Title: Appeasing an Angry God?
What does it mean to be reconciled, to walk in the power of his resurrection? That is what I want to explore with you in this study.
The resurrection is integral to the saving act of God in Messiah Jesus.
It is why every sermon preached in the Book of Acts focuses on Jesus and his resurrection. The early church came to know the Lord in his exalted resurrection form and only after that began to reflect upon his historical life and its significance. In other words, they encountered the risen Lord first and then began to reflect on his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Theirs was an experience of atonement followed by, to some degree, attempts to explain the atonement. First, they encountered Jesus in the power of his Spirit. Then, illuminated by the Spirit, they began reflecting upon what was going on in the work of the cross.
Our old man is put to death through his atoning sacrifice at the cross. Why? So that through his resurrection, we can experience life in the Spirit as a new man, a new creation. It is not enough just to put something to death. It takes the lifting up to life. Death was a preamble to the fullness of life that Jesus came to give us. His resurrection is central to our faith and our faithfulness.
I want to clarify a crucial biblical idea about this that is often obscured or misunderstood. The New Testament emphasizes God as the subject rather than the object of the atoning act in Yeshua's death.
What do I mean by that? Consider the apostle Paul's thinking in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
God is actually in on this act of atonement; he was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself. He does not call upon someone else to do it because no one else could. He has to do it, and he does exactly that in the person of his Son. God is the active party. He is not so much the appeased party but the one who acts on behalf of the sinner.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. - Romans 3:23-25 (ESV)
Scholars have a centuries-old dispute concerning the Greek word hilastērion in verse 25. Does it mean the propitiation or the expiation of our sins? Propitiation speaks of turning away the wrath of a deity. Expiation speaks of removing that which offends. In the context of Romans 3, it can actually be translated/interpreted either way.
I want to suggest that from a Hebraic point-of-view, both things are true. On the one hand, the cross expiated or removed our sins. On the other hand, the cross propitiated or satisfied God's judgment against sin.
Here is what needs to be clearly understood. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not like a pagan deity. The idea that he is wrathful and vengeful and in some way has to be appeased is foreign to the New Testament, indeed to all of sacred Scripture.
Atonement, biblically speaking, is not something to change God. The focus of atonement is something God has done to bring about change in you.
We do not have to beg him to be forgiving. He is a God who abounds in steadfast love evidenced by a desire and willingness to forgive. He is also a God who is holy, holy, holy, and cannot act contrary to his nature. At the cross, our great Creator found a way for justice and mercy to kiss, for truth and compassion to come together!
His holy judgment against sin was satisfied (propitiated) in the act of Jesus on the cross. The consequences of our sins were removed (expiated) by his action in Christ Jesus. He reconciled us—brought us into a relationship, into fellowship with himself.
I am simply clarifying and stressing what the New Testament teaches; God is the subject of atoning actions. He is the agent that deals with both the sin and the wrath that sin evokes (which is the object of the atonement).
What do we mean, then, by the wrath of God? I am reminded here that when we speak of God, he is so far beyond our capacity to explain. The Bible describes wrath as the righteous judgment of a holy God upon sin, which is unholy. At the cross, sin—and the wrath due to sin—are both dealt with decisively.
The wrath of God was not turned away or deflected from us. No, it ran its full course. Sin and its consequences came to bear fully and in their entirety upon an innocent lamb, Jesus of Nazareth.
Both sin and the consequences of sin could not be ignored, winked at, or deflected. They had to be dealt with. At Calvary, God's wrath destroyed sin and brought utter destruction upon the consequences of sin. The New Testament teaches that in Jesus the wrath of God, so to speak, ran its full course until it utterly exhausted itself and died. It is finished (John 19:30).
All of this is foundational to our biblical worldview. We must understand the fullness of atonement because it is very important to our daily lives as his children and disciples. It is all about God's character and his provision.
The atonement speaks to what God, in Christ Jesus, has done for us. Hallelujah!
It also speaks to what God, by his Spirit, is doing in us. Hallelujah!
Let me repeat what I said earlier. The work that was done for us at the cross is also intended to be a work done in us. Yeshua's was a sacrifice done once and for all. When you accept his sacrifice, the work of the cross in you is to be an ongoing work. It is a process in which, again and again, you identify with his death so that you can be raised up in the power of his resurrection.
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.