What happened at the Cross?
What happened at the cross of Jesus Christ is one of the most profound questions in all of human history. How you answer this question determines your understanding of the nature of God, your peace with God, and your growth in the doctrines of grace. There are many different theories set forth through out history concerning the cross/work of Christ. However, only God’s revelation in His Holy Word gives the truth of what happened at the cross of Christ. There are only two questions concerning the meaning of Christ cross/work. Did the cross/work of Christ in and of itself alone (Christ Alone) accomplish, secure and guarantee eternal salvation for those for whom it was intended? Or does the cross/work of Christ need something independent of itself in man i.e. man’s faith, works, obedience, or discipleship to make the cross/work effective. In other words, what is the saving factor? Christ cross/work plus man’s contribution or Christ cross/work alone?
Purpose: To learn from Scripture what God says about what happened at the cross. We will learn that God saves sinners all by Himself without the help of man. God the Father planned the sacrifice of His Son from eternity past to glorify Him, by satisfying His justice and holiness by means of Christ cross/work alone to demonstrate His wrath, righteousness, grace, love and mercy.
Theories of the atonement
Three Views of Christ’s Atonement It is important for all of us to realize that there are men and women who love the Lord Jesus Christ every bit as much as we do, but who hold radically different understandings of just what Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross. There are three views that assign different degrees of efficacy to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. These are the particularist view, the hypothetical redemptionist view, and the universalist view. Some of the great words of the Christian faith, such as propitiation, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins convey a different meaning to different Christian believers.
· The Ransom Theory: The earliest of all, originating with the Early Church Fathers, this theory claims that Christ offered himself as a ransom (Mark 10:45). Where it was not clear was in its understanding of exactly to whom the ransom was paid. Many early church fathers viewed the ransom as paid to Satan.
· The Moral-Example Theory (or Moral-Influence Theory): Christ died to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice, but teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance. Thus, the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining His justice, but towards man with the purpose of persuading him to right action. Formulated by Peter Abelard (1079-1142) partially in reaction against Anselm’s Satisfaction theory, this view was held by the 16th century Socinians. Versions of it can be found later in F. D. E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and Horace Bushnell (1802-1876). See main page on Moral Influence theory “In this view the work of Christ takes immediate effect not on God but on man, leading him to a state of mind and heart which will be acceptable to God. The essence of all these theories is that they transfer the atoning fact from the work of Christ to the response of the human soul to the influences or appeals proceeding from the work of Christ.” B. B. Warfield – The Person and Work of Christ, page 359. hypothetical redemptionist
· The Governmental Theory: God made Christ an example of suffering to exhibit to erring man that sin is displeasing to him. God’s moral government of the world made it necessary for him to evince his wrath against sin in Christ. Christ died as a token of God’s displeasure toward sin and it was accepted by God as sufficient; but actually God does not exact strict justice. This view was formulated by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and is subsequently found in Arminianism, Charles Finney, the New England Theology of Jonathan Edwards (the younger), and Methodism. See main page on Governmental theory of atonement hypothetical redemptionist
It also follows necessarily. Since Christ by His death actually procured nothing that guarantees the salvation of any man, and yet some men are saved, that the most one can claim for His work is that He in some way made all men salvable. But the highest view of the atonement that one can reach by this path is the governmental view. This view holds that Christ by His death actually paid the penalty for no man’s sin. What His death did was to demonstrate what their sin deserves at the hand of the just Governor and Judge of the universe, and permits God justly to forgive men if on other grounds, such as their faith, their repentance, their works, and their perseverance, they meet His demands. This means, of course, that the actual salvation of those who are saved is ultimately rooted in and hangs decisively upon something that those who are saved do themselves in their own behalf. But this is just to eviscerate the Savior’s cross work of all of its intrinsic saving worth and to replace the Christosoteric vision of Scripture with the autosoteric vision of Pelagianism. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Dr. Robert L. Reymond page 479.
· The Satisfaction (or Commercial) Theory: The formulator of this theory was the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1034-1109), in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. Why the God Man). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. “Anselm offered compelling biblical evidence that the atonement was not a ransom paid by God to the devil but rather a debt paid to God on behalf of sinners.” Anselm’s work established a foundation for the Protestant Reformation, specifically the understanding of justification by faith. See main page on Satisfaction theory particularist
· The Penal-Substitution Theory: This view was formulated by the 16th century Reformers as an extension of Anselm’s Satisfaction theory. Anselm’s theory was correct in introducing the satisfaction aspect of Christ’s work and its necessity, however the Reformers saw it as insufficient because it was referenced to God’s honor rather than his justice and holiness and was couched more in terms of a commercial transaction than a penal substitution. This Reformed view says simply that Christ died for man, in man’s place, taking his sins and bearing them for him. The bearing of man’s sins takes the punishment for them and sets the believer free from the penal demands of the law: The righteousness of the law and the holiness of God are satisfied by this substitution. See main page on Penal substitution theory particularist
What does Scripture say about the cross/work of Christ?
Definite and Actual not indefinite and potential: Heb 13:20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
1Pe 1:18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,
1Pe 1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
1Pe 1:20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you
Christ had to die on the cross not because of man’s sin in the primary sense but because of the nature of God. The cause of Christ cross/work is in God alone and not in man. God’s nature necessitates the atonement because He is a God of wrath, holiness, righteousness, grace, mercy, love and justice. God’s attributes are the cause of Christ glorifying God through His cross/work. And His eternal plan to glorify Himself does not stand or fall on the response of dead, depraved creatures.
Isa 55:11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
1. Isa 53:11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
2. Mat 1:21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
3 Act 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
4. Rom 5:10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
5. Heb 1:3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
6.Heb 9:12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
7. Heb 9:26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
8. Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
9. Joh 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.
10. Joh 10:26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
Joh 10:28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
Joh 10:29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
11. Mat 25:32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
Mat 25:33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
Mat 25:34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
11. Did Christ cross/work actually defeat Satan? Scripture says that He did destroy the works of the devil.
1Jn 3:8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
How can one aspect of the cross/work of Christ be definite and actual namely His triumphant defeat of Satan and His redemption of sin for His people not be definite and actual?
Here are some other verses that affirm that Christ cross/work was definite and actual not indefinite and potential.
Matthew 20:28, 26:28; Luke 19:10; John 6:35-40, 10:11, 10:14-18, 10:24-29, 11:51-52; Romans 3:24-25, 5:8-10, 8:32-34; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 2:15-16; Ephesians 5:25-26; Colossians 1:13-14; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 1:3, 2:17, 9:12, 9:14-15, 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2, 4:10; Revelation 5:9.
Let us take a closer look at one of these great words of Scripture. The Greek word for “redemption” is lutroo. We see the word used in Titus 2:14, which says that Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem [lutroo] us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Lutroo (“lute trah oh”) means “to release on receipt of ransom”99 or payment. Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, in his book The Person and Work of Christ, wrote, “The ultimate base to which this group of words goes back seems to be represented by the Sanskrit LU, which bears the meaning of ‘to cut,’ or ‘to clip’; hence it is inferred that the earliest implication of the general Indo-European root LU was to set free by cutting a bond … In this usage, it means, … in the middle voice, ‘to secure release by payment of ransom.”100 So literally, according to the pure of word of God, the cords of sin and death that once entangled believers have been severed by Christ who bought us, or ransomed us, out of bondage by His shed blood on the cross. Jesus secured our release. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”101 That liberty was proclaimed: Jesus read this verse from Isaiah, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”102 And the prisoners were set free, because Jesus Christ bore the wrath and outrage of Holy God, and gave His life as a ransom for those whom the Father had chosen from the beginning of time to be set free. If man must contribute some action in order to activate his salvation, as Arminians and the Roman state church insist, then Christ did not fully satisfy God’s wrath; man must assist in doing that. Christ did not pay a sufficient ransom to release man from the cords of death; man must ante up, as well. The efficacy of Christ’s work, a plan worked out by God before the creation of the world, stands or falls upon the response of a dead man! Man, who can’t hear the word of God, who can’t see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, and who wouldn’t turn to God even if he could, becomes the crucial, determining factor in the plan of salvation. Therefore, according to the teaching of Arminian Protestants and Roman Catholics, the prisoners have not been set free; instead, there is only a mere possibility of freedom.
Isn’t odd that the greatest example of a purchase, a transaction that involves the payment of a precious, priceless ransom for a group of men, women, and children who had been held in slavery and bondage, and yet there are theological “teachers” who insist that the word that means purchase no longer means what it says? These hypothetical redemptionists say that although the purchase price was paid, it was not sufficient to secure an actual release. The captives were not actually purchased — rather a down payment was only made in order to make their freedom possible! Tetelestai loses its univocal meaning also, because the sin debt has not truly been paid in full. The Lord Jesus must wait anxiously for the response of dead people to respond to His work. However, Scripture states unequivocally that Christ finished work paid the full price that God required to provide our eternal salvation.
Joh 19:30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” ( PAID IN FULL) And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Either my response secures and makes effective concerning what happened at the cross or the cross/work of Christ alone secures and guarantees my response. Php 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,