Soteriology Theology

Soteriology: What Christ Did on the Cross

While attending Dallas Theological Seminary one of the richest classes that I took was the class on salvation, also known as “Soteriology.” For an entire semester we talked about elements of salvation, biblical views on what it means to be saved, historical interpretations of salvation, as well as people that have tried to make salvation something other than what the Bible describes it as.

Soteriology - What Christ Did on the Cross

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

In this post I want to talk about salvation. More specifically, five things Christ did on the cross.[ref]These five things are adapted and simplified from a teaching given by J. Scott Horrell at Dallas Theological Seminary.[/ref]

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

A. Substitution in the Old Testament

The idea of substitution is woven throughout the Old Testament and it is not a new concept with Jesus Christ as the substitute for our sins.

After the fall and God had given curses to man, woman, and the serpent, God then provided “animal skin” for Adam and Eve to use as clothing (Gen 3:21). This idea of an animal being killed for the protection of Adam and Eve was the beginning of animals being killed for the purification of humans.

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). This was a “test” so God allowed Abraham to act obediently (Gen 22:3-10), but 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, NLT).[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are the New Living Translation[/ref] After that Abraham named that place “Yahweh-Yireh” which means “the Lord will provide” (Gen 22:14) because the Lord provided the ram to sacrifice in place of his son.

Under the Old Testament law their was a regular practice of identifying the sinner and his sins with a sacrificed animal. God told Moses to have the people bring an animal for sacrifice and that “the LORD will accept its [the animal] 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 (Lev 16:1-34). about how the high priest was supposed to purify the people through an animal. Also see Isa 53:3-10.

B. Substitution in the New Testament[ref]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.[/ref]

Christ’s death taking the place as the “substitute” for the sins of people is described throughout the New Testament. The most clear passages (in my opinion) are in Paul’s letters.

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 that Paul is explaining in these three verses is that we were fallen and lost and 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 Rom 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).

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).

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 power, consequences, and condemnation of their sins.

A. Redemption in the Old Testament[ref]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[/ref]

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 steped in to be her redeemer (Ruth 3:12-13; 4:1). Boaz was a redeemeer to Ruth because he was a relative, because he was able to pay the price, and because 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.[ref]Further background for the kinsman-redeemer is given in Lev 25:23-24 as well as laws for marriage in Deut 25:5-10.[/ref]

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.

B. Redemption in the New Testament

The concept of redemption is most clearly described in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus was talking to his disciples about serving others and said,

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)

As shown in the section on substitution, the idea of redemption relies heavily on a Greek word. In this case it is the 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). This word was commonly used in writings around Matthew’s time to describe the price that was paid to free a slave.[ref]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)[/ref] In effect, what Jesus Christ was saying was that “I am here to serve, my life will be given for you. I’ll pay the price for you, and you get to be freed because of the price I am going to pay for you.” 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).

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. Also 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. PROPITIATIONGod’s holy wrath against our sin is satisfied through Christ’s death.

A. Propitiation in the Old Testament

God’s divine wrath spoken about 580 times in OT.

The Day of Atonement[ref]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)[/ref] 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 was called 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).

B. Propitiation in the New Testament

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, NLT)

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). According to Warren Wiersbe, “A person does not have to die and go to hell to be under the wrath of God. . . The verdict has already been given, but the sentence has not yet been executed” (Wiersbe, Be Alivep. 59). 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’s son that that 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. Reconciliation in the Old Testament

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 the 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 physical event describes the spiritual state of humans being lost and separated from God (Rom 3:23).

B. Reconciliation in the New Testament

While the sins of Adam and Eve separated us from God, the gift of God in his 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.[ref]Justification is the topic discussed most in the modern church, therefore I will spend less space explaining this topic as you probably are already familiar with it.[/ref]

A. Justification in the Old Testament

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.

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 this only son, Isaac (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, emphasis added). 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).

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. “The righteous will live by his faith” (Hab 2:4, NASB) or “The just shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4, KJV). Writing to a wicked nation of people, Habakkuk explained that the righteous people live because of their faith in God.

B. Justification in the New Testament

Paul’s letter to the Romans provides the most passages dealing with justification and the most clear teaching on it. He starts out his letter 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)

Warren Wiersbe says that “Romans 1:17 is the key verse of the letter” (Be Right, p. 25). This is the key verse because it is describing how a sinner gets “justified” in God’s eyes: faith. The Scripture that Paul is quoting here is from Habakkuk 2:4 which is also quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:11 and in Hebrews 10:38. 

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 added)

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.


A. Christ died for my sins; he also did more.

I think the class I took at Dallas Theological Seminary was so rich for me because I learned about the other parts of my salvation which often did not get discussed in church. I had always heard that “Christ died for your sins” which was true and biblical. Yet, after a survey of Scripture it is clear that Christ did much much more: substitution, redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, and justification. 

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

The essence of Salvation is that it is a gift of God. And because that is a gift I need to share that gift with others by sharing the Gospel with them. It is our job as Christians to actively be witnessing to others and talking to them about Jesus Christ. We should be pointing people to Christ as much and as often as possible.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at