Crucifixion by the Romans from Wikimedia
The painting above is Crucifixion by the Romans by the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin (1842-1904). This magnificent painting is epic in scale – around 3 metres high and 4 metres wide! In their press release ahead of this painting’s sale (available HERE), the auction house Christie’s tells us, “The composition is undoubtedly striking: in direct contrast to traditional depictions of the Crucifixion, Vereshchagin positions Christ, illuminated, on the extreme right of the painting, placing the primary emphasis of the composition on the crowd. The viewer becomes part of the crowd, peering over people and horses to view the spectacle. A large expanse of dark sky stretches across the horizontal, the city wall looms heavy over a crowd of traders, Pharisees and a mournful group of Christ’s supporters. In the foreground, Roman soldiers with their spears and lances stand guard.”
Here is J.I. Packer’s brilliant, carefully argued, penetrating defence of penal substitution – the doctrine that teaches that, on the Cross, Jesus suffered the penalty for our sin instead of us, as our Substitute. This is one of the foundational doctrines of our Christian faith. Delivered as a lecture at Tyndale House, Cambridge, in 1973, this article is now a classic. It is not, admittedly, the easiest of reads, but it is a foundational study that deserves close study. In it, Dr. Packer writes, “The notion which the phrase ‘penal substitution’ expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory.”
Paul wrote “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”. In one of the footnotes in this article, Packer quotes from Luther’s comment on this verse, “Luther puts this dramatically and exuberantly, as was always his way. ‘All the prophets did foresee in spirit, that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, blasphemer, etc., that ever was . . . for he being made a sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world, is not now an innocent person and without sins . . . our most merciful Father . . . sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him the sins of all men, saying: Be thou Peter that denier; Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor; David that adulterer; that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise; that thief which hanged upon the cross; and, briefly, be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now cometh the law and saith: I find him a sinner . . . therefore let him die upon the cross . . .’”
Thirty years later, Dr. Packer wrote a briefer article, Penal substitution revisited, available HERE. In it, he commented: “Throughout my 63 years as an evangelical believer, the penal substitutionary understanding of the cross of Christ has been a flashpoint of controversy and division among Protestants. It was so before my time, . . . . It remains so, as liberalism keeps reinventing itself and luring evangelicals away from their heritage. Since one’s belief about the atonement is bound up with one’s belief about the character of God, the terms of the gospel and the Christian’s inner life, the intensity of the debate is understandable. If one view is right, others are more or less wrong, and the definition of Christianity itself comes to be at stake.” He concluded, “A lawyer, having completed his argument may declare that here he rests his case. I, having surveyed the penal substitutionary sacrifice of Christ afresh, now reaffirm that here I rest my hope. So, I believe, will all truly faithful believers.”
Read What did the Cross Achieve? HERE
James Innell Packer (born 22 July 1926), usually cited as J. I. Packer, is a British-born Canadian Anglican theologian. He is Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He is regarded as one of the most important evangelical theologians of the 20th Century.
Arthur C. Custance brings a fresh look at the death of Jesus Christ in this fascinating study. He writes, “Man dies two deaths. The Saviour of man must therefore also suffer two deaths, first by dying spiritually as man dies spiritually, and then by dying physiologically as man dies physiologically. For such a Saviour both deaths are substitutionary, unique as to their nature and cause, and unique as to their effect.”
As to the first – spiritual – death, Dr. Custance explains: “When man sins, he does so by choice and he thus commits spiritual suicide. . . . . Thereafter he is, spiritually considered, a dead man: dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) . . . . . . . . From the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ he has effectively cut himself off, separated himself — as Isaiah 59:2 puts it . . . . Paul describes this spiritual death as “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revised Standard Version). But it may be asked, When did this kind of dying ever happen in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is, On the cross in those three hours of darkness — as indicated when He cried out in his extreme isolation and agony of soul, “My God, My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” For in becoming an offering for our sins, He had suddenly experienced for the first time in the eternity of his being “destruction from the presence of the Lord,” a destruction which for all He knew was final. It happened not by his choice (as it is with us) but by imposition when He was made sin, when He became guilty by imputation of all the horror and frightfulness of man’s wickedness since history began with the murder of Abel. When this judgment fell upon Him, it was as though the murder, the torture, the rape, the mutilation, the degradation, and the utter cruelty of man towards man, became in effect his responsibility. . . . . We cannot really have the slightest conception of what this experience meant to One who was completely without sin.”
As to the second – physiological – death, Dr. Custance explains: “It was not, therefore, the crucifixion that really ended his life. He died ON the cross, but not FROM crucifixion. The cross was the occasion but not the cause of his dying. He was dead within less than six hours, a circumstance almost unheard of. . . . . It is therefore no wonder that the centurion in charge of the crucifixion detail was so amazed (Mark 15:39), and that Pilate also was incredulous (Mark 15:44) that He was so soon dead. Both were Romans: both probably had had considerable experience in such matters. To them it was a most exceptional circumstance. . . . . Thus in his exercise of absolute authority over his own life He did not give up his spirit in the sense that other men give up theirs. He deliberately dismissed it, and the transformation of his body from a living organism into a dead body was so immediate that the centurion was amazed.”
Read the whole article HERE
Arthur Custance’s writings can be accessed at no cost HERE. They are a wonderful storehouse of thoughtful and reverent explorations of Biblical truth, with a special focus on the interface of science and the Bible. Here is an outline of his life (as given on the Arthur C. Custance website, and available HERE): “Arthur C. Custance was born and educated in England and moved to Canada in 1928. In his second year at the University of Toronto he was converted to faith in Christ. The experience so changed his thinking that he switched courses, obtaining an honours M.A. in Hebrew and Greek. In his 13 years of formal education, he explored many facets of knowledge and was particularly interested in anthropology and origins. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa in 1959 while serving as head of the Human Engineering Laboratories of the Defence Research Board in Ottawa (Canada) and was engaged in research work for 15 years. During that time he also wrote and published The Doorway Papers, and in retirement in 1970, he wrote 6 major books. His writings are characterized by a rare combination of scholarly thoroughness and biblical orthodoxy.”
Tom Hobson writes, “’Thief’ is too mild a word in the verse where we are told that Jesus was “crucified between two thieves” (Matthew 27:38). The same is true in John 18:40, where we are told, “Now Barabbas was a robber”. The language is too mild. Not even “bandit” has enough kick to translate the word lēstēs. Barabbas and his buddies who were crucified with Jesus would be better described as revolutionaries, guerillas, pirates (the landlubber variety), or (to use a modern term) ‘terrorists’.
Dr Hobson concludes: ”How degrading, for Jesus to suffer Rome’s most hideous punishment with such dangerous, violent men! Here we have a vivid picture of the depths to which Jesus humbled himself (Philippians 2:8), from whence God highly exalted him, and gave him the name at which every knee shall bow. Let us ponder the humiliation Jesus suffered by being crucified between two terrorists, as we commemorate Good Friday and celebrate Resurrection Sunday.”
Read the whole article HERE
The day of Atonement (described in Leviticus 16.1-34 and Numbers 29.7-11) lay at the heart of the whole Old Testament sacrificial system. On this day a final great purification offering was offered for all of Israel’s sins over the preceding year. This sacrifice consisted of a pair of goats, which, together, constituted a single purification offering. That sacrifice – and the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was fulfilled Jesus’s sacrificial death on the Cross – an event we remember this Good Friday.
In this article, Michael Morales brings a fresh and illuminating perspective on the Day of Atonement and its fulfilment by our great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He writes, “As part of the profound theology of atonement in the Old Testament, sin was understood as both deeply-seated within the heart and exceedingly defiling. Because the earth had been polluted by humanity’s sin and consequent death, the LORD God who is the fountain of life could not dwell with his people—yet this was the very purpose for which he had created the heavens and earth. The Tabernacle (and later Temple) was, therefore, a provisional ‘creation in miniature’, an architectural cosmos that would allow the holy Creator to dwell in a sacred, clean ‘house’ among his people. Again, the Tabernacle was a temporary solution during the interim before the establishment of a new (that is, newly cleansed and renovated) heavens and earth. But even during the interim, God taught and warned his people that his earthly abode, the Tabernacle, could not remain in the midst of his people when defiled by the uncleanness of their sins. Although faithful Israelites would offer sin offerings throughout the year, their own consciences surely testified to the inadequacy of their repentance, let alone remembrance, of sin. If one were to offer sin offerings (typically a young goat) for every sin committed in a single day, one would never leave the Tabernacle precincts and would become exceedingly poor in the process since livestock were a precious commodity. Many sins, then, had not been dealt with through the cleansing blood of atonement. Worse still, Israel’s sins spread their uncleanness so that the Tabernacle would steadily become defiled; without a remedy, God would need to remove his holy presence from among his people. Such a need for comprehensive forgiveness and cleansing from sin was addressed by the Day of Atonement ceremony, allowing for a fresh start annually—a new year, as it were.”
“The analogy between creation and the Tabernacle proves prophetic. If the high priest, through the blood of atonement, could cleanse God’s architectural cosmos (i.e., the Tabernacle) from sin’s defilement, then could such cleansing also be possible for creation itself? The book of Hebrews teaches precisely this point. Jesus was not a Levitical high priest, linked to the Tabernacle as a miniature copy of the cosmos. Rather, the Son of God is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and has accomplished creation’s Day of Atonement, cleansing God’s people and the cosmos definitively from sin’s defilement. With his own blood, Jesus entered heaven itself, the reality which the Tent’s holy of holies only copied. All of God’s people, from every era and nation, will dwell with him in glory in a new heavens and earth because of the Messiah’s work of atonement. A foretaste of that glorious life may be experienced every Lord’s Day as the church below enters through the new and living way—the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ—into the joys of the heavenly Mount Zion (Hebrews 12.22-24).”
Read the whole article HERE
Michael Morales is Professor of Old Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (see the publisher’s description for this book HERE). This is a suberb study of the book of Leviticus, and its place in the whole Bible story. I will post about it in due course.
In this video, the eleventh in the series The Journey (available HERE) we look at Jesus’s trials and crucifixion, and His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. These events are the great turning point in the history of this world, and the key to God’s plan for us and for our world. A Leader’s Guide, to aid in group discussion after viewing the video, is available HERE. A more detailed 20-page study is available for download HERE.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations (apart from those in direct quotations) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers. © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.