Without question, Jesus of Nazareth died one of the most horrific, violent, and shameful deaths imaginable. The question is, Why? What exactly did Jesus accomplish in his life, suffering, death, and resurrection? (Traditionally, this discussion comes under the heading of, The Atonement).

Before a specific answer can be given to the question a precise understanding of the condition of the human race prior to his coming must be reached.

  • What exactly does it mean to be human after the Fall?
  • What does it mean to be “lost?”
  • What do we need to be saved from?
  • To whom or to what have we become enslaved?

The answers to these questions are critical because different descriptions of the human condition inevitably lead to different explanations of how this condition has been altered by the work of Christ.

For example, the human condition can be described primarily in legal terms. Using this lens, atonement is described in terms of a sacrifice that satisfies the legal requirement of human sin—He paid a debt (fine) He did not owe, etc. This is a dominant, but not exclusive, image for understanding the atonement.

But, if the human condition is described in terms of being under the dominion of evil spiritual forces, then the event at Calvary can be described in terms of a rescue from, or a victory over, these hostile powers—the Christus Victor metaphor of atonement. Closely related is the idea of a ransom: Jesus rescued us from our captivity to the Devil and his stronghold of evil.

The images surrounding the atonement are manifold. Each one finds support in the New Testament. In fact, sometimes there appears to be a bewildering variety of models and images used in the New Testament to describe how the life, suffering, death, and resurrection have changed the human condition. But, each one taken alone is inadequate to fully describe all that Jesus accomplished at Cavalry. The challenge is to not fixate on any one of these models of the atonement to the exclusion of the others.

Jesus died in order to right the human condition in relation to God: he paid our debt, satisfied our penalty, defeated evil, conquered the Strong Man, paid our ransom, and has set us free. The mystery is that His mission required such a violent death; The Good News is that he was willing to endure it!

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