The Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice

The Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice

By Alfred Bouter

Redeemed how I love to proclaim it!

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;

Redeemed through His infinite mercy,

His child, and forever, I am.
—Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

The sacrifices described in the Old Testament provide us with many types, lessons and applications. Besides their historical context and meaning for those days, they pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah and His sacrifice. The Lord Jesus summarized this in His words to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16 NKJV). Christ’s coming into this world and His finished work on the cross – including His resurrection, exaltation and present session at God’s right hand – provide the foundation of our salvation.

The New Testament elaborates on these important matters with instructions on how to be saved and then live as believers, serving Him and waiting for His return. Paul, for example, wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Th. 1:9-10). This testament contains the doctrines concerning Christ’s coming and teaches the meaning of His work, as the following passages clearly show:

  • “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Scripture is a complete unit. Each part is related to all the other parts, mutually casting light on one another. We cannot isolate any passage from its context, nor should we put one portion above others, for all Scripture – Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 – is interdependent and needed for our understanding of God’s thoughts. This is also true when we consider the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. That doctrine is found especially in the New Testament Epistles, yet we should not separate those passages from the rest of Scripture. Furthermore, the passages we have already quoted show how God’s written Word closely associates the person of Jesus Christ with His work and its results. In the following pages we do not speak of His work as Creator, but as Redeemer – even though both topics lead us to worship Him, now and throughout eternity (Rev. 4:10-5:14).

This brings us to some of the terms that are at times used to summarize the meaning of Christ’s redeeming work: atonement, redemption, forgiveness and justification.

When we use terms that are not found in the Bible we are in danger of introducing wrong concepts, but even using biblical terms does not guarantee us to be correct. The term atonement indicates an important aspect of Christ’s redeeming work, namely that He became our Substitute to endure the wrath of God we deserved. Remember, His blood cleansed us from our sins. The Old Testament often uses the terms “atone,” “atonement” or “ransom” to translate the Hebrew kaphar, which essentially means “to cover.” In a physical sense, Noah used a tar-like substance called “pitch” to cover the gopher wood of the ark inside and outside (Gen. 6:14). Later, the blood of the Passover sacrifice covered the first-born son and saved him from God’s wrath (Ex. 12:1-13). Sometimes, a cover was provided by silver (Ex. 30:12-16) or gold (Num. 31:50). However, these means could only cover sin; they were never able to erase it or take it away.

Christ’s perfect sacrifice settled the matter of our sinful condition once and for all (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 10:10-12). God forgave our sins, but He could not forgive “sin,” that is, our sin nature. The Lord Jesus became our Substitute by taking our place under God’s judgment. No one else could do so, but He was able and willing to shed His blood and give His life (Lev. 17:11). He did so at the proper time, in the right manner and as the supreme sacrifice, having glorified God in all the details of His life.

This term refers to the sacrifice that was needed to pay the penalty and provide for the blessed results, setting the sinner free and keeping him from harm and danger. The Lord Jesus is “God blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), and He became Man – the Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14) – to become our Redeemer. All humans entirely failed, but the Lord Jesus shed His blood on the cross, satisfied God’s holy and just claims, and laid the necessary foundation for all to be saved (2 Cor. 5:15). This salvation is available to all, but it must be accepted by faith (Jn. 3:16). Doing so, we enter the realm of redemption, where we are outside the claims of the enemy even though the world in which we live is filled with darkness and sin, under the enemy’s sway.

The moment we believe we are identified with our great Redeemer, who rescued us from this world’s control but then sent us into this world to represent Him where He was crucified. We now wait for Him, as Redeemer, to take us physically away from here at the rapture (1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Th. 4:16-17). These two passages show that all God’s resources are in Christ, who:

  • Has become to us wisdom from God,
  • Made us right with God (righteousness),
  • Set us apart for God (sanctification), and
  • Will come again to complete the work of redemption, even as to our bodies.

Our redemption was settled on the cross and in Christ’s resurrection, for He paid the full price that the holy and righteous God demanded. Yet, as far as we are concerned, our redemption will only be completed when Jesus takes us to Himself in heaven. That is why we wait for Him as Savior – or Redeemer – who with amazing power will conform our bodies to His glorious body, a true metamorphosis (Phil. 3:21). In the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:52) He will take us to Himself, that where He is, we may also be (Jn. 14:3). Amazing, but true!

When Israel was in bondage in Egypt under Pharaoh’s control, God’s people were not able to serve Him on His terms. Then God sent Moses as their redeemer. The Israelites were delivered, enabling them to serve God in the wilderness and later in the Promised Land. Even though we are living in this world, we no longer belong to it because for us this world has become desolate, or barren. Here we can serve God as Israel did in the wilderness, but we also may already enter “the Promised Land” – “the heavenlies” 1 – to be occupied with our heavenly treasures.

What was true for Israel in stages that followed one after another is true for us simultaneously. For all are true at the same time:

  • As to our bodies, we are in this world;
  • As to faith, this world is a wilderness; and
  • In our spirits, in tune with the Holy Spirit, we are in the heavenlies in Christ.

Soon the Lord Jesus will come and usher us into that heavenly land, but in the meantime we may take possession of all our heavenly blessings (Eph. 1:3). Praise God! Truly the theme of redemption is very rich.

As guilty sinners, we not only needed redemption but also forgiveness. Thus, we enjoy an unhindered relationship with our Lord, with God and with other believers. In this connection, the judgment seat of God and of Christ will manifest all the details of our individual lives (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10) so we may appreciate the greatness of God’s grace,2 in forgiving us and in enjoying true communion continuously. This communion is not only for special occasions, such as the meeting to remember Him (1 Cor. 11:20-31), but always. That is why Paul was looking forward to appearing at the judgment seat, for he desired to be fully “in tune” with God and with His people already here and now.

We should not fear God’s condemnation, because Christ was condemned on the cross in our stead (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). Nor should we think that we must still undergo a process of further purification, for we have been purified already (Col. 1:20-22). Just as the visual symbol of the cross displays a vertical and a horizontal connection, so forgiveness is in view of our relationship with God – which comes first – and then with our fellow human beings and believers. Consider Colossians 3:13: “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Throughout eternity we will enjoy what forgiveness has brought to us.

As a Man, our Lord Jesus, in His life and death, glorified God in the place where He had been dishonored by all of humanity. The Lord Jesus accomplished a work so great that God became, as it were, a Debtor towards the whole human race. That is why it is such a serious matter to reject Christ’s coming into this world and His work on the cross.

At the final judgment session, the great white throne, all unbelievers will stand before the Man to whom God has given authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man (Jn. 5:27). The Man Christ Jesus, who is God and has given Himself to save us (1 Tim. 2:5-6), will be the Judge! Before Him, “the earth and the heaven” will flee away, and all who refused to believe and be saved will be judged and condemned to eternal damnation (Rev. 20:11-15). In contrast to this, all who accept His work of redemption and believe are declared right3 with God already now. That is what justification means, and it opens the floodgates of heaven. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

I encourage the readers to use a concordance to find and look up the passages that refer to the above themes. Also, study portions of Scripture about the blood of the Lamb, the love of God, God’s grace revealed and His rights maintained, and many other related topics. Such endeavors will bring great blessing to your life as you come to know the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice.

1. See Ephesians 1:3,20, 2:6, 3:10, 6:12.
2. The Greek New Testament uses two different words. The one is linked with grace and emphasizes that forgiveness is undeserved, the other that God has “let go” all charges against us.
3. Romans deals with the matter of God’s righteousness and how He declares the repentant sinner to be “just.” This epistle contains various words that are related to the same basic Greek root word. Counted together, we find 77 such references in Romans.

The supreme exhibition of unfathomable wisdom is seen in the way taken to fulfill the eternal purpose of God. The cross is its center (Acts 2:23). It is the grand unifying power of the universe of bliss. By becoming Man, the Son brought an eternal relationship into manhood, for He did not cease to be the Son when He became Man. The Son, in nature and relationship eternal, became a Man to die, that the claims of divine holiness might be met in the heirs predestined to sonship. Glorified on high, He is the Firstborn of many brethren. —James McBroom (1934, adapted).