The Person of Christ - 24 - His Atonement in the Epistles


Chapter 24 - The Atonement of Christ

In The Epistles and Revelation

Phillip Harding


Although ?atonement? is not a New Testament word (Rom. 5:11 is really reconciliation), yet when speaking of the Atonement we are thinking of all that is involved in the sufferings and death of Christ at Calvary. ?The Cross pervades all Scripture; the historical books prove its necessity; the Levitical foreshadows its meaning; the Psalms protray its experiences; the prophets foretell its sufferings; the Gospels describe its fulfillment; the Acts proclaim its blessing; the epistles explain its doctrine and the Revelation exhibits its fruits? (William Hoste). As we pursue our meditation on the sufferings and death of Christ we do so with reverence and deep gratitude to our God, conscious of severe limitations.




That Man is a fallen creature, ruined and totally depraved is clearly taught in the Word of God (Rom. 3:9-23, 5:12, James 2:10). Romans 5:8 - ?While we were yet sinners? shows that all the evidence, drawn from every succeeding age and from every environment and circumstance of human history proved conclusively that all were sinners, guilty and vile, deserving only eternal judgment. Romans 5:6 -?without strength? reveals that not only had our sinnership been proved but our absolute helplessness to cleanse ourselves, to fit ourselves for Heaven, to remedy our sinful condition, to effect our own salvation, to make atonement, had been fully demonstrated (Rom. 3:19-20, Eph. 2:9) thus the necessity for the death of Christ. Sin has brought men and women guilty before the Judgment Bar of God (Rom. 3:19); separated them from their God (Eph. 2:1-3, 13); caused them to be alienated and at enmity in their minds to God (Col. 1:21); and exposed them to the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:2, 16, 6:23, Eph. 2:3). The Throne of God demanded that sin be dealt with (that atonement be made) but man could never satisfy the claims of that Throne, so another must do it on his behalf, and the only One who could, was God, and thus the necessity of the incarnation with a view to Calvary. The sufferings and death of Christ were therefore of primary and essential importance for sin to be dealt with and Salvation to be procured for men. The Cross was Vital to redeem us from the Curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13) and to bring us to God (I Pet. 3:18).




It has been stated that if an innocent man was forced to suffer for the guilty then that would be flagrantly unjust, but if he became the willing substitute it would be legitimate and justice would in no way be violated. In Philippians 2:6-8 it is not the Father sending the Son but the Son willingly taking deliberate steps in order to go to Calvary. He deliberately emptied Himself (not of His essential Deity or Glory) and came into Manhood - Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the Incarnate Deity; took upon Himself the form of a bondservant; became obedient unto death and that the death of the Cross. The death of the Cross was therefore an act of obedience.

?Down from the splendour of His everlasting throne, Came the Lord of Glory for our guilt to Atone;

Son of God, eternal, He the sinner?s surety stood, Paid the sinner?s ransom in His precious blood.?


Romans 5:18-19 also emphasizes the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who accomplished righteousness through which many become righteous. So then, deliberately the Saviour went to the Cross and laid down His life, thus the willingness of the Lord Jesus Christ is emphasized. The apostle in I Timothy 1:15 tells us that ?Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners?. Here again, we have the thought of His own deliberate action. Willingly He came into the world to accomplish the work of salvation. The Atonement was therefore Voluntary.




The value of the work of Christ is seen in the fact that God has been satisfied, His Throne vindicated. ?The object of the atonement is not primarily to affect man?s disposition to God, but to safeguard the righteous character of God? (Win. Hoste). The claims of God?s righteousness we cannot measure and His justice could only be satisfied with an infinite sacrifice. God, in His infinite love, has provided such a sacrifice - ?Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins? (I John 4:10). But the Saviour?s sacrifice was not only the propitiation for our sins but also for the whole world (I John 2:2). God has now set forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation (Propitiatory Mercy Seat), declaring His righteousness, that He might be Just and the Justifier of those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:25-26).


The resurrection of Christ fully demonstrates that Divine righteousness has been satisfied and because of the infinite value of the work of Christ it will never be necessary for atonement to be repeated. The value of the atonement manward is that it provides a righteous basis for forgiveness (Eph. 1:7, Col 1:14): cleansing (I John 1:7); reconciliation (II Cor. 5:19); being made righteous (II Cor. 5:21); and for being brought nigh (Eph. 2:13).


The value of the atonement can only be measured in the light of the infinite worth of the Person who accomplished it and since we with our finite minds cannot measure the infinite Worth of Christ, we cannot measure the value of the atonement.




That God willeth (desires) all to be saved and that the  Work of Christ at Calvary is sufficient for all to be saved is clearly stated in I Timothy 2:4-6 ~see also II Pet. 3:9). Christ died for (on the behalf of) all (I Tim. 2:6) manifesting the universal provision whereby men might be brought to God and become righteous (I Peter. 3:18,11 Cor. 5:21). We hasten to state that not all will be brought to God, not all will become righteous, despite the provision.


However, when we speak of the vicarious nature of the atonement, we are not thinking of the universal provision made in the death of Christ but rather of the substitutionary character of that death. The word vicarious means instead of or in the place of and therefore carries the thought of substitution. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Substitute for all who believe. That Christ died for our sins (I Cor. 15:3) and bore our sins in His own body on the tree (I Pet. 2:24) are truths for the child of God, not for the unregenerate. We must differentiate between Christ the Propitiation for the whole world (I John 2:2) and Christ the Substitute for His people. As the propitiation, He, through His atoning death, is the righteous basis upon which mercy and pardon can be offered to all, but as zhe Substitute, He has borne the sins of all who receive Him as Saviour. The work of Christ at Calvary then, was Vicarious in character for all the redeemed.




Was Calvary a tragedy or a triumph? A triumph surely, for there God has been eternally glorified. His Throne vindicated and Satan vanquished. At Calvary our standing in Adam (the old man) was dealt with (Rom. 6:6), the handwriting of ordinances blotted out (Col. 2:14) and the powers of darkness defeated (Col. 2:15). At Calvary there was laid the basis for the eternal triumph of God over Satan, of good over evil and of Christ over every enemy. Christ will reign eternally triumphant and Satan and all who are linked with him (including unregenerate men) are doomed eternally.


That the atoning work of Christ was victorious is demonstrated in His being set far above all (Eph. 1:20-23) and in that all will be subjugated to Him (Phil. 2:9-11). The atonement is the basis of the reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20) and the ground upon which God will bring in a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Praise God, the atonement was victorious and its effects are eternal. Well may we join in acclaiming the Lamb worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory and blessing. (Rev. 5:12). In conclusion, we point out that the death of Christ should have a practical effect on all the people of God. Afresh we remind our hearts that we have been freed from the bondage of sin; that sin no longer has dominion over us; that we are not our own for we have been bought with a price; therefore, we ought to glorify God in our lives by yielding ourselves to God and our members as instruments of righteousness unto Him (Rom. 6:6-23, I Cor. 6:19-20).


The work of Christ was not only to save us from Hell but to save us from lives of sin and self-centeredness; not only to fit us for Heaven but to enable us to live lives of righteousness and holiness (I Pet. 1:14-20, 2:24). The Lord Jesus gave Himself to deliver us from this present evil age therefore we should not be conformed to it (Authorized Version ?world? Gal. 1:4, Rom. 12:2). He gave Himself for us that we might be redeemed from all iniquity (that is lawlessness - being a law unto ourselves) therefore we should be characterized by obedience. Dear fellow-believers, has the Cross a present practical effect upon our lives? Can we truthfully say ?Whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world? (Gal. 6:14)?


Were the whole realm of nature mine

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my heart, my life, my all!