The Person and Work of Jesus
Course: A Guide to Christian Beliefs
Lecture: The Person and Work of Jesus
The central theme of Christian theology, that which gives it its Christian character, is the coming of Jesus into the world as its Savior from sin (Mark 10:45; John 3:16; Titus 2:11). His coming is both a revelation of the character of God as holy love and also the supreme act of love by which God reconciles sinful people to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Jesus Christ as God and Man (John 1:1–18; Philippians 2:5–11)
We have already seen how Jesus is described in the New Testament as the Son of God and the Lord, and there is no need to repeat the evidence here. At the same time he is described, often quite unconsciously, as a real human being. He had a human mother (Galatians 4:4), and grew up like any other boy to manhood (Luke 2:40, 52). He experienced the emotions and feelings common to all men — love (Mark 10:21), sorrow (John 11:33–36), anger (Mark 3:5; 10:14) and compassion (Mark 6:34). The experiences of hunger, thirst and sheer weariness were real ones for him (John 4:6ff.; 19:28). Although he had prophetic insights and knowledge not shared by other men, he also had a genuinely human mind and needed to ask questions to obtain information of which he was ignorant (Mark 9:21; 11–13). He felt the need to pray (Mark 1:35; 6:46; Hebrews 5:7). He was made in the likeness of sinful mankind (Romans 8:3), and so he knew what it was like to be tempted beyond measure (Mark 1:13; 14:32ff.; Hebrews 2:18), but, unlike all other men, he never yielded to temptation (Matthew 4:1–11; John 8:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). In short, the Jesus who is presented in the New Testament as the Son of God also appears as a perfectly real man.
We naturally look for some explanation of this paradox. What was the purpose of God in bringing his Son into the world in this way? To put the question in this way directs us to an examination of what Jesus did. We may, in other words, make some progress in understanding the kind of person that he was by looking at the task which he came to do. This task was to be the Savior of men. In order to be a Savior, it was necessary for Jesus to be both God and man. Otherwise his work would have been incomplete and unable to meet the deepest needs of sinners.
It was necessary, then, for Jesus to be truly God. It needed the advent of God himself among mankind to show clearly the greatness of his saving love by which he wins and woos people back to himself. For a lover to send somebody other than himself to convey a message of love suggests that he is not prepared to involve himself fully in demonstrating his love. The greatness of God's love is seen in that he came himself in the person of Jesus. The Father was prepared to give his only Son as the demonstration of his love; Jews who knew the story of how Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, would not be slow to grasp the point (John 1:14–18; Genesis 22:2; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9f.).
More is involved, however, than a demonstration of love. The coming of Jesus demonstrates the involvement of God to the full in bearing human sin and himself enduring its consequences (2 Corinthians 5:19). Indeed, only God himself could deal with the problem of sin by bearing the cost of forgiveness himself. It is relatively easy for me to pardon someone who has hurt me and then does his best to make amends to me; that costs me very little (beyond the willingness to change my mind — which is hard for proud people), but it does not give any assurance to the offender that I may not change my attitude back from friendship to anger. It is much more costly for me to bear the brunt of somebody else's offence against me and demonstrate my willingness to forgive. Only such willingness can provide forgiveness where the offender remains at first recalcitrant; and only such willingness can make it plain that the forgiveness is genuine and irrevocable. Our assurance of forgiveness from God rests on the fact that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
At the same time, it is important to be clear that it was necessary for Jesus to be truly human. The other side of the picture is that Jesus stands before God on behalf of mankind, bears the judgment upon their sins, and intercedes for them. Only a human could identify himself with other humans and take their place in making a perfect offering to God (Hebrews 2:14–18). Paul makes a comparison between the evil brought upon the human race by the first man, Adam, and the blessing brought by the second man, the last Adam, who became the representative of his fellow humans and atoned for their sins (Romans 5:12–21; 1 Corinthians 15:21f.). Through this man sinners can approach God and find peace with him (Hebrews 4:14 — 5:10). The coming of Jesus as a human being demonstrates that God's salvation is for the human race.
These considerations show that for the sake of our salvation it was necessary that the Savior should be both God and man. But now we must ask how this was possible. Again, as was the case in attempting to explain the nature of God as three Persons in one, we find ourselves up against the barrier caused by human finite thinking and the limitations of human language. We are trying to explain how one person can be both Creator and created, how one person can share the apparently contradictory properties of being human and divine. It is safe to say that an explanation of this mystery is in principle impossible for us. We cannot describe how it is possible. What we can do is to see why various explanations that have from time to time been offered are inadequate. By ruling out various misleading explanations, we may come a stage nearer to stating the mystery adequately, even if we cannot explain it for ourselves.
A number of early Christians, for example, solved the problem by stating that Jesus was a divine being who only appeared to be human for a short time and then changed back to his divine nature. (This view was called Docetism, from a Latin verb meaning "to seem".) We can easily see that this view will not do, for it denies that Jesus was a real man, and thus prevents him from truly identifying with the human race. There are still people today who would formally reject this view, but in effect hold to it by playing down the fact that Jesus was really a man who could feel tired and hungry. Another view was that Jesus was a man all right, but he was not divine in nature; rather God chose him because of his faultless life and adopted him as his son. This view obviously falls into the opposite error of denying that Jesus was truly divine, to say nothing of its misinterpretation of the clear teaching of the New Testament. Other views agree that Jesus was both human and divine, but fall into error by making him a sort of semi–human, semi–divine being, partly one and partly the other. Still others suggest that Jesus had two separate natures, one human and the other divine, almost like a Jekyll–and–Hyde case of dual identity. The truth is that we cannot put into words how a person can be both fully divine and fully human; we have no analogies by which to explain it. Rather we have to hold fast to the biblical teaching that the Son of God became a man without ceasing to be the Son of God (John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5–11).
Clearly this poses problems. We have seen that God is all–knowing, all–powerful and all–present. How, then, could God become incarnate in man who possesses none of these features? One popular theory speaks of the Son of God emptying himself (Greek kenōsis) of his divine attributes in order to become a person, while retaining his love and moral perfection. Clearly there is some truth in this theory. In Philippians 2:6–8 we are told that though he was originally in the form of God, Jesus took a human form. He certainly gave up the outward, visible glory of the Godhead in order to appear in the humble form of a man. When, however, it is suggested that Jesus had no more than the fallible knowledge of an ordinary man, or that he had no supernatural powers whatever, we are bound to protest that the Gospels present him otherwise and that views of this kind destroy any continuity between the pre–incarnate Son of God and the incarnate one. The truth is rather that by means of some exercise of the attributes of God, Jesus was able to appear as a real man, and yet as more than a man.
If Jesus was the Son of God, we need not be surprised if both his entry into the world and his departure from it were not like those of other people. The New Testament is reticent on both points. Although it records the fact of the resurrection and tells how Jesus was seen by his followers after he had returned to life, it records no eye–witness account of the actual moment of resurrection. Similarly, it says little about the manner of Jesus" birth. Apart from the birth narratives, there is just sufficient evidence to indicate that the New Testament writers were not ignorant that his birth was unusual (cf. John 1:13; 6:42; 8:41f.; Galatians 4:4). This silence is readily understandable, especially during the lifetime of Mary.
According to the birth narratives, the birth of Jesus was the result not of normal human conception by the action of Mary's husband, but of the special operation of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34f.). This is sheer miracle, but it imposes no greater strain on faith than the miracle of the incarnation itself. It is sometimes objected that if Jesus was born of a virgin, he is not in every respect like us (cf. Hebrews 2:17). But the objection is an empty one, since the manner of his conception did not affect the reality of his subsequent human life and experience. Nor are the alternative theories any better. Either he was the illegitimate son of Mary (as Jewish slander asserted; cf. John 8:41) or he was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. Both suggestions run counter to the New Testament evidence, and fail to do justice to the mystery of the person of Jesus. What the Bible stresses is not so much the virginity of Mary as the positive action of the Spirit, but these are inseparable.
The Ministry of Jesus (Mark 1:14-45; Luke 4:14-30)
In the Apostles' Creed there is a sudden jump from "Born of the Virgin Mary" to "Suffered under Pontius Pilate". We might be tempted to draw the false inference that what happened in between these two terminal events in the life of Jesus is unimportant for Christian belief. It is, however, being increasingly recognized that the theology of the early church developed out of what Jesus did and taught during his ministry. A theology that ignores the contents of the Gospels is one–sided and defective. We can sum up the presentation of Jesus in the Gospels in some five aspects.
First, Jesus came to proclaim the Kingship of God. He came to a world that was under the sway of Satan (Luke 4:5–7; John 12:31) and brought to it the message that God had now begun to act in a new way to establish his own reign of righteousness and salvation (Mark 1:14f.; Luke 9:48; 16:13). It was time for men to be released from the power of Satan (Luke 13:16) and the demons. Let them follow the teaching of Jesus and become his disciples (Mark 1:16–20; 10:14; Luke 6:46ff.). Those who responded to Jesus" call were taught the new way of life associated with the rule of God (Matthew 5–7) and were sent out to spread further the good news that God's rule was beginning (Mark 3:13–15; 5:19; Matthew 28:16–20). Jesus was the prophet divinely authorized to announce what was happening.
Second, Jesus was more than merely a prophet of what God was doing. His preaching fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of one who would usher in the kingdom of God (Luke 4:18–21). He was himself the Messiah (i.e. an anointed king) through whom God was exercising his saving rule (Luke 1:68–79). Pilate got the message, as he showed by placing the words "The King of the Jews" on the cross (John 19:19–22) — although his understanding was superficial. Jesus himself, however, refrained from open use of the title, probably because of the misleading associations it could have had for Jews who thought of the coming of a nationalist, military leader. Jesus was prepared to be addressed as "Son of David" (Mark 10:47f.; 11:9f.; 12:35–37), a title which was tantamount to "Messiah", but his own preference was for "Son of man". This phrase, which simply means "the Man" in Hebrew idiom, is found in Daniel 7, where it refers to the representative of the saints of God who, after their defeat by their enemies, receive power and dominion from God. By adopting this title, Jesus was in effect claiming to be the true Representative and Leader of God's people. Although his authority was rejected by people and he would be put to death, he would be vindicated by God (Mark 8:31, 38; 13:24–27; 14:62; Luke 17:24f.); at the last judgment the decisive factor would be the attitude of people to the Son of man and his corresponding acceptance or rejection of them (Matthew 25:31ff.; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8f.).
Third, Jesus understood his task as the Son of man in the light of another Old Testament figure. This was the suffering Servant of God described in Isaiah 40–53. Here the Servant is at first a symbol for the people of Israel, or rather for the pious core of the people, who were chosen by God to establish justice in the earth and to bring salvation to mankind (Isaiah 42:1–7). As the prophecy progresses, however, and the prophet became increasingly conscious of the sin and inadequacy of Israel, he was led to look beyond the nation to an individual servant who would take on the role intended for Israel and would perfectly fulfill the purpose of God by his own suffering (Isaiah 52:13–53:12). Jesus recognized this role as the one that he was called to fulfill (Matthew 12:18–21; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:24–27, 37; 1 Peter 2:21–24).
Fourth, Jesus saw his task as more than the proclamation of a message. His aim was to be the Deliverer of men and women from the bonds of sin and evil, and this required action as well as words. At the outset of his ministry he associated himself with the sinners whom he came to save by submitting to John's baptism (Matthew 3:13–17; cf. Mark 10:38f.; Luke 12:50), and in his death he paid the ransom by which people are released from the power and guilt of sin and enabled to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:45; 14:22-24; John 10:11, 17; 12:32). His death was the culmination of a ministry in which he brought healing to the sick, release to the demon-possessed, love and hope to the despised and lonely, and moral challenge to the sinful. Such a task brought him into constant conflict with those who sided with the forces of evil (Matthew 4:1–11; Mark 2:1 — 3:6; 11:27 — 12:40; Luke 11:20). The final show–down brought him to the cross and apparent defeat — but in reality to vindication by God and the defeat of evil (John 12:31–33).
So, fifth, we can see in the ministry of Jesus the revelation of God in both his love which gives to the uttermost in order to save sinners (Mark 2:15–17; Luke 15:1–10) and his judgment against all hypocrisy and sin (Matthew 23). As the one who loved sinners but warned against their sin, Jesus called people to accept the rule of God with all its blessings and obligations. His coming created a crisis in which people had to decide for or against God, and none could remain unmoved or neutral; "He who is not with me is against me" (Luke 11:23).
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 22-24)
Nobody can read the story of the death of Jesus without realizing that it was remarkably unlike the death of any other man and that it demands some sort of explanation. It was, of course, one of the most cruel and painful forms of death that can be imagined, and contemporary authors spoke of crucifixion with horror in their voices. It was not this, however, that made the death of Jesus unique. Hundreds of other people, perhaps thousands, underwent the same horrible torture, and their fate has been illustrated by the discovery in 1968 of the skeleton of a young man who had been crucified in first–century Palestine. This was the normal fate of rebels and rebellious slaves. Jesus, however, was plainly declared to be innocent of any crime by the Roman governor who examined him (Luke 23:13–16). He was put to death on the charge of being "The King of the Jews", but it was the Jews who instigated his death and bent justice to achieve their end. Jesus himself met his death willingly, choosing not to flee from it. Indeed he probably precipitated it by voluntarily going up to Jerusalem. Yet the thought of his death caused him tremendous agony of soul, and he longed that he might not have to face it (Mark 14:36).
After his death his disciples made the most remarkable claims about him. They asserted that he was the crucified Messiah or king of the Jews an idea that was completely inconceivable to people who had expected a victorious king, and well calculated to alienate support for the new religion centered on Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:23; "Christ" is a Greek word meaning the same as Hebrew "Messiah", i.e. "anointed (king)"). The disciples of Jesus also argued that although wicked men had put him to death, it was really due to the deliberate plan of God, who brought it about (Acts 2:23). They said that after his death Jesus had reappeared to them, and that all this showed him to be none other than the Son of God (Galatians 2:20).
We may find a clue to the meaning of this most unusual death in the remarkable cry of the crucified man: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, quoting Psalm 22:1). The most probable explanation of these words is that Jesus felt himself to be abandoned by God whom he usually addressed in the most intimate manner possible as "Father". There would seem to be only one adequate explanation of this experience. Jesus, who by his own free choice was "reckoned with transgressors" (Luke 22:37), was at that point so closely identified with sinners through bearing the burden of their sin that he felt to the full that exclusion from fellowship with God and from the help of God which is the inevitable consequence of sin (cf. Galatians 3:13). The unanimous witness of the New Testament is that what Jesus did on the cross was done for us; because of what he endured we need never suffer that exclusion from the presence of God which is the result and penalty of sin. Only one word is really adequate to describe this role of Jesus on the cross, the word "substitute" which means that because Jesus in his love has suffered on our behalf we need never suffer the penalty of our sins.
The story of what God has done for sinful humans does not end with the cross. There still remains his mighty act in which he set his seal on the work of his Son, the resurrection. The resurrection is to be understood as a historical event in the same sense as the death of Jesus was a historical event. That is to say, it really happened, even if nobody actually saw Jesus rise from the dead and only a comparatively small number of people saw him alive after his death. Both events are, to be sure, more than merely "historical". In each case the subject was the Son of God, and each act had spiritual effects. But the point to be stressed is that the resurrection was "historical" in the sense that something actually happened in this world which affected other events, even if it is impossible to prove to the most hardened sceptic that it happened. What must be denied is that the resurrection of Jesus was merely a conviction in the minds of the disciples, with no basis in history.
Our concern here is with the significance of this event. It was a proof of God's justice in that the innocent suffering of Jesus was not allowed to take place without the vindication of Jesus as innocent. The Christian can be confident that God who raised Jesus from the dead is the moral Sovereign of the universe; that he will also vindicate every righteous sufferer who trusts in him and will bring him into his presence (2 Corinthians 4:14). The resurrection is also the proof that God accepted the death of Jesus on the cross as a full and adequate means of salvation for all mankind (Acts 2:32–36). At the same time, the resurrection showed that the power of death, both physical and spiritual, is not final, since God can raise up the dead to a new life beyond the grave. The resurrection of Jesus is the first–fruits or precursor of the resurrection of believers (1 Corinthians 15:23). Thus, the resurrection is the sign of Christ's victory over sin and death and the guarantee of life for his people.
Forty days after the resurrection Jesus was seen by his disciples for the last time, and before their eyes he ascended into heaven. There was to be one exceptional reappearance of Jesus to Saul of Tarsus at a later point (Acts 1:1–11; 9:1–22). The ascension thus marked the departure of Jesus as a visible being from the earth until the day when he will return in the same way as he departed (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7). Yet he is not spiritually "absent". Another Comforter, the invisible Spirit of Christ, takes his place, so that in a very real sense he is still with his people and will remain with them until the end of the world (Matthew 28:20; John 14:16, 18). Until that day Jesus is said, in the symbolical language of Psalm 110:1, to be sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 1:13). He has entered heaven as a man (Hebrews 4:14–16), and the significance of his sitting beside God is that he has finished his sacrificial work and obtained an eternal salvation for mankind (Hebrews 10:12–14). All that remains is that he waits for the final overthrow of evil (1 Corinthians 15:25; Heb. 1:13).
The Need for the Cross (Ephesians 2:1-16)
So far we have been merely indicating the facts about the work of Jesus, although it has been impossible to do so without already making use of theological terms. Now we must consider in greater detail the theological significance of the events recorded in the Gospels, and for this purpose we must make particular use of the doctrinal commentary provided by the Epistles.
We have already seen that all people are regarded as sinners in the sight of God. They have chosen to obey sin instead of God, and in consequence of this they stand under his judgment. They have entered into a bondage from which they can find no release, and they are liable to death as the penalty of their sin.
In this situation three problems can be said to arise. How can God win people back from love of sin to love of himself? How can he forgive sinners without condoning their sin or denying his own implacable opposition to it? And how can he free people from sin so that they may become willing servants? It is important to recognize that these are, as it were, problems for God. Some writers give the impression that the difficulties are all on mankind's side. Conscious of their sin, they have neither the desire nor the ability to return to God, and they fear that if they do try to return they will not be accepted by him. But this is only half the story. In a very real sense, God has the difficulty that he cannot condone sin and yet he longs to restore sinful people to his favor. It is at the cross that all the barriers between God and mankind are broken down. It becomes possible for God to forgive sin, and so a path is opened up for people to return to God.
The Cross Shows God's Love (1 John 4:7-12)
The New Testament writers emphasize that the restoration of peace between God and sinners has its source in the love of God the Father. Sometimes theologians have given the impression that Jesus had to placate an angry God and wrest forgiveness out of an unwilling Judge; some basis for such views might be found in those places where Jesus is said to intercede for us with the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). But this is to misunderstand these passages and to press the metaphor of intercession beyond its intended limit. Nowhere is it ever suggested that the Father is unwilling to respond to the work of the Son on our behalf. On the contrary, it was because the Father so loved the world that he gave his Son to die for us (John 3:16). In the cross, God the Father demonstrates his love to us (Romans 5:8). He did not spare his Son but freely gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32; cf. Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Jn. 4:9f.). It was the Father whose love initiated the act of reconciliation between himself and sinners.
Consequently, the cross must be seen as God's tender appeal to us to return to him and abandon our sin. It is a demonstration of his love for sinners. And this love extends to all sinners. It is universal in its intent, even if not all people respond to its appeal: the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people (Titus 2:11). Some thinkers have urged that when we have said this, we have said all that can be said. A demonstration of God's love is held to be an adequate means of reconciliation or atonement between him and sinners. But this is far from being the truth. For it is a sad fact of experience that a mere demonstration of love cannot break the power of evil or wipe out the guilt of sin. The love of parents for a rebellious son who has embarked on a career of crime may make him want to give up his evil ways, but it cannot break the stranglehold of avarice in his heart, nor can it wipe out the crime that he has already committed. For the love of God seen in the cross to have any effect, it must be redemptive love. The cross shows us love in action, God actually doing something to provide our salvation, and only because it is that kind of love has it the power to win us back to God.
The Cross as a Sacrificial Offering (Hebrews 9)
In the Old Testament legislation it was provided that sinners could make an offering to God as a means of securing pardon for their sins. There were various different forms of sacrifice for different purposes. Sometimes a sacrifice was simply a means of expressing thanks to God or a sign of communion between the worshippers and God, but certain sacrifices were specifically made to deal with the guilt caused by sin. The idea was that the sinner confessed his sins to God and offered a sacrificial animal to God, who accepted its death, as symbolized by the shedding of its blood, as an atoning offering for sin (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). God accepted the death of the animal instead of the death of the sinner as an offering for sin, always provided that the sinner was using the offering to express his repentance.
The New Testament takes over the sacrificial language of the Old and uses it to express in bold metaphor the significance of the death of Jesus. The sacrificial term "blood" is used more often than any other expression to indicate the death of Jesus (Mark 14:24; John 6:53–56; Acts 20:28; Romans 3:25; 5:9; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 13:11f.; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5). This is all the more remarkable when we recall that death by crucifixion did not involve the shedding of blood to any significant extent. Again, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6), and his death is described as a sacrificial offering to God (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:5ff.). Not only so, but when the New Testament writers look back at the Old Testament in the light of the death of Jesus, they affirm that the old sacrifices were not efficacious in themselves — how could the blood of bulls or goats take away sin (Hebrews 10:4)? Rather they were simply God–given pictures or "types" which provided the imagery with which to understand the "real" sacrifice, that of Jesus. It was the latter which gave them their efficacy since they were really meant to be pointers to it (Hebrews 9:9–14; 10:1–4). The cross, therefore, is to be seen as an act in time with eternal consequences, so that God could forgive sins committed both before and after it.
The word "sacrifice" has lost its biblical meaning in popular parlance. Today it simply means the giving up of something precious, often for the sake of somebody else. A man who rescues somebody from a burning house at the cost of his own life can be said to have sacrificed his own life. This fact reminds us that sacrifice is costly. The worshipper had to surrender something valuable when he made his offering; the cost of God's sacrifice was that he gave up his own Son to the suffering involved in the cross. But this idea of cost is only part of the concept. A sacrifice is also something done for the benefit of somebody else (or for the good of some cause). It is only if I am trying to save somebody from a burning house that my death in it becomes a sacrifice: otherwise it may be nothing more than a tragic accident. The point of the animal sacrifice in the Old Testament was that it was for the good of the worshipper and saved him from having to die for his sins. But the biblical use of the term goes further still, and here it parts company from the modern use of the word: a sacrifice is a costly offering on behalf of somebody else made to God. It is something that is offered to God in order to deal with sin. It can be regarded as a gift to God to make up for a fault, but, at a deeper level, it is the bearing of the penalty due to sin to save the sinner from bearing that penalty himself.
That is what Jesus has done for us. He died the death which is the result and penalty of sin, and so he has released us from the need to die that death. He has provided the means by which sin is "covered" and the wrath of God is "propitiated" or appeased. So fellowship is restored between God and humans (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 10:19f.; 1 John 2:2). To describe this act of Jesus we need to use the words "penal substitution", which convey the truth that Jesus has endured the consequences of sin on behalf of mankind. Consequently, when a sinner comes to God, identifying himself with Jesus in submission to the divine judgment on sin, and trusting him as his Saviour, he finds that he has nothing to contribute of his own, for Jesus has done all that was necessary, and that he is pardoned by the God against whom he had sinned.
The Cross as Deliverance from Sin (Revelation 5:1-14)
The concept of sacrifice is the most important image used in the New Testament to express the meaning of the death of Jesus, for it brings out the significance of the cross in restoring the sinner to a right relation with God. But when we consider the relation of the sinner to sin, the concepts of victory and redemption become important.
The ministry of Jesus can be regarded as a continuous conflict with the power of Satan who sought to deflect Jesus from his path at the beginning (Matthew 4:1–9) and continued to oppose him throughout its course. The death of Jesus represents the high point in that conflict. It can be regarded as the attempt of evil men, inspired by Satan (cf. Luke 22:3), to put an end to what Jesus was doing by killing him. But it turned out to be a complete failure, for Jesus rose from the dead, and his work still continues. Satan could not tempt Jesus to sin during his ministry, nor could he make him yield to the power of death. Rather it was Satan who was judged and defeated at the cross, so that now he ranks as a conquered foe whose final doom is sealed. Like a mortally wounded animal, he continues to struggle, but his death is only a matter of time (John 12:31). He and his minions can no longer lord it over those who trust in Christ, for Jesus Christ is now enthroned as Lord (Ephesians 1:20f.; Philippians 2:9–11; Hebrews 2:14f.; 1 Peter 3:22).
With this thought of victory over Satan is connected the imagery of redemption, the setting free of those who were once the captives of Satan and sin. Again the picture is an Old Testament one, drawn from the use of the word to describe God's mighty act of delivering his people from bondage in Egypt. The tremendous cost of the operation is the point of emphasis, rather than the idea that God has to stoop to pay anybody to set his people free (Exodus 6:6; Nehemiah 1:10; Psalm. 77:14f.; 130:8; Isaiah 43:1–4; 63:9; Jeremiah 50:34). The death of Jesus is depicted as the culminating act of divine deliverance (Luke 1:68; 24:21; Titus 2:14). At the same time the picture probably reflects the legal ceremony in which a slave was set free from his old master by the payment of a ransom price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). The death of Jesus is the cost paid by God to deliver people from sin (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:18), so that they may now become his willing servants (1 Corinthians 7:22f.); they look forward to the day when Satan is finally overcome and they can enter into the joy of full redemption (Luke 21:28; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30).
Questions for study and discussion
- Would anything have been lost from the Christian religion if Jesus had not been a real man?
- "Perfect humanity is divinity," is it?
- What evidence can be gathered from the first three Gospels to show that entry to the kingdom of God depends upon a person's attitude to Jesus? (A concordance will be found useful here.)
- "If Christ had done less than die for us, there would have been no atonement" (J. Denney): why not?
- How would you get across the significance of the death of Jesus to modern people who are not familiar with such ideas as sacrifice and redemption, and think that they are out of date?
Chapter 5 in the book, A Guide to Christian Beliefs, by I. Howard Marshall.