The Atonement: Q&A

In my previous post, “Tackling the Atonement,” I told a story about Jesus becoming man, entering into and sharing our slavery and bondage, then undoing all the things Adam put on us as humans because he obeyed rather than disobeying like Adam did.

I told how Jesus obeyed all the way to death, to the thrill of the devil, but the devil was not so thrilled to find out that death could not hold him. Jesus, by undoing what Adam did and by overthrowing death and the devil, freed us from sin, death, and the devil. I even listed out some early Christian quotes teaching the same thing.

That story was the product of my being asked questions about the atonement as I see it. With the above idea as a basis, I would like to go on to other questions I was asked.

Are atonement, redemption, and propitiation the same thing?

Atonement and propitiation (which may not be a good translation of hilasmos) are virtually the same thing. Atonement is a word that was formed from at-one-ment. It is two people coming together. Propitiation is the removal of what hinders that at-one-ment.

Redemption is a completely different thought. Redemption is a purchase. In the case of Scripture, Jesus’ purchased us out of slavery to sin, death, and the devil. The price Jesus paid was himself. His rescue, his redemption, was many-faceted, but Scripture does make some clear statements about it.

  • The forgiveness of sins is called redemption. (Eph. 1:7).
  • We are redeemed out from under the Law of Moses. (Gal. 4:5)
  • We are redeemed from the curse of the Law. (Gal. 3:13)
  • Our bodies will be redeemed at the resurrection. (Rom. 8:23)
  • We are redeemed from iniquity so that we are zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:13-14)
  • We are redeemed, in the sense of purchased, so that we are owned by God. (Eph. 1:14; Rev. 5:9)

If redemption is a purchase, to whom was the purchase price paid?

This we addressed yesterday. We were slaves. Redemption and ransom prices for slaves are paid to the former slave owner. This would suggest that Jesus paid a price to the devil, our slave owner. The price was himself, an exchange of himself for us, but the devil could not hold onto his new slave. He tried to wrap Jesus in death, but Jesus bound him, overthrew both him and death, then plundered his house.

It’s not a good idea to take into captivity someone more powerful than you. Jesus was more powerful than the devil, and as a result, he “took captivity captive.”

Does the blood of Jesus act like an antidote?

Yes. Just as Adam sinned and, as a result, death reigned over all his descendants, so Jesus obeyed, bringing righteousness and life to his descendants. Jesus’ descendants are his descendants through believing the Gospel, not lineage or biological descent (Rom. 5:17-19).

I think the best picture of this is Paul’s response to Romans 7. He describes Romans 7, the law of sin and death, and then at the start of chapter 8 he tells us that not only are we freed from condemnation, but we are freed from the law of sin and death itself.

How did that happen? Paul does not explain, at least not in any way I understand, but he goes on to say that “what the Law could not do, God did” (Rom. 8:3). He then tells us that the way God freed us from the law of sin and death was by sending his Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and “as an offering for sin.”

What’s terrible, for me at least, is he explains no further. He does tell us the result of that freedom, which is that the righteousnes of the Law will be fulfilled in us if we walk by the Spirit.

Jesus became like us, taking on sinful flesh and purging us, by obedience, from the disease that is in our flesh: sin. His whole life was an offering for sin, culminating in the final offering, all the way to death.

Thus, when we surrender ourselves to King Jesus, the Son of the living God, we receive the antidote to our old disease of sin and death. “The Law of the Spirit of Life in King Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.”

Is the blood of Jesus a necessary sacrifice for the blood to be poured out for us to receive life?

Yes! The bondage that took us because of Adam’s disobedience was not just sin, but death. More than anything, we needed deliverance from death so that we could live. Jesus, then, had to take on flesh and die, so that through death he could conquer the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14-15).

Early Christians Again

I hope I have been showing you as we go that this is in the Scriptures, but is this kind of teaching really what the apostles handed on to the churches they left behind?

Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. Let us turn to every age that has passed and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all who would be converted to him. (1 Clement 7. AD 95-96)

We evangelicals usually believe that Jesus’ death was to “pay a penalty,” that is to receive our punishment in our place so that we could go free just because no more penalty is due.

Notice, though, that when Clement tells us to look to the blood of the King, he tells us that it brought “the grace of repentance” before the whole world. Jesus vanquished sin so that we who were in bondage to it could be free from it. Being freed from sin, then the possibility of repentance is set before us.

This is not just an early Christian thought. It is in the Scriptures. Acts 11:18 tells us that what was given to the Gentiles when Peter preached to Cornelius was “repentance leading to life.” Paul described his whole message as “repent and do works suitable for repentance” in Acts 26:20.

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