MANUAL OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
Louis Berkhof, 1933
IV. The Doctrine of the Person and Work of Christ
A. The PERSON of Christ
The Names of Christ
The Natures of Christ
The States of Christ
B. The WORK of Christ
The Offices of Christ
The Atonement Through Christ
The discussion of the doctrine of man is followed in theology by that of the doctrine of Christ. The transition from the one to the other is not only logical, but also very natural and easy. Our study of the doctrine of man concluded with a discussion of the covenant of grace, and from this we now naturally pass on to a consideration of the Mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ, and of the objective work of redemption wrought by Him for all His people. The subjective application of this work is discussed in a later section.
The PERSON of Christ
The NAMES of Christ
There is a great number of names that are applied to Christ in Scripture, of which some point to His essential being and others to His natures; some serve to designate His states and others His offices. He is called the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Man of Sorrows, the Lord of Glory, the Messiah, the Mediator, the Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King. Five of His names call for special discussion, namely, Jesus, Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, and Lord.
A. The Name JESUS.
The name Jesus is simply the Greek form of the Hebrew name Jehoshua Jos. 1:1; Zechariah 3:1, of which the regular form in the post-exilic historical books is Jeshua, Ezra. 2:2. The name is in all probability derived from the Hebrew word "to save." This is entirely in agreement with the interpretation of the name given by the angel of the Lord in Matthew 1:21. The name was borne by two well-known types of Jesus in the Old Testament, namely, by Joshua, the son of Nun, who prefigures Christ as the royal leader, giving His people the victory over their enemies and bringing them into the Holy Land; and by Joshua the son of Jehozadak, who typifies Christ as the great high priest bearing the sins of His people, Zechariah 3:1 ff.
B. The Name CHRIST.
The name Christ is the New Testament equivalent for the Old Testament name Messiah, which means "the anointed one." Kings and priests were regularly anointed during the old dispensation, Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 4:3; Judg. 9:8; 1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1; 2 Samuel 19:10. The king is called "the anointed of Jehovah," 1 Samuel 24:6. Only a single instance of the anointing of a prophet is recorded, 1 Kings 19:16, but there were probably references to it in Psalm 105:15 and Isaiah 61:1. The oil that was used in the anointing symbolized the Spirit of God, Isaiah 61:1; Zechariah 4:1–6, and the anointing itself represented a transfer of the Spirit to the consecrated person, 1 Samuel 10:1, 6, 10; 16:13, 14. It included three elements:
(1) an appointment to office;
(2) the establishment of a sacred relationship between the anointed one and God; and
(3) a communication of the Spirit of God to the one inducted into office, 1 Samuel 16:13. The Old Testament refers to the anointing of the Lord in Psalm 2:2; 45:7, and the New Testament in Acts 4:27 and 10:38. Christ was set up or appointed to His offices from eternity, but historically His anointing took place when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Luke 1:35, and when He received the Spirit, especially at the time of His baptism, Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; 3:34. It served to qualify Him for His great task.
C. The Name SON OF MAN.
The name "Son of Man" is found in Psalm 8:4; Daniel 7:13; Enoch 46 and 62; 2 Esdras 13, and is, moreover, a frequent designation of the prophet Ezekiel. It is now quite generally admitted that the name, as applied to Christ, is derived from Daniel 7:13, though in that passage it is merely a descriptive appellative, and not yet a title. It had already turned into a title, however, when the book of Enoch was written. The name "Son of Man" was the most common self-designation of Jesus. He used it on more than forty occasions, while others all but refrained from employing it, the only exceptions being those indicated in John 12:34; Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14. The name is, of course, expressive of the humanity of Christ, and is sometimes used in passages in which Jesus speaks of His sufferings and death; but it is also clearly suggestive of the uniqueness of Jesus, of His superhuman character and of His future coming with the clouds of Heaven in celestial glory, Matthew 16:27, 28; Mark 8:38; John 3:13, 14; 6:27; 8:28. Some are of the opinion that Jesus preferred this name to others, because it was little understood and would excellently serve the purpose of veiling His Messiahship. It is more likely, however, that He gave it preference, because it contained no suggestion of the misinterpretations of the Messiahship that were current among the Jews.
D. The Name SON OF GOD.
The name "Son of God" is variously used in the Old Testament. It is applied to Israel as a nation, Exodus 4:22; Hos. 11:1, to the promised king of the house of David, 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 89:27, to angels, Job 1:6; 38:7; Psalm 29:1, and to pious people in general, Genesis 6:2; Psalm 73:15; Proverbs 14:26. In the New Testament Jesus appropriated the name, and His disciples and even the demons occasionally ascribe it to Him or address Him by it. The name, as applied to Christ, does not always have exactly the same connotation. It is used:
1. In the NATIVISTIC Sense, that is, to designate that the human nature of Christ owes its origin to the direct supernatural activity of God, more particularly, of the Holy Spirit. It is clearly expressive of that fact in Luke 1:35.
2. In the Official or MESSIANIC Sense, as a description of the office rather than of the nature of Christ. The Messiah is frequently called the Son of God as God's heir and representative. The devils evidently so used the name, Matthew 8:29. The name seems to have this meaning also in Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32. There are some passages in which it combines this meaning with the following one.
3. In the TRINITARIAN Sense, in which it serves to designate Christ as the second person in the Trinity. This is the most profound sense in which the name is used. In all probability Jesus Himself invariably employs the name in that particular sense. It is clearly so used in Matthew 11:27; 14:28–33; 16:16; 21:33–46; 22:41–46; 26:63, and in the parallel places in the other gospels. In some of the passages indicated the idea of the Messianic sonship also enters more or less.
E. The Name LORD.
The name Lord, as applied to Christ in the New Testament, also has several connotations.
1. In some cases it is simply used as a form of polite and respectful address, Matthew 8:2; 20:33. In such cases it means little more than the word "sir," which we frequently use in polite address.
2. In other passages it is expressive of ownership and authority, without implying anything as to the divine character of Christ and His authority in spiritual and eternal matters, Matthew 21:3; 24:42.
3. Finally, there are passages in which it is expressive of the exalted character of Christ, of His supreme spiritual authority, and is practically equivalent to the name of God, Mark 12:36, 37; Luke 2:11; 3:4; Acts 2:36; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 2:11. It is particularly after the resurrection that the name is applied to Christ as an indication of the fact that He is the owner and the ruler of the Church, though there are instances which show that the name approached this specific meaning even before the resurrection, Matthew 7:22; Luke 5:8.
Questions for Review:
How does the doctrine of Christ connect up with the doctrine of man?
What different kinds of names are applied to Christ in Scripture?
What is the derivation and meaning of the name Jesus?
Who are the Old Testament types of Jesus?
What is the meaning of the name Christ?
What did the oil used in anointing signify?
What elements were included in the anointing?
When was Christ anointed for His work?
Whence is the name "Son of Man" derived?
What does the name express?
Why did Christ give preference to this name?
Did others ever apply it to Him?
In what sense is the name "Son of God" used in the Old Testament?
What are its different connotations, as it is applied to Christ?
What are the different meanings of the name "Lord," as it is applied to Christ in the New Testament?
The NATURES of Christ
A. The DISTINCTION of Natures in Christ.
While the Bible teaches that there is but a single Mediator between God and man, it represents this Mediator as having two distinct natures, the one divine and the other human. It is the great mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh, 1 Timothy 3:16. This is a mystery, not only in the Biblical sense of the word, as something that was not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but also in the sense that it is beyond the comprehension of man. The problem which it presents has given rise to many conflicting opinions, but has never yet received an adequate solution. Some of the suggested solutions failed to do justice to the two natures in Christ, while others failed to maintain the unity of the person. No solution can be regarded as satisfactory which does not safeguard both. Scripture demands that we recognize two distinct natures in Christ.
1. The DIVINE Nature of Christ.
There is today a widespread denial of the divinity or, more especially, the deity of Christ. And yet this is clearly taught in Scripture. Even the Old Testament affords proof for it in its predictions of the coming Messiah, Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 23:6; Daniel 7:13; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 13:7; Malachi 3:1. The New Testament proofs for it are even more abundant. It is a well known fact that the Gospel of John presents the most exalted view of Christ in such passages as John 1:1–3, 14, 18, 25–27; 11:41–44; 20:28. But it is not generally recognized that the picture presented by the other Gospels is in full accord with that of John, and yet this is true. Notice particularly the following passages: Matthew 5:17; 9:6; 11:1–6, 27; 14:33; 16:16; 25:31 ff.; 28:18; Mark 8:38, and many others. Again, we have the very same representation of Christ in the Pauline Epistles and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Romans 1:7; 9:5; 1 Corinthians 1:1–3; 2:8; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 2:20; 4:4; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:1–3, 5, 8; 4:14; 5:8, and other passages.
2. The HUMAN Nature of Christ.
In the early Christian centuries some called the real humanity of Christ in question, but at the present time no one seriously questions this. For a long time there was a one-sided emphasis on the deity of Christ, and scant justice was done to His humanity, but today the opposite is true: an ever-growing humanitarianism places all the emphasis on the veritable humanity of Christ. The only divinity many still ascribe to Him is simply that of his perfect humanity. There is abundant Scriptural proof for the real humanity of Christ. He calls Himself "man" and is so called by others, John 8:40; Acts 2:22; Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:21. We are told repeatedly that He came or was manifested in the flesh, that is, in human nature, John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2. He had the essential elements of human nature, a material body and a rational soul, Matthew 26:26, 28, 38; Luke 23:46; 24:39; John 11:33; Hebrews 2:14. Moreover, He was subject to the ordinary laws of human development, and to human wants and sufferings, Matthew 4:2; 8:24; 9:36; Mark 3:5; Luke 2:40, 52; 22:44; John 4:6; 11:35; 12:27; 19:28, 30; Hebrews 2:10, 18; 5:7, 8. It should be noted however, that while Christ was a real man, He was without sin. He not only did no sin, but could not sin, because of the essential bond between the human and the divine natures in Him. In the present day some deny the sinlessness of Christ, but the Bible clearly testifies to it in the following passages: Luke 1:35; John 8:46; 14:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 9:14; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5.
3. The Necessity of the Two Natures in Christ.
In the present day many consider Jesus as a mere man, and do not recognize the necessity of the two natures in Christ. But if Christ is not both man and God, He cannot be our Mediator. He had to be one of the human race, in order to be able to represent sinners in His redemptive work. It was necessary that He should assume human nature, not only with all its essential properties of body and soul, but also with all the infirmities to which it is liable after the fall. Only such a truly human Mediator, who had experimental knowledge of the woes of mankind and rose superior to all temptations, could enter sympathetically into all the experiences, the trials, and the temptations of man, Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:15–5:2, and be a perfect human example for His followers, Matthew 11:29; Mark 10:39; John 13:13–15; Philippians 2:5–8; Hebrews 12:2–4; 1 Peter 2:21. At the same time He had to be a sinless man, for one who had forfeited His own life surely could not atone for others, Hebrews 7:26. Moreover, it was necessary that He should be very God, in order that He might bring a perfect sacrifice of infinite value, might bear the wrath of God redemptively, that is, so as to deliver others from the curse of the law, and might be able to apply the fruits of His redemptive work, Psalm 49:7–10; 130:3.
B. The UNITY of the Person of Christ.
While the Church has maintained the doctrine of the two natures of Christ from the days of the Council of Chalcedon, it at the same time asserted the existence of these two natures in one person.
1. Statement of the Doctrine of the Two Natures in One Person. There is but one person in the Mediator, and that person is the unchangeable Son of God. In the incarnation He did not change into a human person, nor did He adopt a human person; He simply assumed a human nature, which did not develop into an independent personality, but became personal in the person of the Son of God. The one divine person, who possessed a divine nature from eternity, assumed a human nature and now has both. After this assumption of a human nature the person of the Mediator is not divine only but divine-human; He is now the God-man. He is a single individual, but possesses all the essential qualities of both the human and the divine nature. While He has but a single self-consciousness, He has both a divine and a human consciousness, as well as a divine and a human will.
2. Scripture Proof for the Unity of the Person in Christ.
If there were a dual personality in Christ, we would naturally expect to find some traces of it in the Bible; but there is not a single trace of it. It is always the same person who speaks, whether the consciousness that finds utterance be human or divine, cf. John 10:30; 17:5 as compared with Matthew 27:46, John 19:28. There is no interchange of "I" and "you" between the human and divine natures, such as there is between the persons in the Trinity (cf. John 17:23). Human attributes and actions are sometimes ascribed to the person designated by a divine title, Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 1:13, 14. On the other hand divine attributes and actions are ascribed to the person designated by a human title, John 3:13; 6:62; Romans 9:5.
3. The Effects of the Union of the Two Natures in One Person.
Since the divine nature is immutable, it naturally did not undergo any essential change in the incarnation. There is, however, a threefold communication, which results from the union of the two natures in Christ:
a. A Communication of ATTRIBUTES or PROPERTIES. This means that, after the incarnation, the properties of both the human and the divine natures are the properties of the person and are therefore ascribed to the person. The person can be said to be almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, and so on, but can also be called a man of sorrows, of limited knowledge, and subject to human wants and miseries.
b. A Communication of OPERATIONS. In virtue of this it may be said that the redemptive work of Christ is the work of the one undivided personal subject in Christ; that it is brought about by the cooperation of both natures; that each one of these natures works with its own special power; and that the result of this, as the work of a single person, forms an undivided unity.
c. A Communication of GRACES. From the very first moment of its existence the human nature of Christ was adorned with all kinds of rich and glorious gifts. It shares in the grace and glory of being united with the divine person, and even becomes the object of prayer and adoration. Moreover, it partakes of those gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly of the intellect, of the will, and of power by which the human nature of Christ was exalted high above all other intelligent creatures.
C. Some of the Most Important ERRORS in the Doctrine of Christ.
1. Denial of the Reality of the DIVINE Nature.
In the early Christian centuries the reality of the divine nature of Christ was denied by the Ebionites and the Alogi. In more recent times this denial was shared by the Socinians of the days of the Reformation, and by the Unitarians and modern liberal theologians of the present day.
2. Denial of the Reality of Christ's HUMAN Nature.
Second century Gnosticism denied the real humanity of Christ. Some ascribed to Christ merely a refined or heavenly body, while others distinguished between a human Jesus and a divine Christ who was connected with the former temporarily. The Sabellians of the fourth century regarded Christ merely as a mode in which God manifested Himself.
3. Denial of the Integrity of the Two Natures.
The Arians regarded Christ as a created being, neither God nor man, a sort of demi-God, while Appolinaris, who conceived of man as consisting of three parts, body, soul, and spirit, maintained that the human nature of Christ consisted only of two, body and soul, while the divine Logos took the place of the spirit.
4. Denial of the UNITY of the Person of Christ.
The Nestorians virtually denied the real union of the two natures in Christ. They distinguished the two so sharply as to make them really two persons morally agreed in purpose and action.
5. Denial of the TWO NATURES of Christ.
The Eutichians represented the opposite extreme in speaking of the two natures of Christ as fused into some third nature neither human nor divine. Sometimes it was represented as if the human nature were absorbed in the divine. The Lutheran view of Christ is somewhat akin to the Eutichian.
Questions for Review:
What Bible proof is there for the deity and for the humanity of Christ?
What Scripture proof is there for the sinlessness of Christ?
What is the nature of the person of Christ, divine, human, or divine-human?
How can the unity of the person of Christ be proved from Scripture?
What are the effects of the union of the two natures in Christ?
Is it proper to make Christ the object of our prayers?
Which are the main errors relating to the doctrine of Christ?
The STATES of Christ
The doctrine of the states of Christ was developed in the seventeenth century. The states in question are the states of the person of the Mediator and not, as the Lutherans maintain, of the human nature of Christ. It should be borne in mind that a state is not exactly the same as a condition. The former is one's position in life and particularly the relation in which one stands to the law, while the latter is one's mode of existence, especially as this is determined by the circumstances of life. One who is found guilty in a court of justice is in a state of guilt or condemnation, and this is usually followed by a condition of incarceration with all its attendant deprivation and shame. The states of the Mediator are generally treated as including the resulting conditions. In fact, the usual enumeration of the stages of Christ's humiliation and exaltation makes the resulting conditions more prominent than the states themselves.
A. The State of HUMILIATION.
The state of humiliation consists in this that Christ laid aside the divine majesty which was His as the sovereign Ruler of the universe, and assumed human nature in the form of a servant; and that He, who is Himself the supreme Lawgiver, became subject to the demands and the curse of the law. This doctrine is based on such passages as Matthew 3:15; Galatians 3:13; 4:4; Philippians 2:6–8. This state of Christ is reflected in the corresponding condition, in which we usually distinguish the following stages:
1. The INCARNATION and BIRTH of Christ.
In the incarnation the Son of God, sometimes called the Word (John 1), became flesh. This does not mean that He ceased to be what He was and changed into a man. In His essential nature the Son of God is exactly the same before and after the incarnation. It merely means that He assumed, in addition to His divine nature, a complete human nature, consisting of body and soul, John 1:14; Romans 8:3; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7. Through the incarnation He really became one of the human race, since He derived His human nature from the substance of Mary. This should be maintained in opposition to the Anabaptists, who claim that He received it from Heaven and that Mary was merely the conduit or channel through which it passed. Scripture teaches us that the incarnation was effected by a virgin birth, and in view of this our Confession states that the human nature of Christ was "conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without the means of man." This doctrine is based on the following passages of Scripture, Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:34, 35. The work of the Holy Spirit in connection with the birth of Christ was twofold:
(a) He caused the conception of Christ's human nature in the womb of Mary; and
(b) He sanctified this human nature in its very inception, and thus kept it free from the pollution of sin. The doctrine of the virgin birth was accepted by the Church from the earliest times, but is denied by modern liberal theologians, as contrary to the laws of nature. Some maintain that the incarnation is not a part of the humiliation of Christ, since He still has His human nature, and yet is no more in a state of humiliation. But we should carefully discriminate here. While an act of great condescension, it was not necessarily a humiliation that the Son of God assumed a human nature; but it was an act of humiliation that He assumed "flesh," that is, human nature as it is since the fall, weakened and subject to suffering and death, though in His case free from the taint of sin.
2. The SUFFERINGS of Christ.
We are often inclined to think of the sufferings of Christ as limited to His final agonies. Yet His whole life was a life of suffering. It was the servant-life of the Lord of Hosts, the life of the sinless One in a sin-cursed world. The way of obedience was for Him a way of suffering. He suffered from the repeated assaults of Satan, from the hatred and unbelief of His own people, and from the persecution of His enemies. His loneliness must have been oppressive, and His sense of responsibility crushing. The real essence of His sufferings should not be sought in His bodily discomfitures and pains as such, but in these accompanied with anguish of soul and a mediatorial consciousness of sin. Because of His ethical perfection and His passion for righteousness and holiness and truth, the causes of suffering were far more numerous for Him than they are for us. No one could feel the poignancy of pain and grief and moral evil as Jesus could. The temptations of Christ also formed a part of His sufferings, and a very essential part. It was only by entering into the very trials of men that Jesus could become a truly sympathetic High Priest, "able to support them that are tempted," Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 22:28; John 12:27; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15; 5:7–9. No fully satisfactory answer can be given to the question, how it was possible that Jesus, the sinless One, should be tempted. On the one hand we must maintain the reality of His temptations, and on the other hand the certainty that these temptations could never result in sin on His part.
3. The DEATH of Christ.
When we speak of the death of Christ here, we have in mind His physical death. Christ did not die as the result of an accident, nor by the hand of an assassin, but under a judicial sentence. It was of importance that this should be so, because He had to be counted with the transgressors. Moreover, it was significant that He was tried and sentenced by a Roman judge, representing the highest judicial power in the world, functioning by the grace of God, and dispensing justice in God's name. Furthermore, it had special significance that He was not beheaded or stoned to death, but crucified. By suffering that Roman form of punishment He was reckoned with the meanest criminals and the scum of mankind, and thus met the extreme demands of the law. At the same time He suffered an accursed death, and thus gave evidence of the fact that He became a curse for us, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
4. The BURIAL of Christ.
It might seem that the death of Christ was the last stage of His humiliation, especially in view of the last words on the cross: "It is finished." But these words in all probability refer to His active sufferings. It is quite clear that His burial also formed a part of His humiliation. Man's returning to the dust is part of the punishment of sin, Genesis 3:19. Moreover, several passages of Scripture clearly imply that the Savior's abode in the grave was a humiliation, Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31; 13:34, 35. The sinner is represented as being buried with Christ, and this refers to the going down, the putting off, the destruction of the old man, Romans 6:1–6. It clearly shows that the burial of Christ is regarded as a part of His humiliation. The burial of Christ served the purpose of removing the terrors of the grave for the redeemed and of sanctifying the grave for them.
5. The Descent of Christ into HADES.
After speaking of the sufferings and death of the Savior, the Apostolic Confession adds: "He descended into Hell (hades)." These words are variously interpreted. Roman Catholics interpret them to mean that Christ after His death went down into the Limbus Patrum, where the Old Testament saints were confined, to release them and bring them to Heaven. Lutherans regard the descent into hades as the first stage of Christ's exaltation, a triumphal march, perhaps between His death and resurrection, to celebrate His victory over the powers of darkness. The Church of England holds that, while Christ's body was in the grave, the soul went into that part of hades, called paradise, the abode of the righteous souls, and gave them a fuller exposition of the truth. Finally, the Reformed Churches usually interpret the phrase, "He descended into Hell," figuratively as an expression of the idea that Christ suffered the pangs of Hell both in Gethsemane and on the cross. On the whole it seems best to combine two thoughts: (a) that Christ suffered the pangs of Hell in the garden and on the cross; and (b) that He entered the deepest humiliation of the state of death. The Scripture passages on which the doctrine of the descent into hades is based are especially the following: Psalm 16:8, 10; Ephesians 4:9; 1 Peter 3:18, 19; 4:6.
B. The State of EXALTATION.
In the state of exaltation Christ passed from under the law as a covenant obligation, having paid the penalty for sin and merited righteousness and eternal life for the sinner. As Mediator He now entered into the undivided favor and good pleasure of God, and was crowned with a corresponding honor and glory. It had to appear also in His condition that the penalty of sin was lifted. His exaltation was also His glorification. Roman Catholics and Lutherans teach that the exaltation of Christ began with the descent into hades. Reformed Churches, however, maintain that it began with the resurrection of Christ. Four stages must be taken into consideration here.
1. The RESURRECTION of Christ.
The resurrection was the great turning-point in the states of Christ.
a. The NATURE of the Resurrection. The resurrection of Christ did not consist in the mere fact that He came to life again and that body and soul were re-united. If this were all it involved, He could not be called "the first fruits of them that slept," 1 Corinthians 15:20, nor "the firstborn from the dead," Colossians 1:18; Rev. 1:5. It rather consisted in this that in Him human nature, both body and soul, was restored to its pristine purity, strength, and perfection, and even raised to a higher level, while body and soul were re-united into a living organism. It was quite evident after the resurrection that His body had undergone a remarkable change. It was the same and yet so different that it was not easily recognized. It was a material and real body, and yet one that could suddenly appear and disappear in a surprising manner, a body transformed into a perfect organ of the spirit, and therefore "spiritual," Luke 24:31, 36, 39; John 20:19; 21:7; 1 Corinthians 15:50. Evidently there was also a change in the soul life of Christ. This does not mean that He was changed religiously and ethically, but that His soul was endowed with new qualities, perfectly adjusted to His future heavenly environment. Through the resurrection He became the life-giving Spirit, 1 Corinthians 15:45.
b. The SIGNIFICANCE of the Resurrection. The resurrection of Christ has a threefold significance:
(a) It constitutes, a declaration of the Father that Christ met all the demands of the law as a covenant obligation;
(b) it symbolizes what will happen to believers in their justification, spiritual birth, and future resurrection, Romans 6:4, 5, 9; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20–22; 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11, 14; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; and
(c) it is the cause of our justification, regeneration, and final resurrection, Romans 4:25 5:10; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:3.
c. The DENIAL of the Resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a miracle which defies all natural explanation. For that very reason many at present deny the resurrection of Christ, declaring it to be a physical impossibility, since material particles in the course of time enter into the composition of many bodies, and can never be restored to all the bodies of which they once formed a part. But they who deny the resurrection must, of course, explain the undeniable fact that belief in the resurrection of Christ was general in the first Christian century. Various theories have been suggested in explanation, such as (a) that the apostles and other early witnesses palmed off a falsehood on a credulous people; (b) that Jesus did not really die, but merely swooned, while the apostles thought that He had actually died; (c) that the apostles and the women in their excited state of mind saw visions of Jesus and confused these with actual appearances; and (d) that the resurrection story was really imported from other oriental religions and derived from pagan myths. But these explanations fail to do justice to the facts in the case, as they are narrated in Scripture.
2. The ASCENSION of Christ.
The ascension of Christ does not stand out as boldly on the pages of the Bible as the resurrection. The latter was the real turning-point in the life of Jesus, and the ascension may be called its necessary complement and completion. This does not mean that the ascension was devoid of independent significance. The Scriptural proof for it is quite sufficient. Jesus referred to it time and again before His death, John 6:62; 14:2, 12; 16:5, 10, 17, 28; 17:5; 20:17. Luke gives us a double account of it, Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:6–11. Paul refers to it repeatedly, Ephesians 1:20; 4:8–10; 1 Timothy 3:16, and the Epistle to the Hebrews calls attention to its significance, 1:3; 4:14; 9:24.
a. The NATURE of the Ascension. The ascension may be described as the visible ascent of the person of the Mediator from earth to Heaven, according to His human nature. It was a local transition, a going from place to place. This implies, of course, that Heaven is a place as well as earth. But the ascension of Jesus was not merely a transition from one place to another; it also included a further change in the human nature of Christ. That nature now passed into the fullness of heavenly glory, and was perfectly adapted to the life of Heaven. Some Christian scholars of recent date consider Heaven to be a condition rather than a place, and therefore do not conceive of the ascension locally. Scripture clearly represents Heaven as a place, however. It is the dwelling-place of created beings, such as angels and saints, Matthew 18:10; 2 Corinthians 5:1, and is often mentioned alongside of the earth, which is a place, 1 Chronicles 16:31; Ecclesiastes 5:2; Isaiah 66:1. Moreover, the Bible directs our thought upward to Heaven and downward to Hell, Deuteronomy 30:12; Joshua 2:11; Psalm 139:8; Romans 10:6, 7.
b. The LUTHERAN Conception of the Ascension. The Lutheran view of the ascension differs from that of the Reformed. They do not regard it as a local transition but as a change of condition, whereby the human nature of Christ passes into the full enjoyment and exercise of the divine perfections, which were communicated to it at the incarnation, and thus became permanently omnipresent.
c. The SIGNIFICANCE of the Ascension. In the ascension we see Christ as our great High Priest entering the inner sanctuary to present His completed sacrifice to the Father. It is prophetic of the ascension to all believers, who are even now set with Christ in heavenly places, Ephesians 2:6, and are destined to be with Him forever, John 17:24. Finally, it is also instrumental in preparing a place for those that are of Christ. The Lord Himself points to the necessity of going to the Father. in order to prepare a place for His disciples, John 14:2, 3.
3. Christ's Session at the Right Hand of God.
After His ascension Christ took His place on the throne at the right hand of the Father. He predicted that He would be seated at the right hand of power, Matthew 26:64. Peter makes mention of it in his sermons, Acts 2:33–36; 5:31, and several passages in the Epistles refer to it, Ephesians 1:20–22; Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22; Rev. 3:21; 22:1. Naturally, the expression "right hand of God" cannot be taken literally, but should be understood as a figurative indication of the place of power and glory. That Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father simply means that the reins of government over the Church and the universe are entrusted to Him, and that He is made to share in the corresponding glory. It is His public inauguration as the God-man. During His session at the right hand of God, Christ rules and protects His Church and exercises authority over the universe in behalf of His people; presents His completed sacrifice to the Father, making it effective and securing its benefits by constant intercession for all believers; and continues to teach His people through the Holy Spirit and through the instrumentality of His servants.
4. The Physical RETURN of Christ.
The highest stage in the exaltation of Christ is not reached until He returns in the capacity of Judge. He Himself refers to this as a special prerogative, John 5:22, 27, and so do the apostles, Acts 10:42; 17:31. Several other passages also refer to His judicial activity, Matthew 19:28; 25:31–34; Luke 3:17; Romans 2:16; 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; Jas. 5:9. Some place the return of Christ in the past, claiming that the promise of His coming again was realized when He returned in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But this was a spiritual and invisible return, while the Bible teaches us to look for a physical and visible return of Christ, Acts 1:11. Even after Pentecost we are taught to look forward to the coming of Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 4:5; 11:26; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10; Titus 2:13; Rev. 1:7. The second coming of Jesus Christ will be for the purpose of judging the world and perfecting the salvation of His people. It will signalize the complete victory of His redemptive work.
Questions for Review:
What is meant by the states of the Mediator?
What is the state of humiliation?
In what did the incarnation consist?
How did Christ receive His human nature?
What Scripture proof have we for the virgin birth?
What was the work of the Holy Spirit in connection with the birth of Christ?
Was the incarnation a part of Christ's humiliation?
Were the sufferings of Christ limited to the end of His life?
What was the nature of His sufferings?
What significance does it have that Christ died a judicial death, and that He died by crucifixion?
What significance did the burial of Christ have?
What different views are there of the descent into hades?
What is the correct view?
What is the state of exaltation?
What was the nature of the resurrection of Christ?
In what respect was the body of Christ changed after the resurrection?
Did He undergo any other change? What was the significance of the resurrection?
On what ground is it denied by some?
What theories are suggested to explain the general belief in the resurrection of Christ?
How is the ascension of Christ related to His resurrection?
How does Scripture prove that the ascension was a change from place to place?
How do the Lutherans conceive of the resurrection?
What significance has the ascension?
What is meant by the session of Christ at the right hand of God?
What work does He accomplish during His session?
Did Christ return in the Holy Spirit?
Was this the predicted second coming of Christ?
What is the purpose of His second coming?
The WORK of Christ
The OFFICES of Christ
Since the days of Calvin it is customary to speak of three offices of the Mediator. Man, as he was created by God, was intended to function as prophet, priest, and king. Hence he was endowed with knowledge and understanding, with righteousness and holiness, and with dominion over the lower creation. The entrance of sin into the world affected the whole man and made it impossible for him to function properly in his threefold capacity as prophet, priest, and king. He is subject to the power of error and deception, of unrighteousness and moral pollution, and of misery and death. Christ came as the ideal man and for the purpose of restoring man to his original condition, and as such necessarily functioned as prophet, priest, and king. In some circles there is a tendency to recognize only one of the offices of Christ. Rationalism stresses the prophetic, Mysticism the priestly, and Chiliasm the kingly office of Christ. Modern liberal theology is inclined to deny the offices altogether. It is so much in love with Christ as the ideal man, the loving helper, and the elder brother, that it dislikes to think of Him in any official capacity.
A. The PROPHETIC Office.
The Old Testament predicts the coming of Christ as a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15, a passage that is applied to Christ in Act 3:22, 23. He speaks of Himself as a prophet in Luke 13:33. Moreover, He claims to bring a message from the Father, John 8:26–28; 12:49, 50; 14:10, 24; 15:15; 17:8, 20, foretells future things, Matthew 24:3–35; Luke 19:41–44, and therefore speaks with singular authority, Matthew 7:29. In view of all this it is no wonder that the people recognized Him as a prophet, Matthew 21:11, 46; Luke 7:16; 24:19; John 3:2; 4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17.
1. The Scriptural Idea of a Prophet.
The classic passages, Exodus 7:1 and Deuteronomy 18:18, indicate that there are two sides to the prophetic office, the one receptive and the other productive. The prophet receives divine revelations in dreams, visions, or verbal communications; and passes these on to the people, either orally, or visibly in prophetic actions, Numbers 12:6–8; Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1:4–10; Ezekiel 3:1–4, 17. The receptive side is the most important and controls the other. Without receiving the prophet cannot give, and he cannot give more than he receives. Yet the productive side is also essential. One who merely receives revelations is not yet a prophet. It was the duty of the prophets to reveal the will of God to the people, to interpret the law in its moral and spiritual aspects, to protest against formalism and sin, calling the people back to the path of duty, and to direct attention to the glorious promises of God for the future.
2. The Ways in Which Christ Functions as Prophet.
The prophetic work of Christ should not be limited to the time of His earthly life or His public ministry. He functioned as prophet during the old dispensation as the Angel of the Lord, and also in and through the prophets, 1 Peter 1:11; 3:18–20. He did it while He was on earth in His teachings and by means of the accompanying signs. And His prophetic work did not cease when He ascended to Heaven. He continued it by the operation of the Holy Spirit in and through the teaching of the apostles, John 14:26; 16:12–14; Acts 1:1; and still continues it through the ministry of the Word and in the spiritual illumination of believers. Even while He is seated at the right hand of the Father, He is ever active as our great Prophet.
3. Modern Emphasis on the Prophetic Work of Christ.
In so far as there is any recognition of the official work of Christ in modern liberal theology, the emphasis is altogether on the prophetic work of Christ. Christ stands out before the modern mind primarily as the great teacher of mankind. To believe in Christ is simply to accept His teachings and to submit to His guidance. By His word and example He is leading His followers to ever higher levels of moral and spiritual life.
B. The PRIESTLY Office.
The Old Testament predicts and prefigures the priesthood of the coming Redeemer. There are clear references to it in Psalm 110:4 and Zechariah 6:13. In Isaiah 53 we see the Servant of the Lord especially in His priestly capacity. Moreover, the Old Testament priesthood, and particularly the high priest, clearly prefigured a priestly Messiah. In the New Testament there is only a single book in which He is called priest, namely, the Epistle to the Hebrews, but there the name is applied to Him repeatedly, 3:1; 4:14; 5:5; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1. However, other New Testament books also refer to His priestly work, Mark 10:45; John 1:29; Romans 3:24, 25; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18.
1. The Scriptural Idea of a PRIEST.
The Bible makes a broad but important distinction between a prophet and a priest. The prophet was appointed to be God's representative with the people, and was primarily a religious teacher. The priest, on the other hand, was man's representative with God. He had the special privilege of approach to God, and of speaking and acting in behalf of the people. The Old Testament priests were also teachers, but their teaching differed from that of the prophets. While the latter emphasized the moral and spiritual duties, responsibilities, and privileges, the former stressed the ritual observances involved in the proper approach to God. The characteristics of a priest are given rather fully in Hebrews 5:1. The priest (a) is taken from among men to be their representative; (b) is appointed by God (vs. 3); (c) is active in the interest of men in things pertaining to God, that is, religious things; and (d) offers gifts and sacrifices for sins. In addition he also makes intercession for the people.
2. The SACRIFICIAL Work of Christ.
a. The Nature of Christ's Sacrificial Work. The work of Christ was first of all to bring a sacrifice for sin. The peculiarity in His case was that the priest was also the sacrifice. In other words, the sacrifice of Christ was a self-sacrifice, a sacrifice in which He laid down His life for sinners. Moreover, this one sacrifice combined all the elements represented in the various sacrifices of the Old Testament. It was a sin- and trespass-offering to make atonement for sin; it was a burnt-offering of whole-hearted and complete consecration to God; and it was also a peace-offering through which the sinner enters into blessed communion with God. In view of this it may be said that the sacrifice of Christ was of a many-sided character.
b. The Sacrificial Work of Christ Prefigured in the Old Testament. The Old Testament sacrifices had spiritual and typical significance. They were prophetic and prefigured the sacrifice of Christ. The paschal lamb is regarded as a type of Christ. There is a distant reference to it in John 1:29. Moreover, Christ is called "our Passover" in 1 Corinthians 5:7. There are clear indications and even express statements to the effect that the Old Testament sacrifices prefigured Christ and His work, Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 9:23, 24; 10:1; 13:11, 12. Besides, there are several passages which teach that Christ accomplished for sinners exactly what the Old Testament sacrifices were said to effect for those who brought them, and that He accomplished it in a similar manner, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 John 1:7.
c. Scripture Proof for the Sacrificial Work of Christ. The priestly work of Christ is most clearly represented in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the Mediator is described as our only real, eternal, and perfect High Priest, appointed by God, who takes our place vicariously, and by His self-sacrifice obtains a real and perfect redemption, Hebrews 5:1–10; 7:1–28; 9:11–15, 24–28; 10:11–14, 19–22; 12:24. While this is the only Epistle in which Christ is called priest, His priestly work is also clearly represented in the Epistles of Paul, Romans 3:24, 25; 5:6–8; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 5:3; Ephesians 5:2. The same representation is found in the writings of John, John 1:29; 3:14, 15; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, and in the First Epistle of Peter, 2:24; 3:18.
3. The INTERCESSORY Work of Christ.
The priestly work of Christ is not limited to the bringing of a sacrifice; He is also the intercessor of His people. He is called our "parakletos" by implication in John 14:16 and explicitly in 1 John 2:2. The term means one who is called in to help, an advocate, one who pleads the cause of another. Christ as the believer's advocate pleads His cause with the Father against Satan, Zechariah 3:1; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1; Rev. 12:10.
a. The NATURE of Christ's Intercessory Work. The intercessory work of Christ is based on His atoning sacrifice, is but a continuation of His priestly work, and carries this to completion. The nature of the work is indicated by Scripture in Romans 8:24; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24. It is not limited to intercessory prayer, as is often mistakenly thought, but includes much more. As intercessor Christ continuously presents His sacrifice to God as the ground of all necessary blessings for His people, persistently claims these blessings for them according to their need, answers all accusations preferred against them by Satan, by the law, and by conscience, secures forgiveness for everything that is justly charged against them, and presents to God their worship and service, rendering it acceptable through His own righteousness.
b. The EXTENT and EFFICACY of His Intercession. Christ intercedes for all those for whom He has made atonement and for those only. This may be inferred from the limited character of the atonement and from such passages as Romans 8:29, cf. vss. 33, 34, and Hebrews 7:25. Moreover, it is explicitly stated in John 17:9. It should be carefully noted, however, that Christ does not intercede for believers only, but for all the elect, whether they be already believers, or are still unbelievers, John 17:20. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that He stands before God as an authorized intercessor, and therefore as one who can present legal claims. What He asks of the Father He asks as a matter of right, and therefore His prayers on behalf of His people never fail. They are based on His atoning work, and He has merited all that He asks.
C. The KINGLY Office.
Christ as the Son of God naturally shares in the dominion of God over all His creatures. This kingship is rooted in His divine nature and is His by original right. In this connection, however, we are concerned with a kingship with which He as Mediator was invested. We distinguish a twofold Mediatorial kingship of Christ, His spiritual kingship over the Church, and His kingship over the universe.
1. The SPIRITUAL Kingship of Christ.
The Bible speaks of this kingship in many places, Psalm 2:6; 45:6, 7 (cf. Hebrews 1:8, 9); 132:11; Isaiah 9:6, 7; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 6:13; Luke 1:33; 19:27, 38; John 18:36, 37; Acts 2:30–36.
a. The NATURE of This Kingship. The spiritual kingship of Christ is His royal rule over His people, or over the Church. It is called spiritual, because it relates to a spiritual realm, is established in the hearts and lives of believers, bears directly and immediately on a spiritual end, the salvation of sinners, and is administered, not by external, but by spiritual means, the Word and the Spirit. This kingship is exercised in the gathering, the government, the protection, and the perfection of the Church. The term "head" is sometimes applied to Christ as the king of the Church, 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 1:20–22; 5:23. It is just because Christ is the head of the Church that He can rule it in an organic and spiritual way.
b. The REALM Over Which it Extends. The spiritual kingdom of Christ is identical with what the New Testament calls the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven. This kingdom is first of all the kingship of God in Christ established and acknowledged in the hearts of man by the work of regeneration. In the second place it is also the realm over which the rule of God in Christ extends, a realm created by the Spirit of God and composed exclusively of those who share in the life of the Spirit. And, finally, it is also a new condition of things which results from the application of the principles of the kingdom of God and which often extends beyond the sphere of the kingdom in the strictest sense of the word. The citizenship of the kingdom is co-extensive with the membership of the invisible Church. Its field of operation, however, is wider than that of the Church and aims at the control of life in all its manifestations. The visible Church is the most important and the only divinely instituted external organization of the kingdom. The term "kingdom of God" is sometimes used in a sense which makes the kingdom practically equivalent to the visible Church, Matthew 8:12; 13:24–30, 47–50.
The spiritual kingdom of Christ is both present and future. It is on the one hand a present, ever-developing spiritual reality in the hearts and lives of men, and as such exercises influence in a constantly widening sphere, Matthew 12:28; Luke 17:21; Colossians 1:13. But on the other hand it is also a future hope, which will not be realized until the return of Jesus Christ. This future aspect of it is the more prominent of the two in Scripture, Matthew 7:21; 19:23; Luke 22:29; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:11. In essence the future kingdom will consist, like that of the present, simply in the rule of God established and acknowledged in the hearts of men. But at the glorious coming of Jesus Christ this establishment and acknowledgment will be perfected, the hidden forces of the kingdom will stand revealed, and the spiritual rule of Christ will find its consummation in a visible and majestic reign.
c. The DURATION of Christ's Spiritual Kingship. Socinians claim that Christ did not become king until the time of His ascension, and Premillenarians, that He will not be seated upon the throne as Mediator until He establishes the millennium at the second advent. As a matter of fact, however, He was appointed as king from eternity, Proverbs 8:23; Psalm 2:6, and began to function as such immediately after the fall. Yet He did not formally and publicly assume His throne until the time of His ascension and elevation to the right hand of God. Some opine that this kingship will cease at the return of Christ, but Scripture would seem to teach explicitly that it will endure forever, Psalm 45:6; 72:17; 89:36, 37; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; 2 Samuel 7:13, 16; Luke 1:33; 2 Peter 1:11.
2. The Kingship of Christ over the UNIVERSE.
Before His ascension Christ said to His disciples: "All authority has been given unto me in Heaven and on earth," Matthew 28:18. The same truth is also taught in Ephesians 1:20–22; 1 Corinthians 15:27.
a. The NATURE of This Kingship. This kingship should not be confused with the original kingship of Christ as the Son of God, though it extends to the same realm. It is the kingship of the universe entrusted to Christ as Mediator in behalf of His Church. As King of the universe He now guides the destinies of individuals, of social groups, and of nations, so as to promote the growth, the gradual purification, and the final perfection of the people which He has redeemed by His blood. Moreover, this kingship enables Him to protect His own against the dangers to which they are exposed in the world, and to vindicate His righteousness by the subjection and destruction of all His enemies.
b. The DURATION of This Kingship. Christ was formally invested with this kingship over the universe when He was exalted at the right hand of God. It was a promised reward of His labors, Psalm 2:8, 9; Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20–22; Philippians 2:9–11. This investiture did not give Him any power or authority which He did not already possess as the Son of God; neither did it increase His territory. It simply gave this authority to Christ as the God-man, so that His human nature was now made to share in the glory of this royal dominion. The government of the world was made subservient to the interests of the Church of Jesus Christ. This kingship will last until the victory over the enemies of the kingdom is complete, 1 Corinthians 15:24–28. When the end is accomplished, it will be returned to the Father.
Questions for Review:
Why has Christ a threefold office?
What Scripture proof is there for the prophetic office of Christ?
What is a prophet?
What two sides are there to the prophetic office?
What are the duties of a prophet?
In what different ways does Christ function as prophet?
How does modern liberal theology stress the prophetic office of Christ?
How was Christ as priest prefigured?
What Scripture proof is there for His priestly work?
What is a priest in distinction from a prophet?
How did their teaching differ among Israel?
What are the characteristics of a priest?
What was the nature of Christ's sacrificial work?
How was this prefigured in the Old Testament?
What Scripture proof is there for this work?
What is a paraclete?
In what does the work of Christ as intercessor consist?
How far does His intercession extend and why is it always effective?
What is the spiritual kingship of Christ?
Over what realm does it extend?
What does the term "kingdom of God" denote in the Gospels?
Is the kingdom the same as the Church?
How is the present kingdom related to the future kingdom?
When did Christ become king?
How long will His spiritual kingship last?
What is the nature and purpose of Christ's kingship over the universe?
How long will this kingship last?
The ATONEMENT Through Christ
A. The Moving CAUSE and NECESSITY of the Atonement.
1. The Moving CAUSE of the Atonement.
It is sometimes represented as if the moving cause of the atonement lay in the sympathetic love of Christ for sinners. In this representation the impression is often given that God is an angry God bent on the sinner's destruction, but that the loving Christ steps in between and at the cost of His life saves the transgressor. Christ receives the glory and God is forgotten, robbed of His honor. Scripture finds the moving cause of the atonement in the good pleasure of God to save sinners by a substitutionary atonement, Isaiah 53:10; Luke 2:14; Colossians 1:19, 20. This good pleasure of God should not be regarded as some arbitrary choice of God. It is more in harmony with Scripture to say that the good pleasure of God to save sinners by a substitutionary atonement was founded in the love and justice of God. It was the love of God that offered sinners a way of escape, John 3:16. And it was the justice of God which required that the demands of the law should be met, "that He might be just, and the justified of him which believes in Jesus," Romans 3:26; cf. vss. 24, 25.
2. The NECESSITY of the Atonement.
Some, such as Duns Scotus, Socinius, and many modern liberal theologians, deny the necessity of the atonement. They do not believe that anything in God required satisfaction for sin before He could pardon the sinner. It is quite evident, however, that atonement was necessary in view of the justice of God. This was violated by man's transgression, and therefore naturally called for satisfaction. The righteousness and holiness of God, which can brook no sin, certainly cannot simply overlook open defiance to His infinite majesty. God hates sin with a divine hatred, and His whole being reacts against it, Genesis 18:25; Exodus 20:5; 23:7; Psalm 5:6, 7; Nah. 1:2; Romans 1:18, 32. Moreover, the veracity of God required that the sentence which He had pronounced on sin should be executed, Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23.
B. The NATURE of the Atonement.
1. It Served to Render SATISFACTION to God.
The atonement has frequently been represented, and is now often regarded, as something that was primarily intended to influence the sinner, to awaken repentance, and thus to bring him back to God. But this is an entirely erroneous conception of it. If a man does wrong and renders satisfaction, this satisfaction is naturally intended to influence the person wronged, and not the offending party. In the case of the sinner the atonement served to propitiate God, and to regain His good favor by making amends for the sin committed. This means that the primary purpose of the atonement was to reconcile God to the sinner. This does not imply, however, that we cannot, in any sense of the word, speak of the sinner's being reconciled to God. The Bible does this in more than one place, Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20. The reconciliation of the sinner to God may be regarded as the secondary purpose of the atonement. The reconciled God justifies the sinner and so operates in his heart by the Holy Spirit that the latter also lays aside his wicked alienation from God, and thus enters into the fruits of the perfect atonement of Christ.
2. It Was a VICARIOUS Atonement.
There is a difference between personal and vicarious atonement. When man fell away from God, he became a transgressor and as such owed God satisfaction. But man could atone for his sin only by suffering the penalty of sin eternally; and this is what God might have required in strict justice, and would have required, if He had not been actuated by love and compassion for the sinner. Instead of insisting on such personal atonement, however, He appointed a vicar (substitute) in Jesus Christ to take man's place; and this vicar atoned for the sin of mankind and wrought an eternal redemption for man. In this case, therefore, the offended party himself made provision for atonement. While a personal atonement would have excluded the element of mercy, this vicarious atonement represents the highest form of mercy. And while a personal atonement by the sinner would have been forever in the making and could never have resulted in redemption, the vicarious atonement provided by God Himself leads to reconciliation and life everlasting. The vicarious atonement wrought by Christ was prefigured in the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Scripture repeatedly says that these sacrifices atoned for sin and thus resulted in the pardoning of the transgressor, Leviticus 1:4; 4:20, 31, 35; 5:10, 16; 6:7; 17:11. Several passages speak of our sins being "laid upon" Christ, and of His "bearing" sin or iniquity, Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24. Others make mention of His dying or giving Himself for sin or for the sinner, Mark 10:45; Romans 8:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2.
3. It Included Christ's ACTIVE and PASSIVE Obedience.
It is customary to distinguish between the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience consists in all that He did to observe the law in behalf of sinners, as a condition for obtaining eternal life; and His passive obedience in all that He suffered in paying the penalty of sin and thus discharging the debt of all His people. While it is necessary to discriminate between the two, it should be distinctly understood that they cannot be separated. The two accompany each other at every point in the Savior's life. It was a part of Christ's active obedience that He subjected Himself voluntarily to suffering and death, John 10:18. On the other hand, it was also a part of Christ's passive obedience that He lived in subjection to the law and moved about in the form of a servant. In general it may be said that through His passive obedience He paid the penalty for sin and consequently removed the curse from man, Isaiah 53:6; Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2; and that through His active obedience He merited eternal life for the sinner, bringing him to the goal which Adam failed to reach, Romans 8:4; 10:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 4:4, 5, 7.
C. The EXTENT of the Atonement.
It is generally admitted that the satisfaction rendered by Christ was in itself sufficient for the salvation of all men, though they do not attain unto salvation. There is a difference of opinion, however, as to the question, whether Christ suffered and died for the purpose of saving all men or only the elect.
1. The LIMITED Extent of the Atonement.
Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Arminians of every description, maintain that the atonement wrought by Christ is universal. This does not mean that in their estimation all men will be saved, but simply that it was the intention of the Father in sending Christ, and of Christ in the accomplishment of His redemptive work, to save them all without any exception. They all admit that, as a matter of fact, the intended effect is not achieved. In distinction from them the Reformed Churches believe in a limited atonement. They maintain that it was the intention of both the Father and the Son to save only the elect, a purpose that is actually accomplished. The advocates of a universal atonement assert that Christ merely made salvation possible for all men, and that their actual redemption is dependent on their own free choice. The advocates of a limited atonement, on the other hand, maintain that Christ actually saves to the uttermost every one of those for whom He has laid down His life. Not one of those for whom the price is paid finally falls short of salvation.
The Bible clearly teaches that the effect of the work of Christ is not merely to make atonement possible, but to reconcile men to God and to put them in actual possession of eternal salvation, Luke 19:10; Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4; 3:13; Ephesians 1:7. Moreover, it indicates in various ways that Christ laid down His life for a certain qualified number, for His people, Matthew 1:21, for His sheep, John 10:11, 15, for the Church, Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25–27, or for the elect, Romans 8:32–35. Moreover, if it was really the purpose of God to save all men, then we shall have to come to the conclusion that the divine purpose is frustrated by men, and this is an impossibility.
2. OBJECTIONS to a Limited Atonement.
Several objections have been raised to the doctrine of a particular atonement, of which the following are the most important.
a. There are passages which teach that Christ died for the world, John 1:29; 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 4:14. The objectors proceed on the assumption that the word "world" in these passages always denotes all the individuals that constitute the world of humanity. But the word does not always have this meaning; its meaning is certainly more limited in Luke 2:1; 12:19. In the passages referred to it may simply serve to indicate that Christ died, not merely for the Jews, but for people of all the nations of the world.
b. Again, there are passages in which Christ is said to have died for all men, Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:4, 6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9. But the word "all" sometimes has a restricted meaning in Scripture, denoting all of a particular class, 1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 1:23, or all kinds of classes, Titus 2:11. If it were always taken in the absolute sense in the passages referred to by the objectors, some of these passages would teach that all men are actually saved, something which they themselves do not believe, cf. Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Hebrews 2:9, cf. v. 10.
c. Finally, it is said that the universal offer of salvation in the preaching of the word presupposes a universal atonement. If Christ did not die for all men, the offer of salvation cannot be extended to all in good faith. But the universal offer of salvation does not include the declaration that Christ made atonement for every individual; moreover, it is always conditioned by a faith and repentance that can only be wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Only the elect comply with the requirements and thus receive the blessings of salvation.
D. The Atonement in Present-Day Theology.
There is a wide-spread denial of the atonement in the proper sense of the word in present-day theology. Modern liberal theology really has no place for a doctrine of the atonement in any sense of the word. It regards sin simply as a weakness or as an imperfection which man has not yet overcome but will outgrow in the process of evolution; an imperfection for which man is not responsible, which constitutes no guilt, and therefore calls for no atonement. But even many modern evangelical Churches advocate a view of the atonement which is really equivalent to a denial of it. They ignore the idea that the atoning work of Christ served the purpose of appeasing the wrath of God against sin and of gaining His favor for the sinner. According to them the atonement did not effect a change in the attitude of God to the sinner, but only a change in the attitude of the sinner to God. What they call atonement is really reconciliation. Christ suffered and died to reveal to sinners the great love of God, and thus to awaken a responsive love in their hearts, which will induce them as lost sons to return to God in a penitent state of mind. This view of the atonement certainly does not do justice to the representations of Scripture respecting the work of Christ. It ignores the justice of God, which requires atonement, and fails to give any adequate reason for the death of Christ.
Questions for Review:
What was the moving cause of the atonement?
Why was the atonement necessary?
What erroneous conception do many have of the purpose of the atonement?
What was the real purpose?
How can this be proved from Scripture?
What is the difference between personal and vicarious atonement?
How was the vicarious sacrifice of Christ prefigured in the Old Testament?
What Scripture proof is there for it?
What is the difference between the active and the passive obedience of Christ?
Can these two be separated?
What did each one of these effect?
What is the question in debate in connection with the extent of the atonement?
What is meant by universal atonement, and who teach it?
What is limited atonement, and what Scriptural proof is there for it?
What objections are raised to the doctrine of a limited atonement, and what can be said in answer to these?
What is the prevalent view of the atonement in present-day theology?