The Person of Christ - 23 - His Atonement in the Gospels


Chapter 23 - The Atonement of Christ

In The Gospels and Hebrews

John Stubbs


The careful reader of the gospels cannot fail to be impressed with the emphasis placed upon the death of Christ in the gospel records. Each of the gospel writers devotes a large section to the events of the last week in our Lord?s life. Not all the gospel writers, as we know, record the same incidents. Some events are omitted in one gospel that are found in others. Yet touching the scenes of that final solemn week about one third of the contents of the gospels are given over to the story of the cross. This surely lets us see that the death of Christ loomed large before the minds of these dear men and caused each of them to write in testimony to the fact and significance of the atoning sacrifice of Christ.


In writing, however, on the cardinal theme of Christ?s death in the Gospels we shall confine our remarks to what Christ Himself revealed and taught about His own death. We can appeal to no higher authority. We shall select some clear anticipatory references to His death by our Lord in the gospels, and set them out in the order of their importance.




In Matthew 20:28 our Lord?s words are: ?The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.? Here the very purpose of His coming, states the Saviour, was to ?give His life a ransom for many.? We know from Psalm 49:7 no man can ?redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him,? but what no man can do the Lord Jesus has done by His vicarious death on the cross.


When we speak of the vicarious nature of the death of Christ what do we mean? Just this: He stood in man?s place. The penalty He bore had no relation to the life He lived. He stood connected with all human sin and failure. The preposition in this verse ?for? is 'anti' and it is the one which all sound Bible students agree expresses the idea of substitution. The word ?ransom? is ?lutron' ?and speaks of the life of Christ given up in death as the ransom price paid for the deliverance of those who will accept it by faith. So Christ died in the stead of others. Wherein then lies the atonement? It lies in this, that in dying the Saviour bore our sins.


In the account of the institution of the supper our Lord says His blood would be shed for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28). Luke alone records the Lord as indicating that His death would be a death for others (Luke 22:19-20). All this goes to prove that Christ did not die by accident, nor was His death one of martyrdom, but all was an integral part of the divine plan for fallen mankind.




It is interesting how many times we read the word ?must? in vital association with the approaching crisis of the Lord?s death. Notice the following passages where the Lord Jesus insisted upon the absolute necessity of His death: Matthew 16:21, Luke 13:33, 22:37, 24:7, and John 3:14. This shows that nothing ever took the Lord Jesus by suprise and that He was conscious He had a mission to fulfil. Men are born to live and struggle to survive, but the Lord Jesus was born to die. What a difference! Referring to John 3:14, the Saviour says to Nicodemus, ?And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so MUST the Son of Man be lifted up.?


Notice then His birth is not enough; His temptation in the wilderness is not enough; His wonderful miracles are not enough; His agony in the garden is not enough. It was just as essential for the Lord to go to Calvary as it was for the serpent to be lifted up, for the contemplation of faith by the perishing Israelites.


Another scripture where the Lord Jesus insists upon the necessity of His death is Luke 22:37, ?For I say unto you that this that is written MUST yet be accomplished in Me, ?and He was reckoned among the transgressors~      Here the Lord Jesus applies to Himself the 53rd of Isaiah, the only occasion He does so in the gospel records. We cannot sever these words in Isaiah 53 from all their association in that wonderful chapter. We believe the whole of the chapter refers to the suffering Messiah Servant. Why then was it necessary for Isaiah 53 to be fulfilled and the Lord to thus die? It is because of human guilt and depravity. Once men realize the fact of sin in all its seriousness there will be no doubt entertained as to the necessity of Christ?s death.


In John 10:18 the Lord Jesus teaches regarding His life, ?No man taketh it from Me, but I LAY IT DOWN OF MYSELF. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.? The Lord Jesus came into the world voluntarily, ?He became flesh? (John 1:14 R.V.). So he went out of the world voluntarily, ?He delivered up His Spirit? (John 19:30 J.N.D.). Our blessed Lord was under no compulsion to die. What happened to Him happened by divine permission. The compulsory substitution of an innocent person for the guilty is against all morality, say some. However, the willing substitution of a person in the place of the guilty is the display of the greatest possible love. One has only to look into the historical details of the Lord?s arrest, trial and death to see demonstrated the truth of this. The reader of the gospels will readily see how the initiative was always in Christ?s hands. Let it be clearly understood that the death of our blessed Lord was on His part a determined act and not the result of mere physical exhaustion. John alone gives us the words of the Saviour in Gethsemane, ?The cup which my Father hath given me shall I not drink it?? (John 18:11). He is the willing, obedient Servant. Then we read, ?They took Jesus and bound Him? (v.12), i.e. He willingly allowed Himself to be taken.


?When blood from a victim must flow,

This Shepherd by pity was led,

To stand between us and the foe,

And willingly die in our stead.?



In Mark 8:31 we have the Lord?s first direct intimation to His disciples of the fact of the suffering of the cross, ?The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and be killed, and after three days rise again.? See also further mention in 9:31 and 10:32-34. There is no doctrine taught in these references, but there is plenty to touch the heart as the Lord feelingly attempts to initiate the twelve in the crisis of His death, with all the indignation, shame and pain this would involve. It is important to point out that the Lord Jesus first announces His passion immediately following the confession of His Messiahship. The disclosure by the Lord at this point is very significant. The One who is the Messiah must tread a path of suffering, leading to glory, and those identified with Him should appreciate what this means for them too. A crucified Christ must have crucified followers, i.e. suffering along with a rejected Christ. It was their inability to grasp this that the Lord repeated His attempts to teach them. Have we learned this lesson?


We cannot do better when considering the subject of the atoning sacrifice in Hebrews than refer the reader to that grand passage of chapter 9:14.

1.         IT WAS PRE-EMINENT IN ITS VALUE, ?How much more shall the blood of Christ . .

2.         IT WAS PERMANENT IN ITS CHARACTER, ?through the eternal Spirit . .

3.         IT WAS PERSONAL IN ITS ACHIEVEMENT,  ?offered Himself . .

4.         IT WAS PERFECT IN ITS PRESENTATION, ?without spot to God

5.         IT WAS PRACTICAL IN ITS RESULTS, ?purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.?


All these blessed aspects of the atoning sacrifice of Christ are in great contrast to what took place on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16).


Someone asked a servant of the Lord, ?What are dead works?? The quick reply was, ?Works done by dead persons.? Of course, the dead works are the writer?s way of summing up the ritual and ceremony of Judaism. We may rejoice in the subjective aspect of Christ?s death, dealing with our sins, but have we forgotten the objective aspect - He died that we might be delivered from the bondage of religious legality and ceremony and serve the living God. Is this being realized in our lives? The reader should observe the reference here to the blood of Christ, for wherever the New Testament, especially in Hebrews, wishes to emphasize the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ it is this word that is used. Indeed, the blood of Christ is mentioned six times in Hebrews, more than in any other epistle. This alone is a significant fact. The blood of Christ is mentioned in the N.T. nearly three times as often as the cross of Christ, and five times as frequently as the death of Christ. It is important to see that the blood of Christ stands for the death of Christ, not only in its violent nature, but its sacrificial act. In a recent production of a new hymn book by a certain denomination someone asked a member of the selection committee, ?Why have you left out William Cowper?s lovely hymn, ?There is a fountain filled with blood?? His reply reveals the modernistic trend, ?Because there is too much blood in it.? In our gospel preaching let it be remembered we cannot make too much of the blood.


The idea of the Day of Atonement is carried further in the context of Hebrews ch.9. The three appearings of the Saviour mentioned in v.24, v.26 and v.28 can all be appreciated in this light.


In v.24 we have the Priest in the holy place.

In v.26 we have the Priest at the altar.

In v.28 we have the Priest?s emergence on the Day of Atonement.


In v.26 we read the tremendous statement, ?But now once in the completion of the ages hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself? (Newberry margin). From this verse it has been well pointed Out. ?All the previous ages prior to that event looked on to it, all succeeding ages will look back to it.? The atoning sacrifice of Christ is cential to God?s dealings with men. The meaning of this verse in the context is that if the one sacrifice of Christ had not been sufficient, He would have had to begin a series of incarnations and atonements from the time of Adam?s fall, and to carry them on as long as the world continued. Such an idea is absurd, for the great teaching of Hebrews 9 is that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was a once for all act, never to be repeated. Such was its moral worth and efficacy. Coming to v.28 we see that after the first coming of Christ no more sacrifice for sin is needed. The first time He came, He bore the sins; the second, He comes apart from that to gather up the results of the one great sacrifice and for the full salvation of them that look for Him.