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The Doctrine of the Atonement (part 3) - God's Plan for Salvation

When God created Adam and Eve, they were created in His "image," i.e. they had God's spiritual life and could have fellowship with Him. When they sinned, they became spiritually dead and also prone to physical death. We, the human race, inherited Adam's sinful nature and are thus spiritually dead and incapable of fellowship with God. From Genesis to Revelation, the central theme of the Bible is God's eternal, perfect plan for the salvation of mankind.

In order to gain an overview of this vast subject, I have divided it into six sections:


1. The necessity for the atonement

1.1 God's holiness
1.2 Man's sinfulness
1.3 God's wrath
1.4 God's justice and love

2. Atonement in the Old Testament

2.1 Definition of the term
2.2 The sacrificial system
2.3 The day of atonement
2.4 The passover

3. Atonement in the New Testament

3.1 A revelation of God's love
3.2 Representation
3.3 Substitution
3.4 Identification or union

4. Atonement: the work of Christ

4.1 Christ's obedience
4.2 Christ as the ultimate sacrifice
4.3 Christ as the mediator of the new covenant
4.4 Christ as the eternal high priest

5. The purpose and effects of the atonement

5.1 The Godward aspects

5.1.1 Propitiation
5.1.2 Vindication of the lawgiver
5.1.3 Remission of sins
5.1.4 Reconciliation

5.2 The manward aspects

5.2.1 Reconciliation
5.2.2 Justification
5.2.3 Redemption
5.2.4 Adoption


3. Atonement in the New Testament

The Old Testament foreshadows the New and is fulfilled by it. In addition, the OT interprets the New and is interpreted by it. Thus the OT sacrifices can be fully understood only as they are fulfilled in Christ, but at the same time they help us to understand the death of Christ as the "reality" of which they are the "shadows." [1]

The cross of Christ occupies the central place in the Bible: all before leads up to it and all after looks back to it. God had "left the sins committed beforehand unpunished," [2] because only by the cross of Christ are sinners under both covenants set free from their sins. [3] The atonement is a revelation of God's love, and is effected by representation, substitution, and identification or union.

3.1 A revelation of God's love

"God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." [4] "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ..." [5] Christ emphasized that the Son of man "must" suffer [6] so that the will of the Father may be done.[7] At infinite cost to the Father He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us [8] so that we could obtain His gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus. [9] In addition, because of the Father's closeness to the Son, the atonement was God accepting in His own person the result of man's wrongdoing. [10]

3.2 Representation

Adam was the representative head of the old humanity, and Christ is the representative head of the new humanity. He died "for sin," [11] but He also died "for us." [12] He represented us on the cross, and therefore His death counts as our death. [13] "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live ... " [14]

The thought of representation is also stressed by referring to Christ as our "advocate with the Father" [15] and our "great high priest." [16] As our advocate "He appears for us in God's presence," [17] and as our permanent high priest who represents us before God "He always lives to intercede for (us)." [18]

3.3 Substitution

The Son of man came "to give His life as a ransom for many," [19] i.e. men deserve death but Christ dies instead, so that men no longer die. The idea of substitution is clearly taught in the Old Testament sacrificial system, where the blood of the animal is regarded as making atonement for the soul of the offerer. The Servant of Jehovah is described by Isaiah as justifying many [20] because He was "pierced for our trangressions" and "the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him." [21]

The New Testament also affirms that Christ became "a curse for us," [22] that He died "for the ungodly" [23] and that God gave Him up "for us all." [24] As the Son of God, Christ was able to offer a sacrifice of infinite and eternal value; as the Son of man, He was able to identify Himself with mankind and so suffer their penalty that they might escape it.

Holy and sinless by nature, He not only "bore our sins" [25] but was " made ... sin for us, " [26] so that His holy Father could not look upon Him, [27] resulting in the forlorn cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [28]

3.4 Identification or union

When Christ took on human nature, He identified Himself with sinful humanity in order to bear the burden of their sins and to suffer their penalty.In addition, as the Old Testament sinner identified with the sacrifice, so the New Testament sinner is identified with Christ in His crucifixion and death,[29] Hid burial and resurrection [30] and even His exaltation. [31] The sinner is justified because he is "in Christ" [32] and. in fact, "every spiritual blessing" depends on being in Christ. [33]

This identification of the sinner with his Saviour is often referred to as a "union." This union was established in God's eternal "counsel of redemption," when Christ undertook to be the head of the new covenant; it was "objectively realized" in the incarnation, when Christ's redemptive work merited salvation for His people; it is "subjectively realized" in the lives of His people through the Holy Spirit. [34] It is exactly because this union already existed before the incarnation that the sins of His people could be laid on Him, and that His righteousness could be counted as theirs.


1. Hebrews 10:1
2. Romans 3:25
3. Hebrews 9:15
4. Romans 5:8
5. John 3:16
6. Mark 8:31
7. Matthew 26:42
8. Romans 8:32
9. Romans 6:23
10. Hebrews 9:13-14
11. 1 John 2:2
12. Galations 2:20
13. 2 Corinthians 5:14
14. Galations 2:13
15. 1 John 2:1
16. Hebrews 4:14
17. Hebrews 9:24
18. Hebrews 7:24-25
19. Mark 10:45
20. Isaiah 53:11
21. Isaiah 53:5
22. Galations 3:13
23. Romans 5:6
24. Romans 8:32
25. 1 Peter 2:24
26. 2 Corinthians 5:21
27. Habakkuk 1:13
28. Mark 15:34
29. Galations 2:20
30. Romans 6:4f
31. Ephesians 2:6
32. Galations2:17;2 Corinthians 5:21
33. Ephesians 1:3
34. Berkhof, p.447-49


1. Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology, Michigan, U.S.A.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1941

2. Berkouwer, G.C. The Work of Christ, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965

3. Calvin, J. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia, U.S.A.: Westminster Press, 1960

4. Deist, F. A Concise Dictionary of Theological Terms, Johannesburg, R.S.A.: Van Schaik, 1984

5. Douglas, J. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962

6. Goodrick, E.W. The NIV Complete Concordance, Michiga, U.S.A.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981

7. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding Be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968

8. Packer, J.I. Knowing God, London, England: Hodder & Stoughton, 1975

9. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, Roodepoort, R.S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937

10. Richards, L.O. Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Michigan, U.S.A.: Regency Reference Library, 1985

11. Stott, J.R.W. The Letters of John, Leichester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988

12. Thompson, F.C. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Michigan, U.S.A.: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1983

13. Vine, W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, ?

14. Webster, ? Webster's 7th Collegiate Dictionary, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: G & C Merriam Co., 1965

15. Wuest, K.S. Word Studies: Romans in the Greek NT, Michigan, U.S.A.: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1955


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Posted in: Bible by on September 25, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

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