At Issue Index   Salvation Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next

OUR HIGH PRIEST    by Edward Heppenstall


Christ Our Sacrifice — 3

The Christian church has always confessed its faith in the eternal redemption obtained for all men at the cross. In Jesus Christ, God has spoken His supreme word to lost men. This is the central theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:1-3).

The author of Hebrews compares the sacrifice and ministry of Christ with the Levitical sacrifices and services. Jesus Christ as sacrifice and as High Priest fills the entire book. Type and prototype, shadow and reality, complement each other in order to show the nature of Christ's redemption and His high-priestly ministry that follows.

Christ came down to earth to do a complete work. On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus said: "I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). And on the cross His last words exclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30). To emphasize the finality of Christ's sacrifice, the Epistle to the Hebrews uses the phrase "the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).

Christ has entered, not that sanctuary made by men's hands which is only a symbol of the reality, but heaven itself, to appear now before God on our behalf. Nor is he there to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the sanctuary year by year with blood not his own. If that were so, he would have had to suffer many times since the world was made. But as it is, he has appeared once and for all at the climax of history to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:24-26, N.E.B.).

The sacrifice of Christ fulfills and replaces all the typical sacrifices. Christ's sacrifice of Himself is the gift of His life for mankind. Such a sacrifice is as eternal as Himself. It cannot be repeated. In contrast to the Levitical sacrifices, Christ "has no need to offer sacrifices daily, as the high priests do, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; for this he did once and for all when he offered up himself" (Heb. 7:27, N.E.B.).

On the cross of Calvary He paid the redemption price of the race. And thus He gained the right to take the captives from the grasp of the great deceiver.—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 309.

The infinite sufficiency of Christ is demonstrated by His bearing the sins of the whole world. He occupies the double position of offerer and of offering, of priest and of victim.—The Faith I Live By, p. 105.

No sin can be committed by man for which satisfaction has not been met on Calvary. —Selected Messages, Book 1, p. 343.

With His life Christ has purchased every human being. He died a cruel death to save human beings from eternal death. He gave His sinless life to obtain for the sinner a life that measures with the life of God. Through His death, He provided a way whereby man may break with Satan, return to his allegiance to God, and through faith in the Redeemer obtain pardon.—Sons and Daughters of God, p. 230.

In contrast with this one complete offering, the Levitical sacrifices continued day after day, year after year. They never did take sin away. Had they done so, they need not have been repeated.

Every priest stands performing his service daily and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never remove sins. But Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:11, 12, N.E.B.).

For the Law contains but a shadow; . . . it provides for the same sacrifices year after year, and with these it can never bring the worshippers to perfection for all time. If it could, these sacrifices would surely have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any sense of sin. But instead, in these sacrifices year after year sins are brought to mind, because sins can never be removed by the blood of bulls and goats (Heb. 10:1-3, N.E.B.).

The Levitical priest stood at the altar daily, his work unfinished and incomplete. Morning and evening he slew the lamb. The blood was sprinkled on the sides of the altar of sacrifice and the carcass was completely burned, showing that by the death of the animal, atonement for sin had been made. Those sacrifices pointed forward to the real sacrifice for sin, the genuine atonement to come, made once for all by Jesus Christ on the cross.

In Christ we have a sacrifice that far transcends the sacrifice of animals, for it involved none other than the Second Person of the Godhead. On the cross Jesus Christ was the true paschal lamb. Christ entered into the heavenly sanctuary into the presence of the Father by virtue of His blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us.

Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:11, 12).

Christ bore man's sins once—on the cross. He does not bear sins now. Bearing sin is what Christ did by His death.

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

He has appeared once and for all at the climax of history to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26, N.E.B.).

The finality of Christ's redemption at the cross leaves no room for vague questions. His sacrifice is the solution to the sin problem. Jesus is not one of many solutions. He is the only solution. He is not one branch of the tree of world religion, one aspect of truth. He is the Truth. His sacrifice is all-embracing, an all-inclusive truth. There can be no rivals.

There is no salvation in anyone else at all, for there is no other name under heaven granted to men, by which we may receive salvation (Acts 4:12, N.E.B.).

The universe revolves around this center, the finality of Christ's work for man's redemption and the final victory over all sin. It is essentially a supernatural act. It is not a human operation, a man murdered by wicked men. His is not a martyrdom among those of many other martyrs.

With the psalmist we may say: "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23). The great fact that Christ died for our sins is the most abiding of all truths. No man can be at peace with himself, with his neighbor, or with God who is not first reconciled to God by the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

There is one great central truth to be kept ever before the mind in the searching of the Scriptures—Christ and Him crucified. Every other truth is invested with influence and power corresponding to its relation to this theme. . . . The soul palsied by sin can be endowed with life only through the work wrought out upon the cross by the Author of our salvation.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1084.

Why Did Jesus Die?

Jesus came to die. He became man in order that He might taste death for every man. Without His becoming flesh, He could not have died.

That is why, at his coming into the world, he says: "Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, but thou hast prepared a body for me" (Heb. 10:5, N.E.B.).

The cross was His destiny. No escape was possible unless He were to negate the plan of redemption. Christ knew the absolute necessity for His going to the cross.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up (John 3:14).

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things.. . .and be killed, and be raised again the third day (Matt. 16:2 1).

Every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices; wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer (Heb. 8:3).

Calvary was Christ's appointed hour. "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour" (John 12:27). On several occasions previous to Gethsemane men tried to kill Him but could not. Men tried to arrest Him, but it came to nothing. Until that hour He was miraculously protected. But when His appointed hour came, nothing could prevent His death. For the death of Christ is the crisis of all history and of all the universe. For this purpose Christ came. To the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection He said:

"How dull you are!" . . . "How slow to believe all that the prophets said! Was the Messiah not bound to suffer thus before entering upon his glory?" (Luke 24:25, 26, N.E.B.).

The death and resurrection of Christ is the central core of the gospel. This was how the apostles proclaimed it. "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified," said Paul (1 Cor. 2:2).

Following his usual practice Paul went to their meetings; and for the next three Sabbaths he argued with them, quoting texts of Scripture which he expounded and applied to show that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:2, 3, N.E.B.).

Gather up the strongest affirmative statements regarding the atonement made by Christ for the sins of the world. Show the necessity for this atonement .—Evangelism, p. 187.

Why then did Jesus die? The Word of God leaves no doubt about it:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3). In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7). Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

The key figure in this universal drama is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The most shocking thing is that to rescue and redeem the lost, Christ had to suffer the most violent death—death by crucifixion. The magnitude of the sacrifice reveals the magnitude of the problem. How does the sacrifice of Christ provide the complete answer to sin? Here there can be no compromise, no ignoring of sin. There are two planes on which God may deal with sin, two planes on which He may seek to come to grips with the problem: one is on the plane of law and punishment; the other is on the plane of grace and redemption. Since God is just, true to His law, how can He avoid executing the penalty of death on all sinners? Since God is love and mercy, how can He execute the wages of sin upon His children?

God's Problem With Sin

Sin is first of all a problem for God. Sin is the most tragic reality that ever invaded His domain. Sin alone has wrought alienation, rebellion, suffering, and death in a once-sinless universe. Sin is the mortal enemy of every creature who becomes involved in it. In the conflict between God and sin, God lost a third of the angels and millions of human beings on the earth, all of them His creatures and His children. Not one human being has escaped sin. Few have escaped death.

It is not possible for God to dismiss sin, to forget it or assign it to oblivion. An absolute holy and righteous God must react to sin. God must either judge sin and banish it or He must tolerate it and therefore side with it. No divine government would be possible unless God dealt with sin. Otherwise His law would be overthrown. Men and devils would be emboldened in rebellion.

Fundamentally, the question at issue is: namely, whether there is or is not a divine reaction against sin, not limited to conscience, or to the purely spiritual world . . ,  but pervading the world of reality in all its dimensions.—JAMES DENNEY, The Christian Doctrine of Reconciliation (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1918).

What are the moral necessities that are involved in the atonement wrought out by Christ on the cross? What is it that God must accomplish by such a divine tragedy? God as Father does not and will not relinquish His lost children to their fate without a supreme effort to reconcile them to God and to judge sin to its final destruction. And in so doing He must reveal and vindicate His own character before the universe.

Redemption was not merely a triumph for Jesus, but a tragedy, the most awful if also the most glorious moment in the history of man; and if we lose the sense of this, we lose the key to any doctrine of reconciliation which can appeal to the New Testament.—Ibid., p. 263.

The sacrifice of the Son of God as the divine solution to the sin problem is, first of all, the account that God gives of His character of righteous love. Paul declares that "God designed him [Christ] to be the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death. . . . God meant by this to demonstrate his justice" (Rom. 3:25, N.E.B.). John declared that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16).

Consequently, a true interpretation of Calvary must reveal the moral character of God in His attributes of love and justice. Since God's love is the basic motive of His very being, the saving operation in Christ must be an expression of that love. In Christ the Godhead reveals the divine capacity for love, equal to anything that might occur in the universe. God is responsible for His creatures even as a Father is responsible for his children. He therefore has the moral right to assume the penalty for their sinfulness, to suffer for and with His children.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. . . . As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep (chap. 10:11-15).

In the last resort, nothing reconciles but love, and what the soul, which has been alienated from God by sin and is suffering under the divine reaction against it, needs is the manifestation of a love which can assure it, that neither the sin itself, nor the soul's condemnation, . . . nor even the divine reaction against it, culminating in death, is the last reality in the universe; the last reality is rather love itself, making our sin its own in all its reality, . . .  and loving us to the end through it, and in spite of it. Reconciliation is achieved when such a love is manifested, and when, in spite of guilt, distrust, and fear, it wins the confidence of the sinful.—Ibid., p. 218.

People often want to consider the cross only from the viewpoint of God's love. They tend to forget the moral demand that it is also a revelation of God's justice. When we have spoken of the sacrifice of Christ as a revelation only of God's love, have we not done despite to the moral character of God?

A naked demonstration of suffering or dying on a cross is not necessarily redemptive. On the contrary, it can create hostility. Deliberately to sacrifice one's life merely as a demonstration has no saving dynamic in it. The cross is more than a demonstration of love. For God to permit His Son to be crucified simply as a demonstration of love does not explain why the sacrifice of Christ is really necessary. Christ could have come to earth and lived for thousands of years, loving and healing people and proclaiming the love of God, as effectively as dying on a cross. If the value of the cross is simply to secure from the sinner a right response, then why is sin so deadly as to require such a sacrifice? Sin is not evil simply because men feel bad about it. Most of them do not. As a naked demonstration the cross can benefit only those who are old enough and intelligent enough to be moved by it.

God's account of Himself, of His way with man, and of the purpose He infuses into history, His account of His will . . . is in Christ and His Cross, or it is nowhere. The Cross of Christ . . .  is God's self-justification in such a world. . . . The Cross meant more change in God than in man. It was His own act of changing judgment into mercy, His own miracle. And its first concern was His holy love, not ours.—P. T. FORSYTH, The Justification of God (London: Independent Press Ltd., Memorial Hall, E.C. 4, 1957), p. 37.

By redemption what do we mean? . . . We mean rescue from evil by a God whose manner of it is moral . . . , the act of a holy God doing justice to righteousness at any cost to Himself . . ., the moral adjustment of man and God in one holy, loving, mighty, final and eternal act.—Ibid., p. 69.

The moral necessity for the sacrifice of the Son of God is based not only on God's love but also on His righteousness. Why was such a terrible price exacted from the Son of God? Who demanded it? Wherein did the moral necessity reside? Could not God have saved man without the death of His Son? If He could, then why was His death necessary at all? Paul declares the cross to be the revelation of God's justice, in order that He Himself might be just.

God designed him [Christ] to be the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death, effective through faith. God meant by this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had overlooked the sins of the past—to demonstrate his justice now in the present, showing that he is himself just and also justifies any man who puts his faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:25, 26, N.E.B.).

Exactly what does Paul mean? What are these sins of the past to which Paul refers? When did God ever overlook sin? During Old Testament times God's justice had been obscured and often misunderstood because no adequate judgment had been executed on sin for four thousand years. In the ages prior to the coming of Christ, God accepted and forgave repentant men as they offered animal sacrifices. Paul indicates in this passage that God had evidently freely forgiven without a just basis. Until the cross, God had not adequately dealt with sin. The sacrifice of animals never did bear or take away sin, or make an adequate atonement. (See Heb. 10:3, 4.) Hence if God's reaction to sin is revealed simply by the sacrificing of animals, then He would not be a righteous God. For justice must deal adequately with sin. Sin cannot be bypassed, certainly not by God.

Consequently, this brought the moral character and government of God under suspicion of injustice, of leniency with sin. God cannot remain under such suspicions as these. His righteous character must not remain under a cloud. God Himself must be declared just and righteous. The text declares that God set forth His Son as a propitiation in order at last to demonstrate that justice.

The sacrifice of Christ, then, first meets necessities within the Godhead itself. That has priority. Without meeting these divine necessities, salvation could not come to the sinner. Justice must first of all be done to the divine order.

Through disobedience Adam fell. The law of God had been broken. The divine government had been dishonored, and justice demanded that the penalty of transgression be paid. . . . He [Christ] pledged Himself to accomplish our full salvation in a way satisfactory to the demands of God's justice, and consistent with the exalted holiness of His law. . . . What right had Christ to take the captives out of the enemy's hands?—The right of having made a sacrifice that satisfies the principles of justice by which the kingdom of heaven is governed. . . . . On the cross of Calvary He paid the redemption price of the race. And thus He gained the right to take the captives from the grasp of the great deceiver.—Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 308, 309.

Everything turns, not on Christ's life having been taken from Him but on His laying down His life voluntarily, of His own will to die for a lost race. The death even of the Son of God could have no saving power if the value was no more than that of a martyr's death. The sacrifice of Christ is a divine act, not simply a human atrocity. It was an act of redemption by the Godhead. It was God's "unspeakable gift," a manifestation of God's love and grace.

The cross is also a divine expression of judgment on sin. Righteousness, love, and judgment are forever inseparable. God must execute judgment on all sinners or He must assume it Himself. The members of the Godhead chose the latter, honoring the law while justifying the guilty. The law of God is honored either by complete obedience of man or by an adequate judgment on the violation of it; in this way is manifested the righteousness of God in the midst of man's sinfulness. Christ's death confessed God's righteousness. Only a member of the Godhead could do this, and this alone sets forth a true judgment on sin before the universe. The necessity for Christ's death lies in the righteousness of God rather than in the radical nature of man's rebellion. It is not death by martyrdom or murder that atones, but death as an expression of God's judgment on evil. The cross is both the redemption of sinful man and the judgment of God. For God and the universe there must either be an adequate judgment on sin or an end to righteousness. Both cannot exist in the same universe. There is no salvation or justification for sinful man except by the justification of God. Never is man so right with God as when, with broken heart, he confesses as righteous the judgment of God on sin at the cross, which rightly belongs to him as a sinner. Man's justification is grounded in divine justification.

This was a salvation in which God first justified Himself, hallowed His name, and made His eternal purpose good in those heavenly places which rule earthly things. His holy love is not there just as the instrument of man's salvation, but man's salvation is there to the glory of God's holy love. Man is only saved by God's holiness, and not from it, not in spite of it. He is saved by the tragic action of a holy God, by the honor done by God in Christ to His own holy name and purpose. . . . We should be more secure of man's salvation if we sought first God's righteousness. —F0RSYTH, op. cit., p. 124.

The atonement wrought out by Christ upon the cross is vindication of a righteous God, vindication of the moral law of God, in a moral universe. Because this is true, believers are transformed. The atonement can never be some mechanical transaction that automatically saves men. It must actually win men to God, to His mind and will, and to a righteousness by which the universe is governed.

The atonement of Christ is not a mere skillful way to have our sins pardoned; it is a divine remedy for the cure of transgression and the restoration of spiritual health. It is the Heaven-ordained means by which the righteousness of Christ may be not only upon us but in our hearts and characters.—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, vol. 6, p. 1074.

The cross met divine moral issues. Before a watching universe God revealed Himself as just and loving in dealing with the sin problem. All God's dealings were shown to be consistent with His righteous character. God judged sin to its ultimate end. In the gift of His Son, He upheld His righteous love. At the same time He guaranteed sin's final eradication, the eternal security of His throne and His creatures in all the universe.

Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die (John 12:31-33).

Through him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood upon the cross—to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through him alone (Col. 1:20, N.E.B.).

When upon the cross He cried out, "It is finished," He addressed the Father. The compact had been fully carried out. Now He declares, "Father, it is finished. I have done Thy will, O my God. I have completed the work of redemption. If Thy justice is satisfied, 'I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am.' "The voice of God is heard proclaiming that justice is satisfied.—The Desire of Ages, p. 834.

Through Christ's redeeming work the government of God stands justified.—Ibid., p. 26.

It was the righteousness of God to maintain His law by inflicting the penalty. This was the only way in which the law could be maintained, and pronounced holy, and just, and good. It was the only way by which sin could be made to appear exceeding sinful, and the honor and majesty of divine authority be maintained. The law of God's government was to be magnified by the death of God's only-begotten Son.—Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 301, 302.

How does the sacrifice of Christ effect all this? The justifying of God is not so much in the fact that Christ died as in the nature of that death. Sin is an intruder, the mortal enemy of God and all created beings. Sin threatened the security of the universe, including the government of God. God and sin are mutually exclusive. As the moral Ruler of the universe God is mortally bound to take action against it. Sin can never be banished unless God does it Himself. Man will not do it. Satan will not, for he began it. The sin dynamic can be met only by the divine dynamic of the cross.

By the very nature of His character, God has only certain ways of dealing with sin. He cannot use force and still hold the universe together. Yet He must condemn it, judge it, and establish the right to eradicate it.

At the cross all members of the Godhead are united in their judgment on sin, for "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). That judgment did cost God His beloved Son. The Godhead alone could reveal that judgment. No creature could. When a sinner suffers the penalty for his sin, that is his due. At the cross the Godhead assumed their own judgment on sin.

Once the issue is joined, there can be no compromise. The terrible agony and the experience of separation at the cross must not be ignored or dismissed. The death of Christ was unique. Christ's cry of dereliction cannot be explained by human wisdom. Sin can only be forgiven by an act of God that passes judgment on it at the same time. God can maintain His government and His law only as sin is rightly condemned and banished. The cross revealed this righteous judgment before all the universe.

Ellen White writes quite to the point, and it is well that we consider her interpretation of Christ's agony in Gethsemane and on the cross:

Christ was now standing in a different attitude from that in which He had ever stood before. . . . As the substitute and surety for sinful man, Christ was suffering under divine justice. He saw what justice meant. . . . As Christ felt His unity with the Father broken up He feared that in His human nature He would be unable to endure the coming conflict with the powers of darkness. . . . Christ's soul was filled with dread of separation from God.—The Desire of Ages, pp. 686, 687.

The withdrawal of the divine countenance from the Saviour in this hour of supreme anguish pierced His heart with a sorrow that can never be fully understood by man. So great was this agony that His physical pain was hardly felt. . . . The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror. . . . He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal .—Ibid., p. 753.

He, the Sin bearer, endures the wrath of divine justice, and for thy sake becomes sin itself.—Ibid., p. 756.

The cross involves a crisis within the Godhead. But in this action there is no rupture within the Godhead. The unity of the Trinity remains unbroken. All the agony of separation that Christ expressed in those terrible words "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is experienced within the Godhead.

While loving the sinner and His other creatures throughout the universe with an everlasting love, God must never leave the impression that love means leniency with sin. God's love spoken of in John 3:16 must not be regarded as an incentive to take sin lightly. At the cross neither the salvation of the lost nor the righteousness of God is ignored. Both love and justice are real in God. Only a sentimental belief in God's love and a superficial grasp of it will make men no longer indignant about sin. God would not be more loving if He lightly dismissed sin. He would no longer be the righteous God. He could no longer be trusted.

Grace is free but not easy. . . . This Cross became not only a rescue from a strait, but the principle and measure of the whole world. The Lord of the Cross is the final trustee of universal judgment.—F0RSYTH, op. cit., pp. 54, 55.

If God had failed to pass a righteous judgment on sin, would not man then conclude that God approves it? If sin or disobedience to the law of God can be passed over without an adequate judgment, then would not the casting out of Satan from heaven along with a third of the angels appear far too strict, and the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden far too severe?

If sin is pardoned without a righteous judgment from God, then has not God modified His actions since the banishment of Satan and his angels from heaven? If the law of God can be abrogated after all these years, is it not apparent that the law was too demanding in the first place and that obedience should never have been required? If man's sinfulness can now nullify the obligation to obey His commandments, then it is God who must adjust Himself to the will of His creatures and not vice versa. Obviously, sin would no longer be sufficiently serious as to merit such a death for the Son of God. If sin can be pardoned without a judgment from God, then death is no longer the wages of sin, and God does clear the guilty.

So the cross is the marvelous revelation of the loving and righteous character of God. It is God's own answer to the sin problem. It is God's bearing His own judgment on sin rather than His executing it upon sinners. All creatures are called upon to take their stand with Christ in His righteous life, His law, and in His righteous judgment on sin. When men do that, sin can never rise again. The sin problem has been resolved. The throne of God is eternally secure.

At Issue Index   Salvation Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next