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Aspects of the Atoning Death of Christ

(1)            Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21)


See Rom. 5:10-11; 11:15; 2 Cor. 5:18,19,20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20,22.


1)            The objective dimension - There are several different, but related, kinds of reconciliation:


·      John persuades Frank and Tom to give up their anger against one another. John, being a third party, reconciles the two men to each other.


·      Tom persuades Frank to give up his anger against Tom.


·      Frank gives up his own anger against Tom 

But we need yet another category to describe what God has done for us.  

·      At His own initiative, God removes that which is the cause of His anger against us, namely, our sin. He removes the cause of spiritual alienation by transferring His wrath against us to a proper substitute 

Thus the objective element in reconciliation refers to the activity of God whereby his enmity or wrath against sinners is consumed by another, namely, our substitute the Lord Jesus Christ. Reconciliation, therefore, is the restoration of harmony by the removal of whatever was the cause of alienation (i.e., our sin). This reconciling work:  

a)            is wholly of God - v. 18a

b)            is a finished work - v. 18b

c)            entails the non-imputation of sin - v. 19a

d)            constitutes the message of the gospel - vv. 18c,19b  

2)            The subjective dimension - The subjective element in reconciliation refers to the fact that the activity in Christ whereby God disposed of his enmity against us must be received by faith. That is to say, we in turn, by his grace, must dispose of our enmity against him.  

"What is it that makes a Gospel necessary? What is it that the wisdom and love of God undertake to deal with, and do deal with, in that marvellous way which constitutes the Gospel? Is it man's distrust of God? Is it man's dislike, fear, antipathy, spiritual alienation? Not if we accept the Apostle's teaching. The serious thing which makes the Gospel necessary, and the putting away of which constitutes the Gospel, is God's condemnation of the world and its sin; it is God's wrath, 'revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men' (Rom. 1:16-18). The putting away of this is 'reconciliation'; the preaching of this reconciliation is the preaching of the Gospel.  

When St. Paul says that God has given him the ministry of reconciliation, he means that he is a preacher of this peace. He ministers reconciliation to the world. . . . It is not the main part of his vocation to tell men to make their peace with God, but to tell them that God has made peace with the world. At bottom, the Gospel is not good advice, but good news. All the good advice it gives is summed up in this – Receive the good news. But if the good news be taken away; if we cannot say, God has made peace, God has dealt seriously with His condemnation of sin, so that it no longer stands in the way of your return to Him; if we cannot say, Here is the reconciliation, receive it, -- then for man's actual state we have no Gospel at all.  

When Christ's work was done, the reconciliation of the world was accomplished. When men were called to receive it, they were called to a relation to God, not in which they would no more be against Him – though that is included – but in which they would no more have Him against them. There would be no condemnation thenceforth to those who were in Christ Jesus" (James Denney).  

In vv. 20-21 Paul turns his focus to the proclamation of reconciliation.


1)            ambassadors on behalf of Christ - v. 20

2)            atonement by means of Christ - v. 21  

a)            the role of God the Father in the death of God the Son - Ps. 22:1,15; Isa. 53:4,6,10 (cf. Jn. 10:17ff.; Heb. 10:7ff. PT: the Son was not an unwilling victim)  

b)            the sinlessness of God the Son - John 8:29,46; 9:16; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pt. 1:18-19; 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 3:5; Acts 3:14; 4:27-30. That as God he is without sin goes without saying, "but what is of vital importance for us and our reconciliation is that as Man, that is, in His incarnate state, Christ knew no sin, for only on that ground was He qualified to effect an atonement as Man for man" (Hughes, 212).  

c)            how was Jesus "made to be sin" for us?  

·      First, sin may be considered in its formal nature as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4); i.e., sin as an act. In this respect we are sinners 

·      Second, sin may be considered as a moral quality inherent in the person who sins; i.e., the sin principle (Rom. 7:14-25). In this respect we are sinful.

In neither of these senses can it be said that Jesus was "made sin" for us, for he neither committed sin (and thus was not a sinner) nor possessed a nature infected by it (and thus was not sinful). 

·      Third, sin may also be considered in its legal aspect, principally as guilt; i.e., the liability to suffer the penal consequences of the law. It was in this sense, then, that Jesus was "made to be sin on our behalf."  

d)            the doctrine of imputation  

Adam' sin         ®            imputed to      ®            us            ®            original sin


our sin             ®            imputed to      ®            Christ      ®            atonement


Christ's             ®            imputed to      ®            us            ®            justification



"Such we are in the sight of God the Father, as is the very Son of God himself. Let it be counted folly or frenzy or fury or whatever. It is our wisdom and our comfort; we care for no knowledge in the world but this: that man hath sinned and God hath suffered; that God hath made himself the sin of men, and that men are made the righteousness of God" (Thomas Hooker).  

This is the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (see Isa. 53; Gal. 3:13; Ps. 22:1-8,14-18; 1 Pt. 2:24).


(2)            Propitiation (1 John 2:1-2)


On propitiation, see John Stott, The Epistles of John (IVP, 1988), pp. 89-93; Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 125-185; John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans, 1973), pp. 29-33; Roger Nicole, "C. H. Dodd and the Doctrine of Propitiation," Westminster Theological Journal, May 1955, Vol. XVII, pp. 117-57. The relevant NT texts are Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Hebrews 2:17.


To propitiate is to turn away wrath. The word John uses is hilasmos, found in only two places in the NT, both of them in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). The debate among scholars is whether the atoning sacrifice or propitiation deals only with the removal of sin (hence, “expiation”) or whether it also entails the appeasement or removal of God’s wrath. Murray and other conservative scholars opt for the latter:


"To propitiate means to placate, pacify, appease, conciliate. And it is this idea that is applied to the atonement accomplished by Christ. Propitiation presupposed the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people" (30).  

Thus, propitiation entails four elements:


·      an offense, crime, or sin which incurs a penalty  

·      an offended person whose anger needs to be appeased  

·      an offending person who needs to be pardoned and accepted  

·      a sacrifice of sufficent value to appease the offended person, resulting in pardon and acceptance of the offender, and a reconciliation of the two estranged parties.  

What of the extent of Christ’s propitiation? Options:


·      for "our" sins (= the elect) and for the sins of "the whole world" (= the non-elect)  

·      for "our" sins (= Jewish believers) and for the sins of "the whole world" (= Gentile believers)  

·      for "our" sins (= believers in Asia Minor) and for the sins of "the whole world" (= believers outside Asia Minor)  


(3)            Redemption (Eph. 1:7ff.)


The term translated “redemption” (apolutrosis) occurs 10x in the NT and means release or deliverance from a state of slavery by the payment of a ransom. See Mt. 20:28. The OT background for this concept is found in God’s “redemption” or “deliverance” of Israel from Egypt (see Ex. 21:8; Lev. 25:48; Dt. 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15). Redemption is actually three-fold: past (at the time of Christ’s death; Heb. 9:12,15); present (in the sense that it is a possession we now have; this is the emphasis of Eph. 1:7; see also Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:14); and future (final deliverance = glorification of the body; Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14; 4:30).


Note again that redemption is inextricably bound up with and inseparable from Jesus (“in whom we have redemption”). Thus, apart from Jesus there is no redemption. Period.  

The means by which we are redeemed from the slavery of sin is “the blood of Christ”. Redemption is not the product of divine fiat. God cannot simply “will” redemption into being. It is possible only via a substitutionary sacrifice, an atoning ransom that propitiates the righteous wrath of God. See esp. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23 for emphasis on the purchase “price”. 

Here (in v. 7c) “the forgiveness of sins” stands in apposition to redemption, i.e., redemption = forgiveness of sins. The latter concept is rare in Paul but frequent in Acts (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18). To be forgiven means to be released from legal liability to endure the punishment that sin and its guilt require.

Note well: the “blood” of Christ and “the riches of God’s grace” are not antithetical! The former is indeed the manifestation of the latter. Christ’s shed blood is grace! The term translated “wealth” or “riches” in v. 7 and the verb “lavished” in v. 8 speak of incalculable abundance and extravagance in God’s kindness toward sinners.



The Heavenly Intercession of Jesus Christ  

A.        Biblical evidence for Christ's heavenly advocacy


1.            Prefigured in the Old Testament - We know that Christ's atoning death was prefigured by the offering of sacrifices on the brazen altar, but the daily burning of incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place (cf. Exod. 30:1-10; Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4), symbolic of Israel's prayers, also prefigured the priestly prayers of Jesus on behalf of his people.  

2.            Confirmed in the New Testament - 1 John 2:1-2; Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 7:25; 9:24; 10:19-22; John 17; Romans 8:28-34; John 14:16.  

B.        For whom does Christ intercede?


John 17:2,9,20; Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:33-34.


C.            Characteristics of Christ's intercession


1.            His intercession is inseparable from his atoning death - In the OT, those for whom sacrifice was made were represented by the priest before God. So, too, in the NT those who are the recipients of Christ's redemptive blessing are those for whom he intercedes with the Father. Rom. 8:33-34 indicates that the basis for our receiving the blessings of his redemptive work is his intercession on our behalf at God's right hand. The intercessory work of Christ is but a continuation of the atoning work of Calvary, serving as the means whereby the saving benefits of his sacrifice are effectually applied. As Calvin says, "He appears before God for the purpose of exercising towards us the power and efficacy of His sacrifice. . . . Christ's intercession is the continual application of His death to our salvation" (Commentary on 1 John, 243). This is why John speaks of Christ's propitiatory work as the ground or cause (i.e., the basis of his appeal) of his advocacy. The success of the latter depends on the success of the former.  

2.            His intercession brings assurance of the fulfillment of God's promises - Hebrews 6:17-20  

3.            His intercession secures our sanctification - John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Peter 2:5; Hebrews 13:15.  

4.            His intercession is a ministry of comfort, strengthening and sympathy  

a.            to help us deal with temptation (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16)

b.            to help us deal with sorrow (Heb. 4:14-16)

c.            to give us hope (John 17:24)  

5.            His intercession keeps us secure in the Father's redemptive purpose - John 17:11; Rom. 5:6-11; 8:33-34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:2.  

6.            His intercession provides us with access to the Father in prayer - 1 Pt. 2:5  

7.            His intercession is incessant - Heb. 7:25