At its heart, Christ’s death is for our sins. Our Lord, our new covenant head acted on our behalf as our representative and substitute to pay for our sins and thus set us free from the power of sin and death. But even more than this: Christ redeemed us from God’s demand for perfect obedience as expressed in the law (Gal. 3:10–13; 4:1–5) by keeping the law’s positive demands in obedient life and satisfying the law’s penal demands in his substitutionary death. As a result, our Lord Jesus Christ now owns us twice, first as our Creator, and now as our great and glorious Redeemer (1 Cor. 6:18–20).
In this post, we continue to reflect on the Bible’s rich, multifaceted, and interconnected presentation of Christ’s cross which alone secures our salvation and justification before God (Rom. 8:1). As we have noted in previous posts, Scripture interprets and explains the meaning and significance of our Lord’s death in at least eight complementary ways: obedience, sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, justice/justification, victory/conquest, and moral example. So far, we have looked at the first three words or concepts.
As we have discovered, although each way of presenting the cross captures a different perspective and aspect of Christ’s death for us, each word also intersects and complements the other ones. For example, in Romans 5, Paul interprets Christ’s cross-work as an act of “obedience” (in his entire life and death) that secures our justification (5:18), in contrast to Adam’s disobedience that resulted in our condemnation before God (5:12–14, 18–21; cf. Rom. 3:23). Yet, Christ’s obedience as the Last Adam is also an obedient priestly work (Heb. 5:1–10) by which our Lord offered himself as a “sacrifice” for our sins. Set within the context of the Mosaic covenant and the OT sacrificial system, to say that our Lord’s death is a sacrifice means that he acted as our new covenant head and substitute to pay for our sin and satisfy God’s wrath against us; hence the use of the word “propitiation” (Rom. 3:24–26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). In fact, in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), the word “propitiation” (hilasterion) refers to the “mercy seat” where the sacrificial blood of the lamb was poured on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Thus, these three different ways of thinking about the cross are really united to explain how Christ’s death is a sacrifice for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3).
But, as we are also discovering, the Bible’s diverse presentation of the cross is best understood under the theological view of penal substitution. Why? Because penal substitution best accounts for the diversity of the biblical data set within the Bible’s own framework of God, humans, sin, and unpacked along the Bible’s covenantal storyline. Again, this is not to deny that the Bible’s presentation of the cross is multifaceted, but diversity of words and concepts do not lead to divergence. Instead, when each word is explained on the Bible’s own terms, what we discover is that the best interpretation of Christ’s cross and what is central to it, is the view of penal substitution. In fact, this truth is further reinforced by now turning to the fourth biblical word that explains the meaning of Christ’s death: “redemption.”
Christ our Redemption
The word, concept, and theme of “redemption” and “ransom” is another way Scripture interprets the achievement of Christ’s cross (see Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:24–25; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; Gal. 3:13; 4:4–5; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13–14; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18–19; Heb. 9:12, 15).
As a word and concept, “redemption” conveys the idea of being liberated or “bought back,” either as a purchase or ransom. In the latter use of “ransom,” it also conveys the idea of “deliverance” or “liberation” from a state of bondage and captivity by the payment of a price, not merely an act of deliverance. As John Stott has rightly reminded us, “the emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state—indeed or captivity—in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary.”