We now reach a dividing line that separates two opposite flowing theologies. These both center on who Jesus is AND how he saves man. The dividing line is between the necessity, or not, of a present Christ.
When we look at most of Christendom’s theology concerning the crucifixion and resurrection we see that it comes from their understanding of the writings ascribed to Paul. With that understanding comes the concept of salvation I quoted in post # 2 of this series, which is based entirely on Jesus’ crucifixion:
Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.
You will note that this concept of salvation is based on the power of death. Contrast that with Jesus’ statement, “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I am come that you might have life and that more abundantly.” This statement comes in the context of the shepherd who speaks to his sheep and the sheep hear his voice and follow.
The ‘Jesus plus nothing’ salvation does not need a present Christ. Jesus did his work by dying on the cross, and he can now exit the scene only to reappear at the end (finale) of the world termed the ‘second coming’. The ‘shepherd’ salvation depends upon a shepherd actively present, functionally present. Under an absentee shepherd, the sheep scatter and are consumed by the wolf. But the end (goal) of the age has arrived, the shepherd is present, and dwells in and among his sheep.
I want to pull in references from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as those from the book of John that concern Jesus’ work. The parable of the wicked husbandmen is a statement of the situation Jesus found himself in and provides us clues about his view of what he came to accomplish:
There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. (Matt. 21:33-39)
The death of the son is not the redemption of the wicked husbandmen. Their chance of redemption lay in “reverencing” the son of the householder. In their disregard of the owner’s servants and the owner’s son they displayed their disregard for the owner of the vineyard. They were punished accordingly. The sending of the son was the proof of the husbandmen. The householder might as well have stated, “They will regard the son as they regard me.” They did.
A crucial point in the ‘Jesus-plus-nothing’ statement is the concept of forgiveness that it portrays. Biblical translators use one of two words when they translate this concept into English: remission or forgiveness. I will define those words in a moment. But first lets look at some of these texts.
At the last supper with his disciples, Jesus stated:
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt. 26:28)
John the Baptist’s work, a precursor to Jesus’ work, was to
preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4)
What does all this have to say concerning the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion? Specifically at issue here is the question, “Did Jesus’ death on the cross make salvation possible?” Much of the Church’s theology says, “Yes” and they quote Hebrews “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (see Heb. 9:22) And they make “forgiveness” equivalent with “pardon.” Many translations use the word, “remission” instead of “forgiveness in this text. Remission has to do with release from bondage or imprisonment. Forgiveness has to do with removal of the cause of offense. Neither of these words are a good fit with ‘pardon’.
The Hebrews 9:22 text refers to the rituals under the Mosaic Law. When the law refers to the blood of the sacrifice, it is referring to the life of the sacrificed animal. We can then understand that statement as, “without the pouring forth of life, there is no release from bondage or imprisonment.”
Can we say that the crucifixion was a pouring forth of life? No, that happened when life triumphed over death. Under the Law, man did not have the life of the sacrificial animal, only its death. Those animals “gave” their death, not their life to the participants in the rituals of the Law. The Israelites were not to drink the blood of the sacrifices, for the blood was the life of the animal and belonged to God. Under Christ, we have his life. He told the Jews, “except you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, you have no life in you.” (See John 6:53) He then told the disciples, “The flesh profits nothing, it is the breath that gives life. The words I am speaking to you, these are breath, these are life.” (See John 6:63) He gives life, his life, to all who will walk in his light, as I have discussed in previous posts. The blood of the sacrificial lamb under the law was a shadow of the life of Christ, which alone has the power to cleanse the soul of dead works that we may serve the living God. This life is our Passover.
Was the crucifixion necessary for forgiveness of sin, as asserted by so much of Christendom? No, Jesus demonstrated his power to forgive before the crucifixion.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he explained to them the events surrounding his crucifixion and resurrection.
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: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:45-47)
Man’s greatest offense before God is death. We were created to be living beings, but when we walk contrary to the light of Christ that has enlightened us, we die. If I am dead, more death is not going to alleviate my condition. If I am dead, my “salvation” is effected only by being made alive again. “The hour is come and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the son and those who will hear shall live” i.e. come up out of their graves, living beings. (See Ezekiel 37:11-14 and John 5:24-25) The only way to repent of being dead is to become alive, which is beyond the capability of mankind. We can be sorry for being dead, we can be remorseful for being dead, but we can’t repent for being dead. We can turn a full 360 degrees, but we can only repent in the presence of an outside offer of life! That is why repentance from death and remission of death is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ authority which rests entirely on his life. This demands a present, functional Christ who is actively involved in every step of salvation and subsequent life.
So what did Jesus accomplish by his death on the cross?
I must discuss the crucifixion and the resurrection as an inseparable whole. I can’t parcel them out as an anatomist would dissect an object of study. Let’s start by looking at Jesus’ trial before the crucifixion. He told Pilate,
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. (John 18:37)
A large component of that “truth” is that the power of life, that life that was breathed into man in the beginning that made them living beings, is greater than the power of death. Jesus, as the writer of John indicated, is the Word become flesh, in whom is the life that is the light of mankind. He made man living beings in the beginning. As he hung on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In his death and resurrection, he encountered spiritual death, Satan’s greatest weapon, and overcame it. “All power in heaven and earth is given me,” said the resurrected Jesus. The arch enemy of our souls is defeated and holds no power over all who walk in the presence of the eternal shepherd. We encounter this power, we live by this power when we love and obey the light of Christ within us.
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the…[life] of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all…[death]. (1 John 1:5-7)