REMOVAL OF OUR SIN
As we enter the Lenten Season and approach Holy Week our attention to the awesomeness of this period of the Church Year can be breath-taking, to say the least. The Lenten Season brings with it an entire host of theological concepts that not only prepare us for Holy Week proper but for the lengthy Trinity season to follow. It is during the Lenten Season that we, among other things, look to evaluate our sanctification in relation to the transcendent mystery that is Christ's total passion, His life as such, driving us to His substitutionary atonement.
As we “measure” our striving for Holiness during this season, we also look towards those deep things of God that actually occupy Holy Week and our focus upon them that should lend to our coming away with a sense of emotional seriousness, the spiritual sorrow that transpires, and the cosmic change that took place historically and should take place in our lives and hearts.
With Easter comes contemplation of some of the most intense and amazing doctrines of God's Holy Word: sacrifice, sin, identification, death, resurrection, ascension, union with the Son of God, the anticipation of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and atonement. Which makes the joy and exultation of Easter all the more profound - at least it does for me.
Having this in mind, I have been encountering numerous online discussions about the atonement of Jesus. All of these discussions, unfortunately, seem deficient and miss the profundity of Christ’s atoning work. It made me think of one of the passages of Scripture we recite every Sunday during our Anglican service. When we express to our congregation the Comfortable Words, the last passage we read is I John 2:1-2:
1. John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an ADVOCATE with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
2. He is the PROPITIATION for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1Jo 2:2 ESV)
As I was thinking about this, it brought to mind a sermon I preached to my congregation many years ago which included this passage. It made me wonder how anyone, in an attempt to present the atonement of Jesus to be the great gift to fallen man, that it undoubtedly is, could so deflate and destroy it by thinking that it must be applied to each and every person in the entire world. This, ultimately, is false compassion.
It is impossible, at least to some degree, to interact with the atonement of Jesus and NOT look to the types in the Old Covenant that establish the foundation for our discussion of atonement in general.
From a very general perspective, the Old Covenant provides the elemental structure from which we begin to understand Jesus’ atoning work.
When we look at the sacrificial system in the Old Covenant we see that what was taking place was breathtakingly comprehensive. The sacrifices were to “sanctify” or “set apart” or “consecrate” for holy use, the people, places, or items for which atonement was made (Ex 29). Every utensil used in the Tabernacle and Temple, every person ministering before the throne of God was to be “cleansed” of any defilement, impurity, or sin.
In regard to the people of God, in order to secure, guarantee, and maintain fellowship and communion, their sin must be covered and removed. Since no one, (at that time) could appear before God in such a pure state, God’s people needed someone or something to take their place because sin demanded satisfaction. Therefore, their sacrifice must be pure and without spot or blemish in order to be an acceptable “substitute” for them (Lev 1).
The blood of this “substitute” was then accepted on behalf of the person or people - in the case of the entire nation on Yom Kippur - as a “covering,” “removal,” “atonement” for sin (Lev 4).
So already, when discussing the Old Covenants' understanding of the sacrificial system we see, consecration or setting apart or sanctification; we see cleansing, purity; we see substitution; and the covering, removal, or atonement for sin.
A second matter that must be considered is the recipients of this system of atoning for sin. It is important to pay close attention to the narrative of the Passover/Exodus (Ex 12-14). Notice to whom Yahweh GAVE the gift of the forgiveness of sins via a sacrificial system – the Jews! He didn’t give it to the world, or, in other words, He didn’t give it to each and every person. No, one had to be brought into Judaism, become a Jew, in order to receive this forgiveness of sins. The Egyptians who sided with Israel were brought INTO the house of a Jew on the night of Passover, covered by the blood on the doorposts and lintels, protected from God’s judgment and the angel of death.
This sacrificial system to atone for sin and bring man into a saving relationship with God; sanctifying them, cleansing them, adopting them, removing their sin, was given to the Jews to then, share with a fallen world. One MUST have become Jewish to be saved! Jesus made this clear to the woman of the well, John 4:22, “…salvation is of the Jews.” Paul completes the picture when he identifies who a true Jew is in Romans 9:
6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (Rom. 9:6-8 KJV)
This brief summary shows the important principles established in the Old Covenant that inform the theological content of the New Covenant and the work of Christ on the Cross. As we move to understand His work, we see it will include but not be limited to, sanctification, cleansing, covering, removal, or atonement, substitution, and a specific people.
To these Jesus will add (at least) two more concepts we will discuss.
The Crux of the Matter
When we finally arrive at I John 2 we often fail to remember the context of John’s Epistle. In chapter 1 John is essentially, though not exclusively, dealing with the Gnostic heresy of Docetism.
For those not entirely familiar with Gnosticism, they were, for the most part, a combination mystery religion/Platonic-Neo-Platonic philosophy. The true “believer” was one with “secret” knowledge not encumbered by matters of the flesh. There’s more to it, but that would take us far afield. What concerns us most is that Gnosticism taught that the material world, the “flesh,” the body were detriments to true “spiritual” enlightenment. The Platonic aphorism was, “the body is the prison house of the soul.”
Therefore, for the Gnostic, if Jesus was “truly” a savior, there’s no way He had a “real” human body. He had to “shed” this ‘mortal coil’ if you were, and present to us a pure spiritual being. Docetism took this and asserted that Jesus only “seemed” (the Greek δοκέω “to seem” or “appear”) to have a human body.
So, for the Gnostic/Docetic, all that mattered was the spirit; it was pure. On the other hand, since the flesh was to be abandoned due to its evil nature, one could do anything they wanted, physically (include whatever sin you choose), and not be tainted by said sin because the two, body and spirit, were a totally separate "dualism," and the body would be eliminated eventually leaving only the pure, “sinless” spirit.
It was to this that John was responding.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 Jn. 1:7-10 KJV)
It isn’t some hyper-mystical knowledge that saves us and cleanses us from sin but the actual blood of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus blood that actually cleanses us, removes, makes us clean (καθαρίζω). This drives us directly into Chapter 2 and John’s argument.
John tells us NOT to buy into the false dichotomy that the Gnostic/Docetic’s are attempting to foist on us. Don’t think you can go and sin till exhaustion and not suffer the consequences. NO! DON’T SIN! BUT. BUT. BUT. IF YOU DO SIN, we have an advocate with the Father and this advocate is indeed our own propitiation! In other words, don’t fall prey to their deceit but, if you do sin, you have an avenue of redress before God – Jesus.
Pay close attention to how John argues this. The language is selective, particular, restrictive! We are cleansed by His blood; He is our advocate; He is our propitiation. Only those who are already Christ’s benefit from this. To put it another way, by His blood Jesus cleanses, removes, atones for sin. This affords us the comfort to NOT fear when we do sin! This can ONLY apply to His children! This can't be applied or mean "each and every individual" because John is contrasting and separating US and himself from, at the very least, the Gnostic/Docetic. So, in writing this section, John isn't claiming the benefits of Jesus' atoning work are for each and every individual in the world because he's making it clear the Gnostic/Docetic's aren't being included. There's at least one class or group of people for whom Jesus didn't atone! They would have to come into the Church to receive Jesus' atoning work as the Egyptians had to come into the house of the Jew during Passover.
Put all of this together when considering the following in dealing with I john 2:1-2:
If, as I John teaches, Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of each and every individual in the world, that necessarily means that:
a) All of sin has been removed. There is now no more judgment for sin, and
b) The wrath of God has been placated. Jesus' sacrifice has eliminated God's judgment from those for whom Jesus died. (There is now, therefore, no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus).
In addition, John teaches us that Jesus is our advocate; He is our defense attorney if you will.
The Greek word used for "advocate" is παράκλητος, ου, ὁ (the same word used of the Holy Spirit) which has a basic meaning according to Frieberg, of one called alongside to help; (1) as a legal technical term, as one who appears in another's behalf advocate, defender, intercessor (1J 2.1);
So, being the antecedent modifying the sentence, we have an "advocate," or lawyer, presenting a defense alongside His "clients."
The Greek scholars, Liddell-Scott state:
(Paraclatos) παρά-κλητος, ον, called to one's aid, a legal assistant, advocate, Again, pay close attention to the emphasis upon, "legal assistant." I could continue, but I'm guessing you see the point.
2. In verse 2 we have the term being modified, (hilasmos) ἱλασμός. Again, according to the leading Greek scholars:
Gingrich, Greek NT Lexicon (GIN), ἱλασμός, expiation, sin offering 1 J 2:2; 4:10.* [pg 93]
Liddell-Scott, Greek Lexicon ἱλασμός [ι¯], ὁ, a means of appeasing, a propitiation, N.T.
Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon ἱλασμός with focus on atoning sacrifice for sin means of forgiveness, way of reconciling (1J 2.2; 4.10)
Lastly, Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT ἱλασμός οῦ m means of forgiveness.
Once more, we're speaking of Jesus, appeasing, "actually" atoning for, expiating (removing) sin in order to reconcile His people to God.
He is at the right hand of God pleading our case before the Father. Or simply put, whenever the accuser (Satan) brings a charge against one of those for whom Jesus died, Jesus, as our advocate, merely presents to the Father HIMSELF as the answer against the charge. His sacrifice becomes our defense.
Taken together vs 1 & 2 are stating, quite simply, that Jesus is the defense lawyer who stands before the throne of Grace arguing that His people are forgiven, have had their sins removed, they are reconciled to God BECAUSE of His substitutionary work for them, on their behalf - ὑπὲρ - or, in other words, in their place. He bore their sin, guilt, and God's wrath.
He presents to the Father the case that:
1) His, Jesus', sacrifice has removed all sin,
2) His sacrifice has, forever, placated God's wrath towards those for whom He died, and;
3) He has taken their place on the cross. This substitution means that for everyone for whom Jesus died on the cross not only will not, but CAN NOT be judged because Jesus bore that judgment for them.
But if that's the case, how can this act of Jesus, His advocacy, be performed on behalf of each and every individual in the world?
How can Jesus stand (if you'll allow the metaphor) before the throne of God and be an advocate for the entire world, arguing that the sins of the entire world have been REMOVED (not covered, but gone) and that God's wrath against sin has been placated, while people still go to hell?
How can He stand as a defense attorney for each and every individual in the world? And remember, unbelief itself, according to the Gospel of John, is sin, so that too would be atoned for by Jesus. See all of John 8 but particularly:
John 8:24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. (Jn. 8:24 KJV)
That would mean then:
a) No one goes to hell,
b) That, He actually took the place of each and every individual, on the cross.
c) If anyone goes to hell, Jesus is an ineffective advocate whose evidence was insufficient to appease the justice of God,
d) Propitiated doesn't actually mean propitiated.
If the sacrifice of Jesus - His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension -not only covers, but actually REMOVES sin and completely satisfies God's wrath, justice, holiness, and righteousness, Unlimited/Hypothetical/Universal Atonement cannot even be considered as an option for the nature and extent of the atonement.
As we look to and past Lent, we can never forget what Easter teaches us:
1. Sin resulted in death as far back as Gen 2:17.
2. This sin unto death required a remedy.
3. This remedy was sacrifice.
4. God, even though He judges sin, also provides grace through many means - not the least of which is His Word and a sacrificial system.
5. Each person presenting a sacrifice would place their hands on said sacrifice thereby identifying himself with the sacrifice and reminding everyone that sin, their individual sin, resulted in death and they must pay that price or provide a substitute on their behalf - their sacrificial animal.
6. The sacrifice would, among other things, point to that one sacrifice each year which would "cover" or atone for the sins of the people of Israel for one year (note - NOT THE SINS OF THE WORLD, ONLY THE SINS OF GOD'S PEOPLE) - Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
7. This Day of Atonement would, itself, point to God's one final, perfect, and holy sacrifice that would not only cover, but remove - TAKE AWAY - sin.
8. God's perfect sacrifice, voluntarily took upon Himself a human nature, humiliating Himself by setting aside His Divine Glory, and thereby identifying Himself as our one, final, perfect, sufficient sacrifice, and satisfaction and undergoing the judgment for sin that God's righteousness, holiness, and justice demanded, on our behalf. He took our place on the cross.
9. Therefore, by substituting Himself for us, on our behalf, in our place, Jesus, once for all completed the redemptive transaction, He finished the work of redemption, on the cross. NOTHING MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE. On the cross, He stated, “It Is Finished.”
The Greek word used there is, τετέλεσται, from the root, τελέω meaning, bring to an end, finish, complete. This term is a business term and is used in regard to a business transaction, where the exchange of items is prosecuted. Jesus paid the transaction price, not to Satan but to the Father. The price was a perfect blood sacrifice for sin to assuage the wrath and impending judgment of God. THAT was the price Jesus paid to finish the transaction.
Look at James, who uses the same term:
James 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (Jas. 1:15 KJV)
James points out that the work, the transaction that sin accomplishes, completes, finishes is death! Jesus’ work accomplishes, completes, finishes the transaction paying the way of those for whom He died, to live!
10. So, by accomplishing this substitutionary atonement, by taking the place of those for whom He came to save, those individuals ARE SAVED. Their guilt is removed; their sin is forgiven; judgment has been made for them; they are justified before God and will never face the eternal punishment, separation, and wrath of God.
11. How then could this possibly include, or apply to, every single individual in the world.?
12. If Hell is real, and I know it is, then Jesus couldn't have done this for each and every individual in the world. Otherwise, their guilt and sin would be forgiven and removed; their would be no judgment for anyone and hell would be empty! That is universalism. That is unbiblical.
“For Us” (Huper).
The last point I wanted to make was in reference to how we speak of Jesus’ atoning work. We always use the word, “substitute,” or the phrase, “Jesus took our place on the cross,” without seriously unpacking what that means or what we are actually saying. What does Scripture “mean” when it says, Jesus died “for” us; “in our place;” “on our behalf?”
Karl Barth once told an American seminary class the most important word in the Bible was a four-letter word? To a person, they answered, “love.” He said, no, the most important word in the Bible is “huper.” (ὑπὲρ).
The following is the definition of one of the primary Greek terms used in reference to redemption. Cited are three standard sources; Thayer's Greek Lexicon, B.A.G.'s Greek Lexicon, and the definitive text dealing with the theology of Greek terms, Kittel's "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament" (which by the way has no brief for Reformed Theology).
From Kittel: The term, upe,r, as seen in the ministry of the high priest in the Jewish temple, denotes the one who is appointed "for" men (Heb 5:1) and who offers blood for himself as well as for the offences of the people (Heb 9:7). In this connection one may note expressions which use upe,r to denote the offering of life, or suffering and death, "in favour of" or "for someone." The closest meaning…is "on behalf of." (Obviously this is the LXX use of the Hebrew that Dell cited).
The death and passion of Christ are for men…The act which is equated with payment of the ransom consists in a sacrificial and vicarious acceptance of the ground of bondage. (In other words, continuing) Jesus in His death vicariously took upon Himself the mortal curse which the Law brings and itself represents.
It has been shown already that the sense of "on behalf of" is sometimes very close to "in the place of," "instead of." Kittel pg 508ff
Thayer’s: "In the place of," "instead of;" are expressions concerning the death of Christ: Since anything, whether of an active or passive character which is undertaken "on behalf of" a person or thing, is undertaken `on account of' that person or thing, ὑπέρ is used. Thayer's Lexicon
And Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, state it very succinctly, "in behalf of," "for the sake of," and, "instead of." This preposition is a significant element of the orthodox doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
When the High Priest in the Old Covenant offered the sacrificial victim as a substitute, a replacement for the actual person who themselves sinned, their sins were forgiven (even if it was only on a temporary and not a permanent basis); when the High Priest then, offered the sacrificial victim as a substitute, a replacement for the Nation of Israel (a type of God's elect) and sent the "scapegoat" away into the wilderness, the sins of the Nation (again, a type of God's elect) were forgiven - albeit for only one year.
This points to the remarkable nature of Jesus substitutionary atonement because His sacrifice wasn't temporary, it wasn't for only a year, it was a permanent removal of sin; it was a completed transaction by the purchaser, who purchased the object of His intent, from the one who owned the object that was purchased or the place the object was held.
As we close, read the following verses to understand the full impact of what Jesus did on the cross:
KJV Mark 14:24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Luke 22:20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV John 10:15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Romans 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV 1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV 1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV 2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
(in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Galatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling saviour. (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
KJV Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; (in the place of, on behalf of, as a substitution for).
Therefore, given the definition of "for" as used in the above verses and applied to Christ's sacrificial death, as a substitution, death on behalf of, in the place of, instead of, the sinner, how can one argue that Jesus died "for" - as a substitution, death on behalf of, in the place of, instead of - each and every individual – and still maintain that Christ’s work was “accomplished” and He was correct when He said, “It is finished?”
Or to put it another way, how, if the purpose of the cross was to remove the sin and guilt of the one for whom atonement was offered, and Christ took the place of each and everyone who was guilty of sin and suffered and died for that sin upon the cross, then how is it that anyone is condemned to judgment due to un-atoned for sin?
Go back to the beginning. When the sheep were brought for sacrifice by the individual sinner, the individual placed their hands upon the head of the sacrificial animal identifying themselves with it; that animal then was killed in their place to pay for their sin and their sin was then removed. Even in Yom Kippur, the symbolism is only God’s people are identified with the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement; the scapegoat, the Azazel, was then sent out into the wilderness away from the camp symbolizing the total elimination of sin from the people.
Jesus, the second person of the triune Godhead, came to earth and took upon Himself a human nature to identify with us. He even participated in a baptism of repentance to completely fulfill all of the O.T. requirements – all righteousness. He then, living a perfect, sinless life, went to the cross in our place. WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ON THAT CROSS! But He became a curse for us. He propitiated God’s holy, righteous wrath and judgment, removing it forever for those for whom He died. He ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father, He ever lives to make intercession for us acting as our advocate, lawyer, defense attorney against the “accuser” Satan, stating before the Father, I have paid the necessary price You demanded Father, therefore they cannot be judged!
Easter is so profound it is impossible that any attempt to explain it would do it justice. It should compel us to Church so we may partake of one of the most amazing sacraments of His God's grace, the Body and Blood of our Savior in the bread and the wine; and thereby drive us to our knees in humble gratitude and joy where we are privileged to utter - ALLELUIA, THE LORD IS RISEN! THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!