Work of Christ
Course: Understanding Theology
Lecture: Work of Christ
We will look in this lecture at Christ’s work as the atoning Savior, his past work that he accomplished on the cross. We will look briefly at his present work and his future work when he comes again.
I. Past Work: Christ, The Atoning Savior
A. Aspects of the Atonement
All of us realize that at the very centerpiece of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the fact that Christ has died for our sins. We read that in 1 Corinthians 15. The gospel that Christ proclaimed to them before, he reminds them of again there. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried; he was raised again on the third day and appeared to many people. We celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. What we wish to do here is to look at exactly what took place in the atoning work of Christ. There are at least these six aspects, as it were, that we’ll look at together that form different facets of one diamond. No one of these can by itself communicate the fullness of the atonement, but together they provide a rich display of the various aspects that are involved in this uniform, single, atoning work that Christ accomplished on our behalf.
The first aspect of the atonement is the fact that Christ’s death was a sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” That is why we see in the Old Testament the insistence upon a blood sacrifice. An animal was brought and his throat was slit. It is gruesome to picture what we read in the Old Testament in the book of Leviticus and so on about the sacrificial system that took place, to imagine the amount of blood and the numbers of animals that were brought to the priests for sacrifices to be made. Surely this was a vivid picture for the Israelites and it is for us as we think carefully about what took place, that death had to take place, shedding of blood had to occur. We realize that those animals never could take away sin.
We read in Hebrews 10:4, “The blood of bulls and goats simply cannot remove sin.” So, even though they were required for the people to offer these animals as a blood sacrifice we also know that those sacrifices were in themselves ineffectual, that is, not effective in atoning for sin. They, rather, pointed forward to a time when Christ would come, as we read in Hebrews 9:26, “To put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Until that point when Christ comes and actually makes the payment for sin, that sin is not dealt with.
I think this is what Paul is getting at in Roman 3 where Paul talks about God passing over sins that were committed previously. Look with me in Romans 3:24ff. Paul says, “We are justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. That was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of his righteousness at the present time.” Clearly, one of Paul’s points in the passage is to say that even though Israelites, faithful Israelites that is, offered sacrifices in faith and their sins were forgiven that, in fact, if you looked at those sacrifices in and of themselves there was nothing atoning about them. They could not take away sin.
So, how did God then justify those people? How could he have pronounced them forgiven of their sin? Simply because God knew that there would be a future sacrifice of Christ, that those earlier animal sacrifices pointed to, those animal sacrifices were the type and Christ’s sacrifice was the anti-type and so we have the fulfillment. So in Christ we have the sacrifice which actually does take away sin; fully and finally.
I liken this, that is the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament compared to the sacrifice of Christ, to purchasing things with a credit card. You know you can go into a store and buy clothing or food and so called pay for it, that is, charge it to a credit card, walk out the door and you have not paid a cent and yet those items are yours. How can that be? It’s legal because you make an agreement by that credit card signature that you will pay in a future day for what you have taken. Those items belong to you only because of the legal agreement of a future payment that will be forthcoming.
And in the same way God could forgive people through the Old Testament animal sacrifices because of the real sacrifice, the real payment that would be forthcoming when Christ gave himself as a sacrifice of himself to put away sin (Hebrews 9:26). Some other passages you might want to look at that relate to the sacrifice of Christ, the shedding of blood and so on are these: Ephesians 1:7, Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Peter 3:18, and 1 John 3:5 and, of course, the marvelous statement in John 1:29 that has John the Baptist looking at Christ and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Clearly the New Testament affirms and the Old Testament prophesied that the one who would come and die for sin would do so as a substitute for our sin, paying the penalty that we deserve to pay, dying in the place of us, becoming the curse for us. There are a number of passages that support this.
a. OT Testimony. We see that in the sacrificial system itself devised in Leviticus, chapters 4-7, and then expressed on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 that this illustrates the nature of substitutionary atonement as an animal dies instead of the sinful Israelite. So a substitute is given in place of the sinner. Of course, that figures in advance the sacrifice of Christ. But even more beautifully and specifically Isaiah 53 just resounds with the substitutionary nature of the sacrifice of the servant who will come.
Look with me at verses Isaiah 53:4-6. “Surely our griefs he himself bore, our sorrows he carried.” Can you see substitution in that? They weren’t his own griefs, they weren’t his own sorrows, he carried our griefs, our sorrows. He substituted for us in carrying those. “Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” I think that point of that in verse 4 is it didn’t look like he was paying for our sin; it looked like he was paying for his own. It looked like he was being judged by God for his own sin but in fact that is not what was happening. Appearances in this case are terribly misleading. It looks as though God is judging him for his sin but in fact, verse 5, “he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The chastening for our wellbeing fell upon him. By his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him.” No question that substitutionary atonement is indicated.
b. NT Testimony. In the New Testament there is abundant evidence for substitutionary atonement. So many passages speak of Christ who died for us or gave himself for us. In many of these cases it is clear that the word “for,” which is the Greek word huper has the notion of not merely doing something for the benefit of another but doing something in the place of the other person doing it.
Let me give you a few of these examples because even the English word can carry either of those connotations. It can mean simply you do something “for the benefit of another person,” it can mean you do it “in their place.” I’ll give you an example. If your rich uncle, you can pretend you have one if you don’t, if your rich uncle sent you a check just out of the blue, no particular reason and he said this hundred dollars is for you. That is just for your benefit. But, if your rich uncle knows you owe the local furniture company a hundred dollars and he says I’m sending this check for you in order to pay your furniture bill. There you realize that the payment is not just for your benefit, it is in the place of you paying it. He is making the payment in your place. I think this is true in a number of the usages of huper in the New Testament, “for.”
For example, John 10:11, 15, “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Verse 15, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Clearly this is for their benefit. How is it for their benefit? He lays down his life, that is, he exchanges his life for the life of the sheep; he is willing to die in order for the sheep to live so he gives his life in the place of the sheep dying. He dies instead of the sheep dying.
Another clear passage, it seems to me, is Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law having become a curse for us.” Here again, obviously the point is Christ became the curse in our place. We who deserved the curse, look just a few verses earlier and you will see we’re the ones who are cursed because we have broken the law, but Christ takes the curse for us, that is, in our place.
Perhaps also 1 Peter 3:18 can be understood this way. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God.” Obviously this is not just something for our benefit but taking our place, taking our sins, because he is called “the just.” “The just one” does not have his own sin so how is it he dies for sins once for all? By paying the penalty for our sin. So the just for the unjust must be then a payment that is made in the place of or instead of the unjust. Let me give you just some other passages that indicate the nature of the substitutionary atonement. Romans 5:6, 8; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 5:21; let me linger there for just a second.
What an amazing statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God the Father made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Remarkable statement that God placed upon the Son the entirety of sin as Paul puts it in this verse, and he bears that so that we might become his righteousness, share in his righteousness. Now Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 2:9, these are all passages in which the preposition huper that Christ gave himself for us or on our behalf, in our place it should be translated in most of these or should be understood to mean that in most of these passages. A couple other key passages, Romans 3 that we looked at a moment ago, verses 23-25, Hebrews 7:26-27 along with Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24; and 1 John 2:2 are all passages that speak of the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement.
Redemption is another facet of the atonement that we need to spend a few moments on. Redemption refers to the giving of Christ’s life as the payment of the price needed to secure our release from the bondage and guilt of sin. Redemption has in mind a marketplace type of analogy that God paid the price necessary to deliver us from sin. What was the payment price needed? The payment price is the death of Christ. He redeemed us, that is, he paid for our release so that we could be purchased from, as it were, the slave market of sin.
Redemption then is really in some ways central to the atoning work of Christ. It is through redemption that the sacrifice is effective. It is through redemption that the substitution takes place where Christ substitutes himself for us and it is through redemption that the other aspects of the atonement we will look at in a few moments flow, they flow out of this notion of Christ being the redeemer.
Let me just comment here real briefly that I think it would be helpful if we talked in our evangelism more frequently about Christ as redeemer. Because you see the very concept of Christ as redeemer entails the fact that Christ is Lord, that is, he bought us. “We have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your bodies,” (1 Cor. 6:20). Christ has redeemed us. Therefore, coming to Christ is coming to the one who has purchased us, bought us. We realize from the very outset when we become a Christian or if we present the gospel for people to come to Christ we realize that they come to Christ who is Savior, yes, but he is Savior and Redeemer. Redeemer entails his lordship, his ownership, his rightful rulership over their lives. This I think would clarify things a lot for people in gospel presentation in understanding we invite people, call people, to come to the one who saved them from their sin, yes, but bought them by his work that he accomplished on the cross. They are not their own; they have been purchased by another; they now belong to Christ and coming to him by faith acknowledges that.
What are some of the key passages for redemption? Some that use the term agorazo which is the common term used for purchases made in the marketplace, the agora, would be the following: 1 Corinthians 6:20, “You have been bought with a price.” 1 Corinthians 7:23 likewise says, “You were brought with a price.” Galatians 3:13 it adds the preposition ek to it, “bought out of,” “Christ redeemed us out of, or from the curse of the law.” 2 Peter 2:1 speaks of people who deny the Master who bought them and the term agorazo was used there of these, in this case of clearly unbelievers who are destined to perish according to this passage but it says of them that they deny the Master who bought them. Revelation 5:9-10, “Worthy art thou to take the book and to break its seals for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood, human beings from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” We have this marvelous statement of the Lamb who is worshiped at the end of the ages. What did he do? He purchased, he redeemed for God people from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Another term is used, the term lutron, lutroo and it is sometimes translated “ransom.” Luke 24:21, “We were hoping that it was he who was going to redeem Israel (or ransom Israel).” Matthew 20:28 is the most famous passage, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.” It is used also in Titus 2:14, 1 Peter 1:18-19 and 1 Timothy 2:6 with a preposition added there. Here, the notion of a ransom does not communicate what some have thought in church history. Namely, that a ransom is paid to Satan, for example, so that God pays Satan with the death of his Son in order to buy us from Satan out of slavery. This is a theory that has been held by a number in the history of the church but I think it runs into a couple of serious problems.
One is the ransom theory implies that God actually goes back on his deal. The deal was I give you My Son, you give me those sinners that you’re holding. Then after that happens, after God gives him his Son and God receives his redeemed then he takes his Son back. Satan doesn’t realize that was going to be part of the deal or he wouldn’t have done it. That is a problem.
Another problem, I think, the main one, that Scripture indicates that it is actually God who is not only the subject who makes the payment but God is the object who receives the payment. That is, the payment is made by God and it is made to God. You might think of it this way; the payment is made by God’s compassion and love and mercy and grace and it is made to the demands of God’s holiness and justice. That is, God in his love longs for these sinners to be saved. He wants them to escape the otherwise certain destiny of eternal condemnation and enter into his presence and experience joy forevermore. He wants that for them but how can he give that to them. He cannot violate the requirements of the law that he has set up, that law which is an extension of his own nature. He cannot violate his own moral standards and just forget about sin; forget it, sweep it under the carpet. No, rather, God must deal with sin; he must make the payment necessary to pay for sin. What payment is that? It is death. So the demands of God’s justice require that this payment be made. The payment is made from God, by God, and to God to satisfy the just demands of his holiness and his justice.
Another passage which indicates, I believe, that the payment is made to God is in the book of Hebrews. Look with me at Hebrews 9:12-15, the writer says here that it is “not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
Here you can really see two ways in which this supports the notion that the ransom is made to God. The first is the clear statement in verse 14 that he offered himself without blemish to God. That is straightforward. The offering is made to God not to Satan. But verse 15, notice this. He says, “For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant so that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions committed under the first covenant those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
Here is the picture, under the first covenant God required that if the covenant is broken the demands and requirements of it have to be met. Under the first covenant, the Mosaic covenant, if you disobey me, God says, I will curse you. So he had to bring a curse from the first covenant in order to satisfy the demands of his own justice. So in order to establish a new covenant he has to, first of all, to settle, as it were, the old covenant account. We’re the ones who broke it, that is, the people of God broke it. But God is the one who provides the payment necessary to satisfy the demands of the first covenant in order for him to establish then this new covenant that will not fail and will succeed in establishing God’s people as his holy people forever. The ransom, then, is paid to God and pays the penalty for our sin.
This is a term that has been taken out of a number of contemporary translations and I think this a tragedy to be honest with you because it is a rich biblical term and needs to be retained in our understanding and vocabulary as Christian people. The term refers to the appeasement or the satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin that occurs by virtue of Christ’s payment for our sin and guilt. It is the appeasement of God’s wrath or the satisfaction of God’s justice against our sin.
The term in used four times in the New Testament; Romans 3:25, Hebrews 2:17: 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10. Let me just take a moment with you in Romans 3 where he says in verse 25, “Christ has been provided as the redemption,” in verse 24. Now verse 25, “Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed.” So the picture is this; in the entire history, up to this point, even though there has been a sacrificial system there has been, in fact, no real payment for sin as we spoke of earlier. Therefore, God needs to display his righteousness now that he is just in forgiving sin. That is the way it ends in verse 26, “that he may be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ Jesus.” How is God just to forgive if, in fact, these sins have not been forgiven? He is just if, in fact, now at this time he demonstrates his righteousness, he demonstrates that it is just for him to forgive because in Christ he satisfies the demands of his righteousness against our sin. And in this way he is both just and the justifier. He is just and merciful, if you will, in forgiving our sins. Both of those occur together.
One aspect of this notion of propitiation that has been highly objectionable to a number of people is the implication that God is wrathful toward us in our sin. Many people who are inclined to think exclusively of God as a God of love have not been able to accept this notion that God is a God of wrath. But we have good biblical reason for affirming that this is the case.
Let me show you, for example, in Romans 1 after Paul has just announced the gospel. In fact, the whole book of Romans really is an explication of verses 16 and 17. “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek for in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” Again there, you can see that’s propitiation implied, can’t you. The righteousness of God is revealed, as by faith people are saved from their sins, they really are subjects of justification by faith because the payment has now been made, so in it “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. It is written, ‘the righteous man shall live by faith.’” Immediately after that he begins the problem that we’re in. What is the problem? Verse 18, he doesn’t start, the leading thought is not we’re sinners, that is the problem. Here is the leading thought, verse 18. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Is it right to say that the biggest problem we have before God is the fact that we’re sinners? Yes, that is correct, but to be more precise let’s put it this way, the biggest problem we have before God is the fact that as sinners God’s wrath stands against us. That is sobering.
Look at another passage with me just so you can see this is not an isolated case. In Ephesians 2 where Paul describes the condition we are in in our sin it is clear that that sinful condition leaves us in a place where we stand under God’s wrath. Look at verses 1 to 3 with me. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lust of our flesh indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature,” here it comes, “children of wrath even as the rest.” Here we are facing the impending wrath of God against our sin and one of the most glorious announcements of the gospel is the message of propitiation that the God who was against us in his wrath, against our sin, he had to be against us because we owned our sin, we possessed our sin, we deserved the just punishment of our sin, so, though God’s wrath had been against us, now that wrath is satisfied in Christ. Oh, what glorious good news this is; that God is satisfied! There is no further wrath needed. So we stand then, as we read in Romans 5, “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God.” What glorious news the doctrine of propitiation is, that in Christ the demands of God’s justice against our sin are satisfied.
It is the flip side of this doctrine of propitiation. If propitiation means that God is satisfied with the death of Christ, expiation means that our liability or responsibility to suffer sin’s penalty is removed because of the death of Christ. Expiation refers then to the elimination of the necessity or the liability of human beings to pay the penalty for their own sin. We don’t have to pay it any longer, and if we did have to pay it, you realize what that would mean? Our payment for our own sin would require our eternal punishment. We would never finish paying for our own sin. The glorious news of expiation is the necessity of you and me paying for our sin is removed because of Christ’s death on our behalf, paying for our sin. By faith in Christ we enter into the reality of our sin being paid for by another, by Christ on our behalf.
Expiation is certainly implied in 2 Corinthians 5:19, at least understood correctly, I believe this doctrine is certainly articulated here. We read there that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. And he has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” Now that notion of not counting their trespasses against them indicates they don’t have to pay them. They are not in a position any longer where they have to pay; where it is necessary for them to pay the penalty for their own sin. Why? Because verse 21, “God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” So our sin is expiated as God and his justice and holiness are propitiated through the death of Christ.
Another passage that clearly indicates expiation that it’s the removal of this liability to suffer sins penalty is in Colossians 2:14, a very rich passage where we read that, “In Christ he has canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us and he has taken it out of the way having nailed it to the cross.” Here, clearly, we have this picture of, as it were, a piece of paper that lists our debt that we owe and if someone doesn’t pay that debt for us, we have to pay it. It is God’s decrees against us; we have broken his law.
So this certificate of debt outlining all of the ways we have broken the law of God stands against us and is hostile to us because we have to pay it and if we don’t pay it we are condemned, but he canceled out the certificate of debt. It is though he took a large marker and he wrote across that piece of paper that listed the entirety of our sin against the law; he wrote across that piece of paper, “Paid In Full, Debt Cancelled.” How is that? Because he took it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. So here in Christ and his death; he made the payment for our sin, paid the penalty so we no longer must bear that particular penalty for sin. Christ by his death propitiates God and his wrath and expiates us.
One question I want to raise with you here comes up every so often in class; I think it is worth thinking about. Why is it that God had to offer his Son to be the sacrifice that would propitiate him, that is, satisfy him and his wrath against our sin, his just judgment against our sin and to expiate us, that is, to remove from us the liability to suffer sin’s penalty? Could not God instead have created simply a sinless human being? A second Adam who was Adam only? That is, who was a man only but not the God-man. Did he have to give his Son?
I remember my daughter, Rachel, who was at this time I think about 12-years-old, asked me this question one night before bed. Why did God send his own Son? Why didn’t he just create another human being who would live a sinless life and offer himself as a substitute for us for our sins? The answer to that is simply this. If another human being, even a sinless human being, were to take my sin and pay for it, how long would a human being only end up paying for my sin? The answer is he would pay for it as long as I would. How long is that? Forever. That is, there never would be an end to the payment. That is why hell is eternal, by the way, is because this is not purgatory, this is not where your sins are finally purged, are finally paid for and then you can go to heaven. No, hell is eternal precisely because the payment for sin never finishes.
So if another human being took my sin and paid for it, it would never be paid for; God’s wrath would never be satisfied. Hence, he would not be propitiated and I would never be expiated. My liability for paying sins penalty would never be met. So this could not be a savior. The only way we can be saved is if the one comes who pays for our sin offers a sacrifice of sufficient value to pay an infinite penalty with an infinite sacrifice. Hence, the sacrifice must be the God-man, who is divine, offering infinite value in the payment, and human, substituting for us to make the payment.
This involves three things. As I give you the definition of reconciliation you can hear these. Reconciliation is the change of relationship between God and human beings whereby alienation and enmity are replaced by peace and acceptance. So the three aspects you can see are this.
a. Three aspects of reconciliation. First of all there is a standing relationship of estrangement or alienation. Clearly this is the case between God and us. We stand before God in our sin as rebels. We have our fists clinched toward heaven. We will to go our own ways. We have succumb to this urge for independence that I spoke of earlier under the doctrine of sin and are living in outright rebellion against our Creator. God on his part has the disposition toward us in our sin of being just judge against us. His wrath is vented and will be meted out if there is not forgiveness of sin.
But then comes this second element of reconciliation and that is intervention, to remove the basis for the estrangement or the basis for the alienation. The basis for that is our sinfulness. Notice this, though, God who is the innocent part in this relationship, he is not the one who has committed the offense, he is the one who has been offended against. Nonetheless, he is the one who provides the basis by which this alienation between God and man can be removed. By sending his Son he provides the forgiveness of sin that removes the basis of this alienation.
And then reconciliation involves third not just a truce between warring parties. It is not just, “Okay I’ll quit fighting against you if you quit fighting against me,” and leave it there. No. This is not a truce; this is the coming together of two previously estranged parties now in a renewed relationship of peace and acceptance; mutual fellowship and joyous union. This is what reconciliation involves. Again, this happens as by faith in Christ we then receive the benefits of the atoning death of Christ and are reconciled. None of these aspects, of course, comes to people just because Christ died. They come because of his death and through faith in Christ to receive the benefits of that death on the cross for us.
b. Key NT Passages. The key passages for reconciliation are the following: Romans 5:10-11, “If while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more having been reconciled we will be saved by his life. Not only this, but we exalt in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Clearly, by faith in Christ we receive not only justification but also reunion in our relationship with him in which we now we have a relationship of peace and acceptance and joyous union with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:17, “God made Christ who knew no sin to be sin that we might become the righteousness of God through him and this accomplishes reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself not counting their trespasses against them.”
Ephesians 2:16 where we read that “the circumcision and uncircumcision are together in one new man reconciled in one body to God through the cross having put to death the enmity.” In this case the enmity is the enmity between Jew and Gentile and so it is very interesting in this passage where our vertical reconciliation with God, the enmity with God is broken, is pictured or mirrored or manifest in horizontal reconciliation between warring human parties, in this case Jew and Gentile. It demonstrates how the gospel reconciliation with God is meant to be manifest in a human form as we are reconciled with our brothers and sisters in Christ despite ethnic, national, gender distinctions among us we are one in Christ as we read in Galatians 3:28, for example.
In Colossians 1:20-22 where, “It was the Fathers good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Christ and through him to reconcile all things to himself having made peace through the blood of his cross and that he has now reconciled you if we are steadfast in the faith through his fleshly body through death.” So reconciliation then becomes for us one of the capstones, as it were, of God’s saving work in Christ as we are united to him in an eternal bond of fellowship and joyous union through the work of Christ.
B. The Ratification of the Efficacy of the Atonement Through the Resurrection of Christ
It is interesting in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says early in the chapter that the gospel has to do with Christ who has died for our sins. Do you recall this? In verse 3 he says, “For I deliver to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins.” But then a little bit later in this very same chapter he says, “If Christ has not been raised,” this is verse 17, “your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” The question arises, why does Paul say that Christ died for our sins but then he says that if Christ has not been raised we are still in our sins? I thought that the death of Christ paid the penalty for our sin. I though that sin was dealt with by his death and maybe the resurrection really isn’t necessary.
But the fact is the resurrection is necessary for these two reasons. One is that sin presents us with a penalty that must be paid. What is the penalty of sin? Remember in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin, the penalty of sin is death.” If Christ died for sin, that is, paid the penalty for sin, but remains in a grave dead. Guess what? Sins penalty has never been fully paid; he is still paying for it. That is why our eternal punishment as sinful human beings, those who go to hell forever, it is called the second death. Why is that? They pay the penalty of death, separation from God for eternity. If Christ is still in a grave dead then the penalty has not been paid in full and so we are still in our sins as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15. For the penalty to be paid in full requires that the penalties payment end. What is the penalties payment? Death. That must end so what does that require then? Obviously it requires resurrection from the dead.
The second reason that the resurrection is necessary for sin’s vindication, that is the payment for sins vindication, is that sin is not only a penalty it is also a power. Sin has lots of power over people. It leads them to abusive behavior; it leads them to compulsive addictive behaviors; it leads them to lying and cheating and stealing, murdering and adultery and all kinds of horrible things. It has a power over us. We are even told that before we are in Christ we are slaves to sin. It has that kind of power. But the greatest power that sin has, the power over which we have absolutely no recourse or defense is the power of death. Sin’s greatest power is death. So if Christ defeats sin by his death on the cross and he stays in the grave dead, isn’t it apparent from that that he hasn’t defeated sin and its greatest power he has succumbed to sin and its greatest power? Sin has the power over him because it is holding him with its greatest weapon namely death. For Christ to demonstrate that he has conquered sin it is required that he conquer its greatest power death by rising from the dead.
The resurrection of Christ; the literal bodily resurrection of Christ is absolutely essential to our biblical faith and orthodox Christian faith. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins because that would indicate sin’s penalty has not been paid fully, sin’s power has not been conquered. But the fact is Christ has been raised, sin’s penalty is paid in full, sin’s power is conquered absolutely. Christ’s resurrection is the ratification that sin has been defeated and paid for in Christ. We turn now to Christ’s present and future work.
II. Present Work: Christ as Mediator and Lord
We are told in the Book of Hebrews 7:25 that, “Christ lives always to make intercession for his people.” Isn’t that a beautiful concept that Christ intercedes for us? Romans 8:34 also indicates this, where Paul indicates that, “Christ who has been raised from the dead is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.” So here is Christ who is the mediator between God and man. He is the one who pleads our case before the Father. He is the one who brings his prayer requests and ours to the Father. He is the one who acts as the one who represents us to the Father when we are challenged by Satan. Christ pleads our case to the Father on our behalf. He is the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who acts as our intercessor and our mediator.
But he is also at this very moment not only at the right hand of the Father mediating our case but he is also the Lord of the church. Christ stands today as head of the body of the church. Look at Ephesians 1:19-22, which indicates that his being seated at the right hand of the Father, over all rule and authority and power and dominion in every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come, is given for its fundamental purpose that he can be head of the church, and by that, rule the church. It is interesting then our newspapers would give us the notion that the rulership of the nations is really the most important thing in life and the church is sort of secondary. Whether we say anything about the church or know much about the church or whether we are aware of the growth of the church or the like is really relatively unimportant. It is what happens in national politics and international politics that’s important. But the fact of the matter is from a biblical prospective, certainly looking carefully at Ephesians 1:19-23, what is of utmost importance and central significance to the Kingdom of God is the growth of the church.
And so God gives Christ lordship over, headship over, all the nations because he is fundamentally Lord of the church. So we ought to understand developments that happen nationally and internationally whether they are wars or whether kings rise or fall, whether nations are at peace or at war with one another, as ways in which Christ is exercising his rulership over the world to build his church. Notice in Matthew 16 Jesus didn’t give as his number one job description, “I will rule the nations.” No. He said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” So he will accomplish his purpose. He is building his church. He is reigning as Lord. His purpose in this is to bring in those whom the Father has given to him. In John 6 he tells us that, “All the Father gives to me will come to me and I will not cast them out and I will raise them up on the last day.” So his building of the church right now is in the form of calling in those persons whom the Father has given to him, his elect ones, and to bring them into the church to bring to them their salvation and then to restore them to the full image of himself. His purpose is that we become like him that we may enter into the fullness in joy of all that he is.
Christ then is Lord of the church, ruling over the church and our disposition toward him should be one of humble, grateful recipient of his intersession on our behalf to realize that he is praying for us and his prayers for us will be effective in seeing his people endure to the end. And Christ is reigning as Lord so we are not our own, our redemption truly does mean that he is Lord of us as well as Lord of the church as a whole and therefore our allegiance is to him and our obedience must be to him alone.
III. Future Work: Christ as Coming Judge and Reigning King
A. Coming Judge
Christ himself, when he came in his first coming we know that he did not come as judge of people. In John 3 after the famous verse 16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever shall believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” is then followed right after that with this remarkable statement, “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through him.” So his first coming was not a coming of judgment. But then in John 5:22 we read, “For not even the Father judges anything but he has given all judgment to the Son.” That is remarkable. Then a few verses later, verse 27 we read this, “He gave him,” that is the Son, “authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man.” Which of course matches exactly what we see in Daniel 7 regarding the Son of Man there and Jesus quotation of it in Matthew 26. Here we have this marvelous statement of Christ who comes as the judge over all the earth.
This plays a role in apostolic preaching. Look, for example, at Peter’s sermon to Cornelius in Acts 10:42; he mentions the coming judgment that will be conducted by Christ. In Acts 17:31 Paul’s sermon to those Athenians at the Areopagus. Again he mentions Christ’s judgment that will come. I think we neglect telling people; these were evangelistic sermons telling people of the judgment that is coming. The Christ who came not to judge in his first coming is coming again and he will judge in his second coming. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:10 of “the judgment seat of Christ where all believers will stand before him and give an account of what we have done in our bodies whether good or bad.” All will stand before Christ in judgment.
B. Reigning King
But Christ will come not as judge alone, but then after the judgment will reign as King over all. He will establish his throne and reign as the Davidic King to fulfill the promise of 2 Samuel 7:13 and be king forevermore. Other Old Testament passages fulfilled by this will be Isaiah 9:7 that indicates “this king that will come; his kingdom will have no end of the increase of his government or of peace on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it forever and ever.” Jeremiah 23:5, Daniel 2:44, and 7:14, and Zachariah 14:9; all of these speak of the coming of the one who will be king. We remember that he was announced as the king who would come and yet we await the full expression of that kingdom. We see it in Revelation 19, “When the Christ comes again on his white horse and written on him is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” In that day Christ will establish the fullness of his kingdom over all that he has created and to that day we look forward with great anticipation. May God enable us to be faithful.
©2004 Bruce Ware