From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 10 – Jesus’s death on the cross
It is right and proper to refer to Jesus as having ‘died for us’ or ‘saved us’. Those are valid short-hand phases which sum up what He did for us. However, it is also right to say that when Jesus died on the cross many different things were also being achieved, all at the same time. He saved us in many different senses and there are various different ways of viewing it and explaining it. These overlap to some degree, but they are also distinct and separate points. Therefore, it would be helpful for us to differentiate them and understand each of them more fully.
There are so many benefits that come from Jesus’ death for us that we cannot look at them all in Book One. However, as a foretaste of the extra things that we shall begin to explore in later books in this series, we could say that what Jesus achieved for us on the cross can be broken down into six key areas or aspects. Taken together, we tend to refer to these six aspects combined as ‘the atonement’. Let’s list them and briefly define them:
1) Jesus dying in our place as a substitute – (vicariously) This means that Jesus takes our place and receives our punishment so that our sins can be forgiven and the penalty avoided (The technical expression for this is ‘penal substitution’). This is the main thing we have focused on in chapter ten.
2) The turning away of God’s wrath by the offering Jesus made – The offering of Jesus as a sacrifice appeased God and turned His anger away from us. Therefore God no longer needed to pour out His anger on us. (The technical word for this is ‘propitiation’).
3) Redemption – This means being bought back, rescued, or liberated by the payment Jesus made. He paid the necessary ‘purchase price’ to obtain our freedom from slavery to various things. This is a vast subject and we will look into it in a lot of depth in later books in this series. But, in very brief terms, we could break ‘redemption’ down into the following achievements:
a) Jesus sets us free from slavery to sin.
We inherited our sinful nature from our first ancestor, Adam. It causes us to sin continually. But Jesus gives us a new nature which does not have to sin. Then those two natures, the old and the new, live within us, alongside each other and they are at war with each other. We then gradually have to learn to obey the wishes of our new nature, rather than our old sinful nature. That takes time, but it is possible for our new nature to steadily gain the upper hand, more and more of the time.
b) Jesus sets us free from slavery to Satan, who is the ruler of this world.
Adam used to be the ruler of this world, but when he sinned he handed his authority and rulership over to Satan. Thus, every non-Christian is under the rulership and authority of Satan. However, when Jesus died and rose again, all authority was transferred back to Him and away from Satan. That is one of the ways that Jesus defeated and disarmed Satan for us. It means that when we become a Christian we are transferred out from under Satan’s authority and put under Jesus’ authority instead. We move from Satan’s kingdom of darkness into Jesus’ Kingdom. This has all sorts of important implications, which we will examine in later books in this series.
4) Jesus’ operating as our ‘Passover Lamb’ – This is as in the book of Exodus, when the Israelites were in Egypt. So, God’s judgment can ‘pass over’ us and not affect us. It is just as the Israelite families avoided God’s judgment when the angel of death passed over their homes and killed every first-born in Egypt.
5) Justification – This is the mirror image of point one, where Jesus took our place and had our sin put onto Him as our substitute. Justification means we, likewise, take Jesus’ place. That then allows us to be deemed to be righteous, or credited with His righteousness. We receive this justification by having Jesus’ own perfect righteousness transferred to us, as if it was our own. It is as if we stand in His shoes and share His status.
6) Reconciliation – This means being reconciled with God the Father so that we no longer have to be alienated, estranged or separated from Him, due to our sinfulness. Because our sin can now be removed and forgiven, and because we can receive Jesus’ righteousness instead, God no longer needs to separate Himself from us. That then means that we can be reconciled with God and, spend eternity with Him, instead of being sent to the Lake of Fire.
It may sound surprising that what was achieved by Jesus’ death on the cross is capable of being looked at in so many different ways and that so many different benefits come from it. It is, perhaps, a little like studying a huge building such as Buckingham Palace. It is one overall structure and can be spoken of as one building. Yet, it can also be looked at from many different angles, so that all sorts of different aspects come into view.
Thus when you look at Buckingham Palace from the front it is correct to say that you are seeing the Palace. However, if you look at it from the left hand side, or right hand side, or from the rear, you will see different or additional features, but it’s still Buckingham Palace. Then if you looked at it from a helicopter hovering above the roof you would see other features and make even more discoveries about it. Yet, all the time, it is the same Palace that you are examining, albeit from different angles.
Likewise, with Jesus’ death on the cross we shall see in later books in this series that we can focus on and emphasise, one by one, a series of different achievements and blessings. All of them flow from the death and resurrection of Jesus. They are all closely connected and they overlap to some degree. Yet they are also distinct and separate points and they benefit us in different ways.