The Atonement: Historically and in John’s Writings

(With a Small Discourse on the Resurrection)

Historically, the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ has basically three views to which most “theologians” agree. Within those doctrines, bitter disagreements surrounded some main points: Was the death of Christ a divine work for propitiation for the reconciliation and redemption of sinners? Did God the Father command the Son to die for the sins of the elect? Did Christ act voluntarily? Was the group of the elect the only ones to receive cleansing from the Atonement? The modern view which denies the previous questions will be shown to have originated in teachings that have been denounced since the early Christian Church. Further, the view which affirms those same questions has been the recorded orthodox view and is now considered the conservative and orthodox view.

Jesus of Nazareth died outside the city walls of Jerusalem around 30-33 AD His death marks the point in Christianity that is called the Atonement. The Atonement, by definition from the Greek word “katallage,” which means “exchange (fig. adjustment), i.e. restoration to (the divine) favor:atonement, reconciliation (-ing) [emphasis in original].” 1) According to Romans 5:11, the death of Christ on the cross appears to be a work of propitiation for the reconciliation and redemption of sinners. In John 6:38-40, Jesus states the Father sent Him to save those that the Father wishes to save. Those that are saved through the mission of Christ will be raised by Him on the “last day.”

Views of the Atonement throughout the history of the Christian church have remained somewhat focused on the accomplishments of Christ’s death toward men. Deviations in church history from the orthodox positions have, for the most part, been condemned as the need to approach those various views became necessary to quench growing heretical movements. Concepts that retained their orthodox flavor basically fall into three categories according to Aulen. 2) These doctrinal divisions are not exhaustive, nor are they designed to be perfect; only a general understanding of previous thought on the Atonement is demonstrated in them.

The first historical division of the doctrine of the Atonement was supported by Irenæus. The “classic” or “dramatic” theory speaks of Christ’s death as providing deliverance from oppressive agents like Satan, sin, wrath and the law. This view was supported by Irenæus. In a letter written by Irenaeus (c. 112 AD), he states that man was snatched from his perfect nature by the deceit of Satan and that God, by persuasion, is ransoming from it [the Adversary] that which was his own, not by force…. By his own blood then the Lord redeemed us, and gave his life for our life, his flesh for our flesh; and he poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God and man, bringing down God to men through the Spirit while raising man to God through his incarnation. 3)

Irenaeus appears to have been the first writer in Christian history to further develop the Biblical understanding of Christ’s Atonement. The death of Christ was not thought by him to be an isolated event, but must have been united to the complete work of the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ to have been necessarily effective for the reconciliation of man to God.

An outstanding difficulty with the “ransom to the Adversary” or “classic” view is that the ransom of Christ’s death is paid to Satan so that the Enemy will release men from his treacherous grasp. 4) If the Devil receives the ransom, then he has indeed won the battle for souls; there is no better reward for human souls than the life of Jesus Christ. If the ransom was paid to fulfill an incurred debt, then the ransom would go to the Father, Who was wronged by the sin and Fall of Adam. Aulen continues, in a seeming contradiction, that Irenaeus (b. 90-140 AD) said God was the Reconciler and Reconciled, and the ransom was being given to Himself by Himself.

Two aspects are brought to the front at this time in the doctrine of the Atonement: God carries out the entire mission by His initiative for the reconciliation of mankind to Himself. The other statement that is clarified is the act of the ransom of Christ as it is applied to release man from their evil oppressors.

The concept of God entering His creation in order to reconcile mankind to Himself is continued, although Anselm adds that the Atonement was a Divine penance carried out by Christ and that it had to be “offered by a man on mankind’s behalf; and because ‘there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,’ the Son of God comes to make the offering.” 5)

The view called the “Latin” or “objective” theory of the Atonement, supported by Anselm (1033-1109 AD), saw Christ fulfilling the eternal act of penance for the sake of man’s sin in light of the wrath of God the Father. Anselm’s entire theory rests on the human act of works for obtaining legal appeasement for a crime committed. God’s justice is averted in Anselm’s thinking because the perfect Human came by God to reconcile man to Himself.

Anselm believed that since man was guilty in the face of God, only man could satisfy God’s wrath. But since God was offended and man could not repay due to his sinfulness, only God could perform the satisfaction in the behalf and manner of mankind. The only possible way to do this, according to the Latin theory, was for God to become man while retaining His divinity and sacrificing Himself. Only Christ was perfect enough to have been sacrificed to God in the place of sinful man. Notice that in his mind, Man is making a sacrifice, not a ransom, to God for sin.

The student of Anselm, Abelard (1079-1142 AD), founded what is considered to be a break from the Latin theory into the “moral” or “subjective” theory. 6) This theory rejected the earlier emphasis on the satisfaction of Christ’s death as it applied toward men’s sins and attempted to demonstrate that Atonement as an act of self-sacrificing love on the part of God so that man would respond in love and therefore, by merit of love, be saved.

Abelard was not able to completely separate the teachings of Anselm with what he was trying to support. Merit of man in gaining salvation in the Latin system was carried over into the Moral theory. His views were apparently far too radical to gain a voice in his day.

Most views of the Atonement are related in some fashion to the historical views of the Classical, Latin or Moral theories. Since the fourth century of the Christian Church, doctrinal disputes have taken place within the above historical divisions. For instance, Augustin maintained the Classical theory of the Atonement while combating the heretical teachings of Pelagius.

Doctrinal divisions in the Church concerning the subject of the Atonement found its greatest chasm in the early fourth century. A monk by the name of Pelagius is quoted as saying of a hypothetical man in the question on the topic of man’s need for a Savior as based on man’s original depraved state:

  • He is not condemned; because the statement that all sinned in Adam, was not made because of the sin which is derived from one’s birth, but because of imitation of him. 7)

Pelagius was arguing from Romans 5:12 that man only sins when he sins in the same manner as the head of the family, who is identified as Adam. Since man was not originally corrupt in the mind of Pelagius, man did not require freedom from the bonds of sin through the Atonement. Augustin responded to this argument by showing that man cannot achieve righteousness by simply living righteously; if he could live righteously with no divine help, he would nullify the need for the Atonement. The Atonement, in the mind of Augustin, was the only divine help capable of granting righteousness to men. The doctrine defended by Augustin is echoed by the Puritans and Reformers over 1200 years later.

The above argument is what is considered today as the Augustinian or Calvinistic view of the Atonement. Augustin, in a response to the writings of Pelagius, felt that what Christ “bought with a price,” He will possess. Another way of putting the words of Augustin is that if Christ died for a person, he will get the person and bring them to His eternal kingdom. 8) Two principles stand with this doctrine: First, that man is purchased by the blood of Christ to eternal salvation and second that those for whom Christ has died will be brought into the Kingdom of God.

Faustus Socinus (d. 1604) taught that Jesus was only a created being just as the Arian heresy did in early church history. 9) This teaching of the Socinians, the followers of Socinus, on the Atonement of Christ is summarized by M’Clintock and Strong:

  • [Christ] was a mere man-that is, a man, and nothing else or more than a man. It [the Socinian teaching] not only denies the vicarious atonement of Christ, but it asserts that men, by their own repentance and good works, procure the forgiveness of their sins and the enjoyment of God’s favor; and thus, while denying that, in any proper sense, Christ is their Saviour, it teaches that men save themselves-that is, in so far as they need salvation.

Interestingly, the Unitarian Church is reported to have its roots in the Socinian heresy of the 1600-1700’s.

John Calvin 10) argued that Christ died for men in order that the proper “indignation of God” focused on the iniquity of man would be erased in the blood of Christ. Christ’s death on the Cross reconciled men to God. Arminius, whose followers formed five points based on his teachings in the year 1610, claimed that Jesus made salvation possible for all men and that nothing in the Atonement secured any divine blessing other than providing the opportunity for man to exercise faith enough to credit salvation to his own account.

The debate between the “Reformed” view of the Atonement and the Semi-Pelagian/Arminian view of the Atonement are the hotly debated subjects within the Church. However, the Liberal/Pelagian view cannot commonly be found within the Church due to the denial of any need for the Atonement of Christ or for the need of Christ as a Savior.

Romans 5:12-21 teaches that because of the sin of Adam, sin entered into the world and into man. Death reigned in sin until the righteousness and obedience of Christ made death ineffective. This teaching from the book of Romans clarifies man’s condition before a Holy God. Verse nine teaches that “we” will be saved from the wrath of God and not be counted as enemies. Verse ten shows that we have been reconciled while we were still enemies by the death of Christ and therefore, we will be saved by His life.

Irenaeus stated the mission of Christ in a simple manner, “That He might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man.” 11) Seen in the Atonement of Christ is the need of man for a Savior. Christ’s death cleanses man from his sinful condition and reconciles him to God the Father through His death on the Cross and the work which was accomplished there. Augustin makes a point based on Romans 5:18:

If reconciliation through Christ is necessary to all men, on all men has passed sin by which we have become enemies, in order that we should have need of reconciliation. This reconciliation is in the laver or regeneration and in the flesh and blood of Christ, without which not even infants can have life in themselves. 12)

Those who do not receive this act of divine intervention will be condemned for eternity. In John 10:11-17, Jesus claims that He will give His life for His sheep. His sheep will be saved through His death and not one person can stop Him from doing what He intends to do. Jesus concludes this thought in verse 18 by stating not only does He give His life according to His own initiative, but the Father has commanded this of Him.

As in Matthew 45:41-46, Jesus will banish some to condemnation. These will not be redeemed or reconciled to God. The wrath of the Lord will burn against these people for their sins. For believers, 1 John 2:1-2 clearly shows them that they have a Mediator and that if they sin, He has been the propitiation for the wrath of God.

The wrath that God shows toward the reprobate is justified, because as Nahum 1:2 shows, God “reserves wrath for His enemies.” In verse three, we are told that God will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Titus 2:14 teaches that Christ gave Himself to redeem men from their wickedness and to make them pure. In this, Christ places Himself in the midst of the sin of man so that the wrath of God is taken upon Him as in 1 John 2:1-2. 1 Peter 3:18 demonstrates how Christ’s Atonement has made the unrighteous, who previously enemies of God, righteous so that He may bring them to the Father.

Finally, Christ intended to come to Israel at that point in time to reconcile men to God and to bring an end to death. Matthew 20:28 is a fine example of the purpose of Christ in the salvation of men. The Son of Man did not come to be waited on, but to give to those who do not deserve salvation and to give His life for them. John 6:37-39 and John 10:18 teach the same point; Jesus came to do His will and the will of Father, which was to save those whom the Father gave Him. Merrill C. Tenney comments on John 10:18 by stating that Jesus “was not merely assent to being killed, a sort of indirect suicide; it was part of a plan to submit to death and then emerge for it victoriously alive.” 13) This passage stands against the doctrine which teaches a provisional Atonement.

When the need for the Atonement is dismissed, the efficiency of Christ’s death is dismissed. The doctrine of the Atonement is where we find our justification in the face of God as mentioned above. In many doctrines, the need of the Atonement is subjected to other views which downplay the theological significance of it. An efficacious Atonement and the reality of the crucifixion of Christ are at the center of all debates of the Cross of Christ. For instance, Liberalism and Socinianism deny the historical event of the crucifixion, thereby negating the use of an historical Atonement, the Arminian camp denies the efficiency of the Atonement and sees it as completely universal in scope. This view activates and enables the faith of man for the actualization of the forgiveness of sins.

In a Biblical discussion of the efficacy of the Atonement, no Scriptural support for the Liberal/Pelagian view is available due to the denial of the historical Atonement. Those who hold this view believe that the death of Christ was inefficient to man because it was unnecessary to man to atone for his sins in the face of God. Apparently, man is not depraved in any moral or spiritual sense and therefore can earn the merit necessary to be granted a heavenly post.

Another view of the efficacy of the Atonement is the Hypothetical view. This view has a few different concepts which are understood from an Arminian standpoint. The first view states that “the blood of an earthworm could have been used.” 14) This view denies the need for the blood of the God-man and substitutes the blood of a worm. In Hebrews 9:23, the blood of Christ is described as being better than the old sacrifices. The blood of a worm was not used in the Old Testament sacrificial system as useful and thus appears to be a mockery of the blood of the Man in 10:12-14, where the blood of Christ is the one sacrifice that is capable of “perfect[ing] forever those who are being sanctified.”

The second view which may be associated to the Hypothetical view is that some feel that once God started in His program to save His beloved through a Messiah (Genesis 3:15), God the Father was compelled to deliver a Messiah. 15) This is to say that God may have forgiven mankind at the moment that Adam fell, but God mentioned the Messiah and was bound to that promise of deliverance by that means only.

A third aspect of the Hypothetical view is that Atonement of Christ was an atoning for every single person that has ever lived and that a response of faith, by an individual, determines whether the person is saved. As J. I. Packer puts it “Christ’s death made salvation possible for everyone but actual only for those who add to it a response of faith and repentance that was not secured by it.” 16) A closely related point is that Christ’s mission was not primarily to die for the sins of the elect, but after a dismissal of the “Gospel of Christ’s ministry,” the Gospel changed to include a Gentile church into the program of God. This made the Atonement an afterthought to some and produced a chasm in the Christian community in the late 1800’s.

Against the views of the “non-necessity” and “hypothetical necessity” of Atonement stands the doctrine of the “absolute necessity” of the Atonement. Hebrews 9:15 sums up this doctrine: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Only Christ was capable of setting men free from the sin that afflicted him in his natural state.

Historically, the differences can be seen from the statements found in Aulen 17) which shows that Irenaeus understood the necessity of Christ in the Atonement. This early “church father” thought only God could atone for sins because He is the only one capable of overcoming the bonds that confined men in the state of sin.

Anselm18) thought that since penance was required to satisfy the wrath of God toward sin and since human guilt necessitated a human offering, because no animal could completely atone for sin, a man would have to be offered to God by a man. The only Man that could have possibly atoned for sin would have had to have been without sin, thus born of a virgin to release Him from the bonds of original depravity. Anselm concluded that Christ was the only sufficient sacrifice to expiate the sins of man.

Abelard’s conclusion was almost identical to the view held above by Anselm; only God could atone for sins because only God could appease Himself.

1 John 4:10 states: “This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Not only is the mission of Christ identified with the Love of the Father, but the death of Jesus on the Cross was an act of sacrifice in behalf of man.

The View of the Atonement in the Letters of the Apostle John

The death of Christ on the cross was a work of propitiation for the reconciliation and redemption of sinners. In addition, the plan of the Atonement was carried out by the will of the Father who commanded that this voluntary act of Jesus Christ be accomplished for the sake of saving those whom He foreknew before the foundation of the world. These views are consistent with the repeated evaluations of the doctrines by which men have claimed the Christian faith throughout the history of the Church.

Views of the Atonement.

  • A. The historical division of the doctrine of the Atonement.
  1. The “classic” or “dramatic” theory speaks of Christ’s death as providing deliverance from oppressive agents like Satan, sin, wrath and the Law. This view was supported by Irenæus.
  2. The “Latin” or “objective” theory of Anselm states that God’s honor and wrath were both appeased by the blood of Christ.
  3. The “moral” or “subjective” theory, which was emphasized by Abelard, is a demonstration of the self-sacrificing love of God so that man would respond in love toward Him.
  • B. The doctrinal division of the Atonement.
  1. Pelagianism, Socinianism and Liberalism generally deny the atoning aspect of the Cross of Christ.
  2. Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism state that every single sin of every single man has been covered by the blood of Christ.
  3. Augustinianism or Calvinism states that Christ was the propitiation (appeasing the wrath of God) for the sins of those whom the Father had given Him.

The Need for an Atonement.

  • A. The depraved and sinful nature of man demands divine intervention for the reconciliation between man and God.
  • B. True Justice dictates judgment.
  1. The unregenerate receive condemnation for their sins.
  2. Christ stands in the place of the regenerate to appease the wrath of God so that justice is administered to Christ and not to man.

Efficacy of the Atonement.

*A. The death of Christ was unnecessary to man for the atonement of sins. 
*B. Hypothetical necessity. 

  1. 1. “The blood of an earthworm could have been used.”
  1. 2. Once God started with Jesus, He was compelled to continue with that plan for salvation.
  1. 3. God made a provision for man. He provided cleansing for all men so that their faith determines their salvation.

*C. The death of Christ was absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of sins. 

The Atonement of Christ in Johannine Literature

The concept of Jesus’ Atonement in Johannine Theology does not contain a single purpose although His death was only one event in time. As Cook19) demonstrates, the death of Christ was anti-typical, necessary, voluntary, substitutionary, propitiatory, “it is a demonstration of love” and “it is complete [and] finished.” The only difficulty in a systematic approach to John’s literature is that we search for verses that would or would not agree with our purpose. There may be a verse that does not address our issue (i.e., the necessity of the Atonement), but may detract or add subtle nuances to our emphasis. A biblical theology is the answer to such a problem; this approach takes the verses as a whole and brings like-ideas together to form an outlined teaching on a particular subject.

Definition

A good definition of atonement is given by J. I. Packer: “Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.” 20)

John 1:29

The first mention of Jesus and sin in John’s writings occurs in John 1:29. The theme of the “Lamb” continues throughout the New Testament 38 times and it is used 33 times by John. In the original language of the text, Greek, amnos () means nothing more than “lamb.”

The phrase “Lamb of God” is introduced as taking “away the sin of the world.” The Pharisees were expecting a Conquering King to deliver them from oppression and lead them to victory against Rome. John the Baptist introduces Him as a Lamb and not as a spectacular Ruler. This is not the King that might deliver them from the domination of men, but He is the Lamb that would deliver them from the burden of sin. The day after Jesus is baptized and announced by the Father, John the Baptist again states that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.”

The “Lamb” carries nine possible types in the Bible. Morris21) states the possible references as:

  1. The Passover Lamb. Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7 relating to 1 Corinthians 5:7.
  1. The “lamb that is led to the slaughter.” Isaiah 53:7.
  1. The Servant of the Lord. Isaiah 53.
  1. The lamb of the daily sacrifices offered morning and evening in the Temple. Exodus 29:38-46.
  1. The “gentle lamb.” Jeremiah 11:19.
  1. The scapegoat. Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26.
  1. The Triumphant Lamb of the apocalypses. Revelation 5-7, 12-15, 17, 19, 21 and 22.
  2. The God-provided Lamb. Genesis 22:8.
  1. A guilt-offering. Leviticus 5-7, 14 and 19; Numbers 6:12; 1 Samuel 6:3-17; Isaiah 53:10; Ezra 10:19 and Ezekiel 46:20.

John probably did not intend to refer to all of these specific cases of the use of the concept of lamb, but generally, the lamb does refer to sacrifice or salvation from sin. The use of “Lamb of God” in verse 1:29 explicitly and implicitly refers to a sacrificial purpose of Christ for the removal of sins.

John 3:14-15

The next reference to the Atonement is found in John 3:14-15. Numbers 21:6-9 refers to the episode of the Israelites in the wilderness when they were being plagued by fiery serpents. Moses was instructed by God to make a serpent and put it upon a standard so that whoever looked upon the staff would be saved from the results of the bite of the real serpents. Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, said that just as the Israelites looked on the serpent and were saved, so will the Son of Man be lifted up and whoever looks upon Him as being the salvation from the affliction will be saved.

Jesus could be making allusions to His crucifixion. He also could mean, by lifting up, that He would be exalted, but the serpent in His story of Moses was not exalted but was a symbol of the cause of the suffering of the Israelites. No matter what was being taught by Jesus to Nicodemus, Jesus made the point that those who believe in Him for salvation will have eternal life. The emphasis in this passage is that the consequence of belief is salvation leading to eternal life.

John 6:52-59

The next section that requires evaluation is John 6:52-59. Apparently, Jesus taught the exact words in the synagogue that He did while speaking in Capernaum. He told them that His flesh is food and His blood is drink so that whoever eats the bread and drinks the blood will abide in Him and live forever.

To truly understand what Jesus said to the Jews, the context in chapter six must be understood. Jesus had performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand the day before the multitude came to Him again in Capernaum. Jesus told them that they didn’t seek Him because of the miracle that He performed, but because their hunger was satisfied. He told the multitude not to work for the type of food that doesn’t last and that they should work for the food that lasts forever. Here, in verses 26 through 51, Jesus explains that the lasting food is He that is sent from the Father and that whoever takes of that bread will live forever. Jesus used the illustration of Moses and the manna in the wilderness as an example of deliverance. Men died even after they ate the bread in the wilderness, but anyone who eats the true bread from heaven will never die.

When Jesus speaks of His blood, He may be referring to the symbolic blood of the lamb in the practice of sacrifice in the Judaic system. Revelation 7:14 and 12:11 both refer to the “blood of the Lamb.” In 7:14, the blood signifies purification and 12:11 demonstrates that the “accused” overcome the “accuser” by the power of the “blood of the lamb.” Lamb, in Revelation, is apparently speaking of Jesus and the blood that is mentioned would therefore refer to Christ’s actual blood atonement on the cross. Further evidence of “blood” referring to His future death on the cross is supported by John’s use of the concept in I John 1:7; 5:6, 8; Revelation 1:5 and 5:9. The conclusion must be that blood is not real blood but is a symbol of life and also of purity.

On the surface, the passage of John 6:53-59 is addressing the consequences of true faith that was the emphasis in the earlier section of the chapter, but upon a closer look, Christ may indeed be speaking of His future fulfillment of the sacrifice of blood atonement and the life that is derived from it.

John 10:11-18

In chapter ten, verses 11-18, Jesus states the He lays down His life for His sheep. The “other sheep” that are mentioned are still one flock under the Shepherd. All of His sheep know Him and can hear Him. In verses four and five, His sheep will react to His voice and not to the stranger’s voice.

Sheep, in John 10, probably refer to believers. Non-believers, or sheep that do not belong to Jesus in the sense of His flock, are not mentioned at all, but by contrast are excluded from the benefits that are mentioned by Jesus. To put the section in a negatively structured sense, Jesus would say that those who are not His sheep follow the stranger because they know Him. The sheep that are not of His flock would also not enter the door to find pasture, nor would they have abundant life. Verses 11 and 15 would also imply that Jesus does not lay down His life for those who are not His sheep.

These sheep that are mentioned in chapter ten receive benefits that are not shared by sheep from any flock. Jesus gives life to His sheep by laying down His life for them. This shows a voluntary act of Jesus and also demonstrates that the Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life.

John 19:28-37

John 19:28-37 gives the account of the death of Jesus. The prophetic nature of His death is seen in verses 28, 36 and 37. Three different prophecies were fulfilled: Psalm 69:21 in John 19:28; Psalm 35:20 in John 19:36 and Zecheriah 12:10 in John 19:37.

I John 2:1-2

The first statement of Christ’s death in the epistles of John. I John 2:1-2 shows that just as much as the Word of God is for all so has Christ died for the “whole world.” By saying that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, John is stating that Jesus appeased the wrath of a Holy God toward the sin of man.

All that I John 2:1-2 defends is that Jesus appeases the wrath of God so that men do not have to endure the condemnation of God and is reinforced by John 10:11-18 where Jesus gives His life for a particular purpose. To draw another conclusion from I John, Jesus is also pictured as a mediator in verse one and has come between the Father and man as the Advocate.

I John 4:7-10

In chapter four of the same book, verses 7-10 show that the Beloved should love each other in the same manner that love is from God. In that way, love from God was demonstrated to man by the Father so that we, or the Beloved, will be propitiated of our sins by the Son. We did not love Him so that He must give His Son, but He loved us in such a way as He gave His Son freely to us. This bears a striking resemblance to John 3:16.

Revelation 5:1-14

Revelation 5:1-14 begins by recognizing the Lamb as the One Who had been slain. A strong possibility is that the Lamb is Jesus and as He takes a seat on the Throne, He is worshipped by the 24 elders and the four living beasts. Verse nine states that the Lamb was slain and purchased men for God by His blood. Whoever was purchased is identified in verse ten as a kingdom and priests to God.

John 1:29 speaks of a sacrificial purpose of Christ for the removal of sins. John 3:124-15 refers to the consequence of beliefsalvation leading to eternal life. John 6:52-59 states that whoever participates in His blood will receive eternal life. John 10-11-18 shows the voluntary act of Jesus and also demonstrates that the Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life for those who belong to Jesus. John 19:28-37 demonstrates the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and validates the historicity of Jesus. I John 2:1-2 illuminates the propitiatory work of Christ’s death on the account of believers as does I John 4:7-12. Finally, Revelation 5:1-14 gives the evidence that the blood of the Lamb was sufficient to purchase men from every tribe and nation.

Objections

John 3:14-15

Multiple inferences can be illustrated in the typification of the serpent from Numbers 21:6-9. First, this could relate solely to the imagery of the lifting up of Jesus on the cross just as the serpent is lifted up on the standard. This view would be an anti-supernatural view to deny the power of deliverance just by gazing upon an object. The second possibility is that Jesus is speaking of the future necessity of His Atonement. This view22) proposed by Bernard also states that the words recorded are probably John’s reflection on the Atonement and do not actually belong to the discussion of Jesus with Nicodemus. The view of the antitype23) is advanced at this point in Numbers. The serpent on the standard takes on the character of the actual cause for the affliction just as Christ takes on the character of sin which is not inherent within Him, but afflicts us. He is lifted up so that by believing He has the power to deliver the individual from sin, the person will be saved.

John 6:53-56

The difficulty arises because from 6:26 through 6:52, there is no mention of any type of drink that sustains men. In verse 53, Jesus unloads an entirely new concept“drink my blood.” The discussion of the bread does not necessarily have an impact on the Johannine concept of the Atonement. The repeated emphasis in the section was that whoever eats the perfect bread will live forever, but now, Jesus states that whoever eats the bread and drinks the blood will live forever. As soon as He makes the point about His blood in verses 53-56, He switches back to talking about the bread again.

The only trouble that comes about from the idea of the blood of Christ referring to the cross is that in Revelation 16:6, the people that have the mark of the beast are given blood to drink “as they deserve.” The only possible resolution that comes to mind is that Revelation 16 is not speaking of granting eternal life to individuals but is speaking of eternal condemnation or judgment. With this understanding, blood, in John 6, symbolizes eternal life because, just as Jesus is the true bread that sustains life for eternity, so He is also the everlasting blood that brings new and eternal life to whoever is associated with Him.

A difficulty for the Arminian is that this passage could be taken to mean that whoever is counted with Christ, in His blood and at the cross, will be saved. The result is that if Christ died for every single person that has ever lived, then all men would be included in His death and blood and would therefore be covered completely for salvation. This view makes salvation possible for all men without securing anything for anyone in particular. All men become savable without becoming secured by His death.

John 10:11-18

Verse 18 is a problem verse by stating that Jesus is acting voluntarily and at the same time having received the commandment to do the very thing He says that He is doing voluntarily. How can Jesus choose to do something by His own volition and have the Father send Him? A possible solution is that Jesus is only saying that He has authority to do with His life what He wants and that the Father has allowed Him to do what He wishes, which is a shared goal, and that is to die for His sheep. Another possibility is that Jesus is saying that although He took the initiative to die for His sheep and has the authority to do so, the Father agreed and commanded these things to be accomplished.

I John 2:1-2

This verse is a difficulty for both Arminian and Calvinist. The Calvinist is confronted with Christ dying for the whole world and usually respond by saying that “world” at that time meant Jew and Gentile in contrast to only the Jews. The other position is a little stickier to defend. The Arminian is confronted with the problem of appeasement of God for all men since Christ has propitiated every person’s sins. Basically, if there is wrath stored up for some in the future and Christ’s death appeased that wrath, how are some judged for sin that was covered by the Lamb?

Universal or Particular?

The doctrine of Particular Redemption responds only to “who are those that are redeemed and reconciled to God?” Those that hold this view will be found in Reformed, Presbyterian, and other conservative circles. No “liberal” sources could be found to support this view. Once again, this view does not address the voluntary act of Christ to die on the cross, the necessity of the Atonement, or anything other than “who are those that receive the benefits of the death of Christ.” This doctrine asserts that the Atonement purchased sinners to eternal salvation, reconciled sinful man to a Holy God and was a propitiation (satisfaction of the Father’s wrath) for sins and that those sinners are the very elect that were given to Christ from the Father.

Some see a universal application of the cross to sinners. Those that hold to this view see a retrograde application of sin to the cross or they see faith activating, in a sense, the benefits of the cross. These apparent difficulties are faced by Paul, whereas John does not deal with this topic as heavily as some would like. Although, we know that Christ’s death was not conditional in any sense so that faith does not actualize the benefits of deliverance from wrath, propitiation from sins, or purification in Christ’s righteousness.

Yet, others understand that every sin ever committed has been dealt with at the cross. Two problems arise out of this view: 1) Why, then, does God condemn man for sin that has been taken care of by the propitiation of sin by Jesus? 2) If man is condemned for the “sin of unbelief,” then that sin would have been covered by the Atonement of Christ and would therefore not be held against them for wrath.

The Verse Antagonistic to Particular Redemption

I John 2:2

John states that not only is Jesus the propitiation of our (he and his audience) sins, but also the sins of the whole world. The Calvinist response would be to say that John is referring to “men of every nation” as Revelation 5:9 states. However, the Arminian monkey-wrench is thrown in by saying that the Gentiles alrexady knew that they were receiving the benefits and it would have been redundant for John to make the statement otherwise. So the final question for the sake of clarity is “whose sins are propitiated?”

The Verses Supporting Particular Redemption

John 6:35-40

Jesus points out that He came to save all that the Father has given Him and that all that the Father has given to Him will come to Him. The will of the Father is that all that are given to Christ will be kept and be raised up on the last day. If every single man that has ever lived is given to Christ for salvation, who is thrown into Hell in Revelation?

John 10:4-18

This passage relates directly back to chapter six by stating that all of Christ’s flock will come to Him. This is His flock and appears to be a set number of sheep. Jesus says that He lays His life down for His flock. This is the will of the Father.

John 10:24-29

The unbelievers in the crowd that Jesus was speaking to were told that they were not His sheep and that His sheep hear His voice, follow Him, receive eternal life, and never perish. In this section we can see that Jesus does not lay down His life for any from outside of His flock and that the unbelieving Jews were not included as His sheep.

John 17:1-26

Jesus asks the Father, since He has given Jesus power over all flesh, that those who were given will be granted eternal life. Jesus prays not for the world, but for those whom are given to Him by the Father. Those who are prayed for by the Son are those who are foreknown before the foundation of the earth and these know who the Son is.

I John 1:7

The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Men cannot be condemned when they bear no infraction.

Revelation 5:9

This verse only states that Jesus purchased, by His blood, men from every nation. This would be an ideal place to mention that all men were purchased and even some that hold to an Arminian concept of Atonement see this as a limited application of the blood of Christ.

The Resurrection of Christ in Johannine Theology

Christ arose from the dead three days after He was crucified. Though the definition of resurrection may change, it is usually understood to be one of the following:

  1. The rising of Christ from the dead.
  2. The rising to life of all human dead before the final judgment.
  3. Revival.

What is it and why should we care?

Acts 2:29-36.

Peter addresses the men of Judea and Jerusalem by pointing to a specific promise of raising up Christ, putting an end “to the agony of death” (v. 24). Peter explains a prophetic passage concerning the power of the raising of Christ by clearly demonstrating David’s Messianic focus to “seat one of his descendants on his throne” (v. 30). David was a prophet, Peter suggests, and because he was a prophet, the promise to seat one of his descendants on his throne was actually a looking ahead to the “resurrection of Christ” (v. 31).

LaHaye disagrees when he speaks of this “throne promise” that God made to David. It “will yet be fulfilled during the Millennial kingdom when Christ, the legal heir of David, will rule the world as King of kings and Lord of lords.” 24)

In Peter’s sermon, we find that God had sworn an oath to David to seat one of his descendants on his throne and that Christ received this promise of the Spirit and has been exalted to the right hand of the Father (v. 33). Christ now reigns on David’s throne until all His enemies are made His footstool (v. 35).

Luke 1:32 tells us that the “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” And so it is, in Acts 2:29-36, that Christ is reigning as King over His kingdom until his enemies are vanquished. We are reigning with Him, as we shall see below.

Commenting on Luke 1:31-32, Lewis Sperry Chafer suggests

Here the observation may be made that David himself believed this promise was of an earthly throne, which would not be located in heaven then or ever. 25)

Where in Luke chapter one does Chafer find David making this observation? Where does the prophet David, as the Apostle Peter calls him, ever indicate that the throne promise given to him would “not be located in heaven then or ever”?

We should note in response to Chafer’s assertion, that “David believed this promise was of an earthly throne,” where the Apostle Peter informs the men of Judea and those who lived in Jerusalem: “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:30). Peter’s response, then, is that the Jews commonly believed David would inherit an earthly throne, but that because David was a prophet, David was actually looking “forward and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ…” (2:31). David did not believe what Dr. Chafer claimed. The Patriarch David was speaking prophetically of the resurrection of Christ. Christ received the promise, and has been exalted to the right hand of God at His ascension (2:33).

Chafer continues:

  • David was not promised a heavenly, spiritual throne, and the one who contends that David’s throne is now a heavenly rule is by so much obliged to name the time and circumstances when and where so great a change has been introduced. 26)

Happily, we meet the challenge above by directing the reader back to Acts 2. We may even refer to Christ as the “ruler of the kings of the earth” as the Apostle John does, in Revelation 1:5. Certainly, John would not have us think of this mighty Messiah as postponing His reign as King to some future time, when he considers Jesus “ruler” at the time of his writing. Jesus even said of Himself that He is the “Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2-3; John 19:14). It is what Nathanael says of Christ (John 1:49); it is the proclamation of the large crowd before the Passover (John 12:13).

And yes, the most amazing act in all of history, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and His victory over death, should be regarded as “so great a change”!

It is to this very issue, that Paul drives the point in the Acts of the Apostles. The Apostle just finished with a related point on the fulfillment of Old Testament promises “made to the fathers” and adds that as for the fact that He [the Father] raised Him up from the dead, no longer to return to decay, He has spoken this way: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

  • What is Paul saying here?

Remember, Paul is continuing his point in preaching what he defines as the “good news of the promise made to the fathers.” He made the point earlier (v. 22-25) that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of a savior to Israel. Judges have come and gone, prophets and kings have come and gone, but the Messiah has come. It is “to us the message of this salvation has been sent” (v. 26). Christ was crucified, laid in a tomb, but God raised Him from the dead and Christ appeared after His resurrection to many witnesses.

So “the good news of the promise made to the fathers” is “that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus” (v. 32-33). There can be no mistaking Paul’s point. The promise made to the fathers is completed in Christ’s resurrection.

Paul continues by adding that “as for the fact that He raised Him up…’I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David’” (v. 33). In absolute agreement with Peter’s message of the Gospel in Acts 2, Paul tells his audience that Christ fulfilled the Davidic promise at His resurrection. Christ has been seated on the Davidic throne in full completion of the promise of God to David. Christ was raised up and received the “sure blessings of David.” The promises to Abraham and David have been met with success in Christ our Lord. That is the Gospel; it is the good news; it is the promise made to the father’s. The Gospel is the fulfillment of a promise made to Old Testament saints.

1 Corinthians 15:23-25.

As the reader may recall from the preceding pages, Christ is raised as the “firstfruits” and “after that, those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

Christ is reigning now. When He comes, He raises “those who are His” and then the end comes when He gives “the kingdom” over to the Father. Christ has a kingdom now (cf. Ephesians 1:20-23). But the pre-tribulation pundits would have us believe that Christ does not begin His reign until a future earthly rule of 1000 years. They must deny His present Kingship. If Christ is the “Davidic” King now, then we are ruling now in His kingdom. The Tribulation comes before the Millennium, so that is not yet future, doing damage to that icon of their “blessed hope,” the pre-tribulation rapture.

In case the point is lost, Chafer clarifies that

“One needs only to search the Scriptures to discover the fact the He is never mentioned as King of the church, nor even king of the nations until He comes again as ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS’ (Rev. 19:16).” Chafer. Systematic Theology. 5:341. 27)

So much for some of our favorite hymns that identify Christ as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords, glory, hallelujah!” One must also wonder at which future “coming” Christ becomes King. Does He become King at phase two of the first resurrection coinciding with the second phase of His second coming after the continuation of the second Jewish Age? Is it 2(b) or not 2(b)?

Opposed to this line of reasoning are the actions of “Jason and some brethren” because they acted “contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). We may comfortably rest in the knowledge that Christ is presently “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5), despite the critics’ claims.

The Apostle Paul tells us quite clearly that Christ “is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15) and as much as Chafer may not like the implications, Christ is King of Kings at this present time. Christ will come back at His own time, in His appearing, and He will hand His kingdom over to the Father (1 Timothy 6:14-15, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24).

Hebrews 12:20-24.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Even after looking at the above texts, the thought that we rule with Christ may still be resisted. Here, in this passage from Hebrews, we see the spiritual nature of our presence with God, the heavenly Jerusalem, angels and Jesus. But that’s not all. We have come, as believers that is, to the “general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect…” (vs. 23-24, emphasis added).

Isn’t that what we see in Revelation 20? Does John not witness the souls of those who have departed because of their faith? Yes, it is and yes, he does.

Ephesians 2:4-6. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Christ has made us alive, we who were once dead in sin. We have been raised from death to life, for He is our resurrection (John 11:24-26). Here we are as believers on earth, yet we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

Conclusion

So then, those who participate in the first resurrection do not taste death a second time. Believers have tasted physical (or only spiritual) death and have been made alive in Christ or taken to be with Christ in spirit only. Those who are in Christ actively participate in the reign of our King, Jesus Christ, whether they are in the heavenlies or on earth. The second resurrection does not end in physical death for them, the second death is reserved for those who have rejected Christ. During the Second Resurrection, there are only two destinies: With Him or banishment.

Major Works Cited

  • Aulen, Gustaf. Christus Victor. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951.
  • Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1:436. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1989.
  • Gaebelein, Frank E. ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 9110. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1981.
  • M’Clintock, John and James Strong. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 9:844. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1894.
  • Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989. 311.
  • Packer, J. I. Concise Theology. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. 138.
  • Schaff, Philip. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. 5:124. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994
  • Sproul, R. C. The Cross of Christ. Orlando: Ligonier Ministries. n.d. 4.
  • Strong , James. “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1991.

Author Page


Christianity | Theology

1)
Strong , James. “Greek Dictionary of the New Testament.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1991. #2643. 52.
2)
Aulen, Gustaf. Christus Victor. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1951.
3)
Bettenson, Henry. Documents of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. 43-44.
4)
Aulen. 30.
5) , 18)
Aulen. 83-84.
6)
Aulen. 96.
7)
Schaff, Philip. Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers. 5:124. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.
8)
Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989. 311.
9)
M’Clintock, John and James Strong. Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 9:844. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1894.
10)
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 1:436. Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1989.
11)
Aulen. 19. “Ut occideret quidem peccatum, evacuaret autem mortem, et vivificaret hominem.”
12)
Schaff. 5:420.
13)
Gaebelein, Frank E. ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 9110. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1981.
14)
Endre Haaheim in a presentation during Johannine Theology, Spring, 1995.
15)
Sproul, R. C. The Cross of Christ. Orlando: Ligonier Ministries. n.d. 4.
16)
Packer, J. I. Concise Theology. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993. 138.
17)
Aulen. 20-21.
19)
Cook, W. Robert. The Theology of John. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1979. 80-83.
20)
Packer, J. I. Concise Theology. pg. 134. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993.
21)
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1971. 144-147.
22)
Bernard, J. H. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John. 2 Vols. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1962. 1: 114-115.
23)
Cook. 80.
24)
Rapture Under Attack. 230.
25)
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948) 4:323.
26)
Chafer. Systematic Theology. 4:324.
27)
Chafer. Systematic Theology. 5:341.

QR Code
QR Code the_atonement_historically_and_in_johns_writings (generated for current page)