The death of Christ is at the heart of the New Testament message. Both the fact and the meaning are central in the attention of the New Testament writers. But the death is never treated apart from the eternal purpose of God and its outcome in resurrection triumph and salvation for mankind.
The fact is made unmistakably clear. All four Gospels elaborate the event. The horrible cross, the pierced side, the anointed body, the sealed tomb, and the observations of innumerable witnesses â€" all confirm the fact and circumstances of his death. Scholars have called the death of Jesus a historic act originating in the historical event, which is the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus truly died.
Jesusâ€™ death was not a planned death, not by enemies but by God himself and by Jesus. He came to die. On at least three specific occasions in the last year of his earthly ministry, Jesus announced both his death and resurrection. At the arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus was the composed person who was most in charge.
More was involved in laying down his life for the sheep than the death pangs when he â€œgave up the ghost.â€ Human sin and need spoiled heaven for the Son of God. He chose to come and die for our redemption. Then there was the suffering of rejection, which dogged his life and ministry. Moreover, he suffered the direct assaults of Satan in temptation. And sin-bearing shadowed his earthly life as well as his death. It was in the Garden that he sweats blood, not on the ugly cross. It was all with loving purpose â€" for us and our salvation. As he took on manâ€™s lot and died, so he shares with us the triumphant resurrection and heavenly life.
Atonement is a supreme mystery. It is hard to understand why it was necessary for the sinless Son of God to die such an ignoble death in order for our sins to be forgiven. It is significant that there has never been an â€œofficialâ€ theory or explanation of the Atonement adopted by any church council or inscribed in any of the historic creeds. The New Testament gives four man â€œmodelsâ€ for the atonement. They are Jesus as prince, priest, prophet, and presence.
Jesus as prince. Jesus the prince is the royal fighter who comes to our rescue, breaks down the prison walls, and frees us from all that oppresses us. The Bible talks about Jesus as the victorious prince â€" the only deliverer.
Jesus as priest. This is the propitiation for our sin. To propitiate a person is to win over or to avert that personâ€™s anger. This model suggests that human beings owe complete obedience to God, but because of their sin against an infinite God, they are incapable of giving such obedience and thus have incurred an infinite moral debt.
Jesus as prophet. Jesus is the reconciler, who both speaks and lives Godâ€™s reconciling word to humanity. This model declares that Jesusâ€™ death on the cross was a demonstration of Godâ€™s love, which is able to dispel our fear of God and inspire our hearts to love both God and neighbor.
Jesus as presence. This focuses on the New Testament concept of participation. This emphasis has been especially prominent in Eastern Christianity. In this model, atonement is brought about not by Christâ€™sâ€™ death alone, but by the Incarnation as a whole. The Incarnation is the â€œenfleshmentâ€ of God, of Godâ€™s descent into human finitude and suffering, even to the point of death. By taking human nature upon himself, God in Christ redeems it.
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