woensdag 31 juli 2013

The Glory of the Cross 4

In the former contributions I considered the doctrine of the atonement in the Scriptures. In this article and in some further articles, I look at the doctrine of atonement as developed in church history. Church history is not our final guide, but we are not the first one who read and study the Scriptures and we can learn from the wisdom and insight former generations

The Early Church
Whenever the New Testament addresses the atonement, God is identified as its subject. The initiative for the atonement proceeded from God; He reconciles men with Himself, and not vice-versa. He gave His Son as a propitiation for sin. Thus humanity is confronted with the imperative to embrace, by faith, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, so that we may truly enjoy the friendship of God. This does not mean, however, that we bring about such atonement. The Bible teaches us that this is neither possible nor required. It is precisely for that reason that God, in His one-sided love, sent His Son.
What is the essential meaning of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ? What does it really mean for enemies to be reconciled with God through Christ’s blood? What exactly necessitates atoning? To answer these questions, we will first of all consider how Christ’s death on the cross has been analyzed during the course of church history. This does not mean that insights gleaned from church history ought to be viewed as normative; such insights need to be evaluated in light of Scripture. This is precisely what is meant by the Reformation principle, Sola Scriptura, that is, Scripture alone. We need to recognize, however, that we are not the first individuals to read and study the Scriptures. We may benefit from the insights regarding Scripture that have been formulated during the course of church history.
The Christian authors who date from the period immediately following the decease of the apostles are known as the apostolic fathers. Clement of Rome was one of them, and around 96 A.D. he wrote his first letter to the congregation of Corinth. Here we read, “Moved by His love toward us, Jesus Christ shed His blood for us according to the will of God, giving His flesh for our flesh and His life for our life.” One generation later, the church father Irenaeus placed Adam and Christ in opposition to each other. His thinking regarding this is known as “recapitulation.” As the Head of the new humanity, Christ gathers together all things unto Himself. Irenaeus posited that Christ, as the Son of God, has become man in order to comprehend the development of man within Himself and thereby provide salvation for us, “so that what we have lost in Adam, namely the image and likeness of God, may be received again in Christ Jesus.”It is the testimony of Irenaeus that “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has reconciled us to God by His death.”
In the Nicene Creed, we read, “Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven...and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried.” At the third ecumenical council, held in 431 A.D. in Ephesus, Christ was referred to as “the High Priest and Apostle of our profession” (Heb. 3:1) who has given Himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God and the Father for a sweet-smelling savor (Eph. 5:2). For Augustine, Christ is simultaneously Mediator, Propitiator, Savior, Healer, Shepherd, Sacrifice, and Priest. Christ took upon Himself our guilt and thereby finished the transgression (Dan. 9:24).
The early church unmistakably made the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death her point of departure. When considering the meaning of the atonement, man was viewed as a captive of the devil and death who was set free and delivered. The emphasis was upon redemption from the consequences of sin; the meaning of Christ’s death in relation to God’s justice and to sin itself was not well thought out. We may assume that, in the early church, the experience of the atonement was much richer than the formulations whereby this experience was described. Be that as it may, the central meaning of the atonement was repeatedly set before the church by way of the weekly celebration of the Eucharist.

The Middle Ages: Anselm of Canterbury and Abaelard
Any study of the meaning of the atonement will focus on the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109). Anselm articulated his thoughts in the book Cur Deus Homo (“Why God became man”). The book is a dialogue between Anselm and his gifted pupil, Boso. Anselm wished to establish the fundamental necessity of the atonement. Starting with the testimony of Scripture regarding the justice of God and the seriousness of sin, he demonstrates, apart from Scripture (remoto Christo), that God can only forgive sin through the sacrifice of Christ. Anselm makes clear that it is unthinkable that God could overlook the impugning of His justice by sin. Anselm responds to one of Boso’s objections to the arguments he is developing, saying, “You have not yet considered the gravity of sin.” God’s honor has been maligned by sin. That leaves two options: either sin is punished, or God’s honor is vindicated. The latter was accomplished by Christ’s sacrifice. Christ became man in order that God’s justice could be magnified. In this context, Anselm uses the word satisfaction. By His death on the cross, Christ has satisfied what the honor of God requires.
For Anselm, the atonement does not bring about a change in man; rather, God, who initially was wrathful toward man, looks down in favor upon him by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. Anselm highlighted that God is not only the subject of the atonement, but also its object. The atonement not only proceeds from God, but it also focuses upon Him. The doctrine of the atonement as articulated by Anselm reveals a much deeper insight into the meaning of the crucifixion and blood of Christ. Anselm not only confessed that Christ suffered vicariously, but he also connects the sacrifice of Christ not only with the consequences of sin, but also with sin itself, as well as with the honor of God as it has been impugned by sin.
Peter Abaelard (1079–1142), a younger contemporary of Anselm, handled the doctrine of the atonement in an entirely different fashion. Abaelard was far less impressed by the gravity of sin than Anselm; he defined sin as only evil committed voluntarily by man. The concept of hereditary sin was not entirely denied, but it was seriously weakened. Abaelard also spoke of the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin, but without any attempt to understand its meaning. The subjective meaning of the atonement was of central importance for him. He considered the essential meaning of the sacrifice of Christ not to be the satisfaction of God’s impugned justice, but rather the moral renewal of the sinner. The purpose of Christ’s sacrifice was to incite love for God in man. Contrary to Anselm, Abaelard viewed man rather than God as the object of the atonement. He viewed the atonement as bringing about a change in man’s disposition and not as having any connection to a change of God’s disposition toward man. Thus, whereas Anselm’s teaching regarding the atonement is objective, Abaelard’s teaching is subjective.

maandag 22 juli 2013

The Glory of the Cross 3

The Atonement in the Letters of Paul
Paul uses the word hilastèrion in Romans 3:25 to unfold the mystery of the cross. God the Father put the So forward as hilastèrion by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. The word hilastèrion has been translated both as ‘propitiation’ and ‘expiation’. Pure lin-guistically both translations are possible. But in the light of the context we must choose without any reservation for ‘propitiation’. The background of the hilastèrion accomplished by the work of Christ on the cross is the revelation of the wrath of God against human sin (Romans 1:18). Expiation means the washing away of sin and propitiation means the taking away of the wrath of God. Expiation does not include propitiation but propitiation includes expiation.
When considering the significance of Christ’s death on the cross and the atonement connected with it, the important question that needs to be answered is whether atonement consists merely in the blotting out of sin or also in the quenching of God’s wrath. C. H. Dodd emphatically defended the first proposition as being true. However, the only way he could sustain this argument was by insisting that God’s wrath was not related to His Person. In the letters of Paul, however, the wrath of God is a reality that is most intimately connected with God Himself. Being reconciled with God is not less, but rather more than the blotting out of sin. Divorced from the wrath of God toward sin, Christ’s death on the cross becomes incomprehensible. By way of His death on the cross, Christ delivered from the wrath to come those who believe in Him. The fact that the death of Christ was necessary in connection with God’s wrath toward sin does not diminish the demonstration of the Father’s love in giving His Son.
What sort of atonement does Paul have in mind when he writes in Romans 3:25 that God has set forth Christ “to be a propitiation through faith in his blood”? Does this refer to the means whereby the atonement is secured or to the mercy seat? The first option ought to be our choice here, even though the second is a possibility. It is, however, beyond doubt that Israel’s worship in the Old Testament constitutes the backdrop for Paul speaking of the atonement by way of Christ’s blood. In order to define the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross, an occasional reference is made to the atoning significance of the death of martyrs—such as, for example, in the fourth of the apocryphal books, the Book of the Maccabees. The atoning value being ascribed to the death of a martyr can, however, only be understood in light of the cultic system. In the New Testament, there is a close relationship between the suffering of Christ and the suffering of those who belong to Him; however, only the suffering and death of Christ makes atonement for sin. Herein lies the difference between the suffering of Christ and that of His people.
When Paul uses the word hilastèrion to refer to the quenching of God’s wrath. I defended that this word must be translated as ‘propitiation’. The Greek verb related to this noun is hilaskomai. We don not find it in the Pauline letters. We find it in Hebrews 2:17. We can trans-late both as ‘atone’ or make ‘propitiation’’. To explain the significance of the cross of Christ Paul also uses the verb (apo)katalassoo (Romans 5:10, 2 Cor 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; Col 1:20, 22). The background of this verb is the estrangement in relations. (Apo)kattalassoo is used by Paul to point to the fact that the estrangement between God and man is take away by the cross and blood of Christ. Instead of being of wrath a man being reconciled with God has peace with God. Instead of God’s anger God’s peace rests upon him. Reconcile does not only refer to a difference in attitude on the side of God, but also on the side of man. By the blood of Christ the enmity of man against God is taken away.
Atonement or propitiation always point to the accomplishment of salvation. Reconcile can besides that also refer to the application of salvation. When the blood of Christ is applied to man actual reconciliation takes place. Paul speaks about the preaching of the gospel as a means used by God and His Spirit to apply the salvation accomplished by Christ. Christ Himself comes to us when the gospel is preached to us. In 2 Cor. 5:18-20 we read: ‘All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’

The reality of the atonement is related to the seriousness of sin. The Bible speaks of the atonement for sin in various ways. Christ brought the sacrifice of His very own life; He redeemed His own by taking their place in God’s tribunal. The vocabulary and metaphors related to this are derived from the ceremonial law, the slave trade, and the courtroom. When using the word metaphor, we need to clarify its meaning, for one might get the impression that we are not dealing with an objective reality when discussing the atonement. This is not the case. Guilt and sin are two very real and objective matters which truly separate us from God and make us objects of His wrath. Being reconciled with God is also a reality whereby man becomes an object of God’s favor rather than of His wrath. If Christ, by His suffering and death, did not truly bring about reconciliation, there would be no salvation. The medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury said that whoever is blind to this has not yet been sufficiently convinced of the weightiness of sin. Only against the background of the weightiness of sin will we understand the wonder of the atonement, of reconciliation and of grace.

donderdag 18 juli 2013

The Glory of the Cross 2

The Atonement in the Synoptic Gospels
Approximately 20 percent of the Gospel of Mark is devoted to the gospel of Christ’s passion. If, however, we include the journey to Jerusalem, which was in anticipation of His approaching suffering, we arrive at approximately 56 percent. It is obvious that the cross is central in the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the other Gospels. What is the reason for this? The background of Christ’s death on the cross is man’s bondage to sin. Man can contribute nothing to the redemption of his soul. Jesus, as the Son of Man, surrendered Himself vicariously to death. His suffering and dying must be viewed within the context of the eschatological and messianic tribulation that will precede the full deployment of the coming of God’s kingdom, but His suffering is, however, unique. His substitution is exclusive. He has emptied the cup of God’s wrath. No one was capable of doing that. By way of the ransom that Christ paid, many will be delivered from the wrath of God and all its consequences.
The tribulation referred to in Mark 13, as well as in Matthew 24 and 25, must first of all be viewed in connection to the eve of the Passover. The “abomination of desolation” refers to the dying on the cross of the Son of God. The coming of the Son of God that follows refers in the first place to His ascension. This does not mean that the description of the great tribulation will not be fulfilled beyond that; we must think here also of the fall of Jerusalem and ultimately the perishing of the world itself.
The death of Christ must be viewed as the inauguration of the new exodus. From that moment forward, the ransomed of Zion will return. Just as the Passover meal preceded the first exodus, such is also the case with the second exodus. As the messianic Shepherd, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. There He set a process in motion that would lead to the cross. As the Passover Lamb and the messianic Shepherd, Christ’s death on the cross resulted in deliverance from the wrath of God and yielded forgiveness.
Christ died for others. The gospels give us a portrait of who some of these others are: Levi, who was called away from the receipt of custom; Bartimaeus, who cried out to Jesus as the Son of David, asking Him to have mercy upon him; Mary Magdalene, who was delivered from seven devils; and the thief on the cross.

The Atonement in the Gospel of John

By using the word lamb in the well-known passage from the Gospel of John “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29), a reference was made to the lamb that was sacrificed daily in the temple as well as to the paschal lamb. As atonement for guilt was made by the sacrificial lamb in the temple, such is true in the fullest sense of the word for Christ as the Lamb of God. As the Passover Lamb, He submitted Himself to the wrath of God that should have been poured out upon His people. John 1:29 is also an indirect reference to Isaiah 53, where we read of the Servant of the Lord being led as a lamb to the slaughter. A connection is already established between the work of this Servant on the one hand, and the function of the lamb as a daily sacrifice and as the Passover lamb on the other hand.
In connection with this, it is noteworthy that, in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, a relationship is established between the glory of the LORD Himself in Isaiah 6 and that of His Servant in Isaiah 52:12. In both Scripture passages, we encounter the words exalted and extolled. Isaiah 6 establishes a relationship between the high and exalted throne of the LORD and His kābôd, that is, His glory. The Septuagint generally translates the word kābôd with doxa. This is also true for the word hādār, which is used in Isaiah 53:2 to refer to the Servant of the LORD. The relationship between Isaiah 6 and 53 is defined even more closely than in the Hebrew text: it is the glory of the LORD Himself that is unveiled in the conduct of His Servant.
Our eyes need to be opened spiritually in order to understand the glory and the conduct of the LORD’s servant; such an understanding is of great importance in order to grasp the message of John’s gospel. When John begins his Gospel by saying, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), he wishes to indicate that he had grasped the glory of the crucified Christ.

The instruction John gives us in his Gospel is that Jesus, the exact fulfillment of the sacrificial and Passover lamb, died as the Good Shepherd for His sheep (cf. John 10). He became their Substitute because, according to John 13:1, He loved them to the end. The Greek expression εἰς τέλος in this text encompasses both ideas. The complete love of Christ for His own was demonstrated in His death on the cross. Therefore, we can speak of Christ’s death as Him being glorified — a death that may, however, never be divorced from the exaltation that followed. A true theology of glory will be a theology of the cross. Using words given to John in his Revelation, a Christian glories in Christ as “a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:7).




zaterdag 13 juli 2013

The Glory of the Cross 1

The British philosopher A. J. Ayer once summarized his objections to the Christian faith by singling out the doctrines of original sin and the vicarious suffering and death of Christ. There is an intimate connection between both doctrines. Since man cannot redeem himself, the Son of God, as man, surrendered Himself unto death. Atonement by the blood of Jesus Christ belongs to the essence of the Christian faith. Such is the testimony of the church’s creeds. Can this confession be substantiated in light of Scripture? What do the Scriptures have to say about the atonement? Availing myself of a number of works that have been published during the last few years, I wish to present some exegetical considerations in this first installment. In the second installment, I will focus on how the significance of the cross of Christ has been addressed throughout the history of the Christian church.

Atonement in the Pentateuch
The laws of the Pentateuch do not belong to the most popular portions of Scripture. Many a reader of the Bible does not sufficiently realize that the cross of Christ, divorced from the legislation of the Pentateuch, is incomprehensible. It is against the background of this legislation that the New Testament can speak of Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
The Old Testament sanctuary was a reflection of the nature, reputation, and authority of the LORD. The sins of the people of Israel were incompatible with His justice. For the Lord to dwell continually in the midst of His people, His justice had to be vindicated repeatedly. This was particularly the case on the great Day of Atonement, which provided the people with an affirmation that forgiveness had been granted them. The fact that the Law of Moses uses various words to designate sin (e.g., transgression, unrighteousness, uncleanness) is one of the indications that Israel (taking her lead from the Lord Himself) took sin seriously. The Mosaic laws make it clear to us that atonement and forgiveness of sin will never become a reality apart from confession of sin and, ultimately, restitution for the transgression committed.
Leviticus 17:11 is a key text in the Pentateuch. Does the atonement referred to there come about by means of the soul (i.e., life), or for and/or instead of the soul? External to the context of the atonement, the preposition that precedes the nouns life or soul also has the meaning of instead of or on behalf of. This is evident, for instance, in Genesis 29:18, where Jacob says that he has worked seven years for Rachel. Therefore, the notion that blood yields atonement for the soul is at least a possibility. However, when Leviticus 17:11 states that blood is the life or soul of the flesh, it would probably be preferable to interpret Leviticus 17:11 to mean that the shedding of blood yields atonement because of the life inherent in it.
Whatever the case may be, it is the sacrificial blood of the animal that serves as a substitute for the one who brings the sacrifice. The atonement also yields purification, but such purification is only possible because blood is substituted for the guilty sinner. Regarding the ritual of the Day of Atonement, it is noteworthy that inanimate objects are referred to as the objects of atonement without the use of a preposition, whereas any reference to people is preceded by a preposition.
The verb to atone belongs to the very essence of the cultic legislation of the Old Testament, and it reveals to us that the one who participated in the service of the Lord felt the necessity to escape God’s displeasure toward sin. When, for example, we consider this in light of Numbers 16:46–47, it will be evident that the quenching of God’s wrath is one of the components of the concept of the atonement. By dying vicariously, the sacrificial animal endured the wrath of God toward sin. It was understood that the goat sent into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement would be sent to a deserted location; that is, to a place divorced from God’s favor and where it would be subjected to God’s wrath.