Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2000
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Chapter 4: The Death of the King
Lesson 141 – Death of Christ – Work on the Cross
24 Feb 2000
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to get back into the death of Christ. If you have your notes that go all the way back to the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, I want to look at three pages, pages 29, 55, and 85. What we’re trying to do, just to get back in the groove, is whenever we come to these sections, these great events of biblical history, as far as this class goes, we’re not dealing with verse by verse exegesis in this class, nor are we dealing with theology as such. What we’re trying to deal with is the overall biblical frame of reference that connects all these. So far we’ve studied the birth of Christ, the life of Christ, we have been studying the death of Christ and eventually we’ll get to the resurrection of Christ. When we work with these you want to grasp the historicity of the event, so there’s no doubt in your mind that these events happened, these are not stories merely. Liberal theology in a lot of pulpits will talk about these as stories. We’re not interested in talking about the stories. I don’t have to come to church and get stories; I can read them in a book. I don’t need the Bible for stories. The Bible is God’s infallible record to His works down through history and whenever God does a work it’s a profound one and there’s a large amount of truth associated with each one.
On page 29, the birth of Christ, we said that people come to this truth, that Jesus Christ, the God-man, was born infallibly God-man, and people reject it or they accept it. But what most people aren’t aware of is that in rejecting that virgin birth it’s because they are entertaining a worldview. The rub is their idea of God, man and nature. A bad view of God, man and nature will always result in a rejection of this truth of Scripture and anyone conversely who rejects the virgin birth you can automatically bet that somewhere they have a warped view, a sub-biblical view of who God is, a sub-biblical view of creation, a sub-biblical view of man.
When we come to the life of Christ which is the second reference on page 55, again the issue is that people will call the story of Jesus the spin that the church put on this Jewish carpenter. Maybe there was a Jesus who lived and walked around, but we all know better than that, we’re sophisticated people, so we read that as though that was just the church telling stories about this Jewish guy. They’re just stories. That’s the form of the rejection of the life of Christ. And anytime someone rejects that, fundamentally what is the great idea they have a problem with? You can predict this. Any person who rejects the gospel narratives, rejects the life of Christ, has a problem with revelation.
At the birth they have a problem with God, they have a problem with man, they have a problem with nature. For the life of Christ, they have a problem with revelation: that God can speak and act in history in such a way that thoughts are communicated from His mind to ours.
In connection with the death of Christ on page 85 there we see a case where again people will hear about the death of Christ, talk about the cross, and walk away with a false impression that Christ’s death was just a martyr, something happened. There was a book called The Passover Plot many years ago and the idea was that it was supposed to be a political type confrontation, it was a big plot and it screwed up at the last minute and Jesus really got killed, He wasn’t supposed to get killed, just a whole bunch of stuff. But the cross of Christ offends at the point of the doctrine of justice. That’s the problem. So you kind of have to see that every one of these attacks one of these aspects of Christ is rooted in a prior belief system.
We’ve been talking about justice, and we said that to understand correctly what Christ did on the cross we have to go back to God’s attributes. When we look at God’s attributes we know that He’s holy and He’s righteous, and that it’s not a social thing, it’s a divine nature thing. Here’s God, He’s righteous and He’s justice, we call that His holiness, and that’s His character, it’s not going to change, never has changed, always will be the same, the same yesterday, today and forever. So it’s that that becomes the standard of justice and righteousness, it’s not a law that men pass. Men pass laws, but the archetypical law above the law is that. And if you don’t have that, what happens to your human laws? It just becomes whoever has the most political power wins, that’s all. There’s no transcendent court of appeal.
If you want a classic illustration to remember, the classic illustration from recent history in the past century is Nazism. In 1945 Nazis were brought to Nuremberg to be tried as international war criminals. The idea at Nuremberg was, “How can we prosecute the Nazi S.S., because they were the chief culprits in this?” The Nazi S.S. and their lawyers argued that you cannot prosecute us; we were carrying out the orders of a legitimate regime. So if law is relative to a culture, then what argument can you construct that would indict the S.S.? You can’t, because any law you construct is external to Germany in the 1930s and 40s. You’re bringing in a law and they claim that’s not our law, that’s American law, that’s English law, that’s French law—it’s not German law. We followed the German law precisely. And they did, they did carry out orders precisely. So how do you convict somebody who carries out legitimate orders of the fact that they’re illegal?
You can’t do that unless you have some transcendent standard that is over and above the U.S.A., over and above Germany, over and above England, there’s some higher standard that has to be appealed to. The problem is that in our day they want to construct such a thing, and we want to go back to Nimrod and reconstruct the tower of Babel as a world super power and world government, and make that the transcendent standard. The problem with that solution is what, if you did have it, then how do you judge the world government? The world government being the one that makes the law can’t be good or evil. You’re still caught in a dilemma, so the only appeal is up here, and that’s why this is a powerful idea of Scripture. This is why when we as Christians say that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” and I’m sure many of you who have unbelieving people in your family get brick-bats thrown at you all the time for being such a narrow minded religious bigot, think you’ve got the only way. Yeah, we do, and we happen to be right, we do have the only way, not because of anything we are but it’s the transcendent standard.
The issue in all religion is the issue of how can I meet God there, that’s the issue. What is your procedure, what is your protocol for coming into fellowship with God? Christianity alone says that the only protocol of acceptance on His side is the cross of Christ. So that’s why Jesus Christ on the cross is “the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the Father but by Him.”
That’s what we’ve covered so far. One of the things that we emphasized again and again was that the cross fully satisfies. If you go back in your notes to page 79, I noted certain observations. I want to review those observations and then we’re going to go to Romans 3 and we want to set up for this last section, Appendix C, which deals with problems related to the Protestant Reformation about the cross of Christ. “The cross affects the universe.” These are just observations about what the New Testament reports about the effect of the cross. We want to keep that in the back of our head as we come into the text.
Number 1, The cross “Changes Final Condemnation of Unbelievers.” The issue that we’re going to deal with is, “What relationship does the cross of Jesus Christ have with everybody who is not a believer, with everybody who is not a believer and never will be a believer; what’s the relationship of the cross to that person?” What’s the relationship of the cross to angels? The first thing it does, it changes the status of unbelievers, because unbelievers do not get permanently excluded from the presence of God because there’s not a solution. They get permanently excluded from the presence of God because they have not accepted the solution. The solution exists, therefore the condemnation isn’t just because they have sin, it’s because they have sin that is unresolved by the cross of Christ.
Number 2, The cross “Dooms Fallen Angels.” After Jesus Christ paid for the sins of the world, He descended into a place called Tartarus and there, in Tartarus, announced to the angelic people that were incarcerated in Tartarus, apparently in some way made some announcement and the announcement, we presume, was I made it to the cross, you people didn’t stop Me, history is all over, D-Day has occurred, I have finished the work.
Go to page 86 because the question now is what did Jesus do on the cross? We pointed out there were three kinds of theories, there was the satisfaction theory, there was the witness theory, the fact that it could influence human beings. We have number one: satisfaction; that was one idea. Human influence was another, and divine government was a third. Satisfaction was an idea developed by Anselm and later by the Reformers that said that on the cross Jesus satisfied the righteous and holy demands of God against sin. That’s what the satisfaction is; the word propitiation also comes in there. The human influence view argued that Jesus’ cross work was so impressive that men who see it are brought to Him. That’s true; the problem is it’s not impressive if it doesn’t satisfy God. While the human influence theory has a truth to it, the primary truth is that it satisfies God’s righteousness and justice. Divine government reveals the fact that God can be the justifier as well as not lose His justice when He justifies sinners. That’s the nature of the atonement.
Then we came to the problem of the extent of the atonement. On page 92 I gave four points on the extent of the atonement. I said that we’d spend some time in an Appendix so you would appreciate why we say the things we do in those four points. Point #1 is that the atonement is the sole legal basis of all grace. Whenever God is gracious to anyone in human history, it is because of the cross of Christ. When God was gracious to Old Testament saints He could be gracious to them without compromising His holiness. I’ll give you an example so we can see this in a concrete way. Let’s take one specific example to show how God was gracious in the Old Testament.
Here’s Abraham. Had Jesus Christ died when the Abrahamic Covenant was made? No. So there was no death of Christ here. Was God still holy and righteous and just? Yes, because He never changes. In 2000 BC when God entered a covenant with Abraham, God was righteous and God was just, and He entered into a covenant with a sinner. How did He do that? If holiness demands death for sin, how could God enter into a contractual agreement with Abraham? It had to have been, and Paul raises the argument in Romans 4, it had to be because in some way something happened so that Abraham was encased in righteousness before God. The problem is in the Old Testament it’s not clear how this imputed righteousness comes about. What’s the source of it? God is the source of it, but how can God do that? There’s always this tension in the Old Testament how you have this holiness of God and yet He’s being gracious to people.
How can He be just and the justified? It’s not resolved, it’s one of those problems like we have, how can a loving God allow babies to die cruelly? People can really get bent out of shape by that. The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this one. He does it, and someday we will see how. Until He reveals it, we stand here and have to accept it. The Old Testament saints had to then. So when it came down to the basis, the basis of all grace is the atonement.
Then we said, page 94, that God calls all men to Himself with an atonement big enough for all people. The cross is sufficient to save every man, woman, and child, no matter what continent they live in, what people group they belong to, etc. If you don’t believe that, here’s what’s going to happen to you. You will never be able to evangelize or witness because you haven’t got good news; there is no good news because if you go to some person at random, how do you know Christ died for them? How do you know the cross is relevant to that person? You don’t know that. But if you hold to a truncated atonement it begins immediately to affect your evangelism, missions, etc. That’s why the church has struggled over this; this is not a side issue. This is central to the whole gospel and witnessing. We want to make sure that we understand that there’s an atonement that is sufficient for all. And I might add that even the most Reformed people have to admit that.
On page 96, the third point, let’s get these down: the cross is the basis of all grace, the cross is sufficient for all to be saved, and the cross is received always by faith. It’s never appropriated by works; it’s not an exchange program. The cross is accepted always and only through faith, never through works. It’s not what promises you make to God; it’s not dedicating your life to Christ, that doesn’t give you the results of the atonement. It is simply passive reception of the cross by faith. You can’t do it, of course, if you’re not convinced that Christ died for you, and the Holy Spirit has to illuminate that. You can hear people say it to you; I heard that for a long time before I became a Christian. It didn’t click until one night it just clicked with me, and that was when the Holy Spirit illuminated my heart; the same with you. You can say you believe, and maybe you really do, but when the Holy Spirit illuminates your heart you know that Christ’s cross gives you salvation. That’s the essence of the gospel and we must never lose that center, that core. That’s what’s going on in this argument, so that’s why we want to be very, very careful. This sounds like a big involved theological mess but let’s keep our eyes on the proper target here. What does it do to the gospel? What does it do to sanctification?
The fourth point, page 98, was that God administers salvation asymmetrically, i.e., He is directly involved in bringing good about. How does good fruit grow on a fallen creation and a cursed ground? How do you bring forth good fruit from cursed ground? It’s by direct intervention of God. So whatever good there is is because of Him. However, whatever evil is, and the cross is related to both of these, good and evil, evil is a rejection of God and He is not accountable for that evil. He is sovereign over it, but not responsible for it. So God’s sovereignty as expressed in Scripture is asymmetrical. You can prove it from the way the Scriptures describe it.
For example, turn to Matthew 25. We want to be sure of this asymmetry because we’ll get into it later on in this discussion. Matthew 25 is an example among several in the text of Scripture where you see this asymmetry. Look at verses 34 and 41. This is speaking of a divine judgment of the nations at the return of Christ and the Lord Jesus Christ judges each, those who believe and those who don’t. But look at the language with which He describes both of them. Look carefully at verse 34, “Then the King will say to those on His right,” i.e., those who believe, those who enter the Kingdom, He “will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” So from all eternity the Kingdom was prepared for those who believe, and those who enter the Kingdom. This is very obviously that they were chosen; obviously God has a say in this thing, this matter.
Now look at the language and look at the shift in emphasis in verse 41, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for” you? NO, see, there’s not asymmetry between verse 34 and 41. In verse 34 the divine end was chosen from all eternity. In verse 41 the divine end of permanent exclusion from the presence of God was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” These guys wind up there. Do you feel the different syntax in verse 34 and verse 41? That’s what we’re talking about by God’s asymmetry.
I’ll show you another place it comes out. Turn to Romans 9:22-23. Once you catch on to this you’ll see it again and again in Scripture, I’m just showing two obvious ones. Verse 22, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” In the Greek there are different tense verbs, whereas in English we have an active and a passive tense, active voice, I kill; passive voice, I am killed, or I died. Middle could be I died, it’s a weak kind of a mix of active and passive, or it could be reflexive, I kill myself. The Greek syntax is a lot more precise in this area than the English. It’s not that the human brain is different; it’s just that in some languages it’s easier to follow this way.
My Japanese daughter-in-law points out to me sometimes that she likes the English translation better than the Japanese because in the Japanese the singles and plurals aren’t as clear as they are in English, you have to go by context. Not that the Japanese don’t know singles and plurals, it’s just that their language vehicle doesn’t emphasize that. That’s not to say that English is a bad language, it’s just saying that there’s a difference here.
The point is in verse 22 the verb “prepared” is not in the passive, it’s in the middle voice. That means there’s not a heavy stress on them being prepared, as in verse 23, which says “And He did so in order the He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” See the difference? Verse 23 is not quite the same as verse 22; they are not mere images of each other. You’ll see this again and again in Scripture. That’s what we mean, God is connected with the good, and He’s more or less kind of remote from the evil though He never loses His sovereign control over the evil. There’s just that asymmetry.
Turn to Romans 3. We want to spend some time in the text preparatory to getting into the argument. Turn in the notes to Appendix C. This is not new stuff; this has been going on for centuries. You run across people who are Christians in one extreme or the other and you wonder sometimes where are they coming from? This will help you in that. One thing I want to point out before we get to Romans 3, this is a Protestant debate. To my knowledge it doesn’t come up in Catholic circles. There’s a reason for that. The Protestants did something at the Reformation that split them away from the Catholic Church on a major point, several major points. It was one of those major points that sets up a dilemma. One of the major Protestant points was that the cross fully satisfies the justice and wrath of God, fully so that “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” NO condemnation, not 90%, not 85%, not 50%, and you have to fill the rest in from Mother Mary and some penance, doing the beads, etc. It’s 100%, “there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
Immediately the Catholics, the Roman Catholic theologians came back to the Reformers and they had some good questions. They said wait a minute, the Catholic counterattacked the Protestants and said if Christ’s atonement satisfied everything, what about the people who are unsaved, that go to hell, they’re still being punished for their sins, the cross of Christ never solved their problem so how can you say that the cross of Christ totally satisfies. They said also there’s something else, they raised the question isn’t it true that every believer dies physically? Doesn’t that mean we’re still under the condemnation in Adam? Doesn’t that mean we’re under the death sentence of Genesis 2 so how can you Protestants argue that the cross of Jesus Christ fully satisfies? Isn’t it true that when Christians sin we get disciplined? Isn’t it true that we have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven? If that’s so, then how you say, Protestants, that the cross of Christ fully satisfies? And what do you do about those who profess to be Christians and go for a little while in the Christian life and then flake out? What are they?
So the Catholics came back on the Protestants over this issue, because the Catholics were arguing that Luther and Calvin had opened a door and all the animals were going to get out of the barn because it was an open door to licentious living, to think that the cross of Christ was so satisfying to God that I have now no condemnation. We must not allow people that freedom, because if they get that freedom, they’re going to abuse it; that’s too dangerous a gospel to preach. So what happened historically that you read about in the notes is that you have the Protestant Reformation, you have the Catholic counter reformation, and at the same time the Catholic counter reformation is going on, you’re also getting what we call the second generation of the Reformers, who are trying to answer this and qualify what Luther and Calvin said. That’s where we get into limited atonement and everything else. It didn’t come with Calvin and Luther, it came with the second generation who were dealing with the Catholic counter objection that you Protestants are preaching a gospel of license, you have no discipline, you have no standard to hold people to, you’ve removed from all people the terror of the holiness of God by your doctrines, this perverse Protestant doctrine of justification by faith and faith alone.
That’s the set up for this discussion, and that’s why we say, as we advance down through the life of Christ do you notice what’s happening? We’re advancing through church history. Where was the hypostatic union doctrine that Jesus Christ was God and man? What era was that? That was Chalcedon, the 4th century. As we’ve gotten into the life of Christ in revelation we’ve gotten back more to the Protestant view that revelation comes from the Scripture. Now we’re at the cross of Christ, we’re at the heart of the whole Protestant Reformation.
We want to refresh our minds to what the text says in Romans 3; we’ll use these observations for the next few classes. Verse 20 ends the section that Paul begins in Romans 1:18, from 1:18-3:20 Paul has made the point that all men are sinners and he concludes in verse 20, that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;” Look carefully at the language. Where’s the justifying occurring? Where’s the focus of the justification? In man, or in God? It’s important to think about this because this is where the Protestants and the Catholics part company. Right here is one of the places. In Protestantism, if you read the biography of Luther you can imagine how this happened.
Luther was a Catholic monk who was so conscious of his sin that the first time he offered mass and his father was sitting out in the church he froze, he got up to the point of the transubstantiation and the wafer and the cup and he froze, he couldn’t finish the mass. The reason was is that he felt so utterly under the condemnation of God. Luther had a very pointed view of sin. Some would say that he was psycho that way, that’s what the Roman Catholic people would argue. But Luther was tremendously convicted of sin. He would go confess his sin to the other priests dozens of times a day, and he realized, “I never can get rid of this, I never can get rid of this! Something’s wrong here.” And he started to study the book of Romans, and he suddenly realized, “Oh, I’ve got it wrong; I can’t look at my heart and be assured of my salvation. Why can’t I? Because what do I always see when I look at my heart? I always see the yet-to-be- sanctified crud that’s in all of us. I don’t see sinlessness in me, and if I don’t see sinlessness in me, how do I have assurance that I please Him?”
The message that he saw in the book of Romans was that when I look to Him I’m justified before Him, not because of Martin Luther but because of Jesus Christ, it’s Jesus Christ in the presence of God that makes the difference. So what had happened in his focus is taken from here, internal, here, to external, there. Remember that; that is fundamentally the difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestant Reformation. I’m sad to say that in our own evangelical churches we have people teaching sanctification that is a resurgence of Roman Catholicism, because they’re making salvation contingent on the fruit in your heart. That is not the Protestant position; that is Catholicism. A lot of guys trying to be godly, trying to be honest to the Word, are leading us back to Rome. We are to look outside of our hearts at the Father where Christ is the righteousness. You look at yourself and you’re going to be depressed, you’re going to see a big mess. That’s not the place to get assurance.
When we read here in verse 20, that’s what Paul is talking about, he says “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight,” remember we said the issue in the whole thing boils down to Jesus Christ satisfying God’s holiness. That’s the center of the action, right there, so that’s where Paul says “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” he doesn’t say will feel good, or will be justified before men, or even justified before me an apostle, he says “justified in His sight,” that is justified to this perfection. Stop and think about what a tremendous thing this is. This is dynamite. It means that the transcendental standard of righteousness and justice is fully satisfied, and that ends the condemnation. That’s why we have access to God. That’s why we don’t have to go through intermediary saints; that’s why we don’t have to go to Mary, hoping that as the mother of Jesus she’ll put a good word in for us. We come directly to God through Christ. Why? Because the center of the stage is right here, it’s not down inside man’s heart, it’s not down here, it’s up there. That’s where the action is.
Let’s follow the text, as Paul now shifts in verse 21 away from the fact that no one on the basis of his works can be justified before the Law. “But now,” notice, “apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested [or revealed], being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” So he’s not saying that the righteousness of God violates the Old Testament, rather the Old Testament points to it. The point he’s making though is that this is something that the Law and the Prophets pointed to but did not reveal. Think, did the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament reveal something of God’s righteousness? Sure. The Exodus, Passover, the judgments upon the nation, wasn’t that all the righteousness of God? Yes, but why do you suppose that it can’t be said that this righteousness, the righteousness in Christ, could have been revealed in the Old Testament. What had to have happened … and this is why we study the Bible chronologically because before we got to the death of Christ, what did we have to study? The birth of Christ and the life of Christ. And what is the righteousness revealed? In this perfect man. Was there ever a perfect man before Jesus, after the fall? No. So how could the righteousness of God be fully revealed in history? Where can we get a model, today everybody wants a model or a mentor. Where can we get one? It wasn’t Moses. Every biography in the Old Testament has warts. Right? Is there a sinless biography anywhere in the Old Testament? No. But do you get the position that because they are condemned that there’s something higher than them that’s in the wings, kind of. That’s the point.
Jesus Christ, as perfect God and perfect man walks around and perfectly obeys. Now has righteousness been revealed? Yes, that’s what he’s talking about. The righteousness in verse 21 is not just talking about the attribute of God. The attribute of God was somewhat revealed in the Old Testament, but what he’s talking about, the righteousness of God here, it’s more powerful than merely talking about the attribute of God. The righteousness of God here means that the Messiah has come, and humanly speaking we have perfect righteousness now, displayed through a person, displayed through a man, created in God’s image. This is news! It never occurred before in history. Now, the righteousness of God has been [made] clear, “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”
Verse 22 says “even the righteousness of God,” and how does it come, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” What do you suppose the distinction is that he’s talking about in context? Jew and Gentile. This is the primary people group division in all of Scripture. That means by implication, it doesn’t matter what your race is, what your heritage is, what your genes are, this article, you want to pass your genes down to the next generation … God’s not interested in whether you want to pass your genes on to the next generation. God offers salvation through Jesus Christ and that’s the issue, not your genes. The issue isn’t your background; the issue isn’t how many hard times you’ve had in your life or how much prosperity you’ve had in your life. That’s not the issue here. There’s only one issue and that is, do we or don’t we conform to the righteousness and justice of God. And if we don’t, how do we talk to Him? How do we carry on a relationship? He says the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It isn’t faith in my promises to God, I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that, or my vows, or my dedication, it is faith in Christ Jesus, not faith in Charlie Clough or whatever your name is, fill it in, and what I’m going to do for God. That’s not the access point. It’s faith in Jesus Christ.
Verse 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now look at verse 24, “being justified” that means that it’s a state. Let’s pick up on this language here. “Being justified,” equals a state, that’s not an event, it may be as a result of an event, but it’s a status. “Being justified …” [blank spot, when it starts again someone is saying something] Clough says: My son sent me a document that the Lutheran Church and Catholic Church had agreed on this document about justification, I haven’t read it, I haven’t followed the story. I’ve heard the same things, I just haven’t followed …
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