Revelation 1:5, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood”
Our theme, “Christ died in our place”
Someone has said, “Knowing Christ died – that’s history. Believing He died for me - that’s salvation.” My friend, a personal relationship with God begins with an event Jesus referred to as a new birth (John 3:3). It is only when we are born spiritually into God’s family do we become His children, His friends, His servants, and members of His spiritual kingdom. A popular idea, according to opinion polls today, is that good people go to heaven. And the majority of those polled see their own chances of going there to be real good. Most people base their expectation of heaven on their performance in this life, irrespective of their relationship to Jesus Christ. Is this a valid hope? To answer this question, we must look to the Bible for an authoritative answer. Scripture clearly tells us that a day is coming when evil will be punished and virtue rewarded. This will take place at the Day of Judgment. Those who in this life have not availed themselves of the only way of salvation through the grace of God and the atoning death of Christ will not enter through the gates of heaven.
The Scripture is very clear on this point as stated in, “Revelation 21:27, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” The living faith in Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), is the only condition for having our names written in that book. It’s our decision. We must recognize our need of forgiveness and put our faith in Christ as Redeemer and Savior. Why not make absolutely certain of heaven by opening your heart to Christ the Savior and Lord right now, inviting Him to enter, to cleanse if from sin, and to make it His permanent dwelling place? He gives this assurance, “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). However, the very last book of the Bible closes with an urgent appeal. The coming of the Lord for His own will occur “quickly” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). It will be so sudden that it will give no opportunity for last-minute repentance. Therefore, my friend, the time for salvation is in the here and now.
A. The Predictions of Christ’s Death
Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 set forth in some detail the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. These prophecies, written long before the event took place, constitute the strongest testimony to the inspiration of the Bible since their predictions proved to be completely accurate. Thus, the crowning achievement in the work of redemption was the offering of the Savior on the cross at Calvary. Were it not for what was accomplished there, everyone would be without hope of eternal salvation. It is very important to realize that Christ’s death would be inadequate and unsatisfactory unless He was the God-Man, Virgin-born, sinless and Holy.
(1) A death of suffering (Psalm 22) – opens with an agonized cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This outburst, uttered again hundreds of years later by Christ on the cross (Matthew 27:46), expresses, insofar as human language can, some of the depth of meaning in the Savior’s death. In what sense Christ was forsaken of the Father is difficult for us to understand and explain. However, we do know that since Christ became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and since God is holy and cannot condone sin, the Father found it necessary to turn His back on the Son while He endured those awful agonies. Applied to Christ, the words of the psalmist are significant: “Why hast thou forsaken me? … [Because] thou art holy” (Psalm 22:1, 3). The death of Christ was an absolute necessity because of the nature of God. He is holy. This holiness is His primary attribute, and holiness governed the plan of redemption that He arranged. God’s holiness demands a perfect satisfaction for sin. It was this payment that Christ offered on the cross. The remainder of the psalm describes in some detail the physical sufferings endured by the Redeemer. He suffered the bitter reproach of God’s enemies (v. 6, 7); extreme perspiration, disjointing of bones, and severe heart strain (v. 14); dissipation of strength and awful thirst (v. 15) and numerous other indignities and pain. Mere finite beings can never completely understand nor appreciate what was involved in the sufferings of the Savior, but with gladness of heart we may accept the fact that “Christ also suffered for us” (1 Peter 2:21).
(2) A death of substitution (Isaiah 53) – The entire chapter speaks eloquently of Christ in His redeeming work for us. That Christ’s sacrifice was divinely planned and executed seems evident from the language of the prophet. Such phrases as “the LORD hath laid on him? (v. 6) and “it pleased the LORD to bruise him” (v. 10) would indicate the divine sovereignty regarding His sufferings. Calvary was no accident. Christ was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Perhaps the outstanding emphasis in Isaiah 53 is substitution. A number of phrases stress this fact: “wounded for our transgressions” (v. 5); “laid on him the iniquity” (v. 6); “make his soul an offering” (v. 10); “bear their iniquities” (v. 11); “bare the sin” (v. 12). Sometimes this is referred to as the vicarious suffering of Christ. This is the thought of verse 5, where we are told Christ was wounded and bruised for others. Christ stepped into our place, on the cross, and took upon Himself the suffering we deserved for our sins. By placing faith in Him as our Substitute, we are saved. This Old Testament teaching is amply reinforced in the New Testament. The writers repeatedly referred to Christ’s death on our behalf. Each time believers celebrate the Lord’s Table, they confess the substitutionary death of the Lord. A literal translation of Christ’s words recorded in Luke 22:20 is, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.” Peter speaks frequently of Christ’s death in his two epistles and informs us that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
B. The Persons Included in Christ’s Death
For whom did Christ die? People have differed over the answer to this question. Some hold that Christ died only for the elect, and this view is sometimes referred to as limited atonement. Others hold that, while God has by His sovereign grace elected some to eternal life, the provision that He made through the death of Christ is sufficient to save all who will believe. Naturally we must examine what the Scriptures say. According to the following Scriptures, for whom did Christ die? Secondly, how should that fact affect us? Mark 10:45 states, “For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many”; 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures”; and 1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.”
How is a person to interpret 1 Timothy 2:6, which states that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all”? And what of Hebrews 2:9, which declares that Christ tasted “death for every man”? John writes that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Those who hold that Christ’s death was limited to the elect must limit the phrase “the whole world” to mean “the elect.” Years ago when a pastor was preaching in western Pennsylvania, he was confronted by a young man after the service concerning the nature of Christ’s substitution. The young man asked if it were true that Christ died only for the elect. The pastor replied that it was not. The inquirer responded, “But if Christ died for everyone, doesn’t this guarantee the salvation of all?’ The answer again is no. Lewis Sperry Chafer puts it this way, “Men are not severally saved by the act of Christ in dying, but rather … they are saved by the divine application of that value when they believe.” In other words, Christ’s death in and of itself saves no one. Faith must be exercised before the benefits of that death accrue to any person.
The burden of Scripture is plain … Christ died for everyone. Yet, no universalism is thereby implied. (Universalism is the doctrine that all people will finally be saved.) God has provided salvation, but people must accept it. The all-important act of faith is necessary in order to lay hold on the benefits of Christ’s death, “He that heareth my word, and believeth … hath everlasting life” (John 5:24), emphasis added). Obviously, if such is the case, then the responsibility of gospel preaching becomes even more urgent (Romans 10:14). Believers are responsible to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. (Mark 16:15). With what results? Some will believe and be saved; while others will reject and be lost (Mark 16:16). Did Christ die for everyone? Yes, but some exercise saving faith, and others do not.
So far we have discussed Bible prophecies concerning the suffering and substitutionary death of Christ and that His death was sufficient for all who receive Him as Savior. We will now look at the theological terms of redemption, propitiation and reconciliation.
It means “freedom by the payment of a price”. We are ransomed from our sin and condemnation. The death of Christ also means we have been bought out of bondage from sin and Satan. The ransom price for our sin has been paid in full (Matthew 20:28; Romans 3:24; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Galatians 3:13; 4:4, 5; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1:18, 19). The word translated “redeemed” in 1 Peter 1:18 emphasizes the freedom one enjoys as a result of redemption. It means “to release upon receipt of ransom” or “to loose or free”. The Lord Jesus Christ has provided a full and complete redemption. The believer can no longer be sold because Christ has purchased him or her eternally.
(1) Through His death we have purpose, we are to give all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength to following Jesus – Mark 8:34, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”; (2) Through His death we have comfort in trial or sorrow; the God of all comfort … comforts us in all our tribulation. Through His death we have wisdom, we need wisdom beyond our own for making decisions – James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, … and it will be given to him”; and, (3) Through His death we have strength, when we’re weary, “the LORD will give strength to His people – Psalm 29:11.” Through His death we can have an abundant life, the fullest life is found in a relationship with Jesus – John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Although Christ lived an absolutely sinless life, it was His death, not His life, which atoned for our sin. His sufferings in life were real and unfathomable. What agony of soul He must have endured as His holy Person was confronted with sin and sinners. What grief was surely His as He was ridiculed, mocked, scoffed, reviled, spat upon, and blasphemed! His compassion was infinite even for those who rejected Him. His suffering involved these and many more things, but it was non-substitutionary suffering; it did not atone for sin. Scripture teaches that the only means of redemption from sin is through the shed blood of Christ. Redemption is therefore related to His death. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out – John 6:37.”
(2) Propitiation provided
The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement, or satisfaction, specifically towards God. Propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to him. The necessity of appeasing God is something many religions have in common. In ancient pagan religions, as well as in many religions today, the idea is taught that man appeases God by offering various gifts or sacrifices. However, the Bible teaches that God Himself has provided the only means through which His wrath can be appeased and sinful man can be reconciled to Him. In the New Testament, the act of propitiation always refers to the work of God and not the sacrifices or gifts offered by man. The reason for this is that man is totally incapable of satisfying God’s justice except by spending eternity in hell. There is no service, sacrifice or gift that man can offer that will appease the holy wrath of God or satisfy His perfect justice.
The only satisfaction, or propitiation, that could be acceptable to God and that could reconcile man to Him, had to be made by God. For this reason God the Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and make atonement or “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). The word propitiation is used in several key verses to explain what Jesus accomplished through His death on the cross. For example, in Romans 3:24-25 we see that believers in Christ have been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed." These verses are a key point in Paul’s argument in the Book of Romans and are really at the heart of the Gospel message.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul has made the argument that everybody, both Jew and Gentile alike, is under the condemnation of God and deserving of His wrath (Romans 1:18). Everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All of us deserve His wrath and punishment. God in His infinite grace and mercy has provided a way that His wrath can be appeased and we can be reconciled to Him. That way is through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the atonement or payment for sins. It is through faith in Jesus Christ as God’s perfect sacrifice, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament, that we can be reconciled to God. It is only because of Christ’s perfect life, His death on the cross, and His resurrection on the third day that a lost sinner deserving of hell can be reconciled to a Holy God. The wonderful truth of the Gospel message is that Christians are saved from God’s wrath and reconciled to God not because “we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The only way for God’s wrath against sinful man to be appeased and for us to be reconciled to God is through Jesus Christ. There is no other way. This truth is also communicated in 1 John 2:2; “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” An important part of Christ’s saving work includes deliverance from God’s wrath that the unbelieving sinner is under, because Jesus’ atonement on the cross is the only thing that can turn away God’s divine wrath. Those that reject Christ as their Savior and refuse to believe in Him have no hope of salvation. They can only look forward to facing the wrath of God that they have stored up for the coming day of judgment (Romans 2:5). There is no other propitiation or sacrifice that can be made for their sins.
(3) Reconciliation provided
At the end of each month, many banks issue statements to all their depositors who have checking accounts. The purpose of such statements is to assure that our own record of deposits, checks, and charges agree with that of the bank. Occasionally a person may find that his figures do not agree with those on the bank’s statement. When this happens, he has made a slight mistake somewhere. Reconciliation takes place when the balance according to his figures is brought to conform to the balance furnished by the bank. The apostle Paul states that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The basic words that are translated “reconcile” or “reconciliation” in the New Testament have the thought of changing from enmity to friendship, or of changing from one condition to another. Reconciliation is that work of Christ in His death whereby the unsaved world was rendered savable, and the way was opened for mankind to have eternal fellowship with God. In other words, God has provided reconciliation through Christ’s work at Calvary. It’s clear, however, that people must accept the work of God, must believe on Christ, or reconciliation does not become actual. Perhaps the contrast is best seen in two phases in 2 Corinthians 5: “Hath reconciled” (v. 18), which is God’s work, and “be ye reconciled” (v. 20), which is mankind’s responsibility.
This same emphasis is seen in Romans 5:6-11. (Note that in verse 11 the word should be understood as “reconciliation” instead of “atonement.”) The heart of the message is the death of Christ, referred to in some way in every one of these verses. Reconciliation was accomplished by Christ’s death. While this is so, it does not follow that every sinner is thereby automatically saved. Believers have “received” the reconciliation (Romans 5:11). By faith they have rested in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Because of this, their separation from God has been ended and they have been brought into fellowship with Him who formerly was their enemy. The significance of Christ’s death cannot be overestimated. Were it not for His finished work, there would be no hope of eternal life. Then it is our business to make lost people aware of the provision God has made so they may receive it. Reconciliation removed the barrier between God and man. There are two categories of reconciliation. The first is what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross for all mankind in reconciliation and the second is what Jesus Christ provided through the Cross for all believers at salvation. Reconciliation is our Lord's salvation ministry toward man. In reconciliation, mankind is reconciled to God. God is never reconciled to mankind. This is why you cannot be saved by any other means than faith alone in Christ.
Reconciliation is also an important concept in relationships between persons. The destructiveness of sin causes two people, who were once in fellowship and harmony to become alienated, hostile, estranged from one another. This is the relation between man and God because the sin nature moves every man to disobey, to rebel against, and to deny God. To be reconciled means to replace such enmity, hostility, and opposition with a new relationship of peace, acceptance, and goodwill. The definition of reconciliation supplied by John F. Wallwood summarizes this concept; “It is the work of God through the death of Christ by which sinful man is brought to spiritual fellowship and moral harmony with God.” The Old Testament words for reconciliation do not represent a final dealing with sin. Rather, they present sin as being covered temporarily from the sight of God, awaiting final reconciliation through Christ’s death. (Leviticus 6:30; 8:15; 1 Samuel 29:4; Ezekiel 45:15). It is important to note that every reference to this doctrine of reconciliation in connection with salvation speaks of man as the one reconciled, changed. God is never said to be reconciled to man, for His standards and demands of holiness and righteousness are changeless. Romans 5:6-10 states four reasons why no man can reconcile himself to God:
(1) Man’s total inability, for he is without strength.
(2) Man’s lack of merit, for he is ungodly.
(3) Man’s guilt toward God, for all men are sinners.
(4) Man’s complete enmity toward God and separation from Him in opposition to all that is of God.
Reconciliation is manward. Through Christ’s work of redemption, the price for sin has been paid. God the Father accepted this sacrifice; His demands have been satisfied. This is propitiation. Because of redemption and propitiation, the relationship of man to God has been changed. Man has been reconciled; he has been made savable. It is now possible for God to bestow salvation upon the believing sinner because of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Because of sin in Adam, the entire human race is separated from the Creator. God’s work of reconciliation through the death of Christ extended to the entire world in a provisional way (2 Corinthians 5:19) and in a practical and personal way to those who believe (2 Corinthians 5:18). The message of reconciliation for all is stated clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:19. God’s design in His work of reconciliation is that those who accept it be His ambassadors (v. 20), bearing His message to those who do not know, who have not accepted, what God has done for them through his Son, Jesus Christ. As in the case of redemption and propitiation, reconciliation is twofold; its provision is general, but its application is specific. Reconciliation has been provided for every member of Adam’s race. Before this great work can benefit the individual, however, it must be appropriated by faith. At that time and not before, the individual who does nothing but trust Christ as Savior is reconciled to God and therefore no longer under condemnation but rather at peace (Romans 5:1). The fact that redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation are extended to every person in the world does not mean that God has saved all men or that all men will in the future be saved. The Bible is very clear on this matter. The universal provision of God in Christ means that God the Father has an acceptable basis by which He can reach sinners and bring them to Himself.
I will conclude with this illustration. Crucifixion is one of the most excruciating forms of death that the depraved human mind has devised. It is difficult for us to comprehend that the Son of God could be murdered in such a hideous manner. Yet, today the cross is often used as nothing more than a mere ornament or something that is worn by people who attach no meaning to its rich spiritual significance. However, I know of a cross that may cause people to ponder its meaning. It stands outside a church in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and is made of raw, unpolished steel. When it rains, red, rusty drops roll off that cross like blood. On sunny days in winter, rust-red holes dot the snow at its base. What goes through the minds of those who pass by that weathered symbol? More important, what is their response to its message? Is the cross foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18), nothing more than a fashion trend? Or does it bring to mind the blood Christ willingly shed for our redemption? Thus, God’s demands of perfection had to be met, and they were, in the person of Jesus Christ, “The Man Who Died for Me” and “The Man Who Died for You.” The question then remains, have you accepted God’s gift of salvation through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ?
The cross reveals man’s sin at its worst and God’s love at its best.