Redemption Interpreted

by Leland M. Haines
From Redemption Realized Through Christ

[*] Introduction
[*] The Pentecost Sermon
[*] Redemption Through Christ
[*] Redemption
[*] Ransom
[*] Propitiation
[*] Christ's Death as Suffering, not Punishment
[*] How Was Christ's Suffering Treated
[*] Importance of Understanding the Work of Christ
[*] Reconciliation
[*] Effects of Redemption
[*] Summary


When Jesus Christ "was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), His personal earthly ministry ended after lasting about three years. This marked the beginning of the kingdom and the church. The disciples had received the Great Commission from Jesus. He had told them, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus did not leave His followers alone to face the task of evangelizing the world. He had earlier promised them the Counselor, "which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). He repeated this promise just before His ascension. "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Let us look at some of the apostles' messages.

[*] To Top

The Pentecost Sermon

After the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they spoke in several languages as the Spirit directed them. This bewildered the Jews who were visiting Jerusalem from various nations, since they heard the disciples speaking in their own languages. Some, amazed and perplexed, asked, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:12 RSV; cf. Joel 2:28-32). Others reacted by thinking the disciples were drunk.

Peter preached the first sermon to explain what had happened. The disciples were not drunk, as some people thought, but had received what the prophet Joel had spoken of (Acts 2:16-21). Peter spoke of, suffering, and death, and of the responsibility of the Jewish people for His death. He also spoke of the resurrection and glorification of Jesus, showing what happened to Him was according to the Scriptures. Peter concluded his message with these words: "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (v. 36). Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, that is, the Christ (Christ is the Greek term for the Hebrew Messiah).

Peter's message brought great conviction to the hearts of the Jewish hearers. In anguish they responded, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Peter told them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (vv. 38, 39).

This basic message of Christ's suffering and death on the cross was preached again and again; it was the central message of the early church. The crucifixion of Jesus was not the defeat it first appeared to be. His death was essential to bringing redemption to mankind. The following quotations from the Book of Acts show that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were the heart of the early church's message.

    [The Jewish people had] killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead. Acts 3:15

    By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead . . . . This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 4:10-12

    The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 5:30, 31

    He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth. . . . [explaining this] Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 8:32, 35

    They slew and hanged [him] on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly. . . . To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. 10:39, 40, 43

    And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again. . . . he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 13:32-39

    Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them [Jews], and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead. 17:2, 3

    Certain philosophers . . . said, What will this [Paul] babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. 17:18

    [God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man [Jesus] whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. 17:31

    Saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. 26:22, 23

[*] To Top

Redemption Through Christ

The above Scriptures make it clear that Christ's death was central to the gospel's message. Why was Christ's death so important?

Man's sin in the Garden of Eden broke the fellowship and communion between God and man. Since then man has refused to submit to the will of God and has set himself against God. God told His chosen people, "Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 18:4, 5). Man's response was the "transgression of the law" (I John 3:4), which showed that he had become hostile to God and had "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). God's holiness meant He could not tolerate sin and the presence of evil. God's holiness required Him to separate Himself from sin and thus from sinful man. The only way the two could be brought together again was by an act of God that would remove the enmity and cause a reconciliation of the two estranged parties.

Why would God want to remove the barrier between Him and man when it was man who refused to accept His Word through faith and listened to Satan in the Garden? The motivation for this reconciliation is love. The most prominent and familiar Scripture on this states, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). John repeated this in his First Epistle: "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 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 4:9, 10). God's love restores man to his original relationship: "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (I John 3:1). Christians "love him [God], because he first loved us" (4:19). Christians obey God "for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (5:3).

Similarly, Paul wrote, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:14, 15). "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour" (Ephesians 5:2). And "the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared . . . according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:4, 5). Christians should alway remember such love towards them.

Jesus Christ's shed blood is the basis of man's reconciliation to God. We have already seen that at Jesus' birth, an angel of the Lord foretold that "he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Jesus also spoke of His mission when He said He came "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28; cf. Mark 10:45); "This is my body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19); and "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11; cf. vv. 15, 18).

Before considering some terms applied to Jesus' death, let us look at several Scriptures that speak of His death.

    He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32

    Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Romans. 8:34

    For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. Romans 14:8, 9

    But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15

    And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? I Corinthians 8:11

    For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. I Corinthians 15:3

    Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father. Galatians 1:4

    But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13

    Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-8

    For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. I Thessalonians 4:14

    For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. I Timothy 2:5, 6

    Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:13,14

    But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:12

    Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Hebrews 13:12

    The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. I John 1:7

    Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us. I John 3:16

    For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. Revelation 5:9

The Scriptures use several technical terms to explain what Jesus Christ's death accomplished. These are redemption, ransom, propitiation, and reconciliation. Let us examine these terms.

[*] To Top


The term redemption is used to describe the effect of Christ's death. Its basic meaning is "to buy back." The Greek term apolutrosis, translated "redemption," signifies setting a captive free through a payment made by another. In a broader sense it involves deliverance from punishment, that is, redemption implies deliverance from the consequences of our sins. The Scripture uses price in the sense of having been "bought with a price" (I Corinthians 6:20; cf. 7:23) and "denying the Lord that bought them" (II Peter 2:1).

Several Scriptures denote redemption occurring through Christ's death. Paul wrote that we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth . . . through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:24, 25); "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence" (Ephesians 1:7, 8); "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13, 14).

The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote about Jesus Christ: "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. . . . And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promises of eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:12, 15).

The verb redeem is also used in several passages to describe the concept of redemption: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law" (Galatians 3:13); "God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (4:4, 5); "Our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:13, 14); and "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:18, 19). The Lamb "wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood" (Revelation 5:9).

[*] To Top


Man has been brought back to God by means of a ransom. The term ransom means something of value paid to obtain the deliverance or release of a captive. Its usage may be observed in Exodus 21:30 and Proverbs 13:8. Jesus used the term in correcting two disciples who requested a place of prominence, telling all the disciples that "whosoever will be chief [great] among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:27, 28; Mark 10:45). The meaning of ransom is clarified later by Jesus, during the Last Supper. Concerning the cup, Jesus spoke, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28; cf. Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). The giving of His life, signified by the shedding of His blood, would ransom and result in remission of sins of all who meet the conditions of repentance and faith.

This concept of ransom was used by Paul when he wrote that we are "bought with a price" (I Corinthians 6:20, 7:23) and that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:5, 6). Peter wrote to exiled Christians that they were "not redeemed [ransomed, NASV, RSV] with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers [futile ways inherited from your fathers]; but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:18, 19).

The concept of a ransom raises the question, To whom was the ransom paid? This question is hard to answer because the Scriptures do not give a direct answer. The New Testament writers and early church taught that ransom emphasized that someone other than man paid for his release from the consequences of sin, and that this release was very costly, requiring the highest possible price, the blood of God's only Son. This satisfied the government or justice of God and freed sinful man to enter into fellowship with Him.

Neither the New Testament or the early church formulated a theory to explain to whom the ransom and redemption "buy back" was paid. They were content to accept the fact of ransom and emphasized this fact without any thought to explain its operation. There are several theories that try to explain the meaning of the redemption and ransom process, but most are defective since the Bible is silent on this matter.

[*] To Top


Another term used in the older English versions (KJV, ASV, et al.) that relates to Christ's death is propitiation or expiation. Webster's dictionary defines the term as "The act of making atonement," and "To make complete satisfaction for; atone for sin; as to expiate sin." The thought behind propitiation is that through Christ's death God's holy wrath against sin is satisfied so that God can again accept man. Since "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3), we should expect to find information on the coming Messiah's death in the Old Testament. We do find it there, for it was "witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Romans 3:21).

The term propitiation used in Romans 3:25, I John 2:2; 4:10, as many Old Testament terms, comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) term for mercy-seat covering. The law demanded that sinners die for their sins. This demand was satisfied for the nation of Israel on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest took "two goats, and present[ed] them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Leviticus 16:7). There lots were cast to determine which one was for "the LORD" and which one would be "the scapegoat" (v. 8). The one the LORD'S lot fell on would be offered as a sin-offering. The high priest would sprinkle its blood on the ark of the covenant's mercy seat, located in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:13, 14; 17:11; Exodus 25:17-22; Hebrews 9:5). The blood symbolized the life of the body; when blood left the body, death occurred. This blood covered the sins of the people until the Messiah's suffering and sacrifice would take them away. The second goat was set free to symbolize the removal of sins by the sacrifice of the coming Christ.

The term propitiation is thus an Old Testament concept. The Book of Hebrews explains how the new covenant truths relate to the old covenant. After briefly describing the tabernacle regulations, the author of Hebrews described how the high priest once a year took "blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people" (Hebrews 9:7). Just as the high priest could enter into the Holiest Place only on the basis of the blood of the sacrifice, so Christ came into a heavenly tabernacle, where with "his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (v. 12). Christ's sacrifice was much more effective. If under the law "the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinking the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God" (vv. 13, 14). Christ "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. . . . So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (vv. 26, 28). Christ did not enter into an earthly holy place, "but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (v. 24).

As mentioned above, Christ's sacrifice "put away sin." Under the Old Testament, the sacrifice only covered the sins from the sight of God. This covering is the meaning of Old Testament atonement.[1]

In the next chapter the writer repeats that in the old covenant it was "the blood of bulls and of goats" that temporarily purified man (Hebrews 10:4). Christ became the Passover Lamb and "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever" (v. 12). "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (v. 14). Christ's suffering protects the repentant sinner from the wrath of God and purges his conscience so that he can serve God. Jesus, after His sacrifice, "sat down on the right hand of God" (v. 12).

Paul made the most elaborate statement on Christ's propitiatory death in the Book of Romans by writing, "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifer of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:24, 26). It was through the blood of Christ's sacrifice that God's righteousness was satisfied and that sinful man was again able to approach Him.

John also wrote of propitiation: "Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:1, 2); and "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (4:10).

The Greek term for propitiation in Romans 3:25 is translated reconciliation in Hebrews. Jesus "was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death . . . that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. . . . the captain of their salvation [made] perfect through sufferings. . . . Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God,to make reconciliation [propitiation] for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:9, 10, 17).

[*] To Top

Christ's Death as Suffering, Not Punishment

Christ's death was also vicarious (meaning Christ did something on behalf of us on Calvary) or substitutionary, that is, He suffered and died on behalf of sinners so they might receive eternal life. This substitutionary act was announced six hundred years before Christ was born in Bethlehem by the prophet Isaiah, who "saw [Christ's] glory, and spake of him" (John 12:41). Isaiah says,

    Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6

After His resurrection, Jesus spoke to two disciples on the way to Emmaus about Old Testament prophecy, saying, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day" (Luke 24:46). Several times during His ministry Jesus spoke of His suffering: "Jesus . . . shew unto his disciples, how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things . . . and be killed" (Matthew 16:21; cf. Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22); "It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer" (Mark 9:12; cf. Matthew 17:12); "must he [Jesus] suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation" (Luke 17:25); "I [Jesus] have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). Jesus Christ's suffering is also emphasized in the following New Testament Scriptures:

    Those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Acts 3:18

    I[Paul] witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead. Acts 26:22, 23

    But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. . . . [being made] perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:9, 10

    Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. Hebrews 5:8, 9

    Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. I Peter 2:24

    For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit. I Peter 3:18

Twenty-eight times the KJV states that Christ suffered for us.[2] The Scriptures never speak of Christ being "punished" for sins or for sinners. The terms punish and suffer have significantly different meanings. Punish means "to cause to undergo pain, loss, or suffering for a crime or wrongdoing,"[3] whereas "suffer" does not involve guilt. Grider summarizes what John Miley wrote, "Since Christ was sinless, He was guiltless. When He died for us, therefore, He suffered but was not punished. And since there was a substitution of His suffering for the punishment that believers otherwise would have received in hell, the Father could actually forgive us. Punishment would have clearly satisfied God's justice. But since Christ suffered instead of being punished, the Father really could forgive those who repent and believe."[4] Grider wrote that Christ suffered in part "because God the Father really does forgive us3/4whereas, if He punished Christ instead of us, He could not then have forgiven us. In Christ's substitutionary punishment, justice would have been satisfied, precluding forgiveness. One cannot both punish and forgive, surely."[5]

As Paul wrote, Jesus Christ "was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25) or "was put to death for our trespasses" (RSV). "Christ died for the ungodly. . . . Christ died for us" (5:6, 8; cf. Galatians 1:4). There is disagreement on how to interpret the Greek term huper translated "for" here. Does it always mean "in behalf of," or can it mean the same as Greek term anti, translated "instead of?" In relation to Romans 5:6 and 8, in their newest Greek-English Lexicon (i.e., dictionary), Arndt and Gingrich wrote concerning huper, "after expressions of suffering, dying, devoting oneself, etc. . . . die for someone or something . . . . So especially of the death of Christ . . . for, in behalf of mankind, the world."[6] Vincent wrote, "It is much disputed whether [huper] on behalf of, is ever equivalent to [anti] instead of."

After giving several examples from the classical and church Fathers, Vincent writes, "None of these passages can be regarded as decisive. The most that can be said is that [huper] borders on the meaning of [anti]. Instead of is urged largely on dogmatic grounds. In the great majority of passages the sense is clearly for the sake of, on behalf of. The true explanation seems to be that, in the passages principally in question [Romans 5:6], those, namely, relating to Christ's death . . . [huper] characterizes the more indefinite and general proposition--Christ died on behalf of--leaving the peculiar sense of in behalf of undetermined, and to be settled by other passages. The meaning instead of may be included in it, but only inferentially. Godet says, 'The preposition can signify only in behalf of. It refers to the end, not at all to the mode of the work of redemption.'"[7] It would seem Paul's statement would clearly mean Christ's death was in behalf of man, "so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). As the writer of Hebrews wrote, Jesus by "the suffering of death . . . he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).

Surely He was "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; I Peter 1:18, 19) and fulfilled Isaiah prophecies when he "saw [Christ's] glory, and spake of him" (John 12:41). As mentioned, Isaiah wrote, "Surely he hath borne our griefs . . . was wounded for our transgressions . . . was bruised for our iniquities . . . with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5). All these terms show His suffering. Christ came into the world to suffer according to the Father's will, who "laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (v. 10). When Christ died on the cross He "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26; cf. 10:12).

Paul has one Scripture that some believe teaches that Christ took our sins and was punished for them by being our substitute, although it does not explicitly state that Christ took upon Himself man's sins. Paul wrote that God "made [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin" (II Corinthians 5:21). The statement that Jesus was made "to be sin for us" is difficult to understand. There are two interpretations of this verse. One interpretation holds that God made Christ to be "sin" by imputing man sin's to Him. The second interpretation is that "to be sin" refers to an alternate meaning of hamartia found in the Greek Old Testament the apostles and early church used, that means Christ's death was a "sin-offering." We will discuss the first interpretation below, and the second in the next section.

The first interpretation is held by those who hold to the Punishment Theory (also known as Penal Substitution) and is a legal-based theory advanced first by Augustine and made popular during the reformation by John Calvin. This theory holds that man, because of his sins, deserves the wrath and curse of God. Because of His holy and just nature, God must punish men as they deserve. To satisfy the righteous judgment of God, His Son assumed man's nature, lived under the law and fulfilled all righteousness. Man's sins were imputed to the otherwise sinless Christ (He was made "to be sin"), and He was punished for our sins when He died on the cross. His death fulfilled the demands of God's law, removing the death penalty man faced for his sins, so man could be redeemed.

This theory means that God made Jesus "sin." Obviously God the Father could not literally make His Son "sin." God is never portrayed as the source of sin. Because of this, some have softened this theory by saying that God did not literally make Jesus "sin," but Jesus can be considered as the personification of sin in a metaphorical way; namely, He became sin for us. In a symbolic sense and in a substitutionary way, sin was judged on the cross by being borne by and identified with Christ. Our sins were dealt with on the cross when Christ died for us, in our place.

There are several difficulties with the above "sin" interpretation. First it is not taught in the Greek New Testament or supported by the Hebrew Old Testament. The New Testament does not teach anything about the transfer of man's sins or guilt to Christ. As mentioned earlier, if He bore the guilt of man's sins, He would have been punished. Another difficulty is it distorts what Christ did on the cross. If all our sins (past, present, and future) were transferred to Christ and He was punished for them, man cannot be punished again for them. This leads either to all men being saved, which is contrary to Scripture (obviously not all are saved), or by some unknown reason, God chose only particular men to be saved. This means that some must be predestined to eternal life and some to damnation, and the elect are eternally secure regardless of what they do. Neither of these things are taught in Scripture.

[*] To Top

How Was Christ's Suffering Treated

In what sense was Christ's suffering and death vicarious? Before we discuss this, let us remind ourselves that we should not get bogged down on this question since the Bible gives no formal statement on how God treated Christ's death on the cross. Many Christians try to develop a theory to explain Christ's work on the cross. This effort is of little benefit since the Bible had, as we have seen earlier in this chapter, to use several concepts to explain His work to men. Apparently there is no single term or simple theory that explains Christ's work; therefore let us be careful about imposing any theory on the Bible. But let us keep our eyes on everything the Bible says about Christ's death.

At least two Scriptures directly assert that Christ bore man's sins. Hebrews 9:28 states, "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." And Peter wrote similarly that Christ was "a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:19), "who did no sin . . . Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (2:22, 24). "Christ . . . hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh" (3:18). By "the Just" (Christ) suffering physical death for "the unjust" (man), Christ becomes a sacrifice to redeem and ransom man so he would not have to suffer his due punishment in the lake of fire. The innocent and righteous can suffer. By Christ's self-sacrifice, He made intercession for man by pouring out His soul on the cross, thus making His blood an acceptable sacrifice for sin so God could forgive sinners instead of punishing them (see Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35; et al.; Isaiah 53:6, 11, 12).

It should be mentioned that for Christ "to bear the sins of many" and that He in "his own self bare our sins" does not mean He was punished for our sins. Christ's sacrifice and sufferings as the "Lamb of God, [who took] taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), fulfills the imagery of the scape-goat who bore "upon him all their inquities" into the wilderness (Leviticus 16:22). Christ gave His life publicly as a sacrifice to bear away or "carry up" the sins of many to the altar.[8]

In the author's opinion, the second interpretation of II Corinthians 5:21 mentioned in the preceding section, that Jesus was made "to be a sin-offering for us," is correct. Sin-offering is an alternate meaning of hamartia found in the Greek Old Testament. Since the apostles and the church at Corinth mainly used the Septuagint, they undoubtedly understood that hamartia could mean a sin-offering. This was not an ambiguous, obscure, or hard to understand passage for those Greek Christians who received this letter, or other early Christians who read it later.

Clarke supports the view that hamartia should be translated "sin-offering" here. He wrote that this "answers to the chattach and chattath of the Hebrew text; which signifies both sin and sin-offering in a great variety of places in the Pentateuch. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew by hamartia in ninety-four places in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where a sin-offering is meant; and where our version translates the word not sin, but an offering for sin" (see his comments in loc.).[9] This translation is supported by the Isaiah 53 prophecy: "he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin" (v. 10).

Others also support the sin-offering interpretation. Arndt and Gingrich wrote, "[hamartia] may equal sin-offering here, as Lev. 4:24."[10] A. A. Hodge, a Presbyterian and Calvinist theologian who taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, also supports the sin-offering interpretation. He wrote, "God 'hath made him [Christ], who knew no sin, to be a sin-offering for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.'"[11]

The sin offering translation is supported by Paul's use of hamartia in Romans 8:3: Christ came "for sin [hamartias], condemned sin in the flesh." "For sin" is translated in the NIV as "to be a sin offering" (cf. NAB, also ASV, NASV, and RSV footnotes); and in the NEB "as a sacrifice for sin." Arndt supports these translation,[12] as do several commentartors (cf. Wm. Black, F. F. Bruce, Adam Clarke, Wm. Newell, J. C. Wenger, et al.). It is also supported by Hebrews 9:28: Christ shall "appear the second time without sin [hamartias] unto salvation." Here hamartias implies sin-offering, otherwise it would imply Christ came the first time with sin, which of course is not true. This verse could read, "appear the second time without a sin-offering."

Obviously sin-offering is a metaphorical usage because Paul used a different Greek word in II Corinthians 5:21, hamartia. Jesus never literally became a lamb or a bullock. This interpretation places Christ's sacrificial death at the center of His work, as several other New Testament Scriptures do. As the author of Hebrews wrote, under the law, "without shedding of blood [there] is no remission" of sins (9:22). Because of this, Christ "appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (v. 26; cf. v. 28; 10:12, 14). John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in the symbolism of the Old Testament's sacrifice, as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Paul wrote that Christ gave "himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" (Ephesians 5:2). Peter wrote that Christians were redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:19). Thus the sin-offering and sacrifice interpretation is not unusual as "made to be sin" would be.

The underlying idea behind the sin-offering interpretation is known as the Governmental theory. This theory was advanced by James Arminius and his student, Hugo Grotius, during the Reformation Period. It emphasizes that God brought judgment on sin when the sinless Christ in love gave His life on the cross as a sacrifice or sin-offering so His suffering would satisfy the demands of a Holy God. This enabled God to forgive sins in a manner that would not just be over-looking them. "The central idea of this theory is, that God is not to be regarded merely as an offended party, but as the Moral Governor of the universe. He must therefore uphold the authority of His government in the interests of the general good. Consequently the sufferings of Christ are to be regarded, not as the exact equivalent of our punishment, but only in the sense that the dignity of the government was thereby upheld and vindicated as effectively as it would have been, if we had received the punishment we deserved."[13] Thus Christ's death was not only substitutional but also vicarious, that is, He did something on behalf of us as was mentioned earlier. Christ's work not only enabled God to forgive sin but also defeated the powers of evil and enables all who repent and believe to live a righteous life. "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:15).

A difficulty with the sin-offering interpretation is that the word "sin" would have to have two different meanings in one verse, separated by only two words in the Greek: God "made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin" (II Corinthians 5:21). This is not a major problem since we have an example of the same word having two different meanings in the same chapter. In the Septuagint there are many examples in the Law were hamartia is used in close proximity in sin and sin-offering senses. Another example is Christ's use of "sanctify" in two different senses in His prayer in John 17:17 and 19 (i.e., sanctification and consecration senses). Brunk wrote, "We have a similar example in the word passover3/4in Luke 22:1 the word means a feast, and in the 7th verse of the same chapter the same word means the passover-offering."[14]

In summary, let us keep in focus what Paul wrote before the "sin" statement. "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ . . . God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them . . . For he hath made him to be a [sin-offering], who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (II Corinthians 5:18, 19, 21).

[*] To Top

Importance of Understanding the Work of Christ

It is important that we carefully look at Christ's work on the cross because the whole of redemption relates to the great sacrifice that took place at Calvary. An incorrect consideration of the extent and the meaning of the work of Christ could lead to unsound applications. For example, if one were to think that the extent of Christ's death was only to the degree required to satisfy the law for those who believe, and since obviously all men are not saved, then the value of Christ's death would have to be only sufficient to cover the sins of those who actually believe and persevere faithful to the end. But Scripture repeatedly affirms that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (John 1:18, 29; I Timothy 2:6; 4:10; I John 2:2).

When Christ was crucified, Scripture says He took "away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Christ's death affects all men (Romans 5:8, 18; II Corinthians 5:14, 15; I Timothy 2:4, 6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; I John 2:2; 4:14). The only ones who benefit from His death, however, are those who repent, believe, and remain faithful to Christ. The Bible does not teach that men will be saved who do not maintain a vital relationship with Christ and follow Him.

Christ's death was an infinite sacrifice of infinite value. It is of sufficient value to cover the sins of the world. Every person living or who has ever lived can draw upon the unlimited benefits of Christ's sacrifice. And even when the payment has been made for all the sins of the world, the value of His death is still nowhere near being exhausted or depleted. Yet there is a very definite way in which the benefits of Christ's death are limited. They are limited by man's choice.

God has determined that salvation would be available only through His Son. Only those who believe in Jesus, receive Him as their Lord and Savior, and continue in a vital, intimate relationship with Him will receive the benefits of His death on the cross. Salvation hinges on our being "in Christ." God can never be considered unjust for allowing anyone to spend eternity in the lake of fire. All necessary provisions have been made in Christ to redeem whosoever will. But those who are whosoever won'ts will experience the second death because they have rejected God's provision for everlasting life.

Another danger can arise if we wrongfully consider the extent of Christ's self-sacrifice in terms of legal punishment alone. Since Christ paid the ransom for the salvation of men, then we might be tempted to think that all men everywhere are saved and secure because the law has been satisfied. But God has made the reception of the benefits of Christ's death, including salvation, contingent on faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. The sinner must come to God through Christ, and he must come to Christ in trusting and obedient faith. God does not apply salvation to man indiscriminately. John 3:18 speaks directly to this matter: "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."

Salvation and condemnation are conditioned on faith in Christ, not on the law being satisfied or man being without sin. To be in Christ is to be in the Ark of Salvation. To be outside of Christ is to be engulfed in the sin of the world and without hope or assurance. Salvation thus depends upon our abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, being faithful to His words and to the ministry of His Holy Spirit to our spirits. Christians have assurance that they are the children of God (see I John 5:13), but there are many Scriptures that warn of the danger of falling away (Matthew 24:4, 5, 11-13; John 15:1-6; Acts 11:23; 14:21, 22; Colossians 1:23; 2:4-8, 18, 19; I Timothy 4:1, 16; II Timothy 3:14; 4:3, 4; James 5:19, 20; II Peter 1:8-11; 3:16-18; I John 2:23-25; Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:1-14; chap. 10; et al.)

Antinomianism, which is disregard for God's expressed will, is another danger of wrongly interpreting the extent of Christ's work. If salvation is strictly a legal matter, and if people are righteous in God's sight on the basis of what Christ did, then what difference does it make whether people follow God's will or not? Their salvation is a completed issue and not dependent upon their lifestyle. But this is precisely the attitude that the apostle Paul warns against in His discussion on justification in Romans (see 6:1, 2, 15).

A person who disregards the will of God and is insensitive to the Holy Spirit demonstrates by his lifestyle that he is not God's child. When a person is born of the Spirit of God and thus receives the new birth, he wants to follow Christ and do God's will. His new nature reflects the nature of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). And Jesus always sought to do the will of the Father (Luke 22:42).

Then too, if we believe that Christ has paid for the sins of only those who will be saved, and surely they will be saved if Christ died specifically for them, then we might be less motivated to take the gospel to the lost. We might slip into an extreme predestination theology and think that those who are to be saved will be saved. Our evangelistic fervor might be quenched, and we might become caught up in religious activity without seeking to reach the lost (Luke 19:10).

One truth we must always keep in mind is God's love for the lost and His forgiveness of those who believe in Christ. God is a God of justice, but He is also a God of love and mercy. And we must always keep His attributes in balance. To look at the work of Christ strictly from either a legal aspect or a religious perspective is to only consider part of the character of God.

The most encompassing message the Bible has for man is that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Also, "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . 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" (Romans 5:8, 10). The result of God's love is the forgiveness of sin: "We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Ephesians 1:7; cf. Colossians 1:14; 2:13); "your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake" (I John 2:12). Let us look at the New Testament teachings on reconciliation in more detail.

[*] To Top


The effect of Christ's propitiation and suffering is our reconciliation to God. This term comes from a Greek verb katallasso, meaning "to change, exchange." In Scripture it is applied to man's relation to God; man is changed from a state of hostility or enmity towards God to being a son of God (John 1:12; Romans 8:14; I John 3:1). This exchange occurs because God's grace and love worked in Christ. Thus it is God who reconciles and who works the reconciliation of sinful man. This meaning can be observed in Paul's use of this term in the following Scriptures:

    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. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [reconciliation]. Romans 5:10, 11

    Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation. II Corinthians 5:17, 18

    And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. Ephesians 2:16

    For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness 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. Colossians. 1:19, 20

The above Scriptures make it clear that Jesus Christ reconciled man to God. Thus Christ made it possible for man to be restored to the relationship he enjoyed with God before the Fall.

[*] To Top

Effects of Redemption

Two major effects of Christ's redemption of man are the new nature he receives and the destruction of Satan's power over man.

Jesus Christ came to bring a new and better covenant. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah spoke the word of the Lord: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10; cf. 7:22; 10:16; John 6:45; Jeremiah 31:33). This was to be a "new and living way . . . having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:20, 22). This is the teaching Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Being "born again" means putting "on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24).

The point that the new man is "created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24 RSV) is mentioned in other Scriptures. Paul wrote to the Colossians about putting off various sins since we "have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:9, 10). The old man is abolished and is replaced by the new man. Being new means the Christian is renewed in the image of his Creator. This image restores what was lost in the Fall and renews man in spiritual knowledge. To the Corinthians Paul wrote that Christians "are changed into the same image from glory to glory; even as the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18). Christians are to reflect as a mirror the glory of the Lord because His grace transforms and renews them. The goal is that "Christ be formed in you [in Christians]" (Galatians 4:19). Christians are "partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Peter 1:4).

The second thing accomplished is Christ's destruction of Satan's power over men. At the time of the Fall, God told Satan, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). This bruising of Satan's head was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The destruction of Satan's power by Jesus' death is emphasized several times in the New Testament. Jesus, speaking of His coming death, said, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). Luke records Paul's defense before Agrippa, where Paul testified that Jesus told him "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness" (Acts 26:18). The writer of Hebrews wrote "that through death he [Christ] might destroy him [Satan] that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14, 15). John wrote that "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8). Jesus told the Pharisees, "If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you" (Matthew 12:28, 29).

Christ's destruction of Satan's power enables Christians to be victorious over the "old man," i.e., the lower nature. Paul emphasized this truth: "We are buried with him by baptism . . . raised up . . . so we also should walk in newness of life. . . . our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:4, 6), and "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24).

[*] To Top


Many theologians try to formulate precise statements as to the meaning of redemption. They are not very successful; it is difficult to explain the incomprehensible things that happened on the cross.

What was involved in Christ's death will doubtless remain somewhat a mystery until we reach heaven; yet many have attempted to explain it in terms men can understand. This has resulted in many theories about Christ's work of redemption. Most are incomplete since they attempt to explain something that has not been completely explained in the Scriptures. Because this book seeks to be a biblical study, the author will respect this silence of the Scriptures and will not attempt to make a formal statement on this subject. Although the Bible does not give a complete explanation of how the death of Jesus procured redemption and reconciliation, it does give us many insights. When we consider the several different biblical terms and statements together, they give a fuller meaning to the cross.

Jesus was born of a virgin and was called "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matthew 1:23). He was "tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He was like a "lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:19), in whom His critics could find "no cause" deserving death (Acts 13:28). He "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (I Peter 3:18). "He is the propitiation for our sins" (I John 2:2), "who gave himself a ransom for all" (I Timothy 2:6), "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). He is the "one mediator between God and men" (I Timothy 2:5), who has made it possible for all men to "be renewed in the spirit of [their] mind; and that [they] put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:23, 24). "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (I John 3:1).


1 Atonement is an Old Testament term. Although the King James Version mistakenly uses the term in Romans 5:11, it should have been rendered "reconciliation."

2 "Suffer" is referred to in Matthew 16:21; 17:12; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:46; Acts 3:18; 26:23; Romans 8:17; "suffered" in Luke 24:26; Acts 17:3; Hebrews 2:18; 5:8; 9:26; 13:12; I Peter 2:21, 23; 3:18; 4:1; and "suffering" in II Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 2:9, 10; I Peter 1:11; 4:13; 5:1.

3 Webster, op. cit.

4 J. Kenneth Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, Kansas City: Beacon Hill of Kansas City, 1994, p. 330. Ref. John Miley, The Atonement in Christ, New York: Hunt and Eaton, 1889, pp. 167ff.

5 Ibid., p. 331.

6 Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., p. 838.

7 Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, III:59, 60.

8 H. Orton Wiley, The Epistle to The Hebews, Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1984, pp. 277, 78.

9 Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, New York: Abingdon, n.d., VI:338.

10 Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., p. 43.

11 A. A. Hodge, Outline of Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1879, p. 409.

12 Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., p. 644.

13 H. Orton Wiley and Paul T. Culbertson, Introduction to Christian Theology, Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1946, p. 230.

14 George R. Brunk I, Rightly Dividing The Scriptures, Harrisonburg, Va.: Sword and Trumpet, 1992, p. 49.

The source of this booklet is

Chapter 4. of Redemption Realized Through Christ by Leland M. Haines. Copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI 48167.

You are welcome to make copies of the above provided you give the source of this information so others can visit the Web Site at .

The Redemption Realized Through Christ 256 page book costs $8.00, postage and handling included. It may be ordered from:


You are welcome to make copies of the above article provided you show the copyright information and source.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Send them to the Webmaster.

This page is presented by:

Biblical Viewpoints Publications
63100 County Road 111
Goshen, IN 46526
Phone: 574-875-8007

Back to the Articles page.

Return to Home Page

May God's grace and peace be with you as you study His Word.

June 22, 2000