“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27).
It is the New Testament that sets forth the atoning death of Jesus Christ as the most important doctrine of our faith. Amongst the world’s religions it is Christianity alone that has an atonement based upon the life, death and resurrection of its founder. In this study we will take a brief look at the atonement in light of the New Testament. Our later studies will expand upon this.
The whole point of the incarnation of Christ is that He needed to become a man so that He might suffer the agonies of the cross for sinners. Though there are many reasons why He came, none would be of any value unless Jesus died as our Messiah (John 12:27). His central role was that of the suffering Saviour who laid down His life as a ransom … “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The “ransom” was a familiar idea in Jewish thought. Under the Old Covenant it was the price paid to God for the life of the firstborn (Leviticus 25:25; Numbers 18:15). For us it is the price Christ paid to purchase our salvation. It should be noted that we reject the theory that states that the “ransom” was paid to Satan for the release of the sinner. Since the Old Testament ransom points directly to Christ, we should accept His blood as payment to God.
What Peter taught
Christ’s death was at the very heart of Peter’s theology, since he presents His blood as the only possible means of personal salvation … “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” … “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:2, 18-19; see also Acts 3:12-26). For Peter the death of Christ was the substitutionary, vicarious, and redeeming work of the innocent Lamb of God … “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
What John taught
It should not surprise us to learn that John too portrays the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour. He describes Christ as the only means of regeneration and purification. In the book of Revelation He is seen as the Sacrificial Lamb which cleanses the sinner from all iniquity (Revelation 5:6-12; 7:10; 21:23). This thought is very clear in John’s gospel also (John 1:29, 36; 12:32; 10:11-15). In his first letter John makes use of that powerful word “propitiation” to explain Christ’s work on the cross (1 John 2:2). The word, which can be translated as ‘mercy seat,’ is best understood as the atoning sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God (see Exodus 25:17-22). John Wesley wrote, “Just as wide as sin extends, the propitiation extends also.” Though it appeases the wrath of God, it reveals His great love too (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:10).
What Paul taught
Paul’s teaching was built squarely upon the solid foundation of the atonement. In his writings we see the sinner as totally lost, enslaved, hopeless and guilty. He is spiritually dead and deserving of the worst of punishments from God. Yet he presents Christ as our Redeemer, Justifier, Sanctifier and Saviour. Jesus Christ came to annul the power of sin in the lives of those who put faith in Him (see Romans 7-8). Everywhere we read we will find the atonement and the consequences of it clearly set out by Paul (Romans 3:25; 5:6,9; 2 Corinthians 5:15, 19, 21; Hebrews 9:14, 26).
Sin, as seen in both Testaments, has separated man from God, and it is not possible for him to make his own way back to Him. Christ’s death is the only means whereby the repentant sinner can be reconciled to the Lord. His blood cancels the curse, purifies us from sin, frees us from guilt and condemnation, and gives us perfect liberty to fellowship with God. All we need to do is willingly accept His work for us in faith. It is not God’s desire for any soul to be damned … “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).