Though differing in their views on the extent of the atonement, evangelical theologians would mostly agree on the array of theological implications of the single sacrificial act of Christ. As we celebrate His death on the Cross this Friday, let us savor afresh the array of benefits which Christ wrought to His own in one single sacrificial act on a tree of torture outside Jerusalem. In one single act, Jesus secured:
Reconciliation is broadly defined by a Greek lexicon as “the exchange of hostility for a friendly relationship” (BDAG, 521). Mankind broke the existing relationship with God at the Fall. Man is now separated from God and needs to be brought back into family fellowship with his Creator yet cannot do anything on his own to bring about this reconciliation. It is granted to man based on Christ’s perfect obedience and substitutionary death on the Cross. 2 Corinthians 5:18 has “us” is the object of the main verb, which has been argued to refer either solely to Paul and the apostles, or to all men, or to all believers. Yet, here Paul is calling the Corinthian church, especially its leadership, to be involved in the ministry of reconciliation. Paul elaborates on the divine ordination and accomplishment of that reconciliation. Every believer is made a new creation (v. 17), not only those with an apostolic ministry but to all those within the human race whose life has been controlled by the love of Christ (2 Cor 5:14). As such, the objective recipients of the reconciliation work of Christ are those who place their faith in Him.
Justification is the sovereign forensic act of God by which He declares the believers righteous, erasing their guilt before Him because of their sins, and imputing to their account the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Mankind has broken God’s law necessitating a punishment, which is death (Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 15:56; 2 Cor 1:9). This price has been paid in full by Christ on the Cross. It is granted by faith alone, in Christ alone (Phil 3:9; Rom 1:17, 3:28, 5:1). It excludes all those who have not come to saving faith. Moreover, faith is not what justifies the sinner, but rather the Object and the Enabler of that faith. This implies only two possible statuses before God, in line with the federal headship of Adam and Christ: man is either condemned or declared righteous now and on the day of judgment (Rom 5:10-21).
Echoing the Reformers sentiment, Calvin has labeled the truths of 2 Corinthians 5:21 as the “wondrous exchange”, in which Christ bore the punishment for sins on behalf of sinners, dying in their place, and His righteousness was imputed to them. Thus, the sinners stand forgiven and adorned by Christ’s righteousness. Christ is the Suffering Servant fore announced as bearing the penal consequences of sin as a substitute, bearing the fullness of God’s wrath for sins (Isa 53:5, 10). This fully satisfactory payment and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness are the basis of the reconciliation and the believer’s justified stand before God. Additionally, the substitution necessarily leads to a union with Christ through mutual indwelling.
Jesus was not only a substitute but a ransom. This idea is conveyed in Scripture through the use of a word in the original carrying a legal and commercial idea of the redemptive act (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18). The concept replacement is reinforced by the use of another related word in 1 Timothy 2:6 which can only be found there: “…who gave Himself as a ransom for all…”.
Christ’s penal substitutionary sacrifice freed the believer from the bondage of sin and fully paid his debt to God for that sin.
The Greek verb translated “to buy” is also used to express the idea of redemption (1 Cor 6:20. It is defined as “to acquire things or services in exchange for money”. It was the word used in biblical times for the purchasing of slaves. In the same way as a master would go to the slave market, select and procure slaves, so the believer has been delivered, on account of Christ’s payment with His own life (1 Cor 7:23; Rev 5:9) from the kingdom of darkness and ushered into the kingdom of the Son who is now his owner and Lord (Gal 4:7).
A holy God is rightly angry against the nature, the presence and the effects of sin. Christ’s death on the Cross was the only propitiation acceptable to God to satisfactorily remove that anger (Rom 3:25; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10). The propitiation was in the Greco-Roman literature a means to regain the favor of a king or a deity. The gift, if appropriate, made amends for the offenses of the one who brought it. The sinner has broken God’s holy law through his inherited sinful nature and his sinful deeds, words, and thoughts. The sacrifice offered to atone for these had to be perfectly spotless. Only One who never has sinned could be that propitiation, and so was Christ. The need for propitiation underlines the stark contrast between the sinner being under God’s increasing wrath (John 3:36; Rom 1:18) culminating on the day of judgment (Rom 2:5; Heb 10:26-27) on one hand, and the believers who are saved from that wrath, now at peace with God (Rom 5:1) on the other hand.
The provision of Christ as penal substitutionary atonement is part of God’s salvific plan, which has been determined and ordained from eternity past. The time, means, purpose, and beneficiaries of Christ’s death have been fixed by the Trinity before the beginning of time as part of the New Covenant. The triune God has determined and designed from eternity past a covenantal relationship with a determined group of people. The divine plan of salvation indivisibly comprises an electing decree by the Father, a purchase of redemption through the blood of the Son, and a sealing by the Holy Spirit of an eternal union with God. What a joy to celebrate that One Single Act on this day.