The Lord Jesus Christ: His sufferings
2.1 Jesus died, so was He a martyr?
Yes - but His death means much more than this. The word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’ and is normally used for a faithful witness who dies for his or her testimony. All of this is true of Christ. He was ‘the faithful and true witness’ (Rev 3:14) and He was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Phil 2:8). But the following questions and answers show, from the Bible, that His death also - and in the first place - had fundamental importance for others and was much more than simply the death of a faithful martyr.
2.2 Was He put to death or did He lay down His life?
Both, these are two sides of the same coin; both are true. Men did everything necessary to put Him to death - they crucified Him and, in this sense, they became His murderers (Acts 2:23). This is the side of human responsibility.
At the same time, however, Christ laid down His life voluntarily (Jn 10:11, 15, 17, 18). We also read: ‘When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up (or ‘delivered up’) the ghost’ (Jn 19:30). This is the side of His divine power and love.
2.3 Why did Jesus die?
This theme is so wonderful that a brief answer is almost impossible. Christ died to prove utmost obedience to God, to glorify God in respect of sin, to glorify the Father by making known His love, to enable God to justify the godless, and to bring salvation and happiness to man, who had gone away from God.
2.4 Did Jesus bear my sins?
It depends. If you believe on Him, if you have come to Him with your sins and if you have accepted Him as your personal Saviour, then the answer is ‘yes.’ Jesus bore ‘our’ sins; that is, the sins of believers (1. Pet 2:24). The Bible never says that He bore the sins ‘of all,’ but that He bore the sins ‘of many’ (Isa 53:12).
2.5 Is the death of Jesus Christ sufficient for everyone to be forgiven?
Yes. The death of Christ is sufficient for everyone to come but only those who do come will benefit from it (see Q 2.6). The offer is there for everyone:
- ‘…God our Saviour who will have all men to be saved’ (1. Tim 2:3-4)
- ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink’ (Jn 7:37)
- ‘And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely’ (Rev 22:17).
2.6 Will everyone be forgiven?
Forgiveness is available to all (see Q 2.5), but not everyone will be forgiven. The condition for forgiveness is believing on Christ. We read:
- ‘…whosoever believeth on him will not perish but have everlasting life’ (Jn 3:16)
- He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him’ (Jn 3:36).
2.7 What is propitiation?
The word ‘propitiation’ occurs in 1. John 2:2: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for [the sins of] the whole world.’ In what sense is He the propitiation ‘for [the sins of] the whole world’? Well, His sacrifice is so great and has such value in the eyes of God that, on this basis, He can offer salvation to all, although not all accept the offer (see Q 2.5 and Q 2.6).
Remember that God is holy and just. Therefore, every sinner would have to be judged and condemned by Him. Without the work of Christ on the cross, this would have been the only possible outcome. But, thank God! Christ died and became the propitiation so that God is able to offer free salvation to all. In this sense, Christ gave Himself ‘for all’ (1. Tim 2:6).
A related word occurs in Romans 3:25 which states that God has presented Christ as a ‘propitiation’ or ‘mercy seat’ through faith in His blood. This term alludes to the cover3 or lid of the ark called the ‘mercy seat’ (Ex 25-27). This was in the tabernacle, in the holy of holies and, once a year, was sprinkled with blood (Lev 16:14). This illustrates the fact that the death of Christ has met God’s holy demands.
In brief, propitiation enables God to offer free salvation to all men. It is effective for those who accept it in faith.
2.8 What is substitution?
A substitute is someone who takes your place. On the cross, Christ took the place of those who believe on Him. The just suffered for the unjust (1. Pet 3:18). He bore ‘our’ sins (Isa 53:12 and 1. Pet 2:24). By His stripes we were healed (1. Pet 2:24).
The familiar words of Isaiah convey the truth of substitution so well: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed … and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (53:5-6).
From this point of view, the Lord came ‘to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28). Substitution refers only to those who believe.
2.9 What is atonement?
The idea of atonement originally comes from the Hebrew word for ‘covering.’ It includes both propitiation (see Q 2.7) and substitution (see Q 2.8). This is illustrated by the ‘Day of Atonement’ (see Lev 16). Central to the procedures of that day were two goats that had to be offered: one for the Lord (propitiation) and one for the people (substitution). The High Priest sprinkled the blood of the first goat on the mercy seat but confessed all the sins of the people on the head of the second goat. Then this goat was sent off into the wilderness.
Christ has made atonement: God is satisfied and glorified by His work (propitiation), and ‘our’ sins have been born by Him (substitution).
2.10 Does atonement imply divine judgement?
Absolutely. Some have taught that atonement simply means that Christ ‘entered into the state of evil’ or ‘identified with man’s evil condition.’ Saying this would overlook the fact that the ‘chastisement’ for our peace lay upon Him (Isa 53:5), that the ‘sword of God’ was directed against His fellow, i.e. against Christ (Zech 13:7). Christ bore our sins - that is, the penalty for our sins.
2.11 Does atonement include liberation from physical suffering?
No, not before the rapture or death. Some have drawn a wrong conclusion from a statement in Isaiah 53:5: ‘with his stripes we are healed.’ However, this verse speaks of ‘our iniquities’ and ‘our peace’ so that the context makes it clear that ‘healing’ has to do with the sin problem - the terrible illness of sin - and not with physical ailments as such.
Similarly, verse 4 of the same chapter has been misunderstood: ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’ This verse does not refer to atonement but to the Lord’s healing miracles as the quotation of this verse in Matthew 8:17 shows.
We are still ‘waiting for the adoption … the redemption of our body’ (Rom 8:23). See also Q 6.32.
2.12 What is redemption?
Redemption in this context is the recovery by payment of something that originally belonged to you, or to free someone. Under the law of Moses, an inheritance could be redeemed (Lev 25:25). If someone had become impoverished for whatever reason and had lost his possession, then his or her relative could ‘redeem’ him (if he had lost his personal freedom as well) and/or his possessions. An example of this is found in the book of Ruth where Naomi had lost all and Boaz becomes the redeemer.
Christ has redeemed those who belong to him, and only those. More specifically, the price which He paid was His blood (1. Pet 1:18, 19), that is, His life.
2.13 What is purchase?
Purchase, naturally, is also to do with a price that has to be paid, but it is different from redemption.
Purchase relates to the whole world, not only to believers. The following verse makes this clear: ‘…there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction’ (2. Pet 2:1). These false teachers had been ‘bought’ or ‘purchased’ but, clearly, they were not redeemed (did not believe on the Lord) because they denied Him and brought ‘destruction’ upon themselves.
An interesting illustration is the parable of the treasure in the field. The whole field was purchased for the sake of the treasure (the field stands for the world, Mt 13:38, 44). The death of Christ gives Him the title to, or right over, the whole world - all are purchased (this is in addition to the title He has as Creator).
2.14 When did the Lord Jesus bear the sins of those who believe in Him?
To be clear: not during His life, and not in the grave - not even during the first three hours on the cross. Christ bore our sins during the three hours of darkness, ‘from the sixth hour to the ninth hour’ (Mt 27:45). During this time, there was darkness - and silence. We hear of no utterance of the Lord until the ninth hour. Ultimately, no man can fathom what happened during this time but the Lord’s cry at the end lifts this veil to some extent: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mt 27:46).
Only Christ has been forsaken by God, and only during these three hours during which He made atonement. Before this time He enjoyed unhindered communion with God - always. He also enjoyed this communion afterwards, for he addresses the Father and commits His spirit into His hands (Lk 23:34, 46) at the end. Also, 1. Peter 2:24 makes it plain that it was ‘on the cross’ that He bore our sins.
2.15 Why was the Lord Jesus forsaken by God?
This was indeed completely contrary to experience and expectations (Ps 37:25). The Lord’s cry, ‘why hast thou forsaken me’ is found in Psalm 22:1, which goes on to explain that, normally, those who trust in God are ‘saved’ and ‘not ashamed’ (vs. 4 and 5). So how could the most faithful of all be forsaken by God?
The first answer is ‘but thou art holy’ (v. 3). When Christ bore our sins, God in His holiness had to distance Himself from Him and even had to judge Him, to ‘bruise him’ (Isa 53:10).
The second answer is found in the New Testament: Christ ‘was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2. Cor 5:21).
So it was because of our sins that Christ was forsaken of God (He Himself was sinless, see Q 1.6). Is He not worthy of eternal worship for this?
2.16 Was He ever forsaken by His Father?
Scripture does not say this. When speaking of Him as being abandoned, the reference is always to God: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Ps 22:1).
On the other hand, speaking of Christ as the Son of the Father, Scripture confirms that He is and was4 always in His Father’s bosom (Jn 1:18). Without attempting to comprehend things that are hidden from us or are beyond our understanding, we do well to note this distinction.
An illustration may help us. Supposing a judge found that his own son was in the dock before him and that he was found guilty, what would happen? The judge - as judge - would have to pronounce his son guilty, but his heart - as father - will always be with his son. Of course, the Lord was not guilty of anything Himself but He was being judged for our sins.
2.17 Was He still forsaken by God when He died?
No. He said, ‘It is finished’ (Jn 19:30) and committed His spirit into the Father’s hands (Lk 23:46). See also Q 2.14.
2.18 How do we know God accepted the price Jesus paid?
Well, there is visible and plain proof for this. God took Christ - whom man had nailed to the cross - and raised Him up from among the dead. He took Him out of the lowest place and gave Him the highest place of honour, at His right hand (see Eph 1:19-23 and Acts 2:24, 32; 3:15 etc.). We therefore have no doubt that God accepted the price - Christ has been raised for our justification (Rom 4:25).
2.19 Could anyone have been saved through the Lord’s righteous life?
No. Death was necessary. Otherwise, the ‘grain of wheat’ would always have remained alone (Jn 12:24). Without shedding of blood (i.e. without giving of life) there is no remission of sins (Heb 9:22). If we were saved by the righteous life of Christ (who kept the law) then why did Christ die as well? ‘…for if righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing’ (Gal 2:21, JND).
In this context, let us note Romans 5:10: ‘For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.’ This verse does say that we will be saved ‘by His life,’ but it is about:
- persons who are already reconciled
- a salvation out of the difficulties of our pathway, and not about eternal salvation
- the Lord’s life after His death, in resurrection, in heaven, and not about His life on earth before His death.
2.20 Why is it serious error when some teach that a saved person can lose his salvation?
There are some who teach that a believer is saved but that, if he is not faithful in his life, he can lose his salvation. Now, this amounts to saying that you need two things to be saved: first, the work (i.e. death) of Christ, and second, your own holy or faithful life. This really means the work of Christ is not sufficient by itself. Saying the believer can lose his salvation is therefore an insult to what He accomplished on the cross! Apart from this, if salvation depended on our own faithfulness, we would never have ‘peace with God,’ and we would never be sure that there is ‘no condemnation’ for us any more - but both are true (Rom 5:1; 8:1).
2.21 What is reconciliation?
Reconciliation means ‘bringing into harmony with.’ Enemies need reconciliation. God did not need to be reconciled to man but man needed to be reconciled to God (2. Cor 5:20). Reconciliation is not the same thing as propitiation (see Q 2.7) but it can only occur once propitiation has been made.
2.22 Will everyone be saved in the end?
The Bible does say that all things will be reconciled - but not every person. The verses alluded to read as follows: ‘For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven’ (Col 1:19, 20). The verse speaks about ‘things’, not persons. The whole universe has been affected and defiled by the sin of man. Therefore, all ‘things’ need to be (and will be) brought back into harmony with God - all on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross: ‘having made peace by the blood of His cross.’
2.23 What is universalism?
It is a false doctrine that claims that all persons will be saved in the end. The Bible never says this, although some verses have been misinterpreted to pretend that it does (see Q 2.22). Further, universalism flies in the face of Scriptures such as John 3:36: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.’ If the wrath of God ‘abides’ on such persons, how can they be saved ‘in the end’? It is ‘whosoever believes’ who will have eternal life, not simply ‘whosoever’ (John 3:16).