HOUSMAIL HM#128                                                                                                                            20 March 2008


Properly understood, "The Atonement" is meant to provide a "covering" for our sins, and reconcile us to God, and to each other. That lies at the very heart of the teaching of Jesus, especially in his "Two Greatest Commandments" (Matthew 32:26-40) and in the Sermon on the Mount. People who are reconciled to God live in obedience to the teaching of Jesus. If it has not done that for us, we do not yet understand the Atonement.

Down through the centuries countless thousands of pages have been written on the subject. All too often the simpler believers seem to get lost in the maze of words, and simply stop reading. Take heart! You are in good company! (1 Cor 1:27-28) I think Jesus had us in mind when, in the Gospels, He never ventured into any of those long complicated "expositions". He preached a Gospel which offered salvation without them!

Indeed, have you noticed that Jesus never once used the word "Atonement"? For Him the very first word in the Gospel was "REPENT"! (Matthew 4:17) It is practical and radical repentance – turning away from sin to practice holiness – which results in reconciliation with God. NOTHING LESS! You don't need a PhD. to understand that it "works" and has achieved its goal FOR US when we begin to love Jesus and obey His commandment to "love one another as I have loved you". (John 15:12) And that can be done without any of those complicated "Atonement theories" worked out by the "scholars"!

That said though, Jesus did talk about his death in relation to our salvation. When He did it was in the simplest of terms, and all contained in a few verses. He spoke about:

1. Love in Action – A man laying down His life to save His friends. (John 15:13)
2. A Good Shepherd defending his flock from the wolf. (John 10:1-16)
3. A grain of corn dying to produce a harvest of many grains. (John 12:24)
4. A brass serpent "lifted up" for sinners to see, and be saved from a "bite". (John 3:14)
5. The Bread of Life – Manna from heaven – Eating His flesh and drinking His blood. (John 6:53-58)
6. Drinking from a Cup. (Matt 26:39-42)
7. His blood shed for remission of our sins. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20)
8. His blood shed to seal a covenant. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20)
9. A sacrificial "ransom" paid by Jesus for our release from the penalty of our sin.
    (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45)
And that's it! Just a few short word pictures designed to help us understand that he sacrificed His life to save ours – BECAUSE HE LOVED US.

In what follows we shall refer often to the fact that Jesus said that the reason for His sacrificial death was "for the remission of sins". We needed remission of our sins to save us from the penalty we had incurred for our sins. However we must never lose sight of the Gospel's uncompromising accompanying call to repentance. The sacrificial death of Jesus cannot save us from anything if it stands alone. To receive the free pardon which it has made possible we must meet the conditions on which the pardon is offered. To qualify for pardon, we must each make our own personal confession of our sins, repent, be baptised for remission of our sins, and turn away from sin to pursue HOLINESS "without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14)

"This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13)

Those words, spoken to His disciples at the "last supper" on the night before His crucifixion, are perhaps the most significant of the few that Jesus spoke about "The Atonement". This is love in action! It tells us WHY the Atonement happened. It tells us WHAT it was meant to achieve. It tells us HOW it was done. And it tells us WHAT is expected of us now that our friend has laid down His life for us.

Why did we need Him to do that? We sinned and were under sentence of death. Jesus is the Saviour who LOVED US enough to save us from that by dying FOR US. Now that He has saved us from our death sentence we are required to live in obedience to that same sacrificial love for one another.

It isn't easy for men to live that way! Almost beyond all that we can ask or think, says Paul. But …… it isn't impossible! We are PROMISED that we CAN "know the love of God which surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God!" (Eph 3:14-20)

This is no ordinary love to which we are called. There is NOTHING – NOTHING AT ALL – which can quench it .... not rejection .... not reviling or mocking or false accusation .... not spitting in His face ..... not plucking the beard from His face ..... not the buffeting and bruising which marred his visage beyond recognition ..... not placing that fearsome crown of thorns on His head ..... not flogging the skin from His back ..... not even nailing Him unjustly to a Roman cross.

Nothing  – nothing in this life; nothing in all creation; nothing for all eternity; can ever make this man, or the God who is His Father, cease from loving us. (Rom 8:38-39)

THAT is the love which Jesus calls US to. And once we find it, it can never be quenched for all eternity.

"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." (John 10:11)

In John 10:1-16 Jesus pictures His mission as that of a good shepherd defending his flock from a wolf. In the process the shepherd loses his life, but the flock are saved from the wolf and none of them is lost. We live and are safe, because He died.

Of course this cannot be referring to our "natural death", which we still experience. It must be referring to death of a different kind – the death penalty for sin – the "second death" – from which he HAS saved us by dying for us on the cross.

He has saved us from "the wolf" by taking upon Himself a "death penalty" which HE did not deserve, to set us free from one which WE did deserve.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24)

Jesus is the single "grain of corn" who surrenders his own life to bring forth a harvest of many like Himself.

In the parable in Matt 13:30, corn has been changed to wheat, but the message is the same. The crop has been sown in all the world, and is growing. At the Resurrection the "wheat" from the harvest will be gathered "into the barn". (Matt 13:30)

Because Jesus has died to give us life, we will not be burnt with the "tares" at the judgement. We will live for ever!

"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up". (John 3:14)

Jesus here points us back to an Old Testament story in which God sent "fiery serpents" amongst the Israelites as a punishment for their complaining against Him. (Numbers 21:5-9);

Many died. But when the people confessed their sin and asked for deliverance, God told Moses to make a serpent of brass, and set it up on a pole. Any who had been bitten were able to "behold" the brass serpent and live, instead of dying. (Num 21:9) Of course it ought to be obvious that merely looking at the brass serpent was only part of the story. It needed to be accompanied by the repentance which led to God providing it as the means of healing. (Numbers 21:7)

When Jesus took that story and applied it to Himself, we are left in no doubt that the "lifting up" he had in mind was His crucifixion! You can easily use your concordance to check that the same Greek word for "lifted up" is used in John 12:32-33.

"If I be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.
This he said, signifying what death he should die."

The message is simple. We need to "behold" Jesus "lifted up" on the cross in order to be healed from the otherwise fatal "bite" of sin. And of course, as John tells us, "healing" requires more than mere "looking". It also requires BELIEF. And that means belief in everything about Jesus – who he is, what he said, what he commands us to do, and what he offers in return for our repentance and life long growth in obedience to His commandments.

There is no need to complicate this story as some do, with speculative "types and antitypes" about the symbolic meanings of the "serpent" and the "brass". Especially meanings which refer to them as symbols of Jesus being afflicted with some sort of "serpent like nature", or "inherited condemnation", or "curse", merely because he was born with a normal human body exactly like ours. Taken at simple face value, there is NOTHING about any of that in what Jesus said. Nor is it found anywhere else in the Scriptures.

Let us concentrate on what Jesus DID say about the brass serpent – not on what He did NOT say. And reading at that level, the message is simple. He died on the cross to save us from the death we had incurred as a penalty for our sin. If by believing in Him, we repent from our sins, we will be saved from that death.

When Jesus invited his disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to live for ever, many took offence and left Him. (verse 66)

Of course they had misunderstood. It wasn't literal flesh and blood He was talking about. It was His WORDS. (verse 63) We need to feast upon (hear and believe) His words about the flesh that was crucified, and the blood that was shed to save us from the penalty of our sin. And we need to feast upon His words about the way of life he practised, that made his REAL flesh and blood a perfect sacrificial offering for our sins. And when those words are translated into action they will keep us "spiritually alive" in this life, and guarantee us eternal life in the Age to Come, instead of death at the Judgment.

In Matt 26:39, Matt 20:22, Mark 10:39, Jesus spoke about "drinking a cup" in a way which makes it clear that was referring to His death on the cross.

It seems more than likely that it was a figure of speech taken from Psalm 116:13. "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD."

His death on the cross was "the cup of our salvation". He "drank" it to save us from the penalty of our sin so that at the judgement we could have eternal life instead of death.

7. HIS BLOOD SHED FOR REMISSION OF OUR SINS. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20)
This statement by Jesus is firmly grounded in the OT ritual of animal sacrifice. When people sinned, and repented, they expressed their contrition by sacrificing an animal – a bullock, a goat, a ram, a goat, or a lamb. Before killing the animal they were to lay their hand on its head as a token of identification. (Levit 4:29) By this they confessed that they had sinned and were worthy of death. The death of the lamb was a graphic illustration of the death which THEY deserved for THEIR sin. But in the forbearance and mercy of God, the lamb died – and they lived.

Jesus uses that picture to describe His own death for remission of our sins. The animal in the OT was only a prophetic symbol of Jesus. According to John the Baptist, Jesus was the REAL "lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world". (John 1:29, 36) Jesus died for our sins – and we have been pardoned. We identify ourselves with His sacrificial death as our own personal "lamb of God" when we are baptised.

8. HIS BLOOD SHED TO SEAL A COVENANT. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20)
In OT times it was customary for men making a covenant (contract) to "seal" it by offering an animal sacrifice.

Jesus refers to His own death in that same Jewish idiom. God wants to make an everlasting covenant with us. Jesus is the sacrifice which placed God’s "seal" (signature) on the covenant. These are the terms of the covenant:

"I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."  (Jer 31:33-34; Heb 8:10-12)

The death of Jesus is God's guarantee of his commitment to the covenant. We make our own commitment to the covenant through repentance and baptism.

"The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45)

"Ransom" is a price paid for the release of a captive.
"Redemption" is a word which Jesus did not use Himself, but in other Scriptures it has similar connotations to "ransom". A price has to be paid for the freedom of the person in need of "redemption".

The price paid for our release from captivity to sin, was the life of Jesus, freely surrendered in exchange for ours. (Matt 26:28; 1 Pet 1:18-19)

The word "substitute" does not appear on the lips of Jesus in our English versions. In this article, I don't want to complicate things with a lesson in Greek. But if you want to check it out for yourself with a Concordance you can easily find that Jesus did use a word in this context, (Greek "anti") for which one of the common meanings is "instead of". Sufficient to say here that "SUBSTITUTION" is certainly implied in the concept of "ransom". Jesus "RANSOMED" us by sacrificing His life to save ours.

But how can that be? It is obvious that Jesus has NOT saved us from experiencing "natural death", "mortality", "the common death of all mankind". (Numbers 16:29) When their bodies wear out, believers with mortal bodies still die in exactly the same way as unbelievers. It is NOT related to whether or not we sin. Even a child which dies at birth without ever committing any sin, experiences that death. The death that is the consequence of sin is the "second death" at the judgment.

There is of course a sense in which Jesus has saved us all, saints and sinners alike, by exercising God's forbearance towards us in this life. (Rom 3:25, Act 17:30) We are all in the same position as that woman taken in adultery. Just as He did for her so also has He done for us. "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more". (John 8:11) In a very real sense, we who had incurred a death penalty for our sins have been given our lives back. We have been given a fresh chance to get it right. But that is simply a postponement of judgment until it has been determined how we will use the pardon offered. It is NOT the same as being saved from the death penalty which will be the lot of unrepentant sinners at the judgment.

We can accept the offer of pardon, repent and be forgiven, and be "born again" (John 3:5) to live new lives of obedience in preparation for the kingdom of God. Or we can reject it and eventually suffer the penalty of the "second death" in the lake of fire. (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:14)

It is that "penal second death" or "wrath to come" which Jesus died to save us from. (1 Thess 1:10)


1. Jesus did NOT say
"If you want to understand this stuff you will have to wait around for another 30 years or so, until someone called Paul writes a letter to the Roman Church!"

Please …… I am NOT saying that Paul got it wrong! But some who try to explain Paul certainly do get it wrong! I do suspect that Paul’s "exposition" in Romans might be amongst the things that the Apostle Peter said were "hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction." (2 Pet 3:16 RSV) That some have indeed twisted it and got it wrong, seems obvious from the way many have made "religious war" on each other because they disagree about what Paul meant. When we read Paul we would do well to remember that Jesus kept it simple enough for "babes". (Matt 11:25; Matt 21:15-16; Luke 10:21) We must NOT insist on imposing our personal "private interpretations" (2 Pet 1:20) of Paul on those "babes" in any way which confuses and discourages them.

2. Jesus did NOT say:
     that He died to save Himself!

"No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father."  (John 10:17-18)

He certainly did not need to die for any sin of His own.

He never said anything about any personal need to cleanse Himself from so called ''defilement of flesh" or "sin nature", or a "curse" arising from the "inherited qualities" of the human nature He was born with.

He never mentioned "original sin", either in relation to Himself or to anyone else.

Nor did He say anything about its "look alike" – which some call "Sin in the flesh".

"For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost."
(Matt 18:11; Luke 19:10)


I suppose I could use an impersonal "THEY", or collective "US" in this short catechism. However I will use the first person instead because the atonement is meant to be so very personal between each of us and God. I trust that when each of you reads those first person pronouns, you might be able to appropriate them to yourself as you read. This is the "short version" of what I believe the Gospel says Jesus did for us.

Q. Who should have suffered and died on the cross?
A. By any standard of justice, it should have been me - NOT Jesus. I sinned. Jesus did not.

Q. Who did suffer and die on the Cross?
A. Innocent Jesus - NOT guilty me.

Q. Why did Jesus go to the cross?
A. To save ME from the penalty of MY sins.

Q. What would happen to me if Jesus had not died for me?
A. I would still be unredeemed and subject to my own penalty on the day of Judgment.

Q. What has been achieved?
A. I responded to Jesus' call to repentance, and was forgiven.
     My repentance has brought about a reconciliation with God. It has changed my attitudes
     to other men, friends and enemies alike.
    Now I live in the hope of inheriting the everlasting Kingdom prepared for Jesus and His brethren
    "from the foundation of the world." (Matt 25:34)

If we can answer those questions we understand the most fundamental issue of the Atonement!

There are of course many other references to the Atonement in other places in the Scriptures. We must be careful to avoid using them in a way which goes beyond the simplicity of what Jesus said. Outside the Scriptures there are many man made "theories" of how it works, some of them running to hundreds of pages! How do we decide whether or not they are "correct"? Have we got to single any one of them out to the exclusion of all others?

Maybe those are the wrong questions! The simple bottom line of any valid "theory" of the Atonement is that Jesus loved us enough to die FOR US to save us from the penalty of our sins. If we lose sight of that simple fundamental issue, none of them will "work" for us! The Cross is meant to inspire love IN US. If it doesn't do that we will never be able to give the obedience to which the Gospel calls us. (John 14:15, 23-24)

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34)

It is not open for any negotiation between us that I might not be reconciled with God, just because you think I don’t understand or agree with what you think might be a better or more detailed explanation about the "legality" of how it all works.

I KNOW that my faith in the cross has reconciled me to God. It has saved me from the penalty of my sins and changed my heart towards God. What Jesus has done for me, has given me a new vision of who God is and what God is. It has changed my attitudes and my response to the laws of God. It has given me Eternal life!

But if you have a different theory I will not reject you on account of it! I have learned that love must concede that, even if your own understanding of how it worked in your case is different to mine, you may also have arrived where I am. If you are truly reconciled with God, that will be obvious from the visible "fruit of the spirit" growing in you, (Gal 5:22-25) If I can see that, I dare not fail to confess you before men as my brother in Christ, (Matt 10:32-33) just because we differ in our understanding of the detail of how it came to pass for each of us.

Have we "arrived"? How do we measure that?

"By THIS shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have LOVE one to another". (John 3:35)


Now this has grown to about 4 1/2 pages more than what Jesus said in the Gospels! Time to stop with one last quote from the Apostle Paul:

"But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation."
(Gal 6:14-15)