Though Christ is central to the NT, the cross is central to Christ. And by the cross, we mean all that which lead up to the cross, the depth of the cross, and the vindication of the cross in the resurrection. Without this, the Christian faith is not.

A. The Synoptics

The synoptic gospel pervasively portray Christ as the Servant of the Lord. This brings the atonement center stage (see Isa 52:13-53:12). He will not be a light to the nations, the pleasure of the Father, the healer of the bruised reed, without also “himself taking our infirmities” and being numbered with transgressors (Luke 22:37; Isa. 53:12). The Atonement of Christ is largely configured as to its fact and fruit, its blood and benefit.

  1. Ransom: Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28: life a ransom for many; Lutron: means or instrument of releasing; ransom to redeem men, from captivity, from the power of sin and spiritual death.
  2. Blood of the covenant: Mark 14:24: blood of the new covenant shed for many (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).
  3. Conclusion: “The Gospel history itself is incapable of explanation apart from the theory of the atonement. The agony in Gethsemane, the forsaking on the cross, all the words and acts and sufferings connected with the closing scene of our Lord’s life point to something far above the sphere of nature.” R. F. Weidner

B. John

As the theologian of the eternal Word John relishes that which is above our human thinking regarding the atonement. He works with the duality of a high-priest prophesying Christ’s death as necessary for the people (John 11:50; John 18:14); Christ’s dying as his exaltation (John 3:14; John 12:32); his kingship from his cross, the finished work spoken out his final breath. The hour of his death was hour of his glory. His going to the cross was His march to His Father. He was the bread that gives life to the world. His dying was the gift of His Father’s love. His death was the judgment of the world and Satan. His death produced blood and water. These dynamics can be best expressed in the following terms
1. Substitution:

  • John 10:11, 15: lay down life for the sheep/John 1:29: “Lamb of God” (see 1 John 3:16; 4:10)

2. Expiation:

  • 1 John 1:7: “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”
  • Rev. 1:5: “washed us in his own blood”

3. Advocacy:

“We have an advocate”: 1 John 2:1: Leon Morris: “’Advocate translates the Greek parakletos used elsewhere in the NT only of the Spirit. In this verse it clearly bears its legal sense of ‘ counsel for the defense.’ Jesus is man’s Representative. He appears for man in the presence of God. And this leads right on to the thought of His priestly work” (THE CROSS IN THE NT, 348)

4. Propitiation :

“And he is the propitiation for our sins”: 1 John 2:2

Morris: “the word “propitiation” properly signifies the removal of wrath. In this context it reminds us that the divine anger was exercised towards man’s sin, and that it was Christ’s propitiatory death that put the situation right, and made it possible for man to come back to god” (348).

C. Paul

1. Reconciliation (cf. Vos: “Pauline Conception of Reconciliation”): Col 1:21; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Rom 5:9-11 “Reconciliation consists in the removal of objective legal obstacles, which notwithstanding God’s love for sinners yet compelled Him to treat them on the basis of enmity.” “2 Cor 5 … explicitly ascribes to the reconciling transaction a vicarious character. … In Paul’s view the death of Christ was a penal death,” Col 1:20-21; Eph 2:16. “Military – forensic representation.”

2. Redemption (cf. Vos: “Pauline Conception of Redemption”): Rom 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1,14; 4:30; Col 1:14; 1 Tim 2:6; Tit 2:14; Gal 4:5; associated with justification and propitiation (Rom 3:24-25); forgiveness and grace (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14). ‘The use of such forensic terms with reference to the result of the redemption proves once more that the justice of God was concerned in the transaction, that in its ultimate analysis the ransom was a ransom paid to God, and the deliverance secured a deliverance especially from the bondage of guilt. “Commercial – forensic representation.”

3. Sacrifice (cf. Vos: “The Sacrificial Idea in Paul’s Doctrine of the Atonement”): Eph 5:2; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:25,26; 1 Cor 5:7; The use of the word hilasteerion: propitiatory: mercy seat (Rom 3:25). “The death of Christ is described as an act upon which the highest divine approval rested.  It is of great value in so far as it emphasizes two principles:

1) That an important element in the efficacy of the Savior’s death consisted in the obedience with which it was rendered;

2) If there was in the atonement an exercise of the divine retributive righteousness terminating upon Christ, this does not exclude that from another point of view at the same time the Father’s supreme love went out towards Christ, and such for the very reason that he had exposed Himself to the penal consequences of the divine righteousness.”

Christ Passover lamb: 1 Cor 5:7; 2 Cor 5:18   Connected with the idea of the sacrifice, Paul shows that Christ has fulfilled the sacrificial system and the sweet savor they represented has been accomplished by Christ (see also Eph. 5:2).

4. Triumph

Ladd: “Another end achieved by the death of Christ is triumph over the cosmic powers … People are in bondage not only to the Law, sin, and death, but also to this evil spiritual world. One of the purposes of the mission of Christ is to destroy ‘ every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet … the death of Christ constituted the initial defeat of these power.” Ladd refers to Col. 2:15.

D. The High Priest of Hebrews:

1. Definition – Priesthood is distinctly leadership based on and involving identification of nature and experience. Leadership in the sense of treading the path to God, before giving access, identifying in experience, as well as more fundamentally in nature. Back of that lies even a deeper identification, namely one of spiritual relation to God.
2. Prerequisites – The acquisition of a certain class of human experience:

a. Suffering: Heb 2:10: the means to perfecting: Christ’s sufferings were specifically temptation sufferings
b. Temptation: Heb 4:14-16: without the result of sin in His case
c. Sympathy: Heb 5:7-10: Christ identifies with his people, that is the experiential knowledge of obedience: i.e., to bring out the conscious experience of action, that which is present as an avowed principle antecedent to the action.
d. Perfecting: Heb 7:28: = “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”

The “perfecting” of the Savior, which is made so prominent in the Epistle is this that He became acquainted with the force of temptation and learned the practice of obedience, and that to the full. Thus the term “perfection” when applied to Christ designates that his qualifications for the high-priestly office were perfected, that He received the full-orbed equipment, which his priestly ministry requires.

E. Conclusion

Just as the gospels are unintelligible without the atonement, so the NT, and NT Theology as well is nothing without it. And at one and the same time, it is a theology of the cross and of glory. For the cross is the doorway to glory, and in the glorified Christ the believer’s faith grasps all the atoning significance of the cross, because the state of glory is the product and crown of the atonement.

  1. Grasp the significance of everything in relationship to the atonement.
  2. Don’t disjoin the accomplishment and application of redemption, but Christ holds both in one.
  3. Preach a gospel in which the atonement is the heart, for here faith sees everything where nature and culture sees only folly, but heaven and earth, church and creation see wisdom, glory, power, and righteousness.