Audio Reading (0:10:25):
This piece was my first exercise in making public my more than two decades of reflections on the Atonement. It was Easter Sunday afternoon, 2006, and Josh and Shane had kindly allowed me to use their computer to get online–a royal treat! Ted Gossard (http://communityofjesus.wordpress.com/) had suggested I check out the JesusCreed blogsite of Scot McKnight, a theologian at North Park University (of the Evangelical Covenant church) in Chicago. It was virtually my first encounter with blogging. The most recent post was Scot’s “Atonement Wars on Good Friday?” He was responding to a Good Friday article in Christianity Today, April 14, 2006, entitled “Nothing but the Blood,” by Mark Dever, a Baptist pastor in Washington, D.C.: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/may/9.29.html
After scoring the article for its polemical tone, Scot mainly used it as a springboard to issue several edifying thoughts about the meaning of the Easter events. However, not only did he concede too much to the categories of “penal substitution,” but, as I surveyed the blog responses, I became increasingly grieved over the traditional misunderstandings about the atonement as folks wandered over the same old parched ground, thirsting for some more conclusively satisfying refreshment on the subject. Therefore I decided to engage in an extended ad hoc response of my own. This had been coming together in my mind in response to having just read key sections of Hans Boersma’s Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (http://www.amazon.com/Violence-Hospitality-Cross-Reappropriating-Atonement/dp/0801027209), since he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Third Annual Civitas Conference at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids that September (2006), later canceled for fiscal reasons.
Novice that I was, and keenly incited by the many remarks already preceding mine, I decided to place my contribution in ALL CAPS. Within five minutes of submitting it around 6:00 p.m. EST, Scot replied with the chastening admonition that I re-submit it in normal type face since caps suggested I was “yelling” at them. Exactly. The New Testament calls it “heralding.” There comes a time to cut through the wearisome words and worrisome doubts to SHOUT THE ROUSING TRUTH, NO HOLDS BARRED! Alas! There I go again, worse than ever… Anyway, six weeks later, after discussion had cooled down considerably, I complied, but with some revisions. Well, so much for great timing. And because there’s nothing on earth that can’t be improved, I kept fiddling with it until a point of diminishing returns. I hope you find it worth a leisurely read.
RESURRECTION SUNDAY, April 16, 2006
At risk of violating blog e-tiquette, I’d like to debut in this rousing and refreshing e-merging conversation on Atonement by introducing the following broadsides as gentle blogbusters. In this way I hope to engage a host of concerns repeatedly voiced here and place them in another light that may prove more satisfying.
* * * * *
The radically unjust and violent crucifixion of the Son of God justified his Father in raising him from the dead and vastly overcompensating him for his willing self-sacrifice; conversely, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, in retrospect, justified even the towering evil of his crucifixion by the rulers of the age, behind whom stood Satan as clueless perpetrator, whose habitual career of brutality finally ensnared him into thus dispossessing himself of his control of the world. His future torment for the ages, by way of just and proper overcompensation, is accordingly assured. Messiah’s cross and blood are therefore fearful signs to Satan of his impending doom.
However, God never had a wrathful moment toward His faithfully obedient Son, whose love for the whole world led him to this incomparable deed. Jesus suffered this totally unjustified abuse under the eye of God’s undiminished graciousness. His people mistakenly regarded him as suffering abuse at the hand of God’s anger against sin, and even wrongly imputed sin to the Savior. Rather, Jesus was bearing the sins of his people instead of avenging himself on them. This was Christ’s supreme victory—absolutely refusing, even under extreme provocation, to revile his enemies, repay them in kind, or use his Messianic prerogatives to protect himself. Rather, he absorbed the loss in its entirety. Sin was not and can not be paid for; Jesus paid for us. Sin, by contrast, must be erased, cleaned off, released, washed away, etc. The blood of Jesus signifies to God the unjust taking of perfectly innocent life by premeditated violent assault. God’s justice could be satisfied by nothing less than a public reversal of the verdict and a lavish overpayment for the humiliation and execution. Hence resurrection to immortal life and exalted status soon followed, i.e., the just award for taking such abuse and awaiting God’s own righteous judgment instead.
Because of Adam’s primal offense, he and his descendants were deprived of access to the Tree of Life, so all eventually die. Thus death passed through to all mankind, whereupon, all necessarily sin. For along with decay comes its behavioral effect—craving, coveting, or lusting—which incites to sin, that is, violating the rights/authority of others in attempts to gratify the corrupt desires stemming from our mortality. Unlike Adam, all his descendants are born in sin without a choice; yet like him we remain mortal, cut off from the source of rejuvenation. From such involuntary fear of death and slavery to sin the only possible liberation must be a publicly confirmed restoration of life, as a free offer, on some other grounds than our own sinless innocence, since that’s now quite impossible for us. For such a rescue, God’s love conspired a solution whose wisdom transcended any stretch of the imagination.
The totally unjust, unspeakably vicious, shamefully public shedding of the blood of God’s Own provoked His tactically immediate reversal by way of just overcompensation: resurrection to everlasting life, immortality, and exaltation to an inheritance of, and authority over, all things. Hence Christ’s sacrificial blood figures throughout Scripture as the agent of salvation, rescue, protective covering, justification, wholesomeness, washing, cleansing, erasure of sins, liberation, freedom, ransom, purchase, pardon, conciliation, peace, nourishment, everlasting life, and more. “Speaking better” than the blood of Abel, it evoked God’s immediate, surprising, and overwhelming justice that decisively reversed his plight. The provision of his innocent blood, sprinkled on our hearts when we partake by faith, frees us from God’s indignation against entrenched sin, for it evokes God’s similar vindicating response: His sending of divine life from heaven—far superior to intermittent partaking from the Edenic Tree of Life—to reverse the death in our spirits and enable us to contend successfully against the cravings still resident in our mortal flesh, plus the sins they spawn.
Furthermore, the Messiah descended like a scapegoat, taking our sins far away into the barrenness of the Unseen, not to suffer yet further abuse, but to mount the heights and herald this fresh-won life even to the dead so they could live in spirit, awaiting the resurrection, and be saved. As proof of his success, some of them arose to life after Jesus’ own rising and were seen in Jerusalem as evidence of the universal power of his liberation for all who will trust him.
The Father, for His part, was absolutely satisfied by His Son’s humble submission and rewarded it stupendously. On the cross, Jesus became a sin-offering—a flawless, unblemished lamb, an innocent victim, perfectly faithful and well-pleasing to God, whose sacrifice constituted the most aggravated and vicious sin ever perpetrated by Israel, but yet played perfectly into God’s gracious hands. In response, God rushed to his rescue with His promised justice in a startling historic demonstration of His ultimate avenging of the unparalleled injustice: by reversing the wrongful execution of the Covenant victim and adding reparative damages of extraordinary magnitude, but not by immediately destroying the victimizers. Thus was demonstrated on a world stage the fundamental principle of God’s saving justice: awarding good by just overcompensation, even against impossible odds, in due time. Thus true peace made its advent on earth.
By such vindication and restitution, complete pardon and superabundant graciousness were extended rightfully even to Messiah’s murderers, in addition to the rest of death-frightened (and hence sin-enslaved) humanity beyond Israel. Those in Jerusalem of that generation who remained stubborn to such an unprecedented and gracious exhibit of the previously unsuspected nature and misapprehended demonstration of divine righteousness via Messiah’s Resurrection were destroyed in an unspeakable horror of divine avenging in 70 A.D.—the prophesied abhorrence that desolated Jerusalem—a model for universal instruction of the nations concerning God’s righteous indignation toward those who harden themselves by repeatedly refusing to change their minds after experiencing his undeservedly generous mercy, kindness, patience, and forbearance. They die in their sins, which must ultimately be obliterated. Salvation for us is now or never. Only Messiah’s followers, who believed his prophecies of this dread judgment, escaped it. And God’s Old Covenant with that nation was terminated. Its blessings then transferred to all who would walk in the Spirit and directions of Jesus as Master—a new nation unified beyond all physical differences.
Accordingly, God reimbursed Jesus with much more than the sacrificed throne of ethnic Israel; that would have been far too small a restitution for all his trouble. In exchange God gave him all authority in heaven and on earth. In this magnificent way, God himself provided the protection, shelter, or indemnity concerning the sins of all mankind. In tandem, He bequeathed His now vindicated Son the right to have descendants and fellow-heirs to join him in ruling over a New Earth where justness, peace, and joy will finally be supreme. Jesus won the right both to save all humanity from God’s appropriate anger at stubborn wrongdoing and even endow us with marvelous gifts of the coming age.
Therefore, even now, during this present vicious age, even in the midst of enemies, we have a rich, tangible down payment of that future inheritance as partial damages for Messiah’s wrongful abuse: the New Covenant promise of superabundant Holy Spirit from God himself, including miraculous creation-regenerating power for healing, expelling demons, and similar royal foretastes of God’s future restorative reign as testimonies for the truth of its proclamation among all nations at present and as incentives to endurance in the obedience of faith. This faith conquers the resistant, violent world by peaceful nonresistance, by returning good for evil, and by the force of faith-in-miracle-working-action.
This great salvation is available not by some virtuous act of ours, but by mere faith that God really did raise Jesus up out of death—a faith generated by the very recounting of this powerful and wonderful Story, along with its narrated testimonies and evidences. So not only were the Father and the Son both justified by these destined events, and not only were the Crucifixion and Resurrection mutually justified by their staggering good results, but we sinners are likewise justified to receive everlasting life by God’s historic demonstration of overcompensating justice to Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of all peoples, but especially of those who endure in trust so as to keep getting cleansed, and hence regarded as upright, and thus win the prize: inheriting an allotment of the immortal life of God’s kingdom on the New Earth in the age to come.
Comment by Ronald Lee Roper—April 16, 2006 @ 4:58 pm (revised May 3, 11, 16-18, 20-21, 28, June 1, 3, July 25, Aug. 16, Sept. 5, 2006, May 14-15, 17, 2014, April 7, 2015, October 2, 8, 2016)
Originally appeared in Jesus Creed: Exploring the Significance of Jesus and the Orthodox Faith for the 21st Century:
Reappeared as a blog response in Clarion Journal for Spirituality and Justice: