the divine arch of human redemption (2)

THE ATONEMENT – THE CREATOR’S PURPOSE

When in the beginning, God created our first parents from the dust of the ground and breathed into them the breath of life, they became living animate beings. Genesis 1:31 describes them along with all else of God’s creative work as being “very good”. In their pristine state, they must have been fine specimens of the human race to look upon, robust and beautiful of form. Sin and its effects had not marred their visage or made inroads into their physical or moral constitutions; the environment in which they lived was that of a paradise, specially made for them – and they were at one with their Creator.

But they were not perfect. They were made a little lower than the angels in whose image they were created. It was intended to elevate them to an equality with those glorious beings by a change to their superior nature, an honour which, as subsequent events reveal, was conditional upon them acquiring by their own volition, qualities which confirmed and reflected the purpose of their creation. That purpose as the Scriptures make clear throughout its pages was to give glory and honour to God, for it is evident that He finds His Highest Pleasure in the ready obedience of his children to His Will in a spirit of loving humble and voluntary submission. Moreover, it is a Divine principle that before exaltation to eternal life, there must be a period of testing in order to determine whether those qualities essential for such an honour would be willingly made manifest in action.

Although fearfully and wonderfully made, yet their initial state was an inferior one. Unlike the angels who are immortal beings sustained directly by God’s eternal spirit, their life was predicated upon the harmonious interaction of physical organs nurtured by the circulation of blood throughout their bodies in which the life of their flesh was bound up. In the Wisdom of God, they were so constituted as to be capable of corruption and a resolution back to their original dust, but in their primeval condition they were not corrupting dying creatures. Death at that time had no part, or indeed intention with their Creator.

Nevertheless, until they had worthily proved themselves in a manner and to a degree which it was the prerogative of their Maker alone to determine, it is evident that in the event of failure there must be a cessation of life. They had before them the possibility of eternal life conditional upon obedience to God, for that was to be the test, or contrariwise a cessation of life for disobedience and their physical constitution had to allow for either contingency. Mortality or immortality, corruption or incorruption depended upon themselves. It would be decided by their personal behaviour under trial, and their Creator made them clearly aware of the governing conditions. Their future, be it life or death, lay in their own hands – it was to be their responsibility.

As created subservient dependent beings, they owed allegiance to their Creator in whom they lived and moved and had their being. The evidence of their senses in the marvel of His Handiwork all around them as well as the greatness of the elohim who communed with them, gave ample testimony to the absolute, supremacy of His Being. Nor is there the slightest evidence that, in the knowledge of these facts, they, of their own volition in their pristine state, had any thought of acting in a manner contrary to the wishes of their Maker. Yet they were not “robots” who could react to their senses only in a way which fulfilled their Creators intention. They were of a higher order. They were endowed with free-will, which allowed them the prerogative of being able, when circumstances demanded, to made conscious and responsible choice. In this, they were distinguished from all else of the animate creation, and it was in respect of this difference of relationships with its obligations and responsibility to God that it was essential to put them to the proof.

THE FALL

Now the record in Genesis makes clear that our first parents were, in their novitiate, different from what they afterwards became. One has only to compare what we read in Genesis Chapter 1 concerning them with the record in the latter part of Chapter 3 to realise the extent of the change. No longer were they very good, no longer in tune with the Infinite; no longer in Paradise; rather were they expelled from Eden and the Presence of God, condemned to death and made subject to a new and evil constitution of thing of which beforetime they had no experience. We do well to ask what it was that brought about so radical a change, affecting both themselves and their environment. The answer is disobedience to the Will of God in transgression of His Law.

God saw fit to place Adam and Eve in a situation which would in their freedom of choice make manifest by their actions their allegiance to Him or otherwise. To obey, or not to obey – that was in reality the question. In the event, they disobeyed. They ate of the fruit of the Tree of which their Creator had clearly stated, “Thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt die” (Gen 2:17, mrg). It is good to pause here and reflect. Transgression is an act – something we consciously do. As with all such actions there has to be a cause, and it is vital in a full and correct understanding of what sin in Scripture comprises, to be assured of what that cause was. The record in Genesis 3 makes plain that transgression was the culmination of a process of thought which, at first was extraneous to Adam and Eve. It originated in the mind of the Serpent, and they allowed it to be transferred to themselves – apparently without demur. Beforehand their minds were pure and innocent of any thoughts which were out of harmony with the Divine.

But the mind of the Serpent was subtle and insidious, because not having any moral attributes and therefore moral responsibility, it reacted upon the minds of Adam and Eve who had. It found expression in the words recorded in Genesis 3:1-5. A careful reading and a little reflection will reveal their subtlety. They constituted a denial of God’s word, and therefore His supremacy and authority. They enticed the latent propensities of our first parents in a manner which appeared innocuous but which in reality was sinful and contrary to God’s will. Finally, they formed a direct appeal to their own personal self-esteem and importance.

For their part, they first listened to the Serpent, reflected upon the words spoken, then accepted and finally acted upon them – a fatal process. Instead of counteracting them by the power of God’s Word and cutting them short, they allowed the words of the serpent to increase in force as the process found it’s outworking in them so that the Divine Law was questioned, God’s supremacy disregarded, and His authority denied, culminating in their disobedience and an elevation of themselves to a position which God alone should occupy.

The modus operandi of sin enacted before us in the Garden of Eden should be carefully noted. First of all, the subtle words of the serpent were transferred to Adam and Eve. They became lodged in their minds and influenced their thinking so that it became diabolic. Of their own volition they procured a mode of thought which beforetime was alien to them. They added a potent, corrupting, spiritually debilitating ingredient to their minds which like poison permeated their mental processes and changed their “very good” state into a condition which was at enmity with the Divine. The accretion was obnoxious to their Creator. By it’s power their original pure innocent minds became carnal and sinful and it’s operation brought transgression.

Ever since, their progeny seen in the world around us has manifested the same estimation of it’s own value, evidenced by man’s disregard for his Maker, doing that which is right in his own eyes and becoming for the most part, a law unto himself. Throughout human history, down through the generations of men to our own day, the manifestation of these same rebellious characteristics is abundantly in evidence, the cause of which stems back to the Garden of Eden and the mind of the Serpent.

GOD’S RESPONSE TO A NEW SITUATION

The act of transgression created an entirely new situation in the relationship between Adam and Eve and their Creator. What was to be done? The sentence of death had already been clearly stated as the penalty for disobedience, so that they were without excuse. But here in rebellion was created a dissonance which could form no lasting part of God’s harmonious creation. It had to be removed. This could be done, either by condign punishment in the summary execution of the transgressors, or else by some other process which would satisfy all the requirements of the situation without doing despite to God’s character. The former solution was easy; God could slay them by the mere breath of His lips. The latter course was beyond the wit of men or angels to devise, and was in the nature of the case the sole prerogative of the Creator to decide.

But think what this would mean. It necessitated the carrying out of the sentence of death, for God had so decreed; it demanded the eradication of the cause of transgression; and it must effectively bring into being the means by which God’s original intentions would be realised in respect of His creation. In all this there could be no compromise or half measures. The solution to the problem makes manifest all the attributes of the God Whom we worship in most wonderful and clear distinction in all their marvellous poise and balance. We must never forget that the whole scheme of human redemption was devised by God, and put into operation and superintended at all times by Him. As a product of His mind it must of necessity be a reflection of His Character, and by its quality be seen to be Divine. This it does perfectly.

THE CHARACTER OF GOD

We do well at this point to digress and briefly consider what God’s character comprises as He has been pleased to reveal it, for it is not possible for man by his own searching and intellect to discover Him. The Scriptures reveal that God is:

Omnipotent – All power is His

Omniscient – He knows all things

Omnipresent – His Spirit which emanates from Him pervades all space.

Besides these characteristics, God is love – the Scriptures so describe Him. God is pure, and cannot look upon sin. God is just; there is no false balance with Him. God is righteous and cannot do wrong. God is faithful; his Word cannot fail, God is kind; His blessings abound. God is truth, the very essence of it. God is merciful; he forgives iniquity. God is changeless – the same yesterday, today and for ever. God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him, and a punisher of those who do wrong. All these things God is, and much else besides.

Unlike men, God not only possesses all the characteristics and attributes; He does so in the absolute sense. Moreover, they are in operation with him at all times without conflict or compromise, and He cannot deny Himself or act contrary to His nature. By contrast, men, especially men in power, are fallible, fickle, ruthless and unpredictable. They can as easily exalt a man to honour as end his life, for no just cause save only the whim of the tyrant. But God is not like that. He does not exhibit mercy to the exclusion of justice, nor show His love and forget His righteousness. The psalmist declares: “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Ps 25:10), and they converge, so that “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Ps 85:10,11).

The importance of these truths is emphasised because any understanding of the Atonement which does not demonstrate the characteristics of God, or at any point runs counter to one or more of them, must of necessity be false. Indeed, it is our belief that much contention and misunderstanding of the subject can be avoided by using these criteria as a means of testing the veracity of our conviction and obtaining a full and correct understanding.

For instance, we may dismiss at the outset the belief, universally held among all the religious denominations who profess to be “christian”, that the Atonement was accomplished by Jesus, the son of God, dying instead of us, the innocent for the guilty; what is called his “vicarious sacrifice”. Consider for a moment: if Jesus was our substitute who gave his life instead of us, and who paid the price of sin, why is it we all still die? And why is he very much alive? Moreover, why is the devil (the cause of it all) that he came to destroy, as the writer to the Hebrews confirms he did (2:14), still, according to popular belief, living? Whilst we could appreciate that the provision by God of His Son for the salvation of men was an act of supreme love, and Christ’s submission to the death of the cross a reflection of it, the total exclusion of even elementary justice in such an understanding of the matter excludes its acceptance. Moreover, when one considers the popular belief in the Trinity, with its attendant anomalies, both in relation to itself, and the subject under consideration, so that even its adherants describe it as a great mystery, it is evident we must look elsewhere for a correct understanding of the matter.

THE ATONEMENT AN OLD TESTAMENT DOCTRINE

Now the doctrine we are considering is not exclusively a New Testament one. We perceive this immediately we consider certain passages of Scripture. The writer to the Hebrews, quoting the Messianic Psalm 40, speaking of the Atonement, records Jesus as saying: “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me), to do Thy Will, O God” (Heb 10:7). John the Baptist made the subject the very essence of his ministry, and said, with Jesus before him: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jno 1:29). Concerning this Lamb, the book of Revelation refers to it being slain from the foundation of the world (13:8), and states that purpose as follows: “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation” (5:9). These passages reveal the scope and range of God’s redeeming power in Christ, making clear that its efficacy was on hand in every generation of men.

That being the case, and the justice and mercy of God demand that it should so be, certain difficulties arise. Consider! To us, Jesus the Son of God is the central pivot around whom the whole purpose of God in the salvation of man revolves. Indeed, the Scriptures declare that there is no salvation in any other, as the Apostle Peter states (Acts 4:12). To think of redemption without Jesus is for us, impossible. The two expressions are synonymous. In Adam all die; in Christ shall all be made alive. But what about the period before Jesus existed – the time before he was born? From the creation of our first parents and their transgression to the birth of our Lord there is a period of something like 4,000 years. Did God then exclude the overtures of His love and mercy from all those countless peoples who lived during those four millenia? The question is one which obtrudes itself upon the mind, demanding an answer. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, Whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting, how could His great attributes, pre-eminently exhibited in the provision of salvation from death, be manifested, when Jesus, in whom that salvation was predicated, was not in being? The answer to the problem is profound in it’s simplicity, marvellous in it’s conception, wonderful in it’s outworking and a revelation of the Divine mind which conceived it. If there is one subject above all others which proves the existence of God and presents the nature of His Being to us, it is this.

Moreover, a clear and perceptive appreciation of the work of Jesus in redemption is obtained the better by a consideration of Type and Antitype, which is the manner by which God taught men, and by which the means of salvation in past ages was exemplified. By a presentation of the reality of that salvation in such a way, God caused men to see Jesus in prospect as we in our day see him, in his work of salvation, in retrospect. Nor was the comprehension of spiritually minded men and women of those far-off days any less sharp than ours. From the time of Adam right down through the families of men to the actual presence of Jesus in person, men were given opportunity to perceive and understand all the principles of redemption and the requirements needful to render that obedience of faith necessary for salvation. Although the fullness of the revelation in these particulars appears superficially to be gradual, in reality as we shall hope to show, it’s clarity and fullness was manifest in all ages.

We do well therefore in our considerations to first give thought to the matter as it is presented to us in the Old Testament, for it was our Master himself who, following his crucifixion and resurrection, appeared in the midst of his disciples and after convincing them of his identity by showing them his perforated hands and feet, said to them, “These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me. Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures and said unto them, Thus it is written and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day (Luke 24:44-46). With that testimony we proceed to the Old Testament writings before considering the reality in Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Eric Phipps