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Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Theology Q&A

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Dr. J. Rodman Williams answers theological questions, exclusively on

More from Dr. J. Rodman Williams

7. Christ - Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection

Category Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 QA Index




Why was Jesus tortured? I just saw the Passion of Christ movie...and am confused as to why God allowed Jesus to be tortured. Was His death not enough?

When one ponders the fact that Jesus on the cross was bearing the full weight of mankind's sin, death without torture would not begin to convey His identification with all humanity in pain as well as death.

Further, God the Father alone did not simply allow this torture to happen to Jesus; rather it was through the willingness of Jesus that it occurred.

Blessed be His name!


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In John it says that Jesus is God, but when Jesus was on earth He talked to God and He called Him Father. So is He His own Father and was He talking to Himself? I am really wrestling with this question in my heart.

In the mystery of the Holy Trinity there is only one God whose essential being is that of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So while Jesus is verily God, He is also the Son of God and as such offers prayer not to Himself but to God as His Father.

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In John 11:35, "Jesus wept." Why did Jesus weep? I've heard some conflicting answers, and I can't quite figure it out.

"Jesus wept" (as in John 11:35) is a vivid picture of Jesus' tenderness at the graveside of Lazarus. Many who were also there said about Jesus, "Behold how He loved him!" Another occasion of Jesus recorded weeping was in relation to Jerusalem, "He saw the city and wept over it" (Luke 19:41). In both cases there was judgment mixed with pain (see context) due to people's unbelief, but through it all a deep sense of tenderness on Jesus' part.

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How did Jesus become God?

Jesus did not become God. He was God in human flesh. Read John 1:1-14 carefully, noting especially the opening statement that "the Word was God." The "Word" clearly refers to Christ. This same Word became flesh (verse 14) without ceasing to be the eternal Word. In the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ was both the eternal God and a human being.

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I hear many people say that in the Bible there is no Scripture where Jesus claims to be God. Is this true?

The most direct statement by Jesus Himself of His own deity is found in John 10:30 where He declared, "I and the Father are one." His opponents called His statement "blasphemy be cause you being a man, make yourself God" (verse 33).

There was no doubting that Jesus claimed to be God -- even by His detractors.

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  How can we be sure of our future resurrection?

Christ's resurrection from the dead assures our resurrection in the age to come. For not only are we raised from the dead spiritually now through faith in Christ, but we will also be raised bodily in the coming age. Paul writes that "if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied." Then he adds, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:19-21). Since the raising of Christ is the "first fruits," other fruit is sure to follow, namely, our resurrection from the dead. Thus Christ has brought life and immortality to light.

This means that some day--"at the last trumpet"--"the dead will be raised imperishable….For this perishable must put on the imperishable and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:52-53). This is not some natural immortality but an immortality to be "put on"--and it all comes through Jesus Christ. Paul climactically cries forth, "'Death is swallowed up in victory'…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:54, 56).

Because of Christ's resurrection from the dead we thus have assurance of our resurrection to come. With Paul and the saints of all ages, we may rejoice in what God has done through Jesus Christ. Another declaration of Paul provides a fitting summary word of the Christian testimony:

"If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (Romans 14:8-9).

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What is the baptism in the Holy Spirit and how does it differ from the Holy Spirit which every believer receives at conversion?

It is the same Holy Spirit in two modes of operation. First, He comes as the indwelling reality of the believer's life and works therein for sanctification and Christian growth in general. Second, He comes to empower the believer for Christian witness and ministry. This latter occurs especially through baptism in the Holy Spirit.

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Why is there no reference to Christ's early childhood/developmental years after His birth? He re-emerges as a young adult, but I am curious if He is a regular child during those developmental years and treated any differently from His siblings?

Note Luke 2:51-52: "He went down with them (His parents, Joseph and Mary) and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them.And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men." Thus from the aspect of His humanness, Jesus was a regular child and not treated any differently by His parents than were His brothers and sisters. So did Jesus continue in subjection to His parents and grew steadily in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.

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I used to believe that Jesus gave up His humanity after His ascension. Now I believe He is God-man forever. This makes His Incarnation more profound than ever---to think He would take on humanness forever in order to win those He loved. Do you believe this is correct?

One aspect of the marvel of the Incarnation is that the Word became flesh forever. For example, in all the biblical pictures of the return of Christ He definitely will come again in the body. Yes, this makes His Incarnation more profound. Praise His holy Name!

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If Christ is fully God as most evangelical theologians hold, then what was the need or purpose for the Holy Spirit to come upon Him and work miracles through Him as the Scriptures plainly state?

In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man so that the miracles that He performed stemmed from His twofold nature. He was both the Son of God and a Spirit-filled man. One Person with two natures is more than we can rationally comprehend.

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Our minister said you can be a Christian without believing in the Virgin Birth. That's a new one on me. He thinks you only have to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ.

It is true that you only have to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ for salvation. There is no reference in the New Testament to anyone proclaiming the Virgin Birth or belief in it as a requirement for being a Christian. However, this is not to deny the importance of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth which is well attested in the Bible and set forth as background for the Incarnation--Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

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Do you believe that Jesus was holy at His birth? I do, and some say no.

I agree with you that Jesus was holy at His birth. He was God in human flesh and as such holy as God is holy. Jesus also showed forth perfect holiness at every stage of His life's journey.

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Why did Jesus pray to God? If Jesus is God, wouldn't that be just like praying to yourself? Wouldn't praying to yourself be a futile exercise?

Jesus was also a man. As such, He offered prayers to God. In the mystery of the Incarnation, He was both one with God the Father as well as a distinct person. So Jesus' praying was not a futile exercise.

For a further discussion of this matter, see my book Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 13, "The Incarnation."

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What powers did Jesus have?

Jesus being both God and man had the power of God Almighty and of man at his peak. He functioned, therefore, with multiple powers belonging to both deity and humanity.

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In Mathew 27:46, why did Jesus say "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And what exactly did He mean?

Jesus cried out these words because at that moment He was making atonement for the sins of all mankind. He was experiencing terrible God-forsakenness as He endured our agony and punishment.

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Why is the resurrection an essential part of the gospel message?

If Christ is not risen, our faith would be literally a dead faith. By Christ's death, He conquered sin. By His resurrection, He conquered death. Thus we can say with Paul about the resurrection, "O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?.But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15: 55, 57).

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I get puzzled when I hear that Jesus Christ had brothers. My understanding is that the Virgin Mary had no other children after Jesus' birth. Were Jesus' cousins referred to as His brothers? This is confusing for a lot of people. Please explain.

Listen to the following verses of Scripture: "While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and His brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him" (Matthew 12:46); ""Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?" (Matthew 13:55-56); "After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers" (John 2:12).

The most natural interpretation of these passages---and other similar ones ---is that those referred to were half brothers and half sisters of Jesus, born of Mary and Joseph subsequent to the birth of Christ. There is no suggestion of their being cousins of Jesus.

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Since angels are created beings, as we are, and also have free will, and the capacity to fall, is there any indication that Christ's atonement for sin also covers them?

There is no indication in Scripture that Christ's atonement also covers the sins of angels. Christ took on Himself human nature not angelic nature. There may be some other plan for angels, but the Bible does not reveal it.

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Which is the most important: The death of God's Son for our Redemption, or the proclamation of the death of God's Son for our Redemption?

In order of priority, the death of God's Son for our Redemption is primary. Otherwise, there is nothing to proclaim. The gospel proclamation is based on fact not myth.

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Is Jesus God?

Yes. As God, He shares the Godhead with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Thus He is not a separate deity. He is also totally man. Except for sin, He fully shares our humanity. This is the great mystery of the Incarnation.

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Speaking of the pre-incarnate Christ, Philippians 2:7 says that He "emptied Himself." What exactly did He empty Himself of?

Paul's words in Philippians 2:7 are to be understood as Christ's surrender of His glory and riches in the taking on the form of a servant or slave. The self-emptying was a profound expression of the love and compassion that is the central reality of God's nature. (For more on Christ's self-emptying (or kenosis), see my Renewal Theology, 1: pages 323 and 342 with footnotes).

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John wrote in Revelation 1:17 that when he first saw Jesus he fell at his feet as dead. If this was the Jesus that John knew and loved why was he so afraid?

John fell at the feet of Jesus not out of fear but due to the vision of Jesus in His majestic glory. John had known Jesus in the flesh but this was a revelation of His divine being.

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I've been reading the four gospels, and I want to ask why Jesus is called the Son of man. What is its relationship with Him being the Son of God?

Jesus was one person with two natures. He called Himself the Son of man in that He identified Himself with all humanity. He was a human being in the fullest sense but also the Son of God. As the Son of God, He was likewise through and through divine. As such a dual person, He was the Redeemer of the world.

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 Are we to believe that Judas Iscariot was predestined to betray Jesus or could he have refused to do so? Was this individual a part of God's ultimate plan for the death and resurrection of Jesus?

The following words of Jesus are particularly relevant: "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that man through whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22). This verse contains both the fact of predestination as well as Judas's personal responsibility. In that sense, he was a part of God's ultimate plan but at the same time freely active in the betrayal of Jesus. Thus Judas was fully guilty.

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  Do you believe that after one is saved, generational curses follow?

The doctrine of generational curses is being greatly pressed at our church. Do you believe that it's biblical that even after one is saved and in Christ that generational curses follow us? Isn't it more true that Christ became a curse for us and automatically cut them off? And that instead, only our sin nature follows us which Christ is in the process of purifying and sanctifying and bringing us deliverance from? I would really appreciate your comments on this.

The concept of generational curses is too heavy a burden for the body of Christ to bear. Your question is actually a good counteractive which recognizes that in Christ we are set free from any and all curses of the past. To be sure, we do inherit a sinful nature from Adam and his descendants; however, all generational curses are removed from believers by the blood of Christ. Therefore there is no need for spending time in searching out what curses apply to us today. I repeat, it is an unnecessary burden from which we have been freed in Christ.

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  Why didn't God make another way to redeem man instead of requiring the death of His Son?

To answer your question, I recommend that instead of questioning God's way of redemption that you first of all rejoice in it. Now to move on: the way God chose was the way of vast love in which Christ, the Son of God and the Son of man, died for all people. The sin of man was so grave that only God Himself could redeem man from it, and only one who was also man could suffer and die in our place. On the matter of requiring the death of His son, God's great love and Christ's willing consent made it all possible. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son."

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  Who is Jesus and who is the Christ?

Jesus is both God and man. As God, He came to earth and took upon Himself human flesh. He was truly God and truly man in the same person. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. The word "Christ" literally means "anointed." Jesus was the Anointed One to fulfill God's mission to save mankind. To believe in Jesus Christ is the way of salvation.

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  We know Jesus died and rose; what is the theological impact of these events on the Christian life?

In Jesus' death He bore all the punishment due us for our sins and in His resurrection made immortality possible-"He abolished death and brought life and immortality to light" (2 Tim. 1:10). Jesus is Victor over all! (See Renewal Theology, 1, pp. 389-90.)

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  Is there such a thing as the "Immaculate Conception"? What does it mean, to whom does it apply, and are there biblical references to support or disprove the "Immaculate Conception"?

The "Immaculate Conception" is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that claims that Mary herself was conceived without sin (hence, immaculately) and so was sinless when she bore Jesus. This dogma has no basis in Scripture and must not be confused with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth which is solidly taught in Scripture.

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  My sister recently converted to Islam due to her son's influence. She claims Islam is the only religion. What information can I give her or tell her about this decision she has made?

If Christ's claim is valid, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), Christianity is the only true religion. Islam is a religion, but by not focusing on Christ misses the truth.

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   Can you tell me what happened to Jesus during those three days He was dead before He rose to heaven? Where was He? Did He go to hell before going to heaven?

During those three days Jesus was alive in the spirit and dead in the body. In regard to the spirit, immediately following His cry from the cross, "It is finished," the Scripture adds, "He bowed His head and gave up His spirit" (John 19:30). In another gospel, the wording is, "Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit" (Luke 23:46). After this, His dead body was put in the grave but did not decay-"He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay" (Acts 2:31). Thus Christ did not go to hell before going to heaven: His spirit went into heaven, the Father's presence ("it was not abandoned to Hades") and His body placed in the grave. It is a mistake to assume (as some do) that Christ went to hell where, after three days of struggle with Satan, Christ finally defeated him. No, when Christ said, "It is finished," victory was already won! Our redemption was accomplished by His death on the cross.

There is one passage that speaks of an activity of Christ in the spirit: "He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:18-20). It is apparent-whatever the meaning of this passage-that Christ Himself was not in hell but made proclamation to those who themselves were locked up in prison there. Christ's work of redemption had already been accomplished! (See Renewal Theology, 1: pages 363-368, for further details.)

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  What is your opinion of the visions of Mary (mother of Jesus) that so many people are having? Do you think it is Mary, or, as I believe, a familiar spirit to deceive and take the prayer emphasis off Christ?

Visions of Mary are delusive, yes, because they do take the focus off Christ. For example, in Medjugorge (Yugoslavia), where for a number of years presumed appearances by the Virgin Mary have occurred, such words as these have been spoken: "Dear children, abandon yourself to me that I may lead you totally," "I will be forever close to you," "I want to bring you to heaven to God." These, and many others, are words that only Christ has the right to speak. Christ, to be sure, is also recognized. For example, "Without love, you cannot accept me or my son." The Mary of the New Testament would never speak such words as these. (See Renewal Theology, 1, pages 346-349, with the notes, for more on the Virgin Mary.)

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  In the third chapter of Luke, verse 23, it speaks of Jesus as the (supposed) son of Joseph. I don't understand this verse because Jesus was not the son of Joseph. So my question is, how do you explain this verse and the genealogy that follows to verse 38?

You are correct in saying that Jesus was not the actual son of Joseph. However, people at large supposed he was since they had no knowledge of the Virgin Birth. Joseph nonetheless was Jesus' legal father, and Mary was betrothed to him (see Matthew 1:18-"Mary was betrothed to Joseph…before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit"). Betrothal at that time constituted a legitimate marriage even though the sexual union had not been consummated. Hence although Jesus was not, as people supposed, the physical or natural son of Joseph, he was the legal son. Thus the genealogy that follows to verse 38 legitimately traces Joseph's line all the way back to Adam. (For further information see Renewal Theology, 1: pages 345-46, and especially see footnote 194.)

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   When Jesus died on the cross, did He die for all possible wrongdoings committed by humans at present and in the future? Could He anticipate my sins and others 2000 years ahead?

Christ in His divinity could surely anticipate all sins and so in dying on the cross bear the full weight of every possible wrongdoing. Paul's declaration that Christ was made "sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21) refers to the totality of sins of all times and places. How vast is the love of God!

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   In a Q & A related to the Apostles Creed, you wrote that the statement "He descended into hell" "vividly expresses the full extent of Christ's vicarious sacrifice, even suffering the torment of hell for all people." At what point did Christ suffer the torment?

Christ endured the torment of hell in His suffering and death on the cross. The agonizing cry of "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) bespeaks Christ's undergoing the torment of hell itself and, "It is finished!" (John 19:30) marks the end of His redemptive suffering. The veil of the temple "torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:35) immediately after His "yielding up His spirit" was God's sign that entrance into the Holy Place had been secured for all. The victory was complete! (Also see Renewal Theology, 1: page 363, footnote 30.)

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   I know that Jesus is God's Son, and that He was sent to the earth to die on the cross for our sins. I just don't understand why He had to die for us? Was it to satisfy God's anger against man? Why His Son, though?

Christ did not have to die for us, but He did so willingly for our salvation. As the Son of man, Christ took upon Himself our flesh and bore the full weight of God's wrath against sin and evil. Thereby He was our substitute, dying in our place. As the Son of God, hence fully divine, He was able to reach out and accomplish the mighty work of redemption. Why His Son? The answer is that only God could have paid the full price, the Father in heaven through His Son on earth. This is the marvel and mystery of the Incarnation.

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   What is the mystery of the Incarnation?

"The Word became flesh" (John 1:14). This is the mystery of the Incarnation, namely, that the Word who was "with God and…was God" (1:1), took upon Himself flesh: He became man. Without ceasing to be God through whom all things were made, He concurrently became man by assuming our flesh. Thus is He Emmanuel--"God with us" (Matthew 1:23)--in the person of Jesus Christ.

Let us pause a moment to reflect on the wonder, the awesomeness, the utterly amazing character of the Incarnation. This event is a fact of such proportions as to transcend human imagination: the God of the universe, the Creator of all things invisible and visible--angelic hosts as well as countless galaxies and stars--has in Jesus Christ come to this minute planet called Earth and taken upon Himself our human existence. If the original creation of the universe out of nothing is an immeasurable vast and incomprehensible act of Almighty God, the Incarnation is surely no less stupendous. Superlatives will not suffice. Perhaps best are the words of Paul: "Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). Great indeed!

And the purpose of the Incarnation (again one is carried beyond adequate words to declare it) is the redemption of the human race. Jesus was born to die and in dying to bear the awful weight and punishment of sins of all mankind. He came as a Mediator of the covenant of grace, the "one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5). In the words of the Fourth Gospel, the Word who became flesh was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14) and "from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace" (1:16). Verily, it is the unfathomable grace of God bringing eternal salvation.

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   What does the "Son of man" mean?

The phrase "the Son of man" means basically "the man" or "man." All men are sons of men, that is, mankind. Even so Jesus "the Son of man" is a man, a human, a member of the human race. "Son of man" and "man" basically are equivalent terms.

The expression "the Son of man" occurs frequently in the four Gospels as a reference of Jesus to Himself. Eighty-two times the phrase occurs and on more than forty occasions. It is used invariably as Jesus' own self-designation. No one else ever addresses Him by that title. It is as open a statement about Jesus' identity as "the Son of God" is a hidden one made known supernaturally by revelation.

By Jesus' use of the title "the Son of man," He identified Himself with our humanity. Also, as "the Son of man," He was man in perfection and could be a substitute for sinful man on the cross. Further, by calling Himself "the Son of man," Jesus demonstrated His deep humility (see for example, Matthew 20:21-"The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve"). Jesus did also on a few occasions call Himself "the Son of God" (John 5:25; 10:36; 11:4).

(On Jesus calling Himself the "Son of man," see Renewal Theology, 1: pages 328-331)

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  What is the significance of Christ's resurrection for us?

First, His resurrection brought the climax of our salvation. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, our salvation would not have been consummated. As Paul says, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). For despite God's act of reconciliation in Christ, if Christ had remained locked in the grave, there would have been no life and no salvation. John Calvin writes, "How could He have obtained the victory for us, if He had fallen in the contest?" Paul says elsewhere that Christ was "put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). Justification, the free gift of righteousness, is the very heart of salvation and is made possible through the death of Christ. But unless Christ had been raised, justification would literally have been a dead matter. Hence through the resurrection of Christ our salvation has been completed.

Second, let us observe more closely that the problem of mankind is not only sin but also death. So salvation means victory over both sin and death.

Thus did Christ in His great saving act deal decisively not only with sin at the cross but also with death through His resurrection. For truly He has also broken the power of death. In the words of Paul, our "Savior Jesus Christ…has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light" (2 Timothy 1:10). However, we need to add immediately, death does not inherently have power but derives its power from Satan who brought it into human existence. And the marvel of what Christ has done is that He partook of our nature that "through death He might break the power of him who has death at his command, that is, the devil; and might liberate those who, through fear of death, had all their lifetime been in servitude" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Thus Satan's power over death has been broken. Not only did Christ rise victorious over Satan and death, but He also has wrought this victory for all who belong to Him.

We may now state it more specifically: By rising from the dead, Christ has won the victory over both sin and death. Thereby our justification is complete, and life has been raised up.

Beyond forgiveness and reconciliation is a new life in Jesus Christ to be with Him alive for evermore! For in Christ's resurrection we are raised to eternal life with Him.

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  Could you speak about the Atonement and God's forgiveness?

One way of summarizing the whole matter of the Atonement is to view it in terms of divine forgiveness. Here we begin by recalling the words of Jesus: "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28). The pouring out, or shedding, of Jesus' blood was for forgiveness of sins. We may, accordingly, speak of the death of Jesus--the shedding of His blood--as the cost of God's forgiveness. Let us observe several things.

First, it is important to recognize that only the one sinned against is in a position to forgive. Christ was supremely sinned against because in His suffering and dying on the cross He endured the attack of evil, not only of those who directly put Him to death but of sinful man of every race and age. As God in human flesh He could and did receive this total attack. If there was to be forgiveness, it could come only from Him. But it would be at a terrifying cost.

Second, Christ in His great love received the assault of mankind's sin and evil without fighting back. In the fulfilled words of Isaiah 53: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth" (verse 7). He accepted the gibes and mockery of those around the cross, He suffered the pain and anguish of the crown of thorns and the spikes of nails, He did not call down legions of angels from heaven to scatter and destroy the vicious foe. He simply took it all--all the evil of mankind reinforced by the powers of darkness. The agony of Christ dying on the cross therefore is beyond all comprehension; His affliction without retaliation transcends all that mankind has ever known.

Third, not only did Christ receive all of evil's bitter onslaught, but He also reached out in compassion to bear evil's shame, guilt and condemnation. Although He was wounded by the transgressions of the world, His even greater anguish was that of sensing the utter loss, misery, even damnation of those attacking Him, and (marvel beyond marvels) in infinite compassion receiving that misery and condemnation as if it were His own. "He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him…" (Isaiah 53:5 NIV). As a result, in His great love and mercy He took away the sin, the guilt, the punishment of the world and gave us His peace and salvation.

(See Renewal Theology, 1: chapter 9, "The Atonement" for further discussion.)

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