystery of godliness’

(1 Tim.3:16, NKJ)

‘Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory’ (1 Tim.3:16, NKJ). The ‘mystery of godliness’ refers to the whole revelation concerning Emmanuel —the Lord Jesus Christ. His incarnation and resurrection was unknown to the Gentiles and to those outside the faith, but is now revealed to those who are called and chosen. Notice, God’s incarnation through His Son is called the mystery of godliness. Jesus exhibited the very fullness of piety throughout His life on earth, from His coming to His ascension. He was justified by the Holy Spirit—shown to be just, righteous and innocent by the Holy Spirit. This is the Gospel that we are required to preach throughout the world. It declares the godliness of the Son of God. Why? It is because we are saved by His life. It was not the suffering of Jesus that paid our debt; it was His life. There is a difference. As Christians, we are righteous because we are covered by the life of the One we follow.

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, …” (Isa.61:10, NIV).

Just as the Father accepted the sweet-smelling sacrifice of His Son, so the Father will receive all who have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.13:14), as His disciples.

We need to act upon our calling in proclaiming this great mystery to the world. – Our personal response matters.

 *

Chapter 7

Our Corporate Response and Evangelism

‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations’

(Mark 16:15, NKJ)

The great commission to preach the Gospel to people from every nation will be fulfilled—as Jesus prophesied—before this present evil age comes to an end: ’And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come’ (Mat.24:14). Our efforts in preaching the Gospel, therefore, serve to bring God’s Kingdom that much closer. Indeed, as Christians, our corporate prayer and earnest desire should always be: ‘Thy Kingdom come!’

There have been many gospels preached since Jesus gave His great commission, but there can be only one pure, unadulterated Gospel—that which was taught by Jesus and His apostles, as revealed in Scripture. It is not an invention of ancient or modern theology. It is that which we find in the Bible: the Good News of Jesus Christ regarding salvation and the coming Kingdom of God. All who believe in Jesusthe Holy One of God, are appointed to receive everlasting life. We are called to believe in the Son who died and rose again—who gave His life for mankind through death on a cross. The preposition ‘in’ is very important. The demons also believe and tremble (James 2:19), but they are not in Christ. Our belief and our existence must be centred in the Anointed Son of God; and should it be so, then we will not perish (John 3:16).

Jesus said, ‘Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me’ (Jn.15:4, NKJ). In John’s first epistle, this truth is reiterated: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (1 Jn.5:11-12). It is the duty of the Church, therefore, to present the Gospel to the world that others might respond and come into this same saving relationship in Christ, through belief and repentance. This relationship is personal, just as it is said: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn.17:3).

The Holy Spirit regenerates new life in Christ , as we read in Titus 3:5-7: ‘…according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life‘ (NKJ). Paul wrote: ‘You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,’ (Rom.8:15-16).

The gift of the Holy Spirit followed the resurrection—after Jesus had become glorified. He said: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ John commented: ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (John 7:38-39, NIV).

Jesus had promised His disciples, ‘I will pray the Father and He will give you another … even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you’ (Jn.14:16-17). The Holy Spirit of God, who was known to the disciples through their personal knowledge of Jesus, would dwell—not with them, as He had dwelt with them in the One God sent—but in them. All who are in Christ are indwelt of the Spirit, as Paul wrote: ‘Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His’ (Rom.8:9).

The Gospel includes, therefore, the promise that the Holy Spirit will dwell in all who turn to Christ in faith. As Jesus said to Nicodemus (John 3:7), one must be born ‘again’ (from above).

‘And the Lord added to the church’

To be more effective in its commission today, the Church needs to clearly understand the Gospel preached by the apostles. On the day of the resurrection, (John 20:19-22), Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ The Comforter had come (John 14:16-17), but they were not at that time endued with power. For this, the disciples had to wait another fifty days.

On the day of the Feast of Pentecost, the ‘power from on high’ came, as promised (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). About a hundred and twenty disciples became empowered by the Holy Spirit for evangelism and witness (Acts 1:15; 2:1-4). There was a sound of a mighty wind;flames of fire appeared to rest on all present; and they began to speak in many different languages of the world—previously unknown to them—in praise of God. Crowds gathered and many who had travelled to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem from numerous foreign places heard their own tongues being spoken in miraculous words of praise.

Emboldened and showing no fear, Peter preached his first public sermon. The miracle had caused a large crowd to gather and, as they attentively listened, many were pricked in their heart. ’What shall we do?’ (2:37), they asked. Convicted, they understood that God had sent His Son, and that they had not acknowledged Him: ‘Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”’ (Acts 2:38, NKJ).

He entreated: Be saved from this perverse generation’ (Acts 2:40, NKJ). ‘Be saved’, he said—not: ‘Save yourselves’ (NIV). We cannot save ourselves, but we can act to ‘be saved’. It is like this: Imagine that you have fallen into a turbulent sea and that you are struggling to swim—though you know that without rescue you are certain to drown. Mercifully, someone sees your situation and throws you a life belt attached to a lifeline and calls out for you to take hold. All you have to do is accept and be hauled to safety. Without the lifeline, you will drown. If you refuse to take hold of the lifeline, you will drown. You need that other person to save you, but you still have to act—you have to reach out and take hold.

So it is with the Gospel. We were without hope—but for the One God sent. He reaches out to us and wants to save, but we still have to act. We need to do something. We must believe and repent. This is biblical. Then God regenerates us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, that we might know Him as Father and be accounted to receive eternal life.

Repentance, if genuine, produces an earnest desire to do what is right in life, according to God’s commands. Belief that is not accompanied by a change of heart is dead. The Apostle James said: ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also’ (2v26). Faith must be accompanied by good works to be alive. ‘You will know them by their fruits,’ Jesus said (Mat.7:16). ‘Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ (Mat.7:19).

From the beginning, there must be the fruit of repentance, turning one from sin to God. ‘Faith to be saved’ is active—it is alive. It is the faith that truly accepts the Lordship of Christ and trusts in Him for salvation. It is not merely a belief in a creed.

When Paul spoke of being saved by faith, he meant that we can never earn salvation or justify ourselves through our own attempts to keep God’s law: ‘A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ’ (Gal.2:9). Of ourselves, it is impossible to be righteous in the sight of God. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot please God in the flesh—without the gift of the Holy Spirit, received through belief and repentance. As faith without works is dead, so works without true faith cannot justify anyone before God.

Living faith is that which is centred in Christ, believes in His promises and in the biblical creed concerning Him.

Whom we believe in is shown by the fruits we bear in our lives. Christ-centred faith is confessed with our lips and expressed with our actions. It is having faith to be led of the Holy Spirit, knowing that it is wrong to resist. If we truly believe in Jesus, then we won’t be practising the works of the flesh (Gal.5:19-21), but the works of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Gal.5:22-23). The evidence of a changed life will be apparent.

‘Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!’

(Isaiah 45:22)

Just as there are many gospels, there are also many religions in this world, but the Bible is clear: there is no salvation in any other, ‘… for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Why this is true is due to the very nature and Person of the One of whom this is said. In preaching the biblical revelation of the cross, we need to preach also about the Person of Christ.

Jesus was not just a prophet or a teacher sent by God. In death, He was not just a martyr. He was Immanuel—’God With Us’ (Mat.1:23). The Son is of the same nature as the Father—one in complete unity and harmony, as these Scriptures taken from the New King James Bible indicate:

John 1:1-14, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’

John 17:5, ’And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory I had with You before the world was.’

Philippians 2:6, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.’

Hebrews 1:8-12, ‘But to the Son He says, Your throne O God, is forever and ever …

And: You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands … they will be changed. But you are the same, and Your years will not fail.’

In paraphrase of Isaiah 45:22-24: ‘…to Me [YHWH] every knee shall bow,’ Paul wrote to the Philippians:

Philip. 2:9-11, NKJ: ‘Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

Jeremiah prophesied (Jer.23:5-6, NKJ):

‘I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness. … Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS [YHWH Tsidkenu, Heb.]’

The Lord God said, ‘I am the LORD [YHWH], that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another (Isa.42:8, NKJ). It ought to be clear, therefore, that Yahweh and Jesus are one and that Jesus is also clearly called Yahweh in prophetic Scripture. He said, ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30, NKJ).

‘Good teacher,’ a young man asked, ‘what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ (Matt.19:16, NKJ). In reply, Jesusanswered that only One is good—God. This was not a denial of divinity, but an affirmation. Jesus was indeed intrinsically ‘good’, as written in Hebrews 4:15, He was ‘without sin.’ Our High Priest, was ‘holy, harmless [marg. innocent ], undefiled, separate from sinners’ (Heb.7:26). To have everlasting life, the young man had to believe and place His faith in the One to whom He spoke, not in good works or riches.

The divinity of Jesus is also stressed in the following verses:

Romans 9:5, ‘Israelites … from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.’

John 20:28, ‘And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

Titus 2:13, ‘For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’

Isaiah 7:14, ‘Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God With Us].’

Isaiah 9:6, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; … And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty GodEverlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

Colossians 2:8-9: ‘Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily …’

In New Testament Scripture, He is the One through whom God created the world:

Hebrews 1:1-2, ‘God … has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds [Gk. ‘aeons’: ages] …’

John 1:3, ‘All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.’

John 1:10, ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.’

Ephesians 3:8-9, ‘I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make the people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ …’

Colossians 1:15-17, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for HimAnd He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have pre-eminence.’

Now, some have looked at the phrase that Jesus is ‘the firstborn over [or ‘of ‘] all creation’ (Col.1:15) and have assumed that Paul must have regarded Jesus as a created being. A phrase taken in isolation, however, does not make a biblical doctrine. When examined in the context of this passage and other statements that Paul made, no such conclusion can be justifiably drawn. On the contrary, Colossians 1:15-17 boldly asserts that Jesus was Himself the Creator. The statement that He is the ’firstborn’ refers not only to His pre-eminent position over the whole of creation but also to the fact that He is the first to be raised from the dead to receive a ’glorious body’ (Phil.3:21; 1 Cor.15:44-49):

Jesus came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Rom.8:3, NKJ), ‘in the likeness of men … in appearance as a man’ (Philip.2:7-8, NKJ). He partook of ‘flesh and blood’ (Hb.2:14) and was ‘made like His brethren’ (Heb.2:17). His incarnate body was materially the same as that of His creation. In this manner, in a bodily sense, He partook of the creation and can indeed rightly be called the firstborn of all creation—’begotten [not created] of the Father’ (Jn.1:14, NKJ).

It is to Jesus that ‘the world to come’ (Hb.2:5, NKJ) will be subject—not to angels (same verse). The Son is called ‘God’ in Psalm 45:6: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;’ as indicated in Hb.1:8. Nevertheless, He, Himself, is subject to God the Father: ‘Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions’ (Hb.1:9; Ps.45:7, NKJ).

The Apostle Paul said that although there are ‘many gods and many lords, yet for us there is only one God, the Father, of whom are all things, … and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live’ (1 Cor.8:5-6, NKJ). It is evident, therefore, that in the divinity of God, the Father is supreme. He is the ’God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet.1:3, NKJ). However, Jesus is equally divine—as shown in the preceding verses—reigning as Lord over the kingdom of God and subject only to God His Father. Notice from 1 Corinthians:

‘Then comes the end when He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father … For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be made subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all’ (1 Cor.15:24-28, NKJ)

Many have stumbled over this biblical truth by looking too narrowly at the Scriptures, forming conclusions that deny the divinity of Christ. However, it is an important aspect of the Gospel message. The Holy Bible proclaims the incarnation of the divine in the form of Christ for our salvation.

‘… sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise’

(Eph.1:13, NKJ)

The Holy Spirit is the One whom the Father sent in the name of Jesus to dwell in God’s children (John 14:16-17, 26). He has personal attributes—helps, comforts, teaches, brings to remembrance (John 14-16), reveals the love of God (Rom.5:5), provides power for witness (Acts 1:8), intercedes, guides and instructs (Rom.8:14, 26; Acts 13:2; 16:6). He provides gifts and enablements to build up Christ’s body (1 Cor.12:1-11; Rom.12:1-8). He inspires one to produce good fruit (Gal.5:22-25) and can inspire one to speak or act according to the divine will of God (1 Pet.19-21; Acts 4:31).However, the Holy Spirit—being a person and not just a power—can be lied to (Acts 5:3) and grieved (Eph.4:30) by our disobedience (Isa.63:10; Acts 7:51). The divine nature of the Holy Spirit is evinced by the miraculous conception of Mary,Matt.1:20: ‘…that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (cf. Lk.1:35). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Mat.12:31). The Holy Spirit, therefore, is to be reverenced as a divine Person of the Godhead, bringing God’s children to birth—whilst protecting and nourishing them as they grow.

The word for Spirit in the Greek is grammatically neuter, though feminine in the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. Nevertheless, the New Testament Greek breaks the standard rule and employs the personal pronoun ‘He’ (Gk. eikenos ) in the following places: John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8, 13 and 14. This usage emphasizes the personality of the Holy Spirit at the expense of strict grammar.

Being divine, and not a creation, He is also eternal (Hb.9:14), and was effective in the creation of the world (Gen.1:2; Ps.104:30).

Of course, the foregoing provides the biblical position. However, it is a certain fact that, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God can enlighten the heart with the knowledge of Christ, no matter what our religious or non-religious heritage. It is written: ‘I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’ (Isa.49:6; Isa.42:6, NKJ). It is God’s will that all nations and people receive the Gospel of salvation, as it is revealed in the inspired word of God.

‘And how shall they hear without a preacher?’

(Rom.10:14, NKJ)

‘And how shall they preach unless they are sent?’ (Rom.10:15). Ability in public speaking does not qualify one to preach the word of God. We do not elect ourselves and act on our own to speak on behalf of the Lord. The timing and the appointment is not for us to decide.

In the vision of Isaiah, the prophet hears the voice of God saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for Us?’ (Is.6:8). Immediately, Isaiah replied, ‘Here am I. Send me’ (v9).

Notice, the prophet did not say, ‘I’ll go!’ He simply made himself available for service and then waited on God. He knew that he could not presume to speak on God’s behalf without being sent. The apostles also received a divine appointment. They were told, of course, to preach the Gospel throughout the world—but they had to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:48-49; Mat.28:19-20; Acts 1:8). They had no power to act for God on their own. The Holy Spirit transforms and empowers one for service. Often, the Lord chooses those whom mankind would disregard, to carry out works of great responsibility: ‘For the Lord does not see as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Sam.16:7).

So it was that David was chosen above his brothers and that Christ’s disciples included those whom the world despised: fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes. ‘Saul the persecutor’ became ‘Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles’.

Let’s face it, as a job description, ’shepherd boy’ hardly seems fitting to commend one for the position of ‘king’. Moreover, a ‘fisherman’ would seem unlikely as a candidate to preach the Gospel—just as one who had proven to be a very active and notorious enemy of the Church. ‘For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble [well-born], are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world … that no flesh should glory in His presence’ (1 Cor.26-29, NKJ). With the weakness in those whom God chooses comes the acknowledgement of utter dependence on God for the good that is accomplished, which in turn redounds to His glory. As the Lord said to Paul, ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor.12:9, NKJ).

Now, the Holy Spirit equips the members of Christ’s body for service with spiritual gifts. Each one has a special calling and a contribution to make, not only to the life of the Church but also to the fulfillment of the great commission to preach the Gospel to all nations. The Gospel is that which we find in Scripture, as delivered to the apostles and written down for the Church. Nothing should be preached in contradiction to the revelation of God’s word.

Jesus said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Mat.28:20). Now, this age has not yet come to an end. Jesus continues to support His people. The great commission, therefore, has come down to the Church of today.

‘Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you’

(1 Pet.1:24-25, NKJ)

‘The grass withers,

And its flower falls away,

But the word of the Lord endures forever.

There are many great preachers and spiritual leaders in the world today who earn our profound respect and admiration. Indeed, we need to value the various ministries of our fellow Christians very highly—no matter what the denominational bias—for all the glory they have brought to God. Great evangelists, preachers, teachers and other Christian servants take no credit for themselves for the good work that is achieved. Nevertheless, we are not called to follow personalities or any man-made tradition, we are called to follow the Word of God.

It takes real humility to admit to error—especially if one has been preaching it. Moreover, willingness to accept correction is a sign of wisdom and maturity. It is not a denial of all the good that God has been able to accomplish through one over the years. In fact, the admission of error can provide a very powerful witness to the truth to further the Gospel—just as the confession and witness of Paul. People are curious and often very interested to know why one has come to a different point of view.

Be prepared to give an answer: ‘Always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you , with meekness and fear’(1 Pet.3:15, NKJ), to the glory of God .

Paul was always ready to reason with his fellow Jews and Gentile listeners out of what we call the Old Testament scriptures: ‘… reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God’ (Acts 19:8, NKJ). He was able to explain our need for a Saviour and Christ’s fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies. Convincing others of the truth requires more than miracles of healing. People are naturally suspicious of the unknown. What is presented as an explanation needs to carry the weight of reason. Remember, the Gospel was unheard of by almost everyone at the time Paul was preaching. He was teaching about a largely unknown Person and applied sound reasoning in debate.

Today, almost all people—except persons from very remote parts—have heard of Jesus. By and large, nearly everyone has also heard some kind of explanation regarding why He came. This is not entirely helpful to the task of preaching the Gospel. Most people, whether atheist, agnostic or believer, feel that they have heard it all before and don’t need to question their acquired view. It is rather like trying to preach what seems to others ‘old news’. It is still good, but it is no longer news.

The barrier that needs to be broken down is that of apathy. Even those of a different religious persuasion may feel that they understand enough about Christianity already and have no need to listen to any other view. Moreover, the many denominations throughout the world give the outward appearance of a kingdom that is divided and confused. That’s what the world sees; even though these divisions exist only in the physical realm.

The world is also only too aware of moral and criminal scandals that have tarnished the image of the Church, both in historical and modern times. ‘The Crusades’, for example, are still regarded by many Moslems as occurring as a result of ‘Christian’ aggression and atrocities. Recent child abuse cases have caused many to doubt the moral integrity of the clergy.

Also, there is an impression of scientific naivety exhibited by many of the Christian faith. Much is made of a belief that the world was created just 6,000 years ago, as though this is fundamental biblical doctrine. It isn’t. In Genesis 1:1, it is stated that God created the world and the heavens—it doesn’t say how long ago or how. The description of the creation of light and the formation of the Earth as we know it imply the importance of light to life on the planet. The atmosphere had to become clear enough for the stars to shine at night so that the Sun could radiate the land in perfect measure during the day. Water was caused to find its harmonious balance in the atmosphere, seas and land. Life was caused to exist in an orderly manner and the whole creation of planet Earth was shown to have a divine purpose, as stated in Genesis 1:26, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’ The word ‘day’ is open to interpretation and can be understood in symbolic, poetic terms just as the whole of the creation narrative can be understood at different levels of comprehension. It is all true, but how we understand the truth is a matter of interpretation. We should not alienate the scientific community with dogmatic views about creation, because the Bible was not written as a scientific journal.

There is also the notion that Noah lived through a ‘global’ deluge. Scientists dispute this. The idea of a world engulfing flood destroying all life on Earth except for the family of Noah and the animals with him is another story considered mere myth. – The Earth’s geology, according to mainstream science, simply does not comply with such a narrative. However, what does is the probability that the flood was more regional – affecting only the ‘world’ of Noah. It was devastating and catastrophic for the whole civilization of man in that area where he lived. The animals that Noah took with him into the ark would have been local, essential for survival in the post-diluvian world and of benefit to him and to the ecology of the region. – Understood in these terms, the biblical narrative becomes immediately more acceptable as a possible historical event to anyone having scientific objections (not unreasonable) to the idea that ‘Noah’s flood’ could have engulfed the entire Earth.

Therefore, when it is realized that the biblical account describes a flood of exceptional magnitude and duration that affected not the whole Earth, but just the ‘world’ of Noah, it becomes logical to conclude that the ancient story is indeed rooted in truth. Even today, southern Iraq is a region very susceptible to flooding. Of course, the story is rich in symbolic imagery that speaks to us of salvation in Christ, the waters of baptism and rebirth – but that does not mean that the flood did not occur.

Did life evolve? The answer is yes and no. We understand that certain traits can be passed on and physical changes can occur through adaptation within a specie or between species of the same kind, for example. We can breed larger or smaller animals with inherited characteristics. But evidence to suggest that animals can change from one kind to another is largely the result of guess work and hypothesis. That is why it is called the theory of evolution—it is not proven. Advocates say that the evidence in support of evolution is overwhelming. However, it only appears to be the only reason for the presence of life on Earth when the possibility for the existence of a Creator God is dismissed from the mind. (For more on this subject, see Creation and Evolution – In the beginning …)

Personally, I believe that there was life on this planet before modern life forms and man and that the Genesis narrative speaks about the latter from verse two onward. I find it most likely that the world of dinosaurs belonged to a different era, of the distant past, that was destroyed through a global calamity or calamities. Perhaps it was a world that existed at the time of Satan’s rebellion. Remember, very early on in the Bible, he is described as coming to Eve in the garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. Satan, it would seem, had already fallen before the creation of present life as we know it. However, we can only speculate about these matters. The Bible provides little information on this subject, so we cannot be dogmatic. Again, let us not close the door on scientists who believe in the evolutionary process. Let us encourage them to believe that all is possible with God—both creation and evolution. After all, as man through scientific discoveries of the last few hundred years has come to understand the very basics of the genetic code and feels that it is only a matter of time before he is able to create life himself—in the laboratory, we can reason that, from all eternity, a far greater Creator must already exist. We call Him God – the Eternal God.

Therefore, as far as we are able, we must open the door to faith, that others may enter, with sound reasoning that is not in denial of factual evidence discovered by science.

‘Many are called, but few are chosen’

(Matt.22:14, NKJ)

Calling on others to believe the Gospel is rather like inviting people to a wedding. There will be rejoicing at the marriage of Christ when He returns to claim His bride—the Church. Nevertheless, as Jesus Himself pointed out, not everyone who is called will be chosen to attend the banquet (Matt.22:11-13). There will also be an unwillingness on the part of many to accept the invitation. They will make light of the benefits, prefer to go their own ways and some will even turn hostile. Others will want to come, but not to change. All these persons will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven (Matt.22:2-14).

The chosen will be wearing a new garment at the wedding feast—in fact, they will be clothed with Christ. They will have heard the Gospel and will have responded with true faith. They will have ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom.13:14). Yahweh, Himself, will have arrayed them with ‘the garments of salvation and He will have covered them with the robe of righteousness’ (Is.61:10, NKJ).

In Matthew chapter 22:14, Jesus compared the number of the saved of God with the number of souls to be rejected—that in comparison to the number of unsaved, those entering into life would be few. He made other similar comments: ‘Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it’ (Mat.7:13-14). Now, these are shocking comments on the condition of mankind.

Should only a comparative few be saved, then many millions who call themselves Christians are living in a delusion under a misnomer. Certainly, Jesus was commenting on the attitudes of those in the world at the time He was preaching, but there is no indication in the scriptures of the situation changing and improving for later generations. We can only do what we can to improve this situation by preaching the Gospel. Jesus said, ’Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold’ (Matt.24:11-12). ‘Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practise lawlessness!”‘ (Matt.7:22-23, NKJ). Let us hope that through the true preaching of the Gospel, the many at that time, referred to here, will still be far fewer than the number of those saved.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians: ‘He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world’ (Eph.1:4, NKJ). Some hold the view that each of God’s elect was known to Him before the beginning of creation. It is a belief in predestination. It contends that we were individually known to God before we were even born—as God is omniscient and knows everything. The above verse is often quoted and interpreted to suggest this doctrine. Nevertheless, Paul was speaking here of ‘the faithful’ as a collective body, as indicated in verse one. It was predetermined, therefore, even before the creation of the cosmos, that the ‘faithful’ in Christ should be chosen for adoption and justified blameless in God’s sight (Eph.1:1-5).

Three words that are often misunderstood and advanced in support of the belief that God already knows the saved before they are even born are the Greek words ‘proginosko’ , ‘prognosis’ and ‘proorizo’.

Proginosko means ‘to know before’. The word is qualified according to time by the context and is used in the following way, e.g.: of Paul, who was ‘previously known’ to his accusers, ‘before’ he became a follower of Christ (Acts 26:5); of Jesus, ‘known’ to God ‘before’ the creation of the world’ (1 Pet.1:20); of Israel, whom God ‘knew before’, in times past (Rom.11:2); of facts ‘known’ to brethren ’beforehand’ (2 Pet.3:17); and of believers, ‘known’ to God ‘before’ being called, by the heart searching of the Spirit (1 Chron.28:9; Rom.8:27; 8:29).

Prognosis means ‘foreknowledge’ and is used in the sense of divine knowing, e.g. God ‘foreknew’ that Jesus would be taken for execution (Acts 2:23). God knows us before He accepts us—by the sanctifying work of the Spirit who searches the heart (1 Pet.1:2; 1 Chron.28:9; Rom.8:27).

Proorizo means to ‘predetermine’ or ‘preordain’. Again, in what way and at what time is to be understood by the context; for example, the Father ’predetermined’ that the chosen should conform to the image of His Son (Rom.8:29). From the beginning, this was God’s strategy: to create man in His own image (Gen.1:26). Moreover, God’s power and will had ‘predetermined’ that those who would act against His Son, according to their own freewill and wicked intentions, would do so only within and up to the bounds that He had set, Acts 4:28. This was done in accordance with God’s permissive will—and God had set limits on how far that mankind, acting under Satanic influence, could go.

That we are known of God before we are called is a fact established in scripture. As we can read, the Holy Spirit searches the heart to know what is in the mind: ‘The Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts’ (1 Chron.28:9). This is how we are foreknown. This is how God knows beforehand those individuals who will respond to the Gospel call. God knows us before He chooses us.

‘And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’

(Acts 13:48, NKJ)

The Lord knows who will believe before they hear the Gospel. As we have read in Acts 13:48: ‘And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.’ This is clearly shown in the episode concerning Cornelius the centurion, who was stationed at Caesarea—recorded in Acts. At the time when Cornelius was told to send to Joppa for Peter, that the apostle might preach to him the Gospel (Acts 10:1-8), the Lord already knew how the centurion would react. It was not to no avail that Peter was told in a vision to accept those whom God had cleansed (Acts 10:9-23). Cornelius—together with his relatives and close friends, who had gathered to hear the apostle—had already been accepted of God (Acts 10:34-35) and were appointed to receive the words of eternal life and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:36-48). This is because God always knows what is in the heart of man (Acts 15:8).

Lydia of Thyatira in Macedonia, for example, was one whose heart the Lord had opened to receive the message (Acts 16:14). She was known of the Lord to be receptive to the Gospel, even before she heard Paul preach. Previously, Paul had experienced a vision of a Macedonian man calling to him for help—which Paul understood to be the Lord’s call for him to preach the Gospel to the people of that region. The Lord knew that many would respond positively to Paul’s preaching.

In another vision, the Lord told Paul not to be afraid and that in the city of Corinth He had many people (Acts 18:9-10). This obviously was not something already known to Paul, but was a vision given to encourage and inspire him to greater effort, that the chosen people of God might hear the Gospel and receive true faith in Christ.

God knows the good soil of those whose hearts are fertile and ready to receive the seed of His Word. By God’s grace, we are brought to this position. His grace is then irresistible. But, does this mean that we are then without choice? At this point, it may be argued that we have no will to say ’no’. We cannot say no because our heart will not let us. Nevertheless, before this occasion, when our hearts were still in need of tilling, we may well have said ‘no’ to God many times. Now, what once seemed foolishness is accepted as the revealed truth of God.

This happened to Paul. When God’s revelation came, he could no longer oppose the One he persecuted. By God’s grace, the mind of His chosen vessel was opened and he had no will to resist anymore (Acts 9:1-19).

‘But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God …’

(1 Cor.2:14, NKJ)

This verse is often used to reason that the Holy Spirit must change the innate character of man, before one can respond positively to the Gospel. It stems from the view of the natural man as being totally depraved and therefore unable to receive spiritual truths, including the Gospel. Verses such as: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God …’ (Rom.1:9-11), are used to support this interpretation—but wrongly so. Rather, it is simply that those who have their minds set on carnality will not accept what needs to be spiritually discerned. Only those who are spiritually minded will readily receive the deeper truths of God. He was not saying that the natural man is unable to accept the Gospel.

The context is about the need, as Paul perceived it at that time, for the Church at Corinth to mature in Christ. This is clearly stated in the same passage: ‘And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal’ (1 Cor.3:1-3). New converts have a lot to learn, like infants, and can be spiritually unstable—needing correction when they go astray. There will be many moments when they fall into sin and need to repent. As a loving Father, God deals with us as His children (Heb.12:5-11), ‘that we may be partakers of His holiness’ (v10, NKJ).

The term ‘natural’ is translated from the Greek ‘psuchikos’ meaning: ‘belonging to the soul’, and is set in contrast to ‘pneumatikos’ meaning: ‘spiritual’. Hence, the word ‘psuchikos’ is translated: ‘natural’ or ‘physical’. This describes the condition of mankind before repentance and spiritual rebirth through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must be born again—from above (John 3:3). The moment we start to become spiritually minded and draw near to God in repentance, He will draw near to us and lift us up (James 4:7-10). At the coming of the Comforter, the devil will flee.

The New Testament reveals that the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit follows belief in the Gospel of Christ and repentance (Acts 2:38; Rom.8:11). However, it is also clear that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the one who is called, searching the heart, preparing a way for the Gospel to be received—as with Lydia ( Acts 16:14-15). Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is gentle, not forcing a change in the will of anyone to obey the Lord. We are free to choose life or death, as in Old Testament times. The Holy Spirit does not compel anyone to act according to God’s will, but He does enable those who seek God through repentance to find Him—as Jesus told His disciples: ‘Seek, and you will find’ (Mat.7:7).

Is the natural man totally depraved? As a sinner, he is totally lost without Christ and without salvation—but totally depraved? Adolf Hitler, sadists, serial killers, child molesters certainly. However, while it is obvious that people can slide into depravity, not all are characterized by it. The unsaved are not fit for the kingdom of God as they are, but it is wrong to bundle them all together under the one epitaph: ‘totally depraved’—and this should go without saying. It is only erroneous religious dogma, relying upon out-of-context scripture, that causes people to conclude otherwise. It is our duty as Christians, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in reaching out to as many as the Lord will call. Let us be realistic in our attitude towards them and understand that those who respond positively have already been chosen by the Lord to be His children. In ways known only to the Lord, they have been prepared to receive the seed of His Word.

‘Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead …’

(Luke 24:46, NKJ)

Thus Jesus opened the understanding of His disciples after He was raised from the dead, revealing to them the prophetic scriptures concerning the Christ from the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. He said that it was necessary for the Anointed to suffer and rise again, as it was written of Him.

Jesus was the ‘Prophet’ like Moses, spoken of in the Law (Deut.18:18; Acts 3:22-23); the Holy One and Lord who would suffer and be exalted, of whom David spoke in the Psalms (Ps.16:10; 22; 110: 1); the suffering Righteous Servant who would justify many, as foretold by Isaiah (Is.53).

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, told the council of elders at his trial that they had killed ‘the Just One’ foretold by the prophets, and had become His ‘betrayers and murderers’ (Acts 7:52). Like Jesus, Stephen suffered unrighteous condemnation and was taken away for execution. Like Jesus, he also forgave his persecutors (Acts 7:59-60; Luke 23:34). Without doubt, the disciples understood the death of the Holy One as an act of murder (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30). As Peter told the crowd on the Day of Pentecost: ‘Jesus of Nazareth … you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death’ (Acts 2:23). Also, reading from the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, Philip told the Ethiopian treasurer of Queen Candace that Jesus was indeed led to the slaughter and executed without justice, as prophesied (Acts 8:33).

This was how the apostles and evangelists presented the Gospel when preaching Christ crucified. Only an unrighteous judge would proclaim the innocent guilty and worthy of execution.

In reaching out to non-believers, whether atheist, agnostic or persons of other faiths, we must not present the crucifixion as an act of God’s justice. The Bible does not do this and nor should we. We must proclaim the righteousness of Christ at the cross, as He gave His life for us as the Lamb without blemish. We are accepted with Him, covered by His righteousness, if we truly believe and follow.

The doctrine of penal substitution is a stumbling block to evangelism. It is it, and not Christ that many are rejecting. It is a teaching often accepted out of mere blind faith for the authority of church leaders. Such belief can then be reinforced by association with others who have come to faith in like manner. Afterwards, one might feel too committed to a particular church to seriously question its teachings or to consider different points of view. There is, understandably, a natural sense of loyalty and gratitude felt towards those who help one to faith – but, in this case it is a loyalty misplaced. Of course, as a child in Christ, one may not have the knowledge to reason if received doctrines are entirely correct.

However, we are not called to stagnate in faith. After leaving Egypt, the Israelites did not just remain where they first made camp. As children of God, we must also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit—even when we have to depart from a seemingly comfortable position. We have to follow the Word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

‘…and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’

(Luke 24:47, NKJ)

Of course, in order to repent, a person must believe in God and have a concept of sin.

Speaking personally, this was a stumbling block that I had to overcome—once, in the days of my youth. In my arrogance, I considered belief in a Creator to be a notion for the intellectually naive. Thankfully, God did not abandon me to my delusions, but caused me to be challenged in my views. Consequently, it then became evident that we exist for a purpose.

Although tempted to simply accept the Bible for answers, due to Christian influences, I knew that this would not satisfy my curiosity regarding the sacred writings of other faiths. So, I then embarked upon a reading of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic scriptures to compare these to the Christian Bible. What I found surprised me. Only the Holy Bible claimed verification through the word of prophecy. Scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments are many prophetic statements that establish the truth of the writings and the Person many prophecies concern: the Lord Jesus Christ. These factors convinced me that the Bible contains God’s revelation to man. Only then was I open to accept its teachings.

Critics of Bible prophesy claim that the prophecies were written from the point of view of hindsight—after the event. However, this argument is very weak.

It is unreasonable to believe that devout and learned Jewish scholars, when compiling the canon of the Old Testament, would have accepted ‘prophecies’ known to have been written after the events to which they refer. The fulfilment of prophecies of both Old and New Testaments in ways impossible for man to foreknow can only suggest divine inspiration. To receive the Gospel, therefore, one must first believe in God and accept that the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles present to us God’s revelation.

When the Gospel was first preached, the Lord confirmed the Word with accompanying signs: the Messianic appearances; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; gifts of languages; visions; prophetic utterances; miracles and wonders. Even those having little knowledge of the Scriptures could believe a message presented with such reassuring power. Nevertheless, the true Gospel appeals to reason, not blind faith.

Blind faith may lead one to believe that Jesus died in sin—our sin! We place our faith in our tutors and find it difficult to believe that God would allow us to be led into falsehood. That the true Gospel does not appeal to the wisdom of this world does not make it unreasonable. Paul ‘reasoned’ with both Jews and Greeks in the synagogues and daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years (Acts 19:8-9). Yes, Paul did say that the message of the cross seemed foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor.1:18-23); however, he said this about the true Gospel—not about a false one that really is—which presents God as an unrighteous judge, demanding his pound of flesh in order to supposedly uphold a law that would allow an innocent person to be punished in the place of the guilty.

If not only Greeks, but also Arabs, Jews and other nationalities find the evangelical preaching of penal substitution to be foolishness, they reason well. It is. Anyone who does not suppress their sense of true justice should find it so. It is simply not just to punish the innocent in the place of the guilty. Yet, evangelicals wonder why so many refuse to accept their preaching of the cross. Rather, the wonder is that so many do. Thankfully, the love of Christ, repentance and forgiveness can be experienced in spite of errors. Nevertheless, how many more who are called are turned away from believing in Christ when they hear a ‘gospel’ that conscience and reason reject?

‘Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name … beginning at Jerusalem’ (Luke 24:47, NKJ). Indeed, the call to repent should first begin at home, with ourselves. We have a lot to repent of as Christians. We have all neglected our calling to preach the true Gospel and have presented a sorry image to the world. Even so, as we humble ourselves before the Lord, so He will lift us up (James 4:10) and empower us to act in His service. Just as Jesus told His disciples, ‘Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you, tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high,’ so we also must be imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit for the work of the great commission.

Now, when people are facing death or danger, most will seek relief. The motivation is self-preservation. However, to be saved from the punishment of God, it is not self-preservation one needs, but the opposite—the desire to put self to death.

Jesus said: ’If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ (Mat.16:24-26, NKJ). Paul put it this way: ‘Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24, NKJ).

Jesus said also, ‘Count the cost’ (Luke 14:28-30). In other words, think about what it means. For example: Are you willing to turn from wrong ways and attitudes to follow Christ? Are you prepared to reflect in godly sorrow upon the hurt caused by past sins and seek God’s forgiveness? For His name’s sake, are you prepared to endure personal sacrifice and possible persecution?

These are some of the issues and questions that will need to be faced by anyone being called of Christ. New converts need to make an open and public confession and declaration of faith, renouncing sin, to be received into fellowship. In the New Testament, it is evident that water baptism was used by the Church in this regard—as an outward sign to allow converts to publicly state their inner faith.

Referring to Galileans whom Pilate, the Roman Governor, had ordered to be killed, along with their sacrifices, Jesus said, ’Do you suppose these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish’ (Luke 13:3, NKJ). Indeed, some forty years later, the Romans razed the Temple and Jerusalem. Those inhabitants who did not heed the call to repent died as prophesied.

The warning is clear. All who refuse to repent are condemned already—there is no doubt about it. Judgement is coming upon the Earth. When Jesus comes again, one prophecy that He will fulfil is the very next line of the famous quotation, beginning, ’The Lord has anointed Me …’, taken from Isaiah 61:1-2: ’To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD and the day of vengeance of our God.’ All who are called need to both believe the Gospel and repent. It is important to note, however, that repentance doesn’t end with conversion. It goes on and becomes more complete as we are transformed ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor.3:18) in our walk with God.

The good news is that those who mourn will be comforted. Those who turn to Jesus will be given ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Is.61:3, NKJ). The Lord’s people are to be blessed with ‘everlasting joy’ (v7). The prophet rejoiced: ‘He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness’ (Is.61:10, NKJ). No matter what happens in the end times, in Christ we can rejoice and look forward with confidence to His glorious return, as prophesied (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess.4:15-16; Luke 21:27).

‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’

(Rev.21:1, NKJ)

This is going to happen, as also taught by the Apostle Peter: ’The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. … Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness’ (1 Pet.3:10-13, NKJ). ‘This present evil age,’ as Paul described it (Gal.1:4), will come to an end, and a glorious age of righteousness, peace and joy will follow.

The above passage from the Revelation given to John continues: ‘There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” ‘ (Rev.21:4-5).

There will come a day when there will be no more pain or sorrow. The wicked will be removed from the presence of God:’When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord’ (2 Thess.1:8-9, NKJ).

Now, the phrase ‘everlasting destruction’ needs to be clearly understood. The word translated ‘everlasting’ is the adjective ‘aionios’ which is derived from the Greek word ‘aion’, meaning age. The word, of itself, does not mean ‘eternal’ or ’everlasting’ (although this may be inferred through the context). The word should be understood according to the inherent nature of the person or thing referred to in the passage (Lambert, Hasting’s Bible Dic.). There are a number of instances where the translation of the word aionios as ’eternal’ cannot support a literal interpretation—not only in the ancient secular texts, but also in the Bible. For example: The phrase (2 Tim.1:9), pro chronon aionion, has been translated: ‘before time began’ (NKJ); ‘before times eternal’ (ASV, WEB); and ‘before the ages of time’ (Darby). There are other renderings, but it is clear that there can be nothing ‘before times eternal’—before ‘eternity’.

The second word of the above phrase, translated ‘destruction’ , olethros, can mean ‘destruction’ or ‘punishment’, but the form, whether remedial or final, must be interpreted by the context. Is the punishment to be remedial, lasting only an age? This is not the plain reading of Scripture. The context both here and elsewhere suggests that the destruction may indeed be of the age but it will be everlasting in its effect. In the final judgement, the unrepentant will ultimately suffer destruction of both body and soul. Jesus said: ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].’ Gehenna is the transliteration of the Aramaic form of the name in Hebrew: ge-Hinnom—the valley of Hinnom (or the valley of the sons of Hinnom) just outside Jerusalem—notorious for the worship of Molech and the practice of child sacrifice in the days of Jeremiah (Jer.7:31). Later, the valley constantly had fires for burning offal—hence the name synonymous for the fire of the ages that will destroy the wicked.

Jesus said that we should not fear those who cannot kill (or destroy) the soul. Now, many believe this to mean ’punish’, as though God is the only One able to cause suffering to the soul. However, that this is not true should be obvious. The soul of man—that part which is the ‘person’, having individual character and personality, apart from the body—can suffer torment and torture in this life. Mental anguish can be harder to bare than physical pain—and of this many can testify from personal experience. The only valid meaning to our Lord’s words is that which is plain—man can utterly destroy the body, but only God is able to utterly destroy both body and soul. In Scripture, this is called the second death (Rev,20:14) and anyone not appointed to receive everlasting life will be condemned to the second death, called ‘the lake of fire’ (v14). This speaks of annihilation—the effect of which will last forever.

The biblical imagery of ‘the [Gehenna] fire that shall never be quenched—where their worm does not die’ (Mark 9:43-48, NKJ) signifies the nature of a destruction that will consume the wicked. That is all. Fire consumes. If a fire is not quenched, it will continue burning until there is nothing left to burn. Even maggots and worms will continue eating dead and decaying matter until there is nothing remaining. The Gehenna fire does not signify a place of eternal torment. Moreover, no one should interpret the story of Lazarus and the rich man literally (Lk.16). It is simply a parable that warns us not to trust in the deceitfulness of riches or to judge others by outward appearance. On another level, it may be understood that the inherited blessings of God’s chosen race—Judah had five brothers by the same mother, see v28—do not in themselves confirm salvation. Those despised as unclean who are nevertheless rich in faith are more to be accepted as children of Abraham than those who are heirs only by blood. In this sense, Lazarus might also stand as a metaphor for the believing Gentiles—as Eliezer of Damascus had been a faithful member of Abraham’s household (Gen.15:2). As in this parable, all souls will await judgement after the death of the body—either for reward or punishment (John 5:28-29; Rev.22:12). The ‘eternal punishment’ of the wicked (Mat.25:46) will be that of the second death—eternal in its effect.

The notion that the wicked will be tortured forever is to be found in the Hellenic images concerning Tartarus—in Greek mythology, the lowest region of Hades, the abode of the dead—and in the graphic imagery of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ (c.1290 AD); but, in the Bible, Tartarus is simply a term borrowed from the Greek that is used to describe a region assigned to imprison evil spirits until the time of judgement (2 Pet.2:4). On the contrary, one aspect of the good news is that the unrepentant will cease to exist beyond the second death. After that time, the wicked will be of the past—together with all the suffering and misery they had caused. The future vision for the saved is that of a new heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness—where tears of sorrow and pain will have no place.

‘… according to the revelation of the mystery … now revealed’

(Rom.16:25-27, NIV)

Paul preached only the revealed truth of God. He said: ’Now to Him who is able to establish you … according to the revelation of the mystery … now … made manifest …’ (Rom.16:25-27, NKJ). Paul purposed only to teach the knowledge of ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified,’ as revealed through the Spirit of God (1 Cor.2:2-13, NKJ). There is much that is not revealed, especially concerning the afterlife. However, what is given is sufficient to establish our faith in God unto everlasting life through the preaching of Jesus Christ. We should know that we worship a God of love and true justice. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek.18:32), but desires that everyone should be saved. Even so, it is not God’s will to force mankind into obedience of the truth. Man has freewill and is permitted in this life to defy his Creator. The Lord did not create robotic intelligence. Everyone has been given the freedom to make moral decisions, but all have also been commanded to choose life. We are free to pursue evil, if that is our desire; but if we do so, we will face the wrath of God’s judicial punishment, together with the devil, as foretold in Scripture.

We can only state what is revealed. The Holy Spirit of God has made known to us the mystery of salvation through Jesus Christ, that we, through faith, may avoid condemnation and enter into the joy of the Lord. The sentence will be fearsome for those who delight in evil—but just. The God of true justice will satisfy justice for all.

Our corporate response to God’s revelation must be that of wanting to share His truth with as many as He will call, in all humility, that God may be glorified. When people are awakened out of doctrinal error, the initial response can vary from one of trauma to that of elation. Goodness will prevail. Joy and thanksgiving praise will flow to the glory of God. The Church is bound to go forward and grow in strength as more and more members of the body seek to restore the original teachings of the faith.

A false impression of God has been given to the world by doctrines that distort the truth and dishonour His Word. The Church is called upon to repent of these errors that a return to the one true faith might follow. As the prophet Daniel sought forgiveness and restoration for Israel during the time of its Babylonian captivity (Dan.9:2-19), so each member of Christ’s body should desire to leave behind all Babylonish beliefs and influences. The world has become a spiritual Babylon—and God has commanded: ’Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues’ (Rev.18:4, NKJ).

THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS is soon to be revealed again from heaven. This is the promise of Scripture. It is sure to come to pass. When He comes, let us be ready—standing firm in His righteousness and sure in the faith. Let us do our part to fulfil the great commission.

May God direct you in your efforts and bless you as fellow-servants in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. May ‘The Biblical Revelation of the Cross’ bless your understanding and discipleship in Christ.

*******

‘Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour

Jesus Christ.

To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.’

(2 Pet.3:18, NKJ)

*

Part 2: The Early Church

Chapter 8

Irenaeus and the Recapitulation of Christ

Irenaeus (c. A.D. 120 – 200) succeeded as Bishop of Lugdunum (now ‘Lyons’ – on the banks of the Rhone in southern France) soon after the martyrdom of Bishop Pothinus in the persecution that occurred during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (c. A.D. 177). Pothinus had been sent to evangelize southern Gaul by the renowned Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, in Asia Minor, who had been a disciple of John, the apostle. Irenaeus, also a disciple of Polycarp in his youth, had joined Pothinus as a presbyter and was on a mission to Rome when Pothinus was killed. The close association he could claim with Polycarp, who was taught by an apostle, gave his own authority, he believed, more validity in matters of received tradition and orthodoxy of belief. Nevertheless, his statement that episcopal authority was to be derived through apostolic succession (cf. Against Heresies, Book III, 3:2) was qualified: ‘inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved’. Apostolic authority depended upon the preservation of the apostolic tradition. Indeed, he urged:

‘… adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of priesthood (presbyterii), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book IV, 26:4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

At the time he wrote, Irenaeus considered that all faithful churches preserved the same faith as that of Rome for example, in keeping with all churches founded by the apostles. Any ministry not having the approval of an established episcopal church, which held to the apostolic tradition, was one acting in error and outside of the true body of believers. So long as the established churches maintained the original faith, their leaders retained authority in all aspects of Christian ministry.

His great work ‘Against Heresies’ (originally in Greek, but now preserved mostly in Old Latin with Greek fragments) was written to defend the faith against the growing influence of ‘Gnosticism’ – a syncretic belief system that attempted to explain creation in dualistic terms and that combined philosophical and pagan elements with aspects of Christianity. This work is helpful to our study because in it Irenaeus outlines his understanding of the received tradition and elucidates the Word’s recapitulation in the flesh for our salvation, as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

To understand the meaning of this term, we might consider an assertion of Athanasius, the renowned 4th century bishop of Alexandria:

God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption

(Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4:4, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891).

This was what God had willed to be man’s offering – a life of faithful obedience, without the corruption of sin. This was the life that mankind, beginning with Adam, had utterly failed to give. This was what man was owing that Jesus offered up for us through His incarnation unto death at the cross, that redeemed mankind may be covered by His life and made at one with God in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, received through faith. Irenaeus was to call our Lord’s offering of His life in the flesh to fulfill this debt and thus restore mankind to God in Him the ‘recapitulation’. His incarnation was as a second Adam, in holiness and without sin, whose offspring inherit everlasting life and fellowship with the Almighty Father. Now, all who look to God’s Son in faith as His disciples are received with Him, covered by His righteousness.

In Adam, there is sin and death. In Christ, there is righteousness and life:

‘For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation. Thus, then, was the Word of God made man …: God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 18:7, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Notice that Irenaeus emphasized Christ’s obedience as being vital for the justification and salvation of man.  Adam obeyed his carnal desire, contrary to the will of God. Jesus, acting contrary to the will of His flesh, obeyed the will of His Father: that He should patiently endure the pain and suffering of the cross – an injustice of mankind for whom He came, reached out in love, and for whom He willingly gave His life (see 1 Pet.2:19-24). In His body, He bore our sins – the sins of man, etched into His flesh with beatings, scourging and the nails of crucifixion. These were the sins of man against God. These were foreknown of God to occur. Yet, motivated by His desire to save us from the ultimate penalty of our sins, God suffered the incarnate Word to act without resistance in order to achieve the greatest possible expression of His love and desire that mankind should turn from sin and be saved. In effect, therefore, because God had to be true to Himself and act in love for the sake of our salvation, our sins – the sins of all – brought suffering and death to the Son of God. Though unknown to us, our sins tore into His flesh and pierced His hands and feet. On the cross, He bore our sins. Through His obedience, we are justified and saved – should we be His disciples,  covered by His righteousness.

Jesus as the second Adam

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. …And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

(John 1:1-14, NKJ)

Paul wrote that the Word, ‘Christ Jesus’, divested Himself of heavenly glory in order to come in our likeness:

‘… who being in the form of God … made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men.’

(Philip.2:5-7, NKJ)

Nevertheless, with the Son of God, there was no inherited sin or sinful nature.  His soul was perfect in righteousness from the very beginning of His incarnation, as it had been throughout all eternity. By contrast, the soul of Adam was newly formed at his creation.  For these reasons, Jesus could not have been anything other than perfect in His integrity throughout his human life. Though possessing human nature and tempted as all men – when He was able to exercise moral decisions in His humanity, the Son of God acted according to the integrity of His eternal divinity in perfect righteousness.

In Hebrews, we read of Him:

‘For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.’

(Heb.4:15, NKJ)

Although, when still an infant, Jesus was immature in His bodily growth and naturally limited in His humanity from taking moral decisions, when He – ‘Immanuel’: God-with-us – began to exercise His freewill, He acted according to the immutable integrity of His immortal soul with perfect divine love.

God chooses to do what is right and good and He gives to man that same freewill to choose right from wrong, according to what is truly godly. The soul of Adam was immature in its integrity from the very beginning. The eternal soul of the incarnate Jesus was not.

We read in the Bible that Adam had received in the garden of God the antidote to death: the tree of life, of which he could eat while he remained without sin. On the day he fell from grace, he was driven away from this tree and thus deprived of living forever,  as we read in Genesis (Gen.3:22-23). So, we also read in Irenaeus:

Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh,which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 23:6, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

As the second Adam, Jesus is Himself the antidote of life. By receiving the pure Word of God, man can receive everlasting life, once again. If we refuse Him, we remain condemned to die and deny ourselves the only true antidote of life:

But, being ignorant of Him who from the Virgin is Emmanuel, they are deprived of His gift, which is eternal life; and not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life.

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 19:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Irenaeus believed that the chief events surrounding man’s creation and his fall had their counterpart in the incarnation of Christ unto His death on a cross. By coming as a second Adam, Jesus was able to fulfill all that God had required of man and so accomplish salvation for everyone reborn in Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote that the final victory would come when God makes ‘all things’  at one in Him:  that ‘in the dispensation of the fullness of the times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ …’ (Eph.1:10, NKJ).

The expression ‘gather together’ is taken from the Greek anakephalaiosasthai, meaning ‘to sum up’ or ‘gather up’ (ana: again and kephale: head or chief). From the Latin equivalent: re-caput, we derive recapitulate, in English (meaning to summarize or to state again the chief points). Christ is the head, in whom all are gathered together in the fullness of time.

In Irenaeus, we find the term expressing the ‘re-heading’ of humanity  in the person of Christ – the spiritual head of His body the Church – in whom alone is salvation. Instead of Adam, the physical head of man, we now have Jesus, the spiritual head of all the faithful, reborn in Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We read:

‘… He recapitulated in Himself: by uniting man to the Spirit, and causing the Spirit to dwell in man, He is Himself made the head of the Spirit, and gives the Spirit to be the head of man: for through Him (the Spirit) we see, and hear, and speak.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 20:2, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

The coming of Jesus restored man’s hope of receiving everlasting life and reversed the failings of Adam:

‘… the Lord then … was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree …’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 19:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

To Irenaeus, even the failings of Eve in the garden have their counterpart in the ‘antidotal’ faith and obedience of Mary and the angel of God, whom she believed:

‘For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. … And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 19:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Thus, when we read in the same passage concerning the ‘correptionem’ (Latin) of Jesus, we need to understand this term in juxtaposition to the ‘sin’ of Adam, which was to accept and yield to the serpent’s temptations. Jesus had to do the opposite:

‘For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction [correptionem] of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 19:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

‘Correptionem’ was the response of Jesus to the temptations of the devil, whereas Adam chose to sin. In the Latin Vulgate  of Jerome (early fifth century), ‘correptionem’ is most often used to convey rebuke, reproof or admonition (cf. correptio, correptiones, correptioni, correptionis). It was not Jesus that needed correction or rebuke, of course, but the devil:

‘Jesus said to him, “Away with you Satan! For it is written …” ‘

(Matt.4:10, NKJ)

The context of the passage (ibid. 5, 19:1) relates the contrary actions of the righteous: how Jesus obeyed at the tree (i.e. the cross), how the angel of God spoke the truth to Mary, how Mary believed and obeyed God, how Jesus rebuked Satan, and how the coming of the gentle ‘dove’ (the Holy Spirit) gave the Christ power over the serpent (the devil). The reproof that Jesus spoke to Satan was the opposite response to that of Adam, who had succumbed to the serpent’s wiles. Far from advocating a form of penal substitution by suggesting the cancelling out of the sin of Adam by the ‘chastisement’ of Jesus,  Irenaeus was contrasting the response of Adam,  who had sinned by giving way to the temptations of the serpent, with that of the complete opposite response of  Christ, who immediately uttered rebuke. ‘Penal substitution’ is not supported by this passage, but the ‘recapitulation’ of Christ most certainly is. Jesus, ‘the First-begotten’, succeeded where Adam, ‘the first created man’, had failed.

*

Chapter 9

Atonement in Athanasius of Alexandria

Athanasius (c.293 – 373 AD) holds a revered position in Church history due to the stand he took in the 4th century to defend the faith against destructive heretical views that challenged the true nature of God. In 328 AD, he became bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, three years after playing a leading role at the Council of Nicaea, convoked to define important doctrinal elements of orthodox faith. His views on the atonement, therefore, are worthy of consideration.

‘He has not Himself become a curse …’

We might begin with his letter to Epictetus (bishop of Corinth, c. 370 A.D.), in which he refers to how one should understand the curse that Paul said Christ had become at the cross, as we find in Gal.3:10-14:

 “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

…Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Holy Spirit through faith.” (Gal.3:10, 13, NKJ).

Athanasius wrote to Epictetus:

‘…the Word Himself was not changed into bones and flesh, but came in the flesh. For what John said, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ has this meaning, as we may see by a similar passage; for it is written in Paul: ‘Christ has become a curse for us.’ And just as He has not Himself become a cursebut is said to have done so because He took upon Him the curse on our behalf, so also He has become flesh not by being changed into flesh, but because He assumed on our behalf living flesh, and has become Man’ (Athanasius, Letter LIX.— To Epictetus, 8, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

When the Word put on human flesh, born of Mary, He placed Himself under the curse of the law, but kept that law perfectly without sin. He came to “fulfil” the law (Mat.3:17). The Word was made flesh in body, but not in Himself. Likewise the Word, in placing Himself in a human body under the curse of the law, was not Himself cursed. In fact, Scripture plainly states through Paul that one could never call Jesus accursed or a curse by the Spirit of God (as He was viewed by the world):

“Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed,” (1 Cor.12:3, NKJ).

Athanasius was interpreting Paul as saying that just as Jesus (the Word) was not changed in essence but had merely assumed a human body, coming only in ‘the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Rom.8:3) for our sakes, and remaining without sin, so He was not cursed in Himself, but had only the outward appearance of one who suffered the curse of the law, as He seemed when dying at the cross – though not cursed of God at all. Moreover, the Lord’s death was not according to the curse and judgment pronounced upon Adam. The body of Jesus died, but it experienced no corruption – unlike the mortal death foretold of sinful man:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake …In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen.3:17-19, NKJ).

The Lord’s human body did not suffer corruption. Though mortal and capable of death and dying, His body was not subject to death, but life – as a result of its union with the Word. Death, like sin, had no dominion over Him, for ‘…it was not possible for Him to be held by it’ (Acts 2:24, NKJ). In Christ, the judgment upon Adam and human flesh was overturned. The Second Adam conquered death for all of mankind – that all in Him should be appointed to life.

Now, by extension, and using the same reasoning as Athanasius, it may also be said that Jesus was made sin – not that He Himself was made sin, but was said to have been made so for taking on Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, therefore, but was without sin. The flesh that He assumed ‘of the seed of David’ (2 Tim.2:8) through Mary was of itself mortal, such as everyman, but without the corruption of sin. So we find the like view expressed, that the whole Word had not become a curse or sin, but the body He assumed:

“For, as when John says, ‘The Word was made flesh we do not conceive the whole Word Himself to be flesh, but to have put on flesh and become man, and on hearing, ‘Christ hath become a curse for us,’ and ‘He hath made Him sin for us who knew no sin ,’ we do not simply conceive this, that whole Christ has become curse and sin, but that He has taken on Him the curse which lay against us, as the Apostle has said, ‘Has redeemed us from the curse,’ and ‘has carried,’ as Isaiah has said, ‘our sins,’ and as Peter has written, ‘has borne them in the body on the wood” (Athanasius, Orationes contra Arianos IV, Discourse II, XiX:47, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

Let us be clear. A body does not sin – it is the person. A body cannot be held responsible for breaking God’s law. However, by taking on a human body and suffering at the cross, Jesus suffered death, as one appearing to endure this curse under the law and was viewed as sin, though bearing in His flesh the sins of man. At the cross, He took upon His body the curse that was ‘against us’ and by the resurrection revealed that against Him it was without effect. Against the Son of Man, death had no power. His body was brutally beaten and torn – symbolic, one might say, of all human sin against God. Jesus was cursed by man and the sins etched into his flesh were the sins of man.

Jesus poured out His life for our sakes as the ‘sin offering’ , not that He was made sin. – As we find expressed in the writings of the renowned theologian, Augustine of Hippo (354-450 AD):

 ‘…therefore having no sin of His own; nevertheless, on account of the likeness of sinful flesh in which He came, He was called sin, that He might be sacrificed to wash away sin. For, under the Old Covenant, sacrifices for sin were called sins. And He, of whom all these sacrifices were types and shadows, was Himself truly made sin. Hence the apostle, after saying, “We pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God,” forthwith adds: “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….“Him who knew no sin,” that is, Christ, God, to whom we are to be reconciled, “hath made to be sin for us,” that is, hath made Him a sacrifice for our sins, by which we might be reconciled to God. He, then, being made sin, just as we are made righteousness (our righteousness being not our own, but God’s, not in ourselves, but in Him)’ (Augustine, The Enchiridion, 41, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

These sacrifices for sin, he explained, were called ‘sins’ by the Hebrews. It was not that He was personally made sin Himself, but that He was made a sacrifice for sin. It is interesting to note Augustine’s summarizing remark that we are not made righteous in ourselves, but in Christ – and that the opposite of this is also true. Jesus was not made sin in Himself, but in the likeness of sinful flesh, in which He became a sacrifice for sin.

‘man is by nature mortal’

In explaining the incarnation of the Word, Athanasius laid much stress on the fact that Jesus remained incorruptible. His offering to the Father was as a second Adam, without sin.

In the Genesis account, Adam was created mortal, but with the grace to live forever – by reason of the ‘tree of life’ that was in the garden, of which he could eat. This grace was removed when the judgment was passed because of Adam’s sin: ‘Now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever …God sent him out of the garden of Eden’ (3:22-23, NKJ). Mankind thereafter lived and died as any other creature, according to his mortality. The judgment upon Adam, therefore, was not that he should become mortal (for this was how man was created), but that he should be denied everlasting life. Mankind was taken away from the grace that was freely allowed him in the beginning. (For a discussion on the creation of man, see: Creation and Evolution – In the beginning …)

Man was created with a mortal nature, but was given the grace to live forever:

‘For He brought them into His own garden , and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.’ (Athanasius, The Incarnation, 3:4; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891)

For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt…’ (Athanasius, The Incarnation, 4:6; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

‘For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death, being, as I said before, by nature corruptible, but destined, by the grace following from partaking of the Word, to have escaped their natural state, had they remained good.’ (Athanasius, The Incarnation, 5:1; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891)

Now, through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Word Himself, a restoration of this grace has been revealed. This is the Gospel. Metaphorically speaking, therefore, Jesus – the ‘true vine’ (John 15:1) and ‘the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25) – is Himself ‘the tree of life’ of whom all who eat, by God’s grace, may live forever.

Upon becoming incarnate, the Word assumed a mortal body no different from any other human body. However, the fact that His body was prophesied not to suffer corruption (‘For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption,’ Ps.16:10; Acts 2:27, NKJ) inferred its resurrection, not that it would not die. His body was mortal in the same manner that the bodies of all men are mortal:

‘The body, then, as sharing the same nature with all, for it was a human body, though by an unparalleled miracle it was formed of a virgin only, yet being mortal, was to die also, conformably to its peers. But by virtue of the union of the Word with it, it was no longer subject to corruption according to its own nature, but by reason of the Word that was come to dwell in it, it was placed out of the reach of corruption’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 20:4, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

‘…an offering and sacrifice free from every stain

Athanasius wrote ‘On the Incarnation’ when still a young man and a deacon in the service of bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Nevertheless, it is a work that he believed reflected the received doctrine of the Alexandrian church. The body of Jesus, he said, was surrendered to death ‘free from every stain’ in order to fulfil ‘all that was required’:

He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for alland, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, section 9, Translated by C.S.M.V., St. Th., 1944).

‘Free from every stain’, of course, refers to the impeccable sacrifice and offering of Christ’s life and body, unpolluted by sin. Assumed from the flesh of Adam, through Mary, the Lord’s body was the human vessel of the Word and capable of death, though not the Word Himself. This body would die in its mortality as a result of man’s sins, which Jesus ‘bore in His body on a tree’, as Peter remarked (1 Pet.2:24). Jesus bore the physical suffering of the sins of man in His body, not the guilt for these sins. Yet, bearing these sins, He is able to take away our sins as the One against whom all have sinned. For Jesus, as both God and Man, mediates to forgive all who turn to Him, calling on His name, in godly sorrow and repentance.

Jesus fulfilled ‘all that was required’. It was not simply the death of His human body, given as an offering and sacrifice. The body He offered up had to be free of the corruption of sin. As our High Priest, He made the offering of His life in substitution for our lives in complete and sinless perfection. This offering unto death was our debt – not a penalty. This was what man owed to God. The body of Jesus had remained ‘incorruptible’ by His very presence. It was surrendered to death ‘free from every stain’, by reason of which death had no hold upon it. The resurrection was the verification. Notice, Athanasius did not say that Jesus had surrendered His body to death to pay a penalty; he said that Jesus had surrendered Himself as an ‘offering and sacrifice’. ‘Offerings’ are not penal fines. The sacrifice He made was pure and undefiled. It was required that mankind should live and die without sin. To be acceptable to God, man had to fulfill his mortal life in righteousness. Through the ‘second Adam’, Christ, this was achieved.

The consequence of Adam’s sin, though ushering in death upon mankind, in no wise subjected the body or person of Jesus to corruption or alienation from God – as He Himself was ‘God with us’ (Mat.1:23). He was ‘the life’ and had within the power of life in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, His body was allowed to die in conformity to the mortality of man, according to the divine purpose. However, the body that died upon the cross was merely the temple – a distinct entity. The body was not the Word Himself, even though in the flesh Jesus, the Word, is said to have died.

As Athanasius stated:

‘…the Body [of the Word] … is not the Word Himself, but a distinct entity (Athanasius, Letter LIX.— To Epictetus, 9, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

The Word is by nature and essence God, though clothed with humanity:

‘…from Mary the Word Himself took flesh, and proceeded forth as man; being by nature and essence the Word of God, but after the flesh man of the seed of David, and made of the flesh of Mary’ (Athanasius, Letter LIX.—To Epictetus, 12, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

 

‘The the end of His earthly life and the nature of His bodily death’

In discussing ‘the very centre of our faith’, Athanasius wrote: ‘We must next consider the end of His earthly life and the nature of His bodily death’ (Athanasius: On the Incarnation, 4:19, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891). He then gave reasons for Christ’s death:

[…] there was a debt owing which must needs be paid; for, as I said before, all men were due to die. Here, then, is the second reason why the Word dwelt among us, namely that having proved His Godhead by His works, He might offer the sacrifice on behalf of all, surrendering His own temple to death in place of all, to settle man’s account with death and free him from the primal transgression.  In the same act also He showed Himself mightier than death, displaying His own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection. (ibid. 20)

[…] The body of the Word, then, being a real human body, in spite of its having been uniquely formed from a virgin, was of itself mortal and, like other bodies, liable to death. But the indwelling of the Word loosed it from this natural liability, so that corruption could not touch it. Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. Death there had to be, and death for all, so that the due of all might be paid. Wherefore, the Word, as I said, being Himself incapable of death, assumed a mortal body, that He might offer it as His own in place of all, and suffering for the sake of all through His union with it, ” might bring to nought Him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver them who all their lifetime were enslaved by the fear of death.” (20)

Please notice that not once did Athanasius suggest that Jesus suffered death as one punished by God in our place. He said Jesus paid the debt that was owing from all. Man should live without corruption – without sin – unto death. This was the nature of the Son’s bodily death. Jesus suffered the death that is common to all, but died in faith, without sin, on behalf of all. We are required to live and die in faith, without sin. Now, in Christ, we are appointed to life. He offered in death that which we cannot, of ourselves, that we in Him should be saved. We all still die. It was not a penal debt that Jesus paid, but that offering required for our salvation, of a life and body free of corruption.

By accepting to die in the flesh, Jesus not only paid with His life all that was needed for the salvation of His brethren, but also revealed the truth of the resurrection and gave assurance of life after death through faith.

The supreme object of His coming was to bring about the resurrection of the body. This was to be the monument to His victory over death, the assurance to all that He had Himself conquered corruption and that their own bodies also would eventually be incorrupt; and it was in token of that and as a pledge of the future resurrection that He kept His body incorrupt.

(Athanasius: On the Incarnation, 4:22, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

To Athanasius, the monument to Christ’s victory over death was the cross (ibid. 19), by which He achieved the supreme object of His coming – that of offering Himself without spot or blemish and without any corruption, that we, in union with Him, should share in His resurrection. For this reason, He was willing to suffer a public death at the hands of His enemies:

Death came to His body, therefore, not from Himself but from enemy action, in order that the Savior might utterly abolish death in whatever form they offered it to Him. A generous wrestler, virile and strong, does not himself choose his antagonists, lest it should be thought that of some of them he is afraid. Rather, he lets the spectators choose them, and that all the more if these are hostile, so that he may overthrow whomsoever they match against him and thus vindicate his superior strength. Even so was it with Christ. He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. (Athanasius: On the Incarnation, 3:24; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891)

Here, we read that our Lord’s ‘death’ came, not from the Father, but from the action of His own special enemies. Even so, He did not seek to avoid what He foreknew and He did this in order to provide the perfect witness and offering, that others should be saved. Jesus fully entered into our humanity and shared in our mortality – suffering that to which men are held in fear all their lives (Heb.2:15). The body that Jesus assumed through Mary, of Adam, though mortal and able to die, was made incorruptible through the indwelling of the Word. From this, therefore, it should be evident that the judgment and penalty upon Adam – that made his body subject to death and corruption – was not imparted to the body of Christ. The Lord’s body, though mortal and capable of dying, was appointed to life and incorruption by the indwelling Word. In the view of Athanasius, as expressed above, therefore, the death of Christ came not from the penal punishment of God, as the cause of His death, but from the action of Christ’s enemies.

Jesus did not die as one guilty and punished for our sins, but as One interceding for our sins. This was the manner by which Jesus bore our sins before God – as Athanasius,  himself, understood:

[…] our Lord, being Word and Son of God, bore a body, and became Son of Man, that, having become Mediator between God, and men, He might minister the things of God to us, and ours to God. When then He is said to hunger and weep and weary, and to cry Eloi, Eloi, which are our human affections, He receives them from us and offers to the Father, interceding for us, that in Him they may be annulled. (6)

[…] Hence it is that the Lord says, ‘All things whatsoever Thou hast given Me, I have given them,’ and again, ‘I pray for them.’ For He prayed for us, taking on Him what is ours, and He was giving what He received. (7)

(Athanasius: Against the Arians,Orationes contra Arianos IV, Discourse IV, 6, 7; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891)

Jesus not only had empathy for the human condition but lifted up to God in prayer all our needs, including, of course, our need for mercy:

‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:34, KJV)

The incarnation brought restoration and healing. The body He assumed was mortal in the same manner as the body of the first man, Adam, was mortal. This was how man was created. The human body is capable of death, as are the bodies of all creatures. The difference is that, by the grace of God, man can be appointed to receive everlasting life. From this grace man fell through sin and so has lived in separation from God and the life that is by His grace. Man has suffered the death that is natural to his flesh, deprived of the grace to live forever. Because of sin, therefore, man has been condemned to that which is natural to his mortality. Jesus came in the flesh of mortal man as the Son of God – ‘God with us’, having oneness of being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Though also fully human, God’s beloved Son had no loss of divine grace or favour. The second Adam knew no corruption and lived in perfect righteousness and unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The judgment that was upon Adam, therefore, was not imparted to the incarnate Word. Jesus came as One justified of God and of the Holy Spirit; but He also came as One who would be condemned to die of man. His death was not the punishment of God. Upon the righteous, the penalty of death cannot justly be applied.

What, then, did His death achieve? The manner of the death of Jesus was foreknown and foretold of God. This is not the same as saying that it was pre-planned of God, as though God made people act in a certain way. Nevertheless, the known outcome of events was not avoided, as though something of which even God should fear. Death of the body, although terrible for man, held no terror for God. As John wrote, ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment’ (1 John 4:18, NKJ) – and the love of Christ was no less perfect. Jesus allowed Himself to be unjustly taken and cruelly killed. His human body succumbed to death upon the cross. His Spirit was received by the Father. The evil powers believed they could defeat Him with insults, torments and death. How wrong and blind they were! Neither torments nor death had any power over the perfect love of God.

His death achieved completion. With His dying breath He said: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).

At that moment of death, the judgment of God that had come through Adam upon all flesh for sin was annulled. Mortal man once more had opportunity to eat again of the Tree of Life and live forever in oneness with God. His death brought to completion ‘all that was required’.

What God required of man was for him to be righteous – to be holy – to exercise faith and godly love, without any stain of corruption:

God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4:4, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

This was to be man’s offering to God – a life of faithful obedience to the law of love, without the corruption of sin. This was the debt that Jesus, fulfilling through the incarnation, completed for us at the cross. Irenaeus was to call our Lord’s fulfillment of this debt the ‘recapitulation’. His incarnation was as a second Adam, in holiness and without sin, whose offspring inherit everlasting life, not death.

To Athanasius, the incarnation was the key element to understanding our deliverance:

‘…the Word Himself was made flesh, and being in the form of God, took the form of a servantand from Mary after the flesh became man for us, and that thus in Him the human race is perfectly and wholly delivered from sin and quickened from the dead, and given access to the kingdom of the heavens’ (Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochinos, section 7, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

The judgment on Adam had required that all should die; now it is, by the grace of God, that all in Christ should live. His life can cover our own just as the Lord prophesied through Isaiah that He Himself would clothe the faithful with ‘the garments of salvation’ and ‘the robe of righteousness’ (Isa.61:10, NKJ). All who truly believe are appointed to receive everlasting life. Mortality must put on immortality; corruption, incorruption: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (1Cor.15:51, NKJ). Similarly, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, ‘For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout …then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord’ (1Thes.4:15-16, NKJ). Although still mortal, the faithful in Christ are set free from all condemnation for sin.

Athanasius wrote that ‘…by the offering of His own body He abolished the death which they had incurred’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, section 10, C.S.M.V., 1944). Jesus offered up His body and thus His life for the sake of His brethren, so that they need not die. His life ‘covers over’ the lives of the faithful, by which all in Him are judged righteous and appointed to life. It is thus by His death that we might be set free from death ourselves. If in Christ we are accounted to have offered up the life God has willed for us, then life everlasting will indeed be our reward and death for us abolished.

It is written in Hebrews 9:27: ‘It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment’ (NKJ). The New English Bible has it: ‘It is the lot of men to die once, and after death comes judgment.’ – Judgment follows death. The first death is not the final judgment of God for our sins. It is simply that to which mortal man is appointed. It is not the second death of which we read in Matthew: ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gr. Gehenna]’ (Mat.10:28, NKJ). In Revelation, it is written: ‘Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power …’ (Rev.20:4, NKJ). ‘The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death’ (Rev.20:13-14, NKJ). Clearly Jesus did not pay this penalty.

Man became appointed to die according to his mortality when denied everlasting life because of sin. This, as said, was the judgment that came upon Adam and all mankind. It was to this corruption of death that man was made liable. Athanasius wrote of the Word that He saw ‘death reigning over all in corruption’ and that ‘He saw also their universal liability to sin …Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of deathHe surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, section 8, C.S.M.V., 1944).

As previously noted, offerings are not penalties imposed as punishments. In offering His body to the Father, He did not pay a penal debt. At no time was Jesus subject to the condemnation of God, though condemned by man at His trial. By His offering, therefore, He abolished the law of death for all who live in Him.

Now, by God’s grace, there is ‘no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom.8:1, NKJ). The Word acted ‘out of sheer love for us,’ Athanasius remarked. He fulfilled all righteousness in our stead as the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, that we should be justified before God and set free to live according to the law of the Spirit of life.

The sin of Adam had brought death upon mankind, just as the Lord had said: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (Gen.2:16-17, NKJ). ‘On the Incarnation’ has this focus. It was ‘unthinkable that God, the Father of Truth,’ Athanasius wrote, ‘should go back upon His word regarding death in order to ensure our continued existence’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, section 7, C.S.M.V., 1944). True to God’s spoken word, all die; but, God did not leave mankind without hope. To enter into life, we are commanded to live by faith. We are now invited to eat of the ‘true vine’, Jesus Christ.

Man must die. This is the stark message of Scripture. – How we die depends on our response to the Gospel. We can either ’surely die’ in our sins, or we can die in Christ. If we die in our sins, then judgment awaits – and the final death. If we die in Christ, then heaven awaits – and life forevermore. To enter life, we must first lose it (Mat.16:25) – the ‘old man’, i.e. the old self needs to die (Rom.6:4-8). Hence the figure of baptism, signifying that in Christ the old self is accounted to have died that we might be raised with Him, in the newness of the Spirit

The Son of Man allowed His body to suffer death that He should witness to the resurrection. Death was not something of which He feared. The human body of Christ was capable of dying as any other, according to its mortality, but the body is not the Word – the body ‘is a distinct entity’. The Word Himself cannot die. Yet, through the Word’s incarnation unto the suffering and death of His body, He completed all that God had required of man – perfectly, without corruption. In this, He paid all that was owing.

Athanasius wrote:

‘For there was need of death, and death must needs be suffered on behalf of all, that the debt owing from all might be paid. Whence, as I said before, the Word, since it was not possible for Him to die, as He was immortal, took to Himself a body such as could die, that He might offer it as His own in the stead of all, and as suffering, through His union with it, on behalf of all’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 20:5-6, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891).

Remember, to Athanasius, God had made man mortal and had ‘willed that he should abide in incorruption’ (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4:4, ibid). It was God’s will that man should live out his mortal life in righteousness until it ceased. The death that Jesus suffered on behalf of all, therefore, was that of a life without corruption. By this He fulfilled the debt owing by all.

In body, we all die – nothing has changed in this respect. ‘The debt that was owing from all’, therefore, was not death – but that paid in death when Jesus offered up His life. He gave that life of holiness that we ourselves are indebted to give, if we are to be found acceptable to God – a life without any stain of corruption. This is our liability. This is the debt that we owe in the body – that He paid in full, on behalf of all who now share in His grace.

By faith, our bodies, though they die, will be raised incorruptible. Now, blessed with the assurance of the Holy Spirit, through whom we have new life in Christ, we await in the hope of the resurrection:

‘We also who have the firstfruit of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body’ (Rom.8:23, NKJ).

To Athanasius, it was clear that with the fall of man from grace into sin came a corruption of man’s nature which had to be addressed. However, mere repentance for past sins and forgiveness alone could not alter man’s fallen condition. Mankind was in need of regeneration – and the incarnation made this possible. Together with the justification that comes through faith in the offering of God’s Word on our behalf, is received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and new birth. Made holy by the covering atonement that Jesus has provided, all who turn to the Lord in faith receive the promise of God. The incarnation ushered in the revelation and salvation of God through Jesus Christ, giving hope of fellowship with God in a new and living way. It was a vital act of God in the creation of man in His own eternal image. Quoting from Paul, Athanasius wrote of this new life of the Spirit, in Christ, thus:

‘“But you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” [1 Cor.6:11]. …to Titus he said, “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, not because of righteous deeds that we had done, but because of his mercy he saved us through the bath of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we may be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life”’ [Titus 3:4-7]

(Athanasius, Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, Letter 1:22; cf. Athanasius, Khaled Anatolios, Routledge, 2004, p. 222; text source: Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 26:529-576).

The Letter of Athanasius of Alexandria to Marcellinus

An ancient copy of a letter, generally accepted to be genuine, from Athanasius of Alexandria to a friend, Marcellinus, on the subject of the Psalms was found bound with the Codex Alexandrinus (c. 5th century), now preserved in the British Library. The letter contains his views on how the Psalms should be interpreted, including one important passage related to the atonement.

In the letter, after quoting from Psalm 21 of the Septuagint (LXX, Psalm 22 in the Hebrew), prophetic of Christ’s sufferings, Athanasius makes mention of Psalms 87, 68, 137 and 71, also with respect to the Lord’s passion. Of course, as a commentary, his comments need to be understood from the perspective and context of the psalms in question, as intended – not in isolation. It is important for us to examine each psalm, if we are to analyse his views correctly – and not merely judge them from our own perspective without reference.

Therefore, if we consider the first psalm in the order here presented: Ps. 87 (88), we will be helped at the start by noting that it is one that Athanasius recommended for anyone faced with opposition and in need of prayer: “Let us say you stand in need of prayer because of those who have opposed you and encompass your soul, sing Psalms 16, 85, 87 and 140.” (Athanasius: ‘The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus’, p. 115, trans. Robert C. Gregg, Paulist Press, Inc., New Jersey, 1980). We should realize, of course, that when Athanasius wrote of the need for prayer ‘because of those who oppose you’, he did not have in mind the Lord, ‘Yahweh’, as one of ‘those’. – This needs to be kept in mind when considering the passage in question (faithfully translated from the Greek by eminent Bible scholar Robert C. Gregg, emphasis mine):

“In the twenty-first [22nd] it tells the manner of the death from the Savior’s own lips […]

They pierced my hands and feet. They counted all my bones. They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my raiment. When it speaks of the piercing of the hands and feet, what else than a cross does it signify? After teaching all these things, it adds that the Lord suffers these things, not for his own sake, but for ours. And it says again through his own lips in Psalm 87 [88], Your wrath has pressed heavily upon me, and in Psalm 68 [69], Then I restored that which I did not take away. For although he was not himself obliged to give account for any crime, he died – but he suffered on our behalf and he took on himself the wrath directed against us on account of the transgression, as it says in Isaiah, He took on our weaknesses. This is evident also when we say in Psalm 137 [138], The Lord will recompense them on my behalf, and the Spirit says in the 71st [72nd], and he will save the children of the needy, and bring low the false accuser […] for he has delivered the poor from the oppressor, and the laborer, who had no helper.”

Athanasius: ‘The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus’, p. 105, trans. Robert C. Gregg, Paulist Press, Inc., New Jersey, 1980

In the LXX, as Athanasius would have used, in verses 4 and 5 of Psalm 87 (88), we find the words ‘hos’ and ‘hosei’: meaning as or like, and ‘as if’ or ‘as it were’, informing us that here, in the form of poetic simile and metaphor, the psalmist expressed an impression of what had seemed to have been his experience in the midst of adversity, not the literal reality. That the psalm opens prayerfully to “Yahweh, the God of my salvation” allows the reader to realize that the psalmist did not in truth believe himself to be as one forsaken and forgotten. He knew that he was not abandoned of the Almighty, but gave voice through the psalm to feelings of desperation at a time of suffering:

“I am counted with those who go down into the pit; I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand” (Ps.88:4-5, NKJ).

Certainly, the writer of the psalm knew the actual truth. The psalm begins: “O LORD, God of my salvation, I have cried out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles” (Ps.88:1-3, NKJ). – The writer, although enduring troubles, endured also in prayer to God.  In Psalm 87 (88), the obvious intention was to convey the idea of feeling weighed down, as if under God’s own wrath. There is no explanation given, such as the recognition of sin and God’s displeasure. There is no suggestion of the psalmist feeling in need of repentance and correction. Yet, it is a psalm with which many who are going through trials can identify – and certainly Jesus understood those feelings Himself, from His crucifixion. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ expresses our own feelings of despair at moments of great trial, when it can feel as though we are abandoned of God. Jesus understood our weaknesses and knew of our feelings, taking these on Himself, as Athanasius wrote.

Recognized by Athanasius, of course, is the fact that Jesus suffered unjustly and for our sake. The expression ‘pressed heavily’, as in ‘Your wrath has pressed heavily upon me’, is derived from the Greek episterizo (S# 1991), used here and in the LXX. ‘Episterizo’ is a word having a reflexive usage and can mean either ‘support’, ‘establish’, ‘confirm’, ‘prop up’, ‘uphold’ (suggestive of giving stabilizing support) or reflexively‘cause to rest on’, ‘make to lean on’ (Liddell/ Scott Lex.). The equivalent word in biblical Hebrew used here is ‘samak’ (S# 5564) and is understood similarly according to context: lean, lay, rest, or reflexively: support, uphold, sustain (Brown-Driver-Briggs).

In the Pentateuch, samak is the Hebrew verb commonly used to describe the ‘resting’ or ‘laying’ on of hands upon animals destined for sacrifice, as in  Lev.1:4: ‘He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering’ (NKJ). However, in all these instances, the verb in the Greek of the LXX is not episterizo, but ‘epistheis’: meaning ‘to place upon’- and is thus translated wherever this was believed the precise meaning. In Ezek.24:2, we can read that the armies of Babylon ‘laid’ siege to Jerusalem (NIV), but in the LXX we find simply ‘epi’: meaning that the armies came ‘upon’ Jerusalem. Elsewhere, in the LXX, when ‘samak’ is translated by ‘episterizo’, or words related, the idea is either ‘to uphold’ or ‘support’, such as: “the Lord upholds the righteous” (Ps.37:17); “the Lord upholds all who fall” (Ps.145:14); or, ‘to lean’, ‘rest’, ‘press’, or ‘lie upon’. In the Greek New Testament, ‘episterizo’ coveys the idea of ‘establishing’, ‘supporting’, ‘confirming’ or ‘strengthening’, as in: Acts 14:22; 15:32, 41; 18:23.

God’s righteous anger is directed against the wicked. Jesus also felt this anger in Himself, as ‘God with us’. Athanasius wrote: ‘he took on himself the wrath directed against us.’ (‘took on’ is translated from ‘bastazo’: ‘to take up’, ‘bear’ or ‘carry’, S# 941). Jesus ‘bore up’ God’s wrath directed at us, just as He ‘bore up’ our sins, as we read in Isaiah (Ch.53) – not as one to whom God’s wrath was applied, but as One interceding on our behalf. At the cross, Jesus prayed: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’ (Lk.23:34, NKJ). In so praying, He held back God’s wrath at that time.

In His ministry on Earth, Jesus not only preached ‘good tidings to the poor’ (see: Isa.61:1-2), but also proclaimed the ‘day of vengeance of our God’ – the day of retribution that will come upon the world. It is He who is the One through whom God’s wrath will be poured out: ‘He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God’ (Rev19:15, NKJ). That, by God’s grace, is yet to come.

Interestingly, in Isaiah 63:3-6, we find the prophet referring to the Lord treading out the winepress of His wrath and being ‘upheld’ and ‘sustained’ by His fury (wrath) against the wicked: “I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to ‘uphold’ (samak); therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury [wrath], it ‘sustained’ (samak) Me” (Isa.63:5, NKJ). In the Hebrew, the same Hebrew reflexive verb ‘samak’ is used as in Psalm 87; but is translated in the LXX by the Greek verb: ‘epeste’, meaning ‘to come upon’ or ‘to stand over’, therefore meaning: ‘My own wrath came upon Me’. Of course, there can be no suggestion in this passage of Isaiah that the Lord had ‘punished’ Himself with His own wrath. That would be absurd. The context infers that God ‘had become’ furious with the people – because of the sinfulness He beheld. So, when we read of Jesus enduring sinners and paying for crimes He did not commit, we can understand God’s wrath ‘coming upon’ Him in the same way. God’s anger is directed at the wicked – who commit cruelty and condemn the innocent – and He feels fury towards them; but the day of visitation, when He pours out that fury, is yet come. Jesus felt that anger during His ministry on Earth, as with the cleansing of the temple when He tossed over the tables of the moneychangers (Matt..21:12) – but His first coming ushered in the day of salvation, not vengeance.

This interpretation is found in the comments made by Athanasius, himself, as given above: ‘Then I restored that which I did not take away.’ [Quoting Psalm 68 of the LXX, Ps.69:4 in the Hebrew.] For although he was not himself obliged to give account for any crime, he died […]’. The word translated ‘restored’ is taken from the Greek: ‘apetinnyon’, of the verb ‘apotino’ meaning ‘to repay’ or ‘recompense’ as a penalty, for something lost or stolen. It can be rendered: ‘I paid for what I did not take or steal.’ In the Hebrew: ‘Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it’ (Ps.69:4, NKJ). The statement is applied by Athanasius to our Lord’s unjust penal death for crimes He did not commit. This was the penalty He unjustly paid for sin, as though a criminal suffering the wrath of God. Jesus, to onlookers, appeared to be suffering God’s wrath and the penalty of death from God as if Jesus were an abomination because of sin – but this, of course, was not the reality. The truth was the complete opposite of this. As our Creator, He was the One against whom all had sinned. As Immanuel (‘God with us’) and Mediator (1 Tim.2:5), He bore upon Himself God’s wrath against sin directed at us. As Saviour, He suffered and interceded on our behalf. Athanasius wrote that our Lord ‘suffered on our behalf and took on Himself the wrath directed against us because of the transgression’. ‘What transgression?’ one might ask. – The sin in the Garden of Eden? Was it the sin of man throughout the ages? Neither, but the sin that encapsulates all sin – THE SIN of man against God’s Son at the cross. Just as Jesus took on our sins, He also took on God’s wrath against sin. That is what an intercessor does. He lifts up our sins and asks for mercy – for ‘they don’t know what they do’ (Luke 23:34). At the same time, Jesus holds up God’s wrath – ready to fall because of man’s sin against His Son. He stands in the breach, and intercedes on our behalf. The Father acts through the Son and through the Son God’s wrath will be poured out on the wicked at the end of this world, as we know it. He mediates between man and God, loaded up with man’s sins and pressed down with God’s wrath against sin. These expressions are metaphors and do not infer that Jesus either became guilty in Himself for the sins He bore, or that He suffered the wrath of the Father directed at Himself because of sin. They express the work of our Mediator, interceding on our behalf – for our sins and our guilt against the just punishment and wrath of God. Jesus took on Himself the wrath, but it is directed at us – not at His beloved Son.

Athanasius wrote:

‘This is evident also when we say in Psalm 137 [138], The Lord will recompense them on my behalf, and the Spirit says in the 71st [72nd], and he will save the children of the needy, and bring low the false accuser …for he has delivered the poor from the oppressor, and the laborer, who had no helper.’

Psalm 137 (138) speaks of God’s deliverance from the wrath of enemies. In the LXX, Ps.137 (138) v 7-8 in the Greek can be rendered:

‘[v7] Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will revive me. You will stretch forth your hand against the wrath of my enemies. Your right hand will save me. [v8] Yahweh will recompense on my behalf. Yahweh’s loving kindness endures forever. Forsake not the works of your own hands.’ (WEB, modified).

The LXX suggests meaning from context. We can compare: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Rom12:19), and also Deut.32:35: “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense” (NKJ). Here, a form of the same Greek word is used in both cases, (S# 467, in Ps.137, LXX: ‘antapadosei’, as in the letter to Marcellinus) meaning ‘repay/recompense’. ‘The Lord will recompense my enemies for their wrath against me’ is what the context of Ps.138:7-8 suggests. This must also be the meaning Athanasius intended in his letter. Jesus will recompense all those who trouble and oppose us. God’s wrath will be returned upon our enemies, in compensation for their wrath against us.

Psalm 71 (Hebrew: 72), likewise speaks of the Lord’s deliverance from oppression: ‘He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor’ (Ps.72v4, NKJ). Our salvation is not just from sin, but also from the perpetrators of sin. They shall receive their just reward. This is all that we can reasonably infer from the context.

The comments made by Athanasius with respect to these psalms cause us to consider the Lord’s work of mediation and intercession. Jesus stands in the breach and is ever ready to intercede on our behalf.

*

*Note

Man created with a mortal body, but given the conditional grace to live forever :

‘For He brought them into His own garden, and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 3:4; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt…’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 4:6; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

‘For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death, being, as I said before, by nature corruptible, but destined, by the grace following from partaking of the Word, to have escaped their natural state, had they remained good.’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 5:1; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

In addition to the above comments on the mortality of the human body, we should take note of other comments Athanasius made on the human ‘soul’:

‘But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church’s teaching which you must know, to show how the idols are to be overthrown. But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul. For if our argument has proved it to be distinct from the body, while the body is by nature mortal, it follows that the soul is immortal, because it is not like the body.’

Athanasius: ‘Contra Gentes’ (Against the Heathen), Athanasius: Select Works and Letters,Part II, 33:1; ed.: A. Robertson, H. Wace, P. Schaff; Vol.IV: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1891

Contra Gentes is considered an early work, written prior to 319 A.D. (before the Arian controversy broke out), when Athanasius was still in his very early twenties. Nevertheless, his stated view on the ‘immortality of the soul’ needs to be understood in the context of this work. He was stating the view that the human soul has existence independent of the body and that, even when the body dies, the soul does not die with it. In this sense, he referred to it as ‘immortal’. He was not saying that it had always existed or that it could not cease to exist. He, also, was not stating that the human soul is ‘immortal’ in the same sense that God is considered immortal. – Yet, when purified in Christ, the soul lives forever by the grace of God. However, it was a belief in the early Church that the souls of the wicked, condemned by God, exist only for as long as God permits:

Evangelist: ‘[…] But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished.’

(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers,Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

The pagan view of a soul that can never die or cease to exist was not the view of Justin Martyr. It would also be wrong to attribute such a view to Athanasius on the basis of his comments in Contra Gentes (Against the Heathen).

  *

Chapter 10

Atonement in Eusebius of Caesarea

‘The Demonstration of the Gospel’

‘Heal My Soul’

Eusebius (c.260-339) was appointed bishop of Caesarea Maritima (c. 313 AD) – a busy Roman city and port, located on the seacoast, west of Jerusalem. He is most remembered for his invaluable ‘Ecclesiastical History’, completed and revised from 303-324. However, Eusebius was a prolific author and penned many other works, including commentaries, orations, apologies, dogmatic writings and eulogies in praise of the emperor, Constantine the Great. At Caesarea, he also enlarged an extensive library of Christian manuscripts, many of which were likely inherited from his predecessor in the bishopric, Pamphilius (c. 240-309), including the library of Origen (which that theologian bequeathed to the local Christian community) and many works of classical literature, history and philosophy. Indeed, like Origen, Eusebius possessed an immense storehouse of knowledge derived from the revered pagan writers of the classical world. This is important to remember, for although pagan religion was facing decline in the fourth century, with the advent of Christianity as the religion of the empire, classical philosophy and literature retained a powerful influence. It was imperative for the learned theologian of the fourth century, reaching out to the educated of society, to study such works in order to reason effectively in scholarly debate. Evidence of this is no more clear than in Eusebius’s own work (the precursor to ‘The Demonstration of the Gospel’): ‘The Preparation of the Gospel’. This book is so full of quotations from ancient classical writings, that it is even used today as a source book for the study of these ancient works, existing and no longer extant. From such a cultural background and education, therefore, Eusebius forged his understanding of ‘propitiation’, as practiced in the pagan world, and this no doubt influenced his own understanding of the sacrifice of Christ, as shall be discussed. Regarding theology, Eusebius is also known to have been sympathetic towards Arius – whose views many Church leaders deemed heretical  – and used Arianist expressions in his own writings, with reference to the nature of the Word, the Son of God. Arians held that Jesus was a created being, that He was not true God, and that there was a time when He did not exist. At the Council of Nicaea (325), Eusebius sought to clarify his position and gave his signature to the orthodox views of the Nicene Creed: that Jesus is indeed : ‘true God from true God …eternally begotten of the Father …begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.’ However, suspicions persisted about his true position – and not without good reason.

In The Demonstration (otherwise called: ‘The Proof of the Gospel’), Eusebius wrote of the Son, “the Second”:

“…the true and only God must be One, and alone owning the Name in full right. While the Second, while sharing in the being of the True God, is thought worthy to share His Name, not being God in Himself, nor existing apart from the Father Who gives Him divinity, not called God apart from the Father …holding His being as well as His Divinity not from Himself but from the Father.” (The Proof of the Gospel, Bk. V, Ch. 4; ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981)

Again, same chapter: “For the One gives, and the other receives; so that strictly the First is to be reckoned God, alone being God by nature, and not receiving (divinity) from another.” (ibid)

Consider also: “…the true and Only-begotten Son of the God of the Universe …honoured in this passage under the style and name of Wisdom …He goes on to say, ‘The Lord created me as the beginning of his ways for his works …’ By which He teaches both that He Himself is begotten, and not the same as the Unbegotten, one called into being before all ages, set forth as a kind of foundation for all begotten things.” (ibid, Book V, Ch.1).

So, in these passages, Eusebius maintained that the Son, “not being God in Himself”, receives His divinity from the Father, who is alone “God by nature”; and that the Son was Himself “called into being” by the Father.

The Letter of Arius to Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia” (c.319 A.D.), as recorded by Theoderet in his Ecclesiastical History (early 5th century), adds to our understanding of the bishop of Caesarea’s position:

“Eusebius, your brother bishop of Cæsarea, Theodotus, Paulinus, Athanasius [not the ‘A. of Alexandria‘], Gregorius, Aetius, and all the bishops of the East, have been condemned because they say that God had an existence prior to that of His Son … But we say and believe, and have taught, and do teach, that the Son is not unbegotten, nor in any way part of the unbegotten; and that He does not derive His subsistence from any matter; but that by His own will and counsel He has subsisted before time, and before ages, as perfect God, only begotten and unchangeable, and that before He was begotten, or created, or purposed, or established, He was not. For He was not unbegotten. We are persecuted, because we say that the Son has a beginning, but that God is without beginning.” (Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, I, IV, trans. Rev. Blomfield Jackson, ed. P. Schaff, H. Wace, pub. T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1892)

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf203.iv.viii.i.v.html

 Therefore, it can be deduced from the above that Eusebius of Caesarea held the view that the Son of God was “called into being” by the Father and that before this, He “was not” – had no existence. By this view, the Son is made distinct from the Father, who is the only True God – the Second  “not being God in Himself, nor existing apart from the Father Who gives Him divinity” (see above). With such a theology, as we shall see, Eusebius was able to perceive of the sacrifice of the Son as a necessary propitiation for sin on behalf of man to avert God’s wrath. By his reasoning, the sacrifice of Christ was thought to satisfy God’s demand for a penalty because of sin. The sacrifice of the first begotten Son, as the first called into being of all God’s creation, was believed sufficient to regain God’s favour as the penal price of atonement for the whole of mankind.

It was essentially a view of propitiation as was practiced in pagan religion. The only difference being one of degree – the penal sacrifice of the first begotten for the sake of all mankind as a means of propitiating the one true God. Here, the Father was thought to accept the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf as the payment of the penalty to satisfy His honour and to restore to us His favour. – But this is not the biblical perspective.

According to the Bible, the only way God can be propitiated is through the offering of the life of Christ – a life of faithful obedience. In turning to Him in repentance and faith, His offering is accepted for us, as we seek to emulate the One we follow. God desires that we repent of sin and turn to Him in faith and obedience, as disciples of His Son. This is what propitiates God. It is not about the need to punish. It is about the need to repent and obey. All who do are forgiven in Christ. The wrath of God was never poured out upon His Son in our place. His was the acceptable sacrifice. He gave Himself as the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. The wrath of God is only poured out upon the incorrigibly wicked – upon all who refuse to repent. Jesus gave His life for the sake of those who do. All in Christ are covered by His righteousness, cleansed, forgiven and safe from God’s wrath.

 Only the first ten books of his apologetic work: ‘The Demonstration of the Gospel’ have come down to us; the final ten books are missing. Nevertheless, views he expressed in the books remaining are worthy of careful consideration, especially those that relate to his explanation of our Lord’s atonement. For drawing attention to this work, I am grateful to the authors of the book: ‘Pierced for our Transgressions‘. A passage from ‘The  Demonstration’ (otherwise known as ‘The Proof of the Gospel‘) is presented in their book to suggest historical evidence for the doctrine of penal substitution. For this reason also, it was quoted in the work: ‘The Doctrine of Justification by Faith’, by the British theologian of the 17th century, John Owen.

Here is the quotation:

‘And how can He make our sins His own, and be said to bear our iniquities, except by our being regarded as His body, according to the apostle, who  says: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members?” And by the rule that “if one member suffer all the members suffer with it,” so when the many members suffer and sin, He too by the laws of sympathy (since the Word of God was pleased to take the form of a slave and to be knit into the common tabernacle of us all) takes into Himself the labours of the suffering members, and makes our sicknesses His, and suffers all our woes and labours by the law of love. And the Lamb of God … was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down on Himself the apportioned curse, being made a curse for us.’  (The Proof of the Gospel, Bk. 10, Ch. 1 (467); ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981)

Clear from the context is the idea that Jesus empathizes with the sufferings of the members of His body, the Church, caused by sin. Nevertheless Eusebius went further, quoting Psalm 41 to suggest that the Lord, by ‘uniting Himself to us‘, could say of Himself that He too had ‘sinned’, by reason of His association with the members of His body:

‘With regard first to the words which are apparently said in the person of our Saviour: “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee,” …And He speaks thus because He shares our sins.’ (466)

‘…uniting Himself to us and us to Himself, and appropriating our sufferings, He can say, “I said, Lord, have mercy on me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee,”…’ (467/8)

(The Proof of the Gospel, Bk. 10, Ch. 1; ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981)

One wonders if Eusebius would have been so bold as to state that the Lord could justly claim to have sinned if he had believed Jesus to be equal with God the Father? Let us be clear, Eusebius held the belief that Jesus could say that He had sinned (though not personally), by reason of His union with the members of His body, the Church; and that, as such, He ‘suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins’. He received punishment and death that were owing to us (‘due to us’). This was his understanding. But, he added:

‘…the words, ‘I have sinned against thee,’ are not to be taken literally, …’ (ibid, 470)

These were ‘our sins’, Eusebius remarked. In Himself, Jesus was innocent and of ‘absolute integrity‘:

‘…the words, “Thou hast protected me for my innocence,” exhibit the absolute integrity of His nature …’ (ibid, 470, cf. Psalm 41)

In the theology of Eusebius, the reason for the atonement expressed above was but one of several, which he listed in Book 4:

‘…firstly, the Word teaches by His death that He is Lord both of the dead and of the living; secondly, that He will wash away our sins, being slain, and becoming a curse for us; thirdly that a victim of God and a great sacrifice for the whole world might be offered to Almighty God; fourthly, that thus He might work out the destruction of the evil powers of the demons by unspeakable words; and fifthly also, that shewing the hope of life with God after death to His friends and disciples not by words only but by deeds as well …He might make them of good courage and more eager to preach both to Greeks and Barbarians …’ (167)

(The Proof of the Gospel, Bk. 4, Ch. 12; ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981)

So, what are we to make of his view?

Ferrar accomplished his excellent work of translating based upon the Greek compilation of Gifford. In the above quotation, however, readers may wonder as to the exact meaning of the phrase ‘due to us’ – in that Jesus is said to have ‘transferred to Himself’ sufferings ‘due to us’? – Did Eusebius mean, ‘because of us’? In short, no. The expression derives its meaning from the Greek ‘opheilo’ and refers to a state of ‘owing’ – of being ‘in debt’.  Our sins have caused us to be in debt both to man and God, according to the moral and just Law of God. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, ‘And forgive us our debts, as also we forgive our debtors‘ (Mat.6v12, KJV), the same root is found in the text: for ‘debts’ is written ‘opheilema’ and for ‘debtors’, ‘opheiletes’. In the forms of ‘opheilo’ and ‘opheile’ the word also appears twice in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mat.18), translated ‘debt’. Sins, therefore, cause one to be in debt to both man and God. Where there is no pardon, there is no cancellation of the penalty, according to the Law.

In the Bible, true justice is explained according to the simple principle of equivalence: ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth …’ (Lev.24:17-20). According to this rule of justice, as we do to others, so we are due to have done to us – to an equal degree. In the view of Eusebius, therefore, what Jesus endured was truly representative of sufferings caused and owing to be suffered in degree as a punishment by mankind, as a result of sin. By this reasoning, Jesus cancels the suffering that is our due because He paid the penalty when punished at the cross. Eusebius believed that Jesus was punished with a degree of punishment rightly due to mankind because of sin. But, was this view correct? – What is certain is that the punishment inflicted upon the Son was not the punishment of God.

If only for the fact that it is inconceivable that God should punish with a Roman scourging and with ‘insults’, it should be obvious that the Father did not punish His Son. The sufferings that Jesus underwent spoke of the sin of humanity for which cause He came and from the consequences of which He came to save. At the cross, Jesus bore down upon Himself not the divine justice, but ‘the sin of the world’ – in His human body and against His divine person. Those who killed Him, in the words of Stephen, were murderers (Acts 7: 52). He was taken unlawfully and punished without true justice, as the Bible declares (Acts 2:23; 8:33). Jesus suffered this for us – but why?

In what way, therefore, did Eusebius understand the penalty that Jesus suffered, but ‘did not owe’ – at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities? We can infer from the context that this penalty was perceived by Eusebius as our debt, because of sin. From the principle of equivalence under the Law, a just penalty can be viewed as the retribution demanded by the Law to counterbalance an offence and so satisfy justice. By the Law, the suffering caused by our sins should equal, in degree, the suffering that we are owing to pay as a penal debt. Therefore, Eusebius might have reasoned that all the suffering that Jesus bore at the cross is representative of the degree of suffering that mankind is indebted to pay as a penalty. However, the crucifixion was an act of sin against God’s Son – and it is not according to God’s justice to pay for a penal debt with a penal crime.

One thing should be clear, the penal suffering of Christ was not of God. The punishment of Christ did not pay the debt for our sins – rather, this action compounded them. In all aspects, this was the opposite of divine justice.

Eusebius wrote: ‘… He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins,‘ (see Bk. X, Ch.1, see above) – and in this he was right, but not for the reasons he gave.

(See also: Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!)

‘…the words which are apparently said in the person of our Saviour: “Heal my soul, for I have sinned …”‘

(Eusebius: The Proof of the Gospel, Bk. 10, Ch. 1, (466); ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981)

We need to recognize that much of what Eusebius wrote was according to his own speculative theology and not according to Church tradition. In the above quotation, the words ‘apparently said‘ are indicative of the author’s own admission to a degree of uncertainty about the interpretation that he was placing upon the verse in question, from Psalm 41. This was his own view, not Church doctrine. Nevertheless, was Eusebius right to suggest that Jesus, as Head of His body – the Church, could say, as in the Psalm, ‘Heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee’ ?

There is an analogy expressed in the New Testament that uses the human body as an example to illustrate the relationship of Christians as Church members to Christ, as Head of the Church: ‘And He is the head of the body, the church …’ (Col.1:18, NKJ); ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually …’ (1 Cor.12:27, NKJ); ‘…there are many members, yet one body’ (1 Cor.12:20, NKJ); ‘…if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it’ (1 Cor.12:26, NKJ); ‘… no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body …’ (Eph.5:29-30, NKJ).

No analogy works in all respects. There are similarities, but also incongruities. We can sympathize with a brother or sister going through a trial, for example – as one member suffers, we can suffer also. However, we do not experience the full suffering of the other member. There is a degree to which we can empathize with all that others endure. Likewise, we can bear the burden of sin that other members are suffering, even as the apostle said we should do (‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,’ Gal.6:2, NKJ). But, when one member falls into sin, that does not mean that we do also. We are not made sinners by the sins of others, nor are we responsible (unless we have colluded in some way, of course). We are responsible for our own sins. We are not made guilty by association – simply because others with whom we are related choose to sin. So it is with Christ: ‘He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin‘ (John 3:5, NKJ).

As a person enters into a relationship with Jesus as personal Saviour and Lord, all sins are forgiven and the robe of Christ’s righteousness becomes one’s ‘garment of salvation’ (Isa.61:10). As Christians, we are covered by His life and imbued with the Holy Spirit, as children of God. Jesus does not ask the Father to forgive Him for our sins. As God Himself, how can He? As the One who takes away our sins, how can He? As THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, how can He? The Father has nothing to forgive His Son. The Son is not implicated in any sin or wrongdoing. Always He does that which is pleasing to the Father – and the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are One. In this matter, Eusebius overstretched the analogy and was wrong.

Jesus was indeed made a sin-offering, and was made to be sin in the judgment of those who crucified Him – but this was not the righteous judgment of God. The Lord’s sacrifice was accepted as a ‘sweetsmelling aroma‘ (Eph.5:2, NKJ), without corruption. He bore our sins as the One against whom all have sinned. He also bore our sins in His heart; but as Saviour, takes them away through the forgiveness He now offers to all who truly repent.

It is perhaps easy to see why Eusebius of Caesarea – expressing such views as Jesus could have regarded Himself as having sinned, as Head of the body –  was suspected by some of his contemporaries of holding to an Arianist opinion of Christ. At the Council of Antioch, held early in 325 AD  and presided over by Bishop Ossius, Eusebius was one of only three out of fifty-nine bishops who refused to sign the distinctly anti-Arian ‘Statement of Faith‘ (ref. ‘The search for the Christian doctrine of God: the Arian controversy 318-381, pp.146-151: Hanson, R.P.C; Baker Academic, 1988; T&T Clark, London & N.Y., 2005). The three bishops were given a suspended excommunication to allow them time to reconsider their positions. This explains perhaps why Eusebius was at pains to confirm his orthodoxy of belief at the general ecumenical council that convened at Nicaea later that year – and his efforts resulted in his condemnation being cancelled. Given time to reflect on his position, Eusebius could well have felt compelled to revise his views on the nature of Christ and the atonement as a result. After all, as observed above, it is certain that his expressed views of the atonement included his own mere speculations and were not presented to suggest widely held Christian beliefs, received by apostolic tradition.

Unfortunately, antiquity of belief in a doctrinal position is often considered reason of itself for acceptance – when really one should seek to discover if a teaching is in agreement with the Scriptures, and especially those of the New Testament. It is also apparent that this work was written at a time when Eusebius is known to have supported the Arianist faction of the Church. (*See: Reflections from writings of early Church fathers – the views of Justin Martyr)

 *

Chapter 11

The Nature of Man’s Creation and the Consequence of the Fall

The Nature of Man’s Creation

‘Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden …’

(Genesis 3:22-23, NKJ)

In a Bible study of the atonement, it is important to examine views expressed by leading figures of the early Church. In this regard, the nature of man’s creation, being relevant to our understanding of the fall of man and the subsequent incarnation of God’s Son for our salvation, should not be overlooked.

At Carthage in 419 AD, a synod of 217 bishops of North African provinces convened under the leadership of Archbishop Aurelius of that city to sanction and to ratify 138 Canons of what has come to be known as ‘The Code of Canons of the African Church’. Such was the high repute of these African Canons, they were inserted into the Ancient Code of both the Eastern and Western Churches. Canon CIX was worded to address the unorthodox teaching of Pelagius on the topic of man’s creation:

That whosoever says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he had sinned or not, he would have died in body—that is, he would have gone forth of the body, not because his sin merited this, but by natural necessity, let him be anathema.’

(The Seven Ecumenical Councils: ‘The Code of Canons of the African Church, CIX’ ; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, Henry R. Percival, 1899)

Highlighted in bold above is a very important distinction. These clauses were included to avoid error. It was anathema to teach that Adam was created mortal so as to die in body even if he had not sinnedIndeed, it was a teaching of the Church that Adam need not have died if he had remained without sin, by reason of the tree of life that God had placed within the garden of Eden of which Adam could eat. ( On the creation of man, see: Creation and Evolution – In the beginning …)

Adam’s ability to live forever was dependent upon eating from the tree of life. God’s grace allowed for this as long as Adam did not sin. As we read in Genesis, Adam, on being expelled from the garden, could no longer eat of the tree:

‘Then the Lord God said, “…And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden …So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Gen.3:22-24, NKJ).

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (modern Annana in Algeria) c. 396 – 430 AD, was one of the leading and most influential figures attending at Carthage and other preceding African Councils that met to define orthodoxy of belief in the Church. How he understood the nature of the body of Adam in the garden is clear from the following:

‘And he [Adam], as I suppose, was supplied with sustenance against decay from the fruit of the various trees, and from the tree of life with security against old age.’

(Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, c.420 AD, Book I, ch.3; Nicene and Post-Nicene FathersP. Schaff, Holmes, Wallis, Warfield, 1887)

He believed that Adam was created with a body that was capable of death, which was dependent upon the fruit of the trees of the garden in general for sustenance and upon the tree of life in particular to prevent physical decay. This understanding is clear from other passages also:

‘Still, although it was by reason of his body that he was dust, and although he bare about the natural body in which he was created, he would, if he had not sinned, have been changed into a spiritual body, and would have passed into the incorruptible state, which is promised to the faithful and the saints, without the peril of death.’

(Augustine: ibid., Bk.1, ch 2)

Here, Augustine explains his belief that Adam was not created ‘incorruptible’, but had a natural body just as ours. In his commentary in twelve books on the first three chapters of Genesis, entitled ‘De Genesi ad literam’, i.e. ‘The Literal Meaning of Genesis’, we find the following:

Adam’s body before he sinned could be said to be mortal in one respect and immortal in another: mortal because he was able to die, immortal because he was able not to die. For it is one thing to be unable to die, as is the case with certain immortal beings so created by God; but it is another thing to be able not to die in the sense in which the first man was created immortal. This immortality was given to him from the tree of life, not from his nature. When he sinned, he was separated from this tree, with the result that he was able to die, although if he had not sinned, he would be able not to die.

He was mortal, therefore, by the constitution of his natural body, and he was immortal by the gift of his Creator. For if it was a natural body he had, it was certainly mortal because it was able to die, although at the same time immortal by reason of the fact that it was able not to die. Only a spiritual being is immortal by virtue of the fact that it cannot possibly die; and this condition is promised to us in the resurrection. Consequently, Adam’s body, a natural and therefore mortal body, which by justification would become spiritual and therefore truly immortal, in reality by sin was made not mortal (because it was that already) but rather a dead thing, which it would have been able not to be if Adam had not sinned.

(Augustine: De Gen. ad Lit., vi:25; The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 1, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Newman Press, N.Y., 1982)

That this was the common teaching of the early Church also finds support from other writers of that period, such as Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293-373 AD).

Athanasius is one of the key figures of Church history due to his efforts in defending the faith against heresy in the fourth century and in helping to articulate the Nicene Creed (the most widely accepted in Christendom). He wrote:

‘For He brought them into His own garden, and gave them a law: so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven; but that if they transgressed and turned back, and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death which was theirs by nature: no longer to live in paradise, but cast out of it from that time forth to die and to abide in death and in corruption.’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 3:4; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt…’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 4:6; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

‘For God has not only made us out of nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence with God. But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil, turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in death, being, as I said before, by nature corruptible, but destined, by the grace following from partaking of the Word, to have escaped their natural state, had they remained good.’

(Athanasius, The Incarnation, 5:1; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891)

The above statements express a view that was considered ‘orthodox’ and fully in keeping with Scripture. Man was given the freewill to make moral choices and was created with a body capable of death, such as is natural to all.

In the Genesis account, man was first formed from the earth and then placed in the garden of Eden that God had made. It was then that Adam was given the right to eat of the tree of life. Although we can reason that this was God’s intention from the beginning, we can see from the order of events that man was first created with a body that was of itself mortal, but capable of being kept from corruption and death by reason of God’s provision in the garden where man was afterward placed.

Theophilus of Antioch (bishop from c.169-181 AD), reasoned that Adam was created neither wholly mortal nor immortal, but was formed with a ‘middle nature’ – capable of becoming either:

‘And God transferred him from the earth, out of which he had been produced, into Paradise, giving him means of advancement, in order that, maturing and becoming perfect, and being even declared a god, he might thus ascend into heaven in possession of immortality. For man had been made a middle nature, neither wholly mortal, nor altogether immortal, but capable of either…’

(Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum, Book 2, ch. 24, trans. Marcus Dodds; Nicene and Post-Nicene FathersP. Schaff, 1885)

However, in stating that Adam was not made ‘wholly mortal’, he was simply saying that Adam was not created subject to death. God had given Adam the tree of life from which to eat and live forever, but as a grace dependent upon faithful obedience. Of himself, without this grace, he was mortal. Moreover, Theophilus also believed that Adam could have advanced to immortality if he had remained faithful to God. In reasoning this way, Theophilus plainly affirmed that God was not the cause of Adam becoming subject to death:

‘…if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself.’

(Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum, Book 2, ch. 26, trans. Marcus Dodds; Nicene and Post-Nicene FathersP. Schaff, 1885)

If God had made Adam subject to death, irrespective of whether he had sinned or not, then clearly God would have been the cause of bringing death upon mankind. Such an assertion was pronounced against at the Council of Carthage in 419 AD, as stated above, and is foreign to Scripture.

Similarly, Irenaeus (bishop of Lyons in southern France, c.178-202 AD), viewed Adam’s ‘immortality’ as contingent:

‘He set him certain limitations, so that, if he should keep the commandment of God, he should ever remain such as he was, that is to say, immortal; but, if he should not keep it, he should become mortal and be dissolved to earth from whence his formation had been taken.’

(Irenaeus: The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 15; trans. J. Armitage Robinson, 1920)

Certainly, Irenaeus did not suggest that Adam was created with an immortal nature. Indeed, he wrote in another place:

‘How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that thou, at the outset, shouldest hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God. For thou dost not make God, but God thee. If, then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book IV, 39:2, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Furthermore:

Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book III, 23:6, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

If, therefore, Adam were to have continued faithful, everlasting life would have been assured. By failing to live in righteousness, Adam was driven away from the tree of life – that he should not continue as a sinner forever. Again, in his work ‘Against Heresies’, Irenaeus described ‘immortality’ as something by God’s grace to be acquired, towards which created man must advance:

‘Man has first to come into being, then to progress, and by progressing come to manhood, and having reached manhood to increase, and thus increasing to persevere, and by persevering be glorified, and thus see his Lord. For it is God’s intention that He should be seen: and the vision of God is the acquisition of immortality; and immortality brings man near to God.’

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, IV, 38:2-3; The Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, 1956)

Although Church fathers such as Augustine, Athanasius, Theophilus and Irenaeus may have spoken of the biblical account of man’s creation with a different emphasis, all understood that without the tree of life from which Adam could eat, Adam’s created body was subject to death.

The second century Christian apologist known as Justin Martyr (c.100 – 165 AD), killed in Rome during a persecution of Emperor Aurelius, gives weight to this view. He was widely influential with his writings and receives mention in the works of other early Church writers, including Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian and – the Church historian and bishop – Eusebius of Caesarea, who listed Justin’s books. In Justin’s ‘Dialogue with Trypho’, he wrote of a debate he once had with a Christian evangelist at the time of his conversion from Platonism to Christianity. – Part of the discussion focused on the matter of whether or not ‘the soul’ is immortal. Of course, if man was created with a mortal soul, then his body was created mortal also. The evangelist reasoned against the Platonic notion:

Evangelist: ‘These philosophers know nothing, then, about these things; for they cannot tell what a soul is.’

Justin: ‘It does not appear so.’

Evangelist: ‘Nor ought it to be called immortal; for if it is immortal, it is plainly unbegotten.

(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

According to the evangelist, whose words Justin presented as an exposition of the true understanding, the souls of the just receive life, while the souls of the wicked await God’s judgment – to be punished for as long as God wills them to exist:

Evangelist: ‘…But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished.’

(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Here, it is taught that not only is the soul not immortal, but that there will also be a time when the souls of the wicked will cease to exist:

Evangelist: ‘For to live is not its attribute, as it is God’s; but as a man does not live always, and the soul is not for ever conjoined with the body, since, whenever this harmony must be broken up, the soul leaves the body, and the man exists no longer; even so, whenever the soul must cease to exist, the spirit of life is removed from it, and there is no more soul, but it goes back to the place from whence it was taken.’

(Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 6; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Plainly, therefore, if the soul is not immortal and can ‘die’ – ceasing to exist, then man was not immortal of himself in the beginning. Tatian (c. 110-172 AD), who had been a disciple of Justin, in his ‘Address to the Greeks’ said this:

The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die.

(Tatian: Address to the Greeks, chapter 13; trans. J. E. Ryland, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1886)

Although in later life, after Justin’s death, he took up certain Gnostic heretical views and extreme asceticism, his understanding of the soul as expressed above is in keeping with the teaching we find in Justin’s ‘Dialogue’, and contradicts the views of philosophers such as Plato or the Roman Cicero concerning the soul’s supposed ‘immortality’. Moreover, we find that it is also in agreement with the word of Scripture. Jesus Himself stated as much when he said that the souls of the wicked when cast into Gehenna would ultimately perish:

‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].’ (Mat.10:28, NKJ)

It is a testimony that we find in the early Church, therefore, that man was created without inherent immortality, but was given the grace to live forever through continuance in well-doing and faith toward God, as can be determined from Genesis.

This is important because it helps us to comprehend the penalty imposed by God upon mankind for sin more clearly. The body of man is ‘mortal’ of itself. Conditional ‘immortality’ was the free gift of God in the beginning.

“It is appointed for men to die once …”

(Heb.9:27, NKJ)

In the Genesis account of creation, Adam was able to live forever by reason of the tree of life of which he could eat (Gen.3:22-24). Nevertheless, Adam’s ‘immortality’, was contingent on his obedience. The moment he sinned, the provision of the tree of life was taken away. Thus, the first man through sin became subject to death, as God had warned. Adam’s punishment, therefore, when he was removed from the garden and the vital food that could have sustained him, was that he lost the grace to live forever. He was thereafter destined to die according to that mortal nature with which he was created. That man should suffer death – according to his mortality – became the lot of all because of man’s choice to sin. Nevertheless, even though all men are appointed to die in body as a result of the judgment on Adam because of sin, God did not leave man without hope. Instead of the former tree of life in the garden, man is now invited to receive of Jesus – the ‘true vine’ (John 15:1), and His children are those who abide in Him, bearing fruit of righteousness in obedience to His commands.

As a result of Adam’s sin, therefore, all mankind became subject to death, under the same judgment (Rom.5:18). Mortal death of the body became man’s lot, just as it is the lot of all earthly creatures. Man was created to live if he chose to obey (the law of God) or die if he chose to sin. In the beginning, man chose death. In symbolic terms, Adam’s removal from the garden was also symbolic of his being removed from God’s presence. Through sin, therefore, man was condemned to suffer mortal death. – A second and final death will occur when God will judge the wicked. These are condemned already, but their penalty is reserved for the Day of Judgment, as we can read in Scripture (Jn.5:28-29; Mt.10:28; 2 Thess.1:8-9; 2 Pet.3:7; Rev.20:13-15) – it will be a sentence that will destroy and consume all who oppose the will and goodness of God. For the present time, the unsaved are called to believe and repent – for only in Christ is all condemnation for sin taken away (Rom.8:1). Now is the time to hear His voice (Heb.4:7). ‘Now is the day of salvation’ (2 Cor.6:2, NKJ). Even so, as Christians, we must await ‘the redemption of the body’ (Rom8:23) – to occur at the ‘resurrection of life’ (Jn.5:29): for ‘…this mortal must put on immortality’ (1 Cor.15:53).

Now, Jesus did not make of Himself an exception with respect to the mortal flesh of Adam. In being born of Mary, the body of Jesus was just as capable of death, as any other. However, as the Anointed One, being free of the corruption of sin, it was prophesied that even His body would not suffer corruption (Acts 2:27; Ps.16:8-11).

All men are allowed to die in body. The Lord’s death made no change to the condition of man in this regard. We can read: ‘…it is appointed for men to die oncebut after this the judgment’ (Heb.9:27, NKJ). Jesus was indeed offered ‘to bear the sins of many’ (Heb.9:28), but in what manner and for what purpose did He choose to bear our sins? As both Man and God, He bore the full brunt of man’s unrighteousness and cruelty. Having so done, He is able to bear away the sins of all who repent; for as the One against whom all have sinned, He is the One able to forgive all sin. His life, poured out on the cross, can cover the lives of all who place their trust in Him, as His disciples. His holy, righteous life and offering can be accounted for us, if we are His. He chose to accomplish all victory over death for us as the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Over Him, death has no power. In Him, we can take our comfort, with the full assurance of faith. His death fulfilled not the penalty of God for sin, but the completion of all righteousness, through which He offered up the perfect sacrifice for all who place their trust in Him.

Is the sinful nature in man inheritable?

Medical research affirms that we affect not only the mental state of ourselves through our own behaviour, but also the personality development of our children, with whom we have genetic and personal affinity. Studies have indicated that traits of temperament, character and personality though inheritable, are influenced by parents and those closest. – However, before considering the biblical position regarding this, it is well to examine relevant and important medical evidence:

A study conducted by the Cambridge University Institute of Criminology casts light upon the likelihood that criminal behaviour might be passed on from one generation to  the next , as reported by The Independent on Sunday, UK  (27 Feb., 1996):

A Professor Farrington, who carried out the research, followed 397 men, randomly selected from those born in London in 1953, and their families: The report concluded: “A convicted family member influenced a boy’s likelihood of delinquency independently of other important factors such as poor housing, overcrowding and low school attainment.”

More than 150 of the men ended up with convictions for offences ranging from burglary to drug abuse. Seven in ten convicted fathers and a slightly higher number of convicted mothers ended up with a convicted child.

When the study began in 1961, the boys were aged eight or nine and lived mainly in conventional two-parent families. But two-thirds of the families had a convicted member. Such circumstances were a strong indicator that the boys would be wife-beaters by the age of 32 and that they would have a conviction by that age, the study found.

Prof. Farrington told  ‘The Independent on Sunday’“If the parental influence isn’t countered, their children will become criminals.”

(Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, Prof. David Farrington, research pub. 1996, the Journal of Legal and Criminal Psychology)

Findings of a study published in the journal Child Development, show that there is indeed a relationship between human behaviour and genetics. K. Paige Harden, lead author, and Dr. Robert E. Emery, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, studied 1,045 adult twins and their children. The study was reported on by the Reuters news agency (7th Feb., 2007):

‘Marital conflict doesn’t appear, in this study, to cause stable patterns of conduct disorder,” explained Harden. “Rather, marital conflict is influenced by parents’ own characteristics – including their genes – and these genes are passed on to children.’

Harden and her colleagues arrived at their conclusions by studying 1,045 adult twins and their children. Some of the twin pairs were identical, which means they shared all of their genes; the rest were fraternal, meaning they shared only some of their genes.

Such studies allow researchers to tease out the effects of genes and environment on a given behavior.

In this case, Harden’s team found that genetic influences were important in parents’ marital conflicts, and genes, in turn, explained the link between marital discord and children’s conduct problems.’

Writing about psychopaths in his book: ‘Without Conscience’, the eminent psychologist Dr. Robert D. Hare, PhD (Guilford Press, NY, 1999), suggests that, according to his research these ‘human predators’ (as he describes them) make up about 1% of the population and are ‘to be found in every segment of  human society’ (p.207). A psychopath will show no feelings of empathy, guilt or remorse. They are utterly egocentric and display no sign of conscience. As a result, they become prone to anti-social and criminal behaviour, if not violent crime. Although they can often appear charming, their charm is calculatedas it suits self-interest. To Hare, therapy programmes that attempt to teach psychopaths how to ‘really feel’ remorse or empathy are ‘doomed to failure’ (p.197). He states: ‘When we ask psychopaths to modify their behaviour so that it conforms to our expectations and norms, we may be asking them to do something that is against their “nature”. They may agree to our request, but only if it is in their best interests to do so’ (p.203). Chillingly, he writes that ‘clinical and empirical research clearly indicate that the raw materials of the disorder can and do exist in children. Psychopathy does not suddenly spring, unannounced, into existence in adulthood’ (p.157).

Recent research on the origins of antisocial behaviour, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggests that early-onset antisocial behaviour in children with psychopathic tendencies is largely inherited (article, Medical News Today, 25 May, 2005).

The findings are the result of an extensive study carried out by Dr. Essi Viding of the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, within the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London. Dr Viding’s research looked into the factors that contribute to antisocial behaviour in children with and without psychopathic tendencies. By studying a sample of 3687 twin pairs of 7-year-old twins, Dr. Viding and her colleagues were able to pinpoint to what extent antisocial behaviour was caused by genetic and/or environmental risk factors:

‘Following analysis, the results showed that, in children with psychopathic tendencies, antisocial behaviour was strongly inherited. In contrast, the antisocial behaviour of children who did not have psychopathic tendencies was mainly influenced by environmental factors.

Our research has important implications. The discovery that psychopathic tendencies are strongly heritable suggests that we need to get help for these youngsters early on. Any behaviour is influenced by multiple genes and an unlucky combination of genes may increase vulnerability to a disorder’ (Medical News Today, 25 May, 2005).

In everyone, there are inherited traits of personality and temperament that can predispose a person towards certain modes of behaviour. As a person matures, these traits can be modified and developed for good or ill according to one’s own personal choices in life, influenced by parents, family, education and social interaction. Choices we make and  the influences upon us can either suppress or enhance these natural tendencies and help to define the course of one’s own personal development. Should there be a strong personal desire to overcome bad traits of behaviour, deemed morally and socially unacceptable, then it is possible to suppress such propensities, allowing room for opposite characteristics to flourish. In the psychopath, this would seem ordinarily impossible. A psychopath will not relate to feelings of empathy or remorse.

In infancy and childhood, innate psychopathic tendencies will impair a child’s natural development of the conscience – such as will allow one to experience empathy and feelings of love for others. If these tendencies are unsuppressed and allowed to dominate, the outcome is a psychopath – a ‘human predator’. It is unnerving for the normal person to contemplate; it is unnerving also to read of case histories. From one generation to the next, poor and damaging levels of parenting exacerbate the situation. Hare quotes psychologist Rolf Loeber as saying: ‘Impaired child rearing practices is one of the factors that influence how antisocial the next generation will be’ (p.164, Without Conscience). Loeber and David Farrington, in their book Child delinquents: development, intervention and service needs (Sage Publications, 2001), state: ‘…a variety of issues commonly appearing in the families of children at high risk for early-onset antisocial behaviour (eg. family criminality, parental psychopathology and substance use, family violence, lack of household organization) also make these families very difficult to manage in treatment’ (p.188). They add: ‘Risks for child delinquency arise from many sources, both within the family and in the other systems where children live and learn’ (p.189). In the view of Hare, this is a growing problem in schools and in society in general.

Regarding psychopaths, we should not merely think of them as high profile violent offenders, Hare explains:

‘Psychopaths make up a significant portion of the people the media describe – serial killers, rapists, thieves, swindlers, con men, wife beaters, white-collar criminals, hype-prone stock promoters, …child abusers, gang members, disbarred lawyers, drug barons, professional gamblers, members of organized crime, doctors who’ve lost their licences, terrorists, cult leaders, mercenaries, unscrupulous business people’ (p.3, Without Conscience – the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us, Dr. Robert D. Hare, PhD, Guilford Press, NY, 1999).

One could reasonably argue that the impact and recognizable signs of psychopathic behaviour in our midst should be brought to the awareness of all, and not just to those who may be professionally involved with children or criminals, such as teachers, social workers, members of the legal profession, police and prison officers. Those engaged in prison ministry, for example, need to understand that psychopaths will attempt to manipulate situations and individuals for their own personal gain. Christian ministers, commended for such work, must retain a realistic approach in their ministry at all times (such a ministry is not for the naive).

Now, how does the foregoing help our understanding of Scripture?

Missing from the scientific research (not surprisingly) is any mention of the human soul. Yet, this non-physical dimension of man’s being should be considered. Traits of temperament and physical appearance can be passed on through the human genes, just as inherited traits exist in the breeding of animals (as is well known to dog breeders), but man is more than an animal. We are set apart from the animal kingdom by our knowledge of good and evil – with which comes the ability to choose. Animals are unable to contemplate this.

By degree, we are separated from animals in other respects also – such as in our ability to love and care for the well-being of others, our ability to appreciate beauty in music and the visible arts, our ability to reason and invent, etc.. But, it is our ability to discern and choose between right and wrong, justice and injustice, good and evil, that makes us truly different. We have an innate knowing of right and wrong behaviour – animals do not. This becomes apparent as we grow mentally. With this knowledge comes accountability: we become responsible for our actions and thoughts, right or wrong. Animals respond to fear and reward, and basic instincts. Man has the power to choose between good and evil. As such, man is like God, ‘created after His image and in His likeness’ (Gen.1:26).

The human soul is the seat of this awareness and describes the inner self. It is this that is separate from the body. It is that spiritual entity in the mind of man that has awareness of being. The soul is the very essence of a person and exists beyond the grave  – in a state of soul-sleep.  When raised from the dead, Jesus became ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15:20, NKJ). The dead in Christ are now said to ‘sleep’. Only the body dies. This is our faith. Jesus is alive! – His body died, but not His soul. We are more than just a body.

Nevertheless, as the medical evidence shows, we are born with certain inherited traits that predispose us in our temperament and personality, in different ways for good or ill. We owe much to our  ancestry for our genetic condition, but to our biological parents and their parents and grandparents most of all. Family influences during early childhood and adolescence help shape us as people as we grow to adulthood, either reinforcing or counteracting these innate tendencies. But, we also have choice. The outcome of our development is not by any means wholly determined by outside forces. Yet, should a person be born into a family where psychopathic and criminal behaviour goes unchecked, then the strong likelihood is that the child will grow displaying the same characteristics. The evidence is overwhelming. Evil really does appear to beget evil. Without intervention to stimulate a different course of development, a child in such circumstances will have little to no chance of breaking out of the mould.

From a Christian point of view, these inherited traits that predispose a person to adverse behaviour relate to man’s sinful nature. The soul must be affected also. Man can develop an evil nature with a strong proclivity to all the traits of sinfulness, as outlined by the Apostle Paul (Gal.5:19-21). Just as ‘evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived’ (2 Tim.3:13, KJV), so shall societies in which such persons are allowed to flourish. In broad terms, we can speak of the criminal society – as one in which persons and families are characterized by criminal behaviour. The Italian Mafia is notorious for its adhesion to crime of all kinds and shows no regard for its victims. Should such human predators, of a psychopathic nature, inter-breed to form a tight tribal community, the prevalence of psychopathy in that group would be bound to grow with each successive generation –  and would be apparent from an early age. Psychopathic criminal families and gangs are the Amalekites in our midst.

Amalek, according to Scripture, was a grandson of Esau (Gen.36:12). Soon after Israel had left Egypt, the Amalekites rose up to attack. In Deut.25:17 is written:

‘Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.’

The fledgling nation of Israel was not viewed as a threat, but as vulnerable and ripe for  plunder. They saw the weak and defenceless of them as easy prey. Soon they engaged Israel in full battle and would have had victory – were it not for divine intervention (Ex.17:8-16). The psychopathic characteristics of this tribe, related here, are all too apparent. Many years later, this predatory tribe attacked David’s southern base at Ziklag, when David and his soldiers were absent. Poorly defended, the inhabitants of the city (mainly women and children) could put up little resistance. Ziklag was set on fire and the people taken captive (1 Sam.30:1-2). David caught up with the Amalekites after finding one of their Egyptian slaves whom they had abandoned in the desert to die, because he had become ill. The Egytian directed David and his men to where the Amalekites were heading. They found the Amalekites encamped and rejoicing because of all their spoil, taken in raids. David and his four hundred soldiers attacked and all the women and children were saved. The Amalekites were killed, except for about four hundred young men who escaped on camels (1 Sam.30:3-19).

On another occasion, not long after, an Amalekite is recorded as hoping to ingratiate himself to David with news that he had killed King Saul, after finding Saul dying of wounds. David was not deceived. He reasoned wisely that the Amalekite had not acted out of mercy, but out of cold, self interest, without any fear of God.

The Amalekites, by the time of Saul, had become a nation whose sins had reached full measure. Divine judgment was declared and none to be spared – not even the women and children (1 Sam.15:1-3). No spoil was to be taken – presumably to make clear that this action was was not to be taken for the sake of material gain. None were to be shown mercy. Such was the command of God given to Saul through the prophet Samuel against the Amalekites. This nation had moved beyond any form of rehabilitation. If allowed to remain,  the evil would have continued unabated and the cost in terms of human suffering would have been immeasurable.

The other tribes occupying the land of Canaan at the time of the Israelite invasion were likewise judged of God. The sins of the Amorites (sometimes used as a general term regarding them) had become complete, as was foretold:

‘…But in the fourth generation they shall return here [the chosen descendents of Abraham], for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (Gen.15:16, NKJ).

As with the Amalekites, not one was to be spared:

‘But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive’ (Deut.20:16, NKJ).

They had become utterly corrupt in worship and life (see Chapter 5: The sin of the Amorites).

Other cities beyond the land of invasion were judged less severely – presumably because they had not reached the same depths of depravity – and were to be offered terms of peace; but they had to show subjection, without opposition. If a city desired war, then Israel was to put it to siege and kill all the men (Deut.20:10-15, NKJ).  The Israelites were thus able to spare the women and children from going the way of those Amorites whom they had to destroy – and were able to receive them into their own families and society. Such actions would be judged as genocidal murder today,  but they need to be understood in terms of the historical context. – It should be remembered that Israel was a theocracy, ruled by God through His prophets and judges. The nations of Canaan were fighting against God, and were under the sway of Satan and demonic forces. The inhabitants of this land had fallen into gross wickedness and had become worthy, like Sodom and Gomorrah, of God’s judgment. These measures, though severe, gave Israel much needed regional peace and freedom from corrupting evil practices. The Israelites were called out from this world and chosen to be a holy nation – ready to do God’s will, even if that meant destroying all opposition. They had to trust in God to survive.

One could hypothesise that our behaviour in life can affect the genetic code we might pass on to our offspring, inclining them to certain modes of behaviour. Although this might sound like evolution, one can also believe that this is how God made us – and why it is imperative that we follow the law of the conscience within us. To do otherwise may adversely affect our very nature – and the nature of our offspring (perhaps …’to the third and fourth generation’ Ex.20:5). There are a number of biblical passages indicating that the soul in man is inherently affected by the sinfulness of our forebears:

‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom5:19, NKJ).

This verse would appear to support the view that man inherits a sinful nature – a nature corrupted by and tending to sin. As a Christian, one should realize that man was not created this way, but acquired a corrupted nature as a result of acting sinfully – against God and against his innate conscience. David, in one of his psalms, wrote: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me’ (Ps.51:5, NKJ). As a prayer of repentance,  ‘hyperbole’ here would seem out of place. The obvious reading implies a confession of sinfulness of nature from birth. In another  psalm, we find: ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth’ (Ps.58:3, NASV). Now, of course, although one might indeed claim the use of hyperbole in this verse – babies can’t speak lies from birth – the wickedness of nature implied would seem affirmed by medical research concluding that psychopaths are born with a nature inclining them to this disposition (see above).

Biblically, however, as can be deduced from Hebrews, it would seem that we have more than mere genetic affinity with our forefathers:

‘Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him’ (Heb.7:8-9, NKJ).

Belief that our souls are derived through our forefathers finds support in the above passage. – Levi, the father of the priestly nation, is envisaged as present in the body of Abraham. So, likewise, by this same reasoning, all of Abraham’s physical progeny were ‘present’ in him and paid tithes. However, it should not be overlooked that here is the belief, it would seem,  that the personal nature or essence of the soul is passed on with the genes – perhaps contained within the basic genetic code of the father as a tiny invisible dormant signature of spiritual energy that is uniquely brought into being after life is formed in the womb. This could be why biblical genealogy shows only the male lineage – because that is just how it is. When one dies,  one’s spiritual essence of being, the soul, is received by God, who formed man as a spiritual being in the first place: ‘Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’ (Eccl.12:7, NKJ). This might also help to explain why the judgment fell upon mankind because of Adam’s sin and not that of Eve, which came first – and why it is said that we are ‘made sinners’ as a result of Adam’s disobedience (Rom.5:19). It might not be that Adam was so judged only because he was the federal head. The nature of the soul in man became affected by Adam’s sin – and the consequences felt by his progeny right up to the present, from one forefather to the next. Certainly, the idea expressed in the above passage concerning Levi who ‘paid tithes through Abraham’ does not suggest that we, as individuals, receive our soul separately direct from God. This view might be termed Paternal Generationism.

The Church at the time of Augustin and Jerome had mixed views about how the soul of each person originates. Jerome expressed an uncertain leaning towards a Creationist view (that souls are created separately by God in each individual), but admitted that ‘most western writers … hold that soul is derived from soul as body is from body’. Amongst these writers, he notes Tertullian and Apollinaris (Jerome: Letter CXXVI. To Marcellinus and Anapsychia; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.vi.; Philip Schaff, H. Wace and W. H. Fremantle, trans., 1892). This view is known as Generationism – the belief that the soul of the offspring originates from the soul of the parents (ref.: The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, N.Y., 1912).

Nevertheless, we can be sure that when the soul of Jesus entered the womb of Mary there was no conflict with the soul of man. There was no inherited corruption of His soul. Jesus lived His life on Earth ‘without sin’ (Heb.4:15). The genealogy of Mary is traced through her male ancestors back through King David (Luke 3:23-38), so it can be said that Jesus was of David’s ‘seed’, i.e. Mary – though He Himself was the Son of God: ‘Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel’ (2 Tim.2:8, NKJ). Jesus came only in ‘the likeness’ of sinful flesh (Rom.8:3), though fully human and tempted as all men. Were it possible for Mary’s body to have been corrupted through sin, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, we can be certain that Mary was indeed made holy and blessed of God for her faith.

Regarding the very young: Although, babes and infants are conveyed as ‘innocent’ in Scripture (eg. Mat.18:3), they are so for as long as they do not have the awareness to be held responsible for doing wrong. As such, they are not guilty of sin – but this does not mean that their nature is pure, without corruption. It is possible, in extreme cases, that a child’s nature is very corrupt (due to inherited psychopathic traits) – as will become apparent later, when the child grows. Nevertheless, in that a very young child when just an infant cannot know sin, it is innocent and blameless. This is how we are to be in life.

Immortality – a gift to the righteous

In Scripture, only God alone can be described as fully and truly immortal:

I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things …who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honour and everlasting power. Amen.

(1 Tim. 6:13-16, NKJ)

God alone has power over immortality and to bestow it. Jesus said the just will receive immortality in the resurrection – never to die again – and will be equal to the angels of God:

‘…nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection’ (Lk.20:36, NKJ).

Although the body may be destroyed, the soul continues to exist, unless God wills it to be destroyed also. Using modern terminology: one might say that the soul is like a computer hard drive, which stores all the data. A computer might be destroyed, except for the hard drive. By installing it into another computer, all the saved data can be recovered. The hard drive cannot function on its own, just as the soul in man has need of a body. However, the hard drive can be wiped clean of all data that is stored or it can easily be destroyed itself. Without a body, the soul in man cannot function:

‘For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing’ (Ecclesiastes 9:5, NKJ).

‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NKJ).

Although one might consider these words – found in the ‘wisdom’ literature of the Bible – as the product of human reason and not necessarily inspired truth, there are other biblical statements to the effect that persons who have died in body enter a form of ‘sleep’ until the resurrection. This is said both of the just and the unjust, for example:

‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Dan.12:2, NKJ)

‘For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus’ (1 Thess.4:14, NKJ).

‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up. …Lazarus is dead’ (John 11:11-14, NKJ).

Now if the soul exists beyond the grave in a state of sleep, that is in keeping with the comments found in Ecclesiastes. Sleep renders one unconscious and incapable of rational thought. One becomes oblivious to time, space and reality. In sleep, the mind can simply ‘shut down’ and go blank. When one awakens, the period of sleep might seem like a moment, when in reality sleep might have lasted hours. It is a mistake to take a wholly literal reading of a poetic passage of prophecy that speaks of hell, such as Isa.14:9-11; or to take a literal interpretation of a parable, such as Luke 16:19-31 (discussed in chapter 7).

The belief that the soul receives conscious awareness after death finds support, not so much in Scripture as in philosophical speculation, such as that of the renowned pagan author Cicero (c. 106-43 BC), who wrote that, after death:

‘…when we shall be nothing but soul, then nothing will interfere to prevent our seeing everything in its real substance and in its true character.’

(Cicero: The Tusculan Disputations, ch. 20; trans. C.D. Yonge, Harper’s New Classical Library, 1877)

In the pagan world, this was a widely accepted view. Somewhat controversially, therefore, the apostles (and some early Church fathers) taught that after death the soul enters a form of ‘sleep’, as mentioned in Daniel 12:2, 13. The dead are to be awakened at a future resurrection:

Therefore those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are more miserable than all men. But now Christ has risen from the dead, the first-fruits of those that sleep; for as by man [came] death, by man also [came] the resurrection of the dead.

(Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, 13:4, cf. 1 Cor.15:18, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884)

Now, Jesus is called the ‘firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15v20, NKJ). The phrase is not ‘the firstfruits of those who slept’ – as though they are now awake. The souls of the many who have died are said to be reserved in a state of unconscious existence – awaiting resurrection.

Jesus spoke of two general resurrections, one ‘of life’ and one ‘of condemnation’ (or judgment; John 5:29). Paul also wrote: ‘We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible’ (1 Cor.15:51-52, NKJ). To the Thessalonians, he wrote:

‘But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.’ (1 Thess. 4:13-17, NKJ).

Evidently, therefore, Paul taught that the soul in man enters a state of soul-sleep at death and not that the souls of the departed in Christ continue in some state of conscious existence. Rather, he looked forward with prophetic vision to the resurrection of life to occur at the time of the Lord’s return: ‘For the Lord Himself will descend with a shout …and the dead in Christ will rise first.‘ – Maran atha! ‘The Lord cometh!‘ Amen.

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Chapter 12

‘In Him We Have Redemption’ – The Witness from Scripture and the Early Church

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace …that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in One all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him‘ (Ephesians 1:7-10, NKJ).

When gladly received, the witness of Christ opens the way for a cleansing and liberating of the soul from its captivity to sin. The Gospel of Christ is scattered like a seed – taking root in the minds of those prepared to receive. With correct nurturing, the implanted seed grows, yielding glory to God in the life of the believer.

The Perfect Witness

‘… I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’

(John 19:37, NKJ).

His witness is as fresh and as relevant today as it was for the first disciples. It tells of the purging of sins of all believers at the cross: ‘God …has in these last days spoken to us by His Son … who being the express image of His person …when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb.1:1-3, NKJ). It is not that when we repent He purges our sins. He did this at the cross. ‘Our sins’ – the sins of those who love God  – of those who ‘hear’ – are atoned for through the offering Jesus made of His life, all those years ago – effective for all time. Through His word, gladly received, we enter into fellowship and union with God’s Son, so that His offering avails for us, as we are united with Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. His offering becomes our offering. His victory over sin and death becomes our victory. His righteousness before God becomes our righteousness, because we are covered by His grace and favour. Our own offering is deemed perfected, not because of ourselves, but because of the One in whom we have our being, whose offering is received on our behalf, as from all who aspire to be like Him in life.

Christ’s own sacrifice and offering became perfected for us through the suffering He endured – not that His own righteousness and sinlessness of being needed perfecting, of course (He was ‘without sin,’ Heb.4:15), but ‘perfected’ in the witness of that sinlessness in action even unto death, as a testimony to mankind lived out in His humanity. Through suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus was able to perfect and confirm His ministry on Earth. The sacrifice of Christ was thus perfected by His death upon the cross. That witness now resides in us who are called and chosen to be His disciples, in obedience to the truth.

‘…though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him‘ (Heb.5:8-9, NKJ).

Jesus purged away the sins of the elect faithful – the true children of Abraham. The touch of Jesus purges away all impurity, like a burning coal from the altar of God (Isa.6:7). We are purified in Him like silver and gold. The dross is removed and the uncleanness taken away. As it is written of the Messiah in Malachi:

“And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.

“…He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver, He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal.3:1-3, NKJ).

The new temple is the body of Christ – the spiritual Church of God – and the chosen are its members: ‘…being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet.2:5, NKJ).

‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light’ (1 Pet.2:9, NKJ).

The refiners fire cannot be made impure, rather those things touched by the fire are made pure. So it is that in Christ alone, we are ‘made perfect’ – purified of sin. As the writer of Hebrews said, ‘the law made nothing perfect’ (Heb.7:19, NKJ):

‘For the law …can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshippers, once purged, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year’ (Heb.10:1-3. NKJ).

‘Every high priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered up one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified …Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin’ (Heb. 10:11-18, NKJ).

The perfection to which mankind can attain through Christ is that of being righteous in Him. The righteousness is of Him, not of ourselves, attributed to all who believe and obey. No more do sins condemn, for all our sins are covered by the offering that He made of His life. His perfect offering assures us of His grace and mercy as we seek to draw closer to God. In the second letter of Peter, we can read the opening address: ‘To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ …‘ (2 Pet.1:1, NKJ). We must not forget that Jesus was an offering of righteousness to God the Father on our behalf. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,’ Paul wrote (Rom.8:1, NKJ). The righteousness that is our due, if we are to inherit everlasting life, was paid with the perfect life that Jesus offered up for us; so that we are judged not as we are of ourselves, but as we are in union with God’s Son. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We shall be like Him in godliness of faith, growing from glory to glory until, in the resurrection, complete unity in the Spirit with God becomes our everlasting reality and reward.

In ourselves, we can only judge that we fall far short of the perfection and holiness that God demands. In the person of Christ, we have the Standard in whom we are called to aspire: ‘…till we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph.4:13, NKJ). When we look to the cross of Christ, we need to see not just a man, or even a ‘good’ man, hanging there – we need to see that here was the perfect Man, the Son of God – undefeated in His confrontation with evil – yielding His body to death, despising the shame, in order to confirm His truth and witness through the power of the resurrection, that we might believe, repent and be saved. We need to understand that here was ‘the Son’, offering hope to the needy, comfort to the downhearted, deliverance for the sick, release for the oppressed, the forgiveness of sins and adoption, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, for all who seek to be established in the love of God.

Throughout His ministry on Earth, ‘the Word made flesh’ set the example for others to follow. At the cross, we find the highest expression of God’s love and His willingness to forgive:

‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do’ (Lk.23v34, NKJ).

This was the compelling revelation of what it is to love our enemies. This was Jesus revealing that with faith in God we need not fear death. This was God’s Son showing that we should forgive those who sin in ignorance – who do not realize their acts of sin. Sometimes those who err against God’s servants believe they are serving God. We should be careful to follow Christ’s teaching and example. ‘If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,”I repent,” you shall forgive him’ (Luke 17:3-4, NKJ). In accepting our repentance, God forgives us and accepts us with Christ, who gave Himself for us: ‘an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2, NKJ). Our sins are covered by His perfect life of sacrifice, made on our behalf.

Mankind is mortal by nature and was denied everlasting life in consequence of the corruption of sin. Today, for all who believe and repent, is the promise of the Holy Spirit and new life in Christ: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God’ (Rom.8:14, NKJ). Without Christ, mankind is without hope.

Against the Word of God we all are judged and found wanting. As it is written, ‘There is none holy like the Lord’ (1 Sam.2:2, NKJ).

At the crucifixion, Jesus was first nailed to the cross as it lay on the ground before it was raised upright. – On this wooden cross was lifted up the summation of all righteousness. Here was the second Adam, without sin – whose life, fulfilled in all righteousness unto death on the cross, purges away the sins of all who are foreordained to be made clean in Him. Touched by his blood, symbolic of His sacrificial life poured out for us, we are made pure. In the first Adam, we die. In Christ, we are made alive.

The Confirmation

Jesus chose to die to fulfill all righteousness, that we might believe in Him through the power of the resurrection, repent and be saved.  To have done other, would have been to have denied mankind this witness. If He had chosen to save Himself, then His love for us would have been imperfect. If He had acted to save Himself, then He would have acted in apparent fear of death and lack of faith. If He had chosen not to die, then His witness would have been false. The prophecies concerning His death and resurrection would not have been fulfilled. If He had acted so as to deny us the witness of His resurrection in order that He avoid death, then that would have been to have acted in selfishness and sin. For Jesus to have done other, would have made our atonement with God through Him impossible. He therefore had to die that we might believe in Him, repent and be saved. When He came to the cross, Jesus could no more have denied us, than He could have denied Himself. His love conquered fear, His faith gave no place for doubt, and His righteous life gave assurance of victory over death.

The confirmation that His whole witness was true was the resurrection. At his appearance to His disciples, all doubts dissipated. Now sorrow turned to joy. They had become His witnesses: Jesus had risen from the dead! Their former faith in Him had been vindicated and clarity replaced confusion, as He and the Holy Spirit opened their minds to the truth (Lk.24:44-46; John 14:26).

How many saw Him? From the Gospels, we know that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9) and then to the women who had accompanied her (Mat.28:9-10). After this, He appeared to Simon Peter (Lk.24:33-34) and later to the other apostles, of whom Thomas was last to receive witness (John 20:24-29). On the road to Emmaus, He appeared to Cleopas and one other disciple as they walked, disturbed and confused by reports of women who had seen a vision of angels saying that He lived (Lk.24:13-33). From Acts, we read that Jesus ‘presented Himself alive after his suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen of them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God’ (Acts 1:3, NKJ). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Jesus, sometime after appearing to His twelve apostles (including Matthias, Acts 1:26) was also ‘seen by over five hundred brethren at once’ – stating, ‘of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep’ (1 Cor.15:6, NKJ). Then Jesus also appeared to James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor.15:7). Paul wrote: ‘last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Cor.15:8-9, NKJ; cf. Acts 9:1-19).

From these accounts, it would seem that most of the appearances served to reinforce the faith of those who had been His closest followers before His death – the one known exception being Paul, who was chosen in Christ even as he strove to oppose Him. The consequence was profound. Strengthened in faith and knowledge, Christ’s disciples were able to truly witness with conviction to the resurrection and to the life and sacrifice of the One who had died and risen from the tomb. Nevertheless, how could they hope to convince others with words alone – no matter how ardently spoken – when even close disciples, like Thomas and Cleopas, had found the claims that Christ had risen from the dead hard to accept ? The witnesses had to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them, as happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3; cf. Acts 1:8, Luke 24:49). Mark wrote: ‘And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs‘ (Mark 16:20, NKJ).

Following Pentecost, Jesus had an army of faithful servants empowered for service and willing to suffer and die, rather than deny the Lord who saved them. The force of the evangelistic tide was unstoppable, in spite of fierce opposition. The blood of the martyrs planted seeds of faith in the hearts of many who saw and heard. Soon, the message of the Gospel was reaching out across the known world – yielding an ever increasing harvest for the Church of God. The word was confirmed through the power of God.

We now look back upon those times and lament the apparent powerlessness of the Christian Church today. The ‘signs’ of the Holy Spirit confirmed the word. Could it be that the Church has lost its power for witness because it somehow, through corruption, had lost its original faith? The biblical evidence for attacks against the purity of the Gospel, as taught by the apostolic Church, is easy to find: Acts 20:29-30; 2 Thess.2:7-12; 1 Tim.4:1-3; 2 Pet.2:1-3; 2 John 7-11; 3 John 9-10; Jude 3-4, 16-19. These passages provide warnings of apostasy. Jesus foretold that many false teachers would assume to act in His name (Mat.7:21-23; Mat.24:24). We must conclude, therefore, that corruption did enter the Church and that this did not just weaken the power of witness where it took root, but also challenged orthodox understanding. With this in mind, it becomes essential that we seek to apply careful scrutiny to the teachings that we find within the early Church, as it began to develop. Conscious of the dangers facing the Church, Peter took steps to ensure that the true message would be preserved: ‘…though you know …and are established in the present truth … I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease’ (2 Pet.1:12-15, NKJ). At the time of writing this letter, it is apparent that he had read copies of epistles by Paul, sent to various Churches to which Paul had ministered: ‘…our beloved Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures‘ (2 Pet.15-16, NKJ). It is reasonable to deduce, therefore, that Peter began the process of compiling the canonical writings of the apostles to ensure that the Church would always have these as a reminder and affirmation of the orthodox apostolic faith. Peter rightly regarded Paul’s epistles as ‘Scripture’ – although quite capable of being misunderstood and wrongly interpreted by the misguided and unlearned. This body of literature is a written witness that has come down to us in the pages of the New Testament.

The Price Paid by Christ

‘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; Matt.20:28, NKJ).

‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time’ (1Tim.2:5-6, NKJ).

‘…our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify to Himself His own special people, zealous for good works’ (Titus 2:13-14, NKJ).

The word ‘lutron’ as used here, meaning ‘price of redemption’, or ‘ransom’, occurs in the Old Testament Greek Septuagint in passages where ‘a price’ was paid to effect recovery of property or release from bondage, such as that from slavery. The idea is clearly presented in the biblical statements given above. Christ sacrificed His life that man might be set free from bondage to sin:

‘Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?

But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness’ (Rom.6:16-17, NKJ).

Paul remarked that before being set free in Christ, we were being held in the snare of the devil, ‘having been taken captive by him at his will’ (2 Tim.2:26, NKJ).  The devil uses all manner of temptations and seductions to keep man enslaved to sin. The price Jesus gave to set us free was His life.

For whom the price of redemption is given is clear. Its beneficence is ‘provisionally universal’ (Vine): ‘for all’, ‘yet it is actual for those only who accept God’s conditions, and who are described in the Gospel statements as “the many”‘ (ibid, V. E. Dic., ‘ransom’).  However, a question arose amongst theologians of the early Church as to whom this price was given. In the post-apostolic era, this topic gave rise to much controversy. Apostolic understanding in the Church had come into contention with philosophical scholastic speculation. One early view that gained ground was that Jesus paid a ransom to the devil; but before considering this further, what can we know from the Bible?

In the biblical account, Peter tells us that Jesus was delivered into the lawless hands of His accusers ‘by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God’ (Acts 2:23, NKJ). It was the Father’s will that He should not prevent the powers of darkness from bringing suffering and death to His Son at the cross. It was the will of the Son not to put up any resistance, in acceptance of the Father’s will. ‘I lay down my life for the sheep,’ Jesus said,’...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 the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again’ (John 10:15-18), NKJ). Once the shield of God’s protection was lifted, Jesus was taken away and delivered up to the Jewish and Roman authorities to be tried, crucified and put to death (cf. Acts 3:13). In effect, He was delivered into the hands of Satan, for Jesus had told His disciples: ‘I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming …’ (John 14:30, NKJ).

This was the ‘life of the body’ that He laid down. Jesus permitted Himself to be sinfully taken and put to death. Without the permissive will of God, the devil could do nothing. Jesus had said, ‘No one takes it [My life] from Me.’ However, we need to distinguish between the life of His body and the life of His Spirit. ‘Satan’ was only allowed to take and destroy His body – His fleshly temple – not His life Spirit. His ‘Spirit’, He entrusted to God the Father at the time of His death: ‘”Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit.” And having said this, He breathed His last’ (Lk.23:46, NKJ). He laid down His body that He might complete His life on Earth as an offering to God, in perfect righteousness. When He said at the cross, ‘It is finished [Gk. ‘tetelestai’: ‘finished, accomplished, fulfilled’, from the verb ‘teleo’, sometimes used to indicate the payment of tax, cf. Mt.17:24; Rom.13:6], it was like saying, ‘The redemption price is paid.’ Indeed, Paul asks, ‘Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor.6:20, NKJ). The powers of darkness hoped to destroy His life, but destroyed only His body – the temple of His life. The life of the Righteous is more than just a body. The resurrection confirms this! Jesus died in body, but the body was not the Person – not His life Spirit. The temple that housed His life was destroyed, but Satan could not destroy Christ’s life! This Jesus gave as an offering to God for the redemption of many. Having accomplished all, He rose again the third day, as He had prophesied. The gift of Himself as an offering to God on our behalf, in obedience to the Father’s will, fulfilled all righteousness. The price Jesus paid with His life at the cross permitted the witness of the resurrection and ‘purchased’ – with the fulfillment of all righteousness – our release from sin. We are now free to go. It is up to us to respond. We are called to come out of the kingdom of sin and death – the dominion of Satan – and to enter into Christ’s Kingdom of righteousness and life, by the grace of God. Jesus has opened the way.

We can clearly see, therefore, that Jesus gave Himself in sacrifice to God; but did the Son also give Himself up to the adversary? Jesus surrendered Himself to the will of God – which was to permit Himself to be taken and crucified, without resistance. This happened according to the foreknowledge of God. The authorities came and arrested Him. Jesus had allowed His body to be forcefully taken. In effect, Jesus had surrendered His body to the devil, in the knowledge of the resurrection. Jesus had the power to resist at any time, calling upon angels (Mat.26:53-56, NKJ), but chose not to do so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. But, in that Jesus was ‘delivered up’, we need to consider the motivation. The people who delivered Him up to Pilate, the Roman governor, had committed sin (Jn.19:11, NKJ). Yet, we cannot say this of God – that He sinned in choosing to deliver up His Son to death. Of course, the motivating factors matter. On the part of God, it was an act of goodness to save sinners. On the part of the devil – and those led to act with him, it was an act of evil to destroy the righteous. Nevertheless, the surrender of His body to Satan was not to pay a ransom to the devil. There was no ‘bargain’ (as appears in “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S.Lewis). Satan did not accept the body of Christ in exchange for us. He did not give His life to Satan. He did not sacrifice His life to Satan. The price of our redemption was fully paid in death and given to God. When Jesus said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit’ (Lk.23:46, NKJ), He was giving His life to God. He had completed all that the Father had asked of Him, in perfect righteousness of life. This was the life that was offered, on our behalf, as the price of our redemption. It was not the body. Satan received the body, God the Father received the life. The body was not Jesus. Jesus entrusted Himself to God through death. The Lord’s body was not unlike any other human body. What mattered for our salvation was the offering that He made to God of His life. The price of our redemption was the precious life of the Son.

So, did Satan receive a ‘ransom’? No. In fact, the price should be called ‘the price of redemption‘, for God is not holding sinners captive to sin. A ransom is only given to those holding others captive in a bargain to secure release. Satan has no power to release anyone from sin. The sacrifice of Christ was not made to Satan. The price God demands from us is that of holiness, if we are to be saved. In Christ alone, this offering for our redemption is made to God: ‘Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12, NKJ). Christ is our Redeemer. Peter wrote:

‘…it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” …you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver and gold …, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Pet.1:16, 18-19, NKJ).

The blood of Christ’s sacrifice symbolized His sacrificial life of holiness and purity poured out to God, to redeem us from sin and death. This was the price for our redemption. Not one drop of blood was poured out to Satan! ‘Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma’ (Eph.5:2, NKJ). Jesus gave Himself for us …to God.

Release from Bondage

The idea that man, in selling himself into slavery to sin, came into bondage to the devil and into his possession, is one that is found in some early Church writings; but, what does the Bible actually teach? Is it scriptural that Satan came to own sinners, as though they had became his possession through sin? Is it right to perceive a legal right in this matter on the part of the devil, as some have reasoned? Slavery was commonplace in ancient times. Slaves were often born into slavery. Many became slaves through war and captivity. Occasionally people sold themselves into bondage as slaves, as a result of dire poverty. Most, however, were held in bondage against their will.

On man’s ‘slavery’ to sin, Jesus said: ‘Whosoever commits sin is a slave to sin’ (John 8:34, NKJ). Satan is also described as having dominion over man in this world (John 14:30). Sinful man is under his power (Acts 26:18)having been ‘taken captive by him to do his will’ (2 Tim.2:26, NKJ). Paul had remarked of his own experience, as though ‘in the flesh’: ‘I am carnal, sold under sin’ (Rom.7:14, NKJ). – The context matters, as always. Please note that Paul had qualified his position previously: ‘For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Rom.7:5-6, NKJ). ‘In the flesh’, man is ‘sold under sin’ – metaphorically speaking. As such, carnal man is a slave to sin. To be set free from sin, the ‘old self’ must die: ‘…just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life, …knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin’ (Rom.6:4-7, NKJ).

So, in the theology of our redemption from sin, it is not the ‘old self’ that is redeemed. The life that we led in slavery to sin must die. The ‘new man’ is raised up in Christ to serve God in the ‘newness of the Spirit’. Of course, the price for redemption must be given to the One with the power to effect release. God alone has the power to set the captives free from sin and death – and it is to Him the price is given. That price is the life of righteousness, sufficient in Christ for all who call upon His name in faith.

Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are raised up to a new life of the Spirit. We must die to live. Baptism by immersion carries this significance (Rom.6:4; Col.2:12) as a powerful symbol of death and rebirth. Our old life has to ‘die’ in its slavery to sin, if we are to be free. To enter new life, we must become slaves of righteousness in Christ (Rom.6:18-19).

The devil cannot claim lordship over us if we, through repentance and faith in Christ, ‘die’ to sin. We are then free from the devil’s yoke, raised up in Christ.

When in captivity to sin, however, the devil can lay claim upon us by reason of the power he exerts through fear and sin itself. We might also say man becomes subject to the devil through his acceptance of the life the devil offers as an alternative to obeying God. This was the exchange by which man sold himself into sin. It was the price that brought him into bondage. Only through Christ is there deliverance.

Actual demonic possession is something else. This infers the inhabitation of a person’s body by an evil spirit or spirits. Yet, even in biblical times, as we find in the Gospels, this phenomena was viewed as being very abnormal. Satanic worshippers and others with psychopathic tendencies perhaps invite such demonic familiarity as they subject their will to evil. However, Satanic influence is far more common. Even so, whether we choose to be enslaved or not, without Christ all are in bondage to sin. In ourselves, we have no escape.

The law given to Moses could not bring the righteousness of God. Quite the opposite, Paul said. Rather, it brought ‘a curse’: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Gal.3:10, NKJ; Deut 27:26). No one but Christ succeeded in doing all that was written. Jesus said: ‘Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill’ (Mat.5:17). Nevertheless, the mere following of the letter of the Law does not make one righteous. Good works alone cannot produce the righteousness of God. Jesus gave witness to His obedience and faith – trusting that the Father would resurrect Him from the dead. To be the perfect offering of righteousness for our sakes, Jesus had to witness to perfect faith. The righteousness of God revealed through Christ crucified is the righteousness that comes through faith.

Now, Jesus was crucified unjustly, as though accursed under the Law. In Isaiah, we read: ‘Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted’ (53:4, NKJ). The griefs and sorrows were inflicted by man, not God. He appeared cast off and rejected by God – a man of sin upon a cross, but this was not the reality. Jesus suffered the death of His body to sin, that we might also die to sin and be raised up with Him through faith. He died and was raised bodily.  Upon conversion to Christ, however, our dying and rising up is at first spiritual then bodily – for all who die in Christ – for with the new life is given the assurance of a bodily resurrection: ‘…the redemption of our body’ (Rom.8:23, NKJ). In Christ, we are redeemed spiritually in this age now, and bodily in the age to come, in ‘the resurrection of life’ (John 5:28-29, NKJ).

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: The Epistle to Diognetus

One of the earliest mentions of the ‘ransom’ of Christ is to be found in the ‘Epistle to Diognetus’, written by an unknown author, sometime in the second century A.D.. Although there is some doubt amongst scholars as to whether chapters eleven and twelve belong to this, or another work, there is no such doubt concerning the first ten chapters and little doubt that the letter was most likely written sometime within living memory of the apostolic age as a missionary and apologetic statement in defense of Christian beliefs. Bishop Lightfoot, the distinguished biblical scholar of the 19th cent., regarded it as ‘the noblest of early Christian writings’. Of importance to our study is the mention made of ‘ransom’. The translation by Lightfoot-Harmer follows the Roberts-Donaldson translation for comparison:

‘…how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us. He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!’

Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

‘…(oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, “the just for the unjust,” the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!’

The Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot-Harmer translation, ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos, England, 1989.

If we give our attention to the statement: ‘He himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave his own Son as a ransom for us,’ and the corresponding translation of Lightfoot-Harmer: ‘in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us,’ we become aware that the Roberts-Donaldson translation has recognized a problem that exists with the more literal translation of each Greek word of the text, verbatim. The Lightfoot-Harmer succeeds as a literal translation, but the Roberts-Donaldson translation can be considered more clear, with respect to the intended meaning, according to the context of the passage. ‘God’, as referred to above, is obviously ‘the Father’, who gave up His own Son. It does not state here that the Son ‘took upon himself our sins’, but the Father. Moreover, the context asserts that it was God who was patient and forbearing – not bearing a grudge against us because of sin – who took up our sins and acted by giving His Son a ‘ransom’ for us. Leaving aside the matter of the ‘ransom’ that the Father gave of His Son, and that Jesus gave of Himself, let us consider how it was that the Father took up our sins. These were certainly not imputed to the Father and the sins are not, in this passage, ascribed to the Son. The context infers the only possible intended meaning: that it was the burden of our sins that the Father ‘took on’. He acted to deal with the burden of our sins – and did so by sending His Son for our redemption.

The Father’s taking upon Himself our sins is to be understood metaphorically. He is burdened by our sins (see in ch.3: ‘Surely He took up our iniquities and carried our sorrows’) and relieves us of them through Jesus Christ, in whom all who are redeemed have life. Now, the answer to the questions as to how the Father can give His Son as a ‘redemption price’ and to whom He is given is evident from Scripture.

The Father gave us His Son that we might give ourselves in return as new creations in Christ to God, by His grace. Jesus, also, in giving of Himself to us, does not cease in giving of Himself in obedience to the Father. Indeed, the Son eternally glorifies the Father in perfect righteousness. He is burdened by man’s sins and has acted that we might be purged of them.

The word ‘ransom’ (Gk.: ‘lutron’), as stated previously, is best understood as ‘the price of redemption’. Why, it may be asked, should God give the price for our redemption to us, if He is the One to whom the price of redemption should be paid? Why should He bother to give that which He will receive back in return? The answer is that, in so giving of His Son to us, the Father receives the harvest of redeemed mankind with Him in return. The price for our redemption is His life. In Christ, the righteousness of His life covers our own, justifying us before God, as we read in this letter:

For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!‘ The Epistle to Diognetus, ch.9, The Apostolic Fathers, Lightfoot-Harmer translation, ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos, England, 1989.

It was an elegant solution to the problem of how Jesus saves us from sin. As Christians, we stand before God in the righteousness of His Son. In Him, we are justified, we are forgiven, we are renewed of the Holy Spirit, as we seek to glorify God in our lives. The Son was given to us that we might be purged of our former sinful ways as we give ourselves in Christ to God. The old life is exchanged for new life in Christ! …’O sweet exchange!’

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Justin Martyr

The second century Christian apologist known to us as Justin Martyr (c. AD 100-165) provides us with a helpful insight into the theology deemed by him as ‘orthodox’ in a period that was still within a lifetime of the apostles. As stated in chapter 2, even the renowned Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyons, France), a pupil of Polycarp, the revered bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, who was ordained by the apostles (see ch.2, ref. note), quoted from his writings.

In the following passage, Irenaeus begins the quotation from Justin with a show of his agreement: ‘Truly has Justin remarked …’:

Truly has Justin remarked that before the Lord’s appearance Satan never dared to blaspheme God, inasmuch as he did not yet know his own sentence, because it was contained in parables and allegories; but that after the Lord’s appearance, when he had clearly ascertained from the words of Christ and his apostles that eternal fire has been prepared for him as he rebelled against God by his own free will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the rebellion, he now blasphemes by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment upon him as already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his rebellion to his maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 26; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

The comment reveals the assertion that Satan imputes the guilt of his rebellion – which is continued by the unrepentant – to his Creator, and not to himself. Not to be overlooked, therefore, is the belief – shown to be held here by both Irenaeus and Justin – that it is a satanic blasphemy to impute the guilt for sins to the Lord. Consequently, it should be realized, this quotation impinges adversely upon any notion that either Justin or Irenaeus held any belief that the Lord made a ‘ransom’ of His life for us as a substitute ‘imputed’ with our sins – juridically to pay the penalty for sin in our place.

To Justin, Jesus – far from being ‘cursed by God’, as one imputed with our sins – had become accursed of man. In the following passages, Justin explains how in reality Jesus had become ‘a curse for us’ (Gal.3:13), as Paul had remarked:

Nay, more than this, you suppose that He was crucified as hostile to and cursed by God, which supposition is the product of your most irrational mind. (93)

Just as God commanded the sign to be made by the brazen serpent, and yet He is blameless; even so, though a curse lies in the law against persons who are crucified, yet no curse lies on the Christ of God, by whom all that have committed things worthy of a curse are saved. (94)

If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? (95)

For the statement in the law, ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree,’ [Deut.21:23] confirms our hope which depends on the crucified Christ, not because He who has been crucified is cursed by God, but because God foretold that which would be done by you all, and by those like to you, who do not know. … For you curse in your synagogues all those who are called Christians; and other nations effectively carry out the curse, putting to death those who simply confess themselves to be Christians … (96)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

He wrote: ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ – That is, not in truth, according to God’s judgment. Justin explained that on the crucified Lord fell not the curse of God, but the curses of man – uttered by man against Him, as indeed upon His followers. Many had wrongly supposed that the crucifixion was proof that Jesus was cursed by the Almighty. To Justin, such a perception was the product of a ‘most irrational mind (93, ibid.). Here, Justin presents us with the prophetic portrayal of the suffering servant – viewed by man as accursed of God, as He hung upon the cross. To Justin, the true reality was that Jesus was prepared to suffer all the curses of mankind in His desire to save mankind from sin.

These two perceptions of Christ at the cross – one of error, as from the world, and the other of truth, later to be recognized by His disciples – are to be observed in another passage from Justin. He speaks of the ‘two appearances of Christ’, as revealed in the rite regarding the Day of Atonement. Justin’s comments regarding the two goats of this rite – one sacrificed and the other goat chosen by lot ‘for Azazel’ (the ‘scape goat’ or ‘goat of departure’), driven into the wilderness – help us to understand how he interpreted the symbolism of this rite through what happened to our Lord.

Justin wrote:

And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast, of which one was sent away as the scape [azazel, goat of departure], and the other sacrificed, were similarly declarative of the two appearances of Christ: the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape; and His second appearance, because in the same place in Jerusalem you shall recognise Him whom you have dishonoured, and who was an offering for all sinners willing to repent, and keeping the fast which Isaiah speaks of, loosening the terms of the violent contracts, and keeping the other precepts, likewise enumerated by him, and which I have quoted, which those believing in Jesus do. And further, you are aware that the offering of the two goats, which were enjoined to be sacrificed at the fast, was not permitted to take place similarly anywhere else, but only in Jerusalem. (40)

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

From this we see that Justin understood the ‘goat of departure’ as typifying Christ – the priests laid hands upon Him and sent Him away to die. In doing so, they dishonoured and killed the One who made an offering of His life for all who repent of sins, as prophesied.

Therefore, we see that Justin wrote of two appearances of Christ – one by which He came unrecognized, dishonoured and cursed; the second by which He is known and recognized by His disciples as the One who offered His life for all who will truly repent of sins and seek the righteousness of God. In this sense, the goat for Azazel prefigured what would happen to Christ during the first appearance. Jesus was rejected as an object of revulsion, just like the goat that was driven away to die in the wilderness.

Likewise, the body of the sin offering was also taken away ‘outside the camp’ – where it was completely burned and destroyed. However, its blood was sprinkled on and before the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies and afterwards sprinkled upon the altar to make atonement (Lev.16:27-28 & 15, 18, 19). This signifies that although the body of Jesus was to be taken and treated by man with contempt, His life would be received by the Father as a holy offering of atonement, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight. (The ‘life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement,’ Lev.17:11, NKJ.)

To Justin, the two goats of the Day of Atonement spoke prophetically of our Lord’s rejection, suffering and death on the one hand, and of our Lord’s acceptance as a worthy offering sufficient for all, removing the burden of man’s sin, on the other. The leaders, priests and people saw only the outward appearance. Nevertheless, the blood of the sin offering, sprinkled before God over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy Place, amidst a cloud of fragrant incense, revealed the true inner reality of holiness and the Father’s acceptance of His Son: the Lamb of God ‘who takes away the sin of the world’ – though paradoxically the focus of mankind’s sins, curses and rejection.

The goat of departure became reviled as an object of sin, as indicated in The Epistle of Barnabus (c. A.D. 70-130):

‘Notice how the type of Jesus is revealed! “And all of you shall spit upon it and jab it, and tie scarlet wool around its head, and then let it be driven into the wilderness.”’ (The Apostolic Fathers, 7, 7-8: Lightfoot, Harmer, ed. Holmes, pub. Apollos, 1989).

Although the source of this quotation used by Barnabus is unknown, the obvious revulsion shown towards the goat is echoed in a description found in the Mishna (a 2nd cent. AD compilation of Jewish precepts):

‘And they made a causeway for him because of the Babylonians, for they used to pull his hair and say to him, ‘Bear [away our sins] and go forth! Bear [away our sins] and go forth!”’ (Yoma, 6:4, Mishna, Talmud).

Symbolically burdened with the sin of the nation by the laying on of hands of the high priest, the goat had seemed to so ‘personify’ sin and was thus treated with contempt, as an object of revulsion.

In Isaiah, we read the Messianic verse: ‘I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting’ (Is.50:6, NKJ). At once, we recognize the figure of Jesus – for whom the goat of departure (spat upon, jabbed at and hair pulled) may be seen as prophetically typifying Christ and man’s treatment of Him at His trial and crucifixion.

 

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Irenaeus

‘Against Heresies’ was written by Irenaeus (c. AD 120-200), bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul – now Lyons, France, as a work originally in Greek, but now preserved as a translation in Old Latin with Greek fragments. In Book 5, he wrote of our redemption (‘ransom’):

‘He who is the almighty Word, and true man, in redeeming us reasonably by His blood, gave Himself as the ransom for those who had been carried into captivity. And though the apostasy had gained its dominion over us unjustly, and, when we belonged by nature to almighty God, had snatched us away contrary to nature and made us its own disciples, the Word of God, who is mighty in all things, and in no wise lacking in the justice which is His, behaved with justice even towards the apostasy itself; and He redeemed that which was His own, not by violence (as the apostasy had by violence gained dominion over us at the first, insatiably snatching that which was not its own), but by persuasion [secundum suadelam], as it was fitting for God to gain his purpose by persuasion and not by use of violence; so that the ancient creation of God might be saved from perishing, without any infringement of justice.’

Irenaeus, Adv. Her., Bk. 5, 1:1-2; Gustaf Aulen: ‘Christus Victor’ (Eng. trans.: A.G. Hebert, 1931;), p.27, SPCK, London, pub. 1970.

The above quotation from Irenaeus was itself a translation from the Swedish professor’s notable work, ‘Christus Victor’, which was in turn a quotation translated from the Latin translation of the original Greek. It nevertheless provides a reasonable starting point for understanding the teaching of Irenaeus on redemption. The Roberts-Donaldson translation of this passage from the Latin version follows:

‘…the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us [redimens nos] by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason [rationabiliter], gave Himself as a redemption [redemtionem] for those who had been led into captivity. And since the apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and, though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God, alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples, the Word of God, powerful in all things, and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy, and redeem [redimens] from it His own property, not by violent means, as the [apostasy] had obtained dominion over us at the beginning, when it insatiably snatched away what was not its own, but by means of persuasion [suadelam], as became a God of counsel [suadentem], who does not use violent means to obtain what He desires; so that neither should justice be infringed upon, nor the ancient handiwork of God go to destruction.

Since the Lord thus has redeemed [L. ‘redimentes’; Greek root: ‘lutron’] us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man, imparting indeed God to men by means of the Spirit, and, on the other hand, attaching man to God by His own incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God,—all the doctrines of the heretics fall to ruin.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, 1:1-2; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

The key word in this passage is ‘redeem’. Christ’s redemption is effective for us from the apostasy not because of force, against our will, but by reason of our response to His ‘persuasion’. Irenaeus also states that we are redeemed through Christ’s own blood. The price for our redemption from apostasy was His sacrificial life – effective for all who are persuaded through Christ to answer God’s call. Redemption is not forced upon us, but God makes His persuasive appeal to us through His Son that we might be raised up with Him to new life of the Spirit. Our salvation from sin and death depends on Christ, but we must respond – giving ourselves in oneness with the Son. We need to say, ‘Your will be done!’ – fully persuaded that His ways are right. God is both reasonable and just in redeeming us through the Word.

Gustaf Aulen was right in asserting that Irenaeus was not here propounding a ‘juridical’ doctrine of the atonement (ibid: p.27). Nevertheless, his view that: ‘Behind the somewhat obscure language about “persuasion” (secundum suadelam) lies the thought that Christ gave Himself as a ransom paid to the devil for man’s deliverance’ (p.28) – is an error, in my view, that he imposes upon the text, rather than it being one derived from it. There is no suggestion here that Irenaeus was advocating a ransom paid by the Lord to the devil to effect our release.

Aulen’s translation in the above: ‘behaved with justice even towards the apostasy itself,’ (‘juste etiam adversus ipsam conversus est apostasiam’) in the Roberts-Donaldson translation is rendered: ‘did righteously turn against that apostasy’. The former displays possible bias in favour of Aulen’s own stated conclusion – that Irenaeus supports the view that ‘Christ gave Himself as a ransom paid to the devil.’ Although right in saying that man: ‘is guilty, having sold himself to the devil,’ he is wrong to suggest that Irenaeus implied that justice demands the devil be paid ‘a ransom’ to effect our release – let alone a ransom paid with the precious blood of God’s Son! The Roberts-Donaldson translation of this, however, is clearly more in keeping with the Latin and leaves less room for meaning to be stretched beyond that intended by the author.

Irenaeus taught that the Word ‘summed up’ in Himself’ the whole human race from the beginning to the end, including man’s death:

‘For by summing up in Himself the whole human race from the beginning to the end, He has also summed up its death.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 5, ch.23:2; Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

Where Adam failed, the second Adam succeeded, even in mortal death – revealing His own perfect righteousness and faith. This was the atonement of Christ for all who truly believe and repent. So, when Irenaeus speaks of Jesus ‘summing up’ the whole of mankind in Himself in life and death, He means as the second Adam, as the Head and Son of man. Now, in Him, all who turn to God in faith are delivered from the apostasy and the tyranny of the devil. The righteousness of Jesus in both life and death is the covering for all who believe in God’s Son. His whole offering, therefore, is the price of our redemption.

Satan was ‘vanquished by the Son of man keeping the commandment of God’ (ibid, Bk.5, ch.21:3). Christ’s victory ‘binds’ Satan, rendering him powerless to prevent the release of man from slavery to sin:

‘For when Satan is bound, man is set free; since “none can enter a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, unless he first bind the strong man himself.” The Lord therefore exposes him as speaking contrary to the word of that God who made all things, and subdues him by means of the commandment. Now the law is the commandment of God. …the Word bound him securely as a fugitive from Himself, and made spoil of his goods,— namely, those men whom he held in bondage, and whom he unjustly used for his own purposes’ (ibid).

Irenaeus affirmed that mankind can now be released from sin because the devil has been bound – not because the devil has been ‘bought off’ with a ransom! Rather, it is the Lord’s righteousness that defeats the power of sin, allowing all who turn to God in Christ to go free:

‘For it behoved Him who was to destroy sin, and redeem man under the power of death, that He should Himself be made that very same thing which he was, that is, man; who had been drawn by sin into bondage, but was held by death, so that sin should be destroyed by man, and man should go forth from death. For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.’

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 3, ch.18:7, Vol. 1, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

Now, through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son, God’s righteousness is revealed. All who obey His call are justified in Him, redeemed from sin and saved.

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: Origen

Origen (c.AD 182-251) was a teacher at the Catechetical School of Alexandria, educated in Greek philosophy and Hebrew, and wrote widely on Christian topics, producing a comparative textual study of the Old Testament, the Hexapla – perhaps his most important work. He applied philosophical reasoning and allegorical methods of study in his writings – of which some received censure for hypotheses such as those on the pre-existence of souls and speculations concerning ‘universal salvation’. In Caesarea, Palestine, he found support and refuge after rejection at Alexandria. In the sixth century, his works were anathematized by ecumenical councils, which caused many copies to be destroyed, but he is still regarded by many as having been one of the greatest scholars and fathers of the early Church.

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 20:28), he said this :

‘To whom was it paid? [the ransom ] Certainly not to God; can it then be to the evil one? For he had power over us until the ransom was given to him on our behalf, namely the life of Jesus; and he was deceived thinking that he could keep his soul in his power; not seeing that he could not reach the standard required so as to be able to keep it in his power. So also Death thought it had him in its power, but it had no power over him who became ‘free among the dead’ and stronger than the authority of death, and so much stronger, that all who wish to follow him can do so, though overcome by death, since death has now no strength against them: for no one who is with Jesus can be seized by death.’

Origen, Comm. in Matthaeum, xvi:8; The Early Christian Fathers, p.224, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

The rhetoric, in the above, should help us to realize that this was Origen’s own speculative explanation about the atonement, not orthodox dogma. It is clear that ‘lutron’ was a word that he chose to interpret as ‘ransom’ – and it is easy, of course, to understand why he thought so. Jesus was handed over to ‘the evil one’. Satan had the Word put to death. The devil, not God, had man bound, because of sin. Therefore, he reasoned, the ‘ransom’ had to be given to the devil. Upon this presupposition, he developed his view. Unfortunately, when the foundation for an argument is flawed, the construction becomes flawed also – and this is the case here.

A ‘ransom’ paid to Satan would presuppose that Satan has the authority and power to set us free. – He has not. Moreover, a ‘ransom payment’ suggests some kind of transaction. Again, it is unthinkable to imagine God striking any deal with the devil. However, Origen does not say here that the devil is deceived of God (which would be a further problem!) – it could be that Origen imagined the devil deceived himself. Nevertheless, these difficulties disappear when we realize that the price for our redemption – Christ’s life – is given to God who alone has the power to deliver us from sin and death. Our captivity to sin is of our own making and man falls under the devil’s power through yielding to his temptations. With repentance and faith in Christ we are delivered. The ‘blood’ of atonement, signifying His life, was poured out on the altar of God and received up for us with sweet incense, the prayers of the saints.

Referring to the atonement in ‘Contra Celsum,’ Origen reasoned that Christ’s sacrifice was similar in some respects to the widespread pagan belief that the self-sacrifice of a righteous man might mysteriously avert in some way a national calamity brought about by evil spirits:

‘For did not the disciples of Jesus see …that He who was crucified … underwent this death voluntarily on behalf of the human race,—that this was analogous to the case of those who have died for their country in order to remove pestilence, or barrenness, or tempests? For it is probable that there is in the nature of things, for certain mysterious reasons which are difficult to be understood by the multitude, such a virtue that one just man, dying a voluntary death for the common good, might be the means of removing wicked spirits, which are the cause of plagues, or barrenness, or tempests, or similar calamities.

Origen, Against Celsum, Bk. 1, ch. 31, Vol. 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

It is clear that Origen saw a parallel to the pagan idea of a payment of someone’s righteous self-sacrifice to ward off evil spirits, in the ‘ransom’, as he reasoned, paid of Christ’s life to the devil. The difference being mainly one of degree, in that the payment of the life of God’s Son was sufficient, not just for the local inhabitants of a city or region, but for all people everywhere throughout the world. It seems apparent that his knowledge of classical Greek literature and his understanding of pagan culture had a marked influence on the formulation of his theology.

Note: Origen’s comment on Hebrews 2:9

‘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, might taste death for everyone.’ (Heb.2:9, NKJ)

In his commentary on John’s Gospel, he recorded awareness of two possible readings in the Greek of this verse:

‘He is a great High-Priest, having offered Himself as the sacrifice which is offered once for all, and not for men only but for every rational creature.  For without [“choris”] God He tasted death for every one.  In some copies of the Epistle to the Hebrews the words are “by the grace of [“chariti”] God.”  Now, whether He tasted death for every one without God, He died not for men only but for all other intellectual beings too, or whether He tasted death for every one by the grace of God, He died for all without God, for by the grace of God He tasted death for every one.  It would surely be absurd to say that He tasted death for human sins and not for any other being besides man which had fallen into sin, as for example for the stars.’

Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John: (40) Christ as Righteousness; As the Demiurge; Vol. 9, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1885 (CCEL)

Here we find Origen’s belief that Jesus died also for the angels who sinned, not just for fallen man. He doesn’t argue as to which reading is correct, but merely states that either way Jesus died for ‘everyone’ – i.e., everyone separated from God (including the angels). He did not limit the saving grace of God to man alone. Of course, the writer of Hebrews was referring to man’s salvation and it was wrong of Origen to infer as he did. Nevertheless, the alternative reading requires more attention.

Bruce M. Metzger, the distinguished Bible scholar, said this:

‘Instead of “chariti theon” [by the grace of God], which is very strongly supported by good representatives of both the Alexandrian and the Western types of text (P46 Aleph A B C D 33 81 330 614 it vg copsa, bo, fay al), a rather large number of Fathers, both Eastern and Western, as well as 0121b 424c 1739 vgms syrmss, read “choris theon” [without God]. The latter reading [“choris theon”] appears to have arisen either through a scribal lapse, misreading “chariti” as “choris”, or, more probably, as a marginal gloss (suggested by 1 Cor 15.27) to explain that “everything” in ver. 8 does not include God; this gloss, being erroneously regarded by a later transcriber as a correction of “chariti theon”, was introduced into the text of ver. 9.’

Bruce Manning Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament; p.664, United Bible Society, London, 1971

Most scholars would agree that the external evidence from a wide variety of manuscript text types and geographical locations strongly supports the reading “chariti theon” (by the grace of God) and, indeed, it remains the most commonly used rendering in translations. The text type is an important consideration because Church Fathers could have quoted from manuscripts of the same source, making their numerical witness less significant. However, reasons to account for the error are suggested in favour of both veriants. F.F. Bruce, taking up a similar position to Metzger, put forward the following:

‘I am disposed to agree that “chariti theon” was an early correction of “choris theon”, but that “choris theon” was not part of the original text of Hebrews. It was first introduced, probably, as a marginal gloss against Heb 2:8, where Ps 8:6 is quoted to the effect that God has subjected everything to the “son of man.” The glossator intended “apart from God” to qualify “everything”—”everything, that is to say, apart from God himself.” In adding this qualification he followed the precedent of Paul who, quoting the same psalm in 1 Cor 15:27b, points out that the statement everything has been subjected to him self-evidently excludes the one who subjected everything to him. In due course the marginal gloss was introduced into the text at a point where the scribe thought it appropriate—in Heb 2:9. If that is so, the original wording of the clause was “in order that he should taste death for everyone.” The scribe probably supposed, as Bengel did, that “choris theon” could qualify “huper pantos” [for everyone], but in that case it would have followed “huper pantos” instead of preceding it. Metzger (1971: 664) suggests that the scribe who incorporated “choris theon” into the text did so because he thought “choris” was intended to be a correction of “chariti”. But it seems more likely to me that “chariti theon” was not originally in the text but was the emendation of a second scribe who could make no sense of “choris theon” in the context.’

F.F. Bruce, “Textual Problems in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” pp.27-29, David Alan Black, ed., Scribes and Scripture: New Testament Essays in Honour of J Harold Greenlee. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992

So, both Metzger and Bruce, two of the leading textual critics of recent times, concluded that a mistake arose from the incorporation of a marginal gloss into the text. Bruce’s comment: ‘… it seems more likely to me that … a second scribe … could make no sense of “choris theon” [“without God” or, “apart from God”] in the context’ – makes a lot of sense. It would be impossible for the High Priest of the epistle to minister the atonement before God if cut-off from Him.

A translation in English from the traditional Eastern Syriac(Aramaic ‘Peshitta’) text, renders Heb.2:9:

‘We see that he is Jesus, who humbled himself to become a little lower than the angels through his suffering and his death, but now he is crowned with glory and honour; for he tasted death for everyone but God.’ (Heb.2:9, Lamsa translation)

From this, we might appreciate how it is possible to translate the verse in question so as to retain harmony with the epistle in its entirety, even when the Aramaic corresponds to ‘choris theon’ in the Greek. The internal evidence should not be restricted to the immediate passage in question. If there is a question that relates to context, we need to consider the whole document and related comments. “Without God” or “apart from God”, when used to mean ‘complete separation’ from God, does not agree with the context of the letter as a whole.

In Hebrews 9 we can read of the offering that Jesus made as our High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek: ‘…who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (v14). The Holy Spirit was the One through whom Christ offered up His life to God. There is no indication of separation here. Indeed, if the anointing had left Him, then Jesus would no longer have been ‘the Christ’ – no longer anointed. The idea of separation occurring at the cross is, as we know, a Gnostic one. There was abandonment, of course, in that Jesus was given up to suffer – but not spiritual.

Keeping to Hebrews, we might note in that same verse (14) that Jesus presented Himself ‘without spot’ to God – not a reference to His physical condition after a Roman scourging! In fact, the righteousness and sinlessness of our High Priest receives special emphasis: ‘…holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ (7:26). He was ‘without sin’ – not His, not ours (4:15). Why? – Because He was undefiled, separate from sinners, without spot, as our High Priest. His blood (symbolic of His life) purifies the unclean. The High Priest could not offer up an unclean sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus offered up His own blood untainted by sin. Yes, Jesus was the sin offering for our sakes – and to be so, He had to be without sin. As we read in Hebrews, Jesus Christ: ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Heb.13:8, NKJ). His purity does not change. At the cross, the Truth of God remained the Truth. Here, He perfected His witness for mankind in all righteousness and faith, that we might believe in Him, repent and be saved. Jesus made this revelation to mankind that all who seek righteousness might hear, believe in Him and live.

The Early Church and ‘Ransom’: The ‘Cappadocian Fathers’

In the 4th century of the Christian era, three respected Church scholars of Cappadocia distinguished themselves in the defence of the Church against heretical teachings, especially against Arianism. These were the brothers Basil, bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, Gregory, bishop of Nyssa and their friend, Bishop Gregory of Nazianzus. In opposition to the Arianist factions, who disputed the nature of God, they shared a common zeal. However, they were not without their differences – and over the idea that a ‘ransom’ was paid to the devil there was disagreement.

Gregory of Nyssa held the view that a ransom was paid of Christ to the devil:

The Enemy [the devil], therefore, beholding in Him such power, saw also in Him an opportunity for an advance, in the exchange, upon the value of what he held. For this reason he chooses Him as a ransom for those who were shut up in the prison of death.’

Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa: The Great Catechism, ch.23; trans.: W. Moore & H.A. Wilson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol.5, ed. H. Wace & P. Schaff, 1892 (CCEL)

He follows Origen’s reasoning that the devil, in accepting the ransom, was deceived; however, the conclusion to be drawn from the ‘fish hook’ analogy that follows also clearly makes the suggestion that God used deception in persuading the devil to take the bait:

 ‘…in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that soas with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, …’

Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa: ibid., ch.24 (CCEL)

Gregory of Nazianzus, on the other hand, would have none of it. To teach that God paid a ransom of Christ to the devil was to him outrageous!:

‘To whom was this ransom offered, and why? To the Evil One? What an outrage! If it is supposed not merely that the thief received a ransom from God, but that the ransom is God Himself – a payment for his act of arbitrary power so excessive that it certainly justified his releasing us! If it was paid to the Father, I ask first, why? We were not held captive by him. … Is it not clear that the Father accepts the sacrifice, not because he demanded or needed it, but because this was part of the divine plan, since man had to be sanctified by the humanity of God; so that he might rescue us by overcoming the tyrant by force, and bring us back to himself through the mediation of the Son …’

Gregory of Nazianzus: Oration 45:22The Later  Christian Fathers, p.112, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

Gregory of Nazianzus regarded the sacrifice of Christ as sanctifying of all who are rescued from the devil’s captivity – brought back to God through the mediation of the Son. The devil was forcefully overcome – bound – that humanity might obtain release. The sacrifice was the price of our redemption ‘that the Father accepts’ – the sacrifice was given to God.

In the same passage, he describes the ‘brazen serpent’ of Numbers 21:8 as an ‘antitype’ of Christ, signifying death to the powers of the serpent:

‘The serpent of brass hung up as a remedy against the bites of snakes is not a type of Christ in his sufferings on our behalf, but an antitype: and it saves those who see it, not because it is believed to be alive, but because it has been done to death, and brings to death its subordinate powers when it meets with the extinction it deserves. And what may we quote as a fitting epitaph? It is this. ‘Where is  your sting, O death? Where is your victory, O grave?’ [1 Cor.15:55] You have been laid low by the cross, put to death by the life giver. You are dead, motionless, inert, and (to keep the picture of the snake) you are hung on high on a pillar.’

Gregory of Nazianzus: Oration 45:22; The Later  Christian Fathers, p.112, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956.

Yes, here, Gregory speaks of the cross as Christ’s victory over His ‘antitype’ and death. Gregory asserted that the brass snake on a pole, lifted up by Moses, signified deliverance from the powers of the devil (the serpent) through faith in Christ. The brass snake did not signify that Jesus had become sin, but that He had defeated the one who was holding man captive to sin. In his last great theological oration, he attempted to correct errors that were being promulgated in some quarters of the Church. His opposition to the idea of a ransom being given to the devil is clear and unequivocal. With regard to Jesus being called ‘sin’ and ‘curse’ at the cross, he said this:

‘…For He is made not only a Jew, and not only doth He take to Himself all monstrous and vile names, but even that which is most monstrous of all, even very sin and very curse; not that He is such, but He is called so.  For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law? But it is in order that He may carry His display of humility even to this extent, and form us to that humility which is the producer of exaltation.’

Gregory of Nazianzen: Oration 37:1; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

In these comments, we find echoes of Justin Martyr, who wrote of this with a like-minded understanding (see above, Dialogue with Trypho: 93, 94, 95, 96)It was not that Jesus was ‘very sin’ and ‘very curse’, but that He was ‘called’ so. ‘For how can He be sin,’ Gregory wrote, ‘Who sets us free from sin?’ Or, ‘How can He be a curse, Who redeems us from the curse?’ Jesus humbled Himself even to the point of being slandered and called names that were a blasphemy and the antithesis of truth – that we, having humbled ourselves before God, might be raised up together with Him to new life, in exaltation of God who sets us free.

Nevertheless, the view that the Christ was given as a ransom to the devil for our exchange appears also to have been that of Basil of Caesarea:

And you, he says, who trust in the uncertainty of riches, listen. You have need of ransoms [lutron] that you may be transferred to the freedom of which you were deprived when conquered by the power of the devil, who taking you under his control, does not free you from his tyranny until, persuaded by some worthwhile ransom [Gk.: ‘lutro’], he wishes to exchange you. And the ransom [‘lutron’] must not be of the same kind as the things which are held in his control, but must differ greatly, if he would willingly free the captives from slavery. Therefore, a brother is not able to ransom [‘lutrosasthai’] you. For, no man can persuade the devil to remove from his power him who has once been subject to him, not he, at any rate, who is incapable of giving God a propitiatory offering [Gk.: ‘exilasma’] even for his own sins.

Basil of Caesarea: ‘Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, Homily 19’:  ‘Psalm 48’ (49), p.316;  trans.: A.C. Way; Cath. Uni. Of America Press (1963)

Notice above that Basil speaks of man being in need of ‘ransoms’ (plural). It would seem that he believed a ransom was given both to Satan and to God, for he also states that a ‘ransom’ was given ‘to God’ in this same homily (on Psalm 49) – as indicated in the Psalm itself :

‘None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom [price of redemption: Heb. ‘kopher’ (root)] for him – for the redemption of their souls is costly, …’ (Ps.49:7, NKJ)

Basil wrote:

(4) ‘He shall not give to God his ransom [Gk.: ‘exilasma’], nor the price of the redemption [Gk.: ‘lutroseos’] of his soul.’ Do not, then, seek your brother for your ransoming [Gk.: ‘apolutrosin’], but Him who surpasses your nature, not a mere man, but the Man God Jesus Christ, who alone is able to give ransom [Gk.: ‘exilasma’, m. ‘an appeasement’ or ‘an atonement’] to God for all of us, because ‘God has set him forth as a propitiation [Gk.: ‘exilasma’] by his blood through faith.’

Basil of Caesarea: ‘Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, Homily 19’:  ‘Psalm 48’ (49), p.317;  trans.: A.C. Way; Cath. Uni. Of America Press (1963)

Basil speaks of a ransom having been received of Christ by the devil but also that Christ’s sacrifice was the price of atonement given to God. It is not clear how he fully understood the ransoms, but we could speculate that he believed the devil was deluded in thinking that the ‘ransom’ of Christ was being given to him, when in fact the price of our redemption was being offered to God. – Basil might also have believed that the one sacrifice of Christ served as both a ‘ransom’ of the body given to the devil on the one hand, and as a sacrificial life, being the price of redemption for our atonement, given to God on the other. Even so, in this regard, what is certain is that his close friend and fellow bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus, refuted any notion that a ransom could have been paid of Christ to the devil. In his view, this teaching was a serious error.

There is a need to reiterate some of the views expressed by Gregory of Nazianzus for the sake of clarity: The image of a serpent on a pole was not a type of Christ, but an antitype – signifying that the devil had been overcome and his power destroyed through the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus was not ‘very sin’ or ‘very curse’ because of the crucifixion, but is merely ‘called so’ – as indeed He is wrongly called by many other ‘vile names’. He suffers these humiliations in His humility in order that we might be set free from sin and be exalted with God. This is important to recall as we seek to understand correctly what Gregory of Nazianzus had meant by the following:

‘V.  … look at it in this manner:  that as for my sake He was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body.  As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account. But when all things shall be subdued unto Him on the one hand by acknowledgment of Him, and on the other by a reformation, then He Himself also will have fulfilled His submission, bringing me whom He has saved to God. … And thus He Who subjects presents to God that which he has subjected, making our condition His own. ‘

Gregory of Nazianzus, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:5; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

Here, Gregory is talking about apparent culpability on the part of Christ in the eyes of the world because of the sins of all who are called by His name. In the same way, by becoming Head of the body – the Church, ‘just so’ Christ ‘is called disobedient’. Christ is blasphemed because of our disobedience. He accepts us just as we are – with all our sins and faults – and in doing so accepts that He will be cursed because of us. Of course, He is burdened by our sins and accepts us that we may be cleansed of them. In the process, His own perfect holiness is hidden from those who only see Him through all who are called by His name. People see our disobedience and attribute sin and disobedience to Christ. He suffers this that we, who are saved through Him, might be reformed and raised up to God in Him. Our fallen condition is reformed in Christ till this becomes as His own. Indeed, Paul wrote that Jesus ‘gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, …for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13, NKJ).

Gregory continued:

‘…Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His Sufferings (for who compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?)  But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us.  For we were the forsaken and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer, we were taken up and saved.  Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions; and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the Twenty-first [Ps.22] Psalm refers to Christ.’

Gregory of Nazianzen, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:5; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

According to Gregory, Jesus spoke with empathy for ourselves, expressing words as though from us. He was not forsaken of God – but mankind was forsaken because of sin. Gregory said that ‘we were the forsaken and despised’ – past tense, but now are ‘taken up and saved’ through His sufferings. Remember, he had said that Christ was not ’very sin’ – nor forsaken. Metaphorically speaking, therefore, Jesus takes us up with Him at the cross. Paul wrote that ‘our old man was crucified with Him’ (Rom.6:6, NKJ). Of himself, Paul wrote, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Gal.2:20. NKJ). Perhaps it is easier to understand Gregory’s explanation if we ask another question: Who was it who felt abandoned at that time? – Jesus? – No. In Himself, He knew He was not being abandoned by the Father. Gregory ruled this idea out at the very start: ‘It was not He who was forsaken either by the Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought.’ God did not turn away or act in fear of looking at His Son in His sufferings. This idea was false. – Did those who called for His crucifixion? – No. They felt justified in killing Him. – So, who did? – Obviously, His disciples. They were the ones questioning in their hearts why God should abandon the One they had called Christ – why they, also, should be left alone, without the One in whom they put their trust. The words of Jesus expressed His own empathy for the cry of utter despair in the hearts of His followers, questioning the reason for the cross. Jesus, of course, already knew the answer.

So, when we read his comment: ‘He makes His own our folly and our transgressions’ (Ibid: Oration 30:5) we need to understand this in the context of his other stated views. Remember, Gregory had categorically stated that Jesus could not be judged ‘sin’ or ‘a curse’ : ‘For how can He be sin, Who setteth us free from sin; and how can He be a curse, Who redeemeth us from the curse of the Law?’ (Ibid. Oration 37:1). It was Gregory’s view, therefore, that in His humility, Jesus accepts to suffer Himself to be called by ‘many vile names’ (Ibid), including, ‘very sin and very curse’ (Ibid), because of the folly and transgressions of those who are called by His name. The world ascribes these to Christ, who is the Head of His Church – and it is from a worldly point of view that He is made ‘sin’ and accursed, i.e. in the eyes of the world. Any attempt to imply that Gregory of Nazianzus inferred penal substitution in his remarks would be an outrageous imposition, in the context of his stated views as illustrated above. Nevertheless, it is apparent from the tone of his arguments that Gregory had become alarmed that contrary views to those he held were being disseminated at that time by certain factions within the Church.

Jesus reveals that He empathizes with all our sufferings because of sin – including all our feelings of doubt and fear – though not harbouring any doubts or fears in Himself. He understood what His followers were experiencing. He fully knew the pain caused by sin. By extension, we also, as His disciples – once ‘forsaken and despised’ – are ‘taken up and saved’. Our old self is crucified with Him and our sins purged. In His perfect love, all fears of doubt are cast out:

‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love’ (1 John 4:18, NKJ).

Jesus spoke in His humanity with empathy for all the sufferings of man. Certainly, His body was abandoned to be taken and crucified, but in Himself He was not forsaken. The Father was always with Him and did not turn away. The question that was uttered for our benefit at the cross begs an answer from all that is revealed concerning Him, that we might know the Truth and find reconciliation with God.

 Gregory added:

‘He condescends to His fellow servants, nay, to His servants, and takes upon Him a strange form, bearing all me and mine in Himself, that in Himself He may exhaust the bad, as fire does wax, or as the sun does the mists of earth; and that I may partake of His nature …’

Gregory of Nazianzen, The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:6; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

In our adoption as children of God, as Christ’s disciples, we are being purified in Him and purged of sin, that we might grow in the Spirit into His likeness, from glory to glory. In Christ, we are justified by the precious and pure life of the Lamb poured out as a covering sacrifice for all who truly believe, that we might be raised up to together with Him and redeemed through faith.

‘…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet.1:18-19, NKJV).

Indeed, it is the biblical revelation that when we look to the cross of Christ, we need to see not just a man, or even a ‘good’ man, hanging there – but the perfect Man, the Son of God – undefeated in His confrontation with evil – yielding His body to death, despising the shame, in order to fulfill all righteousness for our sakes and to confirm His truth and witness for us through the power of the resurrection, that we might believe, repent and be saved. We need to understand that here was ‘the Son’, offering hope to the needy, comfort to the downhearted, deliverance for the sick, release for the oppressed, the forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption by the gift of the Holy Spirit and everlasting life for all who seek to be established in the likeness and love of God.

My prayer is that all who read this book will be encouraged to proclaim this truth.

‘To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen’

(Rom.16:27, NKJV)

Amen

*

The Message

– Plain and simple!

 Action that makes reconciliation possible is an act of ‘atonement’.

 In terms of man’s relationship with God, sin has brought separation. Mankind needs to be restored – made ‘at-one’ with Him. However, there is a problem. On our own, we are incapable of offering the atonement required to make our reconciliation with God possible. Why? – Because God is holy, and no matter how much man might seek to make amends for past misdeeds, his sinfulness remains. We need a Saviour. We cannot ‘buy’ atonement with God. We have to respond to the call of Christ and act in union with Him in faith for His offering on our behalf for our atonement to be accounted for us.

 In the Middle-Ages, it was believed that by making large ‘indulgences’ to the then Catholic Church, or by enduring some act of self-flagellation, one might gain divine favour. Not so. Such acts are worthless. Simony is condemned by Peter (Acts 8:18-20) and Jesus calls us to repentance, not to self-punishment. Gifts of charity and acts of self-sacrifice, in themselves, make no impression on the Almighty. God looks upon the heart – and values the humble widow’s mite and the quiet witness far above any ostentatious display of piety. Moreover, punishment, if not remedial and corrective of one’s behaviour and attitude can never provide atonement for the offender – even though it might indeed serve justice for past offences. What God requires from us is a change of heart and a new spirit (Ezek.18:30-32). For, if we do not suffer ourselves to be corrected and act in faith, we cannot have atonement – we cannot partake of the holiness of God:

 In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we can read: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’ (Heb.12:5-6, NKJV). Such punishment is profitable that we might be ‘partakers of His holiness’ (v10).

 It is commonly taught that we can atone for our crimes by accepting just punishment. A criminal is said to pay for crimes by suffering a period of imprisonment. Society accepts the offender back into its community at the end of the prisoner’s time behind bars, regardless of whether or not there was rehabilitation or repentance for the crimes committed. However, we should not confuse the atonement accepted by society with the atonement acceptable to God. Even though we confess, repent and seek to make amends for all our offences – complete atonement and our restoration with God is not possible if we are not changed within. We need salvation, and without it we are without hope.

 Atonement for past offences alone will not suffice, if we are to enter into God’s fellowship. The Israelites were given a sacrificial system to allow for the ‘atonement’ (or ‘covering’) of past offences once per year, on the Day of Atonement. Symbolically, as we now understand from Scripture, these looked forward to the atonement of Christ, yet served as an annual reminder of Israel’s continual sinfulness. Israel, as a nation, was restored in its relationship with God by correct observance of these sacrificial laws, but it was a relationship that was remote – distant, and involved human intermediaries working as priests, serving between man and God. The sacrifices, of course, foreshadowed the true atonement of Christ – whose one sacrifice alone tore open the curtain of division and opened the way for man to enter into the presence of God in a new and personal way, through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, received through faith in God’s Son.

Our atonement is only made possible through Christ, or more precisely, in Christ. As Paul wrote: ‘…we shall be saved by His life’ (Rom.5:10, NKJV). For it is the offering of the life of Christ that makes possible our atonement through Him in faith. It was the prayer of Jesus that we might be made ‘one’ in God:

 ‘I do not pray for these alone, but for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You have given Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me’ (John 17:20-23, NKJV).

 How is this possible? From the above, it is clear that we must believe in Him through the word of His apostles and witnesses: the word of the New Testament, especially those of the Gospels. By their word we come to believe. We learn of His life and sacrifice. In some measure, we come to understand what He is like as a Person, through all the testimony concerning Him. Of course, we must know this if we are to follow Him. We need to know what He taught, if we are to obey Him. The Gospels record that He was the living testimony of God’s Word. In all respects, He fulfilled all that was written of Him in the Scriptures. However, knowing facts concerning Him is one thing, knowing Him personally is another.

 If we do not seek to obey His commands, we cannot claim to know Him: ‘He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’ (1 John 2:4, NKJV). Knowing Him as Lord in a personal relationship is what matters. For to know God in truth, through His Son, is eternal life, as Jesus said: ‘And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent’ (John 17:3, NKJV). After hearing and believing, we must then repent, as Peter declared on the Day of Pentecost, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38, NKJV).

 Jesus had said: ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (Mark 8:34-35, NKJV).

Baptism into Christ symbolizes the crucifying and burying of the old self and the raising up of the new, lived unto God: ‘Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life …knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin’ (Rom.6:4-6, NKJV). The cost to God for our salvation was the cross of Christ. The cost to us is the life of this world which we must ‘crucify’ in our walk with God: ‘…those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal.5:24, NKJV). Jesus said: ‘Count the cost’ (Luke 14:28, NKJV).

 The promise for all who believe and repent is the gift of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit of God we are raised to new life in Christ: ‘…by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father”’ (Rom.5:15, NKJV). John wrote: ‘…as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:12-13, NKJV). This is that unity for which Jesus prayed. By the Holy Spirit, received through faith in Christ, we have oneness with God. Our desire is to live according to the Spirit: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God’ (Rom.8:14, NKJV).

Our atonement, therefore, is achieved for us through our being raised up in Christ, who gave Himself for us that we might know God through Him and the power of the resurrection. His one perfect offering is accepted for us, who are forgiven and follow Him in faith. In Christ, His righteousness avails as a covering for sin for all who now walk in the Spirit. Paul declared: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:1, NKJV). His death brought to fulfillment and completion His whole offering to save us from our sins. The cross was the climax of His witness in the flesh for us that we might repent and be crucified in Him to the world, but live unto God. From the witness of His glorious resurrection, we look back to the cross and are drawn near, realizing that in Him is life, where death has no power, nor sin any place. At the cross, we see His perfect love and righteousness achieving victory over all sin and death, casting out all fear.

 In laying down His life in the flesh for us, He calls for us to be clothed with His righteousness that we also should have no fear of death. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have this assurance of faith. We are changed, renewed and appointed to everlasting life and peace in the presence of the Eternal God. Certainly He suffered for us, on our behalf. He endured, suffering wrongfully, leaving us example, but to the One who judges righteously He submitted His life. The glory of the resurrection was the heavenly response.

 Now, in Christ, we have atonement with God. He is our peace and salvation. Let all who call Him Lord proclaim the good news!

‘I do not pray for these alone,

 but for those who will believe in Me through their word;

  that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You,

  that they also may be one in Us,

 that the world may believe

  that You sent Me.’

 John 17:20-21, NKJV

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A share in ministry?

In publishing Part One of this book in print and now as an expanded and extensively revised online edition, together with Part Two, I have wished to follow the instruction: ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Mt.10v8). To those who have made private requests, the initial publication of Part One of the book was sent without any charge to the recipients and was distributed not only within the UK but also to persons requesting the book in other countries, including the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The printed version is important for dissemination, if not essential, as not everyone has access to a computer or the inclination to read the whole of a book online.

The online edition of the book (containing Parts One & Two) is currently made available only online through bible-study-online.org, but it is hoped that this will also receive publication in print, pending finance. That is where readers might help. So far, I have been in a position to fund matters alone, but can do so no longer. It is now of personal necessity that I humbly make my situation known.

Perhaps I have been too independent and too proud to ask for assistance in the past. I have never wanted to peddle the Gospel and do not want to do so now. However, it is written that ‘you shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain’. I need the financial assistance to carry this work on and to the next stage. Truly the Lord acts in ways beyond all that we can imagine and it is my hope that others will be brought in to contribute to allow this ministry to expand for the building up of His Church.

Having freely received, some may feel the desire to also freely give. I feel like a man with a begging bowl in a public arena, seeking help – but not for myself. It is that I might have the means to share the more. If, however, you are not yet able to give any financial support, do not worry. The Lord bless you. Give me your prayers and share with others. If you are concerned about internet security, the system below has been tested and works well.

It also seems wrong to deny others this means of sharing in the work. For this reason, anyone who wants to make a financial contribution can now do so online by using the secure PayPal or card facility, as shown below. Another way of helping is by providing a link.

God bless you!

Norman McIlwain,

6th February, 2013

To God be the glory. Amen.




email: nmc@ website

All rights reserved: © N.McIlwain, 2006-2013

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Addenda

If we are to know the truth, we must know how received knowledge should be understood.

Creation and Evolution

I was somewhat pleasantly surprised to find that Prof. R. J. Berry (Emeritus Professor of Genetics of University College, London, 2007)  had expressed views on this subject that I share. The paper can be found @ : “Creation and Evolution, Not Creation or Evolution”, Faraday Paper. Naturally, I recommend its reading.

In the beginning …

Let us be clear, the Bible does not assert that the Earth or life on this planet was created 6,000 years ago (as many have presumed). It does not even teach against evolution. For, although ‘creation’ is certainly taught, how God created is not explained. Creation through evolutionary processes, as one method, cannot be ruled out. We need to realize – the Bible was not written to explain scientific principles, but to convey spiritual truth. The language of metaphor, parable and poetry is the language of much that is Scripture, but it is not the language of science. Nevertheless, although it is true that the Church had applied a simplistic interpretation to the creation narratives until modern times, it is simply ridiculous to either dismiss Scripture or to deny scientific evidence because of this. Rather, as Christians, we should thank the scientific community for adding to our enlightenment, so that, being disabused of false notions, we might apprehend the truth more exactly and be more open to consider alternative perceptions.

One might hear that ‘evolution’ does not need a Creator to begin the evolutionary process – yet, even if we admit that this could be true for the material universe that we can see and observe (and this is not proven), that in itself does not mean that a creative process could not have been the catalyst to begin the evolution of life on Earth. In fact, if we use the logic of evolution (given the ‘eternity’ of time) and consider the estimated age of the visible universe to be between 13 and 14 billion years (NASA’s figures, 2010) – and the fact that man through advances in genetic sciences is said to be on the verge of becoming a creator of life HIMSELF – is it not logical to believe that a much greater Creator already exists? – Someone who is far superior to man? And should this be true, is it not also most likely that such a Creator would want to involve Himself in the evolution of life on Earth to ensure that through this process ‘goodness’ here should prevail? Moreover, is it not reasonable to believe that He would also desire to create other beings in His own image and likeness? – We call Him, of course, ‘God’. Like time, we might say that his existence is without beginning and without end – ‘Eternal’.

The Bible declares that God is invisible to human observation – that He is not part of our physical world, as we know it. Yet, not so long ago, the idea that there could exist another dimension to the universe beyond that observed could have seemed a mere fancy – without any scientific support. Not so today. Through scientific observations and mathematical calculations, we know that the normal matter of the universe – everything that we can see and observe – accounts for no more than 5% of all. The rest is calculated to consist of dark (as in unknown) energy (70%) and dark matter (25%):

“More is unknown than is known [about the universe]. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the Universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 70% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 25%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.” (science.nasa.gov)

It is the biblical view that God and angels are spirit beings inhabiting such a realm unknowable to the physical senses. This realm of God, of course, is what in English we call ‘God’s Heaven’. The biblical Holy Scriptures are said to convey God’s spiritually inspired revelation, communicated to us by the Holy Spirit of God through His prophets, setting out His purpose and will for us – that the called of God might attain to everlasting life through faith as His children, born of His Spirit, in the knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ. This communion with God is made possible by the fact that man is not just a physical entity, but also soul and ‘spirit’ – and it is this spiritual aspect in man that allows the soul to exist beyond the grave and makes possible the ‘resurrection’ of man after death.

The ‘creation’ of man

Once we acknowledge that, given the ‘eternity’ of time, it is most likely that a being of immense creative powers and supreme intelligence must exist somewhere in the universe, we might hope to find concrete proof. – We might also ponder what we might expect of such a being, should He exist. Logic compels us to reason that if He does, He must have a purpose for our existence – for we could not be allowed to exist without the permissive will of such a being. So, we are compelled to ask why it is that He (‘God’) would allow us life? What could be the purpose for our being?

In response, we might reasonably conclude that we would have been created to please Him – the Almighty God. It would also be logical to conclude that we would best please Him if created to mirror His own goodness, for there can be nothing better. As man is the highest life form on Earth, it is not unreasonable to believe, therefore, that man has been chosen for this purpose – that he should be raised up as a new creation in God’s own image and likeness.

The process of adaptation and physical change that we can observe in the living world, termed ‘evolution’, does not deny the existence of God. What we read in Scripture indicates that life began on Earth through the intervention of God and that modern man was formed under unique circumstances and given an environment at the outset that was entirely suited to his needs. This unique creation of man, into whom God breathed His Spirit, was separate from the general creation of life and was for the purpose of creating man in God’s own image, as we read in Genesis 1:26. The ‘garden’ of the biblical Eden was the protected environment into which God placed the first man. Beyond God’s protection, in the outside world, man would face many dangers and hardships. Although the story is replete with symbolic meaning, it should be remembered that ‘with God nothing is impossible’ (Lk. 1: 37) – and it would certainly help one’s understanding to keep an open mind and not to assume that such a place did not exist.

In the Bible, we find that the first true man and woman created in the image of God, Adam and Eve, fell from grace through sin and were, in consequence, removed from the unique garden that God had created for them – in which it had been possible for them to eat from a special tree, known as ‘the tree of life’. Thereafter, man’s only hope rested with the ‘Tree of Life’ personified: , ‘the true vine’ (John 15: 1), Jesus Christ.

Upon expulsion from the garden, Adam’s offspring would have been able to continue to procreate – at first through siblings. The genetic and spiritual traits of Adam and Eve were then inherited by all their progeny – including Adam’s ability to exercise freewill and to choose right from wrong, and to know good and evil. Related evolved species, such as the ‘Neanderthals’, subsequently died out – leaving only the first humans of Adam’s progeny alive on the planet, created to reflect the image of God.

The foregoing preamble, therefore, provides reasons for believing that the biblical account of creation is true and that it is not in conflict with scientific, geological or archaeological discoveries.

Note: The ‘garden’ was planted in Eden (Gen.2:8). There are good reasons to believe that the ‘Eden’ of the Bible had a true location (even though it is often considered mere myth). The account mentions four great rivers and, until recently, it was only possible to identify three of these rivers with reasonable certainty: the ‘Euphrates’ (same name), the ‘Gihon’ (the Nile), the Hiddekel (theTigris) and the Pishon. The Pishon was a mystery until satellite images revealed a huge dried up river bed stretching from the mountains of north-west Saudi Arabia to Kuwait. Over 5000 years ago it flowed with water.

“Geologists studying remote sensing images of Arabia have found a dry riverbed covered by desert sands. The 850-kilometre channel begins in the Hijaz Mountains of western Saudi Arabia and ends in a delta that covers more than two-thirds of Kuwait” (New Scientist Mag. 03/04/1993). “Water last flowed in what El-Baz [director of the centre for remote sensing at Boston University] calls the ‘Kuwait River’ between 5000 and 11 000 years ago; some stretches of the river may have been up to 5 kilometres wide.”

The ‘Eden’ of Scripture would appear to have included the whole land of promise. That was the land promised to Abraham (Gen.15:18), who was called out from the region ‘beyond the river’ (‘Euphrates, Josh.24:23). The garden was in and of Eden, but was not the whole of Eden.

Days of Creation

A literal interpretation of Scripture might often seem the most natural to the casual Western reader, but the Hebrew Scriptures make great use of metaphor and poetic expression. Certain words and phrases can often have a much wider meaning in the context of a passage than that suggested by a purely literal interpretation. The word ‘day’ and the phrase ‘evening and morning’ need not suggest simply the normal 24 hour period:

Genesis 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31: “And the evening (‘ereb S#6153) and the morning (boqer S#1242) were the … day (yom S#3117).”

From dusk to dawn, night to day, darkness to light, from what is unseen to what is seen – what does this suggest, if not a period of transition? It does not suggest a passage of time wherein nothing changes, but one in which change occurs gradually – as the dawning of the day from the obscurity and darkness of the night. A creative process began through which life and this world slowly emerged as we know it – that began in the ‘days’ of creation.

On the biblical evidence, the late Dr. Otto J. Helwig had this to say:

“Perhaps the greatest obstacle to acceptance of the six creation days as long epochs is the “evening and morning” refrain framing each day’s creation events. In fact, I have often seen it argued in creationist literature that this expression seals the case for a 24-hour interpretation. But the argument simply does not hold, and the basis for my statement is the Bible itself, not some obscure linguistic reference.

“Evening and morning” is an idiomatic expression in Semitic languages. Like all idioms, its meaning is nonliteral but clearly understood by native speakers. The phrase “evening and morning” can, like yom, denote a long and indefinite period. The Old Testament itself unambiguously uses the “evening and morning” phrase in just such a way. In Daniel 8 we read the account of Daniel’s ram and goat vision and the interpretation given by Gabriel. The vision covers many years; some commentators believe the time has not yet been completed. Daniel 8:26 says, “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that have been given to you is true, but seal up the vision for it concerns the distant future” (RSV). In Hebrew manuscripts, “the evenings and mornings,” is not in the plural but in the singular, identical to the expression we find in Genesis 1. Translated literally, the verse would read, “And the vision of the evening and the morning that has been given you” Here we have a clear indication from scriptural usage that this phrase does not demand a 24-hour-day interpretation and can refer to an indefinite epoch.” (See: “How long an evening and morning”, Facts and Faith, Third Quarter, 1995, Vol. 9, No. 5, pgs. 8-9 )

Eminent Hebrew scholar, Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, wrote: “I would opt for the day-age theory, given all that must take place on the sixth “day” according to the Genesis record. Incidentally, this day-age view has been the majority view of the church since the fourth century, mainly through the influence of Saint Augustine.” ( “Hard Sayings of the Bible”,  p.104,  Co-authored with Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., F.F. Bruce, Peter Davids, and Manfred T. Brauch; Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press, 1996)

Dr. Gleason L. Archer, biblical scholar and one of the original translators of the NASB, commented:

“Is the true purpose of Genesis 1 to teach that all creation began just six twenty-four-hour days before Adam was “born”? …To answer this question we must take careful note of what is said in Genesis 1:27 …There it is stated that on that sixth day … “God created man in His own image; He created them male and female.” …As we turn to Genesis 2, however, we find that a considerable interval of time must have intervened between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve. In Gen. 2:15 we are told that …God put Adam in the Garden of Eden as the ideal environment for his development …Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” This statement clearly implies that Adam had been diligently occupied …for a long enough period to lose his initial excitement …God then gave Adam a major assignment …to classify every …animal and bird found in the preserve. …Finally, after this …Adam felt a renewed sense of emptiness. Genesis 2:20 ends with the words “but for Adam no suitable helper was found.” …God saw that Adam was emotionally prepared for a wife … God, therefore …from that physical core of man fashioned the first woman.

As we have compared Scripture with Scripture (Gen. 1:27 with 2:15-22), it has become very apparent that Genesis 1 was never intended to teach that the sixth creative day, when Adam and Eve were both created, lasted a mere twenty-four hours. In view of the long interval of time between these two, it would seem to border on sheer irrationality to insist that all of Adam’s experiences in Genesis 2:15-22 could have been crowded into …a literal twenty-four-hour day. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that the purpose of Genesis 1 is not to tell how fast God performed His work of creation … Rather, its true purpose was to reveal that the Lord God who had revealed Himself to the Hebrew race and entered into a personal covenant relationship with them was indeed the only true God, the Creator of all things that are. This stood in direct opposition to the religious notions of the heathen around them, who assumed the emergence of a pantheon of gods in successive stages out of pre-existent matter of unknown origin, actuated by forces for which there was no accounting.” (“Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties”, p.49-50, Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1982)

‘Now is the day of salvation,’ Paul wrote (2 Cor.6:2, NKJ) – not a day of twenty-four hours, but the time wherein man can attain to everlasting life through faith in Christ. Although, the physical creation of the biblical Adam could have occurred relatively suddenly – as he was a special creation – we must not limit God’s spiritual creation of man in the image of Himself to one earthly day. Nor should we think that God’s perception of time is like our own. “A thousand years to God are as yesterday or as a watch in the night” (Ps.90:4). In other words, God’s perception and use of time is different to ours: ‘…with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Pet.3:8, NKJ).

In Genesis 2:4, we read: ‘This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens …” Here, the word ‘day’ in this context clearly conveys an indeterminate length of time in which God created the universe and the conditions for life on this planet – not a day limited to just twenty-four hours.

God’s ‘days of creation’ are sequentially listed and are symbolized by the days of the week, but were not restricted to the time-frame of a week. The Sabbath, representing the ‘rest’ that God entered after He had ceased His works of creation, symbolizes the rest, not the duration of it. God’s rest continues and all who are called are urged to enter into it (see Hebrews 3:7 – 4:11): ‘For he who has entered His rest has also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest …’ Our works, of course, are those of the flesh. These must cease if we are to truly enter into God’s Sabbath and keep it holy.

Harmful Creatures

Dangerous, poisonous and harmful creatures of many kinds have evolved in the course of time – but these had no place in the paradise of Eden that God had provided for the first true humans – Adam and Eve. Outside of this environment was a world of many dangers – and one in which man would suffer. This was allowed that man might seek God’s protection, turn back from sin and learn of His ways.

We live in a world that is out of harmony with the creation of man. A return to the conditions of Eden can only occur if man returns to God.

Noah’s Flood

A world engulfing flood destroying all life on Earth except for the family of Noah and the animals with him is another story considered mere myth. The Earth’s geology simply doesn’t comply with such a narrative. What does, however, is the probability that the flood was more regional – affecting only the ‘world’ of Noah. It was devastating and catastrophic for the whole civilization of man in that area where he lived. The animals that he took into the ark were those of his locality and of the various kinds (not species) that would be important to man’s survival and to the ecology of the region after the flood.

When it is realized that the biblical account describes a flood of exceptional magnitude and duration that affected not the whole Earth, but just the ‘world’ of Noah, then it becomes logical to conclude that the ancient story is indeed rooted in truth. Even today, southern Iraq is a region very susceptible to flooding. Of course, the story is rich in symbolic imagery that speaks to us of salvation in Christ, the waters of baptism and rebirth – but that does not mean that the flood did not occur.

Concrete Proof

Paradoxically, the hard evidence for God’s existence is not material, but spiritual. He is to be discerned by the spirit in man because God is Spirit. There is also, of course, another very good reason why He should choose to be invisible to man as He is: To create man in God’s own image, man must be allowed the freedom to make moral choices without the fear that God’s awesome presence would cause. Our decision to follow Christ must be born out of love, not fear. The righteous are assured of everlasting life, even though perhaps suffering in their walk with Christ. The faithful of God receive the assurance and evidence of the Holy Spirit inwardly in the heart that they are the children of God.

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Penal Substitution: Answering the Advocates

Below are a collection of questions and arguments put forward by various advocates of penal substitution. Answers follow:

Sub-headings:

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‘What’s all the fuss about?’ – from the authors of ‘Pierced for our Transgressions’

Quote: ‘Some who believe in penal substitution have replied by pointing out that Christ suffered willingly, or by noting that God gave himself in Christ to suffer in our place. But while these things are gloriously true, neither actually answers the objection. If guilty sinners are acquitted and an innocent third party is punished, then irrespective of his willingness an injustice has been committed, and it is unthinkable that God would do such a thing.

How are we to respond? The flaw in the argument is the unstated premise that Christ is unrelated to the believer, an unconnected third party. This is not true, for believers are in union with Christ — he is in us, and we are in him, indwelt by his Spirit (e.g. John 17:21; Romans 6:5; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 1:27; Philippians 1:1). It is for this reason that the imputation of our guilt to Christ and his righteousness to us, his punishment and our acquittal, are just in the sight of God.’

 

‘What’s all the fuss about? A Brief Introduction to the Penal Substitution Debate‘ by Steve Jeffery, Andrew Sach and Mike Ovey (authors’ comment on the website for the book: ‘Pierced for our Transgressions’)

It is well that the authors recognize that punishing the innocent in the place of the guilty is an act of injustice. However, their argument is that Jesus was imputed guilt as a result of His relationship and union with believers.

Yes, believers are in union with Christ — He in us and we in Him. We are made at-one with God, indwelt of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason we are righteous — covered by the righteous life He gave as a sweet smelling offering and sacrifice for us at the cross (Eph.5:2). An impure offering God will not accept. This ‘oneness’ is the outcome of the atonement Jesus made. We share in His righteousness through faith and consent to the Law of the Spirit in Christ. We are atoned with God — reconciled to God in the righteousness of His Son.

It is not the other way around – that God became reconciled to us and that Jesus became atoned to sinners! For Jesus to have become legally guilty for the sins of believers, He would need to have consented to their crimes. Mere relationship to those who sin does not impart guilt: ‘The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son’ (Ezek.18:20, NKJ). The ‘union’ that is required of one to be imputed criminal guilt is that of complicity in the unlawful acts. Legally and biblically it was not possible for Jesus to have been made guilty for sin. The punishment He suffered was an act of injustice, as the Bible states: ‘His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:33, NKJ). ‘He submitted Himself to Him who judges righteously,’ Peter wrote (1 Pet.2:23, NKJ). The resurrection was God’s act of justice – overturning the verdict of an illegal court, whilst proclaiming the righteousness of the One who died.

For those who truly repent God promises life, not death — forgiveness and healing, not wrath and punishment. Forgiveness is part of God’s Law; and, when God completely forgives, the beneficiaries are completely absolved from all the penal consequences of all past guilt and sin. In other words, when sinners repent and turn to Christ, condemnation is taken away. God’s response is to forgive, not to punish. The wrath of God remains for those who do not repent; it is not for those who do. Jesus did not die for the sake of the incorrigibly wicked — for whom God’s wrath is justly reserved.

Rather than upholding biblical truth, the doctrine of penal substitution actually contradicts it.

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Penal Substitution and Justice (extract from Chapter 10, ‘Pierced for our Transgressions’)

Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent- the Lord detests them both. (Prov.17:15)

To see why penal substitution is not a travesty of justice of exactly this kind, we need to recall the doctrine of union with Christ we discussed in chapter 5. The believer is not separate from Christ, an unrelated third party. He is in us, and we are in him, indwelt by his Spirit. …

The doctrine of penal substitution thus does not propose a transfer of guilt between unrelated persons. It asserts that guilt is transferred to Christ from those who are united to him. In fact, ‘transfer’ may not even be the best term, since it could imply a separation between distinct persons. Instead, it may be better to say our sins were ‘imputed’ (i.e. ‘reckoned’, or ‘credited’, to use the vocabulary of Rom.4 and Gal.3) to Christ, while his righteousness was imputed to us. That Christ bore our sins willingly merely furthers the point: he was not forced or coerced into this union with us, but entered into it voluntarily. Luther uses the analogy of a marriage between two people, one of them a debtor. The other knows that legal union will bring debt upon himself, but in love nonetheless willingly enters into the marriage. …

Union with Christ explains how the innocent could be justly punished – he is judged for others’ sins, which by virtue of their union with him, become his. Conversely, it explains how the guilty can be acquitted – believers are one with the innocent Lord Jesus Christ, and so his life of perfect righteousness is rightly imputed to us. …

We are now in a position to answer the objection that penal substitution entails unjustly punishing an innocent person. This rests on the claim that our guilt cannot be imputed to Christ, which is in turn grounded on the assumption that we are entirely separate and distinct from him. But the reality is that believers are united to Christ by his Spirit. The imputation of our guilt to Christ does not violate justice, because he willingly consents to a real, spiritual identification with his people. In short, this objection to penal substitution arises from a failure to understand the significance of union with Christ.

(Pierced for our Transgressions, ch.10, pp.242-245; Jeffery, S., Ovey, M., Sach, A.; IVP, UK, 2007)

So, ignorance of the spiritual union between Christ and the Church is a reason why penal substitution is not understood. There is a spiritual ‘marriage’ that Jesus enters into willingly, knowing that in doing so he will incur our guilt and our debts. These debts he gladly pays on our behalf, suffering the punishment that is owing to us, because of our sins. We, in return, receive his righteousness. Our guilt is imputed to Christ as a result of his union with us. It is because of our oneness with Christ that sins are imputed – it is not like transfering guilt upon another distinct person. That, it is said, is the understanding that opponents of penal substitution have failed to appreciate.

Well, firstly, I am thankful to the authors for having written what many regard as a definitive explanation. That is to their credit. It is a robust contribution to the debate. The flurry of recommendations from well-known figures, allow us to focus on the main arguments as representative of the many who uphold this view, although there have been critics, even amongst supporters. As iron sharpens iron, such a debate is helpful. Advocates tend not to be so critical of each others efforts, but rather tend to reinforce accepted views, without too much depth of critical evaluation. That is often left to others, who see our Lord’s atonement from a different perspective. A lack of appreciation, however, might not be due to a lack of understanding.

Let us first consider the analogy of marriage. A husband takes on the wife’s financial debt and pays it off. In marriage, wealth and financial burdens can be shared, but acts of sin on the part of one committed without complicity on the part of the partner cannot implicate the partner in the guilt or cause the other to justly suffer for the offence. Husbands and wives are not made guilty for the sins of their partners. It matters not that the partner might be willing to suffer for the crime of the other. Although there can be a marriage of wills to share certain responsibilities and burdens, there can be no marriage of wills where there is no complicity in the committing of a crime. We are each held responsible for our own sins.

So it is with Jesus. In marriage with the Church, there is no marriage of His will with the will of man regarding acts of sin – no complicity. Therefore there can be no imputation of guilt or sin. Rather, we read that He ‘offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14, NKJ) and ‘gave Himself’ for the church, that he might present to Himself ‘… a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Eph.5:25-27, NKJ). It is written, ‘He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin‘ (John 3:5, NKJ). That is very plain. In Him is no sin – not any – not ours, not anyone’s. Yet, He was a sin-offering. He was certainly looked upon as ‘sin’ by those who maltreated Him at the cross. But, He was not this to God the Father.

However, with respect to the marriage of the Lamb. To whom is the world in debt, because of sin? Against whom have all sinned? – As both Man and God, the Word made flesh is the One against whom all have sinned. Mankind is in debt to Christ. He is our creditor – the One to whom we owe not just a debt of apology, but our lives – in complete and full repentance, if we are to be saved from the ultimate penalty of our sins. So, why should the Groom suffer punishment for the unpaid debt of the bride, when He Himself is the bride’s creditor? Only if we refuse to repent and submit our lives to the Lord, does our condemnation for sin remain. Those who yield their lives in faith to Him, He simply forgives.

Regarding the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the Church: He does not let go of righteousness Himself, He covers us with His own. As members of His body, we consent to do what is righteous and God is pleased to judge us righteous in Him.

The idea that man’s sins can somehow be imputed to Christ does not work. Jesus does not consent to sin. The idea presented above suggests that by imputing our sins to Christ, we somehow are set free. Yet, Jesus retains His righteousness, though His righteousness is imputed to His followers. By the same token, we should retain our guilt and sin, though these be imputed to Christ. It simply does not make sense, nor can it be just. Those who consent to do what is righteous are righteous in Christ. That is how we, if we are His, are judged:

‘If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him’ (1 John 2:29, NKJ).

‘Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous’ (1 John 3:7, NKJ).

The Holy Spirit does indeed unite us in fellowship with God. Jesus prayed:

‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me’ (John 17:20-21, NKJ).

However, if our oneness in Christ means that our guilt for sins becomes His, as supporters of penal substitution claim, by this reasoning, our guilt for sin should be imputed also to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, with whom the Church is united. Advocates attempt a way around this obvious difficulty by claiming also that at the time of the crucifixion, Jesus was abandoned, by God the Father and the Holy Spirit, to suffer alone. (See here: ch.1, ‘When He cried to Him, He heard’ .) The reason why this cannot be a solution to the problem should also be obvious. The reason that Jesus can be imputed with our sins and guilt is said to be that it is because we are united with Him spiritually, through the Holy Spirit. Yet, at the time our sins are said to have been imputed to Him, the Holy Spirit is said to have left Him. Moreover, if our union with Him and the imputation of our sins are seen as outside of history, then this must be inclusive of our union with the Holy Spirit and the Father. If Jesus was alone at the cross, then He was not united with us through the Holy Spirit. If He was united with us through our union with the Holy Spirit, then the Holy Spirit and the Father would also share our guilt for sins. This line of reasoning simply does not make sense.

What the authors advocate as an explanation that is ‘not a travesty of justice of exactly this kind’ (Prov.17:15, see above), is still a travesty of justice – perhaps even more so, when we consider the unintended implications.

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‘God’s Character’ – a reflection on statements made by the authors of ‘Pierced for our Transgressions’

‘Some critics …argue, penal substitution implies that God requires punishment before offering forgiveness, and therefore depicts him as a hypocrite, settings standards for us that he fails to meet himself.’

‘However, the objections fail to recognize that the Bible does not urge us to imitate all of God’s actions or every aspect of his character. We are urged to avoid some things precisely because God has the right to them’ (PFOT, chapter 9.3, pp.233-4, IVP, 2007).

‘The standard of justice on which basis Christ was punished in our place is not external to God, but intrinsic to him; it is a reflection of his own righteous, holy character’ (PFOT, chapter 11.4, p.301, IVP, 2007).

In response to the criticism above, the authors argue that the Bible does not require us to follow the example set by God in all respects. They say that just because God is worshipped (Ex.20:1-6), this does not mean that we should be worshipped. Although God will avenge (Rom.12:17-19), that does not mean that we must also take vengeance. Of course, this is true. With these biblical examples, there are also clear commandments, which are given for our benefit, that we should not seek to act as though ‘God’ ourselves or disobey. We should not vaunt ourselves, anyone or anything else as an object of worship. God is above all. Foolish pride and vainglory are contrary to righteousness. God is also just and will exact punishment upon the wicked for their crimes in due time. We should not fret that wrongdoers appear to escape justice. The Bible encourages us to have faith in the justice of God.

Indeed, we should have faith in the justice of God. His justice reflects His character. That is the point in the criticism above. The doctrine of penal substitution, according to its opponents, is an affront to the character of God. That is a serious charge – denied, of course, by the advocates, who would argue that it is a matter of how we understand it: ‘Rather, penal substitution reflects the Bible’s teaching that God’s law is the expression of his own righteous, holy character, and that it was in accordance with this law that Christ was punished in our place’ (PFOT, chapter 11.4, p.303, IVP, 2007).

However, in response to the charge that penal substitution presents God as requiring punishment before offering forgiveness, the authors argue that this is in accordance with a standard of justice that is intrinsic only to Himself, not to mankind – a standard that He retains for Himself that we are not to follow. To the authors, therefore, God’s forgiveness is conditional on punishment. But if being punished pays what is owing, how can there be forgiveness? To this, the argument is that the triune God Himself, in the person of Jesus, pays the debt we owe (ibid, p.264). In other words, God pays the debt to Himself and so is still free to forgive. So, let us analyse this argument a little more. A family of three is owed a debt. Wanting to forgive the debt, one member is elected to pay that debt owed to the family. It does not make sense – no matter how one may try to reason that  because the Son is both distinct as a person and in union with God that it does. Penal substitution portrays God as needing to suffer His own wrath and punishment in order to forgive, because to inflict punishment for sin is intrinsic to His nature. He is compelled to apply punishment  for sin, even if He has to punish Himself. As humans, we don’t need to do this. This is just something that God must do! – Although one might consider this convoluted defence of the doctrine of penal substitution somewhat gallant, I am of the opinion that Franz Kafka could not have imagined a greater absurdity. Yet, one can understand the earnest desire to defend what one has believed to be the gospel truth. Nevertheless, there is an alternative. There is a Gospel that is logical, reasonable and biblical to be found in the teachings of Scripture, established upon the foundation of the apostles and Jesus Christ. Surely it is hard to kick against the pricks (Acts 9:5)?

Regrettable is the idea that what we owe to God for sin is both to repent and to be punished. It is not ‘both …and’, it is ‘either  …or’. What we are owing – if we wish to live – is our repentance. To God, we owe more than just an apology, we owe our lives. If we continue unrepentant, then we will pay the due penalty of the second death. Punishment is the penalty that one will receive (rather like the wages one earns) if there is no repentance. This punishment of God will be exacted upon all the unrepentant on the Day of Judgment. Moreover, we should realize that true repentance is the turning away from sin to live in righteousness. Jesus, in His humanity, accomplished the life that is owing of us unto death and that indeed He owes to Himself – the life of perfect righteousness.

So, what is the Law of God? There is a law of the conscience written into the hearts of all men, so that no one can rightly claim to be innocent before God (Rom.2:14). This law also provides man with a sense of justice. We are made in the image of God and this awareness of right and wrong comes from our Creator. The killing of Jesus was unlawful. We just know that. But if for want of reason we need evidence, the Bible provides it. He was ‘taken by lawless hands’ (Acts 2:23, NKJ). His crucifixion would be a sin, Jesus told Pilate (John 19:10-11, NKJ), but that those who delivered Him up for cruciifixion had the ‘greater sin’. ‘In His humiliation His justice was taken away’ (Acts 8:33, NKJ). Peter told the council of elders that they had ‘murdered’ the Just One, by hanging Him on a tree (Acts 5:30, NKJ). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, likewise accused them of becoming His ‘betrayers and murderers’ (Acts 7:52, NKJ). In dying, Jesus had set an example of how one should endure when suffering wrongfully, Peter declared (1 Pet.2:19-23). This was the teaching of the cross of Christ to the first converts who heard the good news that He now lives: ‘to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’ (Acts 5:31, NKJ).

Those who heard Peter on the day of Pentecost were convicted of sin in their hearts when they heard the apostle declare that they had crucified the Anointed of God whom God had raised from the dead. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit they were called to repent and receive forgiveness of sins. They believed that they had sinned against the Lord. What they heard was not that Jesus had suffered the wrath of God as He hung upon a tree. The message was not that Jesus had become the embodiment of sin and had suffered the penalty of God. The scourging and crucifixion were in no way justified in the preaching of the apostles at all. Quite the opposite. They preached the justification of the resurrection, for the trial and execution of God’s Son had been a mockery of law and justice – of which there could only have been one outcome for a just God. This occured on the day of the resurrection. Jesus was raised to heavenly glory as both Lord and Christ. He was declared the One in whose name would be remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The character of God was revealed through the righteousness of God’s Son and His glorious resurrection. The grave could not hold the Holy One of God. Though sinned against and cruelly treated by the ones He came to save, He remained God’s righteousness revealed. He accomplished all victory over sin in righteousness and faith and now calls upon all to join Him in newness of life, through the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out to all who sincerely repent in faith.

In both the Old and New Testaments, we find the same message: ‘Repent and live.’

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Moral intuition v The authority of God’s Word

R.L. Dabney, the famous Presbyterian theologian of the 19th century, quoted opponents of Penal Substitution as saying:

‘… just government, human or divine, cannot transfer one man’s guilt to another who is innocent, under any possible conditions, because punishment loses its moral significance, and becomes cruelty and wickedness as soon as it is transferred from the sinning person to another.’

To this ethical objection, he replied:

‘… they set their philosophy above all the authority claimed for God’s word.’ (Christ Our Penal Substitute, Ch.8).

According to Dabney, regardless of what we know by moral intuition, the authority of Scripture is paramount and must override all objections of conscience. Nevertheless, the obvious danger of this position is in the misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture to defend positions or actions that are either completely wrong or, at best, far from the ideal.

Clear examples include Dabney’s own defence of North American slavery; the German reformer Martin Luther’s use of Scripture to support anti-Semitism; and the doctrinal support given by Thomas Aquinas for the Inquisition and the use of the secular arm for the execution (normally preceded by torture) of those supposed guilty of schism or heresy (Summa Theologica, 2-2: 11, 3 & 4). Luther not only preached that the age-long sufferings of the Jews proved God’s hatred of them, but went on to advise the Germans to burn down the homes of Jews, to close their synagogues and schools, to confiscate their wealth, to conscript their men and women into forced labour; and wrote, ‘All Jews should be given the choice between either accepting Christ, or having their tongues torn out’ (Concerning the Jews and their lies, 1542). One could also mention the drowning of Baptists in Calvin’s Geneva besides giving many more instances where a God-given conscience and the moral intuition within man should have claimed precedence over man’s logic and his interpretation of God’s written word. This is biblical and we are without excuse:

‘Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law … show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts either accusing or else excusing them’ (Rom.2:14, NKJ).

So now we have the ‘logic’ of penal substitution overriding the law of God in the heart of man. The Bible is the authority for doctrine, but we need to be very careful that we do not just rely on our own human logic for its interpretation. The Holy Spirit heightens, not quells, the law of God in man’s heart.

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The ‘Federal Headship’ fallacy

A common question:

The Federal Headship of Christ enables Him to be the legal representative of all who are saved through Him. Doesn’t this imply that as the Federal Head, He must also be responsible for the sins of those He represents – and so suffer their due punishment?

The principle of Federal Headship in legal terms can easily be understood with reference to company law, where it is sometimes applied. The owners of a company are responsible for actions that happen within the company rules and consent of management. Corporate manslaughter is a good example. However, the company would need to be involved in the action. One employee murdering another in a fit of temper, for example, would not make the owners of the company guilty for the crime. It would have happened without their consent and certainly against company rules. However, drugs manufactured that later are found to cause death would make the company and its owners liable. Guilt would rightly be imputed – because of the company’s consent to the manufacture. Consent makes all the difference. God does not consent to sin. Mankind broke the rules – God is not implicated in our guilt.

On the contrary, at the cross, Jesus gave His life in complete righteousness and without any stain of sin whatsoever. Because of this, His offering was acceptable to God and so are we, whose lives are covered by His own. Thus, we are justified by the grace of God – not as a result of our own righteousness, but by reason of the righteousness of God imputed to us in Christ through faith.

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The Wrath of God

Can it truly be said that Jesus endured the wrath of God in order to be just and the justifier of all who believe in Him?

No. That is the short answer. Here is an explanation, with a consideration of some key words and verses of Scripture that speak of atonement, propitiation and wrath:

Heb. 2:17: ‘Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High priest in all things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people‘ (NKJ).

As High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek, Jesus made propitiaton for the sins of the people by His blood. In the Law, only by the shedding of blood could there be remission of sins (Heb.9:22). The sacrifices foreshadowed the Lamb of God. This much is clear. Now, we need to ask how it was, that the shedding of His blood could be the means of propitiation for our sins. In what way could the blood of the Son of God, poured out in death, propitiate for sin?

Let us first reason from what we know. Like the high priest, the animals had to be ritually pure and undefiled. The ‘blood’ was known to signify the ‘life’ of all flesh, and so was given for use in the rituals of the altar for propitiation (atonement), see Lev.17:11-12. The blood of Christ, signifying His life, was untainted by sin. As High Priest, He ‘was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb.4:15, NKJ). As Christians, we are redeemed ‘with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Pet1:19, NKJ).

Jesus, our High Priest, also ‘makes intercession’ and is ‘able to save’ all who come to Him in faith (Heb.7:25) –  ‘for such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ …who, ‘offered up Himself’ as a sacrifice for the sins of the people (Heb.7:26-27, NKJ). It is written that: ‘with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all,’ (as foreshadowed by the blood offered on the Day of Atonement)  and that ‘having obtained eternal redemption’ (Heb.9:12, NKJ), He ‘… through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God’ (Heb.9:14, NKJ).

‘So,’ it is written: ‘Christ was offered once to bear the sin of many’ (Heb.9:28, NKJ). The word for ‘bear’, given in this verse, is derived from the Greek verb ‘anaphero’: ‘ana’ is a preposition prefix meaning ‘up’ or ‘upwards’, ‘phero’ can mean: ‘to bear’ (as a burden), ‘to carry’; ‘to bring’, ‘to lead’; ‘to move’, ‘to drive’ (Thayer, Gall). Combined, ‘anaphero’ can translate as: ‘to lift up’; ‘to bear up’, or ‘to offer up’. As what is ‘borne up’ in this context is ‘sin’, we can reason that Jesus, as intecessor and High Priest, in offering His blood for atonement, ‘offered up’, or ‘lifted up’, our sins. Peter adds that He ‘bore our sins in His body on a tree’ (1 Pet.2:24). As ‘the Lamb of God’, Jesus ‘takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29, NKJ). He lifted up and took away our burden of sin. Again, we read that it was ‘not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins’ (Heb.10:4, NKJ). However, the blood of Jesus, does ‘take away’ sin. He has ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Heb.9:26, NKJ). In lifting up our sins from us and thus taking them away, we have remission – the forgiveness of our sins, and purification – through the ‘cleansing of His blood’ (Heb.9:14).

In all the above, we have the metaphors that speak of the means of our forgiveness and justification. Jesus is the One through whom our forgiveness and sanctification are made possible. The sins of man, borne in the body of God’s Son, are covered by His blood and blotted out. His perfect offering avails for all who come to Him with repentant hearts in faith. We are accepted with Him as His disciples, purified and cleansed by His ‘life’ (symbolized by the blood) that covers our own. He has clothed us with the ‘garment of salvation’ and the ‘robe of righteousness’ (Isa.61:10).

Against Jesus, as both Man and God, we have sinned. By assuming the flesh of man and suffering our sins, He is able to forgive all our sins both against man and God. As the the perfect Man, He was received as the acceptable sacrifice and means of propitiation for the chosen of God. His life, covering over our lives and sins, allows us to stand before the Lord God cleansed, forgiven and sanctified.

On the Hebrew word ‘kaphar’ (translated ‘atonement’ in most English versions):

Although the Brown, Driver, Briggs Lexicon makes the point that kaphar in the Bible most often has the meaning ‘to cover’, as ‘to cover over sins’, the word need not have sin as the object, although in most cases ‘sin’ is the object of the verb, as occurs in many places through Leviticus. By extension, as a figure of speech ‘to cover’ can apply to other things also – including anger or wrath. In English, the word is often translated with the sense of ‘atonement’ either being made, sought, or achieved by a certain action, and not necessarily that of sacrifice. In the LXX, derivatives of ‘hileoos’ translate kaphar of which ‘hilaskomai’ occurs three times and ‘exilaskomai’ eighty-three times. Mostly, the sense is that of seeking reconciliation through the forgiveness (covering) of sins; although in a few cases the idea is that ‘anger’ might be covered: Num.25:10-13 being such a case, where the zeal of Phinehas serves to ‘cover over’ the anger of God against the children of Israel. Genesis 32:21 is another example where ‘kaphar’ is used by Jacob to describe his hope of appeasing his brother Esau with gifts. Also, David handed over seven descendants of Saul to the Gibeonites for execution – who appear to have been implicated in a mass killing of which Saul had approved when still king. This was done to make atonement (kaphar) for the sin of Saul and his ‘bloodthirsty’ kinsmen (2 Sa.21:1-3, NKJ). In this action, appeasment was sought of both God and the Gibeonites. It would seem that the people of Gibeon were justified in wanting those most responsible and living free to answer for their crimes. I can’t imagine that the Lord could be ‘propitiated’ in the manner of a pagan god with the sacrifice of innocents.

In Romans 5:9, we read: ‘Having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.’ However, salvation is a two way process – we have to respond to God’s act on our behalf. To a question asked of Peter, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent …’ (Acts 2:38). We must respond with belief and repentance to God’s call to believe and repent. Jesus ‘rescues us from the wrath to come’ (1 Th.1:10, NKJ). So, before conversion, all stand condemned to face the wrath of God in the Day of Judgment. After conversion, we are ‘not destined for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Th.5:9, NKJ).

From the above, we can see that it was not for the sake of those who refuse to repent that Jesus endured suffering and death. We can also see that the wrath of God is a penalty to be faced by all the unrepentant. The Bible is consistent with this. In all places where God’s wrath is mentioned, it is the wicked – refusing to change and repent – who stand condemned by it, not those who do. Therefore, how can it be imagined that Jesus suffered the penalty of God’s wrath?

Indeed, it is said today that Jesus suffered God’s wrath in the place of the repentant, so the repentant do not have to. But, God does not punish the innocent or the repentant. Quite the opposite. What then? Was it to satisfy justice? This is also said, but how? How can God get angry with Himself and suffer His own wrath? Impossible. So, let’s reason another way.

The ‘blood’ that justifies us is symbolic of His perfect life, acceptable to God in true righteousness. Touched by the blood (metaphorically speaking), we are cleansed and saved – covered by His righteousness. With Him, we are accepted as His disciples and raised up to new life in the Spirit (given to all who truly repent in faith). All that Adam had failed to achieve, Jesus fulfilled in His humanity. In Him, therefore, we can be received of God. In Him, we can receive  our inheritance and blessings forevermore.

We will be imputed the righteousness of Christ if we, in faith, consent to live our lives according to His commandments. Jesus cannot be imputed our guilt and sin because He never consented to sin. It is as simple as that. The wrath of God is turned away from all who repent with faith in Christ.

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Hamartia

‘Hamartia’ is used over 170 times in the New Testament to indicate ‘sin’. In only one place do translators show it to mean ‘sin offering’ (Hebrews 10:6). Isn’t this usage compelling, suggesting that ‘hamartia’ can only mean ‘sin’ and not ‘sin offering’ in 2 Corinthians 5:21?

It would indeed be a strong argument in favour of the translation of the word ‘harmartia’ to mean only ‘sin’, in 2 Cor.5:21, if this usage were all we had to consider. However, to arrive at a clear understanding, we should know how the word was applied in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament – and realize that even the Hebrew word for sin, ‘chatta’ah’, was translated either as ‘sin’ or ‘sin offering’ according to context.

In over 170 instances in the New Testament, the context demands that the word should be translated ‘sin’. This is not surprising, for the need to discuss sacrificial offerings relates more to the Old Testament. However, in one passage, Hebrews 10:6, translators have no doubt about the intended meaning: ‘hamartias’ is translated ‘sacrifices for sin’ (NKJ) – the verse being a direct quotation from the Septuagint. It can be estimated that almost 80% of the quotes in the N.T. come from the Septuagint – and the letter to the Hebrews, especially, quotes from this version. In fact, it was the Bible most used by Greek speaking Christians and Jews of the first century. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the context is that of the sacrifice of our Lord, so translators allow the possibility that the meaning can be ‘sin offering’.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word, chata’aw’, which is translated ‘hamartia’ in the Greek LXX, is also used over 170 times with the sense of ‘sin’. Nevertheless, this word is also given the meaning ‘sin offering’ in 115 places where the context makes this requirement. The word could also be used with both meanings in the same passage, as in Leviticus 5:6: ‘…for his sin which he has sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.’ This makes possible the dual meaning given to the word ‘hamartia’ in 2 Cor.5:21 in the translation by David Stern (The Jewish New Testament): ‘God made this sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness.’

The Apostle Paul, being a very learned Jewish scholar, had full understanding of the dual meanings to be derived from this word; therefore, we should be aware of this also.

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 The sin of Achan

‘God …visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children …’ (Ex.20:5) and ‘Achan’ (Josh. 7): are not these examples of God imputing the guilt of one to another?

Ex.20:5: ‘For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.’ This speaks of households and hate towards God – possibly great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children. Achan died with his whole household. We don’t know how many were in this family, but we might reasonably surmise that what Achan did – rebelling with lust for silver and gold – received the approval of his children. Quite likely the family knew what was in the tent, but said nothing and may even have been secretly pleased about it. Just because they were not the ones to take the initial decision, in defiance of God’s command, does not mean that they had disapproved of Achan’s actions. Nothing is said, but God does not punish the innocent. If such punishment is brought upon the sons and daughters, then the children have been corrupted and complicit in some way in the crimes of the parents, perhaps by following their wrong example. We see that today – criminal activities can run in families. God is just; and if the children are punished for the crimes of parents, then it is because the children are wilful in acting criminally in like manner. God knows all. Members of a family are each judged by their own conduct (see Ezekiel 18). Children who are not implicated in the sins of parents and obey God do not share in their guilt: ‘ “Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?” Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live’ (Ezek.18:19, NKJ).

* Note: In ancient times, the punishment of individuals could extend to family or clan members, with or without culpability in an offence committed. Ezekiel 18, in speaking against this notion also affirms its practice – and at least the knowledge of this practice amongst the Israelites. In this regard, I see two possible explanations for such apparent recordings of ‘collective culpability’ or ‘guilt’, as that above, occuring in Scripture:

1) The account that we read is true, as far as the overall material details are concerned, but includes attempts on the part of the chronicler to justify the event – that might otherwise be looked upon as godless – with the defence that the action took place according to God’s command. In other words, the attempt was made to exonerate the perpetrators of an apparently criminal action with the claim that those involved were merely obeying orders – the orders of Yahweh. Where we read of such accounts, we are then called upon to use discernment with respect to the veracity of the biblical records that appear to implicate God in acts of what might otherwise be regarded as heinous crimes. Many Christians subscribe to this view and do not see it as detracting from the concept that God’s word in Scripture is inspired. This is not seen as ‘picking and choosing what to believe’ but that of listening to the Master’s voice speaking through the historical context of the writers. Such a position is not a denial of belief, of course, but an admission that the Bible is not devoid of its human element and that there are portions hard to accept on the basis of what is written. Subscribing to such a position should not be a deterrent to having faith in Christ.

Opponents of this view might see it as a dangerous attempt to de-God the Bible, allowing one to create God in an image perceived by man, with anything that is beyond man’s natural experience removed from the necessity of belief – such as the miracles. However, if one believes that there is a God and a purpose for our existence that he has created, then we should have no problem accepting that He can do far more than man can imagine. To doubt the miraculous birth, for example, or the resurrection of Christ would be unjustified, for it is wrong to perceive of limits for what an eternal God can or cannot do in His goodness.

2) That the events occured exactly as described and record correctly the will of God with respect to the actions carried out in His name. If this is true, then we can either a) judge God as having done evil, for having acted unjustly; or b) respond to these accounts with faith, knowing that God will not act unjustly or do anything contrary to His goodness. That an event appears unjust and contrary to the will of a loving God is merely that – only what appears, for we are lacking the information that makes the action that occured just. The overall view and understanding, including what will happen to the souls of those killed, is known only to God Himself. We might speculate on the reasons, but we cannot at this time know them. What we do know, that we can believe. That God is love and that He, in His divine wisdom, does nothing without good reason and always what is good – for reasons that are often beyond our comprehension.

Speaking personally, although I speculate on the possible reasons for the whole family of Achan being singled out (Joshua Ch.7), I do so with reasoning that is based on faith in the goodness and justice of God. The Person whom I know through Jesus is the God I trust. So, I would say I argue from a position of faith, not from silence. Even in a secular court of law, character witnesses can have a persuasive influence on the appraisal of evidence. In this matter, from the witness that I have received of God’s character, it is to me unthinkable that God would ever take an unjust decision or act unrighteously. This witness, for me, is not silent, but loud and clear. God is good, and though I may not understand – like Abraham being tested in faith – I am assured through Christ that He is.

Although I tend to subscribe to the latter position (2b), I have no difficulty accepting as fellow Christians those who, in faith, would subscribe to the first (1).

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 Two common questions answered

If God can impute righteousness to us, then why not sin to Christ?

It is all about consent. Sin cannot be imputed to Jesus because He never yielded to evil. He yielded His will to the Father. To be attributed sin, one must consent to sin. Those who give their consent to evil without repentance are condemned with the devil. By consenting to righteousness – to follow Christ in faith – God, in His grace and mercy, judges us righteous in His Son.

If God is unjust in punishing Christ for the sinful, then surely He is unjust in punishing mankind for the sin of Adam?

Regarding Adam’s sin … When Adam sinned, mankind was judged sinful and appointed to die. Was God wrong in His judgment? Certainly not, we are sinful. God, of course, judged correctly. Spiritually, we all answer for our own sins. This is biblical. It is unlawful to punish the innocent for the guilty. Therefore God did not punish Christ.

Justice is not upheld by punishing the innocent in the place of the guilty. You don’t need a law degree to see that. It is common sense.

Note: On the fall of Adam, please see here:

http://bible-study-online.org/jesus_christ_atonement/?page_id=60

Man was created with a mortal nature, but was given the grace to live forever by reason of the tree of life. This is still true today, for the tree of life for us is Christ.

If God had made Adam subject to death, irrespective of whether he had sinned or not, then clearly God would have been the cause of bringing death upon mankind, but this He did not do. We are individually accountable for our own sins. It is not Adam’s sin that is imputed to man, but the consequences.

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The Imputation of Righteousness – How can this be just, if the imputation of sin to Christ is not?

With ‘Penal Substitution’, the attempt is made to impute guilt to the Lord for the sins of man. This is unjust because sins are committed against the Lord’s will and certainly without His involvement or consent. On the other hand, it is by the free gift of God’s grace that He imputes righteousness to those who, in the faith, consent as Christ’s followers to obey His will. The righteousness of the Master is imputed to His servants, who seek to bring more glory to the Father. In this respect they are deeply committed in their walk with Christ. The servants of the Master look forward in faith to the time when they shall be like Him in holiness of life. They will to do good as He, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in obedience to His commands. As a result of this faith, there is no condemnation. As it is their earnest desire to be righteous in Christ, they are judged righteous. As it is His righteousness they seek, it is His righteousness that is attributed to them now – by God’s grace.

As Christians, God looks upon us not as we are, but as we shall be, in Christ. It is He who is the author and finisher of our faith. Amen.

Norman McIlwain

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Bibliography

Principal Bible translations:

New King James; New International Version

Other Bible translations:

Interlinear Bible (Nestle and Textus Receptus); King James Version; Darby; Revised Standard Version; American Standard Version; New American Standard; Jewish Bible[1917]; New American Bible [1986]; New English Translation [1996]; LXX; The Vulgate; The Jewish New Testament (Stern).

Principal reference works:

Strong’s Concordance (Hebrew and Greek)

Englishman’s Concordance

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testaments

The New Bible Dictionary

Hasting’s Bible Dictionary

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Definitions (Lexicon)

Unger’s Bible Dictionary

Nelson’s Bible Dictionary

Matthew Henry’s Commentary

Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

Scofield Reference Notes

Vincent’s Word Studies

Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge

Encyclopaedia Biblica, 1899

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV, N.Y., 1912

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

‘The Mishna’ (a collection of Jewish laws related to the late second temple, compiled c. 200 AD)

Other references works:

Anatolius, Khaled: Athanasius, Letters to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, p.222; Routledge, London, 2004 (text source: Migne’s Patrologia Graeca 26:529-576)

Dr. Archer, Gleason L. : “Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties”, p.49-50; Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan, 1982

Athanasius: ‘Contra Gentes’ (Against the Heathen), ‘Athanasius: Select Works and Letters’, Part II, 33:1; ed.: A. Robertson, H. Wace, P. Schaff; Vol.IV: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1891

Athanasius: Letter to Serapion on the Holy Spirit, Letter 1:22; cf. ‘Athanasius’,  p. 222; Khaled Anatolios; Routledge, London, 2004 (text source: Migne’s Patrologia Graeca: 26:529-576)

Athanasius: Letter LIX.— To Epictetus, 8; 9; 12; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891

Athanasius: On the Incarnation, section 7; 8; 9; Translated by C.S.M.V., St. Th., 1944

Athanasius: Orationes contra Arianos IV, Discourse II, XiX: 47; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891

Athanasius: The Incarnation, 3:4; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891

ibid: 4:4; 4:6; 5:1; 20:4; 20:5-6

Athanasius: ‘The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus’, pp. 105, 115; trans. Robert C. Gregg, Paulist Press, Inc., New Jersey, 1980

Athanasius: Tomus ad Antiochinos, section 7; A. Robertson, P. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers1891

Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, c.420 AD, Book I, Ch.2, Ch.3; P. Schaff, Holmes, Wallis, Warfield; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1887

Augustine: De Gen. ad Lit., vi:25; The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 1, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Newman Press, N.Y., 1982

Augustine: The Enchiridion, 41; trans. J.F. Shaw,  edit.P. Schaff; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1891

The Epistle of Barnabus: The Apostolic Fathers, p.171, 7: 7-8; trans.: Lightfoot-Harmer; ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos (IVP), England, 1989

Basil of Caesarea: ‘Fathers of the Church, Saint Basil, Homily 19’:  Psalm 48 (49), p.316-7;  trans.: A.C. Way; Cath. Uni. Of America Press (1963)

Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People; trans. D. Farmer, Leo Sherley-Price; Penguin, London, 1990

Berry, Prof. R. J.: “Creation and Evolution, Not Creation or Evolution”, Faraday Paper, Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, UK (April, 2007)

Biblical Archaeology Review (Nov., 1986): Ugarit inscription

Blackman, Philip: ‘Mishnayoth, Order Moed’, 2nd vol, pp.298-302; The Judaica Press Inc., New York, 1963

Bruce, F.F.: “Textual Problems in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” pp.27-29; David Alan Black, ed., Scribes and Scripture: New Testament Essays in Honour of J Harold Greenlee. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992

Charles, R H (trans.): The Book of Enoch: 1 Enoch I:9; IX:6; X:4-8; LV:4; Oxford, Clarendon, 1912

Cicero: The Tusculan Disputations, Ch. 20; trans. C.D. Yonge, Harper’s New Classical Library, 1877

Contenau, Georges: Textes Cuneiformes, Vol.IX: ‘Contrats et lettres d’Assyrie et de Babylonie’; P. Geuthner; Paris, 1926

Durant, Will: The Story of Civilization, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957

Eastern Syriac: ‘Lamsa translation’,  Heb.2:9 (Aramaic ‘Peshitta’)

The Epistle to Diognetus, Ch.9; The Apostolic Fathers, trans.: Lightfoot-Harmer; ed./revised M.W. Holmes, Apollos (IVP), England, 1989

Epistle to Diognetus, Ch.9; (Vol. 1) Ante-Nicene Fathers, trans.: Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

Eusebius of Caesarea: Vita Const., “Letter of the Emperor”, Book 3, 18-20; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p.54; ed. Henry R. Percival; Christian Lit. Co., New York, 1890

Eusebius of Caesarea: Preparatio Evangelica, Book 1, Ch.10, Quoting Philo of Byblos; trans. E. H. Gifford; Typographio Academico, 1903

Eusebius of Caesarea: The Proof [Demonstration] of the Gospel, Bk. V, Ch. 4; ed. and trans. by Ferrar, J.W; reprint: Baker, 1981

ibid: Book V, Ch.1; Book X, Ch. 1 (466-468; 470); IV, Ch. 12 (167)

Farrington, Prof. David: Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology (research pub.); the Journal of Legal and Criminal Psychology, 1996

Goodspeed, George. S: A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians; Scribner, New York, 1906

Gregg, Robert C. (trans.): ‘Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus’, pp. 105, 115; Paulist Press, Inc., New Jersey, 1980

Gregory of Nazianzus: Oration 45:22The Later  Christian Fathers, p.112, trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956

Gregory of Nazianzus: The Fourth Theological Oration: the second concerning the Son, Oration 30:5-6; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

Gregory of Nazianzen [-us]: Oration 37:1; trans. C.G. Browne & J.E. Swallow, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, ed. P. Schaff & H. Wace, 1892 (CCEL)

Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa: The Great Catechism, ch.23, ch.24; trans.: W. Moore & H.A. Wilson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, Vol.5, ed. H. Wace & P. Schaff, 1892 (CCEL)

Alan Guttmacher Institute: Sharing Responsibility: Women, Society and Abortion Worldwide (1999)

Hanson, R.P.C: ‘The search for the Christian doctrine of God: the Arian controversy 318-381, pp.146-151; Baker Academic, 1988; T&T Clark, London & N.Y., 2005

Harden, Prof. K. Paige and Dr. Robert E. Emery: Marital Conflict and Conduct Problems in Children of Twins: “Child Development” (Journal), Jan./Feb.,2007 (research pub.); Reuters news agency (7th Feb., 2007)

Hare, Dr. Robert D.: ‘Without Conscience – the disturbing world of the psychopaths among us’, p. 3, 157, 197, 203, 207; Guilford Press, NY, 1999

Helwig, Dr. Otto J.: “How long an evening and morning”, Facts and Faith, Third Quarter, 1995, Vol. 9, No. 5, pgs. 8-9

Irenaeus: Adv. Her., Bk. 5, 1:1-2; Gustaf Aulen: ‘Christus Victor’ (Eng. trans.: A.G. Hebert, 1931;), p.27, SPCK, London, pub. 1970

Irenaeus: Against Heresies, IV, 38:2-3; The Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, 1956

Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book IV, 39:2; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884

ibid: Book I, 15:6; III, 3:2, 18:7, 19:1, 20:2, 23:6; IV, 26:4; IV, 38:2-3; Book V, 1:1-2; 13:4; 21:23; 23:2; Bk. V, 26

Irenaeus: The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 15; trans. J. Armitage Robinson, 1920

Jastrow, Morris: The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria; Ginn, Boston, USA, 1898

Jerome: Letter CXXVI, To Marcellinus and Anapsychia; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol.vi.; Philip Schaff, H. Wace and W. H. Fremantle, trans., 1892

Johns C.H.W.: Assyrian Deeds and Documents, Vol.3, p.345-6; Cambridge, 1901

Josephus, Flavius: The Jewish War; trans. by H. ST. J. Thakeray; Heinemann, London, (1928) reprint 1961

Luther, Martin: Concerning the Jews and their lies, 1542 (ref. Durant, Will: The Story of Civilization, p.727, Vol.6, The Reformation; MJF Books, New York, 1957)

Luther, Martin: Galatians; Crossway Classic Commentaries; 1st British ed.,Leicester,England: Crossway Books, 1998

Luther, Martin: Luther’s Works, 26:279; eds. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols.; St. Louis, Concordia, and Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955-1986

Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 5, Ch.6; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1884

Metzger, Bruce Manning: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p.664; United Bible Society, London, 1971

Mishna: Yoma, 6, of ‘The Talmud’ (see: Blackman, Philip: ‘Mishnayoth, Order Moed’, 2nd vol, p.298-302; The Judaica Press Inc., New York, 1963)

Morris, Leon: The Cross in the New Testament, p.219; Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1999

N2H2: Internet filtering company, statistical report (2003)

Origen: Commentary on the Gospel of John: (40) Christ as Righteousness; As the Demiurge; Vol. 9, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1885 (CCEL)

Origen: Comm. in Matthaeumxvi:8; The Early Christian Fathers, p.224; trans.: H. Bettenson, Oxford Uni. Press, 1956

Origen: Against CelsumBk. 1, Ch. 31; (Vol. 4) Ante-Nicene Fathers, Roberts-Donaldson, 1885 (CCEL)

ibid: Bk 6, 43

The Seven Ecumenical Councils: ‘The Code of Canons of the African Church, CIX’ ; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, Henry R. Percival, 1899

Strabo: Geography, Book 8, Ch.6, 20; trans. H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer; (Vol.2, p.61) Henry G. Bohn, London, 1856

Tatian: Address to the Greeks, Chapter 13; trans. J. E. Ryland, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, Roberts & Donaldson, 1886

Theodoret: Ecclesiastical History, I, IV; trans. Rev. Blomfield Jackson, ed. P. Schaff, H. Wace, pub. T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1892

Theophilus of Antioch: Ad Autolycum, Book 2, Ch. 24, Ch. 26; trans. Marcus Dodds; Nicene and Post-Nicene FathersP. Schaff, 1885

Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, 2-2, Qu.11: Heresy, Art. 3 & 4; newadvent.org ; trans. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province; 2nd revised ed., 1920

Viding, Dr. Essi: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (research article): Medical News Today, 25 May, 2005

(*References are also supplied with the quotations in the text.)

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About the Author

Before deciding to publish his studies, the author worked in education in the UK and abroad – in Kuwait, Libya and China. From 1991, he served for nine years on the executive board of an established international Church: The Union Church of Tripoli, Libya, during the era of Gadaffi (one of the very few Churches having official recognition) – completing that service as chairman.

While serving the Church in Libya, he co-ordinated with the British Bible Society for the importation of several thousand Bibles in English, French, etc. to serve the expatriate community, mostly with the official approval of the Libyan religious affairs and customs authorities. These were the first importations of this kind into Libya and were supported by Evangelical ministers in Malta. The author, in addition to administrative responsibilities, had a preaching role at the Church and was called upon to speak at various Christian fellowship services and studies.

In the year 2000, he moved to live in China for seven years with his wife and family, where he started the website www.bible-study-online.org and began writing this book: ‘The Biblical Revelation of the Cross’ – (first edition pub. 2006). This earlier version formed the foundation for the current publication, which includes Part 1 and Part 2. See a review of Part 1 (as it was originally published) @:

http://www.christianbookshops.org.uk/reviews/biblicalrevelationofthe.htm

As a Christian, the author looks back to October, 1982, when he had a ‘born-again’ experience that changed his life and outlook. In 1984, he was confirmed at a special ecumenical service into the Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Churches and was baptized at a Baptist Church in the same year. (Quote: ‘I was actually very keen on the ecumenical movement at that time, but I could not agree with attempts to embrace other faiths. It seemed to me that too many in the movement had ceased to accept the authority of Scripture. However, I still have a strong desire to see Christians becoming united in a deeper spiritual sense.’)

Norman McIlwain hosts the website “bible-study-online.org”.

He was born in Liverpool, England, and presently lives with his wife and children at his home, near Swansea, Wales.

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To God be the glory. Amen.

2 Comments

  1. Reply
    Diana G Seed 14/02/2015

    I am absolutely amazed at this work. It has taken me a lifetime to unmask Penal substitution.
    To find such a complete and thoughtful presentation bolsters my sanity, affirms that I am reading Acts. and the scriptures correctly.
    Penal substitution is not true by reason of in’s constant repetition.
    I have procured the 2006 edition and PFOT. My printer will not print part Two.
    I am a widow, and have begun praying for your endeavor, that your work reaches all who long
    for truth.
    Are there and copies of part Two available at this time?
    Sincerely, Diana

    • Reply
      normanna 02/08/2016

      Hi Diana,

      Better late than never, I hope! I am sorry, but your comment was buried with spam mail. Please accept my apologies.

      I am producing a new publication to which I will add a revision of current work online. It is due out this year and will be posted on Amazon in the hope to reach a wider readership. I will let you know when it is available. Thank you for your comment.

      Your prayers are most welcome.

      God bless!

      Norman

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