Soteriology: Christ on the Cross

November 25, 2019

For most of my life I have enjoyed playing golf. Golf courses often “aerate” their tee boxes, fairways, and greens. This is a process in which a machine punches holes in the ground and removes a small amount of dirt from those holes. The better quality golf courses aerate more often, while smaller less maintained golf courses do this less often. 1

The simple act of removing a small amount of dirt from the ground provides five benefits to the well traveled soil and grass that golfers use. One benefit is that it allows much needed nutrients (air, water, and fertilizer) to get to the root zone under the surface of the ground. Another benefit is that it reduces thatch buildup. Thatch is a layer of dead grass that can prevent important nutrients from getting to the soil. An additional benefit of aeration is that it relieves soil compaction. Severely compacted soil prevents air, water, and fertilizer from reaching the grass’s root system. Another benefit of aeration is that it helps with over seeding. When you are trying to over seed (laying seed on existing grass) aeration allows for that seed to penetrate the soil and germinate. A final benefit of aeration is that it prepares grass for going dormant in the winter and/or a green spring. If your grass goes dormant in the winter you want it to be as strong as possible, and aerating helps strengthen it. Additionally, aerating gives grass a fertile environment to grow when spring comes. 2

You have probably heard pastors say that “Jesus died for your sins on the Cross.” My point in sharing about aeration above is that, yes, Jesus did die for your sins on the cross. But, he accomplished much more than that on the cross. Similar to how that one act of aeration provides five benefits to grass, Christ’s death on the cross accomplished five things for us. Let’s take a look at those. 

Soteriology - What Christ Did on the Cross

Photo Credit: “Christ Dies on the Cross” by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804)

SOTERIOLOGY
Christ on the Cross

I. SUBSTITUTION

Christ died in our place and took the sinners’ just punishment.

A. Old Testament Backgrounds on Substitution

The idea of substitution is woven throughout the Old Testament. Here are some examples of substitution in the Old Testament. 

1. Animal Skins for Adam and Eve

After the fall and God cursed the man, woman, and serpent, God provided “animal skin” for Adam and Eve to use as clothing (Gen 3:21). An animal being killed for the protection of Adam and Eve was the beginning of animals being killed as substitutes for humans as a result of people’s sins. 

2. Abraham’s Sacrifice

In Genesis 22 it says that God “tested” Abraham’s faith (Gen 22:1) by telling Abraham to take his only son and sacrifice him as a burnt offering (Gen 22:2). Right as Abraham was about to kill his son the Angel of the Lord spoke out, “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” (Gen 22:12). Then Abraham “looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son” (Gen 22:13). 3 After that Abraham named that place “Yahweh-Yireh” which means “the Lord will provide” (Gen 22:14) because the Lord provided the ram as a substitute in place of his son.

3. The Passover

During Moses’s interactions with Pharaoh in Egypt, there were numerous chances for Pharaoh to let the Israelites go as God had commanded, but Pharaoh would not comply. So God decided that on one night he would pass through Egypt and kill the first-born son of every Egyptian family (Exod 12:12). To protect themselves from this death that God was sending, the Israelites needed to place some blood on their doorposts (Exod 12:13) which was the blood from a lamb or goat (Exod 12:21). The blood provided the sign to the angel of death not to kill the first born son of that home and it served as a substitute. The lamb was the death substitute in place of a child. Also see Exodus 12:22-23; John 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7.

4. Identification of Sinner with Sacrificial Animal

Under the Old Testament law the sinner and his sins were identified with a sacrificed animal. God told Moses to have the people bring an animal for sacrifice and that “the LORD will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him” (Lev 1:1-5; 3:2). This same practice is also seen in the Day of Atonement practices described in Leviticus 16:1-34 about how the high priest is supposed to purify the people through an animal. Also see Isa 53:3-10.

B. The New Testament Basis for Substitution 4

1. In Romans

The New Testament describes Christ’s death as the substitute for the punishment people deserve because of their sins. The clearest passage (in my opinion) is in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Rom 5:6-8, emphasis added)

The key idea here is that we were fallen, lost, evil,  and sinful, yet Christ came “to die for us while we were still sinners” (v. 8). The phrase “to die for us” is the New Living Translation of the Greek word, ὑπέρ, which often is translated “in behalf of.” A more literal way to translate “by sending Christ to die for us” of Romans 5:8 would be “by sending Christ to die on behalf of us” or “by sending Christ to die in behalf of us.” The preposition ὑπέρ is used to indicate that an activity or event is in some entity’s interest and is often translated as “for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone/something” (BDAG, 1029).

2. In 2 Corinthians

The idea of Christ being our substitute is also described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,

He [Christ] died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. (2 Cor 5:15)

Again the preposition ὑπέρ  is used when describing how Christ “died for everyone” and “died and was raised for them.” The NASB says that Christ “rose again on their behalf.” A little later in that same chapter Paul writes, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor 5:21).

3. Other Examples

Also see John 11:50-51; Gal 3:13; 1 Tim 2:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3:18.

II. REDEMPTION

Christ paid the price to free sinners from the control, consequences, and condemnation of their sins.

A. Old Testament Backgrounds on Redemption 5

1. Ruth and Boaz

Redemption is seen in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Boaz was Ruth’s distant relative (Ruth 2:20; 3:2), and when Ruth was a poor widow (Ruth 1:4-5) in dire circumstances doing her best to provide for herself and her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:2-3, 7, 15-19), Boaz stepped in to be her redeemer (Ruth 3:12-13; 4:1). Boaz was a redeemer to Ruth because he was a relative, he was able to pay the price, and was willing to redeem her.

Sounds a little like Jesus, right?

Jesus was a human, he died and paid the price, and was willing to die for us to set us free. 6

2. God as Redeemer

Additionally, God is described as the “redeemer” of Israel throughout the book of Isaiah. God spoke to the people of Israel through his prophet Isaiah saying, “I am the LORD, your Redeemer. I am the Holy One of Israel” (Isa 41:14) Later Isaiah describes God as the “Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel (Isa 43:14) and the God as “Israel’s King and Redeemer” (Isa 44:6). Also see Isa 43:3, 10-13.

3. Book of Hosea

Lastly, in the book of Hosea there is an example of redemption in the life of Hosea. Hosea was a prophet who’s wife, Gomer, was a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), and she regularly participated in prostitute activities (Hosea 3:1). Yet God wanted to use the relationship between Hosea and Gomer as an illustration for his love for his people and how he would redeem them. God told Hosea to go and buy his wife out of prostitution (Hosea 3:1). So Hosea went and bought his wife back for fifteen pieces of silver, five bushels of barley, and a measure of wine (Hosea 3:2). This was done to show that the “LORD still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them” (Hosea 3:1). While the nation of Israel regularly worshiped other gods and turned their back to the true God, he did not give up on them and would buy them back just as Hosea bought back Gomer.

B. The New Testament Basis for Redemption 7

1. In Matthew

The concept of redemption is described in the book of Matthew when Jesus spoke to his disciples about serving others,

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt 20:28)

The idea of redemption here relies heavily on the Greek word λύτρον,  which is often translated as “price of release” or “ransom.” (It’s only used twice in the New Testament: here in Matt 20:28 and Mark 10:45). 8 This word was commonly used in writings around Matthew’s time to describe the price that was paid to free a slave.

In effect, what Jesus Christ was saying was that “I am here to serve. You deserve punishment because of your sins. But my life will be given for you. I’ll pay the price to free you from the punishment of your sins so you can be free.” The King James Version reads, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Message reads, “He [Jesus] came to serve, not be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.” This ransom would “free them from the bondage of alienation from God” (Turner, “Matthew” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11, p. 263).

2. In Paul’s Letters

Further evidence for the significance of redemption in the New Testament is seen in Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus,

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Eph 1:7).

It was through the shedding of Christ’s blood-the Son of God-that our freedom from death was purchased. This is also seen in Paul’s letter to Titus,

He [Christ] gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Tit 2:14).

We have been “redeemed” by the death of Christ which freed us from sin, cleansed us, and made us God’s own holy people.

III. PROPITIATION

Christ’s death satisfied God’s holy wrath against our sins.

A. Old Testament Backgrounds on Propitiation

1. The Wrath of God

Professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, J. Scott Horrell, once taught me that God’s divine wrath is spoken of about 580 times in Old Testament. 9 So I think it is safe to say that God hates sin and something needs to happen to appease God’s anger toward sin. The Day of Atonement is one of the ways that God’s people dealt with their sins. 

2. The Day of Atonement

The Day of Atonement 10 described in Leviticus 16 is also an example of God’s holy wrath that had to be satisfied against people. The Day of Atonement was characterized by taking two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering (Lev 16:5). Aaron would take the two goats before the Lord (Lev 16:7) to determine which one was to be reserved as an offering to the Lord and which on would carry the sins of the people into the wilderness (Lev 16:8). The goat determined to be used as a sin offering (Lev 16:9) would be slaughtered (Lev 16:15) and used to purify the Most Holy Place and the entire Tabernacle (Lev 16:16) as well as the altar that stands before the Lord (Lev 16:18).

After this, the goat determined to be used as a “scapegoat” and would be presented to God. Aaron would lay his hands on the goat’s head and confess over the goat all the wickedness, rebellion, and the sins of the nation of Israel (Lev 16:21). This is how Aaron would transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat (Lev 16:21), and the goat would be sent into the wilderness in order to purify the people and make them right with God (Lev 16:10, 22).

3. The Anger of God

One of the more powerful elements of God’s angry judgment is seen in the first chapter of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah contains the messages God gave for the nation of Judah in order to help the people turn away from their sins and turn back to God. God describes the current state of Jerusalem in the first chapter of Isaiah.

See how Jerusalem, once so faithful, has become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness, she is now filled with murderers. Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty One of Israel, says, “I will take revenge on my enemies and pay back my foes! I will raise my fist against you. I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities. Then I will give you good judges again and wise counselors like you used to have. Then Jerusalem will again be called the Home of Justice and the Faithful City.” (Isa 1:21-26, emphasis added)

God is clear that his people have become rebels and thieves, love bribes, forget orphans, and neglect widows (v. 23). Because of that, God will take revenge on his people and pay them back (v. 24). His fist will rise against them (v. 25; also see Isa 2:12).

The prophet Jeremiah gives a similar indication of God’s angry judgment when he describes the coming disaster of God upon the rebellious nation of Judah that had not made changes based on Isaiah’s messages earlier.

This is what the Lord says: “The whole land will be ruined, but I will not destroy it completely. The earth will mourn and the heavens will be draped in black because of my decree against my people. I have made up my mind and will not change it.” (Jer 4:27-28)

A little later Jeremiah again reveals God’s plans,

“Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on my people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to me. They have rejected my word.” (Jer 6:19)

God is focused on delivering punishment on his people for not obeying his Laws. God had provided the clearest instructions that he possibly could to his nation for how to live righteously in a way that honored him. Yet the people regularly disobeyed him and turned away from him. Because of this, God told the people through his prophets that he would deliver his angry judgment to his people. That happened in 722 B.C. when the nation of Assyria conquered Israel and in 586 B.C. when the nation of Babylon conquered Judah.

B. The New Testament Basis for Propitiation

Early in his description of who Jesus was and what he came to do, John told his readers,

And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” (John 3:36)

The purpose of John writing his gospel about Jesus Christ was that people would “believe that Jesus is the Messiah” and “have life by the power of his name” (John 20:31). God was angered against humanity because of their sin and wickedness toward him (Rev 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15), but it was through Christ that God’s anger was appeased.

Also see 2 Thess 1:7-9 and Rom 9:22.

IV. RECONCILIATION

Christ’s death allows for forgiveness of man’s sin and restoration of our relationship with God in love.

A. Old Testament Backgrounds on Reconciliation

When Adam and Eve ate fruit from the forbidden tree (Gen 3:6-7) their perfect relationship with God was severed (Gen 3:10-11). As a result, God banished Adam and Eve from Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23) and placed mighty cherubim (a type of angel) to guard the Garden of Eden and placed a flaming sword to protect the tree of life (Gen 3:24). This event describes the spiritual state of humans being lost and separated from God (Rom 3:23), and therefore in need of reconciliation. 

B. The New Testament Basis for Reconciliation

While the sins of Adam and Eve separated us from God, the gift of God’s son Jesus Christ provided a way for us to come back into a correct and perfect relationship with God. Paul writes about this in his second letter to the Corinthians.

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Cor 5:18-21)

This passage makes it clear that God brought us back to himself through Jesus Christ (v. 18), God was reconciling the world back to himself through Christ (v. 19), Christ helps people come back to God (v. 20), and it was solely because of Christ that we could be made right with God (v. 21).

Also see Eph 2:16; Col 1:20-22.

V. JUSTIFICATION

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.

A. Old Testament Backgrounds on Justification

The concept of justification is not something self-contained to the New Testament. In the Old Testament there are two clear examples of people being justified based on their faith in God.

1. In Genesis

The first is when God told Abram that he would possess a land and become a great nation (Gen 12:1-3), Abram gladly accepted God’s promise (Gen 12:4). Yet that promise did not seem to be materializing (Gen 15:1-3). So God reassured Abram of the promise (Gen 15:4-5), and with that Abram “believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Gen 15:6). Later in the book of Genesis we see Abraham’s faith when he was told to sacrifice his only son (Gen 22:2). When Abraham arrived at the place that he was going to take his son to kill him, “’Stay here with the donkey,’ Abraham told the servants. ‘The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.’” (Gen 22:5). Notice the word “we” there in the last sentence? Abraham believed in God’s promise that he would make Abraham’s family great and abundant. Abraham believed God would bring his son back to life again (Heb 11:19).

2. In Habakkuk

The second Old Testament example of justification is in the minor (“minor” used to describe size of the book, not the importance of if) prophetic book, Habakkuk. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4, NASB). Writing to a wicked nation of people, Habakkuk explained that the righteous people live because of their faith in God.

B. The New Testament Basis for Justification

Paul’s letter to the Romans provides the most passages dealing with justification and the clearest teaching on it. He starts out his letter by describing justification,

This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’ (Rom 1:17, emphasis added)

And a few chapters later,

But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. (Rom 4:5, emphasis)

The emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Romans was clear: righteousness of God is based on faith in God, nothing else. Also see Rom 3:19-26; 4:1-5; 5:19; 8:29-30.  

IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. Christ died for my sins, but he also did more. 

I hope that this blog post-while very long-has showed you that Christ died for your sins, but he also accomplished a lot more “on the cross.” There were several things Christ accomplished on the cross. Christ was the substitute for our sins, he redeemed us, he satisfied God’s wrath against our sins, he reconciled us back into a relationship with God, and he justified us. 

B. I’ve been given a gift, so I will give a gift to others. 

What Christ did on the cross was a gift. You didn’t deserve it and you didn’t earn it. So, just as you have been given a gift of eternal life, but sure to share this good news with others so that they can enjoy the same gift you have received. 

Notes:

  1. When I worked as a caddie at a very nice private golf course in Texas while in seminary it seemed like we were aerating something every month.
  2. 7 Benefits of Lawn Aeration” by TruGreen, https://www.trugreen.com/lawn-care-101/blog/aeration-service/7-benefits-of-lawn-aeration. Accessed October 1, 2019.
  3. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the New Living Translation
  4. This section focuses on substitution with the word ὑπέρ. I limited my Scripture references to the use of ὑπέρ  for simplification and clarity. However, there are several verses that use a different Greek preposition to describe the idea of “substitute” which is the Greek preposition ἀντί. This word is often translated as “for, in place of, instead of, in behalf of” (BDAG, 87-88). See Luke 11:11; Matt 20:28; and Mark 10:45 for uses of ἀντί as a way to describe Christ’s substitute on our behalf.
  5. A couple other Old Testament texts that might reference the “ransom” or “redemption” idea are Exodus 30:12; Pss 49:7-9; Isa 53:10-12
  6. Further background for the kinsman-redeemer is given in Lev 25:23-24 as well as laws for marriage in Deut 25:5-10.
  7. There are more words and concepts that support the redemption theme in the New Testament than discussed here. Those can be found with these words: λύτρον “means or cost of release, redemption” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45); λυτρόομαι “redeem, set free, liberate” (Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18-19); ἀπολυτρωσις “setting free, deliverance; redemption, release, acquittal” (Rom 3:24; 8:23; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:15 [used in future in Rom 8:23; Eph 4:30; Heb 9:13]); ἀγοράζω “to buy, purchase” (1 Cor 6:19-20; Rev 5:9; 2 Pet 2:1; Col 7:23); ἐξαγοραζω “to buy in order to possess” (Gal 3:13; Eph 5:16; Col 4:5); περιποιέω “redeem, acquire, purchase” (Acts 20:28)
  8. The word translated “ransom” is the one commonly employed in the papyri as the price paid for a slave who is then set free by the one who bought him, the purchase money for manumitting slaves. (Robertson, Word Pictures)
  9. Ex. 22:24; Ex. 33:5; Lev 10:6; 16:22 Num 1:53; 11:1, 10, 33; 12:9; 14:11; 16:20, 21 v. 45.; 17:46; 18:5; 25:3, 4, 11; 32:10, 11, 13; Deut 1:34; 6:14, 15; 9:7, 13, 14 [Ex. 32:10.], 18–20, 22; 29:23, 27-28; 32:21, 22; Josh. 7:1, 26; 9:20; 22:18, 20; 23:16; Judg. 2:12; Judg. 3:8 Judg. 10:7. 1 Sam. 28:18; 2 Sam. 6:7; 2 Sam. 22:8, 9; 1 Kin. 11:9; 1 Kin. 16:7 vs. 2–13.; 2 Kin. 13:3; 2 Kin. 17:18; 2 Kin. 22:13; 2 Kin. 23:26; 1 Chron 27:24; 2 Chron 19:2, 10; 24:18; 28:9; 29:8; 32: 15, 25-26; 34:21; 36:16; Job 21:20 Pss 6:1; 7:11; 38:1; 69:24; 74:1; 76:7; 78:21, 38, 49, 50; 85:3; 90:11; 102:10; 103:8, 9; 106:23, 29, 32; Psa. 110:5; Ecc 5:6; Isa. 5:25 9:17, 19, 21; 12:1; 13:9, 13; 27:4; 30:27; 34:2; 42:25; 47:6; 48:9; 51:17, 20; 54:8-9; 57:16, 17; 60:10; 63:3–6; 64:5, 9; 66:15; Jer. 3:12; Jer. 4:4, 8, 26; 6:11; 7:20; 10:10; 17:4; 21:5, 6; 23:19-20 Jer. 30:23-24; 25:15–17, 37, 38; 32:37; 33:5; 36:7; 42:18; 44:6; 50:13; 51:45; Lam. 2:1, 3, 6; 4:11; 5:22; Ezek. 5:13, 15; Ezek 24:8; Ezek. 25:14–17; Dan. 9:16; Hos. 11:9; Hos. 13:11; Hos. 14:4; Nah. 1:2, 3, 6; Zech 1:2, 15; 7:12; 8:14; Matt. 22:7, 13; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 2:5; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Heb. 3:11 Heb. 4:3. Rev. 6:16, 17; Rev. 14:10, 11; Rev. 15:1, 7; Rev. 16:19; Rev. 19:15
  10. The Scofield Reference Bible provides a helpful note here about the word “atonement” I felt was worth sharing. “The biblical use and meaning of the word must be sharply distinguished from its use in theology. In the O.T. atonement is the English word used to translate the Hebrew words which mean ‘cover,’ ‘coverings,’ or ‘to cover.’ Atonement is, therefore, not a translation of the Hebrew but a purely theological concept.(Scofield Reference Bible, [Oxford University Press, 1909],  p. 148)

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher L. Scott is a local church pastor and freelance writer. He begins as the Senior Pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington on July 1, 2021. Learn more at https://www.lakeviewmissionarychurch.com/ His articles have appeared in Pacific Magazine, War Cry, The Lutheran Digest, New Identity Magazine, NET Results, The Christian Journal, and Bible Advocate. In 2020 more than 300,000 copies of his articles have been printed and distributed. Most articles are posted online and available to readers worldwide for free. He's a graduate of Fresno Pacific University and Dallas Theological Seminary.

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