Lesson 3 – Jesus Christ, the Mediator

Survey Studies in Reformed Theology

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010

Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.

Objective Soteriology: Lesson 3 – Jesus Christ, the Mediator
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1998, 2010

Lesson Index
The Need for a Mediator
Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King (includes notes on the Baptism of Jesus)
The Natures of Jesus Christ (humanity and divinity)
The Hypostatic Union
The States of Jesus Christ
The Humiliation of Jesus Christ (interpretations of “He descended into hell”)
The Exaltation of Jesus Christ
The Work of Jesus Christ
The Active and Passive Obedience of Jesus Christ
The Timelessness of the Work of Christ

Westminster Confession of Faith VIII
Chapter VIII. Of Christ the Mediator
I. It pleased God, in his eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of his church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom he did from all eternity give a people, to be his seed, and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.

II. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.

III. The Lord Jesus, in his human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, above measure, having in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell; to the end that, being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace and truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator, and surety. Which office he took not unto himself, but was thereunto called by his Father, who put all power and judgment into his hand, and gave him commandment to execute the same.

IV. This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he might discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died, was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered, with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession, and shall return, to judge men and angels, at the end of the world.

V. The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience, and sacrifice of himself, which he, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him.

VI. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever.

VII. Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature.

VIII. To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.

The Need for a Mediator
We fallen humans need a mediator between ourselves and God. We need not only an intercessor, but also one to represent us judicially before the Judge of all men. As we have already demonstrated, the human race became corrupt with the guilt of Adam and all are born with sin-bound souls. This moral offense separates all people from God and requires reconciliation on the grounds of the atonement of the promised Messiah under the Covenant of Grace. Jesus Christ is revealed in Scripture as that Mediator between God and man.

Each period of redemptive history had mediators of the covenant to represent that one true Mediator who alone could establish connection between a fallen race and its offended Creator. The human mediators were mere administrators of the covenant. The divine mediator, Jesus Christ, is not only an administrator but the author of and a party to the covenant.

The work of Christ as Mediator is divided into the three offices attributed to him: Prophet, Priest and King. While many previously had alluded to the offices of Christ, John Calvin appears to be the first to distinguish these three offices particularly (Institutes Book 2, section 15). This model for organizing the biblical data about Christ has withstood the test of time and critical analysis.

Calvin uses the powerful tool of exegesis to support each of the offices of Christ and bases the arrangement upon the term “Christ”. The word “Christ” is from the New Testament Greek term christos which means “anointed”. It translates the Hebrew word Mashiakh or “Messiah”, which also means one who is “anointed” or “set aside for special office”. In the revealed order of God’s law, prophets, priests and kings were all anointed to office. Sometimes it was done by ceremonies common to contemporary culture. At other times they were set aside by simple declaration by one in authority to appoint them to their office.

Jesus as Prophet
The work of a prophet is to proclaim God’s truth. He is not primarily one who predicts future events as the word is commonly used today. He is first of all one who declares (as superintended by the Holy Spirit) what God has made known to him by special revelation.

Before man’s fall the prophetic work was limited only to the technical sense in which Adam spoke to Eve conveying to her what God had said to him. Adam communed directly with God and was able to “think God’s thoughts after him”. There was no fallen nature, no distortion of general revelation due to a fallen soul. Adam and Eve could both properly interpret creation, conscience and providence and discern the revealed truth in each. It is likely that they were both able to hear God directly speaking to them by special revelation.

After the fall, and as the human race expanded, there arose a need for certain men to be called apart to serve as God’s spokesmen. The fallen mind was corrupted from God’s truth and no longer able to discern an uncorrupted message from general revelation.

Moses is the first to actually be called a prophet. Yet many before him delivered God’s message to others as spokesmen. The work of prophet preceded the title of the office.

Moses delivered God’s directive as to how men were to identify the true prophet and distinguish him from false prophets.

God said through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18, “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. (19) And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require {it} of him. (20) But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. (21) And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ (22) When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

The true prophet speaks for God supernaturally. Fallible men are rendered infallible as they carried out that office. The word of the prophet is either confirmed or exposed as false by what comes to pass. His word, since it is the word of God, must be consistent with other revealed truth.

As one duly appointed as a prophet, Jesus spoke and acted to restore our understanding of truth as it exists in the mind of God. He is the ultimate true prophet as described in Deuteronomy 18. He is the eternal Logos, the word of God (John 1:1,14). He was not a mere messenger of truth. Jesus was the truth incarnate. He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life.”

Since Jesus is the truth, and our greatest source of truth, he is rightly called a prophet. The Larger Catechism Question 43 asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a prophet?” It answers, “Christ executes the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and Word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.”

Jesus is specifically called a prophet in several places in Scripture. Stephen in his defense before the council said about Jesus, “This is the Moses who said to the sons of Israel, ‘God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren.’ ” (Acts 7:37)

The author of Hebrews also identified Jesus as a prophet saying in Hebrews 1:1-2, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in {His} Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”

Since the special revelation of God was complete in the Scriptures at the end of the apostolic era we would not expect any continuing office of prophet. There is no process given in the pastoral epistles of the New Testament to direct the church in recognizing anyone as being called to the prophetic office. The Bible is called God’s prophetic word for us (2 Peter 1:19). The Holy Spirit as sent to us by Christ continues to administer truth from that word to the redeemed. Jesus said in John 16:13, “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth”

Jesus as Priest
The work of priest is that of establishing reconciliation between God and fallen man by way of atonement. Before the fall there was no need for a priest since reconciliation was not necessary. Adam was created in true holiness and was not separated from God by any offenses which would require atonement. Expiation was a meaningless concept relating to man’s standing before a Holy God.

After the fall of man there was a need for priestly work. Man could no longer approach a Holy God but was an offense to him. Habakkuk 1:13 says of God, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and thou canst not look on wickedness with favor…”

To show that fallen man’s sin and guilt could be removed by the provision of God, a sacrificial system was established to prefigure the promised atonement of Jesus Christ. Since the truth of Christ’s work was made known progressively the early system was very simple and immediate. The head of each family appears to have acted as priestly mediator between God and his family. The examples of Job and the patriarchs confirm this notion. As nations grew some heads of tribes emerged as representing his people before God as priests. Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis 14:18 as one of a different order of priest. He more directly revealed the representative priesthood of Christ for his people including all families and races. Melchizedek is the first person to be actually called a priest, though the work of making sacrifices based upon trust (faith) in God’s promise of redemption appears to have extended all the way from the time of the expulsion from Eden.

Under Moses the work of priesthood was narrowed to the family of Aaron. This became a hereditary office to which men were to be anointed as they reached the required age. This Levitical system of priests continued until the time of Christ and more specifically represented the actual fulfillment of the promise of God.

All human priests were also fallen sinners and needed atonement as well as did those they represented. Their office was only typical and symbolic. The mortality of men required that the office be passed on in each generation. Hebrews 5:1 “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; (2) he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; (3) and because of it he is obligated to offer {sacrifices} for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. (4) And no one takes the honor to himself, but {receives it} when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.”

The earthly priests were not able to present the sacrifice on their own merits and served only as types of the true priest who was yet to come.

Hebrews 8:3 “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this {high priest} also have something to offer.”

Hebrews 8:5 “who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned {by God} when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.’ ”

Only Jesus, the perfect man and God incarnate, could be the true priest prefigured by the rest. He alone brings the perfect sacrifice of his own life as the perfect Lamb of God.

His anointing to the priesthood was by divine appointment instead of by heredity. In this Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (compare Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6 and Hebrews 7:17 where Jesus is directly identified with this priesthood).

There is also strong evidence that the baptism of Jesus by John was his official outward appointment to the office of priest according to the requirements of the law.

John’s baptisms of the Jews who came to him were baptisms of repentance. The washing of water followed the levitical practice of sprinkling objects and people to represent their being cleansed from the pollution of sin and its guilt. When the priests and levites sent men to examine what John was doing (John 1:19-27) they did not ask him “what” he was doing. Baptisms were not a new rite. The levitical purifications were well known to them. They only wanted to know why he was doing it.

John was qualified to administer the priestly sprinklings. His father Zacharias and his mother Elizabeth were of the priestly tribe of Levi (Luke 1:5). His father was of the division of Abijah, one of the families charged with the tabernacle and later temple service (1 Chronicles 24:10). As priests, John’s ancestors were all “baptizers” or “baptists”. As firstborn he would be ordained to take his father’s place. He would be purified for that office by being baptized, (sprinkled is the meaning of the Hebrew term), with water (Numbers 8:7). Since he was six months older than Jesus, who was then 30 (Luke 3:23), he was able to enter into the priestly service before Jesus (Numbers 4:3). John’s baptisms were to prepare the way of the one coming after him who would be the promised Messiah (Isaiah 40:3, John 1:6-18).

The Jewish investigators found nothing wrong with what John was doing. They found that no new methods were being introduced by John. They had no grounds for complaint. Of course if he had been immersing them this would have been a deviation from the levitical practices in the law and would have given them the grounds they needed to make accusations against John.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized (Matthew 3:13-14) John did not understand. He felt unworthy to perform a levitical symbol for repentance and purification upon one who knew no sin, whose sandals he was unworthy to lose. But that is not why Jesus had come to him. There was a different purpose altogether in the baptism of Jesus.

Jesus explained (Matthew 3:15) that John should baptize him to “fulfill all righteousness”. Righteousness is always defined in terms of keeping God’s law. Deuteronomy 6:25 “it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.”

But what law would be fulfilled by baptism by a priest of one who was about to enter into a public ministry that included exercising authority in correcting the erring priests at the temple? Jesus was, by this baptism, to be set aside for his priestly work after the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus met the qualifications of the law. First he was called of God by direct appointment as announced by prophets and angels. He clarified his calling in his own words, by miracles attesting the Father’s approval and by the words of the writers of the New Testament books that followed over the next few years.

Second he was 30 years old. This was required of all who enter the priesthood. We know his age from Luke 3:23 where we have one of the two times an exact age of Jesus is stated. This is the only time it related to his actual ministry. The other time was when he was only a child of twelve years old. God in his providence had this particular age preserved by Luke so that no one would doubt Jesus’ compliance with the law of the priesthood.

Finally, Jesus had to be ordained by a legally recognized priest. John was qualified as a priest being of the family charged with the temple service by God.

The law specified the method of priestly ordination. Numbers 8:7 “and thus you shall do to them, for their cleansing, sprinkle purifying water on them …”

When Jesus was asked by what authority he cast the money-changers out of the temple he alluded to the grounds for his priestly authority. In Matthew 21:23 it says, “when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching and said, ‘ By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?'”

The answer Jesus gave follows in verse 25. He directed them to the baptism of John which they themselves had confirmed by investigation. “The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?”

The Pharisees were left with no grounds for further complaint. The baptism of John affirmed Jesus’ rightful priestly authority.

When John heard the reason Jesus gave for wanting to be baptized he made no further objection. He understood that it was to conform to something in the Law of God. It could be nothing else than the well known baptism of the priests into service.

After the baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit manifested himself as descending upon Jesus in a manner that was “dove-like”. Then a voice from heaven spoke further confirming the Father’s approval of this act of John which became the outward and earthly foundation for the priestly work of Jesus.

The Bible presents Jesus as that toward which all previous priesthoods point. His priesthood was superior and eternal (Hebrews 7:26-28). Earthly priesthoods were mere shadows of that of the Messiah (Hebrews 8:1-6). He served a greater more perfect temple as the great high priest (Hebrews 9:11-12). And the sacrifice he brought was not of animals but his own perfect blood offered once for all to secure an eternal redemption. He made the payment of sin in full, once for all and intercedes for us before the Father (Romans 8:34).

A tragic error of the modern church is to continue to call its ministers priests. The Romanist churches continue that practice because in the mass the priests actually make a sacrifice of the person of Christ and they impose themselves as necessary mediators between believers and God. The New Testament never calls the ministers of the apostolic church priests. The post-resurrection Scriptures know and recognize only one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

Jesus as King
Before the fall of Adam, when there was just one couple on earth, a person might think there was no need for the formal office of a king. But it would be wrong to assume that the Creator’s sovereignty as King over all things was not revealed in the commanded work of man at that time. Adam ruled in Eden as God’s appointed head. It was his duty to exercise representative authority over all creation, to have dominion over all things, and to subdue creation to the purposes of its Maker.

After the fall Adam’s original headship was in a corrupted state. By violating God’s law he acted against his duty of subduing creation to the authority of the Creator. Man became a usurper of God’s unique station. Adam and Eve had used the material world selfishly, not as the Creator intended it. Mankind, in Adam, revolted and honored the thing made over the One who made it.

In this sense a false kingdom arose. One where creatures are perceived as captains of their own souls. Adam and Eve imagined they could divorce their dominion over creation from the Creator himself. They imagine that they, not God, could determine their future. They evaluated the rightness or wrongness of things, not by what would most please the Lord of Creation, but by what would most please themselves.

Of course God did not really lose his absolute Kingship in the fall of Satan or in the fall of man. It was only the display of his Sovereignty and the creature’s perception of it that was for a time diminished. The kingdom of Satan, which fallen humans are said to serve, is not a real reign, but a deception. Satan and sinners are always under the direct lordship of the Sovereign God. Neither the Devil, nor his followers, are able to act in any way aside from the direct permission of the True God who directs all things for his own glory and purpose. (see this syllabus Unit Two, Theology Proper, chapter 4 on the Decrees of God).

God’s plan to restore his truth by progressive revelation included a restoration of the display of his Sovereign Kingship. Man continued to have the duty of representing God’s dominion by his use of other created things. As the race expanded, human rulers organized it into tribes and nations. The establishment of civil and ecclesiastical rulers carried the stamp of the Creator’s own authority. As the Apostle Paul later explained in Romans 13:1-4, “(1) Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (2) Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (3) For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; (4) for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”

In time God elevated David to kingship over Israel to represent the divine headship over his people. Jesus was born into the line of David and is specifically said to fulfill what all other kingships typified.

The work of a king, or any civil leader, is to represent God’s Reign and to preserve divine order in the world. He is to rule the state within the boundaries of the revealed word of God.

Moses explained that one day God would display his Lordship by the raising up of an earthly king over his people. Deuteronomy 17:15 “…you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses…”

Then Moses told how the king would rule not by his own power or standards, but according to the revealed principles of God. Deuteronomy 17 “(18) Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. (19) And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, (20) that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.”

Jesus is the ultimate revealing of the Kingship of God over all of his creation. This fulfillment by God’s Messiah was promised in the Old Testament Scriptures and produced an expectation among God’s faithful.

Numbers 24:17 “… a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise form Israel.”

2 Samuel 7:16 speaks of God’s Covenant with King David, “and your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 says of Messiah, “the government will rest on His shoulders” and “…there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.”

Zechariah 9:9 “…behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This promise of Zechariah was directly fulfilled in the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The king had come into his kingdom in a special way far exceeding any previous revelations of the Sovereign rule of God over his universe and people (John 12:15).

The Gospels record the many teachings of Jesus about the establishment of His kingdom. Mark 1 says, “(14) And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, (15) and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The kingdom was the predominant theme in the teachings of Christ. His coming was announced as the presence of God’s Kingdom by John the baptist. The sermons of Jesus, his warnings to the Jews, his parables, and his commissioning of his followers all centered on the kingdom message. Even his post resurrection ministry to his followers was of things concerning the Kingdom of God. Acts 1:3 “To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over {a period of} forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.”

The kingship of Christ is specially manifested in his headship over the church where we seek his leading by his word and spirit under the direction of the officers of the church which his word establishes. (Ephesians 4:15, Colossians 1:18, 2:19)

The nature of the kingdom established by Christ will be taken up in later chapters. For now it is important to note that the rule of Christ as King over his kingdom was not promised as a material, or earthly reign as the Pharisees in the time of Jesus expected. It is promised as a greater reign than mere outward power, restraint of evil, and material abundance. It is a spiritual reign that satisfies the whole man in ways that mere outward things can not. Peace is not attained merely by the removal of enemies or the end of suffering. It is found in the freedom of the soul from agony, fear, and anger in the presence of enemies and suffering.

John Calvin expressed this spiritual nature of Christ’s reign in this way, “the strength and utility of the kingdom of Christ cannot, as we have said, be fully perceived, without recognizing it as spiritual. … does not consist in external advantages — such as leading a joyful and tranquil life, abounding in wealth, being secure against all injury, and having an affluence of delights, such as the flesh is wont to long for” (Institutes 2:15 where Calvin cites for his evidence Luke 17:21,22 and Romans 14:17).

The dominion of Jesus assures us that this world is not operating on its own. God is not just a remote observer or detached power. He lovingly and sovereignly rules over all things, moving them toward his decreed ends, and specially operates as Head of his Church and Lord of his people.

Our Lord also calls us to our daily kingdom work. This not only includes our occupations or vocations in the church. It also embraces our work in our families, our entertainments, our purchases, our socializing, our citizenship, our education … all things must increasingly declare the kingship of our Sovereign God and strive to establish the message of his dominion through Christ over all he has made.

The Natures of Jesus Christ
One of the great issues that faced the church in its first centuries was the struggle to understand the person and natures of Jesus Christ. Scripture presents all the details needed to formulate this doctrine. The understanding of how it all fits together is far beyond anything in our experience or comprehension. For this reason men have attempted to propose structures easier to grasp. In doing so, ideas were introduced that are not found in Scripture, but come from our own temporal and finite knowledge.

Various proposals were debated and, where they were found wanting for biblical evidence, were rejected. The true matter was stated in growing stages of clarity by the early ecumenical creeds.

The modern form of the Nicene Creed was completed by the additions of 569 AD at the council in Toledo, Spain. Its first form was adopted in 325 at the council in Nice, Bithynia. It answered the Arians who denied the true divinity of Jesus. The matter adopted then concerned the consubstantial divinity of Christ “being of one substance with the Father …”. The divinity of the person of the Holy Spirit was added in Constantinople by the second great council in 381 AD. The final form of Toledo had to do with the Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son. This last form is rejected by the Eastern (Greek) churches.

The Nestorians divided Jesus Christ into two persons. This was condemned in 431 by the council of Ephesus. The Eutychians united the natures into but one thereby denying the reality of a true divinity and true humanity in Jesus. This was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The Humanity of Jesus Christ
Scripture is very clear in establishing that Jesus had a real and complete human nature. All the attributes of created humanity were present in him. The gospel record of his life and references to him in the epistles confirm that he had a true body that needed food, drink, and sleep. As to this human nature: it had a physical beginning when he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. He developed physically and in understanding as he matured (Luke 2:40). His suffering and death were real. He therefore had not only a true body but also a true soul as do all humans. This made him fit to be the representative head of the human race in his work of atonement and reconciliation.

One important difference was that he was like us in every respect except for sin. He was not born with a sin nature and had no sinful thoughts, and did no sinful deeds. This moral perfection of his humanity was essential in his being the perfect sacrifice, one without blemish, knowing no sin. (See 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5)

The Divinity of Jesus Christ
Jesus not only had a true human body and soul, and a full set of all the created human attributes, he also has a true divine nature. His eternal place in the godhead with all the attributes of God has been shown in our discussion of the Trinity (see our syllabus on Theology Proper, chapter 3 The Trinity).

The Hypostatic Union
These two natures of Christ, human and divine, are united in the one person of the godhead in a manner impossible for us to understand. We only have, in our experience, one nature. We have no foundation for a model based on our own experience that can account for this kind of relationship. We cannot fully understand how Jesus in his divinity knows all things perfectly at all times with true omniscience, yet in his humanity grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40). Nor can we comprehend his agony and suffering in his flesh and soul while at the same time in his divinity he experiences no lack of perfect and eternal peace since he is fully immutable in that perfection. Our inability to reconcile such things is not an argument against them. It is only an argument that confirms what the Scriptures teach throughout; that we are finite, temporal, and changeable, and therefore cannot comprehend, beyond the statements of revelation, that which is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. Much less are we able to imagine, beyond the statements of revelation, the nature of a union between such diversities.

We must guard against any theories about that union which attempt to create structures of understanding beyond the direct inspired words God has given us in the Bible. There are two obvious directions of error.

First there are those who blend the distinct natures and deny their separate realities. If the human nature of Jesus is deified in any way by union with the divine, then it is no longer a true human nature. If the divine is in any way diminished by its union with the human, then it is no longer divine. This confusion of natures is the root of the Eutychian heresy.

Second there are those ideas which press the natures to the point of dividing Jesus into two distinct persons. This is the root of the Nestorian error.

Jesus is both God and man and yet is the one Second Person of the Godhead. The terminology of the Council of Chalcedon is the best and most complete statement of this doctrine we have, given the limited data supplied to us in Holy Scripture.

The Council said, “Herefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.”

The States of Jesus Christ
We distinguish the states of Jesus Christ into two categories; his humiliation and his exaltation.

The’ Humiliation of Jesus
His humiliation consists of his taking on the form of a man and the work done in that state prior to his resurrection. This includes his conception, his birth, his growing up and living in full and holy obedience, the sufferings of his life, his death, and burial. His body was consigned to the tomb and his human soul to the abode of departed spirits.

In the Apostles’ Creed Jesus is said to have “descended into hell.” There have been many interpretations of the meaning of this expression. It is not found in the earliest versions of the creed. The first known appearance of it is in a 390 AD version which added “descendit in inferna”. Some early translations of “inferna” used the Greek word hades while others rendered it “lower parts”. The placement of this phrase varied in the creed until it became fixed in later Roman versions which put it after the mention of Jesus’ burial and before his resurrection. Calvin states the obvious when he notes that such an addition must have intended to add some new idea that was perceived as missing in the earlier form (Institutes 2:16:8).

The Latin word inferna literally means “lower”. It was used of the grave into which a body was lowered, or the realm of the dead which was considered to be the underworld in Greek and Roman religions.

The Greek word hades also has a wide range of meanings. It was originally the proper name of the Greek god of the underworld, the ruler over the realm of the dead. Later it came to be used as a name for the underworld itself. The word was also used as a personification for death itself and was often used as a synonym for the Greek word thanatos (death).

Both inferna and hades were used to represent the Old Testament Hebrew word sheol. Its primary meaning is of the realm or dimension of those who are dead. It was often viewed in ancient times as an underworld. In 33 places in the King James Version it is translated as “grave” meaning the place that represents for us where the dead go.

Various interpretations of “he descended in to hell”:
1. Jesus descended into the fires of hell.
Summary: After his death and burial Jesus suffered in the fires of hell to further atone for the sins of his people. This view is not promoted by any Christian group of any historical importance.

a) On the cross Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30) indicating that the work of atonement was completed. There would be no purpose to additional suffering if the mission assigned to him by the Father was accomplished.

b) On the cross Jesus commended his soul to the Father. There is no reason to believe that his soul went anywhere else upon its separation from his body at death.

c) There is no portion of Scripture that implies his suffering beyond the work of the cross.

2. Jesus preached the gospel to the Old Testament saints.
Summary: After his death Jesus entered the realm of departed souls to proclaim his work to the saints who had died before the time of the cross.

The Roman Catholics believe that no one could ever be saved outside of the administration of the Christian sacraments. Therefore the Old Testament believers were kept in an intermediate state called the “limbus patrum” until Jesus could go to them and deliver them into heaven.

Many dispensationalists similarly believe that no one can be saved unless he actively accepts Jesus as Savior by a knowledgeable act of the will. The Old Testament saints are always kept separate in their standing from the New Testament church according to this view. Therefore the souls of departed believers before the cross were kept in an intermediate state called “Abraham’s Bosom”. Jesus preached to them and gave them opportunity to exercise their choice in accepting his offered salvation. He led into heaven those who trusted in his completed atonement.

a) Biblical teaching indicates that there is no second opportunity for salvation after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). The idea that departed souls lacked salvation and received it after death is contrary to this teaching.

b) As in the previous view the soul of Jesus was commended into the hands of the Father at death. There is no reason to believe that it was then diverted to another mission.

c) No text of Scripture supports this view. There are a few texts which are used improperly by those supporting this position. But an examination of the references cited fall short of building a foundation for this view.

1 Peter 3:18-20 Did Jesus go to preach to departed souls after his death? The text reads, “(18) For Christ also died for sins once for all, {the} just for {the} unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (19) in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits {now} in prison, (20) who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through {the} water.”

Who are the spirits who received this proclamation? According to the context (verse 20) they were those alive in the days of Noah while he made the ark. God was patient with them during that time. The preaching that is said to condemn those souls held in prison occurred during their lives while the ark was being constructed, not after their deaths. They did not respond to the message but remained unbelievers.

Who preached to them? We know that Noah was God’s appointed witness. Jesus had come to them in the witness of Noah. Before the time of the incarnation true believers hoped in the promise of a coming deliverance by God which was assured in Eden and prefigured in the sacrifices. Noah represented God’s warning and promise both in his life, in his work of building the ark, and in his words.

This verse can only mean a post-crucifixion ministry of Jesus if we ignore the continuing of the sentence into verse 20. Therefor it offers no support for this view.

1 Peter 4:4-6 Did Jesus preach the gospel to the dead after his death? The text reads, “(4) And in {all} this, they are surprised that you do not run with {them} into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign {you}; (5) but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (6) For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to {the will of} God.”

The reference to those who are dead in verse 6 has a stated purpose in the two previous verses; that upon hearing it they may turn from their excess of dissipation and live to the glory of God while still alive. Though they are dead at the time of the writing of this epistle, they were obviously alive when they heard the warnings that they should turn and live godly lives. As in the previous chapter of 1 Peter (see above) the period before the incarnation is in view. The gospel has been preached to those who had long ago died. Though they were dead when Peter wrote his Epistle, they were alive when they heard the message. In their life time they were warned and presented with witness that they ought to honor the God who made them. The goal is that even though they may be judged in the flesh (while alive) as men and by men in civil courts, in eternity they live in the spirit according to the ways of God. Only when verse 6 is separated from its context can it be so poorly misapplied. It should also be noted that Jesus is not mentioned at all here as the one who preached to the people in question.

Does Ephesians 4:9 support Jesus’ descent into hell after death? That verse states, “Now this {expression,} ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?”

The purpose of the Apostle Paul in this verse of Ephesians is to show that if Jesus “ascended” he must first have “descended”. The second reference is defined by the first.

The expression “lower parts of the earth” may have reference to Psalm 139:15 where David makes reference to his conception in his mother’s womb saying, “..When I was made in secret, skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.” This would mean that the descent of Jesus in Ephesians 4:9 was his incarnation in the womb of Mary.

This idea of the incarnation is supported by the comparison with his ascension. If his ascension ended his humiliation it implied a beginning to it, which was his incarnation into this earthly life. Clearly there is no clear reference here to a special mission to hell after the death of Jesus. That would not correspond with the evidence Paul is citing to make his point.

By this coming to earth Jesus led away as his captives the whole band of those captive in sin (see verse 8). This would include primarily those who have oppressed the people of God and were taken away by the Triumphant Conqueror, Jesus Christ, to their deserved judgment. Verse 8 is a direct quote of Psalm 68:18. In Colossians 2:15 Paul more clearly describes this triumph of Jesus having disarmed those oppressive ones.

Did Jesus fulfill Psalm 16:10 by his descent into hell? The verse reads, “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.”

Peter in Acts 2:30-32 and Paul in Acts 13:34-35 both interpret this verse for us. They do not see it as descriptive of a mission to living souls in hell, but of the death and burial of Jesus which was overcome by resurrection. The use of “soul” in this verse probably refers not to the immaterial part of the person, which could not decay as implied in this synonymous parallelism, but to the whole person. This is not an uncommon use of the term in Scripture.

3. Jesus displayed his triumph over Satan in hell.
Summary: Jesus entered Satan’s domain after his death to triumphantly display his victory over the power of the devil and to plunder his kingdom. This is the primary view of the Lutherans.

a) It would be strange to place mention of this display of triumph in the Creed prior to the first mentioned indication of victory, the resurrection.

b) There are no texts of Scripture that identify such a personal visit and display of triumph after the death of Christ.

4. Jesus suffered agony on the cross.
Summary: The expression “descended into hell” is only metaphorical to show the extreme agony of Jesus as he humbled himself in Gethsemane and on the cross. This is the view of Calvin and of Ursinus in the Heidelberg Catechism.

a) Such a metaphorical use of the word “hell” does not seem supported by any other use. It is unsafe to presume a figurative use of a term without sound biblical foundation for such a meaning.

b) The word order does not support this view. It is placed in the creed after the death and burial of Jesus.

5. Jesus descended into the grave.
Summary: Since the words for “hell” sometimes mean “grave” this may simply have reference to the placing of Jesus into the tomb. This view is held by Charles Hodge and some other reformed writers.

a) Why would such an expression have to be added to the creed if it already mentioned his burial? Such an obscure reference would not be added if a clear statement already existed. It is unlikely that a confusing redundancy would be so universally accepted by the church in such a broadly used and debated creed.

b) the use of the word “descended” is usually an active verb, not a passive one. We would more likely have seen it say “he was placed into hell” if hell meant the grave. Jesus did not descend into the tomb of his own power.

6. The soul of Jesus entered the dimension of the dead.
Summary: The separation of body and soul in the person of Jesus at his crucifixion is the basic definition of physical death as presented in Scripture. The creed mentions his burial which explains the disposition of his body, then it mentions his descent into “hell”. A reasonable explanation is that this intends to show that his real human soul was truly separated from his body in a real human death. This soul would go to some intermediate state of departed souls prior to the resurrection. The term “hell” in the creed could very well represent that abode. This is the view of A. A. Hodge and this present writer.

a) The terms used for hell in Latin, Greek and Hebrew have been used in many cases to simply refer to the abode of the departed in a general sense. It is the dimension beyond that of the living which we cannot experience until our souls are separated from our bodies. It is not so much to be thought of as a place, as it is a state or dimension of existence.

b) The righteous are often said to descend into hell at death. Jacob (Genesis 37:35), Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:10), David (Psalm 16:10 in its primary application to himself), Jesus (Acts 2:27, 13:34-35, Psalm 16:10 in its application to Jesus’ resurrection).

The account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 supports this view. Both men, the righteous Lazarus and the reprobate rich man, are said to have died and gone to hell (hades). The rich man’s soul was in torment. Lazarus was comforted by Abraham resting on his bosom.

Conclusion: If we adopt this last interpretation, it fits well with the flow of thought in the creed, it explains why it was added and is consistent with the rest of the Scriptural account. Jesus not only was crucified and rendered dead, not only was his body laid in a tomb, but his soul also went to the normal place of departed human spirits, sheol. This would have been a fitting response to the ongoing debate about the dual natures of Christ and the reality of his human nature which demanded not only a true body but also a true soul that would have been separated in a real human death with the soul continuing in a conscious state. The true and full humanity of Jesus is preserved by this statement.

The Exaltation of Jesus
The exaltation of Jesus represents his restoration to the display of his glory which was set aside in the humiliation. The stages of his exaltation consist of his resurrection, his ascension, his session at the right hand of the Father, and in his coming again in final judgment and glory at the last day.

This doctrine is clearly expressed in the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 2 verses 5-11, “(5) Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (7) but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (9) Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The Work of Jesus Christ
During the time of humiliation Jesus accomplished the work given to him by the Father. He secured the redemption of the elect from their estate of sin and misery. In representing the elect given to him by the Father Jesus made full satisfaction to the justice of God for the offense that separates them from their holy Creator. By taking up their due punishment, he justly removed the offense diverting God’s wrath from them to himself (propitiation), by covering it (atonement), and removing the guilt of the sinner (expiation) making way for the reunion of God with his people (reconciliation) and their adoption as his sons.

This work of Jesus is never represented in Scripture as merely making salvation possible, or as only providing a way of salvation for the sinner. It is always spoken of in terms of his actually securing full satisfaction of the justice of God on behalf of the elect. All those for whom he made satisfaction are for eternity secure in the blessing of grace. This satisfaction was fully accomplished for all he intended to redeem.

He fulfilled this work not just in his divine nature, nor in just his human nature, but as the God-man, as the one person possessing both natures.

The application of the redemptive work of Jesus to individuals will be expanded upon in the next unit of this syllabus covering Subjective Soteriology. What follows is a general overview of the work of atonement. There are three basic word forms in the Greek New Testament that describe the fundamental work of our Lord in providing for our salvation:

1. hilaskomai [verb] “to propitiate”
The English word propitiate means to appease an offended person for the purpose of removing his anger, thereby restoring a broken relationship. This requires that the offensive or upsetting matter that had caused the anger must be dealt with first.

Hilaskomai was used to translate the Old Testament term caphaer which means “a covering”. The priests were said to be making a covering (caphaer) over sin when they offered the sacrifices (Leviticus 4:35 10:17 16:30). In this sense, propitiation is a covering over sin to hide that which is offensive and thereby remove the anger of the offended party.

This verb is found in the New Testament in only two places:
Luke 18:13 “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ ” (literally, “be propitiated toward me”)

Hebrews 2:17 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”

As faithful high priest Jesus made propitiation for the sins of his people. He did that which the priests of the Old Testament could only symbolize. The effectiveness of the sacrifices was based upon the timeless value of the work of the great Propitiator, Jesus Christ.

2. hilasmos [noun] “propitiation”
The noun form of the word is propitiation. It represents the Old Testament noun cipurim which is based on the verb form caphaer.

In the New Testament this noun is used only in one book.
1 John 2:2 “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for {those of} the whole world.”

1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins.”

3. hilastaerion [noun] “the Mercy Seat”
The covering over the Ark of God was called the caporet. In our English versions it is usually translated by the term “mercy seat.” It was a slab of pure gold, almost 4′ long and a little over 2′ wide. It was laid as a covering over the ark containing the tablets of God’s law.

Exodus 25: “(17)And you shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. (18) And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. (19) And make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim {of one piece} with the mercy seat at its two ends. (20) And the cherubim shall have {their} wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be {turned} toward the mercy seat. (21) And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I shall give to you.

Immediately over this covering the glory of God was manifest in a visible form described as a light, a glow, a cloud. The part of the tabernacle where the ark was kept was special. It was called the Holy of Holies or the “house of the covering (caporet)”. 1Chronicles 28:11 ‘Then David gave to his son Solomon the plan of the porch {of the temple,} its buildings, its storehouses, its upper rooms, its inner rooms, and the room for the mercy seat;”

The Holy of Holies was only entered once a year, by the high priest. He entered on the day of atonement (“day of covering” yom cippur). He entered with the blood of the sacrifices to sprinkle it over the covering, the caporet. There the blood separated the manifested presence of God from the copy of the law kept in the ark which exposed sin and thereby condemned the people. This showed how the blood of the Messiah, represented by the sacrifices, would cover the guilt of his people removing the offense from God’s sight.

The Greek term used to for this covering in Hebrews 9:5 is hilastaerion. The Latin word for this covering of the ark is “propitiatorium” from which we get our word “propitiation.” The Latin term is from the verb “propitio” meaning “to appease.” In English the term for the covering of the ark is “mercy seat.”

This Greek word is used twice in the New Testament:
Romans 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. {This was} to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

Hebrews 9:5 And above it {were} the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

The work of Christ is represented by a variety of English words today. While they have technical meanings limited by what Scripture says, we should keep in mind that in early English when these words were chosen they were much more common in use.

1. Atonement is making amends for a wrong done, for a loss or injury caused. This is a more general term and must be used cautiously because it includes the whole process of making us right with God through the work of Christ.

2. Expiation is the actual satisfaction of a wrong, making atonement for it. Expiation is particularly the effect of satisfaction upon the sinner’s guilt.

3. Propitiation is the appeasing of the one offended to remove the cause of his anger. Propitiation speaks primarily to the effect of satisfaction upon God as the offended party.

4. Reconciliation is our restored fellowship with God resulting from the removed offense. The New Testament verb is katalassein. The noun form is katallagae. It means to exchange, to change a person from enmity to friendship. This works in both directions: We are reconciled with God, and he with us.

Commonly this process is often misunderstood because of misinformation about the biblical facts. To cover the offense of our sins cannot mean to hide the fact of our sins from God. God knows all things. He can’t hide something from his own awareness. To do so would mean there is something he does not know about. That is directly denied in Scripture.

So it must mean that the offense of sin is covered by something that removes its offensiveness, something that meets sin’s demands. Since God tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23), only the death of the sinner or his federal substitute could cover sin’s offense.

The blood of Jesus is the only possible covering over our sin. Since his blood was shed in place of his people, and he was a perfect and infinite sacrifice, the offense to God is removed and we can have restored fellowship with him who is perfectly holy.

These various theological terms all relate together and are inseparable. With respect to God and sinners, for reconciliation to take place, the offense must be removed (propitiation). For the offense to be removed the guilt of our sin must be expiated. To be expiated, a perfect sacrifice must be made satisfying God’s justice.

Romans 5:10-11, “(10) For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (11) And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

These different word forms present one work viewed from different directions. They are not isolated in the mind and purpose of God. The persons of the Trinity do not think in terms of isolated principles. It was God’s own plan flowing out of his incomprehensible love that he would come in the person of the Son to propitiate his wrath preserving justice and holiness while accomplishing the display of his mercy and grace in saving his people. Jesus is our propitiation by means of a sacrifice on behalf of the people. His shed blood covers their sins and removes the offense from before the face of God.

The Active and Passive Obedience of Jesus
We often differentiate between the active and passive obedience of Christ. In his active obedience he kept the law perfectly and lived righteously in our place as covenant head of his people. In his passive obedience he submitted to the judicial penalty that the sins of his people deserve.

The active obedience of Jesus Christ
The holy demands of the Creator are expressed in his revealed law. This law must be kept fully and perfectly by all. The law breaker must answer to the just penalty of eternal death.

Galatians 3:10 “cursed is every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them”

Romans 10:5 “… the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.”

Jesus, in his life on earth, kept the law perfectly in our place. In all Jesus did he obeyed for those he represented. Jesus was made “under the law” to “redeem those under the law” for adoption as sons, to make them joint heirs.

Galatians 4:4-7 “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father! Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”

The necessity of the active obedience of Jesus is clearly shown in many passages of Scripture.

Romans 8:3-4 “What the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”

Matthew 3:15 Jesus said to John the baptizer, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness…”

Matthew 5:17,18 Jesus said, “do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke will pass away from the law, until all is accomplished.”

The active obedience Jesus secures for his people has several important benefits beyond his simply dying to satisfy the penal demands of justice. He is our righteousness and eternal life:

Romans 10:4 “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”

Philippians 3:9 Paul said, that I “may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Ephesians 5:25-27 “…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.”

The passive obedience of Jesus Christ
God’s holiness and justice demand that the penalty for sin be paid by either the individual or by an innocent one in federal relationship with them.

Genesis 2:17 “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die”

Habakkuk 1:13 “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and thou canst not look on wickedness with favor.”

Romans 1:18 “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Ephesians 5:6 “let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

Jesus satisfied the wrath of God in place of his people. Their sin was judicially laid upon Him.

Isaiah 53:6 “… the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

Romans 4:25 “who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification”

Galatians 3:13,14 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree’, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles…”

1 Thessalonians 5:9 “for God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Peter 2:24 “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

1 Peter 3:18 “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit”

1 John 2:2 “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins…”

Jesus, took upon himself the federal relation of Adam to stand in a similar headship for his people, and to obey in their place. His suffering and death (passive obedience) paid the judicial penalty for sin. His holy life (active obedience) became the foundation for the imputation of true holiness to those he represented. Christ merited more than just forgiveness for his people.

We should remember that our Lord’s active and passive obedience are not really separate things but two ways of viewing the same thing. In his active and passive obedience he was voluntarily obedient out of his mercy and grace. Of his life Jesus said in John 10:18 “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

A comparison of Romans 6:4 and Galatians 4:4-5 show that our reconciliation with God arises from both our Lord’s death and his life. The active and passive elements harmoniously unite in their purpose and effect.

The timelessness of the work of Christ
It undermines the necessity for the work of Christ to presume that there were different ways of salvation from sin in the different ages of God’s dealing with men since the fall. The modern idea that believers of the Old Testament were saved by works while we are saved by grace is not only a tragic misrepresentation of Scripture, it is also a denial of the fundamental doctrines immutably rooted in the holy and just nature of God.

The idea that men before Christ were able to earn salvation by obedience while we are not able to do so raises serious questions about the fall, original sin, the depravity of the lost soul, and the necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death. Certainly no scheme would openly promote that we became more depraved after the cross of Jesus than after the sin of Adam. Such schemes are invented to support presumptions about the structure of the church, and tend to promote the fantasy of man’s self-determination and independence from God’s sovereign decrees. Such ideas have no biblical foundation.

Saints in all ages are redeemed in no way other than by the work of Christ (Hebrews 10:5-14). God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 was depicted in the sacrificial system in the age prior to the cross, and was fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus.

The Bible affirms directly that the elect were known by God before the foundation of the world and chosen by him in Christ before any one of them was born (Ephesians 1:4). Therefore God bases his blessing on Christ’s merits prior to the events taking place in history. Therefore, since sin is only removed by Christ’s work, and not by the symbolic representations of the sacrifices (Hebrews 10), we deduce that all believers, Old and New Testament saints, were saved by God’s work of grace alone, based upon the completed work of the Messiah, applied to undeserving hearts by the Holy Spirit producing in the person faith, repentance and obedience.

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